Why is Africa so poor, and will it ever become developed?

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Schwarz
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Feb 22 2012 17:18
Steven. wrote:
Schwarz, if you have more stuff written like that, it seems like it could be good for our library/history sections, would you be all right to post some of it may be?

I'd be happy to. I've broken the long text (40 pages or so) into sections. The first section is up now: http://libcom.org/history/domination-resistance-transatlantic-world-part-i

It will take a long time to edit it, put the footnotes together and post up all the sections, but when I find time between my three jobs I'll be sure to put up some more.

I hope people find it useful for this discussion and others. I look forward to questions/critiques/etc.

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Feb 22 2012 17:32

Hey, that's great, thanks. What I've done is turn that article into a book, and added part one as a child page. To add subsequent chapters just go to the parent article and click "add child page". The child pages then don't need any tags, author information or anything like that added. It would probably be worth elaborating on the short intro I have given the parent book, as it wasn't clear to me what the text as a whole would cover. Cheers!

Caiman del Barrio
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Feb 22 2012 17:41
Ambrose wrote:
Caiman del Barrio wrote:

This is almost as bad as the OP.

There's a lot more to it than what I put but for the most part it's true. Colonialism isn't vindictive, it's just the way it is. A stronger country will overtly or covertly "colonize" nations exceedingly weaker. That happens to be a lot of the Third World. Perhaps "colonize" isn't politically correct, the term "subjugate" may be more appropriate.

Hi apologies for the snide one-liner there. I rather objected to colonialism being depicted as the root of all evil in contemporary Africa. The OP asks why Africa is still poor in 2012 (ie in the post-colonial era). Blaming colonialists is one the tricks the current (black) ruling classes across the continent use as an excuse, after all.

Schwarz' post was fascinating thanks. Someone above mentioned that there is evidence of pre-colonialist Africa being relatively advanced. I watched a series on this a couple of years ago: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00pv1m4

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Feb 22 2012 17:53
Steven. wrote:
Hey, that's great, thanks. What I've done is turn that article into a book, and added part one as a child page. To add subsequent chapters just go to the parent article and click "add child page". The child pages then don't need any tags, author information or anything like that added. It would probably be worth elaborating on the short intro I have given the parent book, as it wasn't clear to me what the text as a whole would cover. Cheers!

Sounds good! I rearranged some text based on the changes you made. Now the introduction that was in Part I is in parent article as it gives a decent description of the overall 'book'.

I'll try to get other sections up later today.

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Feb 22 2012 20:20
baboon wrote:
Che Guevara was an emissary of Stalinism who espoused the view that the USSR was "socialist and progressive". Apart from his foray into the Congo, more generally Cuban troops, in a similar way that British imperialism used the Gurkhas elsewhere, acted for the interests of Russian imperialism in Africa during the 60s. They were involved on the side of Russian-backed regimes in the proxy wars against Nato in Ethiopia and Yemen

I wasn't saying otherwise, I agree with you.

Mark.
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Feb 22 2012 20:28
Caiman del Barrio wrote:
Someone above mentioned that there is evidence of pre-colonialist Africa being relatively advanced. I watched a series on this a couple of years ago: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00pv1m4

Series 2 is on iplayer now: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01bgnb1/episodes/guide#b01bgnbw

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Feb 22 2012 20:33

Admin: snip. Be nice to new posters.

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Feb 23 2012 01:01
Schwarz wrote:
Steven. wrote:
Hey, that's great, thanks. What I've done is turn that article into a book, and added part one as a child page. To add subsequent chapters just go to the parent article and click "add child page". The child pages then don't need any tags, author information or anything like that added. It would probably be worth elaborating on the short intro I have given the parent book, as it wasn't clear to me what the text as a whole would cover. Cheers!

Sounds good! I rearranged some text based on the changes you made. Now the introduction that was in Part I is in parent article as it gives a decent description of the overall 'book'.

I'll try to get other sections up later today.

