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Commodities and Economic Sovereignty in Africa

Debates about economic sovereignty in colonial and post-colonial Africa have often centered on commodity production. This panel seeks to clarify the effects of export-oriented commodity production on workers and communities; the intersections between global supply chains and local markets (including the role of businesses and multinationals); and the contestation over production and processing of such commodities. Additionally, this panel considers commodities in relationship to questions of development, both within the colonial and post-colonial context. Extractive economies are often paired with colonial legacies of economic exploitation, and so their role within the post-colonial context, especially as drivers of sustainable economic growth is often questionable. These papers further attempt to address the ways in which commodities at a state level have figured into discussions around state-led development, especially as it contrasts with the effects of such industries on grassroots communities and workers.
Finally, this panel opens space for the historiographical debate about the return to commodity histories, and their usefulness. What is revealed through a critical analysis of a commodity, especially when simultaneously examined within its local and global contexts? For commodities such as copper or bauxite that undergo extensive processing after being mined from the earth, what is revealing and important about placing these commodities within a context of global circulation and webs of processing, often far from their sites of extraction on the African continent? Panel seeks to engage with these questions as a way to return to and re-engage debates over economic sovereignty in colonial and post-colonial Africa.

Please submit an abstract of 200-250 words to Thomas Zuber (thomas.zuber@columbia.edu) or Chris Abdul Hakim Martinez (chriscmartinez@g.ucla.edu) by 10 March 2024.