Stephen's Reviews > How Europe Underdeveloped Africa

How Europe Underdeveloped Africa by Walter Rodney
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's review
Jul 09, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: race-and-colonialism, africa
Read from August 15 to 23, 2012

This book is an excellent overview of African history stressing its cultural organization and accomplishments prior to European colonization and the way colonization destroyed that organization and developed African resources in ways that did not benefit Africa.

I however don't agree with Rodney where he asserts on p. 75 that "Africa helped develop Western Europe in the same proportion as Western Europe helped to underdevelop Africa." While European expropriation of African labor and raw materials took away resources Africa might have used to develop itself, there are too many variables to draw a strict equivalence between the levels of European development and African underdevelopment. Europe, because of its advantages in economic organization, may well have been able to make better use of African resources than the Africans could themselves. I suspect the point Rodney is trying to make is based on the Marxist idea of the labor theory of value, which almost no non-Marxists (and increasingly few Marxists) are today willing to defend. If value is based simply on labor, then the value of labor extracted from Africa would equal the value of capital accumulated in Europe. If however things like economic and political organization and physical infrastructure actually add (or multiply) value (which most today would hold they do) then the amount of capital extracted from African labor and raw materials might be far greater than their original value (itself determined by the market) once relocated to Europe. Which would make it more difficult to distinguish the profit European capitalist enterprise obtained through its "legitimate" advantages from those gained through "illegitimate" means that denied Africans the same rights extended to Europeans. Similar difficulties arise when analyzing the current world economic system.
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