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Professor Claude Ake and Underdevelopment in Africa

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 AfricaThe 70s and the 80s were decades of the Third World countries. These were periods when the Cold War reached its climax, and the new words found themselves

into the diction of the so-called developing countries. Words like “neo-colonialism” feature prominently at these periods. Just African scholars in our Ivory Towers themselves were never tired of churning out great intellectual works.

Several dozens of books have been published concerning the developmental challenges of the so-called Third World Countries (TWC) with the view to presenting possible solutions to them. We have read of the works of scholars in Latin America: Theotonio Dos Santos, Ferdinando H. Cardoso, Rodney, Andre and the likes. We equally read the inspired works of Africans like Sesay, Frantz Fanon, Patrick Wilmot, Ali Mazrui, Kwame Nkurumah, Abdulrahman M. Babu just to name but a few. 

We read great works like Gunilla Andre’s Development of Underdevelopment, Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, Julius Nyerere’s Ujamaa: Essays on Socialism, and the likes, were Marxists responses to seeming arrogant treatises like Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations and Rostow’s Stages of Economic Growth. With all these great minds, we can boldly include the Professor Claude Ake’s A Political Economy of Africa.

While I see it as a privilege to have read this landmark work, I am not in any way blinded by cheer patriotism or “Dutch” nationalism, as some might want us to do, we will be looking at the review from a more dispassionate, less emotional and objective point of view.

Right from the introduction of the book, the author does not hide his Marxist inclination in selecting his method of analyses. He places much emphasis on historicity and dialectic materialism, both which are fundamental to every Marxian analysis.

In Chapter 1, the author writes, “Just as economic need is the primary need, so economic activity is man’s primary activity. The primacy of work, that is economic productivity, is the corollary of the primacy of economic need. Man is first and foremost a worker or a producer.”(Ake, 1981:1)

This clearly points to the direction of the author’s analyses. True, economy as a substructure determines the superstructure, in this case the social relations, culture, religion, tourism and the likes.

The author also argues that the substructure, in this case the economy or mode of production serves as the basis of class. The distinction between the bourgeoisies, borrowing a more clinical Marxist concept, and the proletariat or workers, is based on mode of production.

Like most “nationalistic” Marxists, the author, took to defend the Dependency Theorists, in their traditional arguments placing the blame of the underdevelopment of Africa on colonialism and neo-colonialism. But unlike other Dependency Theorist he noted that for development to come, African underdevelopment “…cannot be overcome without a profound transformation of economic, social and political structures.”(Ake, 1981:7).

Will Marxists ever spare capitalism? Like most Marxist scholars, Ake took his time out to do some analyses of capitalism in his book. One really cannot understand Marxism without a diagnosis of capitalism and its contradictions.

Ake added his voice to the long list of those scholars who place the blame of Africa underdevelopment on capitalist Europe and the “West” which gave rise to Imperialism, colonialism, exploitation and unequal exchange all of which ultimately favour the West!

In Chapter 2, the author looks at the Western misadventures for Imperialism, Colonialism and trade in Africa all of which were not in Africa’s interest. On monetisation of African economies, he argues, “Monetisation of African economy does not simply mean the presence of money as a means of exchange. To conceive the term this way is to trivialise it to the extent rendering it analytically useless. More fundamentally, monetisation implies the pervasiveness of money as a medium of exchange in the economy at large…” He goes further to tell the effect, as “…the pre-colonial economy is marginally monetised. The monetary sector was very small, limited to those who traded with Europeans. Large sectors of the economy still depended on barter in some form or another and there was hardly any wage labour.” (Ake, 1981:18)

In Chapter 3, the author dwelt largely on the colonial economy. He argues that the colonial misadventures of Western Imperialists are just largely to prevent the effects of over accumulation of capital resulting from internal contradictions within the system from implosion. He argued “The colonial economy was characterised by market imperfections and monopolies. This characteristic of colonial capitalism is an important element in the link between colonisation and underdevelopment.” The trades were done only to protect the interests of the Europeans and Imperialists but not for Africans.

While we agree with Ake to a large extent, if he were to be alive today he would have realised how theoretical he had been in his analyses. The fact that the book was written few years before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of Soviet Union in 1991 shows how “weak” and delusional the Marxian methods are. The last of what was left of the stranglehold of Marxism is Fidel Castro of Cuba, the only hope of a Marxist world today. Even the mainstream Marxists doubt if he still holds strongly his Marxism-Leninist views given his country’s recent “friendship” with its capitalist and “bitter” neighbour, United States of America. Professor Ake’s strict adherence to the Marxian method of analyses in his book is only better appreciated by incorrigible Karl Marx disciples while the non-Marxist may see it as another piece of Communists’ propaganda!

Since the Cold War era was not just about espionage, territorial or covert warfare; ideas and ideologies play critical roles as well. Ake’s work can just be put into the latter category for his own role in the ideological battle on African soil.

No one doubts the fact good intentions of the Nigerian scholar in writing the piece, but to be clouded by such Marxian ideological-orientations (perhaps indoctrinations) is too discomforting to a fault. The book provides little or no inspiration to the non-Marxists. It makes a great reading for the curious reader in Political Science in particular and the Social Sciences in general!


Ake, C. (1981) A Political Economy of Africa, (New York, Longman, Inc.,)

Slann, M. (2004) Introduction to Politics: Governments and Nations in the Post-Cold War Era Edition (New York, Linus Publications Ltd)


Olalekan Waheed ADIGUN is a political risk analyst and an independent political strategist for wide range of individuals, organisations and campaigns. He is based in Lagos, Nigeria. His write-ups can be viewed on his website http://olalekanadigun.com/; Tel: +2348136502040, +2347081901080; Email: olalekan@olalekanadigun.com, adgorwell@gmail.com; follow me on twitter @adgorwell

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