How Europe Underdeveloped Africa? Human Behavior Perspective Essay


Based on Walter Rodney’s analysis in “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa”, describe why the top countries in terms of human development status are primarily European, while the bottom countries are primarily African.

How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. Walter Rodney 1973
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;
Transcribed: by Joaquin Arriola.
Pat, Muthoni, Mashaka and
the extended family
Chapter One. Some Questions on Development
1.1 What is Development
1.2 What is Underdevelopment?
Chapter Two. How Africa Developed Before the Coming
of the Europeans up to the 15th Century (1 of 3) [8/22/05 11:01:42 AM]
How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. Walter Rodney 1973
2.1 General Over-View
2.2 Concrete Examples
Chapter Three. Africa’s Contribution to European
Capitalist Development — the Pre-Colonial Period
3.1 How Europe Became the Dominant Section of a WorldWide Trade System
3.2 Africa’s contribution to the economy and beliefs of early
capitalist Europe
Chapter Four. Europe and the Roots of African
Underdevelopment — to 1885
4.1 The European Slave Trade as a Basic Factor in African
4.2 Technological Stagnation and Distortion of the African
Economy in the Pre-Colonial Epoch
4.3 Continuing Politico-Military Developments in Africa —
1500 to 1885
Chapter Five. Africa’s Contribution to the Capitalist
Development of Europe — the Colonial Period
5.1 Expatriation of African Surplus Under Colonialism (2 of 3) [8/22/05 11:01:42 AM]
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5.2 The Strengthening of Technological and Military Aspects
of Capitalism
Chapter Six. Colonialism as a System for
Underdeveloping Africa
6.1 The Supposed Benefits of Colonialism to Africa
6.2 Negative Character of the Social, Political and Economic
6.3 Education for Underdevelopment
6.4 Development by Contradiction
Walter Rodney Archive | Marxism & Anti-Imperialism in Africa (3 of 3) [8/22/05 11:01:42 AM]
How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. Walter Rodney 1973
How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. Walter Rodney 1973
This book derives from a concern with the contemporary African
situation. It delves into the past only because otherwise it would be
impossible to understand how the present came into being and what the
trends are for the near future. In the search for an understanding of what
is now called “underdevelopment” in Africa, the limits of enquiry have
had to be fixed as far apart as the fifteenth century, on the one hand and
the end of the colonial period, on the other hand.
Ideally. an analysis of underdevelopment should come even closer to
the present than the end of the colonial period in the 1960s. The
phenomenon of neo-colonialism cries out for extensive investigation in
order to formulate the strategy and tactics of African emancipation and
development. This study does not go that far, but at least certain
solutions are implicit in a correct historical evaluation, just as given
medical remedies are indicated or contra-indicated by a correct
diagnosis of a patient’s condition and an accurate case-history.
Hopefully, the facts and interpretation that follow will make a small
contribution towards reinforcing the conclusion that African
development is possible only on the basis of a radical break with the
international capitalist system, which has been the principal agency of
underdevelopment of Africa over the last five centuries.
As the reader will observe, the question of development strategy is
tackled briefly in the final section by A.M. Babu, former Minister of (1 of 2) [8/22/05 11:02:45 AM]
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Economic Affairs and Development Planning, who has been actively
involved in fashioning policy along those lines in the Tanzanian context
[n.b.: not included in this reprint]. It is no accident that the text as a
whole has been written within Tanzania, where expressions of concern
for development have been accompanied by considerably more positive
action than in several other parts of the continent.
Many colleagues and comrades shared in the preparation of this work.
Special thanks must go to comrades Karim Hirji and Henry Mapolu of
the University of Dar es Salaam, who read the manuscript in a spirit of
constructive criticism. But, contrary to the fashion in most prefaces, I
will not add that “all mistakes and shortcomings are entirely my
responsibility.” That is sheer bourgeois subjectivism. Responsibility in
matters of these sorts is always collective, especially with regard to the
remedying of shortcomings. My thanks also go to the Tanzania
Publishing House and Bogle L’Ouverture Publications for co-operating
in producing this volume as simply and cheaply as possible. The
purpose has been to try and reach Africans who wish to explore further
the nature of their exploitation, rather than to satisfy the ‘standard, set
by our oppressors and their spokesmen in the academic world.
Walter Rodney.
Dar es Salaam.
Table of Contents (2 of 2) [8/22/05 11:02:45 AM]
How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. Walter Rodney 1973
How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. Walter Rodney 1973
Chapter One
Some Questions on Development
‘In contrast with the surging growth of the countries in our socialist camp
and the development taking place, albeit much more slowly, in the
majority of the capitalist countries, is the unquestionable fact that a large
proportion of the so-called underdeveloped countries are in total
stagnation, and that in some of them the rate of economic growth is lower
than that of population increase.
‘These characteristics are not fortuitous; they correspond strictly to the
nature of the capitalist system in full expansion, which transfers to the
dependent countries the most abusive and barefaced forms of exploitation.
It must be clearly understood that the only way to solve the questions now
besetting mankind is to eliminate completely the exploitation of dependent
countries by developed capitalist countries, with all the consequences that
this implies.’
Che Guevara, 1964.
1. 1 What is Development?
Development in human society is a many-sided process. At the level of
the individual, it implies increased skill and capacity, greater freedom,
creativity, self-discipline, responsibility and material well-being. Some
of these are virtually moral categories and are difficult to evaluate –
depending as they do on the age in which one lives, one’s class origins,
and one’s personal code of what is right and what is wrong. However,
what is indisputable is that the achievement of any of those aspects of (1 of 45) [8/22/05 11:03:06 AM]
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personal development is very much tied in with the state of the society
as a whole. From earliest times, man found it convenient and necessary
to come together in groups to hunt and for the sake of survival. The
relations which develop within any given social group are crucial to an
understanding of the society as a whole: Freedom, responsibility, skill,
etc. have real meaning only in terms of the relations of men in society.
Of course, each social group comes into contact with others. The
relations between individuals in any two societies are regulated by the
form of the two societies. Their respective political structures are
important because the ruling elements within each group are the ones
that begin to dialogue, trade or fight, as the case may be. At the level of
social groups, therefore, development implies an increasing capacity to
regulate both internal and external relationships. Much of human
history has been a fight for survival against natural hazards and against
real and imagined human enemies. Development in the past has always
meant the increase in the ability to guard the independence of the social
group and indeed to infringe upon the freedom of others – something
that often came about irrespective of the will of the persons within the
societies involved.
Men are not the only beings which operate in groups, but the human
species embarked upon a unique line of development because man had
the capacity to make and use tools. The very act of making tools was a
stimulus to increasing rationality rather than the consequence of a fully
matured intellect. In historical terms, man the worker was every bit as
important as man the thinker, because the work with tools liberated men (2 of 45) [8/22/05 11:03:06 AM]
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from sheer physical necessity, so that he could impose himself upon
other more powerful species and upon nature itself. The tools with
which men work and the manner in which they organise their labour are
both important indices of social development.
More often than not, the term ‘development’ is used in an exclusive
economic sense – the justification being that the type of economy is
itself an index of other social features. What then is economic
development? A society develops economically as its members increase
jointly their capacity for dealing with the environment. This capacity
for dealing with the environment is dependent on the extent to which
they understand the laws of nature (science), on the extent to which
they put that understanding into practice by devising tools (technology),
and on the manner in which work is organised. Taking a long-term
view, it can be said that there has been constant economic development
within human society since the origins of man, because man has
multiplied enormously his capacity to win a living from nature. The
magnitude of man’s achievement is best understood by reflecting on the
early history of human society and noting firstly, the progress from
crude stone tools to the use of metals; secondly, the changeover from
hunting and gathering wild fruit to the domestication of animals and the
growing of food crops; and thirdly, the improvement in the character of
work from being an individualistic activity towards an activity which
assumes a social character through the participation of many.
Every people have shown a capacity for independently increasing their
ability to live a more satisfactory life through exploiting the resources (3 of 45) [8/22/05 11:03:06 AM]
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of nature. Every continent independently participated in the early
epochs of the extension of man’s control over his environment – which
means in effect that every continent can point to a period of economic
development. Africa, being the original home of man, was a major
participant in the processes in which human groups displayed an ever
increasing capacity to extract a living from the natural environment.
Indeed, in the early period, Africa was the focus of the physical
development of man as such, as distinct from other living beings.
Development was universal because the conditions leading each
economic expansion were universal. Everywhere, man was faced with
the task of survival by meeting fundamental material needs; and better
tools were a consequence of the interplay between human beings and
nature as part of the struggle for survival. Of course, human history is
not a record of advances and nothing else. There were periods in every
part of the world when there were temporary setbacks and actual
reduction of the capacity to produce basic necessities and other services
for the population. But the overall tendency was towards increased
production, and at given points of time the increase in the quantity of
goods was associated with a change in the quality or character of
society. This will be shown later with reference to Africa, but to
indicate the universal application of the principle of
quantitative/qualitative change an example will be drawn from China.
