A Critique of modernization and dependency theories in Africa: Critical assessment

Review Journal (A paper for Theory of Political Economic Development)

This journal was written by J. Matunhu (Department of Development Studies, Midlands State University, Zimbabwe) and published in African Journal of History and Culture Vol. 3(5), pp. 65-72, June 2011.

The writer used development theories inline with modernization and dependency theories to find out its effect to Africa’s development. The development theories are used because it influences the way society deals with the issue of underdevelopment.

Summary of the journal

Africa houses plentiful economic resources; however, the continent languishes in poverty as evidenced by high prevalence of famine, disease and ignorance (Buthelezi, 2007).

The modernization theory of development

Modernization in Africa means following the development footsteps of Europe (largely the former colonizer of Africa) by creating efficient techniques of production such as agriculture modernization. In agriculture modernization process farmers are encourage to try new crops, new production methods, new marketing skills, introduction of hybrids, the green house technology, genetically modified food, the use of artificial fertilizers, insecticides, tractors, and application of other scientific knowledge to replace the traditional one.

Modernization is a process of change whereby external factors have an impact on the individual and on culture. Here, modernization of person needs to provide motivation, to go along with changing social and economic situation. Put differently, the development of Africa should come after deculturalisation of the African people.

The theory of modernization is criticized because it fails to consider the poor as the centerpiece in poverty reduction initiatives impact on the fails to construct adequate notions of both causal power of social structures and the role of human agency in shaping social relations in general.

The critiques of modernization theory of development in Africa are as follows:

  1. Modernization is oversimplified view of social change (Coetze et al., 2007:101). Human nature has a propensity to resist change which brings in elements of uncertainty.
  2. Modernization is based on deterministic reason which states that within the linear model of socio-economic development, changes are initiated externally. The premise encourages the foreign power to prescribe the route to Africa’s development.
  3. Modernization is associated with development aid from the developed countries. However, this relation tended to beneficiate the metropolitan states more than the recipient countries (Africa)
  4. Modernization impoverished Africa because it failed to recognize the creativity and initiative of the Africans. The theory emphasizes supremacy of the metropolis (developed countries) that altered Africa’s superstructure of beliefs and value system.

The dependency theory

Colonialism was not merely a system of exploitation, but one whose essential purpose was to repatriate the profits made in Africa to the so called home land. The repatriation of profits based on dependency theory is a systematic expatriation of the surplus values that was created by African labor using African resources.

Africa was and continues to be dominated economically as well as politically by external centers of power (economic, political, and cultural) dependence of the continent upon America and Europe. Besides, the dependence is also noticeable between rural areas and urban areas. It means that while Europe and America busy exploiting Africa, the urban areas are also busy exploiting their rural areas.

The dependency theory has made Africa a dump for waste and excess labour and a market where the terms of trade work to advantage of the developed world.  Also, it is exploitative hence impoverishing. The critiques of this theory view Africa in general and the rural areas in particular as having been strategically positioned by the center as recipients of poor services as well as ill-advice from the metropolis. For example, Africa was the major supplier of underpriced raw materials to Europe and buyer of overpriced manufactured goods from the West.

The African renaissance theory

Because of the failure of modernization and dependency theory, the African renaissance theory emerged. The theory is founded on African values and norms which that are the very building blocks of African life. The strength of this theory is in its ability to be adaptable of change and innovations provided within the social and value systems of the average African.

This theory encourages Africa to act in a world that is dominated by the metropolitan countries by suggesting that micro-level development and poverty reduction should be the primary focus. It is about reclaiming the African identity and values. The critical issue of this theory is ‘transformation’ for the future depends on achieving the transformation of institutions, technology, values and behavior consistent with ecological and social realities in Africa.


Poverty reduction policies and strategies have tended to be influenced by the theories of development. In modernization theory, development of Africa is as a responsibility of the metropolitan states; thus development strategies and finance are sent to Africa by the economically powerful states. From view of dependency theory, it attributes rural poverty to the continuous pillage of human and non-human resources from the satellite to the metropolis. In the process, Africa lost its right to determine its way of development. Hence, the African renaissance theory emerged and takes African to be part of the development problems as well as being part of solution.

Comment about the journal

The writer clearly describe about the critiques or failure of development theories: modernization and dependency theory, in the development process of Africa. The critiques of each theory are strengthened by giving example about what had happened in Africa as an underdevelopment country.

Through this discourse, it is describe that both modernization and dependency theory are linked each other in determining society deals with underdevelopment. However, both are failure because form those view, Africa become impoverished not the contrary.

Learning from Africa, I absolutely agree with the paper mentioned that modernization and dependency theory have failed to help develop Africa (and other underdevelopment countries). For the reason that all activities from the underdevelopment countries are benefitted more to the development countries-which is noted that the one who give assistance/aid to the poor countries. This condition happens because all the assistance given will bind the target countries to fill their requirements and needs, such as the need of raw materials with lower prices or target market of manufactured goods with higher prices.

In line with the theory of Andre Gunder Frank, Metropoles and Satellites, the best solution for all Third World countries is de-linking from the world market. It means disassociated from or totally broke the links to the USA and the other industrialized countries. Therefore, the decision of Africa to emerge the African renaissance theory as their own theory to develop the country should become the best example for other underdevelopment or developing countries in order to develop their countries on their own feet without depending on developed countries.


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