Imperialism: The Bane Of Africa’s Underdevelopment

Imperialism: The Bane Of Africa’s Underdevelopment

Imperialism: The Bane Of Africa’s Underdevelopment

The main purpose of this research is to critically high light and analyze how imperialism underdeveloped Africa and to find out the level or stage of development of Africa before the colonial era.

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It has been shown that using comparative standards, Africa today is underdeveloped in relation to western Europe and a few other parts of the world, and that the present position has been arrived at not by the separate evolution of Africa on the one hand and Europe on the other, but exploitation. As is well known, Africa has had prolonged and extensive contact with Europe and one has to bear in mind that contact between different societies changes their respective rates of development.

The basic aim of this research is to examine why, inspite of Africa’s abundant human and natural resources, Africa is still rated an underdeveloped continent in the world. The main purpose will be to find:

1. What role, if any, did imperialism played in under developing Africa?

2. Is Africa underdeveloped as a result of the monopolistic tendency of capitalism?

3. Find out if imperialism was the cause of Africa’s underdevelopment?

4. Is Africa’s underdevelopment as a result of the activities of the multi-national corporations?

More so, another principal aim of this study is to examine the role played by the imperialist monopolistic countries in the underdevelopment of Africa and to give a great deal of attention to the analysis of the methods and techniques used by the monopoly capitalistic countries to impoverish the African continent.

Again, the contribution made by the new economy, education and technology will be examined against the pre-colonial background of the African society. On the other hand, the exposition of this work has been organized in such a way as to bring into clear relief the logical and historical development of the salient features of Africa such as slave trade, colonialism and so on.

However, still another aim of this study was to examine how imperialism in Africa was motivated by both military and economic considerations. It took different stages ranging from slave trade, colonialism and all these helped to underdeveloped Africa. By military, it simply refers to the period when European powers needed man power in the fighting of Second World War especially when France was defeated by Germany. Thus, she had no other option than to seek manpower from Africa and to establish colonies in order to meet up with this demand. In giving attention to the economic consideration, it will discuss more of exploiting Africa’s natural resources.

Furthermore, it becomes imperative to note that one cannot hope to formulate adequate development theory and policy for the majority of their world’s population who suffered from imperialism without first learning how their past economic and social history gave rise to their present underdevelopment. By focusing on the dynamics, we will go back to history to know the trend and how it has affected present and will affect the future. Because. It is history that will tell how society has changed over time and the forces responsible for this change.

Nevertheless, many well meaning attempts to change things in Africa have come to grief for lack of understanding and the quest for understanding Africa has all too often been ambushed and thwarted by our fixation on what ought to be; and the only solution to Africa’s underdevelopment is possible, only on the basis of a radical break off with the principal agency of underdevelopment of Africa over many centuries.

Finally, this research work is not a work of protest but rather a critical investigation into the techniques and methods of western imperialist expansion in Africa.


The scope of this study is as concise as it is explicit because the scope and nature have some limitations. This work is restricted to Africa’s underdevelopment and its causes. However, the third world forms the basis of the analysis.

It is pertinent to note at this point that, during the process of this research work, I met with some limiting and constraining forces which some are surmountable and also insurmountable which really posed a great challenge and threat to me in the cause of this research work consequently, I cannot claim to have dealt extensively and exhaustively with the issue involved there in.


Several writers both Africans and contemporaries in Latin America and Asia have discussed this issue of imperialism an underdevelopment to the third world. Most of them are of the opinion that it was due to exploitation of these areas by the imperialist countries that led to the underdevelopment of the colonized countries.

It is based on this line of thought that most writers endeavoured to review some literature that are relevant to the topic of this study. However, it is not the intention of the researcher to go into a detailed analysis of these various works but to delineate some salient but relevant aspects of these works.

Walter Rodney in his book “How Europe underdeveloped Africa” made a critical analysis of the state of Africa before the advent of imperialism and also brought to focus how Europe underdeveloped Africa: According to him.

