Category Archives: Ellye Gersh

Political and Economic Effects of Colonialism in Africa

Colonization had a profound effect on all aspects of life in Africa. The changes made by colonizers not only affected politics, culture, and lifestyle, but also had a deep effect on the economy both at the time of colonization and today. This has led to a large issue with food insecurity, as the crops that colonizers forced in Africa are not sustainable or nutritious enough for the African people to thrive.

Prior to colonization, African countries had economic relations with many other regions, both transcontinental and within Africa. This led to the eruption of a few very wealthy areas as well as individuals. One individual greatly led to the development of strong economic systems in Africa, the ruler of the Mali Empire in the 1300s, Mansa Musa. The trade of gold and salt, both natural and abundant resources in West Africa, allowed for a large amount of exports across Africa, growing the empire’s economy exponentially. Upon his expedition to Mecca, Mansa Musa’s ideas and expertise were spread to many other regions in West and North Africa, allowing them to grow their economies as well. More specific information about Mansa Musa can be found here “This 14th-Century African Emperor Remains the Richest Person in History”.

Colonization from Western states began as a direct result of the increased economies in certain regions of Africa. Europe colonized areas that they never had any relations with because they suddenly realized that the areas contained resources that they wanted to utilize, such as the gold and salt that Mansa Musa exported. This began the rapid expansion of colonialism throughout all of Africa by a few European states, primarily England and France, commonly known as the Scramble for Africa. Many regions of Africa were colonized simply so that another state could not move in. This is entirely an economic and political strategy and shows the complete disregard for the African states other than for the resources they provide. Because of the international trading routes that many regions already had in place, it was easy for the European states to colonize and take full advantage of the African states.

Picture9Colonizing regions saw the sophisticated trading networks and exploited the African nations rather than simply taking a part in the trade. These colonizers took advantage of not only the structured economic systems put in place, but also the people: their culture, political systems, and used them as a resource. According to the article, “The Impact of Colonialism on African Economic Development”, the colonizers began to set up a “commodity-based trading system, a cash crop agriculture system, and [built] a trade network linking the total economic output of a region to the demands of the colonizing state.” Often these commodities and cash crops were not items that the Africans could use, but rather just items that the Europeans wanted to export and sell.

This commodity trading system involving cash crops was a huge cause of food insecurity in Africa. The colonizers forced the Africans to grow crops that could be exported and sold for the maximum profit. As a result, items that would be nutritious and provide overall sustenance while being sustainable were not being grown any longer or were much less abundant.

Picture10Perhaps the largest effect of colonization on the economic systems in Africa are a result of the slave trade. While the slave trade occurred prior to colonization, many of the South African people are descendants of former slaves. Because of the socioeconomic disparity as a direct result of the slave trade, it allowed for the colonizers to exploit them. The slave trade was not only a constant source of income for several hundred years, but also introduced the concept of credit and debt, which led to the idea of interest. This was all done in order to benefit the economies of the European states, while severely weakening the African economies. Europe was able to do this by forcing Africans to import items from Europe that they could have easily made locally, subjecting them to paying a large cost.

While today, the African countries are free of colonization and the slave trade has ended, their legacies created a long-term impact on the political economy and therefore food security. Still today, many of the crops in Africa that are being widely and prominently grown, and therefore are available to those with lower incomes, are not providing balanced nutrition, leading to malnutrition.

There has been research into different ways to enhance the agricultural system in Africa and therefore help grow more nutritional and diverse foods. The article, “Local fertilizers to achieve food self-sufficiency in Africa”, examines the fertilizers currently used in Africa on crops both sold and consumed. This is important because the increase in correct fertilizer use could aid in the number of crops produced, as well as the types. As a result, it will lead to a decrease in food insecurity by increasing sustainability. An issue is the accessibility and cost of the fertilizers, but research has been done and there are options for locally sourced and reasonably priced fertilizers. These must be available and widely used in order to help achieve food security by 2030.

The effect that colonization had on Africa spans many different areas, but perhaps one of the largest and most detrimental effects is the economy: both at the time of colonization and today. This has led to a large issue with food insecurity as the colonizers put all of the agricultural focus on profitable crops, not ones sustainable or nutritious enough for the African people to be considered nourished.


