Why was Africa so underdeveloped before colonization?

Jun 2013
442
Connecticut
This is a very interesting thread. I think, and this is my opinion, the answers to the OP could be found in the following posts:
#8 - @Tuthmosis III
#37 - @KurwaGoy
#38 - @JeanDukeofAlecon

IMO these are the best "general" answers to such a "general" OP.

Generally it's the diffusion of technology, agriculture, culture, innovation, etc. due to the geographic orientation of Europe - Asia - North Africa. Notice it's East-West within a few latitudes. This E-W axis shared similar day lengths, seasons, climates, rainfalls or lack of and biomes. As drastic as they might be they didn't compare to the North-South longitudenal axis.

Plants/animals in the E-W axis became domesticated. More food led to more people - running into each other - no isolation.

The E-W axis is a landmass from China to Gibralter. Peoples were migrating east to Asia; west to Europe in waves. With larger populations comes immunity to diseases, more need for communication, innovation speads rapidly.

The size of the population determines the complexity. The complexity produces the culture. This culture - like a petrie dish - morphs and grows things like governments, religions and constant wars that lead to unending co-operation or conquest.
 
Likes: notgivenaway
Dec 2018
7
Brasil
You own map supports what I say. It shows large areas not falling under any of the kingdoms or empires. What kifdom rules South Africa before the Europeans arrived ? In Namibia? There werre none. Thers was no king or Senate that the Dutch had tonight to take the land to form Cape Town. The Zulus were bringing their "kingdom" to Southern Africa as the same time the British and Dutch were settling there. But it is fantasy to argue that the Zulu were as advance as either the Dutch or British. Before the European arrival, what libraries did the Zulu found. What books of history and philosophy did they write? What universities did they found? What astronomical discoveries did they make? Scientific? What lifting cranes , geared machinery were they making?
Me: Tell me some literally works produced by germans, scandinavians, celts. I mean, their truly culture. When you look at germanic literature, you can see that they used latin script, that originated from the greeks, that originated from phoenicians. "But they had..." Well, it's still borrowed. They didn't invent books and none mathematical work without outside influence.

Large areas of Africa were not ruled by any level beyond the tribal when the Eruorpeans arrived. Name the kingdoms of Nambia? Outside the coast, what kingdom ruled Tanzania?
Me:Tanzânia, as whole Swahili Coast, was ruled by kings in every city state that were independent. While some cities have legends about Shirazi(pediam dinasty) that borrowed Kilwa and married local princess, many scholars don't believe that, many muslims are claiming something, so many political finalities here.


What were the written works of the Zulus? What is the writing of the pygmies? What was the written language of of the people of Zimbawe before the Europeans came? What pre European inscriptions in a native language can you find in Nambia, South Africa, Zimbawe , etc? Europeans developed and used runes, ogham scripts, you can medieval inscriptions in these scripts in Britain, Scandinavia. Point to me medieval inscriptions in native languages in the Congo, Zimbawe, Uganda.
Me: Ogham script, as runes, were not exactly intelectual works, but some enchantments in a dozen of stones that royals and priests used in rituals and human sacrifices. Nothing Specialized about that, we must quote the fact that It appeared AD, not BC.


Ah, no. Writing in Greece is as old as the Nubia, older as. Matter of fact. The oldest Merioric inscription dates only to as old as the 4th century BC, which isn't as old as the 8th century inscriptions we have fornrhe Romans, let alone for the Greeks.
Me: Writing in Greece, as I quoted, is not really greek, they learn how to write by trade, as did minoans, and developed architecture, writing, math and art by trade. Greeks were the first to develop hiper-realistic statues, but they learned how to make real-sized statues with egyptians, the famous kouros are examples (like cleobis and Biton, clearly egyptian style). You can search about Leftkandi Centaur or Mantiklos to see how greek art truly was.


A majority of people before the Euoropean printing press were illiterate, Chinese, Indian, Egyptian. It does not mean that writing was not important.
Me: But it proves that most of Europe were illiterated, and those who were used a script that wasn't originated in Europe.


My point. By the time of the Great Zimbawe, all of Europe was literate, that all the countries of Europe used writing, while the majority of Sub Sahara Africa did not use of practice writing. The fact that such a structure as the Zimbawe was built by society without any writing at all proves how developmentally behind Africa was.
Me: Actually, it proves quite the opposite. Just think: Bantu expansion ocurred for so long,
This iron age cultures travelled for so many places through Africa, trying to find some place to stay. They found Zimbabwe, with fertile land, gold, copper, tin, iron...perder place to stay. This happened in 400 AD. In 1000 AD they were building walled cities across Zimbabwe. I will tell more below, but I can say that they developed a very powerful kingdom very fast, other cultures, after settled in its place, took thousands of years to develop. The First european civilizations were created based on Middle easterns, as minoans and Greeks. Greek culture was closer to Asia than to any other european culture. That people settled there between 200-400 AD, and in 600 years they developed a highly sophisticated civilization. I doubt that at the time all of north Europe was literated.

