How Europe Underdeveloped Africa

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How Europe Underdeveloped Africa
How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, front cover, revised edition, 1981.jpg
AuthorWalter Rodney
CountryUnited Kingdom
PublisherBogle-L'Ouverture Publications
Publication date
Media typePrint (hardcover, paperback); e-book

How Europe Underdeveloped Africa is a 1972 book written by Walter Rodney that takes the view that Africa was deliberately exploited and underdeveloped by European colonial regimes. One of his main arguments throughout the book is that Africa developed Europe at the same rate as Europe underdeveloped Africa.

Rodney argues that a combination of power politics and economic exploitation of Africa by Europeans led to the poor state of African political and economic development evident in the late 20th century. Though, he did not intend "to remove the ultimate responsibility for development from the shoulders of Africans... [He believes that] every African has a responsibility to understand the [capitalist] system and work for its overthrow."[citation needed]

This book is one of the most acclaimed books written in the 20th century about African development and post-colonial theory alongside Frantz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth.


First published in London by Bogle-L'Ouverture Publications in 1972, the book shaped the study of Africa in many disciplines.The scholar Karim Hirji has described it as "no doubt, the 20th century's most important and influential book on African history."[1] In the late 1990s many academics became more sharply critical of the book's central thesis and argued that the book oversimplifies the complex historical forces surrounding the colonial era.[according to whom?]

This book was groundbreaking[according to whom?] in that it was among the first to bring a new perspective to the question of underdevelopment in Africa. Rodney's analysis went far beyond the heretofore accepted approach in the study of Third World underdevelopment and it was met with heavy criticism.[citation needed]

Rodney had determined that the only path to true human development and liberation for the majority of the people of his country was through the transformation of their own lives in a struggle to replace and reshape the neo-colonialist government that dominated their society and prescribed their existence.[citation needed]


He argues that to fully appreciate and understand the effect of European exploitation on Africa, four distinct issues need to be addressed: a reconstruction of pre-European Africa’s developmental condition, that of pre-expansionist Europe, and their contributions to each other’s present condition, developed or otherwise. After an introductory chapter in which he definitionally discusses development, underdevelopment, and associated terminologies in their historical and contemporary contexts, he devotes a chapter to each of these four issues. He concludes the book with a chapter critiquing arguments that promote the "supposed benefit of colonialism". In this chapter, he also explicates on the means through which colonialism is linked to Africa's present underdevelopment.[citation needed]

Rodney on Underdevelopment[edit]

Rodney explicitly refers to African countries as 'underdeveloped' and not 'developing' because it is from the continent's history and present of exploitation that created their socio-economic position. Underdevelopment is not defined by a lack of resources but an uneven, and he would argue, unjust distribution of the wealth of those resources.[citation needed]