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Labour, Land and Capital in Ghana: from slavery to free labour in Asante, 1807-1956

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Gareth Austin
University of Rochester Press (March 2005)

This is a study of the changing rules and relationships within which natural, human and man-made resources were mobilised for production during the development of an agricultural export economy in Asante, a major West African kingdom which became, by 1945, the biggest regional contributor to Ghana's status as the world's largest cocoa producer. The period 1807-1956 as a whole was distinguished in Asante history by relatively favourable political conditions for indigenous as well as (during colonial rule) for foreign private enterprise. It saw generally increasing external demands for products that could be produced on Asante land.

This book, which fills a major gap in Asante economic history, transcends the traditional divide between studies of pre-colonial and of twentieth-century African history. It analyses the interaction of coercion and the market in the context of a rich but fragile natural environment, the central process being a transition from slavery and debt-bondage to hired labour and agricultural indebtedness. It contributes to the broad debate about Africa's historic combination of emerging capitalist institutions and persistent precapitalist ones, and tests the major theories of the political economy of institutional change.

Gareth Austin is a lecturer in economic history at LSE and joint editor of the Journal of African History.  



'This is an excellent work, a major contribution to literature on the kingdom of Asante, an African society that in the last 25 years has attracted more than its fair share of high-quality scholarship.'
Larry Yarak, associate professor of history, Texas A&M University

'Austin's book is a groundbreaking survey of Ghana's economic history, based upon an extraordinarily perceptive case study of Asante. It is painstakingly researched and combines a strong empirical base with highly relevant theoretical considerations of current models of institutional change. He has written what will surely become a classic in the field of African economic development.'
Ivor Wilks, professor emeritus of history, Northwestern University

'Long anticipated, Austin's account of the material conditions in which the ordinary Asante people of Ghana lived their lives is an exemplary retrieval of the past. All at once richly documented, theoretically sophisticated and persuasively argued, it is a major contribution to African studies and to the wider field of economic history.'
TC McCaskie, professor of Asante history, University of Birmingham