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The Western Sudan In The Middle Ages. Underdevelopment In The Empires Of The Western Sudan

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Chapter Summary

Professor Małowist has made a bold attempt to interpret the causes of economic backwardness in the empires of Mali and Songhai. Drawing on comparisons with eastern Europe in order to contribute not only to our knowledge of west African economic history, but also to the wider problem of economic incentives in pre-industrial societies. This chapter suggests that Professor Małowist's main argument suffers from weaknesses, both of data and method, which together make his general thesis untenable. Professor Małowist model of underdevelopment may be stated thus: easy conditions = lack of incentives = failure to develop. Briefly restated, the two principal criticisms of Małowist 's article are first, that it advances a view of life in the western Sudan which cannot be substantiated on the basis of the sources at present available. Second, that it seeks to establish an explanation of economic backwardness which is unacceptable because it is so incomplete.

Keywords: Małowist debate; underdevelopment; western Sudan



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