Sweet. I'll be reading it once you get it all up. Interesting stuff! smile

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Feb 23 2012 14:55

It's things like Schwarz's post that remind me of how great the internet can be, and how grateful I am to find this site. Will be reading more once it's put up, thanks a lot! smile

Caiman del Barrio
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Feb 23 2012 15:58
Mark. wrote:
Caiman del Barrio wrote:
Someone above mentioned that there is evidence of pre-colonialist Africa being relatively advanced. I watched a series on this a couple of years ago: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00pv1m4

Series 2 is on iplayer now: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01bgnb1/episodes/guide#b01bgnbw

Oh sweet thanks! grin

On a tangent, we do have a couple of S African posters, maybe it'd be good to hear their thoughts on this thread...

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Feb 23 2012 16:16
Caiman del Barrio wrote:
Ambrose wrote:
Caiman del Barrio wrote:

This is almost as bad as the OP.

There's a lot more to it than what I put but for the most part it's true. Colonialism isn't vindictive, it's just the way it is. A stronger country will overtly or covertly "colonize" nations exceedingly weaker. That happens to be a lot of the Third World. Perhaps "colonize" isn't politically correct, the term "subjugate" may be more appropriate.

Hi apologies for the snide one-liner there. I rather objected to colonialism being depicted as the root of all evil in contemporary Africa. The OP asks why Africa is still poor in 2012 (ie in the post-colonial era). Blaming colonialists is one the tricks the current (black) ruling classes across the continent use as an excuse, after all.

Schwarz' post was fascinating thanks. Someone above mentioned that there is evidence of pre-colonialist Africa being relatively advanced. I watched a series on this a couple of years ago: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00pv1m4

I don't mean to semantically quibble here, but i think it is fair to say colonialism is the root of a lot of Africa's contemporary woes. And what is sometimes called 'neo-colonialism' is certainly alive and kicking (apparently China are now buying up huge swathes of land in Africa now, I can find a link for this later if anyone is interested). But you are also completely right to bring up the national bourgeoisie and its trickery. This takes different forms in different states obviously. For the likes of Gadaffi and Mugabe the watch word 'imperialist powers' is obviously used as an ideological glue to ensure support and prop up the leaders of 'liberation'. 'Don't undermine the national government, because those colonialists over there want a slice of what we have over here'*. This is obviously connected to the colonial past, but not reducible to 'colonialism' as a pre-packaged answer. Then there are those who do business with the ex-colonial powers and end up having to forestall their original aims (the ANC is the most contemporary example of this). This situation I think can be more readily described as 'neo-colonial' (structural readjustments etc, etc).

I bang on about it all the time, but Frantz Fanon's Wretched on the Earth chapter 3 'The Pitfalls of National Consciousness' is almost prophetic in its description of decadence of a post independence black bourgeoisie.

*Which is, in a twisted way, true. Euro-American interests do want access to resources in these states.

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Feb 23 2012 16:53

I notice the original poster never returned to the discussion. Shame really as it turned out nice in the end.

Caiman del Barrio
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Feb 23 2012 17:53
Arbeiten wrote:
Caiman del Barrio wrote:
Ambrose wrote:
Caiman del Barrio wrote:

This is almost as bad as the OP.

There's a lot more to it than what I put but for the most part it's true. Colonialism isn't vindictive, it's just the way it is. A stronger country will overtly or covertly "colonize" nations exceedingly weaker. That happens to be a lot of the Third World. Perhaps "colonize" isn't politically correct, the term "subjugate" may be more appropriate.

Hi apologies for the snide one-liner there. I rather objected to colonialism being depicted as the root of all evil in contemporary Africa. The OP asks why Africa is still poor in 2012 (ie in the post-colonial era). Blaming colonialists is one the tricks the current (black) ruling classes across the continent use as an excuse, after all.

Schwarz' post was fascinating thanks. Someone above mentioned that there is evidence of pre-colonialist Africa being relatively advanced. I watched a series on this a couple of years ago: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00pv1m4

I don't mean to semantically quibble here, but i think it is fair to say colonialism is the root of a lot of Africa's contemporary woes.

Yes of course, although it's also true to say that African societies were - by and large (and I'm sure there are exceptions and it would be itneresting to hear of them) - stratified and hierarchical before the arrival of the Europeans. After all, who sold the Europeans the slaves in the first place?

