Few books have been as influential in understanding African impoverishment as this groundbreaking analysis. Rodney shows how the imperial countries of Europe, and subsequently the US, bear major responsibility for impoverishing Africa. They have been joined in this exploitation by agents or unwitting accomplices both in the North and in Africa.
With oppression and liberation his main concern, he 'delves into the past', as he says in his preface, 'only because otherwise it would be impossible to understand how the present came into being In the search for an understanding of what is now called "underdevelopment" in Africa, the limits of inquiry 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.' He argues 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'.
His Marxist analysis went far beyond previously accepted approaches and changed the way both third world development and colonial history are studied.
Although first published in 1972, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa remains an essential introduction to understanding the dynamics of Africa's contemporary relations with the West and is a powerful legacy of a committed thinker.read more
The Guyanan intellectual Walter Rodney wrote this book directly after the 1960s wave of African independence declarations, to show why Africa was so underdeveloped compared to the 'First World', and who was to blame for this. A consistently intelligent and politically involved Marxist thinker, Rodney was one of the second generation of black socialists to write about African issues, after the tradition of CLR James and Eric Williams, the former of whom tutored Rodney. "How Europe Underdeveloped Africa" is probably Rodney's magnum opus of popular science, aimed at a general public, and very accessible and informative.Rodney describes in chronological sequence the development of Africa as a continent and the way in which the Europeans interfered with it. Going from the earliest African empires and states and their social relations, via the first wave of slave-trading, to full-blown colonialism, Rodney shows us how Europeans consistently attacked, pillaged, exploited, suppressed, enslaved, divided and discriminated against Africans, and the enormous impact the various stages of slavery and colonialism had in destroying the indigenous opportunities for coming out of feudalism into capitalist and industrialized societies. It is truly remarkable, given how short a time Africa has had to develop on its own as a modern society, how quickly African states have been able to modernize, and how strong the resilience of the various African peoples is to the enormous destruction they have had to endure. Rodney shows us all this with excellent writing and sensible use of 'bourgeois' sources, allowing the interested layman to gain all the necessary broad background information on the history of European involvement in Africa.Of necessity, the book is sometimes rather annoyingly concise and vague about the specifics of colonial policies, destruction of early indigenous development etc., things about which one would want to know more. Rodney provides a reading list for more information at the end of every chapter, but since this book is from the 1960s, it is dubious whether such lists are still useful considering the improvements made in radical scholarship on Africa since. The timing of the book also makes it such that there is practically nothing on African states since independence, as most independence declarations had happened only shortly before its publication. Moreover, Rodney is very saccharine about the influence of the 'socialist' states such as the USSR and China on Africa, which he exclusively paints in positive terms. Certainly the Leninists have had a vastly better influence on African development than any Western nation ever has, but the USSR and China had their own interests to defend in Africa as well, and were not there purely for humanitarian purposes, as Rodney sometimes makes it seem. Nonetheless, this is a good general book on the legacy of European destruction in Africa, and it thoroughly refutes all the common arguments in defense of colonialism in that continent.read more
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