Imperialism: The Bane of Africa’s Underdevelopment

Imperialism: The Bane of Africa’s Underdevelopment


          This study is about imperialism as the cause of Africans underdevelopment. The main purpose of this research is to critically highlight and analyze how imperialism underdeveloped Africa and to find out the level or stage of development of Africa before the colonial era. More so. It has been noted that underdevelopment is not a condition natural to Africa but is an off-shoot of the greedy nature of  western capitalist countries who have monopolized and dominated world environment resources. This brought about  the emphasis in chapter one, on the aims and objectives of imperialism on the continent of Africa and how it has affected  underdevelopment in Africa. This impression was created since Africa has been experiencing a lot of set backs in their development, this study therefore, intends to identify the causes of underdevelopment and its effects.

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Moreover, the chapter two of this work would examined the motives behind imperialism in Africa and the methods of imperial imposition and its establishment. Also, expressed in the chapter two of this work was the methods of Africa’s  resistance of imperialism and its effects. For the clarity of purpose it would be necessary to point out  that the motives behind the establishment of imperialism was mainly to exploit Africans and rub them of their raw materials which become important  in the development of the industrial base of the metropolist.

However, the chapter three of this research would examined the positive and negative impacts  of imperialism in Africa and will as well help to buttress the level of development in Africa before the arrival of the imperialist and the  likely effects it has planted in Africa and its present economy.

Finally, the chapter four of this work examines the summary and conclusion, the bibliography, which becomes the basis for easier understanding of this research work. Thus, one can early demonstrate the fact that a strategy of structural disengagement would be a possible way out from underdevelopment.


     Imperialism as could be seen is economic domination, subordination and exploitation of weak economies by the developed nations. Lenin V.1 made an interesting contribution of imperialism where he described imperialism as the highest stage in the development of capitalism. By this, he stands to mean that the export of capital by monopoly capitalist in the 19th century Europe to pre-capitalist economies in overseas territories became more pronounced than ordinary export of manufacture goods and services. According to Lenin,

Imperialism is capital in that state of development in which the dominance of monopolies and finance capital has established itself in which the export of capital has acquired pronounced importance, in which the division of the world among the international trusts has begun, in which the division of all territories of the globe among the biggest capitalist powers has been completed. 1

On the other hand, imperialism is a common term to bourgeois and Marxist scholars. However, the difference lies in meaning, origin, nature and mechanism. So imperialism does not mean the same thing to bourgeois and Marxist scholars. While the two schools of thought agree similarly that imperialism is a form of expansion and dominion. A noble contribution in explaining this pact was made by Lenin in his book “The Development of capitalist in Russia” (1967). 2

To bourgeois scholars, imperialism is taken to be that natural, universal tendency to expand influence externally, a trend which is allegedly inherent in any living organism in nature, and in society in all its periods. According to this line of thought even Insects like Ants and locusts, possess the inherent tendency towards “imperialist expansion and seizures.

Schumpeter, described imperialism as a form of social atavism. By this regard, he simply meant the instinctive desire of man for expansion and dominion. According to him,

That imperialist aggression is something that occurs for no purpose and without reference to the realization of any concrete interest, when he goes on to examine how this non rational behaviour occurs, he merely say that is because in the past some people had acquired the disposition to be irrational. 3

While, to Marxists, the relationship between capitalist social formation and imperialism is very strong and infact inseparable. Thus, they meant that imperialism is material oriented. There exists a clear difference between the motive of man’s tendency towards expansion and that of other living creatures. Schumpeter, in his book, the sociology of imperialism illustrated the aggressive behaviour of human being with respect to territorial acquisition. According to him

In a racial order, a dominant group , which think of itself as district and superior, raises its social position by exploiting, controlling and keeping others who are categorized in racial and ethnic terms; Accordingly, Africans under colonial tutelage fit mix’s concept of an industrial reserve among which meets  the systems need for and elastic labour pool 4.