The socio- economic development of country depends on its on its population which will play a very important role in production of labour market and pressure which will led to their Advancement.1

By this, he meant that Africa was developing in its own direction based on African values before the intervention of the European in Africa distorted the development of Africa and therefore rendered African continent underdeveloped: He also sees slave raiding in Africa as the basic factor in Africa’s underdevelopment. This is because slavery led to cowed potentialities of the continent, hence its underdevelopment. The great loss of labour forces backslided the continents development and in reverse developed the economy of the Europeans at the expense of that of Africa.

W. Rodney, again, asserted that “all the continents noted as underdeveloped in the world were those heavily exploited by the Europeans. He further stressed that the underdevelopment which the world is now pre- occupied with, is a product of capitalists, imperialist and colonialist exploitation” 2

According to Collin Leys in his contribution in the book called underdevelopment in Kenya – the political Economy of “Neo- Colonialism” stated that:

The starting point of underdevelopment theory is the period in which the third world began to be progressively in corporated into a permanent relationship with the expanding capitalist. 3

C. Leys shares the opinion that development in peripheral economics is conditioned by their integration within the capitalist economy and therefore the problems and prospects for development can only be understood when the history and nature of their integration is full comprehended. By this, he meant that development is not really possible within the context of contemporary world economy which Africans form a part, whether conceptualized as growth or capitalist accumulation. Thus, development cannot take place until the world economy is either transformed.

Gavin Williams started that:

The incorporation of Africa into international exchange through the expansion of the trans Atlantic slave trade failed to develop in Africa the forces of production, other than slaves. Domestic agricultural production for subsistence and for the market was discouraged. He went on to say that Africa did contribute to the development of European capitalism and to European commercial domination of the world, and thus to its own subordination to the dictates and vagaries of capitalism. 4

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Karl Max submits that underdevelopment is as a result of European imperialism, which further underdeveloped the already disadvantageous continent, the integration of colonial economy as an appendage to the mother country can be regarded as a process of under-developing the underdeveloped. Thus he asserted that:

It destroyed the self-sufficiency of pre-colonial economics by breaking up the organic link between the vast bulk of population, their immediate geophysical relations in the very act of production. 5.

V. 1. Lenin, in his own postulation on the issue of imperialism stated.

The deepest economic foundation of imperialism is monopoly. This is capitalist monopoly i.e. monopoly which has grown out of capitalism and which exists in the general environment of capitalism. 6

Like Marx, Lenin holds that imperialism grows out of the logic of the capitalist system. But, Lenin goes some what beyond Marx in asserting that “imperialism symbolizes a particular stage in the development of capitalism. It reflects a transitional stage of capitalism to a higher economic order, a transitional state characterized by the displacement of capitalist free competition by capitalist monopoly”. 7

Again, Lenin on the third assertion stated that: “imperialism is capital at that stages of development in which the dominance of monopolies and finance capital has established itself in which the export of capital has acquired pronounced importance, in which the division of the world among the international trusts, in which the division of all territories of the globe among the biggest capitalist powers has been completed”. 8

In attempting the explanations of the above three assertions made by Lenin, he maintained that uneven development and a semi-starvation level of existence of the masses are fundamental and inevitable conditions and promises of this mode of production. As long as capitalism remains what it is, surplus capital will be utilized not for the purpose of raising the standard of living of the masses in a given country, but that, this would mean a decline in profits for the capitalists, for the purpose of increasing profits by exporting capital abroad to the backward countries, that is one aspect of the relations between capitalism and imperialism.

Moreso, schumpeter a communist contributed his quota in a Political Economy of Africa by Claude Ake where he asserted that:

Imperialist aggression is some thing that occurs for no purpose and without reference to the realization of any concrete interest, when he goes on to examine how this non- rational behaviour occurs, he merely says that it is because in the past some people had acquired the disposition to be irrational. 9

By this assertion, he meant that imperialism was seen mainly as an atavism. That is, imperialism characterized by an aggressive expansionism which has no objective beyond itself. In other words, imperialism cannot be explained in terms of concrete interest, economic or otherwise. Besides, says Schumpeter that it is never satisfied by any interest and that imperialism is not rational.

