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What should be the cause of the underdevelopment status of the African states while endowed with such huge and enormous natural resources? Many scholars have associated poverty and underdevelopment Africa with the dependency theory, on one hand. On the other hand, scholars have associated poverty and underdevelopment situations in Africa with the lack of responsible leaders and political violence. The two arguments control the recent literature on the underdevelopment in Africa. However, I argue that while the lack of African leadership might have contributed, the impact of dependency theory on development in Africa is undebatable.

Vast literature depicts dependency theory as the condition of underdevelopment engendered by incorporation of the third world economies into the capitalist world system, which is dominated by the West and North America. This means that countries at the core, coerce the third world countries or countries at periphery to join the capitalism and adopt its system .This makes peripheral countries lack ability to neither take part in establishing structures that control global market, nor have the capacity to control western forces that control global market to have an equal share or even have a say. In development studies views, dependency means a situation in which a particular country depends on another country for survival and growth. This is the situation, particularly with the African states. Leaders have been seen going to the West for political survival, and economic as well. I call this slavery and colonialism in the sense that the West controls our minds and thinking, and Africans cannot run their countries’ business without involving countries at the core. In turn, Africa leaders exchange Africa’s natural resources with countries at the core for their survival and for the sake of remaining in power. A critical example would be the current president of Rwanda Paul Kagame who violate the international law by invading the Democratic Republic of Congo, and his attitude which has undermined democracy in his country and yet the West, the promoter of democracy and international law keeps silent, and instead praise him to be a good leader.

Dependency theory is “economic development of a state in terms of the external political, economic, and cultural influence on the national development policies. It is a historical condition that shapes a certain structure of the world economy such that it favours some countries to the detriment of others and limit the development possibilities of the subordinate economies. This means that dependency theory is a situation in which the economy of a certain group of countries is conditioned by the development and expansion of another country which their own is subjected. It is crystal clear this theory is discriminatory in nature and promotes inequality among the states.

It is vital to note that dependency is the notion that resources flow from a periphery of poor and underdeveloped countries to a core of wealthy countries, enriching the latter and put the former into deep poverty. This means that developing or poor countries are impoverished and devastated. The rich countries get richer while the poor gets poorer. The rich countries coerce the poor to be integrated into a world system made, governed and controlled by them. Being rooted in the Marxist thought, dependency theory helps understand the real cause of underdevelopment in the third world countries.

The literature on the economic development and political leadership highlight different assumptions of dependency theory. For example, dependency theory posits that third world countries should embark on programs of import substitution so they do not have to purchase the manufactured products from the advanced countries. This means that this theory considers globalization of capitalism as the motive force behind dependency relationships. As a consequence countries at the periphery provide natural resources, cheap labour, and destination for obsolete technology and markets for developed nations, without which the developed nations could not have the standard of living they enjoy.

It is important to note that developed countries actively perpetuate a state of dependence by various means. This influence may be multifaceted, involving economics, media control, politics, banking and finance, education, culture and sport. This makes one to understand that the situation of underdevelopment in Africa is not a stage but a process through which countries reach development goals. It is also a situation in which foreign assistance is never free as there is no free lunch or super in the world. This is because any assistance from the rich countries does not come for free, it is associated with conditionalities. Mostly, these conditionalities disfavor countries at the periphery while favoring countries at the core. This explains why countries on the periphery are always locked in heavy debts while endowed with massive of natural resources. These conditionalities in the end become the forces that exacerbate conditions in peripheral countries and therefore deepen underdevelopment. On one hand the rich countries use these conditions and debts in order to continue dictating and controlling countries at the periphery. On the other hand, countries at the periphery will concentrate at paying the debts but in vain because countries at the core continue to overload the debts.