However, Marxist interpretation of imperialism is seen as that desire to expand and control foreign territories for economic domination and exploitation. The works of Marx and Lenin, most particularly established imperialism as a logical historical outcome of the transition of industrial capitalism from competitive stage to monopoly stage which was specifically marked by that time frame when export of finance capital to overseas territories beyond Europe acquired more significant than mere export of goods and services.

But according to Claude Ake, they differ in their accounts of the character and manifestations of these interest, and the precise relationship between capital accumulation and imperialism. 5 The opposite is the strong material conviction of Marx and Lenin.

In the same hand, a number of modern writers on imperialism tend to identify with the view point of Marx and Lenin. They are Samir Amin, Immanuel Wallerstein, Julius. Ihonvbere, Rose Luxemburg, Claude Ake, Yuri Popov, Bade Onimade and Daniel Offiong. They all contributed to the theory of imperialism.

Hobson J.A. Imperialism: a study that considers some of the socio- psychological motives of imperialism. He identifies several variables that account for imperialism, such as national pride, prestige and glory. Bellicosity and the quest for external markets necessary for higher productivity and higher returns on investments 6. Hobson admits that, historically, there exists a link between capitalism and imperialism.

For him, imperialism was only a logical outcome of excess production over consumption in Europe, which made demands for external markets to serve as both consumers and sources of raw material. It was the attempt of the capitalists to deal with the dilemma of over- saving and under consumption, which led to imperialism.

Marx imperialism: Marx did not develop explicitly theory of imperialism. The phenomenon was evidently implied in his major works. In his treatment of “surplus of value Marx showed the link between capital accumulation and imperialism”.7. By surplus value he meant that the value of the product of the workerless worth the capitalist pays them. Surplus value is used to generate more surplus value. This is the process of profit maximization, otherwise, known as capitalization of surplus value.

According to Marx, “capitalism is inherently expansionary i.e it is not only a growing phenomenon but expands its sphere of capitalist accumulation”.8. Implicitly, in Marx treatment of capitalism shows that its in-built contradictions will historically determined time leading to the expansion of capitalism beyond the bound of Europe, to economically backward territories.

Lenin’s imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism is, perhaps, the most outstanding radical work on imperialism. Lenin completed this work in 1975 and summed up the “changes characteristics of the capitalist social formation in Europe and how they were strong linked with its transition to a monopoly stage”.9. While Marx’s treatment of imperialism was implicit, Lenin’s was explicit. Yet, Lenin was remarkably a continuation and development of Marx economic theory.

According to Lenin, “the monopoly stage of capitalism is, not a stage in which the accumulation of capital has reached gigantic propositions, the economic foundation of imperialism is monopoly and its environment is still defined by commodity production and competition”. 10.


Lenin gave the following defining features of monopoly capitalism, otherwise, known as imperialism. Imperialist is capital at that stage of development in which the dominance of monopolies and finance capital  has established itself,  He also defined imperialism as the division of the world among the international trusts, in which the division of territories of the globe among the biggest capitalist powers has been completed.

However, imperialism from economic point of view was defined as the economic domination, subordination and exploitation of weak economies by the developed economies. According to Marxists, “Imperialism was defined as that desire to expand and control foreign territories for economic domination and exploitation”.11. More so, another important definition of imperialism was proposed by Yuri popov who saw “Imperialism as the internationalization of capitalist relations”.12. In this work, attempts were  made to establish a strong link between the work of Marx and Lenin on imperialism.

As demonstrated by schumpeter “Imperialism was seen as expansionism pursued specifically with military force” 13. But his definition was so narrow that he and other major writers on imperialism are really talking about different thing.

Furthermore, imperialism as defined by Claude Ake, is the “economic control and exploitation of foreign land arising from the necessity for counteracting the impediments to the accumulation of capital engendered by the internal economy”. 14.

Meanwhile, Michael Barratt Brown’s broadly defined “Imperialism as the outward drive of certain peoples to build empires both formal colonies and privileged positions in markets, protect sources of raw materials and extended opportunities for profitable employment of labour”. 15.


