The history of African underdevelopment, in a modern sense, is purely and simply the history of Africa’s structural isolation from what became the wellspring of certain modern institutions, virtually all of them centered around what is today West Asia and North Africa.
Every society that was estranged from this hotspot became underdeveloped in a modern sense to the extent of, and over the period, of their isolation.
These institutions were primarily focused on dominating nature rather than submitting to its rhythms.
A simple validation of this truth can be found in this simple thought experiment.
Supposing most of Europe had been populated by its so called ‘indigenous groups’, these being peoples of very identical ethnic stock to the rest of the European family but considerably more isolated from the imported West Asianism that defined Europe, would the continent of Europe be this ‘developed’?
And in answering this question, one might simply examine the history of Finland, for many centuries among the poorest countries in Europe, and conclude that the high proportion of its population made up of such groups and its colonial experience, which compounded the isolation, mirrors the underdevelopment of Africa until the early 20th Century.
The inevitable conclusion one would have to draw is that if such ‘traditional societies’ had been as dominant in Europe as they were in Africa, ‘traditional’ in this sense being defined primarily by distance from the West Asian wellspring, the European industrial project would have been similarly delayed.
In fact, I am very doubtful whether Scandinavia as we know it today would have been this advanced had the forebears of the Vikings and others in their fold not moved further down into Saxon and other geographies closer to the West Asian sources of the dominant themes of westernisation, such as Christendom, advanced feudalism, money, etc.
Today, the traditional societies of Europe, be they Mari, Vepsian, Abkhazian, Goral or Skolt, continue to be marginalised and in some cases even exploited just as many African societies were.
The only puzzle about African underdevelopment has a very recent origin: its post-independence leadership crisis, a crisis not that dissimilar from what we saw in Greece and Portugal throughout the 60s and 70s.
It is completely understandable that Africa was underdeveloped and non-industrialised until the 1960s and even the 1970s, just as it is completely understandable that pre-Nokia Finland until the first world war was very poor. One does not require any special explanations to account for this anymore than the facts related to a confluence of historical accidents.
Africa’s failure to rapidly modernise since the 60s and 70s, however, is particularly worrying and requires special explanation.