Again, my point. Most of Africa had not moved to a "money" economy. Even the hunter gather life style had not been completely abandoned. Most of Africa had not even reached the level of where Europe was in the middle ages, and even the most advanced areas of Sub Sahara Africa were well behind the Europeanz. Names the banks of Sub Sahara Africa? There were none. Could African rulers borrow money long term? No. Did Sub Sahara have things like bonds, lines of credit, etc.? No. As I said, Sub Sahara Africa was well behind Europe developmentally even at its most advanced areas.
Why banks when they had a lot of gold?
Me: Congo kingdom used Shells as coins, as many societies outside Africa did. Other african states had many gold, why would they suddenly exchange their more previous resource that everyone accepts to trade? About this at least you are right, there's no reason to do that.

My comments were with regard to the pre Columbian Americas, not Africa! I am well aware that Africans were very accomplished metal workers, and that Sub Saharan Africans were among the oldest producers of steel in the world.
Yes

And while cannons came from China, the Ottomans did not introduced the cannons to Europe. You do know that the cannons the Ottomans used to capture Constantinople were made by an European, don't you?
Me: It doesn't change that fact that chinese invented canons, and chinese "invented" gunpowder. About the rest, I don't know anything about it.

And as I pointed out, one of the few countries of Africa that escaped colonization was Ethiopia, which has one of the oldest civilizations in Africa, as old as Europe. A coincidence? I think not
Yes, coincidence.

Note, there is no shame in being less advance nor does that in any way or shape indicate any kind of biological inferiority. The ancient Germans were among the most backwards people the Romans dealt with, far less advance than the people of Ethiopia . Now they are among the most advance. Did the Germans become genetically different? No, it was just a change i culture, and we all have Ronstadt some place.
You got a point

That pre colonial Sub Sahara Africa was not as advanced developmentally is a reality, and even the most advanced areas only matched later medieval Europe. The question is why, and denials won't help explain the reality.
Europe absorbed most of its cultural aspects from other cultures. África didn't.

Thomas Sowell, the economist and social theorist, said that most Africa rivers were not as navigable, when to something like the Yangtze or Mississippi. (And the one river that is comparable, the Nile, developed one the world's oldest civilization). Until the development of a the railroad, shipping by water was far cheaper than by land. Much of the West coast of Africa lacked good natural harbors and has tricky winds and currents. The Portuguese who succeeded had thousands of years of nautical developmental behind them. Horses do not so well in much of Sub Sahara Africa, and you lacked a tradition of horse and camel mounted nomads that could promote long distance transportation on land as you did in central Asia. So transportation or lack of probably played a major role in Africas delay.
Me: Camels were introduced by Middle East, and places that didn't have horses either because of tse-tse fly, or because they are not Native to this areas, like Central and Southern Africa.
 
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Dec 2018
7
Brasil
Yes, it does. There were large areas of Africa that simply devoid of anything above a tribal level.
These areas were not densely populared. That's why they couldn't forma kingdoms, maybe diseases and many things that made their respective place hardware to live, bit maybe the best they could find

- Where were the kintdoms of Bambi's, South Africa, Zimbawe, and where were their capitals? What was the population of their capitals? Where are the written records for those kingdoms? Can you found written records station what the pay rate was for each occupation as you can for medieval England? If so, how did the pay or an average warrior in the army of the kingdom the Congo compare to a carpenter, and an elite warrior? What did the spear and shield of a warrior cost? Other weapons and armor?
They didn't need written records, they really didn't. Zimbabwe Kingdom was a tributare kingdom and Congo Kingdom had a complex management, with the king on the top, the council helping him to rule, and small provinces in the kingdom made it easier to rule. Shell money was used, and it had its values, so pay a soldier or pay a carpenter was not so hard, since the population were not millions as in Europe, what you had in a city in Europe you had in Kongo Kingdom. Remember what I said: Europe had written records because they contacted Cradles of civilizations (Egypt, Sumeria, Indus Valley, China). It's not their achievment, why quote this?