It is worthy to note the motives which brought about imperialism in Africa. Much of the motivation for the imperialism came from the industrial revolution. Industrial nations desires colonies to provide a cheap and certain supply of raw materials, markets reserved for the mother country’s manufactured goods, and large profits with minimum risk on investment of surplus capital. Now that European countries were competing industrially, colonies could also be used to control strategic passages such as the strait of Gibraltar and the suez canal. In addition, the colonies could be used as overseas bases to keep ships and troops supplied and ready all over the globe.

However, imperialism as accounted by two early critics such as J.A. Hobson and V.1 Lenin provided a vast understanding of the motives for imperialism. According to Hobson that “the great financiers, a few men of great wealth, who desired to increase their wealth through overseas investment, were behind imperialist policies” 16.         Indeed, they used their wealth and social connections to induce the government to protect their investments through political dominance over undeveloped lands. Lenin, the leader of Russia’s Marxist’s, in imperialism: The Highest stage of capitalism (1975) argued that “the stimulus behind imperialism was economic, and the essence of colonialism was exploitation. Lenin wrote that capitalism must expand in order to survive”.17. He asserted that once capitalist investment has saturated the domestic market, the capitalists are forced to seek overseas outlets for investment.

Meanwhile, the original motives behind imperialism in Africa were economic exploitation, national pride, quest for prestige and glory, quest for markets and higher returns on investments. It is a well known fact that the industrial revolution in Europe promoted the quest for raw materials which was the basic motive for imperialism in Africa. This revenue provided the industrialists with the opportunity of exploiting African material resources thereby stagnating African economy that was developing at its pace. Another important motive was the quest for markets, which become necessary for the export of Europeans industrial goods and the consumption of these goods earned them equate profits and development of their economy.


It is difficult to say when slave trade ended and when colonial imperialism began because before slavery was abolished in Africa, colonial imperialism had established roots in the continent which refer to this later phenomenon as colonial imperialism. However, it would be important to   understand the channels and the methods of imperial imposition and its establishment in Africa.

One of the identifiable methods of imperialistic establishment in Africa was Christianity. Christianity was an instrument upon which the Europeans systematically conquered African continent. The partnership, which existed between the colonial government and Christianity, made it easy for the conquest of African continent. For the clarity of purpose, it was obvious that the colonial government depended on the Christians for the persuasion and indoctrination of Africans. While Christians depended on the colonial government for protection of lives. It was this mutual co-existence that gave rise to British Occupation of Africa. However, commerce, Christianity, colonialism and bullets combined to exploit African resources.

In furtherance, another clear means upon which the imperial powers penetrated into African continent was through Alliance. The imperial governments decided to ally with some African territories against their hostile nighbours with the promise of protection. This proposal was not objected by the Africans knowing that they are helpless in such predicament. But, as a matter of fact, this did not favour most of the African communities who indulged into this act. They were disappointed after few days of peaceful terms. Some special examples are found in Nigeria such as the alliance of Ibadan in 1892 with Britain against Ijebu, Bogbo and other trade rivals against Nana Alomu of Itsekiri in 1895.

More so, some territories were taken over through peaceful negotiation. This accounts that some African rulers signed the so- called treaties of protection which adversally turned against them after the treaty. Nonetheless, it is important to understand that the peaceful negotiation invoke had been preceded by threats of military conquest.

However, gun boat diplomacy was another means of penetration and establishment of imperial domination in Africa. The use of gun boats by the Europeans to coerce the coastal towns to accept whatever they wanted. That means that If the Africans refused to comply, the Europeans would use the big guns on their ships to shell the coastal towns. Once the coastal Africans realized the destructive nature if the gun boats, a mere threat to use them was enough to get them to comply with the wishes of the Europeans. Thus, gun boat diplomacy was a European way of telling other Africans that she meant to use force if they fail to allow them the access to trade.

Additionally, the territorial division of Africa led to the establishment of monopoly domination by a hand full of imperialist powers over the rest of the world. The countries under the colonial domination were drawn into the world capitalist division of labour, a system in which they were assigned the role of suppliers of raw materials to the world capitalist market.

