General Question

antimatter's avatar

Why is Africa technologically behind?

Asked by antimatter (4411points) May 26th, 2009

I went to a museum in South Africa where they compared European technological advances with African advances as from the last five hundred years. And I was socked to see that even two hundred years ago Africa was still in the Iron Age! So does that mean that Africa simply can’t contribute anything to world? And how did Europeans became more advanced than Africans seeing that Europeans and other nations invented about everything in this world?

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28 Answers

oratio's avatar

Japan was way behind technologically. Now it’s the most advanced society in the world.

Technology and knowledge is not nation or racial prone. Until very recently Sub-Saharan Africa was part of colonial empires. You can’t make that connection.

Sure, many regimes today in africa has driven the countries into deep shit, and hasn’t built up strong industries and infra-structure. In many of these countries few have higher education. I would say that that and unstable economies has to do with it more than anything.

It is a quite complex situation many of these countries are in, not to mention that they are made up of many different peoples, with different languages, civil unrest, poverty and bad, little or no health care.

These countries haven’t been able to, and can’t compete with Europe on equal terms.

That’s it.

YARNLADY's avatar

This excellent article about Africa’s technological gap states, in part “Some problems with African industrial development could be attributed to
political and ethnic conflicts; natural disasters; external market shocks, in the form of declining terms of trade; debt or falling aid inflows; poor macroeconomic management; and inadequate infrastructure.”

In my own words, I would say it’s the inability of most government policies to address the issue of providing a basic education for the general population. Even with the influx of money from outside sources, these self-destructive policies lead the government to Nationalize the industrial shops, only to have them fall apart.

Remember when discussing “Africa” as a whole unit, you are talking about many, many distinct countries and governments. The remedies are inevitably piecemeal, and ineffective.

YARNLADY's avatar

@RedPowerLady a lady of few words I think it’s a whole lot more complicated than that, given the fact that there are over 50 countries that make up Aftica, but that is indeed a big factor in many areas. In truth, not every African country suffers from oppression.

RedPowerLady's avatar

@YARNLADY I have never been to Africa personally so I can not speak to each country. But I would say as a whole Africa is very oppressed. Which countries would you guess are not oppressed? Because the ones that came to my mind are the ones that are colonized such as in “South Africa” and that is a huge form of oppression itself.

Remember when discussing “Africa” as a whole unit, you are talking about many, many distinct countries and governments.
Of course I completely agree.

a lady of few words
you crack me up

gailcalled's avatar

The noted author, Jared Diamond, wrote about this in his book, GUNS, GERMS AND STEEL.

From Wikipedia

“His third and best known popular science book, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, was published in 1997. In it, Diamond seeks to explain Eurasian hegemony throughout history. Using evidence from ecology, archaeology, genetics, lingustics, and various historical case studies, he argues that the gaps in power and technology between human societies do not reflect cultural or racial differences, but rather originate in environmental differences powerfully amplified by various positive feedback loops.

As a result, the geography of the Eurasian landmass gave its human inhabitants an inherent advantage over the societies on other continents, which they were able to dominate or conquer. ..... it became a best-seller, and received numerous awards, including a Pullitzer Prize, an Aventis Prize for Science Books.”

RedPowerLady's avatar


This phrase bothers me quite a bit:
“an inherent advantage over the societies on other continents, which they were able to dominate or conquer”

Are we suggesting that just because one is able to dominate or conquer one should? Or that it is okay or superior to do so?

Darwin's avatar

@RedPowerLady – I don’t think anyone is suggesting that if you can dominate you should. I think the book simply points out that location on the earth made it possible for European societies to dominate other societies, and then they chose to do that because, as we still see all too often today, they figured the way they did things was the best so other societies were inferior or needed “help’”.

Bear in mind that historically humans have never been all that open to viewing other societies as better than their own. Typically they have viewed them as equal but different, or as inferior.

RedPowerLady's avatar

@Darwin Thanx for the clarification. I have not read the book but did find that phrase a bit alarming. Just the way it is worded perhaps.

bea2345's avatar

I cannot help thinking about a remark made by the historian, Gwynne Dyer, several years ago. He said that of all the continents, Africa was the only one to be still the home of its original inhabitants. That continent has been continuously occupied by homo sapiens for how many millenia – I can’t remember how many – and has seen everything. Everything. There is nothing happening now that has not happened in some form, somewhere in Africa. It is stupid to assume that because modern Africa is backward, relative to the rest of humanity, that it was always so. It is even more dangerous to assume that it will be always so.

