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Thursday, August 6, 2009

A SUMMARY OF CHAPTER TWO OF WALTER RODNEY’S HOW EUROPE UNDERDEVELOPED AFRICA

The African continent over decades had been portrayed in bad light by many European historians and scholars. The continent has been described as one with a primitive history and therefore not worthy of any historical reconstruction. But this assertion is far from being true as these European writers are not even justified to write any bit of African history in the first place, as they have very minimum or little knowledge of African history. Infact, most of these works were based on hearsay and mere assertion and therefore were misleading.

In the recent years, Africans and foreigners whom are well grounded in history have come to discover this misleading thought about African history and have made considerable effort to proving to the world that Africa had developed an organized society, where a lot of developmental activities took place for many centuries.

Chapter two title “How Africa Developed before the coming of the European Up To the 5th Century” of the book “How Europe Under Developed Africa” by Walter Rodney, is a careful analysis and explanation of various civilizations that emerged in Africa which even drew attention of the outside world (Europe and Arabia) due to great works that Africans had put in place at that time, before the coming of the Europeans, in order to correct the derogatory and barbaric picture that had being painted of Africa.

It is pertinent to mention that Europe in the period under study is not justified to tag Africa under-developed nor African assume same of Europe. Each continent had their unique environmental and social factors that contributed or affected the various forms of development that occurred therein. A section of the said chapter better explains this assertion as follows:

Europeans and Africans themselves in the colonial period lacked due regard for the unique features of African culture. These features have a value of their own that cannot be eclipsed by European culture either in the comparable period before 1500 or n the subsequent centuries. They cannot be eclipsed because they are not really comparable phenomena. Who in this world is competent to judge weather an Austrian Waltz is better than a Makonde Ngoma? …….page 38

It is obvious that some of the world’s development and civilization of today which Europe claim to be her handiwork actually started in Africa but was later improved upon my Europe after Africa had suffered greatly from the periods of slave trade and colonialism, which drew the continent backward.

The art of Egypt, the Sudan, Ethiopia and Benin were well known to the rest of the world at an early date and this artistic prowess brought many traders and visitors to these areas of Africa where these materials of art were bought and taken to Europe and Asia. The quality of products that were made by Africans shows the level of economic development, which was comparable or in some cases more sophisticated than that prevalent in Europe. The red leather (Moroccan leather) that became familiar to Europe was produced by the Hausa and Mandinga manufacturers in Nigeria and Mali and this leather was superior to that obtainable in Europe and also preferable by Europeans. Also, the Portuguese who on reaching the Kongo Kingdom, were amazed to see high quality local cloths made from bark and palm, fibre, which could be comparable to velvet. Other finished products from raw materials were also prevalent in other parts of African which Europeans patronized.

One may ask, why did this not lead to a massive growth in the African industry? The answer to this question is not far fetch. At the period under study, Africa’s manufacturing industry was still on a subsistent-like or domestic level. It must be noted that a decisive factor in the growth of the European industry is the available new machinery and change-over from domestic production to the factory system and all these advances in Europe came after the period under review when Africa was already suffering from the slave trade and thereafter colonialism which cause massive brain drain.

Furthermore, there was the presence of high and organized state system in Africa as was evidenced in Egypt, Ethiopia, Nubia, Maghreb, Benin, Yoruba, etc. Though the Ibo people of Nigeria and the Kikuyu people of Kenya operated systems that some European writers had referred to as stateless, that cannot be entirely justified because both had sophisticated systems of political rule.

“It was in Europe that the nation state reached an advanced stage, and Europe tended to use the presence or absence of well-organized polities as a measure of civilization. That is not entirely justified, because in Africa there were small political units which had relatively advanced material and non-material cultures. For instance, neither the Ibo people o f Nigeria, nor the Kikuyu of Kenya ever produced large centralized governments in their traditional setting. But both had sophisticated systems of political rule based on clans and religious oracles and secret societies”…………..page 54.


In Zimbabwe, some of the greatest forms of civilization and development took place. Apart from evidence of the presence of a sophisticated political system, there is also one of the greatest constructions of bricks, the Walls of Zimbabwe, which is believed to have been made as far back as the 14th century. The said Wall which is 30 feet high and 20 feet thick has continued to catch the eye of foreigners since its discovery. There was attempted by some European writers and archaeologist, whom having seen the great works, decided to divert credit to Europe, but later discoveries shows that the wall and all other great works discovered in Zimbabwe were the handwork of Africans. This also goes to show the level of development that was already prevailing amid a people.

‘when Cecil Rhodes sent in his agents to rob and steal in Zimbabwe, they and other Europeans marveled at the surviving ruins of Zimbabwe culture, and automatically assumed that it had been build by white people’ …… page 78

Conclusively, Walter Rodney in this chapter of his book, tend to prove that after a discreet survey of the developed parts of Africa and the those in Europe in the 15th century, African could not be said to be underdeveloped nor was the prevalent factors that could be used to determining ‘the developed’ and ‘ the undeveloped’ in Africa’s discredit.

In carrying out this work, high level of tolerance, objectivity and fairness were brought to play, in order to ascertaining the actual position of things. It must be said that with varying examples and evidences from the chapter two of the book ‘How Europe underdeveloped Africa”, it as been proved beyond reasonable doubt that Africa evolved her own form of political, social and economic civilization and was in deed developed before the coming of the Europeans up to the 15th century.

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