Why was ancient Africa underdeveloped?


Ozodi Osuji

      Consider the civilizations that would have penetrated interior Africa and made the people operate at the same level as other human beings.

     Egyptians derived their civilization from the river Nile. They were aware that the river originated in interior Africa and emptied into the Mediterranean Sea. Now, why did it not occur to them, in their five thousand years of existence, to try to trace the river until they got to its source, Lake Victoria, right in the interior of Africa.

      If the Egyptians had traced the river to its source and had satellite civilizations on the banks of the lake that would have led to most of interior Africa becoming civilized instead of remaining the primitive place it was until the nineteenth century when interior Africa was finally explored by European colonizers.

     Persia ruled Egypt for a couple hundred years. She, too, did not try to trace the source of the Nile River.

     Greeks established a base at Alexandria 2300 years ago; they, too, did not sail on the Nile to reach its source.

     Romans came to Egypt about two thousand years ago; they, too, did not try to trace the great river to its source and take their civilization to the center of Africa (they went upwards into Europe).

     Even earlier civilizations, such as the Sumerians, Mesopotamians, and Carthaginians who were just a stone throw from interior Africa, did not explore Africa; they could have crossed the Red Sea, got into interior Africa, and traced the Nile to its source and civilized Africans.

     Muslim Arabs did make some incursion into North and East Africa, but that was mostly for slave raiding, not to bring whatever civilization they had into interior Africa (as they took it to Spain and Europe).

     In the 1460s, the Portuguese explored the west coast of Africa. They, too, did not go into interior Africa but, instead, circled Africa, established a stop station at the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa (in 1488), rounded the tip of the African continent, and went east and eventually got to India in 1494, and embarked on trading with Indians, Japanese and Chinese. In so far that they traded with Africans, it was to buy slaves from coastal Africans, they did not enter interior Africa.

      So, why did the ancient civilizations bypass Africa and thus leave Africa a primitive place until a hundred or so years ago?

      (In reference to Africa, I employ the term primitive; I am fully aware that it is a controversial term and know that many Africans would feel offended by it and come swinging at me, trying to prove to me that Africa was not primitive. Indeed, some will try extremely hard to show me that Africa was more developed than the rest of the world. I ask such Africans to show me great African cities before the West came to Africa, to show me universities that predated modern Africa. University of Timbuktu was an Arab institution; to show me the indices of civilization, such as the wheel, writing, science, and technology that flourished in ancient Africa.)

      May be there was a reason for Africa’s backwardness, if so, could someone please enlighten me.

    It is obvious to me that most of humanity look down on Africans because of their perceived backwardness, the fact that there were no great civilizations of note, either indigenous or stimulated by outsiders, in Africa (please do not talk about what Chancellor Williams, Chiak Anta Diop and other African nationalists said about the African origin of ancient Egypt, for even if Egyptians were Africans they failed Africans woefully by not exploring interior Africa and bringing Africans to their level of civilization; certainly a people that built the great pyramids, had boats that explored the Mediterranean Sea, could have sailed the Nile river to its source and helped drag Africans out of their slumber).

     It seems that the entire world conspired to leave Africa alone so that Africans remained backward. Africans’ backwardness has nothing to do with their lack of abilities because they are exactly like other human beings.

      People respect those who are on their level of development, or better, but pity those beneath them. Who respects Africans? Pity them, may be, see them as primitives is the perception of Africans. Why did nature and nature’s god permit this to happen.

      I really do not want to get into the childish debate that Africa had great civilizations. Where are they? The empires of the West African Sahel region, such as Ghana, Mali, Songhai etc. were all induced by Arab Muslims. The few centers of excellence in East Africa were also induced by Arabs (Swahili civilizations).

      To the best of my knowledge, Africa remained a backwater until the nineteenth century when there was a scramble by European powers to get into interior Africa and see what is really in it and thereafter claim Africa to themselves (Livingstone, Lander brothers, the Clapperton’s, Mungo Park and others).

     Some say that the reason was because Africa is too hot. Really? Spain, Portugal, France, Britain etc. are hotter than most parts of Africa during their summer months, and the USA is much hotter than Africa.

     Others say that it was because of mosquitos, that those killed non-Africans who dared enter interior Africa. May be there is a saliva of truth in this idea but there are mosquitos in Central and South America, even in North America and Europe.

     Simply stated, I have not been able to find out why ancient civilizations bypassed Africa and Africans themselves were not able to develop credible internal civilizations, such as develop the wheel, writing, have large empires and have other indices of civilization.

     And while I am interested in reasons why ancient Africa was undeveloped, let it be noted that even in the present Africa is pretty much left to itself, very few countries try to help Africans become developed; it seems that they like showing pictures of starving African children and use those to tell themselves about how much well off they are.

       Why was Africa left behind? Jared Diamond’s hypothesis that lack of horses in the tropics played a role in it (see his book, Germs, Guns and Steel) is intriguing but obviously not the entire story.

       One of my friends, Amauche Ude, said that there is a reason Africa was made last in everything; that African way of being will be used to correct and improve other groups ways of being. The USA is on a self-destructive path; the conservatives and liberals are so angry at each other that it is only a matter of time before they start shooting at themselves and destroy their empire.

   Europe seems to be floundering; before our eyes, Vladmir Putin became mad (he has delusion disorder and anti-social personality disorder) thinking that killing people and destroying cities in Chechnya, Georgia, Syria, Ukraine and, soon, elsewhere is the answer to Russia’s backwardness in economic, scientific, and technological development; Russia’s  backwards made the little man try to prove himself and his country powerful (he has the little man syndrome, aka Napoleonic complex, inferiority complex that seeks superiority complex).

      Western Europe and Russia may soon go to war and destroy each other, and a new civilization emerges; that civilization will briefly be centered around China and Asia but soon gravitate to Africa?

    This could be wishful thinking, of course. All I know is that there could be a reason Africa was kept last in everything, hence it became the laughingstock of humanity. However, as they say, he who laughs last laughs best.


    Some flippant African could say that I have low self-esteem, to which I say true; I then remind him that when you point two fingers at other people three point right back at you; one can feel inferior and compensate with false superiority, projecting what one sees in one to other persons.

Ozodi Osuji

June 29, 2022

You can reach Dr Osuji at (907) 310-8176 or ozodiosuji@gmail.com

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