Article Summary: “The Effect of the TseTse Fly on African Development” by Marcella Alsan


Title: The Effect of the TseTse Fly on African Development
Author: Marcella Alsan
Scope: 3 stars
Readability: 3 stars
My personal rating: 4 stars
See more on my book rating system.

Topic of Book

Alsan conducts a statistical analysis to see how much the TseTse fly has affected the current level of African economic development.

Key Take-aways

  • The development of societies in Sub-Saharan Africa has been crippled by many geographical factors. One of the most important was the TseTse fly, which transferred “sleeping sickness” to large mammals.
  • The TseTse fly seriously limited the evolution of agricultural and Herding societies within its range. This, in turn, undermined the development of cities and government.

Important Quotes from Book

Ethnic groups inhabiting TseTse-suitable areas were less likely to use domesticated animals and the plow, less likely to be politically centralized, and had a lower population density. These correlations are not found in the tropics outside of Africa, where the fly does not exist.

The problem was especially acute given that the TseTse’s ecological niche was in fertile areas in Africa… It is remarkable that no African ethnic group occupied historically a place that was both inhospitable for the fly and yet highly suitable for agriculture.

The migratory patterns of pastoralist groups living on the edge of the Sahel were heavily influenced by the seasonal expansion and contraction of TseTse fly belts.

TseTse fly range had big impact on:

  • Use of large domesticated animals
  • Intensive cultivation
  • Plow use
  • Urbanicity in 1800

TseTse fly range had some impact on:

  • Political centralization
  • Indigenous slavery
  • Female participation in agriculture

An example is the borders of the cattle-herding Great Zimbabwe, which follow the edge of the TseTse range.

The findings suggest that TseTse-associated disease continues to influence development, mainly through its effect on precolonial centralization.

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