On the other hand, when viewed critically, it is clear that schumpete’s treatment of imperialism has little merit and much of his difficulty in the treatment of imperialism comes from his definition. To begin with, he defines imperialism as expansionism associated with military force. While other writers on imperialism fully recognized that the subjugation of foreign land can be accomplished and is often accomplished by means other than military, for instance by economic power.

According to Emmanuel Onyejeose, who “aptly noted that, production, distribution, and manpower availability in the developing countries have been historically shaped and still being influenced by diplomatic and strategic factors”. 10

E. Onyejeose in his explanation of the above expression stated that the major problem of this system (that is the one that has been left to us) is the continental dependence of the south (i.e the third world) because according to him, their economies are by and large monolithic i.e. producing either cocoa, oil, rubber or copper as raw materials for the industrial North. This means that the industrialist nations control the destiny of the developing countries by dictating the prices of primary products as well as their own manufactured goods.

According to Daniel A. Offiong, who made a powerful study on imperialism an its implications in his book; imperialism and Dependency argue that the crimes committed by imperialism are endless. He asserted that: “within this century 60 million people have been killed in wars generated by imperialism. As many as 110 million people have been crippled, tens of additional millions have died from disease and epidemics, all generated by wars of imperialism” 11

D.A Offiong with effort to explain the point asserted above disclosed that since 1870 the imperialist has conducted about 121wars and military operations against the people of Africa, and the result has been the staggering causalities of 5,300,000 Africans. He also pointed out the general obstacles that frustrated the African march towards economic freedom. He unfolded his view of imperialism and dependency as the two most critical factors in Africa’s underdevelopment. He further gave an analysis of the methods and techniques used by monopoly capitalists to impoverish African continent and suggests that something has to be done to improve Africa’s present condition of underdevelopment.

However, the methods and techniques that was used to accomplish the exploitation of Africa must be fully comprehended and he therefore proceeds to give a detailed suggestions as to how Africa can really be liberated from the shackles of imperialism whose impact on Africa has been characterized by unemployment of human and material resources, low income per-capita, illiteracy, over population, disease and poverty.


Imperialism as could be seen is economic domination, subordination and exploitation of weak economies by the developed nations. Lenin V.1 made an interesting contribution of imperialism where he described imperialism as the highest stage in the development of capitalism. By this, he stands to mean that the export of capital by monopoly capitalist in the 19th century Europe to pre-capitalist economies in overseas territories became more pronounced than ordinary export of manufacture goods and services. According to Lenin,

Imperialism is capital in that state of development in which the dominance of monopolies and finance capital has established itself in which the export of capital has acquired pronounced importance, in which the division of the world among the international trusts has begun, in which the division of all territories of the globe among the biggest capitalist powers has been completed. 1

On the other hand, imperialism is a common term to bourgeois and Marxist scholars. However, the difference lies in meaning, origin, nature and mechanism. So imperialism does not mean the same thing to bourgeois and Marxist scholars. While the two schools of thought agree similarly that imperialism is a form of expansion and dominion. A noble contribution in explaining this pact was made by Lenin in his book “The Development of capitalist in Russia” (1967). 2

To bourgeois scholars, imperialism is taken to be that natural, universal tendency to expand influence externally, a trend which is allegedly inherent in any living organism in nature, and in society in all its periods. According to this line of thought even Insects like Ants and locusts, possess the inherent tendency towards “imperialist expansion and seizures.

Schumpeter, described imperialism as a form of social atavism. By this regard, he simply meant the instinctive desire of man for expansion and dominion. According to him,

That imperialist aggression is something that occurs for no purpose and without reference to the realization of any concrete interest, when he goes on to examine how this non rational behaviour occurs, he merely say that is because in the past some people had acquired the disposition to be irrational. 3

While, to Marxists, the relationship between capitalist social formation and imperialism is very strong and infact inseparable. Thus, they meant that imperialism is material oriented. There exists a clear difference between the motive of man’s tendency towards expansion and that of other living creatures. Schumpeter, in his book, the sociology of imperialism illustrated the aggressive behaviour of human being with respect to territorial acquisition. According to him:

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In a racial order, a dominant group , which think of itself as district and superior, raises its social position by exploiting, controlling and keeping others who are categorized in racial and ethnic terms; Accordingly, Africans under colonial tutelage fit mix’s concept of an industrial reserve among which meets the systems need for and elastic labour pool 4.

