Consumption in Africa

HANS PETER HAHN

Goethe-Universität, Germany

DOI: 10.1002/9781118989463.wbeccs063

In the past African societies have been studied by anthropologists, who were merely interested in local communities, where production, distribution, and consumption form an entity. As a consequence of the bias toward subsistence economy, the global entanglements of African markets have long been understudied. Even within the mainstream of the so-called transatlantic studies, Africa was mostly considered as a provider of slaves. However, since Roman times, Africa has also participated in global markets as a consumer. In early modern times, European traders reported difficulties in selling the goods they had brought with them on their vessels, because they did not meet the tastes of consumers in Africa. From the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries, the varieties of cloth, jewelry, and ironware offered by European traders on West and East African shores changed frequently, following rapid changes in African ideas about fashion and style (Miller 1986). As these practices indicate, the consumption of global goods has been part and parcel of African economies for a long time. It is therefore legitimate to speak about an almost forgotten “genealogy of consumerism” (Prestholdt 2008), which redefines the place of African societies in the context of emergent global markets.

Furthermore, consumption in Africa still is considered by many Western experts as an obstacle to development or, ...

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