African Colonial Economies: State Control, Peasant Maneuvers, and Unintended Outcomes



A supreme goal of colonizers' economic policies was to transform African subsistent and semi-subsistent farmers into export oriented peasants--peasantization in the jargon of African economic history. This was a difficult, complex, and long-drawn process, requiring multiple mechanisms, some coercive, others persuasive.This essay begins with a survey of the messy unfolding of this process in diverse regions of Africa, highlighting its problems and unforeseen consequences. It then posits an analytical overview of the mining economies of Southern Africa, and their counterparts in pockets of West Africa. Keeping the focus on the interactions between the agency and interests of African peasants and the enforced reach of colonial policies, the essay suggests a way of evaluating colonial agricultural systems by analytically privileging the struggles and strategic maneuvers of Africans drawn into the colonial export economy. In these discussions, multiple conceptual and theoretical perspectives that scholars have deployed to understand these processes are analyzed and critiqued.