Economic development of Africa: microeconomic approaches

Key information

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Module code
FHEQ Level
Department of Economics

Module overview

This module explores economic development in post-colonial Africa from a microeconomic perspective. The focus is on topics that in economics are typically studied at the microeconomic level, such as food and nutrition, education and labour markets. However, while mainstream economics places the emphasis on individual behaviours, in this module we will analyse how it is necessary to contextualise individual decisions and behaviours in a broader understanding of the political economy, geographic and historical context. The module deals with theoretical and policy-relevant debates that are of interest not only to those who want to learn about Africa specifically but also to those who are seeking to develop a global understanding of economic dynamics.

Each week is dedicated to a specific topic, ranging from demographic and environmental issues to land reform and the economics of health and epidemics; each topic can be thought as a single-standing development issue or as a piece of the bigger economic development picture of Africa. The teaching approach is informed by three principles. First, historical and geographical contextualisation is key because Africa is not a country and the diversity across countries and regions will be highlighted throughout the module by using several empirical examples and case studies. Second, each topic is structured around older foundational and current debates that provide an overview of different perspectives; thus, we take a pluralist approach. Third, we seek to give space to knowledge and expertise of scholars and practitioners from African countries or based in African countries through a comprehensive reading list and invited speakers of given topics.


Pre-requisite modules:

153400123 OR 153400130 OR 153400124

(Macroeconomic Analysis OR Microeconomic Analysis OR Issues in Development Economics)

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

LO1.    Understand the main theoretical debates and controversies related to the microeconomic dimensions of African economic development;

LO2.    Distinguish African economies with regard to their main microeconomic facts and characteristics (commonalities and differences) and have a good knowledge of relevant selected case studies on particular topics;

LO3.    Understand how distinct economic actors face different constraints and how this affects economic outcomes;

LO4.    Apply their knowledge to construct a critical analysis of the development issues for a particular African country.


Two-hour lecture and a one-hour tutorial per week.

Scope and syllabus

Some of the topics discussed include demography and environment, land reform, small-scale farming and agribusiness, labour markets and informal economy, food and nutrition security, health and epidemics.

Method of assessment

One 3,000 word essay worth 50% of the total mark for the module, due Term 1.

One 3,000 word essay worth 50% of the total mark, due Term 2.

Suggested reading

  • Amanor, K. S. (2009). Global food chains, African smallholders and World Bank governance. Journal of Agrarian Change, 9(2), 247-262.
  • Aryeetey, E. (2002). Feature: Taking Africa Seriously: A Case for Enhanced Resource Flow to Facilitate Development and Reduce Poverty. Journal of African Economies, 11(2), 282-307.
  • Chang, H-J (2009) 'Economic History of the Developed World: Lessons for Africa', lecture delivered in the Eminent Speakers Programme of the African Development Bank, 26 February, 2009.
  • Jerven, M. (2011). The quest for the African dummy: explaining African post‐colonial economic performance revisited. Journal of International Development, 23(2), 288-307.
  • Johnston, D. (2013). Economics and HIV: the sickness of economics. Routledge.
  • O'Laughlin, B. (2013). Land, Labour and the Production of Affliction in Rural Southern Africa. Journal of Agrarian Change, 13(1), 175-196.
  • Ossome, L. (2014). Can the law secure women's rights to land in Africa? Revisiting tensions between culture and land commercialization. Feminist Economics, 20(1), 155-177.
  • Tsikata, D. (2016). Gender, land tenure and agrarian production systems in sub-Saharan Africa. Agrarian South: Journal of Political Economy, 5(1), 1-19.
  • Unterhalter, E., & North, A. (2011). Responding to the gender and education Millennium Development Goals in South Africa and Kenya: Reflections on education rights, gender equality, capabilities and global justice. Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education, 41(4), 495-511.
  • Wallace, R. G., & Wallace, R. (2016). Neoliberal Ebola. Springer International Publishing Switzerland.


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