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and even rapid development of agricultural export economies in the
late 19th century, such as the Ghanaian cocoa boom.
What about the failure to use the plow or the wheel in West Africa.
This might have been because it was a latitude speci…c technology,
unsuited to the soils and environment of West Africa, but it might
just have been another failure.
The incidence of trypanosomiasis meant that goods had to be carried
by porters in the forest zone because pack animals could not survive.
James A. Robinson (Harvard) The Emergence of Modern Economic Growth: A Comparative and Historical Analysis
October 5, 2009
6 / 25 The parasite that causes sleeping sickness is called the trypanosome.
It is transmitted to humans through the bite of a tsetse fly of the genus Glossina: Technological Puzzles
The wheel was certainly known about and used in North Africa and
early trans-Saharan trade, at least in the Roman period. Dahomey
and Borno had wheeled ceremonial carriages.
Allan McPhee suggested in 1926 (The Economic Revolution in British
West Africa) that the non-adoption of the wheel in sub-Saharan Africa
was due to the absence of draught animals caused by the tsetse ‡y.
But wheels not used even where there were such animals.
Domesticated Camel entered North Africa in …rst century BC. After
the collapse of Rome the trans-Saharan caravan trade had re-started
on a regular basis by the 8th century using Camels. Richard Bulliet
(The Camel and the Wheel ) showed that the introduction of the
Camel roughly coincided with the disappearance of the wheel in the
By the 15th century West Africans came into regular contact with
wheel using Europeans.
Hopkins concludes roads were too expensive to build, and using
wheeled vehicles not economical without roads. James A. Robinson (Harvard) The Emergence of Modern Economic Growth: A Comparative and Historical Analysis
October 5, 2009
7 / 25 Hopkins on African Poverty Hopkins does a very good job of showing that historically there was a
functioning market economy in West Africa which performed very well
in many dimensions (long distance t...
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- Fall '09
- West Africa, JAMES A. ROBINSON