Why is Africa so poor, and will it ever become developed?

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terenkleo
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Feb 20 2012 23:40
Why is Africa so poor, and will it ever become developed?

I'm not being racist. I myself have donated hundreds of dollars to Africa in the few years and I'm only 16. But I'm just curious, why is Africa so underdeveloped? (I know some countries in Africa are gorgeous and wealthy, but the vast majority of Africa is poor.) They get millions of dollars donated to them every year by other countries all over the world, but it doesn't seem to be changing much. Other underdeveloped countries are getting so much better. Philippines, China, India, etc. But it seems like Africa is still the same.

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Arbeiten
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Feb 20 2012 23:43

wall

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Steven.
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Feb 20 2012 23:53

How'd you get hundreds of dollars as a 16-year-old?

And how did you "donate them to Africa"?

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Feb 21 2012 02:48

Africa, along with South America, and East Asia are rife with sweat shops. Those are the regions in which the West gets its wealth. The reason we in America and Britain and Europe live so well is due to the fact we steal everything from Africa, South America, and East Asia; the colonial regions of the world.

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no.25
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Feb 21 2012 03:15
Steven. wrote:
How'd you get hundreds of dollars as a 16-year-old?

And how did you "donate them to Africa"?

Probably working. I was balling at 16, but I spent it all on beer, skateboards, gas, and cigarettes.

Not really though.

Harrison
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Feb 21 2012 13:46
terenkleo wrote:
I'm not being racist....... but let me just make a long-winded argument which suggests the population of Africa is inferior to that of other continents
Caiman del Barrio
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Feb 21 2012 14:28
Ambrose wrote:
Africa, along with South America, and East Asia are rife with sweat shops. Those are the regions in which the West gets its wealth. The reason we in America and Britain and Europe live so well is due to the fact we steal everything from Africa, South America, and East Asia; the colonial regions of the world.

This is almost as bad as the OP.

radicalgraffiti
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Feb 21 2012 14:31

i think this has something to do with it - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colonialism

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Feb 21 2012 14:32

Yes several countries get millions, so what? The government budget of most of them is still smaller than that of individual top corporations, despite their big population. The money they get for programs to improve life conditions is never what the people on the ground calculated as the minimum necessary amount, thus making sure that the programs never succeed. The millions that they get are controlled by the governments there, that are usually supported politically and financially by the west, that use it just to guarantee their permanence in power. Lots of movements that attempted to improve their country, even if they hardly ever took tones that an anarchist would agree with, were denounced as terrorists and savages. Pan-Africanism was used by the countries' regimes to gather more power, instead of actual International progress. And I won't even start with the foreign intervention of the old colonial powers with stuff like Operation Gladius, De Gaulle's ultimatum, etc

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the button
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Feb 21 2012 14:42
radicalgraffiti wrote:
i think this has something to do with it - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colonialism

Aye. Colonialism was a very different beast in Africa compared to (say) China. Colonialism in Africa ended up being about carving up a continent between rival European powers, whereas other versions of colonialism remained purely at the level of trading posts & access to markets and resources.

It's been a while since I did "the scramble for Africa" for A-level history, so I think I'll leave it there.

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Feb 21 2012 14:53

Walter Rodney: How Europe underdeveloped Africa (1973)

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Feb 21 2012 14:56

Terenkleo, some questions for you.

Why does the map of Africa look like a patchwork quilt? Will Africa ever 'develop' or is it more valuable to the global capitalist class if it's under-developed? Why are the poor so poor? Will they ever become rich? Why is the working class still working class? Will we ever become bourgeois? Why are the rich rich? How do they get to be rich and how do they stay rich? Why are the powerful so powerful?

You get the general idea here?

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Feb 21 2012 15:47

Being obtuse to a new poster with a badly worded question, GOOD JOB EVERYONE.

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Feb 21 2012 16:01

It was the books of Basil Davidson that opened my eyes to the history of the exploitation of Africa. Though not without faults I’d recommend these:

A History of Africa (a very short introduction to the subject),
In The Eye of the Storm: Angola’s People (mainly on Portuguese imperialism written during the war of independence and partly from his own experiences),
The Black Man’s Burden: Africa and the Curse of the Nation-state (terrific informative writing).

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Joseph Kay
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Feb 21 2012 16:16
flaneur wrote:
Being obtuse to a new poster with a badly worded question, GOOD JOB EVERYONE.

innit. with my admin hat on, can everyone please be nice to new posters.

terenkleo, i found Jared Diamond's 'Guns, Germs and Steel' a pretty good introductory read on why wealth and power ended up where it is (i.e. why did European states conquer the rest and not vice versa?). It doesn't go into much on Africa specifically though.