Early man in China lived at the mercy of nature, and slowly discovered
such basic things as the fact that fire can be man-made and that seeds of
some grasses could be planted in the soil to meet food requirements. (4 of 45) [8/22/05 11:03:06 AM]
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Those discoveries helped inhabitants of China to have simple farming
communities using stone tools and producing enough for bare
subsistence. That was achieved several thousand years before the birth
of Christ or the flight of the Prophet Muhammad. The goods produced
at that stage were divided more equally among the members of society,
who lived and worked in families. By the time of the T’ang dynasty of
the 7th century A.D., China had expanded its economic capacity not
only to grow more food but also to manufacture a wide variety of items
such as silks, porcelain, ships and scientific devices. This of course
represented a quantitative increase in the goods produced, and it was
inter-related with qualitative changes in Chinese society. By the later
date, there was a political state, where before there were only selfgovernment units. Instead of every family and every. individual
performing the tasks of agriculturalists, house-builders, tailors, etc.,
there had arisen specialization of function. Most of the population still
tilled the land, but there were skilled artisans who made silk and
porcelain, bureaucrats who administered the state and Buddhist and
Confucian religious philosophers who specialized in trying to explain
those things that lay outside of immediate understanding.
Specialization and division of labour led to more production as well as
inequality in distribution. A small section of Chinese society came to
take a large disproportionate share of the proceeds of human labour, and
that was the section which did least to actually generate wealth by
working in agriculture or industry. They could afford to do so because
grave inequalties had emerged in the ownership of the basic means of
production, which was the land. Family land became smaller as far as (5 of 45) [8/22/05 11:03:06 AM]
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most peasants were concerned, and a minority took over the greater
portion of the land. Those changes in land tenure were part and parcel
of development in its broadest sense. That is why development cannot
be seen purely as an economic affair, but rather as an overall social
process which is dependent upon the outcome of man’s efforts to deal
with his natural environment.
Through careful study, it is possible to comprehend some of the very
complicated links between the changes in the economic base and
changes in the rest of the superstructure of the society – including the
sphere of ideology and social beliefs. The changeover from
communalism in Asia and Europe led for instance to codes of behaviour
peculiar to feudalism. The conduct of the European knights in armour
had much in common with that of the Japanese Samurai or warriors.
They developed notions of so-called ‘chivalry’ – conduct becoming a
gentleman knight on horseback; while in contrast had to learn extreme
humility, deference and obsequiousness – symbolised by doffing his
cap and standing bare-headed before his superiors. In Africa, too, it was
to be found that the rise of the state and superior classes led to the
practice whereby common subjects prostrated themselves in the
presence of the monarchs and aristocrats. When the point had been
reached, it became clear that the rough equality of the family had given
way to a new state of society.
In the natural sciences, it is well known that in many instances
quantitative change becomes qualitative after a certain period. The
common example is the way that water can absorb heat (a quantitative (6 of 45) [8/22/05 11:03:06 AM]
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process) until at 100° C it changes to steam (a qualitative change of
form). Similarly, in human society it has always been the case that the
expansion of the economy leads eventually to a change in the form of
social relations. Karl Marx, writing in the 19th century, was the first
writer to appreciate this, and he distinguished within European history
several stages of development. The first major stage following after
simple bands of hunters was Communalism where property was
collectively owned, work was done in common, and goods were shared
out equally. The second was Slavery, caused by the extension of
domineering elements within the family and by some groups being
overwhelmed by others. Slaves did a variety of tasks, but their main job
was to produce food. The next was Feudalism where agriculture
remained the principal means of making a livelihood, but the land
which was necessary for that purpose was in the hands of the few, and
they took the lion’s share of the wealth. The workers on the land (now
called Serfs) were no longer the personal property of the masters, but
they were tied to the land of a particular manor or estate. When the
manor changed hands, the serfs had to remain there and provide goods
for the landlord – just keeping enough to feed themselves. Just as the
child of a slave was a slave, so the children of serfs were also serfs.
Then came Capitalism, under which the greatest wealth in the society
was produced not in agriculture but by machines – in factories and in
mines. Like the preceding phase of feudalism, capitalism was
characterised by the concentration in a few hands of ownership of the
means of producing wealth and by unequal distribution of the products
of human labour. The few who dominated were the bourgeoisie who
had originated in the merchants and craftsmen of the feudal epoch, and (7 of 45) [8/22/05 11:03:06 AM]
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who rose to be industrialists and financiers. Meanwhile, the serfs were
declared legally free to leave the land and to go in search of
employment in capitalist enterprises. Their labour thereby became a
commodity – something to be bought and sold.
It was predicted that there would be a further stage – that of Socialism –
in which the principle of economic would be restored, as in
communalism. In the present century, the phase of Socialism has indeed
emerged in some countries. Economically, each succeeding stage
represented development in the strict sense that there was increased
capacity to control the material environment and thereby to create more
goods and services for the community. The greater quantity of goods
and services were based on greatest skills and human inventiveness.
Man was liberated in the sense of having more opportunities to display
and develop his talents. Whether man uplifted himself in a moral sense
is open to dispute. The advance in production increased the range of
powers which sections of society had over other sections, and it
multiplied the violence which was part of the competition for survival
and growth among social groups. It is not at all clear that a soldier
serving capitalism in the last World War was less ‘primitive’ in the
elemental sense of the word than a soldier serving in one of Japan’s
feudal armies in the 16th century, or for that matter a hunter living in
the first phase of human organisation in the forests of Brazil.
Nevertheless, we do know that in those three respective epochs hunting
band, feudalism, capitalism-the quality of life improved. It became less
hazardous and less uncertain, and members of society potentially had
greater choice over their destinies. All of that is involved when the (8 of 45) [8/22/05 11:03:06 AM]
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word ‘development’ is used.
In the history of those societies which have passed through several
modes of production, the opportunity is presented of seeing how
quantitative changes give rise ultimately to an entirety different society.
The key feature is that at given junctures the social relations in the
society were no longer effective in promoting advance. Indeed, they
began to act as brakes on the productive forces and therefore had to be
discarded. Take for instance the epoch of slavery in Europe. However
morally indefensible slavery may have been, it did serve for a while to
open up the mines and agricultural plantations in large parts of Europe
and notably within the Roman Empire. But then those peasants who
remained free had their labour depressed and under-utilised because of
the presence of slaves. The slaves were not disposed to work at any
tasks requiring skills, so the technological evolution of society
threatened to come to a halt. Furthermore, the slaves were restless, and
slave revolts were expensive to put down. The landowners, seeing their
estates going to ruin, decided that it would be best to grant the legal
freedom for which slaves were clamouring. and to keep exploiting the
labour of these free serfs by ensuring that they had no lands to plough
other than those of the landlords. Thereby, a new set of social relations
– that of landlord and serf – replaced the old relations of slave master
and slave.
In some instances. the changeover to a new mode was accompanied by
violence at a critical point. This occurred when the ruling classes
involved were being threatened with removal by the process of change. (9 of 45) [8/22/05 11:03:06 AM]
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The feudal landlords remained in power for centuries during which the
merchant and manufacturing interest grew wealthy and sought to
achieve power and social pre-eminence. When classes are so welldefined, their consciousness is at a high level. Both the landlord class
and the capitalists recognised what was at stake. The former fought to
hold on to the social relations which no longer corresponded to the new
technology of machine production and the organisation of work by
means of purchasing labour power. The capitalists flung themselves
into Revolutions in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries to break the
old relations of production.
The notions of revolution and class consciousness must be borne in
mind when it comes to examining the situation of the modern worker
and peasant classes in Africa. However, for the greater part of Africa’s
history, the existing classes have been incompletely crystallized and the
changes have been gradual rather than revolutionary. What is probably
of more relevance for early African development is the principle that
development over the world’s territories has always been uneven.
While all societies have experienced development, it is equally true that
the rate of development differed from continent to continent, and within
each continent different parts increased their command over nature at
different rates. Inside Africa, Egypt was capable of producing wealth in
abundance twenty-five centuries ago, because of mastery of many
scientific natural laws and their invention of technology to irrigate,
grow food, and extract minerals from the subsoil. At that time, hunting
with bows and even wooden clubs was what people depended on for (10 of 45) [8/22/05 11:03:06 AM]
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survival in most parts of the African continent-and in various other
places such as the British Isles.
One of the most difficult questions to answer is exactly why different
peoples developed at different rates when left on their own. Part of the
answer lies in the environment in which human groups evolved and part
of it lies in the ‘superstructure’ of human society. That is to say, as
human beings battled with the material environment, they created forms
of social relations, forms of government, patterns of behaviour and
systems of belief which together constituted the superstructure-which
was never exactly the same in any two societies. Each element in the
superstructure interacted with other elements in the superstructure as
well as with the material base. For instance, the political and religious
patterns affected each other and were often intertwined. The religious
belief that a certain forest was sacred was the kind of element in the
superstructure that affected economic activity, since that forest would
not be cleared for cultivation. While in the final analysis the
breakthrough to a new stage of human development is dependent upon
man’s technical capacity to deal with the environment, it is also to be
borne in mind that peculiarities in the superstructure of any giv en
society have a marked impact on the rate of development.
