Migration and the Production of Informal Economies in the Gold Coast

By Kuusaana, Mariama Marciana | African Economic History, January 1, 2019 | Go to article overview

Migration and the Production of Informal Economies in the Gold Coast


Kuusaana, Mariama Marciana, African Economic History


Introduction

This study makes an attempt to address key questions which arise from the study of migration and labor in the colonial period. Paramount to this is the issue of alternative employment to formal sector employment in the wake of increased migration and urbanization in this period. A blend of archival materials and secondary sources are the sources of information backing the presentation and analysis.

Immigration in West Africa (internal and international) witnessed a phenomenal increase with the onset of formal colonial rule. In the early years of European advent, contact with the indigenous people was limited largely to the littoral and the coastal peoples, and the general impact of the European presence was quite minimal.1 However, the colonial economy introduced structures and features which resulted in not only increased internal migration but an influx of migrants of non-African origin (a mixture of Europeans and Asians). Some of the factors which influenced this situation were the labor needs of the colonial government, cash crop production, deep mining, increase in the import/export trade and the search for white-collar jobs by the educated elite. Following the Portuguese arrival on the west coast of Africa, other Europeans like the French, Danes, Dutch, British and the Germans followed. By the dawn of the twentieth century, when the entire continent had been partitioned and colonized by them, their nationals came in for administrative (political) and commercial purposes. The colonial government needed labor for harbor, road construction and other public works, recruitment into the colonial army, deep mining and cash crop production. While mining and cash crop production were usually in private hands (companies and individuals), government involvement was still necessary for regulation and order in these areas. Since all these aspects of work were labor intensive, male labor was most appropriate in almost all cases. However, in procuring this labor, force was sometimes applied, with only the men moving and leaving families behind. An East African Royal Commission Report of 1953–1955 indicates that the colonizers did not consider the towns to be “suitable habitat” for the African, and based on this assumption, employed only males in the urban setting who were not allowed to be accompanied by their families.2 In the Gold Coast, a similar principle was applied in the early decades of the twentieth century when only males were recruited from the northern part of the country to work in the south.3 The situation not only disrupted family life, but also contributed to unequal development in the country.

The second batch of immigrants of non-African origin was those from Asia and included Syrians, Lebanese, Indians, Pakistanis and Arabs, mainly for economic reasons. Of the Europeans and Asians, Kenneth Little agrees with the fact that while the Europeans were largely associated with supervisory and managerial occupations, the Asians were more inclined to commerce.4 This observation follows a logical order of events because once the Europeans were the colonizers, the majority of them would have been concerned with administrative duties. The Asians were later entrants and their main purpose was for trade and commerce.

Within West Africa, the various countries like Senegal, Upper Volta, Ivory Coast, Niger, Mali (then French Sudan), Togo, Liberia, Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, the Gambia among others received immigrants from each other. Countries located along the coastal stretch with a sizeable amount of tropical rain forest like the Gold Coast and Ivory Coast tended to be immigrant areas. Peil corroborates this by observing that comparatively favorable socio-economic conditions in the Gold Coast, Ivory Coast and the Gambia for instance made these countries attractive migrant destinations.5 For this reason, people in the Sahel areas tended to migrate more into the forest and coastal areas in the south because of much better opportunities in agriculture and trade. …

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