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From coercion to compensation: institutional responses to labour scarcity in the Central African Copperbelt

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  • JUIF, DÃ CIL
  • FRANKEMA, EWOUT

Abstract

There is a tight historical connection between endemic labour scarcity and the rise of coercive labour market institutions in former African colonies. This paper explores how European mining companies in the Belgian Congo and Northern Rhodesia secured scarce supplies of African labour, by combining coercive labour recruitment practices with considerable investments in living standards. By reconstructing internationally comparable real wages, we show that copper mine workers lived at barebones subsistence in the 1910s–1920s, but experienced rapid welfare gains from the mid-1920s onwards, to become among the best paid manual labourers in Sub-Saharan Africa from the 1940s onwards. We investigate how labour stabilization programs raised welfare conditions of mining worker families (e.g., medical care, education, housing quality) in the Congo, and why these welfare programs were more hesitantly adopted in Northern Rhodesia. By showing how solutions to labour scarcity varied across space and time, we stress the need for dynamic conceptualizations of colonial institutions, as a counterweight to their oft supposed persistence in the historical economics literature.

Suggested Citation

  • Juif, Dã Cil & Frankema, Ewout, 2018. "From coercion to compensation: institutional responses to labour scarcity in the Central African Copperbelt," Journal of Institutional Economics, Cambridge University Press, vol. 14(2), pages 313-343, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:cup:jinsec:v:14:y:2018:i:02:p:313-343_00
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    Cited by:

    1. Cha, Myung Soo & Prados de la Escosura, Leandro, "undated". "Living Standards, Inequality, and Human Development since 1870 : a Review of Evidence," IFCS - Working Papers in Economic History.WH 28438, Universidad Carlos III de Madrid. Instituto Figuerola.
    2. Stephen Broadberry & Leigh Gardner, 2019. "Economic Growth In Sub-Saharan Africa, 1885-2008," Oxford Economic and Social History Working Papers _169, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
    3. Frankema, Ewout & Van Waijenburg, Marlous, 2019. "The Great Convergence. Skill Accumulation and Mass Education in Africa and Asia, 1870-2010," CEPR Discussion Papers 14150, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    4. Stephen Broadberry & Leigh Gardner, 2019. "Economic Growth In Sub-Saharan Africa, 1885-2008," Oxford Economic and Social History Working Papers _169, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.

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