AFRICA’S UNDERDEVELOPMENT: A Sociological Analysis of Africa’s Slow Rate of Development


Introduction; Explaining Africa’s Underdevelopment

The law of the three stages by August Comte (Politique Positive, 1912) and Spencer’s Evolutionary Doctrine gives assurance that Africa will by all means be a developed society (continent) as far as societal transformation is concerned. But the haste and rate at which Africa is progressing through the societal transformation processes as propounded by various scholars has a major problem under study for the past decades. How fast is Africa developing as a continent? What factors or forces have retrogressed or in other words limited the developing process of Africa? What in society has limited the transformation of the African continent as compared to other continents of the world? These are the questions that this article seeks to analyze. I therefore consider underdevelopment as an inefficient rate of societal transformation from simple (primitive) to Complex (developed / industrialized). I do not wish to say that Africa has not industrialized at all, but how is Africa industrialized as compared other continents of its kind (The developed Part of the world). If underdevelopment entails the inefficient rate of societal transformation to an industrialized state, what then are the forces that have retarded the development of Africa and therefore limited its transformation rate to an industrialized society. We must understand that underdevelopment is not a state, but a stage in the process of societal transformation. Africa is on the pace of developing (societal transformation) but doing so at a lower rate, probably been limited by some factors / forces from society that this write up seeks to make critical analysis of them.

The African Climate as an Opposing Force of Development

It is quiet unfortunate that the environment on which the African continent finds itself poses a great hindrance to its rate of development. It all begun with natures boundary to make Africa and for that matter, tropical Africa a Garden of Eden. There is joke in East Africa of the soil being so fertile that, if you dip your finger into it, your finger nail will grow. But as the saying rightfully goes, if necessity is the mother of invention, abundance is the mother of inertia- where nature is so bound to full, why should man in Equatorial Guinea needs advance innovation. (Ali Mazrui, 1974). The situation is quite different in the frozen part of the world, where man’s existence is translated to mean survival. Where the winds are cold, thicker walls are erected-an advancement in engineering, where warmth is matter of life and death, fire is tamed and harnessed, where the growing season is short, survival depends on planning for winter. With reference to Comte’s mythology of comparison, there is no doubt that the comfort nature gives to Africa as compared to other parts of the world decreased it drive to advance and industrialize and therefore a resulting inefficient rate of African development. If I am to borrow the idea of Karl Marx, Africa’s societal transformation (evolution) has been dependent upon its material condition as provided by nature, the varying ways at which men combined together in order to gain a livelihood (Macionis & Parrillo, 2001).  The physical condition of the African continent, determines the African ideology of development. In application to continents other than Africa where nature did them no good by matter of environmental comfort and a resulting limited natural provision, proportionally had an ideology of development that is materialized in their way of living through societal transformation process to industrialized.

Supporting African Development

The African Alienation

Another force that has contributed to Africa’s slow rate of societal transformation to an industrialised society(underdevelopment) is what I call the African Alienation, from the idea of a classical sociologist Karl Marx. Alienation of man as explained by Marx, is a situation in which humans’ creation appears to humans as aliens (Ritzer, 1996). To Marx, this is a condition in which men are dominated by their own creation which confronts them as alien powers. Putting Africa in this context, the fourfold aspects of Marx’s alienation of man is analyzed in this article as the folds of African Alienation that in turn limit the efficient development of the African continent. I am not a Marxist myself, neither do I prefer to say that I have been influenced by the Marxist theory. But I prefer to rather say that, the social reality of Africa as far as its rate of development is concerned is influenced by its relation to the production process of the world.

Alienated from the object it produces

There is no doubt that Africa provides the resources for the production and/or manufacturing industries. However, products from these industries that are largely based in jurisdictions other than Africa, are hardly accessible and in turn poses a dominant force to Africa. ‘Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire in the production process produces 60% of the worlds cocoa’ (EIU 2015), but the reality is that the patronize of chocolate and other valued added cocoa products by Ghanaians and Ivorians poses a great threat to either country’s economy. Resources exported from Africa to the west are being transformed into goods which Africans by no means have the purchasing power for such products. The point is, how many people in Africa are able to afford luxury products that are manufactured in regions other than Africa? But let us consider the fact that, the resources involved in the production of such products are mainly from Africa. Africa is then separated from its own creation, a situation which in turn affect the development rate of the continent. I have always opposed the argument that Africans have taste for foreign goods. The argument should rather be that, Africans have taste in products of their own creation that they are being alienated from.

