By Kayode Ketefe
How Europe underdeveloped Africa is a popular book by a Guyana-born renowned African intellectual and political activist, Walter Rodney.
In that 1972 classic, Rodney analysed the complex historical forces and their impact on Africa’s socio-economic realities.
He came to the conclusion that the systemic exploitation of Africa by the imperialist Europeans, via slave trade, colonialism and neo-colonialism was responsible for the poor state of African political and economic development in the late 20th Century, and that development would only be feasible if Africa executed a radical break with the international capitalist system.
While there could be no denying the fact that the exogenous factors like slave trade, colonialism et al have had pernicious effects on the continent’s quest for development, the factors could not totally explain why quality, sustainable development had always eluded Africa.
To start with, the factors themselves do not explain why there was huge chasm in the rate of development in the first instance which made it possible for all the said exploitations to be possible-(exploitations merely aggravated the existing differential rate of development among nations.) Secondly, these traditional factors do not satisfactorily explain why, since the demise of colonialism (and neo-colonialism?) Africa has found it impossible to lay the foundation of her own progress.
Thus, a new theory which goes beyond apportionment of blame is needed to unravel the basis of the unenviable status of the black man among the races-a theory that could offer alternative view to the conventional rationalisation.
To this end, this writer hereby offers another, albeit often overlooked, theoretical causative agent of Africa’s underdevelopment. He posits that Africa’s woes are emanations of self-inflicted mental laxity borne of attitudinal lack of hunger for knowledge; it consists of undue complacency and uncritical acceptance of appearances as the real things.
These deficiencies, to this writer, are the greatest bane responsible for the comparative backwardness of this continent. It is not true that there is genetic deficiency in the constitution of an African which predisposes him to mental inferiority as some bigoted racists would have us belief. Rather, the whole problem is purely attitudinal.
From time immemorial, Africans, in comparison to other races, have exhibited apathy to exploit human greatest asset- the human brain to the fullest. Yet, the human brain which God or nature (whichever you prefer) has endowed us with is the only proven tool through which the secrets of the universe could be unlocked. Knowledge is the only pathway to success via technological growth and development.
All the people of the world had one time or the other been enveloped in the same dark age of ignorance -an era when recourse was always had to the supernatural forces for solutions to mankind’s problems. It was an era when diseases were seen as the handiwork of witches and wizards and all forms of calamity were deemed orchestrated by incensed deities who must be placated by sacrifices and propitiatory offerings.
But the truth dawned on Europe long ago and it led to her renaissance and later the industrial revolution. Ever since that time, Europe has not looked back as she embarked on accelerated pursuit of empirical knowledge, while systematically demolishing the myths which had held mankind in bondage over the ages.
Other parts of the world, like the Americans and the now successful countries of Asia, followed suit, channeling their energies to scientific researches and developmental pursuits.
But here in Africa, we are still enmeshed in primitive superstitions, like we have always done, holding all sorts of beliefs that are not empirically verifiable and which are inimical to progress. This attitudinal problem with its concomitant backwardness is evident everywhere the black man is, be it in the Caribbean, the West Indies or even right in the developed countries like Europe and America. You can easily distinguish the black communities from the whites even within the same country. How can we reverse this unfortunate trend?
European conquered our forefathers and imposed colonialism, not because they were inherently superior, but because they had superior understanding of the laws of nature, which aided them in the manufacture of superior weapons. We failed to learn anything from that. Even today, our society brims with behaviours informed by superstitions.
Children are branded witches and wizards in some parts of country and are being subjected to harrowing experiences through trial by ordeal. We still see sacrifices, offered to some medieval spirits, on our highways. People are still being kidnapped for ritual killing- the incidence of which has soared in this period of politics.
Our Nollywood films are replete with scenes of fantasies which mock realism-and prop anti-scientific views. Little wonder then we rarely announce scientific breakthroughs in any fields of human endeavours.
If our ancestors had held and practised certain beliefs which, instead of helping them, had made our continent the least developed part of the entire world, doesn’t commonsense dictate we should reject such beliefs in favour of logical and time-tested ones which had helped other people achieve greatness?
It is high time we invested heavily on science and technology- the only guaranteed way to sustainable development.
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