African poverty is not new. Sub-Saharan Africa was the poorest region of the world in 1500, and it remains so despite the increase in income per head that has occurred. ‘Africa’ aims to identify the structures and the contingent events that have kept Africa poor for so long. To understand why Africa is poor today, we must understand why it was poor in 1500. The answer turns on geography, demography, and the origin of agriculture. The social and economic structure of 1500 then determined how the continent responded to globalization and imperialism, and those responses have kept it poor since.