(c) Jaco le Roux (www.jacoleroux.com)

With the World Economic History Congress 2012 kicking off in two days, the more than 800 delegates have begun arriving in the not-so-summery Stellenbosch. (The above photo, by Jaco le Roux, is a good example of the type of weather we’re wishing for.) The WEHC2012 is, of course, an exciting event for economists and historians on the African continent: not only is it the largest such conference ever held on African soil (nearly 800 papers will be delivered over five days in 15 parallel sessions), but it also the leading lekgotla for some of the most acclaimed international economic historians. With the conference theme “The Roots of Economic Development, the opening morning plenary, by James Robinson, co-author of Why Nations Fail, is sure to stimulate debate about the importance of political institutions as a causal determinant of economic development. So, too, will the debate between James and Gareth Austen on the root causes of African development on Friday afternoon. In-between, I look forward to some really interesting sessions, particularly the Presidential Session on “Inequality and the Quality of Life” (Wednesday morning, Arts building 229), the Economics of Civil War (Tuesday afternoon, Arts building 225) and two sessions of Economics and Causation in History on Friday. But there are sessions for everyone’s taste: from “Transnational Marriage Markets and Migration” (Friday afternoon, Arts building 229) and “Fashion and Economic Development” (Tuesday morning, Arts building 228), to “The Value of Used Goods” (Wednesday afternoon, Arts building 220) and “Global Land Grabbing and Food Security in Africa” (Friday morning, Arts building 220). The programme is available here.

I’ll also present a couple of papers: A session co-organised by Erik Green (Lund University), Ewout Frankema (Utrecht University) and myself will investigate the colonial causes of development and underdevelopment. We have invited papers covering diverse geographic areas, including Haiti, Tanzania, the Spanish Philippines, Mexico, Botswana and my own work on the Cape Colony. Join us in Room 226 (Arts building) on Tuesday afternoon. I’ll also present a paper on Cape living standards in Leigh Gardner’s session on “Living Standards in Africa” on Wednesday morning (Ou Hoofgebou 2027), and in Joerg Baten and Alex Moradi’s session on “Human capital and Development in Africa and Latin America” on Wednesday afternoon (Arts building 223). Finally, I’ll present some new ideas about Cape Colony fiscal policies (co-authored with Ada Jansen and Krige Siebrits) on Thursday morning in Ewout Frankema and Anne Booth’s session on “Colonial Fiscal Policies” (Ou Hoofgebou 1017).

The organisation of such a conference is a massive undertaking, and without the help of African Agenda, I’m not sure it would have been possible. Aside from the formal academic sessions, there are a host of other activities, like a book launch, a welcome dinner (at Moyo, Spier) and a cultural evening (in City Hall). And I’m sure some delegates will find some time for a wine-tour or two. Incidentally, there’s also the annual Stellenbosch International Chamber Music Festival running concurrently, so delegates in the mood for cultural enrichment should certainly consider attending a show.
We’re excited and ready to go. Let’s hope the weather plays along.

PS: If you’d like to keep abreast of news and conference updates, follow our Twitter account @wehc2012.