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Feb 23 2012 18:31
Caiman del Barrio wrote:
Arbeiten wrote:
Caiman del Barrio wrote:
Ambrose wrote:
Caiman del Barrio wrote:

This is almost as bad as the OP.

There's a lot more to it than what I put but for the most part it's true. Colonialism isn't vindictive, it's just the way it is. A stronger country will overtly or covertly "colonize" nations exceedingly weaker. That happens to be a lot of the Third World. Perhaps "colonize" isn't politically correct, the term "subjugate" may be more appropriate.

Hi apologies for the snide one-liner there. I rather objected to colonialism being depicted as the root of all evil in contemporary Africa. The OP asks why Africa is still poor in 2012 (ie in the post-colonial era). Blaming colonialists is one the tricks the current (black) ruling classes across the continent use as an excuse, after all.

Schwarz' post was fascinating thanks. Someone above mentioned that there is evidence of pre-colonialist Africa being relatively advanced. I watched a series on this a couple of years ago: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00pv1m4

I don't mean to semantically quibble here, but i think it is fair to say colonialism is the root of a lot of Africa's contemporary woes.

Yes of course, although it's also true to say that African societies were - by and large (and I'm sure there are exceptions and it would be itneresting to hear of them) - stratified and hierarchical before the arrival of the Europeans. After all, who sold the Europeans the slaves in the first place?

I'm already a bit weary about how fruitful this will be. Indeed there was cultural and social differentiation which was very regional and is difficult to map onto anything like contemporary africa in terms of clearly demarcated 'nation' states (which, after all, is the question i think we are trying to deal with here. Contemporary Africa).There were indeed tribes who worked as essentially slave hunters for european powers (and before this, there was an arab run slave trade in africa). I don't think anyone is denying that. But I would certainly question the significance of these tribes as huge profiteers of colonialism. None of them became serious powers in Africa or managed to seriously challenge imperial hegemony.*

Tribal difference is another interesting question. It is difficult to split the pre-colonial from the colonial (and implied post/neo-colonial) in terms of tribal differentiation. In some states indirect rule actually rigidified tribal difference (such as Rwanda or Nigeria). This patterns the state after independence (something Fanon saw).

I am not trying to fundamentally disagree with you Caiman. As I said in my last post just saying 'colonialism duh' is not a sufficient response. However I think it is difficult to fully disarticulate the problems inherent in the legacy of colonialism (post/neo-colonialism) from what we might call specifically 'African' (or more accurately Zimbabwean, Congolese, Nigerian etc, etc. you get my point) problems. The 'tribal' nature of some African states is homage to this (it should come as no surprise that the Libyan state up until recently was nearly completely manned by members of the Qadhadhfa tribe, the tribe of which Gadaffi was a member). I guess what I am saying is....yes and no.....which I am aware helps nobody one iota.....

N.B. We should probably try and talk about specific African states, or groups of states, rather than 'Africa' because it is too big to handle in any meaningful way. Then we also have to look at the different ways in which colonialism effected different societies (French and British colonialism were often very different).

* On a related note. Colonialism is larger than the atlantic slave trade. It also included the production of colonial states, administrations of peoples, extraction of raw materials, exterminations of whole tribes, indentured labour on African soil, etc, etc.

Caiman del Barrio
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Feb 23 2012 18:43
Arbeiten wrote:
I am not trying to fundamentally disagree with you Caiman. As I said in my last post just saying 'colonialism duh' is not a sufficient response.

OK well we're fine then no? wink

What I mean is my original insertion into this thread was to debunk the implicit message within Ambrose's (?) first contribution, that being that colonialism (and colonialism alone) is to blame for Afria's continued poverty. I wanted to add some context to that. You've then gone on and done that in much greater depth than I would be able to...

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Feb 26 2012 21:13

Alright, I found the time to put up Part II of the text.

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Feb 27 2012 03:59

One of the major answers to the OP is that all of that money you donate, goes down the drown straight into bureaucrats pockets, most major charities only actually spend 10% of their money on the actual cause they say they support, the rest goes into wealthy people's pockets. And most charities are simply fronts for tax-breaks for the rich.