The colonies and dependent countries were converted into agrarian and raw material appendages of the imperialist powers. The colonial system of imperialism showed down the development of the productive forces and led to the conservation of archaic social relations in the colonial and dependent countries, dooming hundreds of millions of people to poverty, starvation and premature death. The world was effectively divided into developed countries and underdeveloped countries.

In summary therefore, all these measures and factors above, demonstrated how the Europeans imposed and established themselves in African continent.


It should be understood that Africans resisted imperial rule in their capacity but, unfortunately could not suppress the aggression. To give a detail account of this resistance demands that definite examples must be cited to boast our understanding of this concept.

Using Nigeria as a case study, Africans really tried all they could to save their sovereignty from the hands of the Europeans. The Arochukwu of Nigeria mounted a big pressure on the resistance of the colonial powers by employing the services of the mercenary armies from Edda, Abam, and Ohafia who fought decisively with the whitemen to a reasonable point but was defeated as a result of their fire-arms and gun power. Again, the Aro people believed so much on the Ibini Ukpabi which was a very powerful means of their protection against aggressions from enemies.

Afikpo in 1902 showed a challenging resistant against the colonial occupation of their land applying all source of mechanisms such as secret societies, inviting native doctors who use bees and snakes to fight their aggressors. A very renowned resistance was the one mounted by the Asaba  people. This people formed a secret society known as Ekumeku which waste the lives of many whitemen in the struggle of colonial penetration. They fought with courage, confidence and with the local made weapons like Arrows all these attempts never ensured adequate protection but indicated the feelings of the people against colonial rule.

The general resistance measure in Africa took various forms, this is because the logistics applied by stateless societies were different from the reaction that existed in organized empire. Infact some African territories collaborate with the Europeans to escape their wrath while others stood their ground to protect their sovereignty. Some of those territories who resisted with every means possible to save their lands were the Ethiopians, Asante, Angolans, Mozambique, Benin (Nigeria). Those that collaborated were the fante, Buganda and so on.

In fact, the people of Ethiopia successfully resisted the European attempt to colonize  them. They decided to fallout with the Italians whose interest was to colonize them. The Ethiopians mounted their resistance in 1896 against the Italians using the available resources to engage them militarily with heavy pressure coming from the Ethiopians. The truth is that they defeated the Italians on two different Occasions of the resistance such as in 1896 and 1935. Again, Bunyoro was a traditional enemy of the Bunganda people which supported the Europeans imperialist to capture their territory. They fought to their ability but was finally submerged by the aggressors. The Asante resistance was another good example where the Africans showed their strength to protect their empire. The people of Asante rejected colonial rule and fought against it in 1896. This was because they were an inland power that established their influence in the coast against the Fante. All the same they were defeated as well since they had limited weapons to face the challenge.

Benin (Nigeria) was another important quarter of resistance where the Europeans was engaged militarily with determination to rescue their economic Oligarehy. The Oba of Benin was desperate to save his empire from the obnoxious activities of the whites and to maintain his trade routes and the coast where he depended on making money. But the establishment of colonial rule would probably take away from him this riches. Thus, he reacted against them with his army who fought with every available means possible.

Again, some territories in Africa saw the aggressive nature of the Europeans and decided to collaborate. This collaboration was agreed upon either because they are helpless or to fight their enemies in conjunction with the white men. Some typical examples were the fante and Bunganda kingdom.

The fante collaborated in order to fight the Asante empire in corporation with the British while the Bunganda citizens collaborated to defeat their hostile or traditional enemy state called Bunyoro. All these factors formed the methods of resistance against the colonial rule in Africa.


     The researcher has shown in the forgone chapters how imperialism, colonialism and New-colonialism has been responsible for Africa’s underdevelopment. How the trend of events in the period has developed Neo-colonial conditions which today is perpetuating the underdevelopment of Africa.

With regard to C.C. Onyemelukwe’s Observation that the slave trade in Africa did not provide in Africa any developmental atmosphere rather it led to the development of the western worlds. 1. it should  also be noted that the technological arrest in Africa was as a result of the in fusion of European  goods into Africa, the further explanation of this events was accounted for by Ralph Onwuka in his book, “The feature of technology in Africa”. 2. This implies that Africans were denied technological heritage but was introduced to the production of raw materials only, to the advantages of the Europeans.

