Written by one of the most celebrated thinkers in the tumultuous decades following Africa’s independence struggles, this is a book to read both for its romance, as well as its insight. First published in 1979, Walter Rodney’s dissection of the west’s imperial domination and deliberate under-development of Africa is a classic of anti-imperialist literature. Since its publication, it has given intellectual ballast to African examination of the experience of colonialism and its aftermath; Rodney’s examination of the relation between Europe and Africa through the prism of historical materialism is both bold and rich, with a bracing articulation of what development is, and how Africa was denied it. Seizing on the Marxist concept of the dialectic, Rodney adopts and expands on the idea of capitalism as a system of domination in which the profit of the capitalist is based on the exploitation of the worker – Africa, both as place and metaphor, Rodney argued was the exploited in a relationship that privileged Europe, and the west more broadly.
Perhaps, the most crucial and enduring contributions of this book is the articulation of African development prior to the encounter with Europe in the 15th century, and the demonstration of the slave trade’s devastating impact on African social, economic and technological progress. In articulating this, as well as a roadmap for correcting Africa’s development through anti-imperialist struggle, Rodney contributed powerfully to the conviction that Africa’s underdevelopment was not an inherent quality of destiny and geographic, but of social and historical forces that could and should be overcome or overthrown.
A range of other books are in the tradition that Rodney established, even those coming from a very different intellectual direction like Dambisa Moyo’s Dead Aid, and more aligned to Rodney, Ha Joon Chang’s 23 Things they don’t tell you about Capitalism.