Similarly the government regimes in place in all africans countries steal any money given to the country and on top of that, take away from people more than in most first or even second-world countries; It's not uncommon for example - to have to bribe people at every turn, for example to get basic ID will doubtless mean bribing someone, this is true in loads of african countries (I know this isn't at all unique to africa but its probably where corruption is most rampant). Capital has a vested interest in keeping people down as much as possible on the continent. Even today in some of the slightly more developed African nations this is a common practice.

Africa is underdeveloped because the minor development made there was to ensure colonialism could only efficiently pillage Africas' resources and make a neat profit, it wasn't really designed for modern-day economies and what they require for example commuting and the like. For example, the Belgian-instilled railways in the Congo and the lack of proper paved roads that go to places people need them to go (there are numerous documentaries on this sort of thing as contemporary sources).

And finally, you believe that the Phillippines, India, China etc are all getting so much better, well tell that to all the workers at the major Foxconn factories in China (1.2 million) who are to be replaced by machines in the next few years. I don't know where you get the idea that the Phillippines is getting so much better... and in India, well, the so-called economic miracle isn't doing it for 400 million people (according to one right-wing poster on this very site), so it's not that great really is it.

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Mar 6 2012 20:08

Wow, this has never happened before, but it turns out this poster is actually a quite sophisticated (but unsuccessful) Buddhist spammer. They made this post, then tried to edit it later to edit in spam links. However, of course they didn't get admin approval for the edit.

Still, I think it was a useful discussion, and other people who have a similar legitimate question may well stumble upon this via Google and learn something from it…

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Jul 6 2012 16:15

I think its important to note that African economic growth and development has not gone on a steady path. So the problems africa suffered under in the 1500s, the 1890s, the 1960s, 1980s and today are all very different. And of course there are major differences within Africa. (North Africa has long been more integrated with the meditteranean and middle eastern economy than integrated with subsaharan africa. So what I write below is more about africa excluding north africa than about the entire continent)

So in 1500, Africa was not as rich as Europe or China (contrary to what an above poster says) but it was more or less at the average of the world. And the living standards of the average african were more or less the same, if not higher, than that of Europeans and Chinese. Also worth noting is that fact that african slave traders traded slaves does not mean that africa was a class based society. Africa afaik was predominately not based on settled agriculture and the social structure was more like other observed hunter gather societies and nomadic societies. The coastal towns were afaik something of an exception and their slaves did not come from within their societies but were plundered from nighbouring populations.

The 1890s, you saw colonialism but obviously colonialism was not quite what it was supposed to have been. Importantly it was largely a failure. The amount of money spent on securing many colonial endeavours was more [edited] than the amount of money made from the colony.

The 1960s and 1970s, African states got independence and importantly started to grow quite rapidly.

However, largely due to the domestic attack on working class militancy of the 70s in the global north (via the Volcker shock and the conscious and dramatic tightening of money markets and resulting increase in interest rates), in the early 80s Latin America and Africa were suddenly thrown into massive debt problems because the interest rates on their debt had increased so much. The result was that the economic development of the 60s and 70s came to an end and the economic situation for african economies in the 80s and 90s was dominated by their debt problems and the resulting economic stagnation.

Since the late 90s the debt situation of many African countries is much more under control and significantly growth has returned. This is actually the reason I am writing this post. There is a lot of reasons to believe that Africa will be the next China (which in turn was the next Asian Tiger, which in turn were the next Japan, which in turn was was next postwar western Europe (France, Germany, Italy), which in turn was the next America, which in turn was the next Britain, which was the first). Over the last ten years Africa has been experiencing spectacular growth rates.

No big communist lesson here (apart from that the theory of decadence is silly) but just some info.

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Jul 6 2012 15:05
georgestapleton wrote:
The 1890s, you saw colonialism but obviously colonialism was not quite what it was supposed to have been. Importantly it was largely a failure. The amount of money spent on securing many colonial endeavours was less[?] than the amount of money made from the colony.

*more, maybe?

Any refs for this? I'm interested in the idea of the New Imperialism strategy being as much ideological (in the context of ideas about secular decline in British economics at the time, Jevon's "Coal Question", the Long Depression, Germanophobia, etc.) as profit-driven.

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Jul 6 2012 16:16

Yeah. That was a typo. i've fixed it now.

References: Edelstein's "Overseas Investment in the Age of High Imperialism" is the go to text for this.

