‘I Read Towards My Biases.’ Grieve Chelwa’s First Draft

Author and economist, Grieve Chelwa, believes popular economics is often wrong about Africa: ‘When you read leading texts about why Africa is poor, they always blame us. They forget about history: slavery, colonialism, neocolonialism, interference.’

First Draft is our interview column, featuring authors and other prominent figures on books, reading, and writing.

Our questions are italicized.

What books or kinds of books did you read growing up?

Growing up in the 90s in Zambia was a very difficult time economically. The schools weren’t very well resourced at the primary level, so I didn’t get to do much reading at that level. My reading picked up when I finished secondary school and as I was transitioning to university. But the first book that I remember reading that really left an imprint on me was Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. I got a copy of this book from my grandfather.

After I finished secondary school, I spent about two years before entering university. My grandfather gave me a series of books in that two-year gap. One of such books was How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. The book explains why the continent is underdeveloped, and links that underdevelopment to the development of Europe and much of the western world. That book left an imprint on me. I can now see that the path I subsequently took in terms of studying economics and the type of economics I’ve been practicing, and that I want to practice, is really linked to that particular moment about 20 years ago. And then, I also read books by Kenneth Kaunda, Zambia’s first president who sadly passed away in June. My grandfather gave me Kaunda’s Letter to My Children. There are so many lessons about who we are, what it means to be African, and what it means to be a citizen of the world.

In my childhood, I’m sure I read Western storybooks at some point, but I don’t remember those. But non-Western books, especially the ones written by African thinkers and African diasporic thinkers, really left an imprint on me...

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