YARNLADY's avatar

@RedPowerLady The top five in per capita income and economy: Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, Botswana, Tunisia, Cape Verde

critter1982's avatar

Some people say that there are links between infrastructure capital and technological productivity growth. So I think you could argue that the lack of infrastructure has a direct and negative impact on technological advances.

steve6's avatar

Someone has to be the “fellaheen”. Europeans colonized and exploited the peoples of Africa so it was in the name of progress that the less fortunate have been held back.

steve6's avatar

@RedPowerLady. I appreciate the brevity of your responses. Others could learn from you.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

First, because Africa is not friendly to agriculture for much of its land mass. It is either hash plains or desert, or it is deep jungle. The people adapted to these necessities by being nomadic, and therefore did not hang around one area long enough to develop technology. This also means that they have less means for income, and now are largely poor. Africa’s wealth is in natural resources such as diamonds, which they are killing each other over, and oil which the green movement won’t let them drill for.

gailcalled's avatar


Jared Diamond is an anthropologist and historian and in his books, he explores why the Western countries grew so much faster and developed the technology that enabled them to colonized and dominate the third world countries. It is a fascinating read about what and why things happened and does not suggest that it was right or fair or moral.

purpose's avatar

The colonial powers has part in it, the cold war another. Both the Soviet and the US supported any regime that would give them influence. Many have massive debts to the west. Today’s problem can be tracked to these eras, but the current politics of the countries are their own.

Saturated_Brain's avatar

Blame the Colonial Europeans. They divided Africa like pie, not even doing it properly. They ate it all messily (think natural resources). And after their meal, they never cleared up.

jackfright's avatar

blaming the west/developed nations/powers is simplistic and unbalanced view of the shortcomings faced there. it is possibly the most popular and politically correct view perhaps, but one i find inaccurate today. a vast majority of problems today are caused by their own poor leadership and internal friction caused by the tribal aspects of culture. (compare this to china, for example, which is made up of many different ethnic groups but each considers himself/herself simply chinese).

i’ve been travelling to africa a lot over the past 3 years for work because we have a branch there, and altogether i’ve spent 2 years there. as a non-westerner and outsider who used to be of the view that a vast majority of their problems were external (i.e. because of western domination, etc.) i find this no longer holds true.

the occupation by external groups of people came at a heavy cost of freedom, dignity and natural resources, but you must also ask the question;

“what would africa be today if those external parties never came?”

would they have developed their own form of abstract credit/currency? would they have access to modern medicine (no matter how limited), would they have been unified into the various countries or remained tribal? would they have learned the more common languages of the world such as english and french (and thereby give them a voice, and access to the rest of the world)? Many people i’ve met there dont want to return to the old tribal ways, they very much desire and appreciate modernization and westernization.

don’t get me wrong, i’m not minimizing the damage and hurt inflicted upon the continent by others, but i am asking that we see both sides of the story.

the initial question of why they are not as developed as others cannot truly be answered. my own simple belief is that development simply wasn’t necessary for survival; they had everything they needed to live as their forefathers had.

RedPowerLady's avatar

@steve6 Thank you :)

@bea2345 Great Quote!

@jackfright I disagree with much of what you have said but I don’t want to sidetrack the thread. Just to put my two cents in, which by no means do you have to read or agree with, as a Native American of this country I find your comments about tribalism and about “where would they be if it wasn’t for us” a bit offensive, to say the least.

oratio's avatar

The point is that this will change in time. I am sure there will be several Nobel Prize winners coming from Sub-Saharan Africa. They need time to mature as nations and democracies, and could need a hand here and there. One difference from Native America is that the peoples of Africa got their land handed back to them. What happens with the resources and the wealth is another story.

jackfright's avatar

@RedPowerLady i am honestly sorry for offending you, but in my opinion, we can hold on to the hurt as long as we want, or we can look at what there is to gain from what has already happened.

@oratio is right, the circumstances are different. Sub Saharan Africa is now essentially back in their hands. they’re in charge. where they go from here is up to them.

RedPowerLady's avatar

@jackfright we can also look at the hurt that is still being caused by what has happened and by acknowledging it and working to end it we can all move forward together

jackfright's avatar

@RedPowerLady i agree. if you read my posts, you’ll find i do not hint otherwise :) i provided an observation, especially on benefits most people seem to ignore.

antimatter's avatar

Thanks for your insight full response, it will give me more to think about.

Psychedelic_Zebra's avatar

That book by Jared Diamond is the best and most thorough look at why certain ‘tribes’ of humans advanced and others didn’t. I suggest anyone wanting to know why things turned out the way they did, and why those peoples that never made it past a certain point technologically, did so. The Mayans (or was it the Aztecs, I get those two confused) had wheels, but they only used them for toys. They had slaves to do all the real donkey work. Had they used wheels like the Romans, perhaps the conquering explorers might not have over-ran them so easily.

I still can’t understand why certain people feel the need to get offended by simple terms, it’s not like any ethnic epithets have been used.

sugabelly's avatar

Wow, what a dumb question. So now based on a single museum in South Africa you can now deduce that the whole of Africa is technologically behind???

oceantide24's avatar

Africa may be technologically behind but not all african countries are. Some countries in Africa are already taking a bold step in cutting edge technology but because of poor media presence, you may not have heard. The fact is that African countries that are rapidly progressing in technology are moving so fast; the likes of South Africa, Egypt, Kenya and Nigeria while the majority are more like crawling at a millipede speed.

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