A legacy of colonialism also matters, but as people say, this isn't unique to Africa. Some development theorists have argued the African states which followed neoliberal/free market policies the most and the earliest (such as deregulating their markets and privatising services) became trapped in underdevelopment while other states who pursued more activist policies industrialised and became more developed (such as in East Asia). Ha-joon Chang's book 'Kicking away the ladder' is a relatively mainstream text on this which makes a strong case that free market orthodoxy has lead to underdevelopment (i.e. kicking away the ladder the developed countries had already climbed up).

From a libertarian communist perspective there's problems with both of those texts, but they should go some way to answering your initial question.

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the button
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Feb 21 2012 16:19
Joseph Kay wrote:
flaneur wrote:
Being obtuse to a new poster with a badly worded question, GOOD JOB EVERYONE.

innit. with my admin hat on, can everyone please be nice to new posters.

I thought my post was nice. cry

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Feb 21 2012 18:18

I apologise for being rude. To be honest, seeing the initial comment "I'm not being racist" made me immediately think that was what the poster was. But I should have given them the benefit of the doubt.

Fleur
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Feb 21 2012 18:27

Another newbie, intros later when I have more time. How about being nice to the kid? I remember being 16 and having many questions and not many answers. Seems to me that this isn't a bad place to start.
It's worth noting that things haven't changed much since I was a teenager and that the only representations of Africa we see in the media, news etc are of undiluted misery, war, poverty and the plucky efforts of well meaning westerners trying to help, one aid project at a time. Even films set in Africa are generally about the experiences of europeans there.Not exactly a positive and unbiased view of the continent. It's hardly surprising that someone who is young, and by definition not as well read and experienced as most of the posters here, will not be particularly familiar with concepts such as colonialism and imperialism, it's not exactly covered extensively at school.
Perhaps someone might be able to suggest some useful online resources.
I remember Rodney: How Europe Underdeveloped Africa from when I was at Uni, but from the top of my head I can't think of anything more current.
Be kind. Let's encourage young people to ask questions. How many of us knew much more at 16?

baboon
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Feb 21 2012 19:18

I think that it's quite an intelligent question and not at all racist. Abusive reponses to 16 year-olds who ask fundamental questions is not really becoming.

Imperialism is not too difficult a thing to understand. Colonialism was the means for capitalist states (the major ones) to exploit the countries of Africa and its workers. Imperialism is the fight of these same countries (USA, Russia, Britain, France, Belgium, Portugal, Germany and the like) against each other for raw materials, strategic interests and so on - battles which have been raging backwards and forwards across this continent for a hundred odd years.

The current war in the Great Lakes region of the Congo is just one example of the barbarity visited on this continent by the major powers and their local gangsters. Completely irrational even in capitalist terms, five million dead from the official figures, without taking into account the widespread starvation and misery that accompanies imperialist wars everywhere but particularly so here in Africa.

Unless one believes in economic miracles, a bit like religious miracles, but more unlikely, there's no chance for Africa as a whole to come out of this situation of barbarism this side of a revolution. The proletariat in Africa has a long history within the class struggle and there's no reason why it couldn't be part of this revolution.

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Feb 21 2012 23:50
Caiman del Barrio wrote:

This is almost as bad as the OP.

There's a lot more to it than what I put but for the most part it's true. Colonialism isn't vindictive, it's just the way it is. A stronger country will overtly or covertly "colonize" nations exceedingly weaker. That happens to be a lot of the Third World. Perhaps "colonize" isn't politically correct, the term "subjugate" may be more appropriate.

As for improving Africa, I'm no fan of Che Guevara but I'm pretty sure he tried to develop something in Congo and failed. According to him there is no sense of class struggle present, just senseless violence and pillaging, a modern-day dark age so to speak.

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Feb 22 2012 00:05

Using the term 'colonize' has nothing to do with political correctness? I don't think Caiman was trying to say that you were being anti-PC....

And did you really just reference a nearly sixty year old opinion of Che Guevara in a discussion of contemporary Africa. A sixty year old opinion of one man in one part of a huge continent (the second largest continent in the world). hand nice one bro.

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Feb 22 2012 00:34
Arbeiten wrote:
And did you really just reference a nearly sixty year old opinion of Che Guevara in a discussion of contemporary Africa. A sixty year old opinion of one man in one part of a huge continent (the second largest continent in the world). hand nice one bro.

