Capitalism in Africa - ROAPE
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Capitalism in Africa

  • In recent years governments across Southern Africa have targeted foreign investors, increased taxation on mining companies and enacted indigenisation. In this blogpost, Alex Caramento and Richard Saunders investigate the social forces currently shaping resource nationalism in the region. They hope to initiate a discussion on the various responses to extractive capitalism in Southern Africa. ...

  • Lena Grace Anyuolo describes the hunger games of capitalism in Kenya. In this diabolical world where the sponsors of jobs and healthcare are corporations, or rich individuals and media personalities who have the power to deliver life from poverty or fund-raise for a lifesaving medical procedure. Anyuolo is scathing about a form of existence where life or death depends on philanthropy or whether or not your story is worthy of a prime-time slot on TV. ...

  • Ethiopia invests a higher percentage of its GDP in public infrastructure than nearly every other country in the world.  In this blogpost, Daniel Mains argues that the construction of infrastructure is a site for understanding the tense relationship between citizen and state in Ethiopia. In a contribution to the debate on Capitalism in Africa hosted by roape.net, Mains argues that an analytical method is needed that can examine these processes without assuming a capitalist society that is unified by a singular mode of economic production. Such an approach enables researchers to examine multiple, sometimes contradictory, economic dynamics....

  • After spending several months with gamblers in Kenya, Mario Schmidt finds that many see their activity as a legitimate and transparent attempt to make ends meet in an economy that does not offer them any other stable employment or income. In a blogpost co-published with The Elephant, gambling Schmidt argues can be seen as an act against an economy in which wealth is not based upon merit but upon social relations and where profit and losses are distributed in a non-transparent way through corruption, inheritance and theft....

  • Exposing the continued European control of the global commodity trade, Angus Elsby looks at the import and re-export of raw commodities from Africa by European countries. Focusing on the coffee market, this blogpost charts the destructive impact of Europe’s commodity ‘theft’ for Africa’s development....

  • In a major analysis of current developments at the level of the world and multinational market of late capitalism, Esteban Mora grapples with the phenomenon of so called ‘right wing populism’ not only in the West, but in Third World regions as well. He asks if Africa’s decades of trauma now confront metropolitan and central capitalist countries, as the road where they are heading....

  • We bring together five researchers who are speaking at the European Conference on African Studies in Edinburgh, Scotland, to discuss capitalism, money and commercialisation. Marine Al Dahdah explains that sub-Saharan Africa has been at the epicentre of mobile money and an experimental terrain for the mobile economy. Adam Rodgers Johns argues that the entry of capital into Tanzanian football has been embraced by local actors as a positive move towards greater professionalisation and legitimacy, but all is not as it seems. Olivier Graefe and Antje Schlottmann look at the complexity of commercialisation of wildlife in Namibia and the implications for humans, nature, and animals. Fatimah Kelleher argues that consumerist interpretations of market access as a panacea for African women's income inequality present ethical concerns that need an urgent feminist response. All authors look at the commercialisation of previously-less-commercialised sectors as  key developments in neoliberal Africa. ...

  • The rise of a global technology industry to support financial services, known as fin-tech, has grown enormously in Africa in the last decade. Across the continent many commentators have proclaimed fin-tech as the solution to poverty and development. Examining the case of Kenya’s celebrated fin-tech model, M-Pesa, Milford Bateman, Maren Duvendack and Nicholas Loubere reveal a flawed system that is not an answer to poverty, despite the wild claims of some academic commentators. Quite the contrary, fin-tech offers Africa a further case study of how contemporary capitalism continues to under-develop Africa....

  • In a contribution to our debate on capitalism in Africa, Ben Radley writes that the involvement of TNC-led mining in the Congo has undermined the productivity and development of locally-led artisanal mining. Researching artisanal gold mining in South Kivu, Radley argues that real progress in the sector has been led and managed by a local Congolese capitalist class through a process of technological assimilation, capital formation and mechanisation. These processes are being eroded by international capital, backed-up by the state and police. ...

  • Adam Rodgers Johns explores the commercialisation of football in Africa. He argues that at the professional level the continent’s most popular sport provides us with fertile grounds for the analysis of capitalism in Africa. By Adam Rodgers Johns The trend towards the commercialisation of football is not limited to the most powerful and competitive leagues in Western Europe but affects all regions of the world, including Africa. In recent years, the commercialisation of elite level professional football has affected the world’s most popular sport at unprecedented levels – from ownership, sponsorship, ticket sales to TV licensing. There are numerous ways in which Africa is linked to the global business of football. For example, the huge popularity of European, specifically English football, has significant commercial implications in terms of broadcasting revenue, merchandise and gambling. There are a number of examples from the African continent where there......

  • Nick Bernards argues that placing African labour in capitalism requires that we think seriously and in historical perspective about the politics of irregular forms of work. In his contribution to ROAPE’s debate on capitalism in Africa, Bernards points out that the kinds of work performed by African workers have often been key reference points in global debates about governing irregular forms of work. These debates are often shaped in powerful ways by the unfolding and contingent relationships between the state and various segments of working classes on the continent. By Nick Bernards The exploitation of ‘free’ wage labour – in Marx’s double sense of those workers ‘free’ to sell their labour to whom they choose and ‘free’ of any other means of reproducing themselves – is a core characteristic of capitalist relations of production. On more than a few readings, it is the defining trait......

