Tuesday, 16 September 2014

The Review of “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa” written by Walter Rodney - By Sesan Michael JOHNSON

Walter Rodney 1973
“How Europe Underdeveloped Africa”
Published by: Bogle-L'Ouverture Publications, London and Tanzanian Publishing House, Dar-Es-Salaam 1973, Transcript from 6th reprint, 1983
Reviewer: JOHNSON Sesan Michael
                     BA (OAU Ile Ife), PDS (UI, Ibadan)

Review Date: Sunday, April 15, 2012

How Europe Underdeveloped Africa by Walter Rodney is an expository book on Africa. The author exposes Africa within the contexts of Africa’s developments in the Pre-colonial Era, its experiences and underdevelopments during the period of European imperialism and colonialism in Africa and its present level of underdevelopments. 

It is observed that the central thesis of this book is that - it is necessary to follow not only the development of Europe and the underdevelopment of Africa, but also to understand how those two combined in a single system of capitalist imperialism and that there are still some bourgeois propagandists who assert that colonialism was not a paying concern for Europeans, just as there are those who say that the slave trade was not profitable to Europeans.

Thus Walter Rodney disagrees pointedly with this apology for the underdevelopments pervading Africa. To succinctly review this book attempts shall be made to approach it on a chapter-by-chapter review in order to harvest the aims of this book.

From chapter one Walter Rodney deals with the fundamentals that are crucial to the thesis of the book. In the first chapter Walter Rodney defines the concept of development and underdevelopment. According to the Author, underdevelopment is characterized by a number of things; hence he calls attention to the comparative nature of the concept of development. Therefore, he pointed out that Africa, Asia, and Latin America are only underdeveloped premised upon comparison with Europe, North America, and the few other industrialized nations of the world. Also, the chapter clearly states that underdevelopment does not simply describe the relative economic inequality of different countries or continents; but it also implies a relationship of economic exploitation between two or more countries, the exploiter becoming developed and the exploited becoming underdeveloped and in this instance, Europe with its imperialism and colonialism is the exploiter while the other parts of the world particularly Africa is the exploited.
In addition, in this first chapter, Rodney harangues about the dichotomy between development and underdevelopment and also makes comparison with what these two concepts means to Europeans and Africans. In his scrutiny he basically points out the two levels of developments, that is, individual level and social group level. Walter Rodney’s argument about development is that all phases of development are provisional or transitory and are designed sooner or later to give way to something else.

In chapter two Walter Rodney focuses on the nature of development attained by Africa before the coming of the Europeans up to the 15th century and he shows the unique characterization of African civilization. In doing this the author expressly gives details of developments achieved by African states such as Benin, Kanem-Borno, Egypt, Fante, Axum, Ashante, Kush, Mali, Songhai, Mutapa, Zimbabwe, Kongo, Oyo etc. Generally, the chapter details the following: reconstruction of the nature of development in Africa before the coming of Europeans, reconstruction of the nature of development which took place in Europe before expansion abroad, analysis of Africa’s contribution to Europe’s present developed state, and analysis of Europe’s contribution to Africa’s present underdeveloped nature.

The chapter four focuses on Europe and the Roots of African underdevelopment to 1885. It ascertains that the European Slave Trade played a dominant factor in African underdevelopment, all in the interest of European capitalism. Walter Rodney further argues that Europe advanced technologically and industrially to the detriment of development of industrial and technological sector of Africa which was attainable due to the fact that most active, inventive and able young men and women of Africa were carted away to Europe and the New World as slaves.  Hence, this resulted into technological stagnation and distortion of the African economy in the pre-colonial epoch. In other words, what Africa experienced in the early centuries of trade with the Europeans was exactly a loss of development opportunity, and this is of the greatest importance. Indeed, Europe discouraged Africa industrialization by not encouraging skill transfer. In addition, there were Continuing politico-military developments in Africa from 1500 to 1885 as a result of the European trade.

Chapter five focuses on Africa’s contribution to the capitalist development of Europe in the colonial period. Walter Rodney enumerates how colonial Africa became intertwined with the international imperialist economy. The author shows how Africa’s resources was drawn to feed the metropolitan sector, hence, this chapter depicts the colonial administration as economic exploiter and the roles of the financiers, bankers, capitalists, Marketing Boards, introduction of taxation and the currency that the colonial government as part of the manipulations to ensure that Africa’s wealth was stashed away in the coffers of the metropolitan state

Furthermore, the author hypothesizes that Africa’s contribution to European capitalism was far greater than mere monetary returns. In other words, the colonial system permitted the rapid development of technology and skills within the metropolitan sectors of imperial Europe. Coupled with this is the fact that the international division of labour brought about by imperialism and colonialism ensured that there would be the maximum increase in the level of skills in the capitalist nations.

Chapter six deals with colonialism as a system that precipitated underdevelopment in Africa, this it did within the contextual framework of the supposed benefits that colonialism was said to have brought to Africa; also the negative character of the social, political and economic consequences; education for underdevelopment, and development by contradiction. Also, the chapter demystifies the authenticity of some of the reasons given as the rationale behind the incursion of European imperialism to other parts of the world, Africa in particular. The chapter resists the various strands of Eurocentric outlooks about imperialism as presented by European writers, bourgeois scholars and advocates of imperialism. Not surprisingly, Walter Rodney with a Marxist’s lens argues that this pretext is categorically untenable.

In this book “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa” Walter Rodney no doubt has done a meticulous job. He did his best by writing this comprehensive, experiential and decipherable book with rich historical, political and economic perspectives and I observed also that he widely consulted other peoples’ writings in his analysis and interpretations.
However, Walter Rodney unrepentantly wrote this piece with Marxist’s lens. He did this without considering any positive sides of imperialism or colonialism. Supposedly, the author is not aware of any benefits of imperialism and may be too he has not given any serious thought to why Africa has refused to develop since the decades that have followed the period of decolonization. No doubt, the author is filled with disparagement for imperialism or colonialism. Also, I disagree with some of Walter Rodney’s positions especially on his positions on the Soviet Union. Arguably, Walter Rodney needs to be informed that it could be said that the Soviets too could not be exonerated from imperialism. History teaches also about how Moscow imposed her hegemony upon its satellite states.

Fundamentally, taking a censorious look into Africa’s position in the contemporary international economic relations it is evident that Africa is still being traumatized with economic imperialism which many have tagged neo-imperialism or neo-colonialism. The current global economic amity between Africa and the Global North is highly exploitative and this is being accentuated by globalization with its attending unequal consequences.

In conclusion, I recommend this book “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa” to human kind especially to those who want to study Africa’s development and underdevelopment. This book is a must to read for all students and scholars of History, Political Science, Economics and the Social Sciences.



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