How Europe Underdeveloped Africa by Walter Rodney
Walter Rodney offered me a framework for understanding the way the world is and what has caused it to be this way. The world is not balanced and this book makes clear that “underdevelopment” is a verb and the advancements made by certain countries are made at the expense of others. Slavery, colonialism and fundamentally capitalism are geared towards exploiting the majority. Historically this has led to astonishing accumulation and concentration of wealth in the hands of a select few, typically residing in the imperial core. Rodney’s analysis focuses on Africa and he expertly presents the social hierarchies prior to colonisation with the diverse ideas, cultures and institutions apparent across the continent. Each country has its own destiny based on its common territory, language and economic life. The development of a nation is a stop-start, organic process in any case but the tentacles of capitalism disrupt the course of a country in a way that this book explains superbly. Examples of how smaller nations become structurally integrated and economically dependent on larger ones who do not care about the people other than as a feature of their own economic expansion are presented in a way that is both sickening to realise and thoroughly enlightening!
Meeting the material and social needs of people is at odds with the profit motive of dominant states, this inevitably inhibits meaningful progress that would benefit the people as a whole. Rodney presents Africa’s relationship with the US, UK, France, etc as one of exploitation with terms set in their favour to further advance the ruling class of these countries. A crucial realisation to me was that development should never be measured through a Eurocentric lens. Every place has its own traditions and customs. Some involve robbing other nations of their resources and personally, I see the countries that have to do this to be the most underdeveloped (morally and culturally).
As time goes on it becomes more and more evident that to break free of the despicable domination at play and for nations to develop independently there needs to be a rapid socialist pivot. In Rodney’s time, socialist countries showed the highest growth rates and their prosperity was what made their destruction a necessity for the status quo to be maintained. In the present day, the development of agriculture and industry according to a country’s specific conditions is just as important, and now with a looming climate catastrophe, there is added urgency in making changes! Independence regarding production is crucial to meeting the needs of the people. Throughout history, prosperity has justifiably been measured by the volume of what is produced which is why we cannot just distribute what we already have in a fair manner. We need the capacity to provide everyone with everything they deserve. I have plenty more to say about this incredible book but my hands hurt. I will just write about it again if I consider another stream of consciousness to spew up!