  • Exposing the illusion of the green economy, Simone Claar argues that while the idea of greening capitalism might provide a clear conscience to regions in the North for addressing the ecological crisis, it perpetuates the exploitative relationship between the North and South. Through the green economy framework capitalism, development, and imperialism are ‘green-washed’ as capital invests in new environmental fields like renewable energy or clean cooking. Such a strategy will only ‘greenwash’ capitalism in Africa, leaving its exploitative and destructive nature unchanged. ...

  • Jörg Wiegratz asks why there is such silence in much of African Studies on capitalism. He wonders why capitalism does not feature more prominently in titles of major Western conferences on Africa, and articles of main African Studies journals. In this blogpost he asks why does this analytical lacuna exist? Wiegratz calls for a discussion and explanation of this state of affairs. On the central question of capitalism, the African Studies community, he argues, in Western Europe, and across the Global North, is largely inactive and silent? When it comes to an explicit, focused and sustained collective exploration, about the many, multifaceted features of contemporary capitalism on the continent, and about the characteristics of African society as a capitalist society, there is a gaping silence. ...

  • In a major contribution to roape.net, Zsuzsánna Biedermann analyses the complex reasons behind the largely fruitless diversification efforts in Botswana. Many African countries abundant in non-renewable natural resources experience the harmful effects associated with the extensive role oil, mining or gas extraction plays in their economies. Even if Botswana’s initial development based on diamond mining was spectacular, there is mounting proof that the Botswana Democratic Party - the country’s governing party since independence – has been deeply intertwined with the De Beers diamond mining cartel. Development, industrialisation and diversification remains a frustrating and elusive goal for the country....

  • After the manifest failure of microcredit to address poverty in Africa and everywhere else, the international development community has hit upon a new microcredit-related idea that, it claims, will do the job this time around: ‘fin-tech’, i.e. financial technology. In this blogpost Milford Bateman argues fin-tech has the potential to gravely undermine the position of the poor and to increase inequality while, not coincidentally, vastly enriching a narrow elite. ...

  • Continuing the debate on roape.net on capitalism in Africa, Tom Goodfellow looks at the weak foundations of industrial capitalism, the key role of land, infrastructure and real estate in the ‘operations’ of capital in Africa. He argues that continued exploration of how capital intersects with contemporary urban forms can help to bring Africa to its rightful position at the forefront of global debates on capitalist transformation....

  • In this blogpost Daniel Bin argues that Africa is probably the most significant area of so-called land grabs, one example of dispossession. However, radical political economy must be clearer about what we mean since most discussion of dispossession neglects a consideration of actual capitalist accumulation. For some, the simple occurrence of dispossession seems to be enough to associate it with primitive accumulation or even with capital accumulation....

  • In this blogpost Tim Di Muzio describes how the perspective of capital as power may help to understand, explain and critique aspects of political economy in Africa. Old traditions and perspectives, Di Muzio argues, continue to have a stranglehold on political economy yet the approach of capital as power offers insights closer to the actual practices of capitalists. How might this perspective be mobilized to understand, explain and critique various aspects of African political economy? ...

  • Nungari Mwangi contributes to our debate on capitalism in Africa by looking into export horticulture in Kenya and its role in the expansion of capitalism. Using a case study of marginalized small scale flower farmers, she challenges the orientation towards European export markets, and calls for a focus on local and regional markets for their survival....

  • The first installment of this three-part blogpost John Smith summarises evidence showing that, during the neoliberal era, African poverty has increased both absolutely and relative to the income and wealth of the average person in Europe and North America, notwithstanding the much-hyped rise of Africa’s middle class....

  • Tinhinan El Kadi and Avelino Chimbulo argue that the current crisis in neoliberal globalisation, best represented by Donald Trump’s election as the US president, may result in an increase in policy space for African nations to engage in industrial policy....

  • Christopher Hope argues that the dependency school, more than any other approach in economics, tried to understand economic development in a given location through an understanding of global capitalism. Yet today, he argues, such an international dimension is often lacking in the contemporary analysis of African economies. Is it time to return the dependency approach?...

  • In this blogpost Horman Chitonge focuses on the question of whether African societies can be classified as capitalist or not. He argues that the answer one gives, depends, largely, on the meaning of capitalism that one adopts and there have been different meanings which researchers and writers have espoused for decades. Chitonge details some of the debates. ...

  • For our series on capitalism in Africa, political economist Pádraig Carmody argues that although globalisation has ‘hollowed out’ the manufacturing base of many European and North American economies, in some parts of Africa there might be the possibility of connecting global production networks on relatively more favourable terms, which could assist industrialisation. ...

  • In this far-reaching and provocative contribution to roape.net's debate on capitalism in Africa, Elísio Macamo argues that instead of discussing whether “Capitalism” as such is a valid concept or a useful description of social phenomena in Africa, we should interrogate how concepts developed in very specific times and places under specific circumstances can be usefully deployed in other settings. ...

  • Continuing our series on capitalism on the continent Kate Meagher writes how debates on industrial policy and the developmental state in Africa have directed attention to wider processes of class formation and economic transformation that seemed until recently to have fallen out of fashion. In this blog she looks at the transformation in the African working class....

  • Following a recent debate on 'African Capitalist Society' organised by Jörg Wiegratz of the Review of African Political Economy at the UK African Studies Association conference in Cambridge, Stefan Ouma continues the discussion on roape.net. As Ouma points out the historical context for such a debate is very different from the 1970s and 1980s – when ROAPE was at the forefront of scholarly discussions on this topic. Ouma argues passionately for a less holistic framing of the subject matter, talking in plural terms and avoiding linear, territorial, singular or transhistorical notions of 'capitalism'....