Lol are you seriously trying to discredit a man who spent a good bit of his life actually fighting revolutions, in places such as the Congo?

radicalgraffiti
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Feb 22 2012 00:32

^because Africa is one homogenise region that hasn't changed in the last 50+ years

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Feb 22 2012 00:42
radicalgraffiti wrote:
^because Africa is one homogenise region that hasn't changed in the last 50+ years

Right, there's been a genocide or two (can't forget Darfur!) since Che's time. Africa has really come along way. And they formed the AU

baboon wrote:
Unless one believes in economic miracles, a bit like religious miracles, but more unlikely, there's no chance for Africa as a whole to come out of this situation of barbarism this side of a revolution.
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Feb 22 2012 01:06

I asked the same question when I was a nipper. I say fair play for asking, even though it did sound like you were going to say something racist for a moment there. wink

You're not going to get a full answer here, the question is too hard to answer- partly because we are talking about a whole continent (where some people are poor and some aren't) and we need to separate the interests of workers/ peasants/ nomads from the interests of leaders and capital.... but:

Slavery set back Africa's 'development' a fair bit, for obvious reasons. I don't think we can really imagine what Africa could have achieved in terms of living standards without colonialism and slavery. Just imagine how fucked up that must have been to live through- both for those captured and those left behind. It would take generations to recover from that. Would former colonial powers have the same level of 'development' without exploiting slaves? Africa can't use the same tactic to 'catch up'.. it's like we cut their legs off to make extensions for our own and than asked them why they can't run as fast as us (or not).

Colonial powers were brutal and left the former colonies in a total mess. After colonialism the new rulers clung on to power based on imaginary lines drawn on maps that did not mean much in terms of cultural identity- they didn't do as well at the old nationalist stuff like protectionism and exploiting foreigners. The ruling class in Africa, and the multinational corporations, continue to help to keep the poor poor.

Climate may have something to do with it (we can often see a link between the 'dominant civilisation' and how well suited their farming techniques are to allowing division of labour by allowing some people to specialise in farming while others learn new skills- much of Africa is unfarmable or has to be farmed in a labour intensive way- at least compared to places with more water). I'm not totally convinced on this one but I do think if you have to trek for miles to find food and water for your animals it's going to hold you back a bit in terms of developing new technologies and building infrastructure and whatnot.

It's probably not as bad as you think across the whole continent- many people are happy to live a more simple life, many Africans probably enjoy life more than some people in more 'developed' countries (though of course many still lack the basics for a good quality of life). Many Africans are rich also.

It serves the needs of capital to keep Africa relatively poor so that it can continue to provide dirt cheap resources to have 'value added' (or extracted from workers) in other countries and to keep a steady stream of desperate workers to be exploited in the mines etc.

The west (and now the new colonial powers) have used Africa as a place to fight proxy wars and have routinely propped up brutal dictatorships and armed dangerous militias.

Funding on aid or development projects often does harm itself (even with the best intentions)... I can't think of what report to link but maybe someone else can dig something up. Basically it often gets siphoned off by corrupt types, funds armed conflict, creates reliance on aid or gets spent on stuff that helps boost profitability for a capitalist enterprise, but not boost living standards. Even if aid does help in some cases you can be damn sure that the value and worth of the 'donations' and aid spending pales into insignificance compared to all the resources and labour that have been plundered and the destruction that has been wrought.

If you want to know more about how neo-colonialism and capital is still fucking shit up in Africa- there is plenty to read on Shell in Nigeria (Niger Delta/ Ogoni/ Ijaw) as one starting point.

In essence- there are a variety of political, social and economic reasons why Africa is poorer than much of the rest of the world. None of them are caused to any great extent by ordinary African people. Climate may also play a role.

I'm not happy with my answer- there are a lot of sentences in this reply that I could write an essay on discrediting, but its hard to be succinct and accurate.

terenkleo, is there anything you would like us to explain or expand upon in particular?

(n.b. much of what happened due to colonialism and neo-colonialism (via the IMF, World Bank, corporations and governments) didn't happen to those other countries you mentioned - some of it did, but perhaps not on the same scale, or at least not in quite the same way in terms of compounding problem on top of problem).

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Feb 22 2012 01:23
Auld-bod wrote:
It was the books of Basil Davidson that opened my eyes to the history of the exploitation of Africa.

Aye. Basil Davidson wrote some good stuff. His Guinea Bissau stuff was interesting. In the early 80s, he did a Channel 4 documentary called Africa. The episodes are viewable HERE

Oh yeah, and I'd like to apologise if I sounded in any way snotty to the 16 year old. Don't mind us lot. When I was 16, I was clueless as fuck and apart from yer scally shit, I was incapable of any remotely independent thought.