- Where were the universities in those kingdom? Can you name formal.center of higher learning outside of Timbuktu in Sub Sahara Africa
Djenne was a center of learning, and it was a trade city since 250 BC, others in Sagala and probably Gao, capital of Songhai, since Askia I encouraged studies and knowledge, a thing that he admired, and he created many departments to Songhai Empire, and was very close to Timbuktu scholars. I read once that he was an astronomer, but I need to check this.

- What was the population of the top 6 cities of Sub Sahara Africa? What are the buildings still standing of the these cities that date as far back as the 13th century? 15th century? 17th century?
It's weird how you talk about great Zimbabwe and Timbuktu and still asking a question like that.

- Of all these kingdoms you refer to, how many miles of roads did they have? How many bridges? How many canals? Ports with docks and wharves?
The kingdoms were not very big, but I read on metmuseum about pavement period in Ife kingdom (the same that produced realistic sculptures), pavemented roads can be a sign of advanced organization

What uniform standard or weights, length , and volumes did these kingdoms use? What calendars? What.written official records did these kingdoms keep?
I already quote Mali and Songhai. "But It was arabic" yes, adopted from Middle East as Europe, so I can't see the point of people that talk about that. Weights were invented in cradles, they didn't contact the cradles so they didn't have weight measures.

-. What percentage of Sub Sahara African lived in under the rule of a government that had a fixed capital in a permanent location, with more that a couple thousand people? Kingdoms,/governments that had a written set of law?
Kingdom of Great Zimbabwe was the capital, and some zimbabwes around them were paying tribute. Zimbabwe was a kingdom of trade, that developed in 600 years after they settled there, while other cultures took thousands and thousands of years to do this. It was a stratified society manufacturing metalwork, established internal and external trade and exported gold to Sofala, a city-state in Swahili Coast ruled by Bantus (the king was called Mfalme), and one of their successors, Mwenewmutapa, controlled Sofala as well, and Gold were exported through Indian Ocean.

It's quite obvious why subsaharan Africa was behind. To build an advanced civilization you need to be in a fertile soil with almost zero difficult ways of survival. Since they established agriculture, domesticated cattle and metalworking, they can start to build their own civilization. They stop worring about survival and start getting new ideias. With little buildings to zigurates and pyramids, cities-states being formed, counting systems turning into complex equations. This is why only 6 regions, in the WHOLE WORLD achieved that. Europe developed because they contacted this civilizations, older greek and roman communities were small and lived in mud huts for thousands of years before they learned how to build, how to write, how to measure and with time make their own discoveries. This is how works, you can't just say "Europe had castles, why africans didn't?" without looking the whole background. It's dishonest
 
Apr 2018
743
Upland, Sweden
By the time Europeans started to trade with Africa, they found political systems in some way more advanced than their own.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, France was just ruled by the King, and little else. Asante had a feudal-like structure, and Kongo and Benin had administrative structures on par with Europe.
Are you saying that Feudalism is more "advanced" than autocratic monarchy? There is a whole school of European political history connecting state-formation in the late middle ages forward with the emergence of political centralization, to pay for mercenaries and standing armies etc. Also, France was "not just ruled by a King" during the 1600. In fact, Louis XIV had to fight a civil war to arrive at the degree of political centralization that he did, and after he did so that model was only really "secure" for a century forward. As for your point that "the administrative structures" (how do you measure these? How do you even know of these, given that the source material from Africa is not even nearly as prominent as from Europe during the same time period) are on par with Europe... well, I don't know honestly. You haven't really presented any evidence, and given your misunderstandings of european history I am not convinced.

Even up until the 20th century, most European countries were autocratic. Britain and France were the most notable exceptions, and Russia only ended serfdom in the 19th century.
This confirms my previous premonition that you do not have a clue what you are talking about. "Most European countries" were not "autocratic". These are just labels. How about you define what you mean?

Most European countries either 1) did not exist before the 20th century or if they did 2) did have various advisory structures to the King, some kind of local political or judicial power, and increasingly some kind of separate legislature. Sometimes this legislature built on previous inherited medieval traditions (England, Scandinavia, some other places) and in other places it was largely a product of the French revolution (France). The period of "Kingly" absolutism in European history is really quite short, even during that time there were often dormant feudal structures that everyone agreed had some kind of legitimacy. Autocracy was not "a thing" in Europe in a modern sense except arguably for the period between the 1650-1800, and even at that time it was not the case in all of Europe. But seriously, "autocratic before the 20th century"? This is just absurd, outside of Russia. Even the more conservative states of Europe (Prussia, Austria-Hungary) had parliaments and powerful aristocracies that had quite a lot of influence over policy. Calling them "autocracies" in the same sense that Imperial China, or to take a modern example the various dictatorships of the 20th century, are "autocracies" is just not true.