However, Marxist interpretation of imperialism is seen as that desire to expand and control foreign territories for economic domination and exploitation. The works of Marx and Lenin, most particularly established imperialism as a logical historical outcome of the transition of industrial capitalism from competitive stage to monopoly stage which was specifically marked by that time frame when export of finance capital to overseas territories beyond Europe acquired more significant than mere export of goods and services.

But according to Claude Ake, they differ in their accounts of the character and manifestations of these interest, and the precise relationship between capital accumulation and imperialism. 5 The opposite is the strong material conviction of Marx and Lenin.

In the same hand, a number of modern writers on imperialism tend to identify with the view point of Marx and Lenin. They are Samir Amin, Immanuel Wallerstein, Julius. Ihonvbere, Rose Luxemburg, Claude Ake, Yuri Popov, Bade Onimade and Daniel Offiong. They all contributed to the theory of imperialism.

Hobson J.A. Imperialism: a study that considers some of the socio- psychological motives of imperialism. He identifies several variables that account for imperialism, such as national pride, prestige and glory. Bellicosity and the quest for external markets necessary for higher productivity and higher returns on investments 6. Hobson admits that, historically, there exists a link between capitalism and imperialism.

For him, imperialism was only a logical outcome of excess production over consumption in Europe, which made demands for external markets to serve as both consumers and sources of raw material. It was the attempt of the capitalists to deal with the dilemma of over- saving and under consumption, which led to imperialism.

Marx imperialism: Marx did not develop explicitly theory of imperialism. The phenomenon was evidently implied in his major works. In his treatment of “surplus of value Marx showed the link between capital accumulation and imperialism”.7. By surplus value he meant that the value of the product of the workerless worth the capitalist pays them. Surplus value is used to generate more surplus value. This is the process of profit maximization, otherwise, known as capitalization of surplus value.

According to Marx, “capitalism is inherently expansionary i.e it is not only a growing phenomenon but expands its sphere of capitalist accumulation”.8. Implicitly, in Marx treatment of capitalism shows that its in-built contradictions will historically determined time leading to the expansion of capitalism beyond the bound of Europe, to economically backward territories.

Lenin’s imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism is, perhaps, the most outstanding radical work on imperialism. Lenin completed this work in 1975 and summed up the “changes characteristics of the capitalist social formation in Europe and how they were strong linked with its transition to a monopoly stage”.9. While Marx’s treatment of imperialism was implicit, Lenin’s was explicit. Yet, Lenin was remarkably a continuation and development of Marx economic theory.

According to Lenin, “the monopoly stage of capitalism is, not a stage in which the accumulation of capital has reached gigantic propositions, the economic foundation of imperialism is monopoly and its environment is still defined by commodity production and competition”. 10.


Lenin gave the following defining features of monopoly capitalism, otherwise, known as imperialism. Imperialist is capital at that stage of development in which the dominance of monopolies and finance capital has established itself, He also defined imperialism as the division of the world among the international trusts, in which the division of territories of the globe among the biggest capitalist powers has been completed.

However, imperialism from economic point of view was defined as the economic domination, subordination and exploitation of weak economies by the developed economies. According to Marxists, “Imperialism was defined as that desire to expand and control foreign territories for economic domination and exploitation”.11. More so, another important definition of imperialism was proposed by Yuri popov who saw “Imperialism as the internationalization of capitalist relations”.12. In this work, attempts were made to establish a strong link between the work of Marx and Lenin on imperialism.

As demonstrated by schumpeter “Imperialism was seen as expansionism pursued specifically with military force” 13. But his definition was so narrow that he and other major writers on imperialism are really talking about different thing.

Furthermore, imperialism as defined by Claude Ake, is the “economic control and exploitation of foreign land arising from the necessity for counteracting the impediments to the accumulation of capital engendered by the internal economy”. 14.