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Feb 22 2012 01:25
Arbeiten wrote:
And did you really just reference a nearly sixty year old opinion of Che Guevara in a discussion of contemporary Africa. A sixty year old opinion of one man in one part of a huge continent (the second largest continent in the world). hand nice one bro.

The underground Communist Party in South Africa cited Cuba as an example and were especially interested in Guevara's "detonator" theory of revolution.

Ambrose wrote:
As for improving Africa, I'm no fan of Che Guevara but I'm pretty sure he tried to develop something in Congo and failed. According to him there is no sense of class struggle present, just senseless violence and pillaging, a modern-day dark age so to speak.

In 1965 Castro sent an expeditionary force to eastern Congo to assist rebel groups in an attempt to form a "International Proletarian Army". This team of 120 had Guevara as their leader, he consulted with Nasser, Ben Bella and Zhou En-lai and according to a journalist Nasser warned him against it (in the sense that he would fail, not in the sense of threat).

"guerrilla activity tended to end in disarray, with rebels fleeing in panic, abandoning their weapons and leaving their wounded to fend for themselves "Often it was the officers who took the lead in running away" Guevara recorded (...) After seven months of fruitless endeavour, weary and demoralised, Guevara organized the Cuban retreat" (The State of Africa, Martin Meredith)

He wrote an account of all of this in the Cuban embassy in Dar es Salaam which began with "This is the history of a failure".

(Just in case someone wanted to know a bit more on it smile )

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Feb 22 2012 05:08

I hope the peanut gallery didn't scare you away, terenkleo! You've brought up a very important historical question and I'll try to answer based on the things I've read about it.

Folks on this forum generally understand the human world as something very dynamic (that is, changing over time) and based on relationships of unequal power between different groups of people. When looking at the history of a place like Africa we are looking at our own history, not only in that all humans share basic needs, abilities and traits, but also because understanding why Africans are poor necessitates understanding how the developed world got so rich.

Joseph Kay mentions Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel as a good place to start. I agree. While Diamond doesn't deal specifically with Africa, his core argument applies.

To make a long story short, geography played a big part in affecting how human civilizations developed. Peoples who lived in a specific latitude (running from China to India to Mesopotamia to Egypt to the Mediterranean) were able to utilize powerful 'packages' of crops and livestock to build sedentary, stratified societies with a lot of agricultural surplus. These 'packages' could be cultivated along this latitude and spread from east to west and vice versa. This gave these civilizations an advantage over others, one that would become dramatically clear after Columbus' encounter with the New World.

By extension, Sub-Saharan Africa was at a relative disadvantage because Africa, unlike Eurasia, is longer north to south, while deserts and jungles made trading cultivars and ideas more difficult. Also, it was also impossible for anyone to sail south or north past the Cape of Bojador in West Africa until about 600 years ago.

Still, people like Eric R Wolf (whose book Europe and the People Without History is another great starting point) have argued persuasively that Sub-Saharan Africa gave birth to its own complex civilizations situated around the Congo and Niger rivers. Wolf points out that around 1400 West Africa, for example, had an advanced society with networks of trade and types of technology that weren't that far behind Europeans or the Chinese.

However, Europe's main advantages were its sailing and navigation technologies, its centralized states and its weapons. These allowed them to reach West Africa to trade for the massive amounts of gold, ore and minerals there. For hundreds of years, these Africans were powerful enough that they kept the Europeans to little trading posts on islands off the coast. But the encounter still had a devastating effect on many African peoples.

From 1400 to around 1800, Europe was going through vast social and economic changes, towards a way of organizing the making of things and organizing power between people that we call capitalism. While in Europe social and economic power was based on the ownership of productive property, historians (like John Thornton in Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400-1650) have learned that in Africa power was based on the direct control of other people's labor. So while slavery had faded away in Europe, it was still very central in many parts of Africa. It's important to note that the African slave system was very different from the much crueler system the Europeans developed in the New World (slavery was not hereditary or racial, slaves could often work unsupervised, slaves could be educated officials and win their freedom, etc.)

Why did Europeans want to tap into the African slave system? Well, the growth of prosperity and power for the rich in Europe depended on buying lots of other people's labor, whether those people were the European poor kicked off their lands or unfree Africans. As Europeans set off to conquer much of the world over the next 500 years, they used the land, resources and people of those areas to increase their wealth at home and further spread their power abroad. We call this imperialism and it is closely connected to the dynamics of the capitalist system.

