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The Underdevelopment of Africa

Updated on August 4, 2015

Underdevelopment is the condition of being insufficiently developed. This means that there are certain basic social amenities that a country lacks. The issue of Africa being underdeveloped has been an issue of argument among Africans themselves. Some school of thought believe that this is as a result of cultural or social factors and believe systems whilst other school of thought think that Africa is lacking development as a result of political, geographical and economic factors. I am looking at the cultural or social factors that impedes upon the development of the African continent.

To begin with, the culture of a people is the way of life of that particular group of people. Their language, what they eat, artifacts and their mode of dressing form the culture of that group. This give rise to the grouping of culture into material and non- material culture: Belief is the mental acceptance of a claim as truth regardless of supporting or contrary empirical evidence. People in Africa have different systems of believes. Africa has the African Traditional Religion strongly rooted in her people. Some people in Africa belief in the ancestors and the gods to have powers that control life.

In Africa, there are varieties of cultural or social practices and belief systems going on. Africans have a lot to offer to the world in terms of cultural practices. Some of these practices include: family system, taboos and customs, the role of women in the African society, population, chieftaincy, discrimination, superstition, and religious believes. Most of these cultural and belief practices have an impact on the development of the African continent. They are either negative or positive. Below are some cultural or social practices that affect the development of Africa.

The family system

Africa is one of the world’s blessed continent with so many natural and human resources. In as much as a country’s development is concerned, the level at which a country develops depends upon the efficient utilization of both human and natural resources. The type of family systems practiced in Africa sometimes does not allow for the exploitation of human resources. The extended family system practiced in Africa makes people over-depend on other family members for their survival. This means that, in a family of ten people, if one is educated the rest might depend on him/her for their livelihood. To the demerit of this practice is that many people in the family take undue advantage of the unity and love expressed in the family to mean that even if they do not work, there is someone to support them. The practice hinders national development as many of the country’s population will not be among the working group. When the productivity of a country is low, the country turn to earn less revenue to be used for national development, it is in this light that I strongly believe that Africa’s development is affected by socio-cultural practices.

Religious believes.

The belief systems in Africa include the African Traditional Religion which contains so many taboos and customs. These believes in their own way have also got an effect on the continent’s development. It is believed and practiced in Africa that people do not go to work on some particular days such as Fridays and Mondays. This cultural practice is not healthy for a country’s development. Many of those who practice African Traditional Religion (ATR) have the conviction that certain occurrences in the environment are punishment from the gods. They find it difficult to accept education on these natural incidents. Some go to an extent of even killing animals to please the gods to forgive them for such natural disasters. This in its awake brings poverty into the continent because such animals could have been used for other important things that will bring money to the people. Poverty brings poor standard of living and make the people not being able to contribute to the development of their country. A striking example of the impoverishing effects of religion can be seen amongst the Tandroy of Southern Madagascar. Traditionally a man will spend his days building as large as a herd of cattle as he can, to be slaughtered and sent with him to the grave upon his death. His surviving relatives will spend years constructing a huge ornately decorated stone tomb to house his remains, while they themselves live in ramshackle wooden huts. The landscape of Antandroy territory is dotted with these huge edifices, giving eloquent testimony to the tribe’s conviction that you are dead much longer than you are alive.



The discernment or act of perceiving differences between two or more things- sometimes there are cultural or social factors that hold back poor countries: discrimination is one of them. If there are a certain group of peeople that are discriminated against, the country’s overall productivity can suffer. This may be a tribe, a caste, a racial category or a minority language group. Cameroon has both French speaking and English speaking regions. The entire infrastructure happens in the French speaking part. Racial discrimination may be an issue, excluding certain groups from economic activity either deliberately or not. Racial minorities regularly have poorer exam results and economic prospects than majority. More serious forms of exclusion will be apartheid South Africa, or Asian communities driven out of Uganda under Idi Amin which was disastrous for Uganda’s economy.

The Role of Women

Another division may be the role of women. Jeffrey Sachs talks about this in ‘The End of Poverty’. Cultural or religious norms may block the role of women leaving half the population without economic or political rights and without education thereby undermining half the population in its contribution to overall development. If you do not believe that women should work, you effectively halved the earning potential of your country. For instance, in the Ghanaian society; women are not allowed to practice blacksmith among the Dagombas. This in itself undermines women contribution to economic development in that sector


Closely linked to this is population issue. The total number of people living in a particular place; if women see staying at home and bringing up children as their chief role, they will have more children than those who work. There is nothing wrong with having lots of children as long as you can provide for them. Jeffrey Sachs again; ‘with fewer, a poor household can invest more in the health and education of each child, thereby equipping the next generation with the health, nutrition and education that lift high standard of living in future years’. In the African society children are considered as wealth to their parents even if they will not be able to care for their welfare and education. This makes the continent underdeveloped since most people do not have access to education.

Believes and Taboos

In some societies in Africa, it is believed that girls should not be educated. Their work is to be in the kitchen or help their parents at home. Comparing girls to boys, they think a boy should go to school. So when only boys are educated, the girls will end up depending on boys for survival. This will end up bringing high dependency ratio in the society which affects the rate of development. Ghana’s 2010 population census revealed that there are more women than men in the country. This will mean that only the male minority will be the country’s work force leading to low or poor standard of living.


Chieftaincy is the position or period of rule of a chief. The chieftaincy institution performs various roles in developing their areas of jurisdiction. The chiefs of communities initiate programs like festivals to raise funds to develop their communities. Sometimes this institution brings about dispute among the people. In instances where we have different gates to a particular throne, it may lead to conflict as to which gate to assume the throne when the current chief dies. This situation has caused many conflicts in Africa especially Ghana. An example is the Yendi dispute, which lead to the death of the paramount chief of Dagbong. The disputes slow down economic activities in those areas they occur, bringing hardship and poverty to the people. It is obvious that this happens not only in Ghana but in other African countries and as we said, it explains the reason why Africa is underdeveloped. Money sometimes is spent on trying to bring peace to those regions by governments which could have been used for development.

In sum, as much as I believe that culture and belief systems such as family system, beliefs and taboos, discrimination, population, the role of women, religious beliefs and chieftaincy; I do also believe that there are other political factors such as poor management, corruption, trade laws and political instability, and geographical factors such as climate, landscape, natural resources and stability.


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    • Felix Nyawuni profile imageAUTHOR

      Felix Nyawuni 

      3 years ago from Ghana

      I am grateful to you for reading my hub and please leave your comments to help me improve my writing.


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