Many observers have been puzzled by the fact that China never became
capitalist. It entered the feudal phase of development virtually 1,000
years before the birth of Christ; it had developed many aspects of
technology; and it had many craftsmen and artisans. Yet the mode of
production was never transformed to one where machines were the (11 of 45) [8/22/05 11:03:06 AM]
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main means of producing wealth and where the owners of capital would
be the dominant class. The explanation is very complex, but in general
terms the main differences between feudal Europe and feudal China lay
in the superstructure – i.e. in the body of beliefs, motivations and sociopolitical institutions which derived from the material base but in turn
affected it. In China, religious, educational and bureaucratic
qualifications were of utmost importance, and government was in the
hands of state officials rather than being run by the landlords on their
own feudal estates. Besides, there were greater egalitarian tendencies in
Chinese land distribution than in European land distribution, and the
Chinese state owned a great deal of land. The consequence was that the
landowners had greater powers as bureaucrats than as men of property,
and they used that to keep social relations in the same mould. It would
have been impossible for them to have done that indefinitely, but they
slowed down the movement of history. In Europe, the elements of
change were not stifled by the weight of a state bureaucracy.
As soon as the first capitalists appeared in European society, an
incentive was created for further development through the attitude of
this class. Never before in any human society had a group of people
seen themselves consciously functioning in order to make the maximum
profit out of production. To fulfill their objective of acquiring more and
more capital, capitalists took a greater interest in the laws of science
which could be harnessed in the form of machinery to work and make
profit on their behalf. At the political level, capitalism was also
responsible for most of the features which today are referred to as
‘Western Democracy’. In abolishing feudalism, the capitalists insisted (12 of 45) [8/22/05 11:03:06 AM]
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on parliaments, constitutions, freedom of the press, etc. These too can
be considered as development. However the peasants and workers of
Europe (and eventually the inhabitants of the whole world) paid a huge
price so that the capitalists could make their profits from the human
labour that always lies behind the machines. That contradicts other
facets of development, especially viewed from the standpoint of those
who suffered and still suffer to make capitalist achievements possible.
This latter group are the majority of mankind. To advance, they must
overthrow capitalism; and that is why at the moment capitalism stands
in the path of further human social development. To put it another way,
the social (class) relations of capitalism are now outmoded, just as slave
and feudal relations became outmoded in their time.
There was a period when the capitalist system increased the well-being
of significant numbers of people as a by-product of seeking out profits
for a few, but today the quest for profits comes into sharp conflict with
people’s demands that their material and social needs should be
fulfilled. The capitalist or bourgeois class is no longer capable of
guiding the uninhibited development of science and technology again
because these objectives now clash with the profit motive. Capitalism
has proved incapable of transcending fundamental weaknesses such as
underutilization of productive capacity, the persistence of a permanent
sector of unemployed, and periodic economic crises related to the
concept of ‘market’ – which is concerned with people’s ability to pay
rather than their need for commodities. Capitalism has created its own
irrationalities such as a vicious white racism, the tremendous waste
associated with advertising, and the irrationality of incredible poverty in (13 of 45) [8/22/05 11:03:06 AM]
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the midst of wealth and wastage even inside the biggest capitalist
economies, such as that of the U.S.A. Above all, capitalism has
intensified its own political contradictions in trying to subjugate nations
and continents outside of Europe, so that workers and peasants in every
part of the globe have become self-conscious and are determined to take
their destiny into their own hands. Such a determination is also an
integral part of the process of development.
It can be offered as a generalization that all phases of development are
temporary or transient and are destined sooner or later to give way to
something else. It is particularly important to stress this with reference
to capitalism because the capitalist epoch is not quite over and those
who live at a particular point in time often fail to see that their way of
life is in the process of transformation and elimination. Indeed, it is one
of the functions of those who justify capitalism (bourgeois writers) to
try and pretend that capitalism is here to stay. A glance at the
remarkable advance of Socialism over the last fifty-odd years will show
that the apologists for capitalism are spokesmen of a social system that
is rapidly expiring.
The fact that capitalism today is still around alongside of socialism
should warn us that the modes of production cannot simply be viewed
as a question of successive stages. Uneven development has always
ensured that societies have come into contact when they were at
different levels – for example, one that was communal and one that was
When two societies of different sorts come into prolonged and effective (14 of 45) [8/22/05 11:03:06 AM]
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contact, the rate and character of change taking place in both is
seriously affected to the extent that entirely new patterns are created.
Two general rules can be observed to apply in such cases. Firstly, the
weaker of the two societies (i.e., the one with less economic capacity) is
bound to be adversely affected-and the bigger the gap between the two
societies concerned the more detrimental are the consequences. For
example, when European capitalism came into contact with the
indigenous hunting societies of America and the Caribbean, the latter
were virtually exterminated. Secondly, assuming that the weaker
society does survive, then ultimately it can resume its own independent
development only if it proceeds to a level higher than that of the
economy which had previously dominated it. The concrete instances of
the operation of this second rule are found in the experience of the
Soviet Union, China and Korea.
China and Korea were both at a stage approximating to feudalism when
they were colonised by the capitalist powers of Europe and Japan.
Russia was never legally colonised, but while in the feudal stage and
before its own indigenous capitalism could get very far, the Russian
economy was subjugated by the more mature capitalism of Western
Europe. In all three cases, it took a socialist revolution to break the
domination of capitalism, and only the rapid tempo of socialist
development could make amends for the period of subjugation when
growth was misdirected and retarded. Indeed, as far as the two biggest
socialist states are concerned (the Soviet Union and China), socialist
development has already catapulted them beyond states such as Britain
and France, which have been following the capitalist path for centuries. (15 of 45) [8/22/05 11:03:07 AM]
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Up to the end of the 1950s (the point at which this study terminates),
Russia, China, Korea and certain nations in Eastern Europe were the
only countries which had decisively broken with capitalism and
imperialism. Imperialism is itself a phase of capitalist development in
which Western European capitalist countries, the U.S.A., and Japan
established political, economic, military and cultural hegemony over
other parts of the world which were initially at a lower level and
therefore could not resist domination. Imperialism was in effect the
extended capitalist system, which for many years embraced the whole
world – one part being the exploiters and the other the exploited, one
part being dominated and the other acting as overlords, one part making
policy and the other being dependent.
Socialism has advanced on imperialism’s weakest flanks – in the sector
that is exploited, oppressed and reduced to dependency. In Asia and
eastern Europe, socialism released the nationalist energies of colonised
peoples; it turned the goal of production away from the money market
and towards the satisfaction of human needs; it has eradicated
bottlenecks such as permanent unemployment and periodic crises; and
it has realised some of the promise implicit in Western or bourgeois
democracy by providing the equality of economic condition which is
necessary before one can make use of political equality and equality
before the law.
Socialism has re-instated the economic equality of communalism, but
communalism fell apart because of low economic productivity and
scarcity. Socialism aims at and has significantly achieved the creation (16 of 45) [8/22/05 11:03:07 AM]
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of plenty, so that the principle of egalitarian distribution becomes
consistent with the satisfaction of the wants of all members of society.
One of the most crucial factors leading to more rapid and consistent
expansion of economic capacity under Socialism has been the
implementation of planned development. Most of the historical
processes so far described relate to involuntary and unplanned
development. No one planned that at a given stage human beings should
cease using stone axes and use iron implements instead; and (to come to
more recent times) while individual capitalist firms plan their own
expansion, their system is not geared to over-all planning of the
economy and the society. The capitalist state intervened only fitfully
and partially to supervise capitalist development. The Socialist state has
as its prime function the control of the economy on behalf of the
working classes. The latter -i.e., workers and peasants – have now
become the most dynamic force in world history and human
To conclude this brief introduction to the extremely complex problem
of social development, it is useful to recognise how inadequate are the
explanations of that phenomenon which are provided by bourgeois
scholars. They very seldom try to grapple with the issue in its totality,
but rather concentrate attention narrowly on ‘economic development’.
As defined by the average bourgeois economist, development becomes
simply a matter of the combination of given ‘factors of production’ :
namely land, population, capital, technology, specialisation and largescale production. Those factors are indeed relevant, as is implied in the (17 of 45) [8/22/05 11:03:07 AM]
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analysis so far; but omissions from the list of what bourgeois scholars
think relevant are really overwhelming. No mention is made of the
exploitation of the majority which underlay all development prior to
Socialism. No mention is made of the social relations of production or
of classes. No mention is made of the way that the factors and relations
of production combine to form a distinctive system or mode of
production, varying from one historical epoch to another. No mention is
made of imperialism as a logical phase of capitalism.
