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How Europe Underdeveloped Africa: The Legacy of Walter Rodney

By: 
Lee Wengraf

A number of African economies have experienced a massive boom in wealth and investment over the past decade. Yet most ordinary Africans live in dire poverty with diminished life expectancy, high unemployment and in societies with low-levels of industry. For the roots of these conditions of “under-development,” one historical account stands alone in importance: Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (1972).

Walter Rodney was a scholar, working class militant and revolutionary from Guyana. Influenced by Marxist ideas, he is central to the Pan-Africanist canon for many on the left. In How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, Rodney situates himself in several theoretical traditions: the writings of Caribbean revolutionary Frantz Fanon, the dependency theories of Andre Gunder Frank and others, the Pan-Africanist tradition including George Padmore and C.L.R. James, and African socialism as popularized by national leaders such as Tanzania’s Julius Kambarage Nyerere  and Guinea’s Ahmed Sékou Touré. As Horace Campbell describes, “His numerous writings on the subjects of socialism, imperialism, working class struggles and Pan Africanism and slavery contributed to a body of knowledge that came to be known as the Dar es Salaam School of Thought. Issa Shivji, Mahmood Mamdani, Claude Ake, Archie Mafeje, Yash Tandon, John Saul, Dan Nabudere, O Nnoli, Clive Thomas and countless others participated in the debates on transformation and liberation.”[1]