Category Archives: Nick Gottemoller

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.


The Hunger of War: Food scarcity and Competition in Africa


When looking at what most affects food security, it seems obvious that the first point of call would be conflict itself. But why is this the case? In focusing on the recent conflicts on the continent, 3 assumptions can come from this: first, conflict takes away a state’s priorities for sustainable food production, second: conflict directs the majority of food supplies to those fighting, and therefore often away from areas which are most in need and finally, there is a general reduction in crop supply owing to damages made to the land and reduced laborers to harvest crops. As shown by the international food policy research institution, because conflict disrupts markets and agricultural production it will ultimately reduce food availability.

Food security in Africa has 2 elements. When it comes to conflict people’s access to food is reduced two-fold because they lack the economic means to purchase food owing to the fact that there will be reduced state subsidies decreasing the price of food, and secondly because of the notion of supply and demand. With a reduced supply owing to the factors that will be discussed, demand increases making accessing such food harder. This is particularly true in Africa where there are high levels of subsistence farming (producing food for one’s self).

Under the General definition of conflict it entails multitudesof destruction as the aim is to reduce one’s opponent to a point where they can no longer fight as shown by Messer and Cohen. Thus, the reduction of crop production becomes an intrinsic part of conflict therefore reducing food security both short term and long term because crops will be destroyed therefore decreasing the amount available to feed the population. It will also reduce the ability to produce more crops in the future. This is the case for three reasons: economic, environmental and social:

Through the destruction of property there is clearly a need for repair and therefore to pay for such repairs. Secondly, the destruction of property is likely to affect the soil so the land will become less productive for a number of years and third, conflict will entail a loss of life which will decrease the number of labourers who can harvest and farm the land

The aforementioned points link to the rising incidence of famines to conflict. This is exemplified in Somalia where in 1991-1992drought caused severe famine. What can be taken from this is that it is a lack of decent management of the land and resources the leads to such severe effects on food production, something which is feared to reoccur now in Somalia.

Furthermore, a state’s priorities will shift from the production of food to militarising certain areas during times of war. This is certainly the case for inter-state conflict and even more so when we look at civil war. In this state priorities are damaged and disrupted even further because the state apparatus will be weakened as part of an intra-state conflict. Therefore, in areas of active conflict there will be increases in the level of food insecurity because there is less priority placed on the production of food for consumption and more on cash crops and feeding military forces. Evidently from recent data collected by the World Food Program on the violence in DRC  in 2015, 1 in 10 people living in rural areas are in a situation of food security. This as the World Food Program shows has been caused by reduced availability and access owing to the inability of the state to provide access to quality food during the escalating violence.

Finally, conflicts direct food away from areas that are most in need. This is particularly true in areas that have experienced conflict in the past or where large number of refugees have settled. Evidently, prioritization takes place under policies during times of conflict in which those considered both internationally and internally displaced persons are pushed to the bottom of the hierarchy. This is what leads to such a high incidence of food insecurity in correlation with conflicts because these populations are the most vulnerable. This is particularly the case in Guinea. From data collected by the international food policy research institute from there were 2,300,000 total food insecure people in Guinea. What is alarming about this is that these are refugees from neighbouring conflicts, people who will already be in highly vulnerable situations where their food security is likely to have been even lower.

Food security itself can also cause conflict. As shown by the 2004 study, the factors which lead to conflict in developing countries include intergroup competition over resources such as land, water and developmental aid

Much of the conflict analysis that took place on the continent between 1980-1990s shows a link with identity politics which was heighted by the perceived scarcity of primary resources – ‘Grievance’. This was the case Rwanda where competition over land between the two groups and therefore access to agricultural improvement programs directly preceded the 1994 genocide. So it is a fear over a lack of resourcesand the want to gain sufficient amounts of food, that enabled the escalation of ethnic tensions that already existed in Rwanda following the Belgium preference of the Tutsi’s as shown by Englebert and Dunne. In both post conflict and pre-conflict situations there can be a connection made between this perceived ‘grievance’ (possible lack of food) and conflict because of the want to possess food over others.

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.

West Africa

West Africa is generally understood to compose the western-most part of sub-Saharan Africa.  It is made up of 19 countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cabo Verde, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo.  The region is characterized by high levels of geographic, cultural, and historic diversity that have both colonial and precolonial roots.  This blog post will provide background on topics such as climate, politics, and economics in Western Africa, which is helpful when thinking about how West African food developed to what it is today.


