Should We Give Credit to Ancient Ghana for the Creation of Capitalism?

Capitalism. What are some of the first things that come to mind when you think of this word? Do you think of rows of luxury cars lining the streets of downtown New York City or Los Angeles? Do you think of large suburban homes with massive, sprawling yards somewhere in the Midwest? Or do you think of the gold and salt trade in the Kingdom of Ancient Ghana as far back as the seventh century? Chances are you probably aren’t too familiar with the Ancient Kingdom of Ghana, of course assuming you aren’t a historian. However, if you are, then all the props to you because until I familiarized myself with West African history I only had a faint recollection of learning about it almost 10 years ago in school.

Either way, when people generally think of capitalism they tend to think of it in the ‘Western’ frame, insinuating that capitalism originated out of Western Europe and was later then imported into the United States during the 1800s. Not to burst some of your bubbles, but historically this narrative doesn’t entirely hold true. Actually, it would appear to be that the some of the basic roots of capitalism were cultivated in Western Africa during the seventh-century reign of the Ancient Ghana Kingdom and not in 19th century Europe. Now, this isn’t intended to be a slight aimed Europe and the United States, as they both have implemented capitalism in their own effective ways, but to think that capitalistic concepts are solely a Western school of thought is a bit disingenuous.

The Ancient Kingdom of Ghana, which was founded roughly around the 4th century, was a fairly successful empire during its time. Implementing a system of trade, similar to that of capitalism, the Ghanaian empire flourished and became extremely wealthy and powerful relative to the other countries at the time. This success wasn’t just spontaneous, rather, it came slowly with the development and transfiguration of domestic policies. You see, the Kingdom of Ghana was fortunate enough to be based in an area that had an ample supply of gold and other minerals of the sort. However, they also lacked vital resources that other neighboring regions produced in large quantities.

Understanding that these other nations also lacked gold themselves, the Ghanaians conjured up a brilliant ‘scheme,’ so to speak. They offered these other African and Middle Eastern nations gold in the exchange for minerals like salt. With this exchange taking place, all countries benefited highly as their economic needs were being met. In addition, the Kingdom had also created a complex trading system that consisted of multiple routes that fed into the many different geographic regions on the continent. This allowed for quicker, more efficient trading to take place. Think of it like using a modern interstate system versus using the back roads. One of these will obviously enable you to reach your destination in a faster way. These trading routes also happened to be protected by soldiers of the Kingdom to prevent bandits from impeding economic trade. As with major highways in the United States, entities like the highway patrol and other law enforcement agencies operate in the same manner in order to allow for the free flow of goods and for securing economic vitality.

 The Kingdom of Ghana had also set a tax system that is very similar to that which is used by some modern-day countries. The Ghanaians would tax traders for the goods that they bring in, in addition to taxing them on the goods that they had left with. While this isn’t so much a characteristic of capitalism, it goes to show that they employed a complex economic system that shared many of the same traits that various different countries utilize today. As you begin to analyze the Ghanaian economic system and regulatory standards, it should begin to strike a resemblance to the systems used most commonly by the United States and Western Europe.

The Kingdom of Ghana, while different in its own regard, shares an uncanny likeness to countries like the United States. What I mean by this is that both countries, at an early period during their existence, developed successful methods of trade and economic regulatory standards that differentiated them from the rest of the competition. As for the Kingdom of Ghana, this inevitably contributed to its rise as a dominant regional power in Western Africa. It isn’t a coincidence that many of the economic trading methods that Ghana had used also mirror that of which is used by wealthy countries like the United States or Germany. One of the unique benefits of capitalism is that, while not an entirely perfect economic system, it is perhaps the most effective way to manage an economy or business. No other system in the world has managed to create as much wealth nor spark as much innovation in the way that capitalism has done thus far. So, maybe we ought to give some credit to the ancient Ghanaians for granting us valuable knowledge on running an economy successfully.