In contrast, any approach which tries to base itself on Socialist and
revolutionary principles must certainly introduce into the discussion at
the earliest possible point the concepts of class, imperialism, and
Socialism, as well as the concepts of the workers and oppressed
peoples. Each new concept bristles with its own complications, and it is
not to be imagined that the mere resort to certain terminology is the
answer to anything. However, one has at least to recognise the full
human, historical and social dimensions of development, before it is
feasible to consider ‘underdevelopment’ or the strategies for escaping
from underdevelopment.
1.2 What is Underdevelopment?
Having discussed ‘development’, it makes it easier to comprehend the
concept of underdevelopment. Obviously, underdevelopment is not
absence of development, because every people have developed in one
way or another and to a greater or lesser extent. Underdevelopment
makes sense only as a means of comparing levels of development. It is
very much tied to the fact that human social development has been (18 of 45) [8/22/05 11:03:07 AM]
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uneven and from a strictly economic view-point some human groups
have advanced further by producing more and becoming more wealthy.
The moment that one group appears to be wealthier than others, some
enquiry is bound to take place as to the reason for the difference. After
Britain had begun to move ahead of the rest of Europe in the 18th
century, the famous British economist Adam Smith felt it necessary to
look into the causes behind the ‘Wealth of Nations’. At the same time,
many Russians were very concerned about the fact that their country
was ‘backward’ in comparison with England, France and Germany in
the 18th century and subsequently in the 19th century. Today, our main
pre-occupation is with the differences in wealth between on the one
hand Europe and North America and on the other hand Africa, Asia and
Latin America. In comparison with the first, the second group can be
said to be backward or underdeveloped. At all times, therefore, one of
the ideas behind underdevelopment is a comparative one. It is possible
to compare the economic conditions at two different periods for the
same country and determine whether or not it had developed; and (more
importantly) it is possible to compare the economies of any two
countries or sets of countries at any given period in time.
A second and even more indispensable component of modern
underdevelopment is that it expresses a particular relationship of
exploitation: namely, the exploitation of one country by another. All of
the countries named as ‘underdeveloped’ in the world are exploited by
others; and the underdevelopment with which the world is now preoccupied is a product of capitalist, imperialist and colonialist (19 of 45) [8/22/05 11:03:07 AM]
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exploitation. African and Asian societies were developing
independently until they were taken over directly or indirectly by the
capitalist powers. When that happened, exploitation increased and the
export of surplus ensued, depriving the societies of the benefit of their
natural resources and labour. That is an integral part of
underdevelopment in the contemporary sense.
In some quarters, it has often been thought wise to substitute the term
‘developing’ for ‘underdeveloped’. One of the reasons for so doing is to
avoid any unpleasantness which may be attached to the second term,
which might be interpreted as meaning underdeveloped mentally,
physically, morally or in any other respect. Actually, if
‘underdevelopment’ were related to anything other than comparing
economies, then the most underdeveloped country in the world would
be the U.S.A, which practices external oppression on a massive scale,
while internally there is a blend of exploitation, brutality, and
psychiatric disorder. However, on the economic level, it is best to
remain with the word ‘underdeveloped’ rather than ‘developing’,
because the latter creates the impression that all the countries of Africa,
Asia and Latin America are escaping from a state of economic
backwardness relative to the industrial nations of the world, and that
they are emancipating themselves from the relationship of exploitation.
That is certainly not true, and many underdeveloped countries in Africa
and elsewhere are becoming more underdeveloped in comparison with
the world’s great powers, because their exploitation by the metropoles
is being intensified in new ways. (20 of 45) [8/22/05 11:03:07 AM]
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Economic comparisons can be made by looking at statistical tables or
indices of what goods and services are produced and used in the
societies under discussion. Professional economists speak of the
National Income of countries and the National Income per capita. These
phrases have already become part of the layman’s language, by way of
the newspapers and no detailed explanation will be offered here. It is
enough to note that the National Income is a measurement of the total
wealth of the country, while the per capita income is a figure obtained
by dividing the National Income by the number of inhabitants in order
to get an idea of the ‘average’ wealth of each inhabitant. This ‘average’
can be misleading where there are great extremes of wealth. A young
Ugandan put it in a very personal form when he said that the per capita
income of his country camouflaged the fantastic difference between
what was earned by his poor peasant father and what was earned by the
biggest local capitalist, Madhvani. In considering the question of
development away from the state of underdevelopment, it is of supreme
importance to realise that such a process demands the removal of the
gross inequalities of land distribution, property holding and income,
which are camouflaged behind national income figures. At one stage in
history, advance was made at the cost of entrenching privileged groups,
In our times, development has to mean advance which liquidates
present privileged groups with their corresponding unprivileged groups.
Nevertheless, the per capita income is a useful statistic for comparing
one country with another; and the developed countries all have per
capita incomes several times higher than any one of the recently
independent African nations. (21 of 45) [8/22/05 11:03:07 AM]
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The following table gives a clear picture of the gap between Africa and
certain nations measured in per capita incomes. It is the gap that allows
one group to be called ‘developed’ and another ‘underdeveloped’. (The
information is obtained from United Nations statistical publications,
and applies to the year 1968 unless otherwise stated.)
Countries Per Capita income in U.S.
France (1967)
United Kingdom (1967)
AFRICA as a whole (1965)
South Africa
The gap that can be seen from the above evidence is not only great, but
it is also increasing. Many people have come to realise that the
developed countries are growing richer quite rapidly, while
underdeveloped countries for the most part show stagnancy or slow
rates of growth. In each country, a figure can be calculated to represent (22 of 45) [8/22/05 11:03:07 AM]
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the rate at which the economy grows. The growth rate is highest in
Socialist countries, followed by the big capitalist countries, and with the
colonies and ex-colonies trailing far behind. The proportion of
international trade which is in the hands of the underdeveloped
countries is declining. That proportion was roughly 30% in 1938 and
went down to less than 20% in the 1960’s. This is an important
indicator because trade is both a reflection of the quantity of goods
produced and a way of obtaining goods not locally produced.
Developed economies have certain characteristics which contrast with
underdeveloped ones. The developed countries are all industrialized.
That is to say, the greater part of their working population is engaged in
industry rather than agriculture, and most of their wealth comes out of
mines, factories, etc. They have a high output of labour per man in
industry because of their advanced technology and skills. This is well
known, but it is also striking that the developed countries have a much
more advanced agriculture than the rest of the world. Their agriculture
has already become an industry, and the agricultural part of the
economy produces more although it is small. The countries of Africa,
Asia and Latin America are called agricultural countries because they
rely on agriculture and have little or no industry: but their agriculture
is unscientific and the yields are far less than those of the developed
countries. In several of the largest underdeveloped nations, there was
stagnation and fall in agricultural output in and after 1966. In Africa,
the output of food per person has been falling in recent years. Because
the developed countries have a stronger industrial and agricultural
economy than the rest of the world, they produce far more goods than (23 of 45) [8/22/05 11:03:07 AM]
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the poor nations-in the category of necessities as well as luxuries. It is
possible to draw up statistical tables showing the production of grain,
milk, steel, electric power, paper, and a wide range of other goods; and
showing at the same time how much of each commodity is made
available to each citizen (on the average). Once again, the figures are
highly favourable to a few privileged countries in the world.
The amount of steel used in a country is an excellent indicator of the
level of industrialization. At one extreme, one finds that the U.S.A.
consumes 685 kg. of steel per person, Sweden 623 kg. and East
Germany 437 kg. At the other extreme, one finds that Zambia consumes
10 kg., East Africa 8 kg. and Ethiopia 2 kg. When the same kind of
calculation is made for sugar, a sample of the results shows Australia
with 57 kg, and North America and the Soviet Union with 45 to 50 kg.
on the average. Africa, however, consumes only 10 kg. of sugar per
person per year, and this is better than Asia with 7 kg..
An even more gloomy set of statistics relate to basic food requirements.
Each individual needs a certain quantity of food per day, measured in
calories. The desirable amount is 3,000 calories per day; but no African
country comes anywhere near to that figure. Algerians consume on
average only 1,370 calories per day, while Ivory Coast can consider
itself very well off within an African context with 2,290 calories as the
national average. Furthermore, one also has to judge the protein content
of the food; and many parts of Africa suffer from ‘protein famine’ –
which means that even when calories are available from starchy foods,
little protein is to he found. Persons in developed capitalist and Socialist (24 of 45) [8/22/05 11:03:07 AM]
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countries consume twice as much protein food as those in
underdeveloped countries. Such differences help to make it clear which
countries are ‘developed’ and which are ‘underdeveloped’.