The geography of West Africa is incredibly varied, and in many instances, two very different climates coexist within close proximity.  Generally speaking, the climate progresses from being dry or semiarid in the northern parts of the region to being humid tropical rainforests in the southern parts, closer to the coast of the Atlantic Ocean.  The northern part of Western Africa encompasses a transitional zone known as the Sahel.  The Sahel stretches across the continent from east to west and separates the Sahara Desert to the north and the savannahs to the south.  In West Africa the Sahel goes through Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, and Chad.  It is a large plateau with higher elevation than in the lower-lying coastal south.


The rainfall in West Africa also varies considerably between the north and the south.  The southern and more coastal parts of the region receive about 50 inches of rainfall each year, while the northern, more arid parts receive only about 10 inches.  This contrast in rainfall results in stark differences in the types of vegetation that grow in each region.  The northern parts of the Sahel contain very little in the way of plant life, with a few small trees and scrub vegetation.  In the areas just south of the Sahel, the vegetation is composed of grassland and a few taller trees.  In the areas near the coasts that see the most rain, there are a number of equatorial rainforests.  These rainforests contain a large amount of biodiversity and are found within 150 miles of the ocean.  Both the northern and the southern areas of West Africa have two primary seasons; a rainy season and a dry season.  These seasons vary in length and intensity based on the distance location from the equator.  Longer and wetter rainy seasons are more prevalent closer to the equator with shorter and drier rainy seasons occurring further from the equator.  In recent decades, seasonal rains have at times been unreliable, thus causing drought and famine.  Geographic factors and climate variation have a significant impact on the kinds of food that can be grown in West Africa. Some parts of the region, especially those closer to the cost or in river basins, make for fertile land to grow a variety of grains, fruits, vegetables and nuts.  Other parts of West Africa such as the northern Sahel have climates where only a few drought-resistant crops such as peas, millet, and sorghum can grow.  People who live in this region rely on imported foods to live year-round.  As commodity prices have risen, food security is greatly threatened.  For more information on West African climate, check out


West Africa has a long and complex history that dates back about 10,000 years.  Organized society in West Africa can be traced as far back as 1500 BC.  Founded in 300 AD, the Empire of Ghana rose to prominence, becoming the first major state to take shape.  By the 8th century, the Empire of Ghana had risen to power via its control of the Trans-Saharan trade routes and vast amounts of gold composites.  The empire was thwarted in the 11th century by Muslim traders, and by the 13th century, the region was controlled almost entirely by the Mali Empire.  Over the next several centuries, empires such as the Empire of Songhai, the Kingdom of Kongo, the Empire of Jolof, and the Almoravids would rise and fall, each one controlling substantial parts of West Africa before their decline.

By the 13th century, West Africa’s wealth and gold had drawn the attention of many European monarchs.  This coincided with the fall of West Africa’s great empires.  Prince Henry of Portugal was the first one to aggressively pursue West African exploration by way of sea.  Portugal spent the latter half of the 13th century exploring the coast and building trading posts.  Over the next two centuries, the French, British, and Dutch would join them.  European expedition into West Africa did not come easy, as Europeans were met with resistance by natives, and their influence was contained to the coasts.  After King Leopold’s aggressive claiming of the Congo, there was a mad dash for West Africa.  The region was split up between the British, French, Germans, Portuguese, and Spanish.

Originally, the colonizers sought to exploit the gem and gold trade in West Africa, but colonial interests evolved to include slaver labor and to the production and trade of cash crops such as coffee, cocoa, rubber, nuts, and cotton.  This pattern of agriculture, which is still evident today, has had a significant impact on West African food security, as fertile land is used to grow cash crops instead of food.


