VICI grant for Ewout Frankema

Frankema is to investigate why South-East Asia overcame poverty rapidly in contrast to sub-Saharan Africa.
Photo: WUR

Ewout Frankema, professor of Rural and Environmental History at WUR, was awarded an NWO (Dutch Research Council) VICI grant for 1.5 million euros. This will enable him to conduct research on the deeper historical causes that allowed countries in South-East Asia to experience a booming economic development since 1970, while the growth in almost all African countries ground to a halt.


A remarkable difference, Frankema says, because these regions were similar in many aspects until the seventies. Both regions have a history of colonial occupation, followed by a bloody decolonisation period – the wars in Vietnam, Indonesia, Uganda and Mozambique, for example. Both regions were well integrated into the global economy through the export of tropical crops such as coffee, cocoa or rubber, mining of copper and tin, and oil (in Indonesia and Nigeria). After 1970, the similarities rapidly disappeared as the countries in South East Asia industrialised, while those in Africa almost all failed to do so.

Trade flows

Different explanations have been suggested for this ‘South-South divergence’, Frankema says, including the green revolution and differences in education. ‘But the more profound historical factors have barely been studied. My hypothesis is that the differences in development originated because the economies in South-East Asia were more interlinked during the colonial rule than those in Africa. The regional trade flows in Asia were more extensive, and there was a permanent form of labour migration: Chinese and Indians settled in South-East Asia and fortified the trade contacts and overseas capital flows. In Africa, trade flows did not develop nearly as much. The process of regional integration is, in fact, yet to take place.’


Frankema intends to test his hypothesis with historical research on trade, migration, and capital flows in Asia and Africa. The VICI-grant enables him to contract a postdoc and three PhD students to study the regional integration processes and how these may have contributed to poverty reduction.

You may also like:


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to write a comment.