The social services provided by a country are of importance equal to
that of its material production in bringing about human well-being and
happiness. It is universally accepted that the state has the responsibility
to establish schools and hospitals, but whether these are provided by the
government or by private agencies, their numbers can be established in
relation to the size of the population. The extent to which basic goods
and social services are available in a country can also be measured
indirectly by looking at the life expectancy, the frequency of deaths
among children, the amount of malnutrition, the occurrence of diseases
which would be prevented by inoculation and public health services,
and the proportion of illiterates. In all these respects, the comparison
between the developed and underdeveloped countries shows huge and
even frightening differences. For every 1,000 children who are born
alive in Cameroon, 100 never live to see their first birthday, and out of
every 1,000 African children born alive in rural Sierra Leone, 160 die
before reaching one year. Yet the comparable figures for the U.K. and
Holland are only 12 and 18, respectively. Besides many more African
children die before they reach the age of five. Lack of doctors is a major
drawback. In Italy, there is one doctor for every 580 Italians and in
Czechoslovakia there is one doctor for every 510 citizens. In Niger, one
doctor must do for 56,140 people; in Tunisia, one doctor for every
8,320 Tunisians; and in Chad one doctor for 73,460 persons. (25 of 45) [8/22/05 11:03:07 AM]
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It takes a large number of skilled people to make an industrial economy
function; while the countries of Africa have a woefully insufficient
number of highly qualified personnel. The figures on doctors just given
confirm this, and the same problem exists with engineers, technicians,
agriculturalists and even administrators and lawyers in some places.
Middle level skills in fields such as welding are also lacking. To make
matters worse, there is at present a ‘brain drain’ from Africa, Asia and
Latin America towards North America and Western Europe. This is to
say, professionals, technicians, high-level administrators and skilled
workers emigrate from their homes, and the small number of skilled
people available to the underdeveloped world are further depleted by
the lure of better pay and opportunities in the developed world.
The lopsided nature of the present international economy is strikingly
brought home by the fact that the underdeveloped countries have in turn
to recruit foreign experts at fantastic cost.
Most of the data presented so far can be described as ‘quantitative’. It
gives us measurements of the quantity of goods and services produced
in various economies. In addition, certain qualitative assessments have
to be made concerning the way that a given economy is put together.
For economic development it is not enough to produce more goods and
services. The country has to produce more of those goods and services
which in turn will give rise spontaneously to future growth in the
economy. For example, the food-producing sector must be flourishing
so that workers would be healthy, and agriculture on the whole must be
efficient so that the profits (or savings) from agriculture would (26 of 45) [8/22/05 11:03:07 AM]
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stimulate industry. Heavy industry, such as the steel industry and the
production of electrical power, must be present so that one is capable of
making machinery for other types of industry and for agriculture. Lack
of heavy industry, inadequate production of food, unscientific
agriculture – those, are all characteristics of the underdeveloped
It is typical of underdeveloped economies that they do not (or are not
allowed to) concentrate on those sectors of the economy which in turn
will generate growth and raise production to a new level altogether, and
there are very few ties between one sector and another so that (say)
agriculture and industry could react beneficially on each other.
Furthermore, whatever savings are made within the economy are
mainly sent abroad or are frittered away in consumption rather than
being redirected to productive purposes. Much of the national income
which remains within the country goes to pay individuals who are not
directly involved in producing wealth but only in rendering auxiliary
services-civil servants, merchants, soldiers, entertainers, etc. What
aggravates the situation is that more people are employed in those jobs
than are really necessary to give efficient service; and to crown it all
these people do not reinvest in agriculture or industry. They squander
the wealth created by the peasants and workers by purchasing cars,
whisky and perfume.
It has been noted with irony that the principal ‘industry’ of many
underdeveloped countries is administration. Not long ago, 60%, of the
internal revenue of Dahomey went into paying salaries of civil servants (27 of 45) [8/22/05 11:03:07 AM]
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and government leaders. The salaries given to the elected politicians is
higher than that given to a British Member of Parliament, and the
number of parliamentarians in the underdeveloped African countries is
also relatively high. In Gabon, there is one parliamentary representative
for every 6,000 inhabitants, compared to one French parliamentary
representative for every 100,000 Frenchmen. Many more figures of that
sort indicate that in describing a typical underdeveloped economy it is
essential to point out the high disproportion of the locally distributed
wealth that goes into the pockets of a privileged few.
Members of the privileged groups inside Africa always defend
themselves by saying that they pay the taxes which keeps the
Government going. At face value this statement sounds reasonable, but
on close examination it is really the most absurd argument and shows
total ignorance of how the economy functions. Taxes do not produce
national wealth and development. Wealth has to be produced out of
nature – from tilling the land or mining metals or felling trees or
turning raw materials into finished products for human consumption.
These things are done by the vast majority of the population who are
peasants and workers.
There would be no incomes to tax if the labouring population did not
The incomes given to civil servants, professionals, merchants, etc. come
from the store of wealth produced by the community. Quite apart from
the injustices in the distribution of wealth, one has to dismiss the
argument that ‘the tax payers’ money’ is what develops a country. In (28 of 45) [8/22/05 11:03:07 AM]
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pursuing the goal of development, one must start with the producers and
move on from there to see whether the products of their labour are
being rationally utilised to bring greater independence and well-being to
the nation.
By paying attention to the wealth created by human labour out of
nature, one can immediately appreciate that very few underdeveloped
countries are lacking in the natural resources which could go in to
making a better life; and in those cases it is usually possible for two or
three territories to combine together for their mutual benefit. In fact, it
can be shown that the underdeveloped countries are the ones with the
greatest wealth of natural resources and yet the poorest in terms of
goods and services presently provided by and for their citizens.
The United Nations Survey of Economic Conditions in Africa up to
1964 had this to say about the continent’s natural resources:
Actually, African potential is shown to be greater every day
with new discoveries of mineral wealth. On the agricultural
side, African soil is not as rich as the picture of tropical
forests might lead one to believe; but there are other climatic
advantages so that with proper irrigation crops can be grown
all the year round in most parts of the continent.
The situation is that Africa has not yet come anywhere close to making
the most of its natural wealth, and most of the wealth now being
produced is not being retained within Africa for the benefit of Africans.
Zambia and Congo produce vast quantities of copper, but that is for the (29 of 45) [8/22/05 11:03:07 AM]
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benefit of Europe, North America and Japan. Even the goods and
services which are produced inside of Africa and which remain in
Africa nevertheless fall into the hands of non-Africans. Thus, South
Africa boasts of having the highest per capita income in Africa; but as
an indication of how this is shared out, one should note that while the
Apartheid regime assures that only 24 white babies die out of every
1,000 live births, they are quite happy to allow 128 African babies to
die out of every 1,000 live births. In order to understand present
economic conditions in Africa, one needs to know why it is that Africa
has realised so little of its natural potential, and one also needs to know
why so much of its present wealth goes to non-Africans who reside for
the most part outside of the continent.
In a way, underdevelopment is a paradox. Many parts of the world that
are naturally rich are actually poor and parts that are not so well off in
wealth of soil and sub-soil are enjoying the highest standards of living.
When the capitalists from the developed parts of the world try to
explain this paradox, they often make it sound as though there is
something ‘God-given’ about the situation. One bourgeois economist,
in a book on development, accepted that the comparative statistics of
the world today show a gap that is much larger than it was before. By
his own admission, the gap between the developed and the
underdeveloped countries has increased by at least 15 to 20 times over
the last 150 years. However, the bourgeois economist in question does
not give a historical explanation, nor does he consider that there is a
relationship of exploitation which allowed capitalist parasites to grow
fat and impoverished the dependencies. Instead, he puts forward a (30 of 45) [8/22/05 11:03:07 AM]
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biblical explanation! He says that:
‘It is all told in the Bible:
For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance;
but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.
(St Matthew, xxv, 29.)
The story of the “hath nots” is the story of the modern underdeveloped
Presumably, the only comment which one can make on that is ‘Amen’.
The interpretation that underdevelopment is somehow ordained by God
is emphasised because of the racist trend in European scholarship. It is
in line with racist prejudice to say openly or to imply that their
countries are more developed because their people are innately superior,
and that the responsibility for the economic backwardness of Africa lies
in the generic backwardness of the race of black Africans. An even
bigger problem is that the people of Africa and other parts of the
colonised world have gone through a cultural and psychological crisis
and have accepted at least partially the European version of things. That
means that the African himself has doubts about his capacity to
transform and develop his natural environment. With such doubts, he
even challenges those of his brothers who say that Africa can and will
develop through the efforts of its own people. If we can determine when
underdevelopment came about, it would dismiss the lingering suspicion
that it is racially or otherwise predetermined and that we can do little
about it. (31 of 45) [8/22/05 11:03:07 AM]
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When the ‘experts’ from capitalist countries do not give a racist
explanation, they nevertheless confuse the issue by giving as causes of
underdevelopment the things which really are consequences. For
example, they would argue that Africa is in a state of backwardness as a
result of lacking skilled personnel to develop. It is true that because of
lack of engineers Africa cannot on its own build more roads, bridges
and hydroelectric stations. But that is not a cause of underdevelopment,
except in the sense that causes and effects come together and reinforce
each other. The fact of the matter is that the most profound reasons for
the economic backwardness of a given African nation are not to be
found outside that nation. All that we can find inside are the symptoms
of underdevelopment and the secondary factors that make for poverty.