The dependency theory is embedded in the adaptations of the Marxist exploitation claims, which is actually the strong mechanisms through which capitalism tendencies destroy the struggling economies of the peripheral countries. These are the forces and systems that give advantage countries at the core which has less in terms of natural resources to exploit countries at the periphery and lock them into unpayable debts. This is what marks an unequal exchange through trade, and access to international market forces. For example, a flight from Johannesburg to Kenya which is a very short distance (3 to 4 hours) costs approximately R7000 to 8000, while a flight from Johannesburg to London (Heathrow) is approximately the same price and yet the difference in distances between the two flights is significant.  The question to ask why the flight to a nearby country is more expensive? It is because of the unequal and imbalances in trade that is established by the rich countries. This has destroyed intra-trade among the countries at the periphery. The exploitation does not stop with the natural resources, it also goes on in other sectors such as trade, currency, and market forces, among others.

It should be noted that dependency theory came into existence as a reaction to modernization theory, an earlier theory of development which held that all societies progress through similar stages of development. However, the dependency theory holds the view that underdeveloped countries are not merely primitive versions of developed countries, but have unique features and structures of their own; and, importantly, are in a position of being the weaker members in a world market economy. I argue that this development is for the countries at the core. While countries at the periphery have their own structures, it should be noted that some of these structures are dictated by the countries at the core to enable their exploitations purposes in the developing countries. In many cases for example, Africans have lost their rights to vote and end up accepting a leader who is imposed on them by the rich countries. In some other cases leaders that have national interests for their countries have been labeled by the countries at the core to be dictatorial and bad leaders. Furthermore, the undemocratic nature of the international capitalism structures oppress and exploit the peripheral countries while enriching the core countries.

During the debt crisis of the 1980s and continued stagnation in Africa in the 1990s caused some doubt as to the feasibility or desirability of dependent development. The sine qua non of the dependency relationship is not the difference in technological sophistication, as traditional dependency theorists believe, but rather the difference in financial strength between core and peripheral countries, particularly the inability of peripheral countries to borrow in their own currency. For example, the Bretton Woods international financial agreements in the early 1970s considerably strengthened the United States’ position because it removed some constraints on their financial actions. This means this international financial institution is discriminatory and undemocratic in in its design. It reminds me the warnings from Kwame Nkrumah who admonished African states not to join international or multilateral institutions, unfortunately  his advice was not heeded.

Furthermore, the literature on the international political economy when discussing dependency theory opines that there are financial and technological penetration by the developed capitalist centers of the countries of the periphery and semi-periphery. This means that there is a production of an unbalanced economic structure both within the peripheral societies and between them and the centers as well. It also leads to limitations on self-sustained growth in the periphery. Moreover, by and large it favors the appearance of specific patterns of class relations in the world politics. These require modifications in the role of the state to guarantee both the functioning of the economy and the political articulation of a society, which contains, within itself, foci of inarticulateness and structural imbalance.

In conclusion, there are many lessons that African states should learn from the dependency theory. A revolution from the countries at the periphery, especially in Africa is needed to overcome the impacts of the dependency theory and overcome poverty and underdevelopment. One can easily argue that slavery and colonialism have never left Africa, and today’s political leaders in Africa should be able to know it and stop their backward mentality to lead back the continent in to the dark ages of trans-Atlantic slave trade and colonialism. There is existence of slavery in the sense that dependency theory and international capitalism forces control and dictate to the Africans, and tell them what to do. The rich countries in the core also proceed  to influence even the education and curriculum of education, and dictate what to be studied, and what to be published. Isn’t this slavery of the mind which is even more worse than the trans-Atlantic slave trade which took  place more than four centuries ago? African leaders need to understand the primary visions of Panafricanism so that the ideas and spirit of Kwame Nkrumah, and the like-minded Africans whether on the continent or in diaspora be brought back on board. If not, the rich countries will enslave and colonise the countries at the periphery and underdevelopment and poverty will never leave Africa and any other country at the periphery.


Eric Blanco Niyitunga

is a Burundian by nationality. He holds a PhD in Politics and International Relations from the University of Johannesburg in the SARChI Chair: African Diplomacy and Foreign Policy and Politics and International Relations Department. He holds a Masters of Arts in International Peace and Security from King’s College London, UK. He also holds Bachelor of Arts in Peace and Conflict Transformation Studies from Daystar University, Kenya. Currently, He is a senior lecturer in the School of Leadership, Faculty of Management, at the University of Johannesburg.