In three dozen short but wide-ranging chapters, Johan Fourie demonstrates that recent research in economic history can be both enlightening and fun.

Joel Mokyr, Northwestern University
‘Johan Fourie’s commitment to understanding the historical roots of prosperity and ensuring its wide distribution in the future makes this one of the most humane economic histories I have read.’
Anne McCants, Professor of History and Director of the Concourse Program, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and President of the International Economic History Association

‘Presented in easily accessible language and a pleasant style, this book is a must read for anyone who wishes to understand the forces, processes and trends which shaped the trajectory of the lived human experience in the past 100 00 years. It is highly recommended for both the non-professional reader and undergraduate students in economics and the humanities.’

Alois Mlambo, Emeritus Professor, Department of Historical and Heritage Studies, University of Pretoria

‘As the world goes through one of the worst pandemics in history, it is refreshing that such an optimistic book has been written.’

Ushehwedu Kufakurinani, senior lecturer in the Department of History, Heritage and Knowledge Systems, University of Zimbabwe

Daar is soveel in dié boek wat belangrik, interessant of bloot nuttig is. En dit lees lekker.

Waldimar Pelser, Rapport

‘In a brilliant tour de force, Johan Fourie turns history on its head and tells the story of the world economy from the eyes/perspective of Africa. A must read.’

Jan Luiten van Zanden, Professor of Economic History, Utrecht University

Een van die indrukwekkendste boeke wat ek nog gelees het

JP Landman

Africa, the Forgotten Continent, comes into its own in Fourie’s engaging romp through human history. Good: our ancestors, after all, were all Africans, though most of us are less varied than people in our homeland on the veldt.  The future of Africa is therefore bright. Fourie’s brilliant account shows why.

Deidre McCloskey, University of Illinois at Chicago

Fourie is leading a renaissance of African economic history, and Our Long Walk to Economic Freedom gives every interested person a way to access his scholarship and that of other key scholars. It is destined to become a must-read in higher ed syllabi.

Marianne H. Wanamaker, University of Tennessee

This is the book for all those who are willing to learn from humanity’s long history to achieve a world in which more and more people can leave the deep poverty of the past behind.

Max Roser, Oxford University and founder of Our World in Data
‘Johan Fourie takes us on an ingenious and entertaining journey through history that teaches us that you don’t win the economic World Cup by appointing an expensive coach but by giving every kid a soccer ball.’
Johan Norberg, senior fellow at the Cato Institute, Washington DC, and author of Open: The Story of Human Progress

‘A wonderful ride through African economic history. Everyone will enjoy this engaging, informative and surprising book.’

Nicoli Nattrass, Professor of Economics, University of Cape Town

‘Our Long Walk to Economic Freedom is an ambitious and refreshingly accessible jaunt through the economic history of the world, told from a South African perspective.’

Leigh A Gardner, Associate Professor of Economic History, London School of Economics and Political Science
‘This is the first book to bring Africa in from the margins and place it centrally into the big narratives of world economic history. The subject will never be the same again.’
James Robinson, co-author of Why Nations Fail and Professor of Global Conflict Studies at the University of Chicago
Tell others about Our Long Walk to Economic Freedom. Please write a review on Goodreads.
Luister na Skatryk op Audible.
Bestel Skatryk.

How did Einstein help create Eskom? Why can an Indonesian volcano explain the Great Trek? What do King Zwelithini and Charlemagne have in common?

These are some of the questions Johan Fourie explores in this entertaining, accessible economic history spanning everything from the human migration out of Africa 100 000 years ago to the Covid-19 pandemic. Our Long Walk to Economic Freedom is an engaging guide to complex debates about the roots and reasons for prosperity, the march of opportunity versus the crushing boot of exploitation, and why the builders of societies – rather than the burglars ­– ultimately win out.

Join the author on this enriching journey through an African-centred history and the story of our long walk towards a brighter future.

Why is economic development not like Monopoly?

How did the printing press and the Protestant Reformation shape economic development?

Why can we be hopeful about Africa’s future?

What can the World Cup tell us about economic development?

How would rugby commentators explain South Africa’s post-apartheid economic development


Our Long Walk to Economic Freedom – Xhosa Edition

Intshayelelo (Introduction)

More chapters will be available soon.


  1. Who are the architects of Wakanda?
    African economic historians and the stories we tell;
  2. What happened at Blombos in 70,000 BCE?
    The Out-of-Africa hypothesis and the peopling of the world;
  3. Why are the Danes so individualistic?
    The Neolithic Revolution and the rise of civilisations;
  4. Why does isiXhosa have clicks?
    The Bantu migration;
  5. How did Joseph and his eleven brothers solve the three economic problems?
    Custom and command in the ancient world;
  6. What do Charlemagne and King Zwelithini have in common?
  7. Why do Indians have dowry and Africans lobola?
    Precolonial African economic systems;
  1. Who was the richest man ever to live?
    The spread of Islam in Africa and the Crusades;
  2. How did 168 Spanish conquistadores capture an empire?
    Europeans in the New World;
  3. Why was a giraffe the perfect gift for the Chinese emperor?
    The Indian Ocean trade and European imperialism;
  4. Who visited Gorée island on 27 June 2013?
    The Atlantic slave trade and Africa’s long-run development;
  5. What is an incunabulum?
    Book printing and the Reformation;
  6. Who was Autshumao’s niece?
    The arrival of Europeans in South Africa and the demise of the Khoesan;
  7. What did Thomson, Watson & Co. purchase?
    The emancipation of the enslaved;


Johan Fourie is Professor of Economics at Stellenbosch University. He is a founding member of the African Economic History Network and president of the Economic History Society of Southern Africa. He has published award-winning peer-reviewed articles and is a regular columnist for local newspapers. His passion is to equip the next generation of African scholars with the skills to benefit from the data revolution. Find more of his work at

To schedule Johan for a book talk, seminar or interview, please contact him here.