Europeans did bring some improvements to Africa, possibly mostly in terms of infrastructure like bridges and railways. But not in a political nor social sense.

When thee British invaded both Asante and Benin, they were impressed with the works in each royal palace, and the level of organisation required to run their empires. There is a reason why the Benin Bronzes are still in the British Museum, and why the British desperately wanted to take the Asante Golden Stool and failed. Britain even gave Asante independence in 1930.
If I had been African, I would probably agree with you. No one finds it an improvement to be dictated to by foreigners. We can look back upon the Roman Empire as good, but that was almost two milennia ago. It is also the case that we have "become Roman", and designated ourselves as the heirs to their civilization. Therefore it doesn't hurt our self-image to think of the Roman conquests of Europe, even if we're French, English, West German etc. This ties into a really interesting question, which I'll address in the following post...
 
Apr 2018
743
Upland, Sweden
Having read all the posts in this thread, I have a few thoughts.

To begin with, there seems to be a general consensus that "development" is something good, not to mention an objectively definable term. While this is understandable from an individual perspective, is it really the case when looking at the historical development of different civilizations and cultures (pun very much intended) over the very long term?

A number of people @HackneyedScribe , @JeanDukeofAlecon for example, have brought up that there seems to be a double standard when judging African civilizations compared to pre-Christian Scandinavia for example, or the other various non Greco-Roman peoples of Europe. Irrespective of whether this is true or not my point is this: these same primitive cultures (and yes, I do think the word is warranted without using scare-quotes) conquered the much more civilized Roman Empire. What does that tell us?

Civilization is not only a good thing. Sometimes a little "spark" of primitivism can have a postitive impact on longterm development. Certain economic historians use the term "path-dependence" when discussing these things, and it seems to me that the more "civilized" a country or culture becomes, the less dynamic it also risks becoming, in some ways. To take a really obvious example, the Byzantines had all the same Greco-Roman knowledge just laying under them, and what did they do with it? Yes, they were very wealthy, and had quite a lot of nice contraptions - much more civilized, to speak plainly - then the West. And yet where are they today? Why didn't the scientific revolution commence in Byzantium, centuries before the West?

The real reason this entire issue is so loaded to begin with (and everyone knows it) is that Africa hasn't really performed very well developmentally post-independence. What I am driving at is that all the people who feel terribly offended by supposed European racism etc. should calm down a little, and instead ask themselves whether perhaps Africa's comparable lack of development for the past half millenium (I don't know enough to speak of the earlier periods) is actually an advantage for the future ? In Europe we are saddled with lots of institutions that developed in a pre-modern or 20th century context, and lots of "malincentives" that are visibly causing problems for us...
 
Feb 2011
6,233
Who here denied that African states were less developed than Rome? Nowhere? Than what's there to "calm down" about? How about saying that Africa is more primitive due to genetic inferiority?

Guy A: Africa is more primitive because they are inherently dumber
Guy B: They are not inherently dumber
Guy C: They are more primitive than the most advanced civilization in era X, why don't you calm down!

Seriously.... I'm surprised people are so quick to pretend that those statements racist statements don't exist, and paint it as if the issue is solely about the issue of technology. People have explained over and over that the issue they disagree with is explaining Africa's 'lack' of development by the racist argument of genetic inferiority, and people pretend the issue is only about how Africa wasn't as advanced as some of the most advanced states in the world. Yet the issue was never about the latter. These people who pretend racist arguments don't exist should calm down, or provide solid evidence that Africans are inherently dumber. By 'proof', I mean more than the pseudo-science BS used in the colonial era to justify race based slavery, or the pseudo-science BS that Hitler used to justify his ethnic cleansing. Sweeping statements needs sweeping amounts of evidence.

So yes, there is a double standard. When other civilizations aren't the most advanced in the world, any explanation is given except "they're inherently dumber". When African civilizations aren't the most advanced in the world, "they're inherently dumber" is somehow a valid explanation. And when people make a single post which disagrees, they are bombarded with "calm down", "why can't you ignore the post", "they're less advanced", etc. etc..... You know, this would have been over in one or two posts, if weren't for the likes of not Guy A, but Guy C.
 
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Apr 2018
743
Upland, Sweden
Who here denied that African states were less developed than Rome? Nowhere? Than what's there to "calm down" about? How about saying that Africa is more primitive due to genetic inferiority?

Guy A: Africa is more primitive because they are inherently dumber
Guy B: They are not inherently dumber
Guy C: They are more primitive than the most advanced civilization in era X, why don't you calm down!

