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Imperial profits – the return on British investments in Africa, 1869-1969

Conference contribution
Authors Klas Rönnbäck
Oskar Broberg
Published in VI Annual Meeting of the African Economic History Network
Publication year 2016
Published at Department of Economy and Society, Economic History
Department of Economy and Society
Language en
Keywords Africa, colonialism, capital, return on investments
Subject categories Economic History


In this paper, we study the return on British investments in Sub-Saharan Africa during the colonial period. The paper analyzes investments in a larger set of countries and over a longer time-period than what has been done in any previous studies, using modern-day methods of estimating the return on investments. Our results show that the return was substantially higher on investments in Africa than the return on investments in Britain or elsewhere in the world during this time. The return was highest during the Scramble for Africa and during the interwar period. The latter fact has been almost completely missed in previous research in the profitability of imperialism. The high return was clearly associated with investments in mines in Southern Africa in general (and South African in particular), and thus seem attributable to a combination of rich mineral deposits, and colonial institutions driving down many of the costs associated with the extraction of these resources.

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