Mistaken interpretations of the causes of underdevelopment usually
stem either from prejudiced thinking or from the error of believing that
one can learn the answers by looking inside the underdeveloped
economy. The true explanation lies in seeking out the relationship
between Africa and certain developed countries and in recognising that
it is a relationship of exploitation.
Man has always exploited his natural environment in order to make a
living. At a certain point in time, there also arose the exploitation of
man by man, in that a few people grew rich and lived well through the
labour of others. Then a stage was reached by which people in one
community called a nation exploited the natural resources and the
labour of another nation and its people. Since underdevelopment deals
with the comparative economics of nations, it is the last kind of (32 of 45) [8/22/05 11:03:07 AM]
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exploitation that is of greatest interest here – i.e. the exploitation of
nation by nation. One of the common means by which one nation
exploits another and one that is relevant to Africa’s external relations is
exploitation through trade. When the terms of trade are set by one
country in a manner entirely advantageous to itself, then the trade is
usually detrimental to the trading partner. To be specific, one can take
the export of agricultural produce from Africa and the import of
manufactured goods into Africa from Europe, North America and
Japan. The big nations establish the price of the agricultural products
and subject these prices to frequent reductions. At the same time the
price of manufactured goods is also set by them, along with the freight
rates necessary for trade in the ships of those nations. The minerals of
Africa also fall into the same category as agricultural produce as far as
pricing is concerned. The whole import/export relationship between
Africa and its trading partners is one of unequal exchange and of
More far-reaching than just trade is the actual ownership of the means
of production in one country by the citizens of another. When citizens
of Europe own the land and the mines of Africa, this is the most direct
way of sucking the African continent. Under colonialism the ownership
was complete and backed by military domination. Today, in many
African countries the foreign ownership is still present, although the
armies and flags of foreign powers have been removed. So long as
foreigners own land, mines, factories, banks, insurance companies,
means of transportation, newspapers, power stations, etc. then for so
long will the wealth of Africa flow outwards into the hands of those (33 of 45) [8/22/05 11:03:07 AM]
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elements. In other words, in the absence of direct political control;
foreign investment ensures that the natural resources and the labour of
Africa produce economic value which is lost to the continent.
Foreign investment often takes the form of loans to African
governments. Naturally, these loans have to be re-paid; and in the 1960s
the rate of repayment (amortization) on official loans in underdeveloped
countries rose from $400 million per year to about $700 million per
year, and it is constantly on the increase. Besides, there is interest to be
paid on these loans as well as profits which come from the direct
investment in the economy. These two sources accounted for the fact
that over $500 million flowed outward from the underdeveloped
countries in 1965. The information on these matters is seldom complete,
for the obvious reason that those making the profit are trying to keep
things quiet, so the figures given above are likely to be underestimates.
They are meant to give some idea of the extent to which the wealth of
Africa is being drained off by those who invest in, and thereby own, a
large part of the means of production of wealth in Africa. Furthermore,
in more recent times the forms of investment have become more subtle
and more dangerous. They include so-called ‘absentee’ management of
local African companies by international capitalist experts.
Africa trades mainly with the countries of Western Europe, North
America and Japan. Africa is also diversifying its trade by dealing with
socialist countries, and if that trade proves disadvantageous to the
African economy, then the developed socialist countries will also have
joined the ranks of the exploiters of Africa. However, it is very essential (34 of 45) [8/22/05 11:03:07 AM]
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at this stage to draw a clear distinction between the capitalist countries
and the socialist ones, because socialist countries have never at any time
owned any part of the African continent nor do they invest in African
economies in such a way as to expatriate profits from Africa. Therefore,
socialist countries are not involved in the robbery of Africa.
Most of the people who write about underdevelopment and who are
read in the continents of Africa, Asia and Latin America are spokesmen
for the capitalist or bourgeois world. They seek to justify capitalist
exploitation both inside and outside their own countries. One of the
things which they do to confuse the issue is to place all
‘underdeveloped’ countries, in one camp and all ‘developed’ countries
in another camp irrespective of different social systems; so that the
terms ‘capitalist’ and ‘socialist’ never enter the discussion. Instead, one
is faced with a simple division between the industrialised nations and
those that are not industrialised. It is true that both the U.S.A. and the
Soviet Union are industrialised and it is true that when one looks at the
statistics, countries such as France, Norway, Czechoslovakia and
Rumania are much closer together than any one of them is to an African
country. But it is absolutely necessary to determine whether the
standard of living in a given industrialised country is a product of its
own internal resources or whether it stems from exploiting other
countries. The United States has a small proportion of the World’s
population and exploitable natural wealth but it enjoys a huge
percentage of the wealth which comes from exploiting the labour and
natural resources of the whole world. (35 of 45) [8/22/05 11:03:07 AM]
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The erroneous views about underdevelopment and the oversimplified
distinction between rich and poor nations are opposed by Socialist
scholars both inside and outside the Socialist countries. Those
erroneous views are also being exposed by economists in
underdeveloped countries who are discovering that the explanations
offered by bourgeois scholars are explanations which suit the interests
of those countries which exploit the rest of the world through trade and
investment. One French Socialist writer, Pierre Jalée, proposes that to
obtain a proper perspective of relations between developed countries
and underdeveloped ones, two categories should be set up namely,
imperialist and Socialist. The Socialist camp include all countries big
and small which have decided to break away from international
capitalism. The imperialist camp contains not only the capitalist giants
like the U.S.A., France, West Germany and Japan but also the weak
nations in which those industrial nations have investments. Therefore
the imperialist camp can be sub-divided into exploiting and exploited
countries. For the most part, the nations of Africa fall into the group of
exploited countries inside of the capitalist/imperialist system. Roughly
one-third of the world’s peoples are already living under some form of
Socialism. The other two-thirds constitute the capitalist/imperialist
camp, with the majority being in the exploited section.
It is interesting to notice that in spite of their efforts to confuse the
situation, the bourgeois writers often touch on the truth. For example,
the United Nations (which is dominated by western capitalist powers)
would never stress the exploitation by capitalist nations, but their
economic reviews refer on the one hand to ‘the centrally planned (36 of 45) [8/22/05 11:03:07 AM]
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economies’, which means the Socialist countries, and on the other hand
they speak of ‘the market economies’ which means in effect the
imperialist sector of the world. The latter is subdivided into ‘the
developed market economies’ and ‘the developing market economies’,
disguising the fact that the market means capitalist market. This study is
concerned with analysing the relations between those countries which
are together within the capitalist market system.
The things which bring Africa into the capitalist market system are
trade, colonial domination and capitalist investment. Trade has existed
for several centuries; colonial rule began in the late 19th century and
has almost disappeared; and the investment in the African economy has
been increasing steadily in the present century. Throughout the period
that Africa has participated in the capitalist economy, two factors have
brought about underdevelopment. In the first place, the wealth created
by African labour and from African resources was grabbed by the
capitalist countries of Europe; and in the second place restrictions were
placed upon African capacity to make the maximum use of its
economic potential – which is what development is all about. Those two
processes represent the answer to the two questions raised above as to
why Africa has realized so little of its potential and why so much of its
present wealth goes outside of the continent.
African economies are integrated into the very structure of the
developed capitalist economies; and they are integrated in a manner that
is unfavourable to Africa and ensures that Africa is dependent on the
big capitalist countries. Indeed, structural dependence is one of the (37 of 45) [8/22/05 11:03:07 AM]
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characteristics of underdevelopment. Most progressive writers divide
the capitalist/imperialist system into two parts. The first is the dominant
or metropolitan section and the countries in the second group are often
called satellites because they are in the orbit of the metropolitan
economies. The same idea is conveyed by simply saying that the
underdeveloped countries are dependencies of the metropolitan
capitalist economies.
When a child or the young of any animal species ceases to be dependent
upon its mother for food and protection, it can be said to have
developed in the direction of maturity. Dependent nations can never be
considered developed. It is true that modern conditions force all
countries to be mutually interdependent in order to satisfy the needs of
their citizens; but that is not incompatible with economic independence
because economic independence does not mean isolation. It does,
however, require a capacity to exercise choice in external relations, and
above all it requires that a nation’s growth at some point must become
self-reliant and self-sustaining. Such things are obviously in direct
contradiction to the economic dependence of numerous countries on the
metropoles of Western Europe, North America and Japan.