Imperialism, capitalism and the slave trade destroyed much of African society. Through this whole period, slaves captured by African raiders were often traded for European guns, so warfare in Africa got much bloodier. The wealth that could be made by capturing other Africans lead to heightening violence and social dislocation as whole generations were carried away in the horrendous Transatlantic slave trade. At least several million Africans died in transit. Countless more were killed in warfare and slave raids. Europeans and colonists justified this all by creating in their minds and in their activity the ideas of race and racial inferiority.

By the late 1800s Europeans were economically and militarily powerful enough (and the Africans sufficiently weakened) that they could take direct control over African lands. Through wars with Africans and between each other the Europeans managed to colonize almost all of Africa. This increased the displacement of peoples, families and cultures. Resources like rubber and diamonds were now taken directly. Africans were forced to labor for Europeans in mines and on plantations. (Look up King Leopold and the Congo Free State for a vivid illustration of how brutal the drive for profits can be.) Raw products were then sent to factories in the developed world to be worked on by wage laborers while the final product was taken by employers and sold for their profit.

Much later, after WWII, Africans managed to shake off the European yoke, but the damaging effects of hundreds of years of imperialism, capitalism, forced labor and murder persist to this day....

Oof! There is a lot more that could be said about this. I'm only trying to give you a rough sketch the history and I'm sure others can add a lot more. The main points are:

There is nothing inherently inferior about Africans that led to their current situation; the idea of race (that seems 'natural' to us) was created out of a system of exploitation and death that needed a biological or cultural justification.

You can't separate the relationship between the poverty of Africa from the prosperity of Europe.

The brutality exhibited by Europeans was not because they were inherently horrible people, but because they were part of a system that dehumanized people (both poor Europeans and African slaves) and used those people's brains and muscles to make profits for bosses.

The system to blame is called capitalism and people on this board argue (rightly!) that this is based on the exploitation of people who have no way to live except work for another group of people who manage to control all the property and tools, and the political system to boot.

Despite all the destruction and misery that it has and still does cause, capitalism has made such abundance that we can imagine a world without exploitation and war.

We think that all people (Africans, Europeans and Asians and so on) will never be free until all of us who live by renting ourselves out to other people succeed in coming together to eliminate capitalism and the state and replace them with a different type of society: one where people don't work all day to make things for the profits of somebody else; where we are free to spend our time doing the things that make life worthwhile with the people we care about.

I hope that long-winded answer made some sense! tongue

I've written some about this, so if you're interested you can private message me and I can email you some stuff.

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Feb 22 2012 10:54

Great posts from Schwarz and stateless crow, thanks.

An additional point to make to the ones made by stateless is that most (all?) African countries also have to pay more in debt repayments than they receive in aid.

Schwarz, if you have more stuff written like that, it seems like it could be good for our library/history sections, would you be all right to post some of it may be?

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Feb 22 2012 11:06
Steven. wrote:
Great posts from Schwarz and stateless crow, thanks.

^^^This!

baboon
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Feb 22 2012 12:48

A positive turn to the discussion.

Two points:

Che Guevara was an emissary of Stalinism who espoused the view that the USSR was "socialist and progressive". Apart from his foray into the Congo, more generally Cuban troops, in a similar way that British imperialism used the Gurkhas elsewhere, acted for the interests of Russian imperialism in Africa during the 60s. They were involved on the side of Russian-backed regimes in the proxy wars against Nato in Ethiopia and Yemen and sent around 60,000 troops to support the Russian-backed MPLA in the Angolan war of that decade.

The other point is the history of the workers' struggle in Africa: Iba Der Thiam's book (in French), "Histoire du mouvement synicale africain 1790-1929" shows the depth of both the rise of the proletariat in Africa, its economic and political demands and the struggles in undertook to defend its interests. From the long-suppressed archives of the French colonial authorities, Der Thiam finds evidence of class antagonisms and struggle. In 1855, in Senagal, a combination of workers fought against the unacceptable conditions of their masters. The archives reveal the existence of a clandestine union of carpenters in 1885 as well as a number of strikes and confrontations between the classes. Strikes and riots paralysed Dakar for 5 days and the colonial governor, in his secret notes, wrote that "The strike was perfectly organised and a total success". Many successful strikes followed (as well as African sailors involved in mutinies in WWI) particularly during the revolutionary wave around 1919. And in 1938, in the Dakar-Senegal region there was a railway strike involving both Africans and Europeans together).