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Capitalism: Academic Jargon Preserving An Inadequate System

In the study of politics, the concept of a state is used to refer to a community of people who interact in the same political system and territory based on a governmental unit. In the precolonial era, African chiefdoms were ruled by traditional authorities who were essential institutions which guided the traditional life; hence suggesting that traditional leaders played an important role in daily administration.

Although colonialism chartered a variety of different objectives ranging from the naïve desires of explorers to the religious duties felt by missionaries, the very core of colonialism was capitalism. Mamdani’s (1996) argument derived from the imperatives of dealing with the Native question; how to maintain foreign control over a considerable indigenous population (p. 45)? Capitalism was the driving force of the industrial revolution, dividing the world into a middle class and an upper class, the former being eager to spend its money on faraway produce. The slave trade is perhaps the most blatant example of the inhumane consequence of hegemonic ambition. Traditional societies and ways of living replaced surplus agriculture for imperial nations. Although international trade brought new products to the market, large groups of unpaid laborers could not access its benefits. In short, European powers exposed their colonies to the capitalist method of production, and made them dependent on its global trade, but did not support the evolution of an industrialized sector and a diversified market. Thus, the need for international aid arose not because traditional societies were unfit to survive, but because decolonized states experienced a skewed exposure to capitalist forces.

The critical question derived from Mamdani (1996) is how Africa under colonialism moved from tribal rule to administrative rule, which is not to be confused with the notion that tribal is primitive or administrative is advanced. On the contrary, Mamdani (1996: 46) argues that many regions with tribal organizations were sophisticated due to checks and balances systems on leaders in power. Decentralized despotism (Mamdani 1990, 37), a manipulative colonial power allowing traditional structures to stay in place but controlling the ways in which they rule and produce, is rooted within Brooks’s stance that in order “to explain the persistence of poverty we have to look at politics rather than just place,” (2017, p 237). This capitalist development manipulated the colonizer into allowing a select few of the colonized to colonize themselves. A further qualification can be seen as coercing or incentivizing to subjugate themselves, artificially creating agents of colonialism and further development.

Arguably, Rostow (1960) would see no issue with decentralized despotism because he considers democratization as coinciding with economic growth and modernization. Advising societies to push toward “take off” with development, Rostow (1960) created his five stages of development to perpetuate consumption which enables modernity and Newtonian beliefs. This allows colonizers to alter traditional societies to believe in science rather than faith to promote this rate of consumption and further exploit growth. Rostow (196) defines capital as natural resource exploitation via geographical position allowing for “lateral expansion of world markets” (p. 175). Brooks (2017) sees this widening gap between rich and poor not just between Global North and South but also within affluent nations (p. 238) to be an additional factor to global inequality. Furthermore, the merit of Brooks’s (2017) argument is entrenched in “the combined force of the political system of colonial authority and the economic practice of capitalism led to the accumulation of wealth, power and technological progress in the Global North, giving it a head start” (p.237). In the field of development, acknowledging the leg up the Global North had over the Global South is vital in understanding why some parts of the world are rich whereas others are poor.

However Evans' (1995) explanation of embedded autonomy identifies the development-facilitation, that is to say why some states in the Global South have been able to efficiently foster paths of sustained economic development whereas others have not. Regarding understanding embedded autonomy, the state forms autonomous structures as it has a rationalized bureaucracy that cannot be overthrown or manipulated by powerful outside-groups but is also embedded in the social networks and other relations within civil society. This interlocking between power and social structure answers and directly concurs Brooks’s (2017) conclusion that International Development has failed the poor. The limitations of Brooks’ (2017) question are addressed in him noting that “despite some successful and beneficial aid programmes, Africa is being drained of resources by the rest of the world,” (p. 240) but is followed with recognizing that “Political leaders from the Global North never truly prioritize the alleviation of poverty in the South” (p. 241). Therefore, capitalist development is inevitable within societies that are motivated to help the starving Global South without understanding the damage being done.

The “long shadow of imperialism [that] is still cast over the South” (Brooks 2017, p. 245) manufactures an imprint of International Development that will surely not go away any time soon. The point of courses such as this one is not to hate the field of International Development but to grapple with the reality of capitalist development continually producing inequalities. Similarly, the unlikely translated in a practice of post-development theory “may work in an academic context,... [but not] into policy documents or popular discourse,” (Brooks 2017, p. 247). While Brooks (2017) acknowledges that the confrontation of “capitalism head on through peaceful revolution is not an option at the present moment,” (p. 247), the answer to some of the challenges of global poverty are not theoretical academic jargon that continues to be debated in classrooms today. Instead, the central problem of International Development is the system of capitalism itself reproducing inequality inherently (Brooks 2017, p 249). Therefore the solution to global inequality lies within the structure of our society which is far more complicated than any 1,000-page paper could ever address.


Brooks, Andrew. The End of Development: a Global History of Poverty and Prosperity. Zed Books, 2017.

Evans, Peter B. Embedded Autonomy: States and Industrial Transformation. Princeton University Press, 1995.

Mamdani, Mahmood. Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the Legacy of Late Colonialism. Fountain Publishers, 1996.

Rostow, W. W. The Stages of Economic Growth: a Non-Communist Manifesto. Cambridge University Press, 1977.