How Europe Underdeveloped Africa

Summary of Walter Rodney's How Europe Underdeveloped Africa explaining how Colonialism caused the underdevelopment of Africa

Walter Rodney’s groundbreaking work, “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa,” serves as a comprehensive analysis of the socio-economic, political, and cultural impact of European colonialism on the African continent. Published in 1972, Rodney’s book has since become a seminal text, shedding light on how centuries of European colonization led to the underdevelopment of Africa.

By dissecting the mechanisms through which colonial powers exploited and subjugated African nations, Rodney’s work exposes the roots of contemporary challenges faced by the continent. In this article, we delve into the key concepts and insights presented in “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa” to understand the profound legacy of colonialism.

Historical Context: Seeds of Colonization

Before exploring Rodney’s analysis, it is crucial to understand the historical context that laid the groundwork for European colonization in Africa. The “Scramble for Africa” in the late 19th century resulted in the arbitrary division of the continent among European powers. Colonizers imposed their political, economic, and social systems on African societies, dismantling indigenous institutions and imposing exploitative structures that continue to impact the continent today.

Understanding Underdevelopment: Rodney’s Perspective

Walter Rodney’s central argument in “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa” revolves around the notion that European colonial powers deliberately engineered the underdevelopment of Africa for their own economic gain. Rodney contends that underdevelopment is not a result of innate African incapacity, but rather a product of systematic exploitation perpetuated by colonialism.

Rodney emphasizes the plundering of Africa’s natural resources as a key driver of underdevelopment. European powers extracted vast amounts of minerals, crops, and other valuable commodities, leaving African economies impoverished and unable to sustain self-sufficient growth. This economic drain hindered the development of vital industries and perpetuated a cycle of dependency on the colonial powers.

Colonial powers also imposed economic systems that were designed to benefit their own economies at the expense of Africa. Rodney points to the introduction of cash-crop economies that prioritized producing goods for export, rather than meeting local needs. This skewed focus disrupted traditional subsistence farming practices and hindered the growth of local industries, resulting in an unbalanced and fragile economic structure.

The exploitative labour practices of colonialism, including forced labor, slave trade, and harsh working conditions, contributed to the underdevelopment of Africa’s human capital. These practices not only deprived Africans of their dignity and freedom but also stifled the development of skills and education necessary for economic growth.

Rodney also highlights the political subjugation enforced by colonial powers, resulting in the erasure of indigenous governance systems and the imposition of artificial boundaries. This manipulation of political structures disrupted social cohesion and created ethnic tensions that persist to this day. Additionally, colonialism led to the erosion of African cultures, as European ideologies and values supplanted indigenous traditions, further fragmenting societies.

Rodney’s analysis extends beyond the colonial era to explore the legacy of underdevelopment in the post-independence era. He introduces the concept of “neo-colonialism,” wherein former colonial powers and multinational corporations continue to exploit African resources and markets, perpetuating the cycle of underdevelopment.


Walter Rodney’s “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa” dismantles the narrative of African inferiority and instead reveals the calculated mechanisms of exploitation imposed by European colonial powers. Rodney’s work continues to resonate because it offers a comprehensive understanding of the historical, economic, and social factors that led to the underdevelopment of Africa. By illuminating the intricacies of colonialism’s impact, Rodney invites readers to critically examine the root causes of contemporary challenges faced by the continent and advocates for a reclamation of agency and self-determination.

The legacy of “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa” persists as a rallying cry for a more equitable and just global order that addresses historical injustices and supports the development and empowerment of African nations.