Africa’s Underdevelopment: Who Is Responsible?

According to the externalists, Europe should be blamed for the economic backwardness of Africa. However, this paper shall lean towards the internalist paradigm which asserts that the economic, political and technological stagnation of Africa, can only be traced to Africa. Indeed, Africans underdeveloped Africa.

Africa today has been relegated to the third World. The continent is the most underdeveloped in the world, yet riches and wealth are bestowed beneath her bosom. Most Externalists will argue that this unfortunate predicament, was as a result of the dual circumstances that plagued Africa; Slave Trade and Colonialism. It is true that Europe drained Africa to the limit, and charted away her manpower. However, in this dreadful act, African leaders also played a role. To further deliberate on this argument, this article should buttress it point along the yearnings of Slave trade, colonialism, and post independence crisis.

To begin with, slave trade began in the early 16th century and ended in the mid 19th century. To be precise, slave trade lasted for about 350 years. Indeed, one of the most dreadful consequences of slave trade in Africa, was depopulation. Population in Africa, during this period, was very slow. While the exact number of slaves captured during the Slave trade era is unknown, it can be asserted that about 6 to 11 million Africans where charted away to Europe and the Americas. While Some died from the point of capture to the point of transportation, others died in the so-called “middle passage”. However, as Walter Rodney has rightly pointed out, particular references must be made to the way and manner in which slaves were captured and sold to other slave traders.

The most profound method for capturing slaves was warfare, engaged by ancient African leaders. They took part in several thousands of slave-raiding wars against their own brothers. Ransacking and waging war on other kingdoms, became the order of the day. In fact, those who were situated close to the slave route, began to migrate to the hinterland, out of fear of being captured. Had African leaders not engaged in slave-raiding wars, the trade probably wouldn’t have lasted for that long. But instead, African leaders chose to betray their own brothers for profit and empire-expansion. It’s no wonder that when the then Oba of Lagos, King Kosoko, was asked by the British to abolish slave trade in his region, he refused bluntly, thus, leading to the attack of Lagos in 1952 and it eventual colonization in 1961.

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Eventually, particularly in most West African Countries, Europeans felt the guilt of slave trading. As a compensation for this, they, especially the British, decided to extend civilization to Africans. But unfortunately, despite this show of good faith, Africans who acquired European civilization, were segregated by Europeans. They were excluded from the political affairs of their own lands. While they partially took part in politics in some parts of Africa, some of them were totally neglected in other parts of Africa. These led to the inauguration of several nationalist movements like; The National Congress of British West Africa (NCBWA), Nigerian Youth Movement(NYM), Pan-Africanism, and so on. Their actions spurn the independence and decolonization process in Africa. In short, these African Elites were Kean on driving away the colonial masters, only to replace them. It’s no wonder, a political writer, Washington Alcott, argued that African Nationalists suffered from a “Replacement syndrome”. Instead of finding long lasting solutions to the economical weaknesses of Africa, all they wanted was a decolonisation process (Senghor’s Negritude, Nyerere’s Ujamaa, and so on), so they could step into the same shoes of the European colonial masters, thus, exploiting Africans with their own method.

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When they eventually became leaders in their respective countries, corruption, nepotism, and maladministration, became the order of the day. To most Africans and other onlookers, there was no real change in political administration even after independence. The only thing that changed was the colour of the skin of those ruling them. It was for this sole reason that Africa experienced a wave of military intervention in politics, in the mid 20th century. For the military, they simply could not defend a government who exploited the masses.

On a final note. It is plainly obvious from the foregoing that African leaders betrayed their own brothers right from the beginning of the 16th century to now. It is true that Europe should be blame for the underdevelopment of Africa. But even after the Europeans left, Africa today is still in a state of political and economical turmoil. There has been no major development in Africa, after approximately forty years since the European left Africa. Who then should be blamed? It is without a doubt that African leaders simply sustained excess exploitation, even after the Europeans left Africa. So let us establish a simple fact, African leaders betrayed Africans, and Africa’s numerous problems today, can only be attributed to them. Hence, the political, economical and technological underdevelopment in Africa today, will forever rest on the shoulders of African leaders, past and present.

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by Wale Giwa