The Development of Capitalism in Africa

The Development of Capitalism in Africa

The Development of Capitalism in Africa

The Development of Capitalism in Africa


After independence a decisive shift occurred in the opportunity for African states to intervene to promote development. The book argues that poor economic performance can be blamed on the absence of a coherent analytical basis.


Sub-Saharan Africa has experienced profound social and economic changes during the course of the twentieth century. These changes have involved brutality, disruption and suffering for millions of Africans and, as is well known, many millions of Africans continue to starve, remain illiterate and are subject to violence and cruel forms of exploitation. The quality of life of the mass of the population in the 1980s must be regarded as appallingly unsatisfactory by any criteria.

Many authors have made important contributions to our knowledge of the scale and forms of this suffering, both during the colonial period and since Independence. This book, however, does not seek to add to this literature. Rather than re-emphasizing the persistence of poverty and suffering, the focus of the following chapters will be on the identification and analysis of change as opposed to continuity.

The most significant of the long-term changes in sub-Saharan Africa which are documented below are the emergence of capitalist social relations of production and the development of the productive forces. The focus on relations and forces of production is derived from Marx's analysis of the origins and development of capitalism, an analysis which stresses the interaction of social, political and economic processes. The justification for the use of this analytical framework ultimately rests on the degree to which it is successful in illuminating the actual process of historical development, or, in the words of Dobb, 'on the extent to which it gives a shape to our picture of the process corresponding to the contours which the historical landscape proves to have' (1963, 8).

For Marx, the preconditions for a transition to capitalism were 'that two very different kinds of commodity possessors must come face to face and into contact; on the one hand, the owners of money, means of production, means of subsistence, who are eager to increase the sum of values they possess, by buying other people's labour power; on the other hand, free labourers, the sellers of their own labour power' (Marx 1970, 714). Thus, the origins of capitalist development were rooted in changes in ownership and control of the means of production. The consequence of the establishment of capitalist social relations has been an unprecedented rate of technological change, a sustained improvement in the level of development of the productive forces. Changes in relations of produc-

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