The African Poor: A History

Series: African Studies (58)

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This history of the poor of Sub-Saharan Africa begins in the monasteries of thirteenth-century Ethiopia and ends in the South African resettlement sites of the 1980s. Its thesis, derived from histories of poverty in Europe, is that most very poor Africans have been individuals incapacitated for labour, bereft of support, and unable to fend for themselves in a land-rich economy. There has emerged the distinct poverty of those excluded from access to productive resources. Natural disaster brought widespread destitution, but as a cause of mass mortality it was almost eliminated in the colonial era, to return to those areas where drought has been compounded by administrative breakdown. Professor Iliffe investigates what it was like to be poor, how the poor sought to help themselves, how their counterparts in other continents live. The poor live as people, rather than merely parading as statistics. Famines have alerted the world to African poverty, but the problem itself is ancient. Its prevailing forms will not be understood until those of earlier periods are revealed and trends of change are identified. This is a book for all concerned with the future of Africa, as well as for students of poverty elsewhere.