11. The history of African Economic Thought from Ptah-Hotep to Achille Mbembe


Is there an African economic thought? Who are the thinkers from the African continent from the remote past to the present who formulated economic ideas? What are these ideas?

Most historians of economic thought, let alone economists not specialised in the history of their discipline, will be hard pressed to answer this question. Historians of economic thought have been taught that there is a “great gap” in economic thinking between European thinkers of Antiquity and the European Renaissance, all but ignoring contributions to economic thought from outside the European continent (and later from European settler colonies) before, during or after the supposed gap.

In recent years, the “great gap” hypothesis has been challenged, mainly by students of medieval Islamic thought, highlighting not only the indispensable link scholars of the Muslim world represented between Ancient Greek and modern European thought, but also the original ideas of these thinkers, sometimes forerunners of ideas for which European scholars centuries later became famous. The economic thought of Ancient Indian and Chinese thinkers has also received some attention (although knowledge of these ideas remains sparse outside these regions). The ideas of African thinkers pertaining to economic matters remain all but unknown.

The YSI History of Economic Thought Working Group invites early stage researchers based in Africa to submit contributions to this severely understudied subject area:

  • The economic thought of African scholars from all epochs, from Sextus Africanus and Saint Augustine to Ibn Khaldun to Zera Yacob to such modern-day thinkers as Cheikh Anta Diop, Es’kia Mphahlele and Chinua Achebe
  • The economic ideas contained in African humanist  concepts and socio-political philosophies like Ubuntu, Ujamaa, African Socialism, Pan-Africanism, and the doctrines of African statesmen such as Julius Nyerere or Kwame Nkruma
  • Studies on the historic exchange of economic ideas between Africa and other regions, the cross-influence between different African thinkers or between African and non-African scholars on economic matters and comparative studies of their theories

Other contributions in the history of economic thought from young scholars based in Africa shall also be considered.