Capitalists and Politicians

  • John Iliffe


I began these lectures by asking whether African capitalists have been able to establish themselves as a creative force in their societies and, if so, whether their capitalism has taken distinctive forms when compared with other continents. This last lecture will consider the development of urban capitalism in Africa since the Second World War, especially the growth of manufacturing industry. It will ask whether the characteristics and problems of urban capitalism can be understood by considering it as a late capitalism, late to appear in the global history of capitalism, using in particular Alexander Gerschenkron’s comparative analysis of industrial revolutions.1 Gerschenkron argued that each industrial revolution differed from its predecessors precisely because it came later. The later a country industrialised, the greater was the gap separating it from the most advanced economies of the time. The later a country industrialised, therefore, the more discontinuous, traumatic, and politically directed was its industrial revolution. Gerschenkron restricted his analysis to Europe and Japan. I do not wish to suggest that an industrial revolution has yet begun in any tropical African country, but I do want to ask whether Gerschenkron’s approach can advance our understanding of modern African urban capitalism and whether African experience can contribute to the comparative study of industrialisation.


Family Firm Industrial Revolution Ivory Coast Modern Sector Late Capitalism 
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© John Iliffe 1983

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  • John Iliffe

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