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The event started with opening remarks and an introduction of the author, Kenneth Omeje, and two discussants, Ndongo Samba Sylla and Toni Haastrup, by the moderator and director of the SSRC’s APN and NextGen program, Cyril Obi. This was followed by an overview of the book by the author. He identified the main objectives of the book as providing a critical assessment of capitalism in Africa, providing explanations for the failure of capitalism to lead to Africa’s development, and exploring options of transforming African political systems in ways that could lift millions of Africans out of poverty.
Omeje noted that the book is provocatively titled partly to sensitize African leaders to their responsibility to change the unsustainable status quo. He made connections between the failure of capitalism, poverty, vulnerability to violence and conflict, forced migration, and the lack of socio-economic progress. In terms of its perspective, the book argues that there were indigenous forms of capitalism in Africa that preceded colonialism and that their evolution was disrupted by European imperialism to develop Europe at Africa’s expense. The author posits that, at independence, African power elites and leaders inherited an aberrant form of capitalism into which they inserted their private accumulation interests that resulted in a dysfunctional form of capitalism bereft of robust domestic economies and economic sovereignty.
In his discussion of the book, Ndongo Samba Sylla noted that it was didactic, provocative, cogent, and intellectually stimulating. He identified chapters one and three for special mention and reflected on eight issues raised in the book. These ranged from its historical analysis, use of economic indicators, Africa’s over-integration into the global market, the definitions of capitalism, and its use of a neo-Weberian lens to explain Africa’s underdevelopment relative to Asia’s developmental states. Ndongo also spoke to the oversight in not reflecting on similar works by African development economists such as Thandika Mkandawire and Samir Amin and not exploring developmental options beyond capitalism.
Toni Haastrup noted that the book is extremely well-researched and was a tour de force in the political economy of development. She identified chapters three and six for special mention, interrogated the definition of capitalism based on its failure, and raised questions about alternatives. Toni also spoke on capitalism in Africa in relation to the coloniality of power and the continent’s security, asking if the situation was redeemable. In addition, she interrogated the agency of Africans and asked how issues of emancipation and justice could fit into the quest for workable alternatives or developmental transformation.
Both discussants commended the book for its analysis of the negative impact of French colonialism and neocolonialism in terms of the loss of monetary and economic sovereignty in Francophone Africa. They observed that France-Afrique had peaked and was beginning to wane. In their view, the COVID-19 pandemic was creating new issues related to Africa’s place in the world and the prospects for transforming global power hierarchies. Participants raised questions about theoretical perspectives to capitalist development in Africa, the scope of the book, and the nature of Africa-China relations. In wrapping up, the discussants recognized the need for greater reflection on how data is interpreted and used and how Africa could be better placed in the global value chain. They agreed on the need for the continent to develop on its own terms, after which the author thanked the discussants and participants for their incisive insights and contributions to the robust scholarly debate generated by the book.