However, the imperialists takes advantage of the progressive technical and economic tendency for their own selfish ends, while political integrations, in essence is where the imperialist international relations is manifested and because Africa is a junior partner in these alliances they are easily manipulated i.e political and economic integration for sure is an extension of the imperialist world order.

Additionally, looking at the type of education which Africans were exposed to, we can see that it was not relevant to African society and her needs. Hence, the researcher maintained that it has caused alot of dangers and problems to Africa.

Moreover, this research work was able to trace out that the ethnic politics in no doubt has been responsible for the antagonistic nature of political parties in Africa. According to David Easton in his book, “ A framework of political Analysis” demonstrated  that the European powers  through dichotomy, subsequent civil wars in Africa had initiated fear of ethnic domination and other inequalities in the continent” 3. By this controversies and such problems known as the money bags politics has demonstrated the Irresponsibility of African governments.

Nevertheless, the researcher regrettably figured out that the continuous dependence on foreign monopoly of capital has increased African volume of imports, inflation, unequal distribution of resources and with little or no effort on production, hence there was no real development. Therefore, Africans did not control their destiny. Her economy is externally monitored, controlled and dominated by western imperialism.

Again, the researcher humbly demonstrated that all African political socio- economic and cultural problems have direct consequence on her current neo-colonial state. more so,   according to Rourke, “Africa cannot be truly independent when her banking sector, insurance, construction, mining, production, distribution and exchange systems are controlled by foreign nations.

Remarkably, it is worthy to note that development should be man oriented and not institution oriented. That, for Africa to develop in real form, she must disengage herself from colonial thoughts, processes, values and practices, and evolve an institution which would enable her citizens to find their fulfillment. This of course is important because the culture of different societies is not the same, therefore they have different needs and values.

In summary therefore, the researcher is saying that it was the development from within that would possibly ensure real citizens participation in the affaire of the continent. This would empower the development that gives the citizens the motivational force and encouragement to explore, experiment and produce things needed by Africans to develop its continent.  A development that gives citizen a sense of belonging. However, it becomes obvious that the development masterminded by the imperialist has thrown citizens into confusion and has made them consumptive individuals without creative ability.


Underdevelopment is not a condition natural to the African continent but is an off shoot of the greedy nature of the western capitalist nations who have monopolized and dominated world environmental resources. The structural Linkage of the centers of the third world nations to that of the metropolis, has rendered the third world nations Africa inclusive) impotent and unable to conquer her environment, African in particular.

However, the people were aware of the fact that they were being exploited and that they did not benefit from the exploitation of their national resources and the surpluses they created. They embarked on all forms of radical action to compel their exploiters to return wherever they came. But all these attempts were to no avail.

Furthermore, according to Yuri Popov, “the colonial powers impose upon the people constitutions that would ensure conflict among the different groups, and they worked hard   to place in power those who would continue to promote their interest after they had gone” 5. The formal ending of slave trade bring in colonial imperialism which ushered in Neo-colonialism. A great deal of attention is equally giving to the analysis of the methods and technique used by the monopoly capitalists to impoverish  African continent.

The researcher reacted that if some thing is to be done to ameliorate African present conditions of  underdevelopment, the methods and techniques used to accomplish this mission of exploitation must be comprehended and this means going back  to history. This should be clearly understood since history gives origin, provides trends, and criteria for decisions, which will make necessary changes in order to better the future.

Finally, for a wise man who encountered such ugly situation of imperialism and its consequences, should therefore resort to learning from the past history which would provide him the guide to tackling his present circumstances. This learning will bring about change in behaviour, which would be desirable, both for the African continent and the citizens who make it up. Therefore, it must be registered in our minds that the past has taught Africans lessons, and it is high time we wake up and take a radical step to overcome the shackles of imperialism and colonialism.

Imperialism: The Bane of Africa’s Underdevelopment


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