Why was Africa so underdeveloped before colonization?

Aug 2018
2
Philadelphia
#1
Hi.

I was wondering why sub- saharan Africa was underdeveloped compared to the rest of the world before colonization. I know about civilizations such as Mali, Nubia, and Great Zimbabwe, however I saw someone online saying these civilizations weren't as advanced as those in Europe, Asia, or even Mesoamerica. Is this true? And if so, why??
 
Oct 2015
4,693
Matosinhos Portugal
#2
Welcome to the forum.

One of the main reasons for African underdevelopment is the form of occupation and exploitation, which corresponds to the form of colonization that occurred not only in Africa but also in America and Asia.
 
Likes: Futurist
Oct 2018
1,209
Adelaide south Australia
#3
Hi.

I was wondering why sub- saharan Africa was underdeveloped compared to the rest of the world before colonization. I know about civilizations such as Mali, Nubia, and Great Zimbabwe, however I saw someone online saying these civilizations weren't as advanced as those in Europe, Asia, or even Mesoamerica. Is this true? And if so, why??

Your notion of development seems to be roughly the same as that of theVictorian English, who considered Victorian England to be the acme of civilisation and development. The inference was that "'less developed" and "less civilised" people were "less than"'.

That patronising attitude was used by the European powers as an excuse to save those people from themselves, by bringing to them the great benefits of Christianity and European civilisation, whether they wanted it or not.. Of course it was only fair the that colonising powers enrich themselves at the expense of the colonised people

There is no reason that sub Saharan Africa should have developed as did Europe. They developed in their own way, as studies of such people tend to show. (yes, I've done some)

There seems to be a conflation of standard of living and quality of life. The two are not the same.

Pre Columbian American cultures such as the Aztec, Inca,Maya were highly sophisticated and developed societies ,surpassing the Europeans in some ways.

The only 'sin' all of these cultures committed was not immediately killing the European invaders as soon as they arrived. By not doing so, they left themselves vulnerable to militarily more powerful and ruthless invaders. Conquest by stealth is a far more attractive proposition (cheaper in every way) than full military invasion.

The europeans even had the arrogance to colonise, or try to colonise the ancient civilisations of India and China, using the same humbug as justifications..
 

Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
7,055
#4
Your notion of development seems to be roughly the same as that of theVictorian English, who considered Victorian England to be the acme of civilisation and development. The inference was that "'less developed" and "less civilised" people were "less than"'.

That patronising attitude was used by the European powers as an excuse to save those people from themselves, by bringing to them the great benefits of Christianity and European civilisation, whether they wanted it or not.. Of course it was only fair the that colonising powers enrich themselves at the expense of the colonised people

There is no reason that sub Saharan Africa should have developed as did Europe. They developed in their own way, as studies of such people tend to show. (yes, I've done some)
It evades the question as to why the average level of development of Africa wasn't even comparable to that of India, or East Asia. That is a legitimate question to ask. On an average, the socioeconomic level of development was not even on par with late medieval Europe or India, or China:

1. Large groups and areas were still tribal, not under any nation state or fixed nation state

2. Many, major African languages had no written form at all, and even those that did had far less use of writing for legal, economic or even religious use. There were rare pockets of learning, like Timbuktu, but nothing like the chain of universities that could be found in even medieval Europe. And scholars from Zimbabwe were not coming there to study. The Great Zimbabwe structure is devoid of writing, unlike contemporary Gothic cathedrals, where you can find writing above the doors, in the stain glass windows.

3. Most Sub Sahara African societies were not minting coins with inscriptions on them, and most of Sub Sahara African seems devoid of a money economy. There were still large numbers of hunter gather people in Africa, such as pygmies and Khoe-San, which were largely absent in Europe and Asia (East, South, and Central Asia). Why did hunter gather societies still persist in Africa when they had almost completely disappeared in other places?



There seems to be a conflation of standard of living and quality of life. The two are not the same.

Pre Columbian American cultures such as the Aztec, Inca,Maya were highly sophisticated and developed societies ,surpassing the Europeans in some ways.
In what way did they surpass Europe? Not in metallurgy, because although fine in working in gold, copper and even bronze, they lacked the ability to work in iron, and they did not produce metal structure as large as a big cannon, or a large bronze statue, or large church bell like the Lullusglocke, made in 1038. Lullusglocke - Wikipedia.

And in architecture, the Aztecs and Mayans did produce some very fine structures, but it is a matter of opinion if they are any more impressive than the Pantheon, or a Norte Dame cathedral.

The only 'sin' all of these cultures committed was not immediately killing the European invaders as soon as they arrived. By not doing so, they left themselves vulnerable to militarily more powerful and ruthless invaders. Conquest by stealth is a far more attractive proposition (cheaper in every way) than full military invasion.
The natives were often just as ruthless as he Europeans, just not as good as fighters. Bantus, and the Zulus expanded and subjected and pushed out the initial inhabitants of the lands the migrated to. The Zulu were no monsters, but neither were they saints, and Shaku Zulu didn't forge his kingdom by asking people to please join him nicely.

Cortes was able to conquer the Aztec because the Aztec's subject peoples did not like being ruled by the Aztec. Without the help of natives, the Spanish could not have overthrown the Aztecs with so few soldiers. The Aztecs habit of starting ritual wars with neighbors so they had human sacrifices available certainly did not endear themselves. The Aztecs were no worse than the Spanish, but they were not the saints you seem to think.



