Agrarian transformations have been an important part of the story of economic development all over the world. This book began by posing a question: Why have agrarian opportunities not contributed more to poverty alleviation in sub-Saharan Africa? We focused on a case-study region—the forest margins of Upper West Africa—because we wanted to set aside factors such as drought and population pressure, in order to focus on the issue of institutional dynamics. Much recent analysis of governance and development has focused on the crucial significance of institutional dynamics as factors in progressive improvement. Strong evidence has already been presented that a succession of rebellions and civil wars in Upper West Africa at the end of the twentieth century reflected an institutional crisis. Moreover, this crisis seems to have significant local roots, since war affected three neighbouring countries with different histories of colonial intervention. Perhaps the history of institutional dynamics across a region subject to a common set of organizational drivers would help explain the present underperformance of agriculture as a driver of beneficial economic change, and account for a modern slave trade—in which young people from the region, desperate for meaningful work, are prepared to put themselves in the hands of people smugglers in order to reach Europe, rather than turn inwards and look for successful and fulfilling employment on an agrarian frontier in their own backyard.
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