It is also true that metropoles are dependent on the wealth of the
exploited portions of the world. This is a source of their strength and a
potential weakness within the capitalist/imperialist system, since the
peasants and workers of the dependencies are awakening to a realisation
that it is possible to cut the tentacles which imperialism has extended
into their countries. However, there is a substantial difference between (38 of 45) [8/22/05 11:03:07 AM]
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the dependence of the metropoles on the colonies and the subjugation of
the colonies under a foreign capitalist yoke. The capitalist countries are
technologically more advanced and are therefore the sector of the
imperialist system which determined the direction of change. A striking
example to this effect is the fact that synthetic fabrics manufactured in
the capitalist metropoles have begun to replace fabrics made from raw
material grown in the colonies. In other words, (within certain limits) it
is the technologically advanced metropoles who can decide when to end
their dependence on the colonies in a particular sphere. When that
happens, it is the colony or neo-colony which goes begging cap in hand
for a reprieve and a new quota. It is for this reason that a formerly
colonised nation has no hope of developing until it breaks effectively
with the vicious circle of dependence and exploitation which
characterises imperialism.
At the social and cultural level, there are many features which aid in
keeping underdeveloped countries integrated into the capitalist system
and at the same time hanging on to the apron strings of the metropoles.
The Christian Church has always been a major instrument for cultural
penetration and cultural dominance, in spite of the fact. that in many
instances Africans sought to set up independent churches. Equally
important has been the role of education in producing Africans to
service the capitalist system and to subscribe to its values. Recently, the
imperialists have been using new universities in Africa to keep
themselves entrenched at the highest academic level.
Something as basic as language has come to serve as one of the (39 of 45) [8/22/05 11:03:07 AM]
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mechanisms of integration and dependence. The French and English
that is so widely used in Africa is more for the purpose of African
communicating with the exploiters rather than African with African.
Actually, it would be difficult to find a sphere which did not reflect the
economic dependence and structural integration. At a glance, nothing
could be less harmful and more entertaining than music, and yet this too
is used as a weapon of cultural domination. The American imperialists
go so far as to take the folk music, jazz and soul music of oppressed
black people and transform this into American propaganda over the
Voice of America beamed at Africa.
During the colonial period, the forms of political subordination in
Africa were obvious. There were governors, colonial officials and
police. In politically independent African states, the metropolitan
capitalists have to ensure favourable political decisions by remote
control. So they set up their political puppets in many parts of Africa,
who shamelessly agree to compromise with the vicious Apartheid
regime of South Africa when their masters tell them to do so. The
African revolutionary Franz Fanon dealt scorchingly and at length with
the question of the minority in Africa which serves as the transmission
line between the metropolitan capitalists and the dependencies in
Africa. The importance of this group cannot be underestimated. The
presence of a group of African sell-outs is part of the definition of
underdevelopment. Any diagnosis of underdevelopment in Africa will
reveal not just low per capita income and protein deficiencies, but also
the gentlemen who dance in Abidjan, Accra and Kinshasa when music
is played in Paris, London and New York. (40 of 45) [8/22/05 11:03:07 AM]
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Political instability is manifesting itself in Africa as a chronic symptom
of the underdevelopment of political life within the imperialist context.
Military coups have followed one after the other, usually meaning
nothing to the mass of the people, and sometimes representing a
reactionary reversal of the efforts at national liberation. This trend was
well exemplified in Latin American history, so that its appearance in
neo-colonial South Vietnam or in neo-colonial Africa is not at all
surprising. If economic power is centred outside of national African
boundaries, then political and military power in any real sense is also
centred outside until and unless the masses of peasants and workers are
mobilised to offer an alternative to the system of sham political
independence. All of those features are ramifications of
underdevelopment and of the exploitation of the imperialist system. In
most analyses of this question, they are either left out entirely or the
whole concept of imperialism and neocolonialism is dismissed as mere
rhetoric-especially by ‘academics’ who claim to be removed from
‘politics’. During the remainder of this study, a great deal of detail will
be presented to indicate the grim reality behind the so-called slogans of
capitalism, imperialism, colonialism, neo-colonialism and the like. For
the present moment, the position to be adopted can be stated briefly in
the following terms:
The question as to who and what is responsible for African
underdevelopment can be answered at two levels. Firstly, the answer is
that the operation of the imperialist system bears major responsibility
for African economic retardation by draining African wealth and by
making it impossible to develop more rapidly the resources of the (41 of 45) [8/22/05 11:03:07 AM]
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continent. Secondly, one has to deal with those who manipulate the
system and those who are either agents or unwitting accomplices of the
said system. The capitalists of Western Europe were the ones who
actively extended their exploitation from inside Europe to cover the
whole of Africa.
In recent times, they were joined and to some extent replaced by
capitalists from the United States; and for many years now even the
workers of those metropolitan countries have benefited from the
exploitation and underdevelopment of Africa. None of these remarks
are intended to remove the ultimate responsibility for development from
the shoulders of Africans. Not only are there African accomplices
inside the imperialist system, but every African has a responsibility to
understand the system and work for its overthrow.
Brief guide to reading
There is a great deal of literature on ‘development’ and
‘underdevelopment’, although less than one would expect in view of the
importance of the subjects. Most of that which is available seeks to
justify capitalism. Hence, there is a narrow concentration on ‘economic
development’ and particularly on capitalist economies, rather than any
analysis of human social development. That approach is challenged by
Marxist writers in the metropoles and increasingly by scholars from the
underdeveloped world.
Frederick Engels, Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State. (42 of 45) [8/22/05 11:03:07 AM]
How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. Walter Rodney 1973
Karl Marx, Preface to a Contribution to a Critique of Political
Karl Marx, Pre-Capitalist Economic Formations edited by E. J.
These three works are samples of writing by the founders of what is
now called Marxism. Most of the publications of Marx and Engels have
a relevance to the theme of development, with particular emphasis on
feudal and capitalist times.
Richard T. Gill, Economic Development: Past and Present.
Ragnar Nurkse, Problems of Capital Formation in Underdeveloped
These are typical examples of bourgeois metropolitan views on
development and underdevelopment – the first being a text for North
American college students by a Canadian economist and the second
being a frequently reprinted work of one of the most prominent
bourgeois advocates of the ‘vicious circle of poverty’ theory.
Unfortunately, these are also the kind of books which dominates the
shelves of any university or public library in Africa. The reader is
invited to test this generalisation.
J. D. Bernal, Science in History.
Joseph Needham, Science and Civilisation in China. (43 of 45) [8/22/05 11:03:07 AM]
How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. Walter Rodney 1973
Both of these are lengthy, but they should be tackled. Science and
technology derive from the effort to understand and control the natural
environment. Familiarity with the history of science is essential to an
awareness of the development of society. Needham’s book is cited here
as a corrective to the fairly common view that science is something
peculiarIy European.
Celso Furtado, Development and Underdevelopment.
A. Gunder Frank, Capitalism and Underdevelopment in Latin America.
T. Szentes, The Political Economy of Underdevelopment. (Budapest,
The first writer is from Brazil, a country with a long history of
dependence on and exploitation by the metropoles of Europe and North
America. Frank’s book reflects the thinking of many progressive Latin
American intellectuals and it has now become well entrenched as a
view of Marxists inside the metropoles. Szentes is a Hungarian
economist systematically applying Marxist insights to the actual data
and processes of the underdeveloped world and imperialism as a whole.
Samir Amin, The Class Struggle in Africa. (Africa Research Group,
Box 213, Cambridge, Massachusetts.)
Samir Amin is a North African. He stands out with regard both to the
volume of his productions and the quality of his insights. The text cited
above is very general – covering in outline the period of the coots of
development in ancient Africa right up to the present and the projected (44 of 45) [8/22/05 11:03:07 AM]
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Socialist future. It is likely that more of his work will be translated into
English (French being his working language).
Table of Contents (45 of 45) [8/22/05 11:03:07 AM]
How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. Walter Rodney 1973
How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. Walter Rodney 1973
Chapter Two. How Africa
Developed Before the Coming of the
Europeans up to the 15th Century
‘Before even the British came into relations with our people, we were a
developed people, having our own institutions, having our own ideas of
J. E. Casely-Hayford, 1922.
African (Gold Coast) Nationalist.
2.1 General Overview
It has been shown that, using comparative standards, Africa today is
underdeveloped in relation to Western Europe and a few other parts of
the world; and that the present position has been arrived at, not by the
separate evolution of Africa on the one hand and Europe on the other,
but exploitation. As is well known, Africa has had prolonged and
extensive contact with Europe, and one has to bear in mind that contact
between different societies changes their respective rates of
development. To set the record straight, four operations are required:
(a) Reconstruction of the nature of development in Africa
before the coming of Europeans.
(b) Reconstruction of the nature of development which took
place in Europe before expansion abroad. (1 of 64) [8/22/05 11:03:37 AM]
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(c) Analysis of Africa’s contribution to Europe’s present
‘developed’ state.
(d) Analysis of Europe’s contribution to Africa’s present
‘underdeveloped’ state.
