On the History and Empowerment of West African Workers

  • May 06, 2019
  • // Technology and Society
  • Contract-workers were dominant and preferred
  • No trickle down of rapid economy development
  • Colonial export production continue the practice of unfree and forced labour
  • Trade and currency liberalisation forced labour out of formal settings into ‘informal’ ones
  • work reshaped by survival rather than modernisation
  • Recent reports, informal employment is seen as inclusive, transformational and good, whereas formal employment is seen as exclusion and stagnation
  • Global connection transforming labour, not always to the benefit of African workers
  • Instead of advantages by gaining access to the global market, foreign employers are benefiting from African workers
  • Fibre optic > turning workers into participants of digital revolution

    • progress in terms of poverty reduction will be far slower if informal employment expands and the returns to labour in these forms of precarious employment do not improve’.

Class Notes

  • Palmoil, cotton, rubber > fuel industrial revolution in Europe Partition and Trade
  • Export from colonial goods made the colonies self sufficient, modernising agricultural production
  • Sending back goods to Africa diminished local manufacturers > complex economic system, where things seen as ‘help’ may be more harmful (similar to sending used clothes down to Africa, which resulted in disappearance of local cloth production)

Colonial economy and priorities (Europe leading the economy)

  • Preferred large scale planting, wanting investors to come
  • West Africa > non-settler colony > ‘White man’s grave’ dense forest, tropical climate that carried diseases like malaria

State led development and decolonisation

  • Pushing workers into ‘informal’ sector (no protection, pension, government services)


  • Know-how of production of goods, so that they can do the production themselves
  • Impression that huge amount of local knowledge is there, we are just imposing how things should be on them. The Italian way of roasting may not be the ultimate way, local roasters do it differently but that’s not ‘wrong’
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