Meanwhile, Michael Barratt Brown’s broadly defined “Imperialism as the outward drive of certain peoples to build empires both formal colonies and privileged positions in markets, protect sources of raw materials and extended opportunities for profitable employment of labour”. 15.


It is worthy to note the motives which brought about imperialism in Africa. Much of the motivation for the imperialism came from the industrial revolution. Industrial nations desires colonies to provide a cheap and certain supply of raw materials, markets reserved for the mother country’s manufactured goods, and large profits with minimum risk on investment of surplus capital. Now that European countries were competing industrially, colonies could also be used to control strategic passages such as the strait of Gibraltar and the suez canal. In addition, the colonies could be used as overseas bases to keep ships and troops supplied and ready all over the globe.

However, imperialism as accounted by two early critics such as J.A. Hobson and V.1 Lenin provided a vast understanding of the motives for imperialism. According to Hobson that “the great financiers, a few men of great wealth, who desired to increase their wealth through overseas investment, were behind imperialist policies” 16. Indeed, they used their wealth and social connections to induce the government to protect their investments through political dominance over undeveloped lands. Lenin, the leader of Russia’s Marxist’s, in imperialism: The Highest stage of capitalism (1975) argued that “the stimulus behind imperialism was economic, and the essence of colonialism was exploitation. Lenin wrote that capitalism must expand in order to survive”.17. He asserted that once capitalist investment has saturated the domestic market, the capitalists are forced to seek overseas outlets for investment.

Meanwhile, the original motives behind imperialism in Africa were economic exploitation, national pride, quest for prestige and glory, quest for markets and higher returns on investments. It is a well known fact that the industrial revolution in Europe promoted the quest for raw materials which was the basic motive for imperialism in Africa. This revenue provided the industrialists with the opportunity of exploiting African material resources thereby stagnating African economy that was developing at its pace. Another important motive was the quest for markets, which become necessary for the export of Europeans industrial goods and the consumption of these goods earned them equate profits and development of their economy.


It is difficult to say when slave trade ended and when colonial imperialism began because before slavery was abolished in Africa, colonial imperialism had established roots in the continent which refer to this later phenomenon as colonial imperialism. However, it would be important to understand the channels and the methods of imperial imposition and its establishment in Africa.

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One of the identifiable methods of imperialistic establishment in Africa was Christianity. Christianity was an instrument upon which the Europeans systematically conquered African continent. The partnership, which existed between the colonial government and Christianity, made it easy for the conquest of African continent. For the clarity of purpose, it was obvious that the colonial government depended on the Christians for the persuasion and indoctrination of Africans. While Christians depended on the colonial government for protection of lives. It was this mutual co-existence that gave rise to British Occupation of Africa. However, commerce, Christianity, colonialism and bullets combined to exploit African resources.

In furtherance, another clear means upon which the imperial powers penetrated into African continent was through Alliance. The imperial governments decided to ally with some African territories against their hostile nighbours with the promise of protection. This proposal was not objected by the Africans knowing that they are helpless in such predicament. But, as a matter of fact, this did not favour most of the African communities who indulged into this act. They were disappointed after few days of peaceful terms. Some special examples are found in Nigeria such as the alliance of Ibadan in 1892 with Britain against Ijebu, Bogbo and other trade rivals against Nana Alomu of Itsekiri in 1895.

More so, some territories were taken over through peaceful negotiation. This accounts that some African rulers signed the so- called treaties of protection which adversally turned against them after the treaty. Nonetheless, it is important to understand that the peaceful negotiation invoke had been preceded by threats of military conquest.

However, gun boat diplomacy was another means of penetration and establishment of imperial domination in Africa. The use of gun boats by the Europeans to coerce the coastal towns to accept whatever they wanted. That means that If the Africans refused to comply, the Europeans would use the big guns on their ships to shell the coastal towns. Once the coastal Africans realized the destructive nature if the gun boats, a mere threat to use them was enough to get them to comply with the wishes of the Europeans. Thus, gun boat diplomacy was a European way of telling other Africans that she meant to use force if they fail to allow them the access to trade.