21st Century Globalization in the Form of Food in Africa

We hear a lot about how McDonald’s and other fast food chains can now be found in essentially every corner of the world, but the question we had was, does this form of 21st century globalization also apply to Africa?  It turns out that Africa has only fairly recently developed a taste for fast food, but now that love affair is set to take off.  According to the market research company Euromonitor, fast food chains in Africa grew 3-4 percent annually between 2009 and 2014.  Steady growth numbers such as these have made many people in the business world take a closer look at the food service sector in Africa.  This blog post will look at what a possible expansion of fast food will mean for Africans.  We will look at the types and prevalence of fast food as well as the disparities in fast food by region.  We will then take a small dive into the economic, religious, and health effects of fast food in Africa as well as what an increase in fast food will do for Africa’s relationship with the global west and how Africa perceives countries like the United States.


The number one reason for the recent growth in fast food in Africa is the fact that Africa has a growing middle class.  In many places in Africa, there are just now enough people with disposable income to support a fast food restaurant.  On top of that, in many urban areas the lifestyle has undergone a number of changes and now more than ever, more Africans are on the go and in need of a quick meal.  Dionne Searcey, the West and Central African bureau chief for the New York Times, wrote a piece in 2017 about how she has been amazed by how much fast food has grown in the past couple of years. Her major takeaway was that Africans seem to love the American diet regardless of whether or not the food came from an American chain, or a newly_opened African knockoff.


Fast food is not really anything new for some parts of Africa.  In fact, fast food has had a strong presence in South Africa for quite some time.  In a sense, the Republic of South Africa is ground zero for fast food entering the continent.  In 2013 KFC was already well established, with 771 outlets in South Africa and others that were popping up across the region of southern Africa.  Other parts of Africa, such as West Africa and East Africa, are just now starting to see fast food chains come in.  Elias Shulze, a managing partner at the Africa Group said that Nigeria and Kenya are the two best candidates for growth in the fast food sector because both countries have an emerging middle class and a strong private sector already in place.

The strongest motivating factor for the growth of fast food in the changing African economy.  According to Credit Suisse, there are now 20 million African adults who are considered to be in the middle class.  While this is only a little more than 3 percent of Africa’s total population, the African middle class has doubled in the last decade and is expected to grow at the fastest rate in the world by the Development Bank.  Read more here on the African middle class.  All of the growth that has already happened and the future growth that is projected has attracted many investors and developers, and it seems like fast food companies are poised to win big in Africa.


American-styled cuisine has been altered slightly to account for certain religious dietary habits in Africa.  Thirty-three fast food restaurant chains in Africa offer some kind of halal offerings, even American chains such as McDonald’s, Burger King, Pizza Hut, and KFC.  There are even some fast food chains that are owned by Muslims and serve traditional Lebanese or Indian food using the fast food model.

The rapid introduction of fast food and the American-style diet into Africa has had several negative health effects for the population.  A World Health Organization study found that the childhood obesity rate has surged in the last 25 years, and the number of obese children on the continent has almost doubled.  At a more local level, the numbers are even more startling.  For instance, in Ghana obesity rates surged 650 percent since the first KFC came in 1980, going from 2 percent of the Ghanaian population to over 13 percent.  In the United States today there is a lot of pressure on fast food chains to fall in line with healthier food practices, and many chains have responded by offering healthier option.  In African fast food restaurants, however, healthier options are rarely or never offered.  The prevalence of the American diet has not just led to an increase in obesity; it has also led to an increase in several related diseases such as diabetes, kidney failure, heart attack, and stroke.  This has put a strain on Africa’s health systems, which are designed to deal with communicable diseases such as malaria or HIV/AIDS and are now having trouble handling the influx of preventable diseases.  In the United States, it is now a widely-known fact that junk food is bad for you and consuming it in large quantities can have detrimental health outcomes.  In Africa, that information is not as clear.  For more information on this issue check out the following links:“McDonald’s Hits the World”


Globalization is not just a one-way street.  It is clear that American food culture has had a large influence on Africans.  However, while this is happening, African culture is making its way into American culture on the African continent.  Most chains have altered their menus to include more local flavors.  There are Pizza Huts in West Africa serving jollof rice as a topping on pizza, and many restaurants offer African food alongside American staples like a burger or chicken nuggets.  Even though most of the fast food restaurants are owned by large brands based in the United States and Europe, quite a few local restaurants are owned by Africans but serve American food.  There is even one instance of one of these African chains taking a trip in the opposite direction over the Atlantic Ocean.  Chesa Nyama, a South African BBQ chicken chain, has been very successful in Africa and recently released plans to open a new restaurant in Nashville, Tennessee.  It should be noted that the Chesa Nyama story is an outlier and not the norm.  For more information on how globalization can work the other way, check out these links:

The success of the American-styled fast food industry in Africa can be largely attributed to the existing perceptions that Africans had about the West.  In many ways, these chains had gotten decades of free advertising through movies, TV shows, and other types of media that featured food like pizza and burgers.  On top of all this free press, fast food chains were able to take full advantage of the long-held belief that Western culture and consumer goods were seen as a sign of class.  If you are eating American food, you are associated with a higher class within society.  Fast food has also benefited from the globalization of technology and the internet.  Many multinational fast food chains have become very effective of advertising via social media sites such as Facebook.  Africans, especially kids and young adults, are exposed to these kinds of restaurants and their American food.  Showing Africans that their peers in America are eating fast food makes Africans want some too.  The interesting thing is that the very thing that Africans hold up as being superior and belonging to a higher class is also causing major health risks.  Time will only tell if the fast food trend can be transformed into a continual growth for the sector in Africa.

For a look at one interesting South African chain that sells “North American” food, check out Spur Steak Ranches.  Notice how their entire idea of North American food is based off of stereotypes.

Foreign Aid’s Effect on Africa

Foreign aid in Africa has had significant impacts on the continent, impacts that are sometimes contradictory. Foreign aid comes from a host of different countries, but the three biggest donors are Russia, the United States, Europe, and China. When an African state receives foreign aid, the state or group that provides the aid gains a little bit of influence on that African state.

Russia, both now and when it was part of the Soviet Union, has had a big influence in Africa. Russia has given plenty of foreign aid to Africa in many different forms. During the Cold War, the USSR provided several African countries with military aid, including the training of over 200,000 soldiers by the Soviets, while an additional 53,000 people studied at a military or political university in the Soviet Union. As a consequence, the Soviet Union made Africa more militarized, which allowed the violence in Africa to only become deadlier. Furthermore, through aid to authoritarian governments in Africa, the Soviets helped create many one-party states, which helped increase and strengthen the neo-patrimonial system in some African states. This creation of the one-party state was very appealing to many leaders of African states because it would help the leader personally benefit. The one-party system might not be as strong in Africa as it once was, but it has shaped the structures of many African governments today.

China’s policy about foreign aid differs from that of Russia and the Soviet Union. China has focused more on building up infrastructure in Africa states, in the hope that the aid that China provides will come back to help the Chinese economy in the long term. Unlike the United States, China is less interested in political influence over African states; the Chinese attitude is that less state intervention is better for trade and will help boost the state sovereignty of both parties. China’s work to modernize Africa’s infrastructure has been cited by many as contributing to the recent economic growth in Africa.

The United States also provides many African countries with foreign aid, both directly and indirectly, through multilateral organizations. The United States used its influence at the World Bank to help the U.S. status in obtaining certain Africa commodities like oil, gold, diamonds, tea, and coffee. U.S. aid towards Africa has resulted mostly in benefitting the United States, similarly to China, but in the political sphere, by contrast, the United States has tried to influence many African states through aid attached to anti-communist rhetoric during the Cold War. After the end of the Cold War, U.S. foreign aid arrived alongside the rhetoric of “development,” as a way to encourage African states to position themselves under the American sphere of influence. Increasingly, in the 2000s and the U.S. “War on Terror” and beyond, there was a huge change in how U.S. foreign aid was given in Africa. The United States now primarily offers African states is military aid, which can be defined as better training for state military personnel, equipment supply, and the cooperation of many African states together, all as part of anti-terrorism efforts.

Some might argue that the aid that is given to Africa doesn’t help the problems but only makes them worse. Dambisa Moyo, an economist at Cambridge University, writes, “The aid has gone mainly to governments. This has produced corruption and made the control of the state the main path to wealth and prosperity. This, in turn, has led to an insurrection, political instability, and civil war. Political instability makes private investment in Africa out of the question, furthering the government’s addiction to foreign aid.” This quote highlights the idea that the aid given to a government only increases the dependence on the foreign aid for the state.

Since independence, between the Soviet Union, China, the United States, and many other countries in the Global North, the contribution of foreign aid has created many long-term effects that can still be seen today, effects that are not always predictable but are always complex.