Seriously.... I'm surprised people are so quick to pretend that those statements racist statements don't exist, and paint it as if the issue is solely about the issue of technology. These people should calm down, or provide solid evidence that Africans are inherently dumber. By 'proof', I mean more than the pseudo-science BS used in the colonial era to justify race based slavery, or the pseudo-science BS that Hitler used to justify his ethnic cleansing. Sweeping statements needs sweeping amounts of evidence.
You seem to have misunderstood my post. I never intended to compare African states with Rome at all, I compared Rome with the Germanic barbarians that conquered it (in a way unflattering to the Romans, just to make that clear).


There is an implicit judgement just in using words like development, primitive, civilized etc. I'm sure that wasn't your intention, but the reality is that by agreeing to use this kind of language we are all assuming that certain cultural traits and characteristics (such as stone buildings, written language etc.) are superior and some are inferior to others. The very discourse is by its own nature value laden, and would plausibly be considered patronizing and vaguely insulting by more than a few non-civilized peoples in history. As 1/64th Sami i feel that my cultural heritage is being trampled upon by the structures implicit in this discourse!!! Respect my feelings!!!!!!!

Half-assed jokes aside, my wider point is this: Perhaps, sometimes being civilized is not always a good thing. Did the Mongols look up to the chinese for their refinement? Given that they adopted many chinese ways (I am sure you know much more of this than I do) it would certainly seem so, but isn't it also quite probable that at least the early generation probably felt a certain contempt for them, as being effete, hypercivilized and weak - allowing them to be conquered by nomads on horseback with nothing near the same level of sophistication in many fields. I am sure the Germanic barbarians who conquered the Romans felt pretty much the same thing. Similarly, a certain closeness to nature, and perhaps even "wildness" have often been considered desirable, or manly characteristics in Western history up until 5 minutes ago in historiographic terms, even by more civilized authors.

It is also interesting that, as some people have remarked, being civilized in one point does not necessarily (although there is nonetheless a strong correlation) the lead to being civilized at a later time. As some people have brought up, the Dutch or Germans (or Swedes) were hardly very civilized in the early centuries after Christ, and yet now our societies are rather sophisticated, arguably more so than those of southern Europe, if one is allowed to generalize. Similarly, the Near East was one of the most developed and civilized parts of the world for thousands of years, but for the past 500 it seems to have fallen very much behind, and unlike for example the East Asian countries they seem to have trouble adapting to Modernity.

Regardless, perhaps part of the reason the Dutch Germans or English have created such well-functioning and in many ways unique societies have something to do with some of these more "barbarian" characteristics? They were unencumbered by the weight of history, so to speak. Similarly, Africa's comparative lack of development between 1500 (perhaps earlier, I don't feel knowledge:able enough to say) and 2000 could perhaps offer many African societies more "room to maneuver" compared with older civilizations like Europe or China in the future.
 
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Feb 2011
6,233
I understood your post just fine. I'm talking about how you're missing the point of why JeanDukeofAlecron posted in the first place. Nobody disagreed that Africa was less advanced than some civilizations in some point in time, nobody is angry about that. What was disagreed is that the explanation is genetic, not environment or luck based but genetic.

Doesn't matter if you think being "less advanced" is good. JeanDukeOfAlecron wasn't upset because Africa states was less advanced than one of the most advanced civilizations in the world. Neither was I. The problem is when people try to explain this by genetics, and when we disagree others act as if we should not disagree with a variety of lame excuses, all revolving around the pretense that the genetic argument wasn't ever made. I don't see the Celts being discussed this way, despite them being less advanced, nor the Germanics, despite being noticeably less advanced than certain African states. When the Celts or Germanics are less advanced they are just less advanced. They aren't inherently dumber and people who made one singular post to disagree about their inherent dumbness gets bombarded with how they should 'ignore the statement' or 'calm down'.
 
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Apr 2018
743
Upland, Sweden
I understood your post just fine. I'm talking about how you're missing the point of why JeanDukeofAlecron posted in the first place. Nobody disagreed that Africa was less advanced than some civilizations in some point in time, nobody is angry about that. What was disagreed is that the explanation is genetic, not environment or luck based but genetic.
Well, suppose it is genetic, what then? Would that mean that Africans lack all value as peoples?
 
Feb 2011
6,233
Well, suppose it is genetic, what then? Would that mean that Africans lack all value as peoples?
If you say Africans are genetically dumber then you need to provide relevant proof that they are indeed genetically dumber. So far I've seen none, not even proof on par with Hitler's evidence against ethnic minorities such as the Gypsies and the Jews. If you disagree with Hitler on that, then you need to provide better proof than Hitler. I've already stated this before as well.