Economic geography began to occur centuries before contemporary times in sub-Saharan Africa when foreign merchants determined what areas were suitable to trade with and what would be ignored. With that being said, there has been a tendency in recent generations to use the region for financial gain that is limited strictly to these foreign investors. To understand why they came to this continent, in particular, is a socio-economic question which supersedes any matter of geography. The impact these actions have had, however, suggest that the area is one which maintains a steady supply of natural resources and little to few government regulations. Economic geography is highlighted by its ability to seek out these vulnerable situations and profit from it, much like has occurred in sub-Saharan Africa over the past several centuries.
What Chisholm essentially did is create a better understanding of the environmental factors which dictate sub-Saharan Africa as a whole. His work has been used to justify many of the projects and initiatives which would later harm the continent but in a vacuum, they can be seen as an initial move towards recognizing the ecosystems and environment of Africa which have since been used as tools to guide economic geography rather than justify it in later years. Chisholm dedicated much of his work to understanding things such as how wind trade winds affected the area as well as the flora and fauna present in African on a regular basis (Cleaver & Schriber, 1996, p.3). Chisholm was before his time in the commitment he put towards understanding lands that were being colonized rather than expecting them to adjust to the settlers and development that expansion brought.
As with Chisholm, J. Russell Smith was at the forefront of economic geography as he focused specifically on the flora of places such as sub-Saharan Africa. It’s important not to highlight his works in specificity but instead to look at his contribution as a whole. Smith took the time to understand trees in the area in general and the damage which deforestation may cause among ecosystems throughout the region. His works have created a precedent in the business community which must be adhered to. If it were not for Smith and his ability to analyze and express the issues that would be caused by development within the region than it is more than likely that countless ecosystems would have been destroyed and the very fabric of this area would be ruined as a result.
I believe that Hartshorne, like his predecessors, made a significant impact on the economic geography of this region over the course of these past three decades. Hartshorne essentially captured what has been a growing issue in Africa in that the native citizens are being undereducated and ill-informed about the economy that is shaping around them. Rather than include these individuals within the growth and build up the communities where businesses are being created, developers are choosing to ignore them and build up their own bubble wherein they are able to continue development without being bothered or impeded by local citizens who otherwise could benefit if given the tools and resources to contribute to the assured financial gains which others are taking advantage of.
The shift which has occurred, not only within the context of Hartshorne but in the region as a whole has focused on appeasement. This wasn’t elaborated on in the text but the issue has struck me enough that further research has shown that companies who chose to develop in sub-Saharan Africa have benefited from local government agreements which are popular to few while many others suffer (Klerk, 1994, p.84). The issue with the shift at hand is that it pays lip service to these residents while, at the same time, undermining their ability to live in the same communities where generations prior had been able to thrive. I think that the reason for this shift has come from outside interests such as the UN requiring businesses to accommodate the geography where they operate out of, all the while turning a blind eye to the loopholes they exploit as a result.
I believe that child labor, in particular, should have been touched on in this chapter because it accounts for a disproportionate amount of the workforce being employed. While external interests may claim that they abide by the rules and regulations handed down to them by international agencies, the truth of the matter is that families will be unable to sustain themselves if their children cannot provide as well. Unfortunately, these new developers and businesses cannot always account for the labor which is being done and, as a result, will overlook such issues. I believe that more discussion should have been had about this matter and about how sub-Saharan business practices grow from this environment as a whole.
This is a good chapter for beginners because it discusses the root of this issue. It is important to understand how developments that are both political and economic have created a narrative over time which justifies behaviors expressed today. The sub-Saharan African region of the world is one which has been taken advantage of and exploited for the gains of countries and nations far and wide. It is relevant today and it will likely be relevant for generations forward as more and more entities attempt to stake their claim on an area that is foreign to them but native to so many others. The works of people both alive and dead have created a blueprint for moving forward which appreciates the area while offering a blueprint on how to move forward. There is much to be said, however, about the sacrifices that the people native to this region have made and it takes a strong consideration about their own livelihoods as well as the sustainability about the area, in general, to make development work moving forward. I believe that analysis into works of the past and those which continue to be put forth will provide a foundation for future development to consider.
Cleaver, K. & Schreiber, G. Reversing the Spiral. The World Bank, 1994.
Klerk, V. Focus on South Africa. Amsterdam, Netherlands: John Benjamin Publishing, 1996.
Murray, J. Report of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. London, UK: Burlington House, 1907.