“Weaning Africa off Foreign Aid.” The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, no. 63 (2009): 85.

Goldsmith, Arthur A. “Foreign Aid and Statehood in Africa.” International Organization 55, no. 1 (2001): 123-48.

Englebert, Pierre, and Kevin C. Dunn. Inside African Politics. Boulder, CO: Rienner, 2013.

Religious Foods in Africa

Religions in Africa

Prior to the introduction of religious holidays into Africa, there were many native religions. Despite the vast amount of native religions that each had various traditions and beliefs, they also had many similarities. The main thing that they had in common was the profound effect on the daily lives of Africans. The way they thought, acted, and even who they interacted with was all dependent on their religion and religious beliefs.

Picture34In addition, all religions in Africa had a variety of shared values: “a belief in one God above a host of lesser gods or semi-divine figures; a belief in ancestral spirits; the idea of sacrifice, often involving the death of a living thing, to ensure divine protection and generosity; the need to undergo rites of passage to move from childhood to adulthood, from life to death” (“The Story of Africa”).

Despite the large amount of native religions, today, most of the continent follows Christianity or Islam. 


How did non-native religions get to Africa?


Islam was first introduced to Northern Africa when Muslim refugees came to seek safety from the Arabian Peninsula. The spread continued in the 600s, following Mohammed’s death, when an invasion spread the culture into Western Africa. This was further spread into East Africa, in the eighth century, as trade between West Asia and East Africa began to be more prominent. The first Africans to convert to Islam were Sudanese merchants. The conversion was mainly done by elites: In the 11th century, elites in Ghana began to convert and elites in Mali followed in the 13th century. The spread continued, despite not getting a lot of attention by those of lower social classes, but was sporadic and did not follow any patterns.


According to fable, Christianity was brought from Israel to Egypt in 60 AD by an evangelist. It then slowly spread both east and west. As time progressed, it became a more widely used religion, even becoming the official religion in Ethiopia in the 4th century. In the seventh century, Islam began to become more widely practiced, when compared to Christianity, in the North. It was not completely eradicated, as it was still practiced in some areas, such as Ethiopia. In the fifteenth century, Christianity was spread to Sub-Saharan Africa when the Portuguese arrived and in 1652, the Dutch Reform Church began to be founded. There were still large areas in the middle of the continent that continued practicing native religions until the 1800s, when Christian missionaries came over. They were successful in causing religious changes from native religions to Christianity but were not as successful in causing change from Islam to Christianity.

More information on religion can be found at “The Story of Africa” and “Trade and the Spread of Islam in Africa”.


Holidays in Africa

Because western religions are celebrated in Africa, so are the holidays that come with the various religions. There are many other holidays, though, that are specifically celebrated in each country.

For example, Botswana is primarily Christian; therefore, they celebrate Christmas and Easter, but they also have other national holidays. They have Sir Seretse Khama Day in order to celebrate their first president and Botswana Day to celebrate their independence and Botswana Day to celebrate their independence. At these large events, it is custom to have dances, festivals, speeches, and food. At ceremonial, large, public events, it is common for the men to cook the main part of the meal, which consists of large cast iron pots filled with meat that cooks until tender. Women prepare the side dishes often consisting of “porridge and/ or rice, pumpkin/squash, and often cole slaw or beet salad” (Countries and Their Cultures).

Even holidays that are religious ones celebrated in other regions of the world celebrate with different foods depending on the region.

For instance, again using Botswana as an example, due to the Christian religion, Christmas is celebrated. Combining the Botswanan traditions and Christian ones, the national food, Seswaa (a dish consisting of beef or goat stew over corn porridge), is made. The tradition of giving gifts occurs in Botswana but is less common due to the largely impoverished nation. Instead, the day is filled with family, friends, and traditions.

An example of an Islamic tradition is Eid al-Adha, which is the feast that occurs after a sacrifice. As such, meat, typically, cow, lamb, or goat, is consumed for this Muslim holiday internationally. In Côte d’Ivoire, while this tradition occurs, the animal that is typically sacrificed and served is a sheep, camel, or ox and is served “with sauce, rice, yam or eggplant, salads, and soups or stews” (“Côte d’Ivoire”). This is due to the availability of animals in the region, as well as the accompaniments being foods that are more common and indigenous and therefore available.

