Global and local forces in deindustrialization: the case of cotton cloth in East Africa’s Lower Shire Valley

Kate Frederick*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Numerous scholars have suggested that nineteenth-century industrial decline in the global “periphery” was driven by externally wrought global forces that promoted cash-crop agriculture and dis-incentivized local industry, particularly strong global demand for tropical agricultural commodities and increasing competition with imports of cheap, factory-produced manufactures from industrializing regions. To what extent did global market forces affect production choices, and to what degree did local forces guide outcomes? The deindustrialization process is investigated through a case study of Malawi’s Lower Shire Valley, where the Mang’anja cloth industry declined – and cash-crop production began – in the second half of the nineteenth century. I demonstrate that changing production choices were not directly motivated by global market opportunities. Indeed, other cloth-producing sub-Saharan African regions faced nineteenth-century global forces but did not deindustrialize. Rather, economic change in the valley was stimulated by local factor-endowment shifts precipitated by both global and local forces. Labour declined sharply due to slave raiding and famine, while supplies of fertile land increased due to environmental change. Within this altered context, Mang’anja villagers responded by abandoning labour-intensive cloth production in favour of cash-crop cultivation. In more labour-abundant African regions, on the other hand, cloth production continued to thrive alongside cash-crop exports. The mechanisms behind deindustrialization can only be understood through careful local-level examination of the local contexts that influenced responses to broader global processes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)266-289
JournalJournal of Eastern African Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • cotton cloth
  • Deindustrialization
  • East Africa
  • global
  • local


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