Additionally, the territorial division of Africa led to the establishment of monopoly domination by a hand full of imperialist powers over the rest of the world. The countries under the colonial domination were drawn into the world capitalist division of labour, a system in which they were assigned the role of suppliers of raw materials to the world capitalist market.

The colonies and dependent countries were converted into agrarian and raw material appendages of the imperialist powers. The colonial system of imperialism showed down the development of the productive forces and led to the conservation of archaic social relations in the colonial and dependent countries, dooming hundreds of millions of people to poverty, starvation and premature death. The world was effectively divided into developed countries and underdeveloped countries.

In summary therefore, all these measures and factors above, demonstrated how the Europeans imposed and established themselves in African continent.


It should be understood that Africans resisted imperial rule in their capacity but, unfortunately could not suppress the aggression. To give a detail account of this resistance demands that definite examples must be cited to boast our understanding of this concept.

Using Nigeria as a case study, Africans really tried all they could to save their sovereignty from the hands of the Europeans. The Arochukwu of Nigeria mounted a big pressure on the resistance of the colonial powers by employing the services of the mercenary armies from Edda, Abam, and Ohafia who fought decisively with the whitemen to a reasonable point but was defeated as a result of their fire-arms and gun power. Again, the Aro people believed so much on the Ibini Ukpabi which was a very powerful means of their protection against aggressions from enemies.

Afikpo in 1902 showed a challenging resistant against the colonial occupation of their land applying all source of mechanisms such as secret societies, inviting native doctors who use bees and snakes to fight their aggressors. A very renowned resistance was the one mounted by the Asaba people. This people formed a secret society known as Ekumeku which waste the lives of many whitemen in the struggle of colonial penetration. They fought with courage, confidence and with the local made weapons like Arrows all these attempts never ensured adequate protection but indicated the feelings of the people against colonial rule.

The general resistance measure in Africa took various forms, this is because the logistics applied by stateless societies were different from the reaction that existed in organized empire. Infact some African territories collaborate with the Europeans to escape their wrath while others stood their ground to protect their sovereignty. Some of those territories who resisted with every means possible to save their lands were the Ethiopians, Asante, Angolans, Mozambique, Benin (Nigeria). Those that collaborated were the fante, Buganda and so on.

In fact, the people of Ethiopia successfully resisted the European attempt to colonize them. They decided to fallout with the Italians whose interest was to colonize them. The Ethiopians mounted their resistance in 1896 against the Italians using the available resources to engage them militarily with heavy pressure coming from the Ethiopians. The truth is that they defeated the Italians on two different Occasions of the resistance such as in 1896 and 1935. Again, Bunyoro was a traditional enemy of the Bunganda people which supported the Europeans imperialist to capture their territory. They fought to their ability but was finally submerged by the aggressors. The Asante resistance was another good example where the Africans showed their strength to protect their empire. The people of Asante rejected colonial rule and fought against it in 1896. This was because they were an inland power that established their influence in the coast against the Fante. All the same they were defeated as well since they had limited weapons to face the challenge.

Benin (Nigeria) was another important quarter of resistance where the Europeans was engaged militarily with determination to rescue their economic Oligarehy. The Oba of Benin was desperate to save his empire from the obnoxious activities of the whites and to maintain his trade routes and the coast where he depended on making money. But the establishment of colonial rule would probably take away from him this riches. Thus, he reacted against them with his army who fought with every available means possible.

Again, some territories in Africa saw the aggressive nature of the Europeans and decided to collaborate. This collaboration was agreed upon either because they are helpless or to fight their enemies in conjunction with the white men. Some typical examples were the fante and Bunganda kingdom.

The fante collaborated in order to fight the Asante empire in corporation with the British while the Bunganda citizens collaborated to defeat their hostile or traditional enemy state called Bunyoro. All these factors formed the methods of resistance against the colonial rule in Africa.

Imperialism: The Bane Of Africa’s Underdevelopment

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  1. Sabiiti Anita says:

    all along i ve been wanting to know cause of underdevelopment in third world nations

  2. what i bc been looking for years, you made it easy for me

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