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Expanding Wealth and Expanding Inequality in the
Economic History of Equatorial Africa After World War

Charlotte Walker-Said

Codice Doi

Published online on 2020/10/19

The intensification of French colonial economic exploitation and extraction in French
Equatorial Africa following World War I required concessionary companies to make
considerable investments in both production and security in the 1920s and 1930s.
When assessing economic growth, historians have tended to investigate increases in
productivity and infrastructure expansion while also noting the financial and human
cost of such endeavors. However, another, more subtle catalyst of production has often
been overlooked: that of enforcement. Africans both managed and were employed in
economic extraction schemes in the interwar period and compensation varied widely
between those who mobilized labor for production, those who imposed labor demands
through violence, and those who suffered violence and coercion as part of their
achievement of production demands. This article establishes a broader framework for
considering ‘economic development’ in Central Africa that fully encompasses the costs
and consequences of industrial escalation, the expansion of market productivity, and rise
in export production by taking into account the compensation and the deprivation that
flowed from the need to mobilize vast numbers of laborers as well as coercive forces to
compel and propel human performance.
Keywords: French Equatorial Africa, railroads, forestry, agriculture, forced labor