Chapter 12 in O'Rourke and Williamson's 'Globalization and History' is good on the wider reasons for late 19th Century imperialism. They test a number of hypotheses (including Lenin's) so it'd definitely shed some light on your question.

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Jul 6 2012 16:22

Cool. Ta for those.

Mark.
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Jul 6 2012 20:25
georgestapleton wrote:

So in 1500 ... Africa afaik was predominately not based on settled agriculture and the social structure was more like other observed hunter gather societies and nomadic societies.

This is quite wrong. There's no reason to think that the proportion of sub-saharan societies with settled agriculture in 1500 was that different to what it was quite recently, except maybe in South Africa. So mainly village based agricultural societies with iron working, and some more complex cultures linked to coastal and desert trade routes. The most significant change between 1500 and the start of colonisation, probably more so than the slave trade, would have been the introduction of maize from the Americas.

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Jul 9 2012 11:44
Mark. wrote:
georgestapleton wrote:

So in 1500 ... Africa afaik was predominately not based on settled agriculture and the social structure was more like other observed hunter gather societies and nomadic societies.

This is quite wrong. There's no reason to think that the proportion of sub-saharan societies with settled agriculture in 1500 was that different to what it was quite recently, except maybe in South Africa. So mainly village based agricultural societies with iron working, and some more complex cultures linked to coastal and desert trade routes. The most significant change between 1500 and the start of colonisation, probably more so than the slave trade, would have been the introduction of maize from the Americas.

Have to agree here. Sorry george but the idea that 'africa' was mostly hunter gatherer societies is pretty dubious and ahistorical

eg rough political map of africa in 1450
http://www.timemaps.com/history/africa-1453ad#time405_1453AD

Worldtraveller
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Aug 7 2012 22:47

Hi, pretty new to blogging, but can I just ask, have all the people who replied to the original question spent time in sub-saharan Africa recently, spending time with the local population off the beaten, tourist track?

Mark.
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Aug 7 2012 23:36

@Worldtraveller - I've spent time in sub-saharan Africa, but not recently. I'd guess that other people on this thread haven't actually been there.

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Aug 18 2012 02:49

Thought so.

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Aug 18 2012 03:22

I've been to sub-Saharan Africa, though again not recently (but I lived for years in North Africa). But in any case, why does that matter? Now of course it helps a lot, but it's perfectly probable to have a decent analysis of the chronic underdevelopment of Africa even if you've never been there.

Apart from offering snide comments, I don't see how your living in Africa (I assume you do otherwise you wouldn't ask everyone else) has made any contributions to this discussion.

Worldtraveller
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Aug 30 2012 04:28

Not sure why you are being defensive about my comments but I am only asking a question, whether it contibutes to the discussion or not is arguable, but yet here we are discussing it.

I do however think that that a lot of people tend to form judgments from an academic standpoint rather than being able to have a "hands on" perspective. This is true from a wide range of different debates and discussions. I do think that having spent time in the area/country/industry of debate does help assess and form an holistic view of that particular topic.

Having said that, all the opinions offered on this blog are obviously valid, I simply wanted to get a proper understaning of how they were formed.

I won't be getting involved or contribute to the discussion on "Why is Africa so poor, and will it ever become developed?" but as I first mentioned, I am new to blogging and was quite interested on what other people's view were on the matter.

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Aug 30 2012 18:04
worldtraveller wrote:
I do however think that that a lot of people tend to form judgments from an academic standpoint rather than being able to have a "hands on" perspective. This is true from a wide range of different debates and discussions. I do think that having spent time in the area/country/industry of debate does help assess and form an holistic view of that particular topic.

Unless you for some reason have the time and money to go for extensive trips to sub-Saharan Africa, how the fuck else would you form judgements but from an academic standpoint? Not everyone is made of money... I've been lucky enough to travel a lot because I've worked for a bunch of NGOs that paid for my travels. But I can tell you that even if you stay in a country for a long time, especially if you're an expat, you can very well get a pretty distorted view of the place you've stayed in. And often Westerners will stay in cities, and will have no clue about the situation in rural areas. Sometimes having been there, gives you larger blinds than staying at home reading books.