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Africa and the globalization process: western Africa, 1450–1850

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 May 2007

Joseph E. Inikori
Department of History, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY 14627, USA E-mail:


The article examines the debate on globalization as a historical process and provides a context for the assessment of western Africa’s long-run contribution to the process, the main subject of the article. It argues that the process began in the Atlantic basin in the sixteenth century; in the nineteenth, it gave rise to an integrated Atlantic economy, the nucleus of the modern global economy. The process involved the transformation of the predominantly subsistence economies of the Atlantic basin in 1450 to market-based economies before their integration by the Atlantic market could occur. Large-scale specialization of the plantation and mining economies of the Americas was central to the transformation process. Because of abundant land, large-scale plantation agriculture in the Americas was made possible by coerced African labour. In the end, the unique characteristics of the export slave trade that supplied coerced African labour to the Americas retarded the development of the market economy in western Africa and kept the region’s economies out of the integrated commodity production processes of the Atlantic economy until that trade ended in the mid-nineteenth century. The analysis of the commercializing process in the Atlantic basin and its causal link to England’s Industrial Revolution, with its new technologies, and to the establishment of the integrated nineteenth-century Atlantic economy presents a powerful argument that places Africa at the centre stage of the globalization process

© 2007 London School of Economics and Political Science

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The first draft of the article was read, with helpful critical comments, by Patrick Manning and Tony Hopkins. I am grateful to both of them. I also want to thank the anonymous readers, who offered very helpful comments, and the editors, especially Ken Pomeranz, for their encouragement and unusual attention to details. Kevin O’Rourke kindly sent to me one of his co-authored papers (discussed in the article), for which I am grateful.