The europeans even had the arrogance to colonise, or try to colonise the ancient civilisations of India and China, using the same humbug as justifications..
The Chinese massacred and exterminated the Dzungar Mongols, and China today is still colonizing Tibet, and most of Western China. The only reason China didn't colonize Vietnam was because the Vietnamese were able eventually to defeat the Chinese and drive them out, but China a couple times in its history tried to colonize Vietnam.

The Dzungar genocide was the mass extermination of the Mongol Buddhist Dzungar people, sometimes referred as "Zunghars", at the hands of the Manchu[2] Qing dynasty of China ...........Some scholars estimate that about 80% of the Dzungar population, or around 500,000 to 800,000 people, were killed by a combination of warfare and disease during or after the Qing conquest in 1755–1757.[3][4] Dzungar genocide - Wikipedia
The Turks colonized a lot of southeastern Europe, and the only reason they did not colonize more of Europe was because they were beaten back, twice, at Vienna. The Arabs colonized Spain, and imposed their language on the area, until the area was reconquered, and the Arabs driven out. Today Spain is better off on every socio-economic standard than almost any Arab country, and had it remained Arabic its living standard would be more similar to that of North Africa today, hardly an improvement.

And Japan tried colonizing Korea twice, failing the first time in the Imjin War, but succeeding the second time in the early 20th century.

The Europeans were no more guilty of colonialism than others, like the Mongols and their descendants of the Golden Horde, and benefited the people more than the Golden Horde did, and as much or more than the Ottoman Turks. The British weren't the only outsiders to try to conquer India and colonize it, they were just more successful than the earlier ones, is all. Even the Cholas of India had their period of colonizing overseas. You don't know any history at all if you think the Europeans were the only ones who did not engage in colonization.


Had Sub Saharan African been more advanced, at a higher level of socio-economic development, it cold have better defended itself against being colonized. East Asia, countries like China, Korea, and Japan, were not colonized by Europeans, precisely because they were more developed. Ethiopia, which has one of the oldest civilizations in Africa, was not successfully colonized by Europeans for the same reason, it had a longer history of development, writing, and existence as a nation state than other Sub Saharan African countries. It was precisely because Sub Sahara Africa was so far behind developmentally that the Europeans were able to colonize it. Once Sub Sahara Africa developed even just a little, the Europeans were not able to hold the territory. So in light of that fact, the question as to why most of Sub Sahara was not as developed is a pertinent question to ask.
 
Sep 2014
698
Texas
#6
I have often wondered why the birth place of humanity stayed in the Neolithic Age while the rest of the world exploded with creativity.

And you can't blame slavery. Every civilization has had and been slaves. Portugal was a prime Target for Arab slavery and then got into the slave trade itself.
 
Aug 2011
83
The Castle Anthrax
#7
A lot of these threads pop up about most/least advanced, overrated/underrated, etc. that really are not able to be answered objectively. It all depends on the metric. I am inclined to think that Sub Saharan civilizations and similar were indeed on to something compared to modern contemporary western civilization in light of the prevalence of and rising rates of depression, diabetes, and suicide, to name a few measures for quality of life. I'm not representing that I would prefer an ancient Sub Saharan way of life, merely that there are other measures for success or advancement.
 
Likes: bboomer
Oct 2011
3,738
the middle ground
#8
General answers to a broad question:

Relatively few areas where rainfall and soil make for long-term dependable "breadbasket agriculture" (lots of desert, rain forest, and dry grassland though)
Relative isolation from the Eurasian "mainstream"
Cattle domestication in selected areas but no horses in the tsetse fly zone, few other beasts of burden
Low population density
Smaller, more self-sufficient communities
Nomadic lifestyles remaining most sensible survival strategies in many places

And where there was a major navigable river (and tributary system), relatively easier communications, relatively dependable land for growing millet and other staples, etc., you find the most concentrated populations, the cities, trading networks, and the larger states that everyone knows about.
Lack of writing implies administrative structures were relatively less complex and that oral tradition and art (in modern perspective unfortunately perishable) sufficed.
 
#9
I have often wondered why the birth place of humanity stayed in the Neolithic Age while the rest of the world exploded with creativity.

And you can't blame slavery. Every civilization has had and been slaves. Portugal was a prime Target for Arab slavery and then got into the slave trade itself.
Well, “stayed in the Neolithic age” is a bit of an oversimplification. There were a few examples of African civilization, especially around what today is Ethiopia.

(Yes, Carthage and Egypt are technically in Africa, but for obvious reasons don’t count.)

But to discuss your premise, I would assume that it’s a matter of geography and biology with a dash of cultural reasons.

It’s rather a taboo in the west to discuss the heritability of intelligence and creativity. But given that:

A: Intelligence is known to be the result of both nature and nurture, and:

B: We already know that particular physiological traits have a regional/racial distribution.*

It’s only logical to assume that this has also played a role.

We will (as always) know more in the upcoming decade. The taboo of the heritability of IQ doesn’t seem to apply in China, where most of the research along those lines is done today.



*Look for example at running. Where do most medal winning marathon runners come from? East Africa. Short distance running is totally dominated by people with a West African heritage. An important factor for that dominance can be found in heritability and genetics.
 
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deaf tuner

Ad Honoris
Oct 2013
12,948
Europix
#10
The Turks colonized a lot of southeastern Europe, and
No, Ottomans didn't colonised a lot of Southeastern Europe. As a matter of fact, in respect to the length of the continuous occupation of territories South Danube, Ottomans are rather on the "exceptionally low rate" side.
 
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Likes: bedb