The second task has already been extensively carried out in European
literature, and only passing references need be made; but the others are
al] deserving of further attention.
The African continent reveals very fully the workings of the law of
uneven development of societies. There are marked contrasts between
the Ethiopian empire and the hunting groups of pigmies in the Congo
forest or between empires of the Western Sudan and the Khoisan huntergatherers of the Kalahari Desert. Indeed, there were striking contrasts
within any given geographical area. The Ethiopian empire embraced
literate feudal Amharic noblemen as well as simple Kaffa cultivators
and Galla pastoralists. The empires of the Western Sudan had
sophisticated, educated Mandinga townsmen, small communities of
Bozo fishermen and nomadic Fulani herdsmen. Even among clans and
lineages that appear roughly similar, there were considerable
differences. However, it is possible to distinguish between what was
uniquely ‘African’ and what was universal in the sense of being
characteristic of al] human societies at a given stage of development. It
is also essential to recognise the process of dialectical evolution from
lower to higher forms of social organisation; and, in looking at the most
advanced social formations, one would appreciate the potential of the (2 of 64) [8/22/05 11:03:37 AM]
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continent as a whole and the direction of change.
The moment that the topic of the pre-European African past is raised,
many individuals are concerned for various reasons to know about the
existence of African ‘civilisations’. Mainly, this stems from a desire to
make comparisons with European ‘civilisations’. This is not the context
in which to evaluate the so-called civilisations of Europe. It is enough
to note the behaviour of European capitalists from the epoch of slavery
through colonialism, fascism and genocidal wars in Asia and Africa.
Such barbarism causes suspicion to attach to the use of the word
‘civilisation’ to describe Western Europe and North America. As far as
Africa is concerned during the period of early development, it is
preferable to speak in terms of ‘cultures’ rather than civilisations.
A culture is a total way of life. It embraces w at people ate and what
they wore; the way they walked and the way they talked; the manner in
which they treated death and greeted the new-born. Obviously, unique
features came into existence in virtually every locality with regard to afl
social details. In addition, the continent of Africa south of the great
Sahara desert formed a broad community where resemblances were
clearly discernible. For example, music and dance had key roles in
‘uncontaminated’ African society. They were ever present at birth,
initiation, marriage, death, etc., as well as appearing at times of
recreation. Africa is the continent of drums and percussion. African
peoples reached the pinnacl e of achievement in that sphere.
Because of the impact of colonialism and cultural imperialism (which
will be discussed later), Europeans and Africans themselves in the (3 of 64) [8/22/05 11:03:37 AM]
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colonial period lacked due regard for the unique features of African
culture. Those features have a value of their own that cannot be eclipsed
by European culture either in the comparable period before 1500 or in
the subsequent centuries. They cannot be eclipsed because they are not
really comparable phenomena. Who in this world is competent to judge
whether an Austrian waltz is better than a Makonde Ngoma?
Furthermore, even in those spheres of culture that are more readily
comparable, such as ‘the fine arts’, it is known that African
achievements of the pre-European period stand as contributions to
man’s heritage of beautiful creations. The art of Egypt, the Sudan and
Ethiopia was known to the rest of the world at an early date. That of the
rest of Africa is still being ‘discovered’ and rediscovered by Europeans
and present-day Africans. The verdict of art historians on the Ife and
Benin bronzes is well known. Since they date from the 14th and 15th
centuries, they are very relevant to any discussion of African
development in the epoch before the contacts with Europe. Nor should
they be regarded as unusual, except with regard to the material in which
the sculptures were executed. The same skill and feeling obviously
went into sculpture and art-work in non-durable materials, especially
African dance and art were almost invariably linked with a religious
world-outlook in one way or another. As is well known, traditional
African religious practices exist in great variety, and it should also be
remembered that both Islam and Christianity found homes on the
African continent almost from their very inception. The features of the
traditional African religions help to set African cultures apart from (4 of 64) [8/22/05 11:03:37 AM]
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those in other continents; but in this present context it is more important
to note how much African religion had in common with religion
elsewhere and how this can be used as an index to the level of
development in Africa before European impact in the 15th century.
Religion is an aspect of the superstructure of a society, deriving
ultimately from the degree of control and understanding of the material
world. However, when man thinks in religious terms, he starts from the
ideal rather than with the material world (which is beyond his
comprehension). This creates a non-scientific and metaphysical way of
viewing the world, which often conflicts with the scientific materialist
outlook and with the development of society. African ancestral religions
were no better or worse than other religions as such. But by the end of
feudalism, Europeans began to narrow the area of human life in which
religion and the church played a part. Religion ceased to dominate
politics, geography, medicine, etc. To free those things from religious
restraints, it had to be argued that religion had its own sphere and the
things of this world have their own secular sphere. This secularization
of life speeded up the development of capitalism and later Socialism. In
contrast, religion pervaded African life in the period before the coming
of the whites, just as it pervaded life in other pre-feudal societies, such
as those of the Maoris of Australia or the Afghans of Afghanistan or the
Vikings of Scandinavia.
Religion can play both a positive and a negative role as an aspect of the
superstructure. In most instances in early Africa, religious beliefs were
associated with the mobilisation and discipline of large numbers of (5 of 64) [8/22/05 11:03:37 AM]
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people to form states. In a few instances, religion also provided
concepts in the struggle, for social justice. The negative aspects usually
arose out of the tendency of religion to persist unchanged for extremely
long periods, especially when the technology of earning a living
changes very slowly. This was the case in African societies, as in al]
other pre-capitalist societies. At the same time, the religious beliefs
themselves react upon the mode of production, further slowing up
progress in that respect. For instance, belief in prayer and in the
intervention of ancestors and various Gods could easily be a substitute
for innovations designed to control the impact af weather and
The same kind of two-sided relationship also exists between the means
of earning a living and the social patterns that arise in the process of
work. In Africa, before the 15th century, the predominant principle of
social relations was that of family and kinship associated with
communalism. Every member of an African society had his position
defined in terms of relatives on his mother’s side and on his father’s
side. Some societies placed greater importance on matrilineal ties and
others on patrilineal ties. Those things were crucial to the daily
existence of a member of an African society, because land (the major
means of production) was owned by groups such as the family or clanthe head of which was responsible for the land on behalf of al] kin,
including fore-parents and those yet unborn. In theory, this pattern was
explained by saying that the residents in any community were all direct
descendants of the first person who settled the land. When a new group
arrived, they often made a pretence that they too had ancestry dating (6 of 64) [8/22/05 11:03:37 AM]
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back to the settling of the land or else they ensured that members of the
earliest kin groups continued to perform the ceremonies related to the
land and water of the region.
Similarly, the labour that worked the land was generally recruited on a
family basis. A single family or household would till its own plots and
it would also be available to share certain joint farming activities with
other members of the extended family or clan. Annual hunts and river
fishing were also organised by a whole extended family or village
community. In a matrilineal society such as that of the Bemba
(Zambia), the bridegroom spent a number of years working for the
father of his bride; and many young men who had married daughters of
the same household often formed work-teams to help each other. In
Dahomey, a young man did not go to live with his wife’s family, but
the dokpwe or work team allowed a son to participate in carrying out a
task of some magnitude for the father of his wife. In both of those
examples, the right of the father-in-law to acquire labour and the
obligations of the son-in-law to give labour were based on kinship. This
can be contrasted with capitalism where money buys labour, and with
feudalism where the serf provides labour in order to have access to a
portion of land which belongs to the landlord.
Having been produced on land that was family property and through
family labour, the resultant crops and other goods were distributed on
the basis of kinship ties. If a man’s crops were destroyed by some
sudden calamity, relatives in his own village helped him. If the whole
community was in distress, people moved to live with their kinsmen in (7 of 64) [8/22/05 11:03:37 AM]
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another area where food was not scarce. In Akan country (Ghana),
clan system was highly organised, so that a man from Brong could visit
Fante many hundreds of miles away and receive food and hospitality
from a complete stranger who happened to be of his own clan.
Numerous examples could be brought forward to show the dominance
of the family principle in the communal phase of African development.
It affected the two principal factors of production — land and labour —
as well as the system of distributing goods. European anthropologists
who have studied African societies have done so mainly from a very
prejudiced and racist position, but their researches can nevertheless
provide abundant facts relating to family homesteads and compounds,
to the extended family (including affinal members who join by
association rather than by birth or marriage), and to lineages and clans
which carried the principles of kinship alliances over large areas.
However, while the exact details might have differed, similar social
institutions were to be found among the Gauls of 11th century France,
among the Viet of Indo-China at the same date, and virtually
everywhere else in the world at one time or another — because
communalism is one phase through which all human society passed.
In all African societies during the early epoch, the individual at every
stage of life had a series of duties and obligations to others in the
society as well as a set of rights: namely, things that he or she could
expect or demand from other individuals. Age was a most important
factor determining the extent of rights and obligations. The oldest
members of the society were highly respected and usually in authority;…
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