Europe’s Role in Africa’s Underdevelopment and Ongoing Struggles : Deconstructing Rodney’s Mindset
By Lawrence Audu
Professor Patrice Lumumba once intriguingly referred to Africa as “a curiosity,” labeled as “Francophone Africa” by the French, “Lusophone Africa” by the Portuguese, and “Anglophone Africa” by the British. This notion of curiosity is deeply rooted in the issue of African ownership. Lumumba went on to argue that the Western world believes it possesses a divine right to dictate to Africans, and as a result, Africans have failed to liberate their minds, behaving as if they are inferior beings – and if you like, “Children of a lesser God”
This tragic mindset has perpetuated Africa’s stagnation, leaving it trapped in a web of conflicting ideologies. Our minds have been deeply affected by the legacies of colonialism and subsequent neocolonialism imposed by the West.”
The concerns and viewpoints expressed by critics and early writers during the post-colonial era are resurfacing in 21st century Africa, despite the continent’s immense potential. This is evident in the works of Guyanese historian and economist Walter Rodney, particularly his book “How Europe underdeveloped Africa,” published in 1972. Rodney’s analysis critically examines the historical and contemporary impact of European colonialism on Africa.
Rodney asserts that Africa’s underdevelopment is not due to any inherent inferiority or lack of resources, but rather stems from the exploitative relationship between Europe and Africa that evolved during centuries of colonial domination. He delves into the economic, political, and social dynamics that have shaped Africa’s history and contributed to its underdevelopment. It is perplexing to observe, for instance, that despite being one of the world’s largest reserves of uranium, which France heavily relies on for its nuclear energy, Niger remains one of the poorest countries globally.
The book traces the origins of African underdevelopment to the period of European exploration and the subsequent scramble for Africa in the late 19th century, when European powers partitioned the continent for their own economic and political interests. Rodney argues that colonialism disrupted pre-existing African socio-economic systems, leading to the extraction and exploitation of Africa’s resources by European powers.
Rodney also highlights the role of European capitalism in perpetuating Africa’s underdevelopment. He argues that the capitalist system, driven by profit-seeking motives, resulted in the extraction of African resources, the destruction of local industries, and the creation of an economic structure that heavily favored European countries at the expense of Africa.
Furthermore, Rodney examines the impact of colonial education and the cultural domination of Africa by European powers. He argues that European education systems in Africa were designed to produce a class of Africans who would serve as intermediaries between the colonizers and the local population, perpetuating European interests and suppressing indigenous knowledge and culture.
Through his analysis, Rodney challenges the prevailing narrative that Africa is inherently underdeveloped and provides a framework for understanding the historical processes that have shaped the continent. He argues that true development in Africa requires a break from the exploitative legacy of colonialism and the establishment of a self-reliant, independent African society.
The ongoing proxy war between powerful nations, primarily taking place in Ukraine, is potentially expanding its reach to African soil. The United States, France, and the United Kingdom are urging the Nigerian-led ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) to intervene militarily in Niger under the pretext of “Restoring Democracy” following the recent military coup that deposed Mohamed Bazoum.
What many observers may not realize is that if this war were to occur, it would serve the interests of the Western powers, namely France, the US, and the UK. Their primary agenda revolves around the continued exploitation of Niger’s resources. For France, in particular, it represents a final attempt to maintain control over one of its very few remaining colonies. Conversely, Russia sees this potential conflict as an opportunity to gain acceptance among Africans who view it as a new savior capable of providing security, unburdened by a history of colonialism.
Regardless of one’s perspective, it is widely understood that a military intervention by Nigeria in Niger is highly unlikely. This is because Niger is viewed by many as an extension of Northern Nigeria due to its shared borders with seven Northern states, where the people have coexisted peacefully and intermarried for centuries.
Fortunately, the Nigerian Senate has once again gained the admiration of many Nigerians by rejecting President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s request, who is also the ECOWAS Chairman, to deploy troops in the event that diplomatic efforts fail. Nigeria has already faced numerous challenges, ranging from Boko Haram to insurgencies and other forms of violent crimes. Therefore, engaging in a foreign military operation would be futile.
At present, it would be more appropriate for the United States, France, and Russia to deploy their special forces to restore democracy in Niger. Africa should learn from past experiences and refrain from fighting other nations’ battles on its own soil. A prime example of this was during World War I, as depicted in Ferdinand Oyono’s “The Old Man and the Medal.” Meka dedicated everything he had to the colonial French, even offering his only plot of land for the construction of a Church. Additionally, his two sons were conscripted into the Army to fight on behalf of the French. However, he soon faces the harsh truth when his sons are lost in a war that brings no direct benefits to him or his community. To make matters worse, he is denied a prominent seat in the Church, despite it being built on his land. After all the sacrifices he made, what does he receive in return? A worthless less medal.
Whose sons is Tinubu willing to exchange for “A worthless medal? No not again!