Each colonial power had its own style of rule.  The French had a tight grip on its colonies in West Africa and tried to convert Africans to accept French culture through a process of assimilation.  The British went for a less direct rule and delegated power to local leaders.  Portugal and Spain were particularly brutal when it came to ruling their colonies, and Germany was forced to hand over its West African colonies following defeat in WWI.  Calls for independence started well before WWII, but the first West African country to gain independence did not do so until 1957, when Ghana gained its independence from Britain.  Within the next three years, most West African countries would become independent, with some countries leaving their colonizer on better terms than others.  The last West African country to gain independence was Guinea-Bissau; the country had to wait until 1973 before Portugal begrudgingly granted them independence.  Today, former French colonies tend to have closer ties with their colonizer than former non-French colonies (Guinea being the only exception).  Like Africa as a whole, independent West Africa struggled with governance in the wake of independence.  Unstable economies based on cash crops, weak and undeveloped political institutions, and internal conflict along ethnic and religious lines (large Christian-Muslim divide in many West African countries) led to numerous coups and civil wars.  External forces that through money and resources into violent conflict in West Africa during the Cold War, made this era particularly bloody.  The fact that West Africa has failed to establish an integrated economy has only increased the possibility of internal conflict.  For more detailed information on West Africa’s history and conflict check out or

West Africa’s diverse land, history, and culture are all important things to consider when studying the regions culinary culture and struggles with food security.  Each West African plate has a story to tell about the region’s climate, colonization, religion, and culture.  A thorough understanding of the region’s background allows us to see food as a story.

Jollof Rice


Jollof rice is one of the most popular dishes in West Africa.  Like other popular dishes in the region, there is a lot of variation in how the dish is served in different countries or regions within West Africa.  It is worth noting the importance that rice has played a significant role in the West African diet for much of history.  African rice, which is different from rice native to Asia, has been cultivated for thousands of years in West Africa, and many believe that it is the key to food security in the region.  Generally speaking, jollof rice consists of rice tomatoes or tomato paste, palm oil, onions, salt, spices (usually cumin, nutmeg, and ginger), and chili peppers. Depending on where you are, the rice can be served with meat (usually chicken), fish, and additional vegetables.  The origins of the dish can be traced back to the Senegambia region of Africa during the time of the Jolof Empire, hence the name jollof rice.  It is believed that the dish was likely spread by tradesmen through the Mali Empire along with rice-based agriculture and Islam.

Jollof rice has become a point of pride in West Africa.  There is a longstanding debate between Nigeria and Ghana over which country has the best jollof.  Celebrities and politicians from both countries have contributed to the debate by talking about how bad the jollof rice is from the other country. You can read more about the great Nigeria–Ghana jollof debate here:

Jollof rice has played an important role in the history of food outside of Africa as well.  Jollof is widely accepted as an ancestor to many dishes that are eaten today in America, especially ones that originated from the Louisiana area such as jambalaya and gumbo.  The African diaspora brought the dish to the United States, and British colonizers even began to grow the African variety of rice in the American South.  One compared jollof in West Africa to pizza in the United States.  Everywhere you go, you will see the same basic ingredients, but everyone does it a little bit differently and everyone claims that their version is the best.  You can learn more about the significance of jollof rice’s influence on food in the United States here: Below is one recipe for jollof rice that I found on

Jollof Rice, A West African Staple

Follow this recipe to learn to make one of the most popular West African dishes, Jollof Rice, with this easy-to-follow recipe.


  • 2 medium tomatoes roughly chopped (about 5 ounces each)
  • 1/2 medium Scotch bonnet pepper or use a habanero pepper, stem removed
  • 1/2 medium onion roughly chopped
  • 3 small red bell peppers roughly chopped (about 5 ounces each)
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons hot ground chili pepper such as African dried chili or cayenne
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon plus
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme
  • 2 1/2 cups medium-grain rice
  • Water as needed


  1. Combine tomatoes, scotch bonnet pepper and onions and purée in a blender.
  2. Pour half of the purée into a bowl and set aside for later.
  3. Add the bell peppers to the remaining mixture in the blender and blend until smooth.
  4. Add to the blender mixture that was set aside and blend all together.
  5. Heat vegetable oil in a large pot over medium heat.
  6. Add blended mixture along with the salt, curry powder, ground chili pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, bay leaves, ginger and thyme to oil. Bring mixture to a boil.
  7. Stir in the rice until well mixed, then reduce the heat to low.
  8. Cover pot and let cook until rice is al dente, about 45 minutes.
  9. After 25-30 minutes, check; if rice is too saucy, remove the lid to cook off the excess sauce. If too dry, add 1 to 2 cups water and stir.