Money in Africa

the past and present
of a continent

Project leader

Supported by

The Leverhulme Trust

Arts and Humanities Research Council

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Even when it comes to the recent past and the present, money in Africa remains little understood. Addressing this, a Leverhulme Trust-funded research project, on the modern monetary history and cultures of English-speaking African countries, was launched in September 2010.

The aim of the project is to create a richer picture of the adoption, use and adaptation of coins and banknotes in Africa to enable us to better understand how these objects can track political and cultural history as well as reflect tradition and innovation.

The research is organised as three strands, with three researchers – from the different disciplinary backgrounds of history and anthropology – taking responsibility for them:

  • the introduction and adoption of coin and banknote-based currency systems, during the period of colonial rule;
  • the creation of new national currencies and new national identities at independence, in the mid-twentieth century;
  • the contemporary uses and abuses of currency, and its social and cultural significance in African countries today.
500 Franc note, French West Africa, 1948
  • 1

    500 Franc note, French West Africa, 1948.

  • 2

    100 shilling note, Somalia, 1983.

  • 3

    10 shilling note, Uganda, 1966

  • 4

    10,000 shilling note, Tanzania, 2003.


500 Franc note, French West Africa, 1948

Research themes


Cross-cutting themes are emerging from this research, which enable the historical and anthropological elements of this project to be brought together in the following ways:

  • the relationship between political sovereignty and currency, including in areas where there is not a simple overlay of the boundaries of the state and the circulation of a national currency;
  • how migration to work, sometimes across national borders, changes the ways people use and save their money;
  • the relationship between trade patterns and money use, the movement of currency within a country or a region, and the seasonality of money supply and use in economies dominated by agricultural production;
  • the currency boards and banks of the colonial period, and their successor institutions in independent African countries, have rarely been studied, yet they had a profound impact on every day monetary lives, banking – particularly savings banking – is a crucial issue and project case studies will reveal the impact of it on the ways people save, spend and share their money.

By the end of the project in August 2013, the team will have prepared a number of articles, and co-authored a book. The research will also contribute to new displays and educational programmes.

It will provide a better understanding of the British Museum collection in particular, and more generally of African money objects as dynamically in use in people’s daily lives rather than frozen behind glass.

Ultimately, the project team hopes to contribute to a rethinking of Africa's place in museums, monetary history and numismatics.