Skatryk, afrikaans edition

1 Januarie, 2024

21 Desember, 2023

13 April, 2023

13 April, 2023

20 April, 2023

30 April, 2023

20 Junie, 2023

24 Junie, 2023

3 Julie, 2023

14 Julie, 2023

Cambridge University Press edition

October 10, 2022

September 7, 2022

August 24, 2022

August 21, 2022

August 15, 2022

July 18, 2022

July 18, 2022

Tafelberg edition

21 November 2023

17 November 2022

08 April 2022

26 August 2021

2 August 2021

15 July 2021

1 July 2021

25 June 2021

9 Junie 2021

27 May 2021

26 May 2021

23 Mei 2021


Free Chapter




Writing a book is a team effort. Because much of this book was written on my laptop in the living room of our one-bedroom flat, one person, in particular, has shared in its emotional upswings and downswings. Helanya Fourie continues to be a constant reminder that companionship makes the long walk worth it; this book would never have been written without her support.

Several (former) students provided valuable input. Amy Rommelspacher was the first to read the full manuscript. Kara Dimitruk, Kate Ekama, Roy Havemann, Abel Gwaindepi, Young-ook Jang, Edward Kerby, Calumet Links, Igor Martins, Nobungcwele Mbem, Farai Nyika and Omphile Ramela read individual chapters and gave useful feedback. Jonathan Jayes made magic with graphs. Bokang Mpeta taught Economics 281 for several years with me. I’ve relied a lot on her insights over the years. I’ve also relied much on members of and visitors to the Laboratory for the Economics of Africa’s Past (LEAP), the research unit I coordinate at Stellenbosch University. The reader is more than welcome to visit for information about our latest research in African economic history. Finally, I thank my colleagues in the departments of Economics and History. They have provided a nurturing environment for economic history research to flourish.

Students are just as good as the freedom they are afforded by their teachers. My own teachers, many of whom are now colleagues, are too numerous to name here. I am deeply indebted to the many guides who have crossed my path and shaped my own scholarly journey.

This is my first book. I relied on many for advice and support. Friend and fellow book-lover Cairistine Canary gave sound advice about the publication process at just the right moment. Publisher Gill Moodie of Tafelberg believed in the project when few others did. The cover design is by long-time collaborators Mike and Stefni Cruywagen at Nudge Studio. Russell Martin copyedited the manuscript and saved me from many embarrassments. It is inevitable, though, that errors remain. Naturally, I would like to correct them as soon as possible. I urge any reader who comes across a technical or historical error to notify me.

I had been thinking about this project for several years. But when South Africa’s president Cyril Ramaphosa announced a nationwide lockdown on 23 March in response to the imminent spread of Covid-19, I had little choice. The Economics 281 course that I was teaching to about eighty students – and had taught since 2012 – had to move online. This was awkward: my lectures usually include discussions and debates about topics that are often challenging and sometimes uncomfortable. There was no way that PowerPoint slides or prescribed reading material could fully replace these interactions. And the online teaching of large groups, I’ve found, is far more autocratic than in-person classes. So I began writing. I finished the first half of the book during hard lockdown. When (online) classes resumed, I would post a chapter or two every week for the students to read and for the class to discuss in an online forum. I received valuable feedback from students through our discussions and through personal communication. I want to thank, in particular, class representative Lesedi Ngwetjana for her help and dedication. I completed the remaining chapters over the following four months. And then I returned to the start, to begin rewriting. Ideas evolve. In a sense, I was a student in my own class.

While the initial plan was to turn my lectures into chapters for my Economics 281 students, I soon realised that the audience need not be limited to eighty students. The lessons we learn from economic history are relevant and important to us all – especially at a time of rapid change. ‘Those who cannot remember the past’, the philosopher George Santayana famously said, ‘are condemned to repeat it.’ But this sounds all too pessimistic. Yes, there have been (and are!) many egregious abuses of power and privilege throughout human history – things we have done wrong and that we should have avoided. But there is also much in our history that is worth celebrating – and repeating. No one can deny that today humans are more numerous and more affluent than ever before.

Economic history is a profoundly optimistic story. Our Long Walk to Economic Freedom has not been easy, but it is undeniably taking us forward. My hope is that this book will guide the reader on a journey through our economic past. I would like it to contribute to a conversation, one that is constantly revised as new evidence emerges. In the words of the Coldplay song, I want to be a comma, not a fullstop. We are all students, all the time. I’ve been fortunate to share and shape these ideas with some of the smartest students for the past decade. They are all wizards; sometimes all they need is a wand. This book is that wand. I dedicate it to them.