NB! This seminar session will be held on Friday instead of Thursday.
On the historical causes of underdevelopment in Africa: Property rights, primitive accumulation, political economy, and international law
Grant-funded Researcher George Forji Amin (UH), Law
What causes poverty and underdevelopment especially in Africa—where the scourge has persisted since independence? Academics have grappled with this question since the end of the Second World War (WWII)—following the attainment of independence by majority of third world countries from colonial rule. From the vast barrage of writings on development studies, three mutually exclusive schools of thought emerged, to wit: modernisation, dependency, and the world systems theory. All three paradigms sought to comprehend the causes of underdevelopment, and formulate efficient solutions through which nations could simultaneously improve the living conditions of their populace, and transition from impoverishment unto modern societies.
Using the Marxist theory of primitive accumulation of capital, also known as original accumulation, this study on the one hand aims at explaining how sub-Saharan Africa was integrated into the world economy as the periphery, and not as part of the center. On another hand, the study underscores the role that international law and political economy played in the integration of the African continent to the world system. The first objective of the study is to interrogate the economic and legal components of the evangelizing, civilizing, and Modernising missions especially the way in which international law introduced two economic institutions that were to shape the economic future of Sub-Saharan Africa for centuries, namely: trade and private property rights. Between the 15th and 18th centuries, international law animated by the logic of the evangelising mission, conceptualized human beings as legitimate private property. Upon invoking and relying on Papal Bull decrees as well as just war doctrines, European powers were able not only to trade Sub-Saharan African peoples as commodities (slaves), but also maintained them in the Americas under conditions of bondage as legitimate goods, marred by grave violation of rights.
The study also underscores that the validation of the concept of “effective occupation” at the 1884-85 Berlin Conference as an acceptable legal standard for European appropriation of colonies on the continent, not only resulted to the partition of the continent to become European protectorates but moreover brought about a pivotal shift in the discipline of international law. The 19th century was accordingly animated by the logic of the civilizing mission—the duty of the civilized to rule and nurture the uncivilized—a modality for preparing them to join the family of nations.
In spite of the promises of progress and economic redemption, each of these schemes/ processes nevertheless resulted to African assuming the trajectory of poverty and underdevelopment in the world system. What explains this paradox?
Discussant: Associate Professor Franklin Obeng-Odoom (UH), Global Development Studies