The traditional way that most of the religious holidays are celebrated (religious service, fasting, parties, etc.) tend to generally follow the customary, common international practices. Most of the food that is eaten in African countries on holidays are very dependent on the availability of ingredients. They tend to include dishes that are not specific to a certain holiday, but rather dishes that are specific to the region.

This website has a list of all of the public holidays in the various countries in Africa: “Public Holidays Global

Here is more information on “The Holiday Traditions of Botswana

Here is more information on “Côte d’Ivoire”.

Women are the Key to Reducing Food Insecurity in Africa

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), over 50% of the food grown internationally is done so by women. More specifically, in Sub-Saharan Africa, “women contribute 60 to 80 percent of the labour in both food production for household consumption and for sale… women’s contributions to household food production range from 30 percent in Sudan to 80 percent in the Congo,while the proportion of women in the economically active labour force in agriculture ranges from 48 percent in Burkina Faso to 73 percent in the Congo (FAO, Picture331994)” (“Women’s contributions to agricultural production and food security: Current status and perspectives”). While the actual responsibilities of women differ in each country; overall, women provide most of the physical labor involved in agricultural practices, as well as most of the household preparation of food.

So what?

The level to which food insecurity occurs in Africa is attributed to gender inequality or the gender gap. Men and women who are both involved in food production have unequal access to a variety of things that aid in food security including “land and capital, credit, agricultural inputs, education and appropriate technology” (“Women’s contributions to agricultural production and food security: Current status and perspectives”). Socially and culturally women are seen as inferior. This is a Western concept that was brought to Africa along with colonization. As a result, the idea of gender roles was also introduced, but in food production has been more of a conceptual idea rather than an actualized one. Women do the majority of the agricultural work across Africa but they continue to be undervalued and underacknowledged. This is partially because of legislation that makes it nearly impossible for women to own and control land. As a result, they are doing the majority of the work, but have very little control over what they are doing. This impacts food security as they are directly cultivating the crops, as well as the lack of an income needed to purchase food for the household and prepare it. This means that women are responsible for providing nutritious and balanced meals for the families, but do not have the means to do so. It has been shown that women spend more of their income on household goods when compared to men but have less of an income than men. This results in less nutritious and less of a variety of foods being purchased. In addition to the lack of income, with the gender gap, women are often not provided education on balanced and nutritious diets. The FAO therefore has claimed that equalizing the gender gap will be the most efficient way to combat food insecurity.

What can be done?

Because of the food insecurity in Africa being partially attributed to gender inequality, more emphasis has been put on examining gender inequality in order to increase food production and decrease poverty, therefore improving security. There are many researchers who stress the necessity of programs surrounding the issues of food production in the areas of both education and training. These programs should specifically target gender issues relating to the topics. Rather than being “gender blind”, these programs should be focusing on providing the different training needed for men and women, as they have different issues surrounding food security. Never Assan, an Associate Professor of Animal Production at the Zimbabwe Open University, claimed that it is necessary to for women to be educated in sustainable food production in addition to being empowered through policy making (“Relevance and feasibility of women’s involvement in promoting sustainable food production and security in Southern Africa”).

Research already shows the value that providing programs dedicated to women has on food security: According to the article, “Relevance and feasibility of women’s involvement in promoting sustainable food production and security in Southern Africa”, a study was done examining many developing countries from 1970 through 1995. It was discovered that 43% of the decline in hunger was credited to the progress in women education.

The education put in place to close the gender gap will be most effective if it combines the outside aid of those with professional skills and knowledge with people in the community who share and know the workings of everyday life in that region. Because of the different farming practices in different regions in Africa, including the acknowledgement of different climates and access to various technological advances, there is not a one size fits all solution. By having members of the community aid in the training, jobs are being created and the education will become more specialized to the region. Specific programs and training should be implemented and as such, research and planning must be done prior. In these programs, the differences in gender roles and availability of resources should be discussed, teaching women how to best work with what they have access to, in addition to addressing farming for personal use verses farming for economic and community use. It is expected that the training and education will directly cause there to be an increase in food available, helping to decrease food insecurity.

Overall, the necessity of “access to productive resources, education and training, provision of extension services, credit facilities and appropriate technology” (“Relevance and feasibility of women’s involvement in promoting sustainable food production and security in Southern Africa”) is crucial for women in order to close the gender gap and increase food security throughout Africa. As a result of the closure of the gap, there will be an increase in food production, a greater role in agriculture for women, as well as better financial situations, which allow women to provide more nutritional food for their families.