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Periodical article Periodical article Leiden University catalogue Leiden University catalogue WorldCat catalogue WorldCat
Title:'No Elders Were Present': Commoners and Private Ownership in Asante, 1807-1896
Author:Austin, GarethISNI
Periodical:The Journal of African History
Geographic term:Ghana
Subjects:private sector
income distribution
Ashanti polity
Peoples of Africa (Ethnic Groups)
History and Exploration
Economics and Trade
External link:https://www.jstor.org/stable/183286
Abstract:The impression, given by most of the existing literature, of near total State dominance over the economic resources of wealth in the Asante economy (Ghana) during the period 1807-1883, is mistaken. Although there was a large and often thriving State sector, the evidence suggests that the private sector, too, was a major force in the extrasubsistence economy. It appears that it was possible for commoners to acquire wealth through both external and internal trade, and through production for both export and domestic markets. The widespread acquisition of slaves by commoners, for incorporation in their households, was both a measure of financial achievement and a critical means for enhancing it in future. Death duties amounted normally to a form of progressive taxation rather than to wholesale expropriation. It seems reasonable to assume that the strong position of commoners involved a relative decline in the chiefs' share of foreign trade and general wealth during the period. This shift in the distribution of income had political consequences. The argument, put forward by I. Wilks, about the emergence of a 'middle class' element in the political conflicts of the last years of Asante independence needs to be revised. In any case, it was a mass of commoners, rather than an 'organized middle class', that took the decisive role in the uprising that overthrew Mensa Bonsu in 1883. Notes, ref., sum.