The Guyanan intellectual Walter Rodney wrote this book directly after the 1960s wave of African independence declarations, to show why Africa was so underdeveloped compared to the 'First World', and who was to blame for this. A consistently intelligent and politically involved Marxist thinker, Rodney was one of the second generation of black socialists to write about African issues, after the tradition of CLR James and Eric Williams, the former of whom tutored Rodney. "How Europe Underdeveloped Africa" is probably Rodney's magnum opus of popular science, aimed at a general public, and very accessible and informative.
Rodney describes in chronological sequence the development of Africa as a continent and the way in which the Europeans interfered with it. Going from the earliest African empires and states and their social relations, via the first wave of slave-trading, to full-blown colonialism, Rodney shows us how Europeans consistently attacked, pillaged, exploited, suppressed, enslaved, divided and discriminated against Africans, and the enormous impact the various stages of slavery and colonialism had in destroying the indigenous opportunities for coming out of feudalism into capitalist and industrialized societies. It is truly remarkable, given how short a time Africa has had to develop on its own as a modern society, how quickly African states have been able to modernize, and how strong the resilience of the various African peoples is to the enormous destruction they have had to endure. Rodney shows us all this with excellent writing and sensible use of 'bourgeois' sources, allowing the interested layman to gain all the necessary broad background information on the history of European involvement in Africa.
Of necessity, the book is sometimes rather annoyingly concise and vague about the specifics of colonial policies, destruction of early indigenous development etc., things about which one would want to know more. Rodney provides a reading list for more information at the end of every chapter, but since this book is from the 1960s, it is dubious whether such lists are still useful considering the improvements made in radical scholarship on Africa since. The timing of the book also makes it such that there is practically nothing on African states since independence, as most independence declarations had happened only shortly before its publication. Moreover, Rodney is very saccharine about the influence of the 'socialist' states such as the USSR and China on Africa, which he exclusively paints in positive terms. Certainly the Leninists have had a vastly better influence on African development than any Western nation ever has, but the USSR and China had their own interests to defend in Africa as well, and were not there purely for humanitarian purposes, as Rodney sometimes makes it seem. Nonetheless, this is a good general book on the legacy of European destruction in Africa, and it thoroughly refutes all the common arguments in defense of colonialism in that continent.