From the process of production

Africa does not have control over the process of production. If Africa either chose or was forced to be a provider of raw materials in the relations of production, it has no control over the process of production. Ghana cannot afford to stop the production of cocoa to the world market, the huge loss it would cost to the state and subsequent economic down turn. The same applies to other African countries of the kind. Africa’s incorporation into the production process is a situation that dominates the African continent as they have no control over it. The process of production therefore becomes unsatisfying and boring in the African perspective, creating a force that slows the rate at which the African continent develop.

From itself     

In the relations of production, Africa specializes as the producer of raw materials. A situation which has resulted in Africa’s inability to develop many sides of its potential. Africa is not able develop and usher into other sectors in the production process, sectors such as manufacturing and services are neglected by many African countries, specializing solely on agriculture as the incorporated world production process demands. This shows how the continent is separated from itself in Marxian terms, posing as a great force against the development of the African continent.

From the community

Marx talks about man being alienated from other humans, which is the same as this alienation of Africa. The world economic has alienated African countries from each other. Africa’s incorporation to the world production system and for that matter a primary good producer has created a path of trade for Africa, in the sense that, African countries are not able to trade among themselves. Africa’s own creation (production process) dominates their choice and method of production. I am therefore convinced that this African Alienation analysis depicts the social reality of Africa as far as its relations to production is concerned. Which obviously is a great force that limits the rate of Africa’s societal transformation process to a developed state.

Africa’s underdeveloped Human Recourse; A great factor of its underdevelopment

The inability of Africa to develop it inhabitants has been a great cause of its underdevelopment. The confidence of my statement stands on the inspiration of classical theorists like Herbert Spencer who argues that ‘society exists as a result of the aggregation of individuals’. (Spencer, 1891:43) Such individualistic perspective, explains that the quality of a society depends to a large extent on the quality of the individuals who formed it. Africa’s underdevelopment is simply a basis of its underdeveloped human resources.

The path to a higher rate of development

Consider the comfortable climate of Africa a deception by nature

Africa in order to ensure a high rate of development should therefore see the comfort of their environment as a force that oppose their development as explained earlier. The African environment should no longer be considered as a comfort zone provided by nature, but a deception from nature to make Africa underdeveloped. The west had this notion / conscience of an uncomfortable environment and therefore took steps to advance to ensure their comfort and survival, creating for themselves an environment where most Africans would prefer to spend the rest of their lives than stay in their so called “Comfort Zone” (Africa). Africans continues to feel comfortable in their environment they might never develop, thus, this underdeveloped age will take a long time.

Eliminating African Alienation

‘The relations of productions in this capitalist age deprive Africans of many opportunities’ (Kay G. 1975). As the “subject class” in this capitalist age, Africa apparently is prevented from reaching a developed age by the “ruling class” (Subject and Ruling class as explained by Bendix & Lipset, 1997). African countries should therefore combine resources by forming cartel to trade with the west. This would give Africa an advantage to now make a choice still under the dominance of the production process but now determine the price of commodities they contribute in the relations of production.

African countries in order to eliminate alienation, should start small, trading not raw materials, but diversified value-added products among themselves while they still trade their raw materials with the west, with the intention of increasing their industrial sector in the long run to open up their economy and increase development.

Developing the African human recourse

As an attempt to speed the development process, African leaders must adopt and develop policies to ensure a developed human recourse. As argued by McGuire and Garavan (2011:5), a critical Human Development entails ‘bringing clarity to the field and enabling it secure a sustainable future.


Africa is developing, but at a slow rate, therefore it is being tagged to be ‘undeveloped’. The slow rate of African societal transformation is as a result of opposing forces of development like analyzed in this article. If Africa should take heed and make development a priority than stay in their ‘comfort climate’, this stage of underdevelopment will soon be a thing of the past.


Ali Mazrui, 1974 The African Condition, The Reith lecture BBC, Garden of Eden in Decay

Bendix R. & Lipset S. M. (Eds), (1996) Class, Status and Power: Social Stratification in Comparative perspective. New York: Press

Dr. F. Elwell Herbert Spencer (1820-1903)

Frank A. G. (1996) The Development of Underdevelopment” In Capitalism and underdevelopment in Latin America. New York: Monthly Review Press

Kay G. 1975 Development and Underdevelopment: A Marxist Analysis. London, Macmillan.

Kon, I.S 1975 The Crisis of Western Sociology and ‘The Second Discovery of Marxism’ in T. Bottomore, (ed) Crisis and Contention in Sociology, Bravery Hills.

McGuire D. and Garavan T. N (2011) ‘Critical human resource development; a level of analysis approach.Spencer Herbert (1892) Essays, Scientific, Political and Speculative, 2vols. New York: Appleton

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