Africa and Europe in the 15th Century | History Form Five

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In the 15th century, Africa and Europe, were nearly the same economically. The differences we see today, are caused by many things. In this topic we differentiated and compare the development of Africa and Europe in the 15th century, but also, we will look at the reason why Africa is left behind.
Systems of exchange
Exchange means the act of giving something to a person to receive something in return. This is what called business of trade.
Significance of trade and exchange in society
System of exhange was operated on barter exchange and later money was used.
1. It enable a society to get things that its people are ignorant of the knowledge of making them
Some society like Uvinza was good in making salt, while societies in Sumbawanga were specialized in making iron tools. Trade enabled them to exchange.
2. It stimulate people to produce so as to have surplus
Surplus was used for exchange so as to get new goods the society needed.
3. It make people to be more knowledgeable in what is being produced
As people produced the same product each time, at the end they majored in production of that goods. For example, some societies were good in making iron tools while others in agriculture.
4. Merchant got profit
Merchant benefited through trade as when they were selling their goods they got profit. Profit accumulated enabled other merchant to be rich in their societies.
Comparison and contrast of the value of commodities exchanged between western Europe and Africa in the 15th Century
Before the horrific trade in human ‘goods' began between Europe and west Africa, Europeans, particularly the Dutch and the Portuguese, had already begun trading items such as cloth and metal ware with west African countries as early as the fifteenth century. In return they received spices such as pepper as well as raw materials including ivory and gold.
Materials from Africa were more valuable as compared to materials from Europe. This made Europe rich and Africa poor as its resources were exploited, including human resources during the evil of the slave trade.
Political systems
By the 15th century both Africa and Europe had developed political systems. The various political systems were determined by the environment and the economic system that existed in a particular society.
Levels of political development in Africa
Africa developed different levels of political systems as explained bellow:
3. Clan organization
This was a social organization formed by the stateless communal societies in which people organized themselves according to their blood relations.
Each clan had a clan head who had some responsibilities, the responsibilities of clan head were:
- marrying off the youths
- choosing spouses for the youth
- settling conflicts between the clan member
4. Age set organization
This was a form of organization in the pastoral societies like the Maasai and Karamajong. Here a society was grouped according to their age with each age group having some responsibilities.
5. State political organization
A state can be defined as a group of people occupying a certain area with its defined boundaries and living under its own government.
Example of African societies which had developed into state up to the 15th century in Africa included the Ancient Sudanic states (Ghana, Mali and Songhai), Ethiopian kingdom, Bunyoro - Kitara, Ankole, Buganda, Toro and Mwenemtapa.
Level of political development in Western Europe
In the 15th century European societies had all formed states. These states were: Florence, Saxon, Venetia and Frankish.
The king here had no absolute power and never controlled army. Army were controlled by landlords.
Towards the end of 15th century things started to change. Soldier were used by the king to break manorial wall and the landlords were denied the right to own army.
Roman Catholic clergy took over many functions of the government. They wrote books and formed laws to be followed by the state members.
Factors for the rise of political system in Europe
1. Iron technology
2. Trade connections. Including trade from within Europe and overseas.
3. Agriculture
4. Development of financial institutions like Barclays, and Lloyd banks
5. Growth of population
6. The role of religion. Roman catholic religion brought all people as one. This created togetherness for development.
Comparison of Western European political systems with African
1. Both were ruled by kings or queen or chiefs - Example, Mani Nzinga – Congo.
2. Function of the king were the same
The function of the Kings both in Europe and Africa were to protect their people. For example: Both defend or encourage exploitation of serfs by land lords, Kings worked with the landlords to exploit the serfs, Both encouraged trade. In Africa, kings encouraged long distance trade while in Europe they encouraged mercantilism.
3. Both developed feudal mode of production
Africa was in the form of feudalism as it was in Europe. Umwinyi, Ubugabire, Nyarubanja are examples of Africa's feudalism systems.
4. The kingdom was transformed through inheritance
This was applied both in Africa and Europe. When the king dies, his son or brother could inherit the throne.
Contrast between Western European political system with Africa
1. Feudalism in Africa was just starting while feudalism in Europe was at its highest stage and was going to capitalism.
2. In Europe it emerged a group of merchant who challenged the ruling class while in Africa traders never challenged their kings.
3. Political system in Europe was very complex. For example the government consisted: Kings, landlords, clergy, knights, parliament etc, while in Africa the political system was simple as it consisted the kings and other few helpers like adviser and the landlords.
4. In Africa, kings were religious leader while in Europe kings were not religious leader. In Europe Religious matter were solved by the clergy.
5. In Europe they advanced more in education as compared with Africa.
6. more conquering occurred in Europe as compared to Africa. For example, European countries were able to cross their boarders and conquer: America, south Africa, Canada, China, India and many other areas.
Science and technology in the 15th century
Science is the organized knowledge and skills based on facts that can be proved through experiments and observation. It is a product of research and experiment and thus deals with analyzing facts and making conclusion about them.
Technology is the scientific knowledge used practically or is the application of scientific knowledge.
Comparison of the levels of development of science and technology between Europe and African states in the 15th century
1. Metal work technology
Africa and Europe in the 15th century, used iron and bronze technology. The use of metals revolutionalised socio, economic and political lives in both continents.
2. Scientific agriculture
Both Africa and Europe had reached considerable developments in agriculture with the application of scientific method like: animal husbandry and irrigation for crop production.
3. Manufacturing industry
Africa and Europe were competing in making better clothes like in Guinea and Benin and England. Also Egypt made better quality glass that they exported to Europe.
4. Weapon making skills
Europe made firearms alongside ordinary weapons like spears and arrows made by Africans too.
5. Architectural skills
Both African and European societies had reached recognisable levels in masonry. They had developed skills in brick making and stone cutting which enabled them erect strong structures that developed towns and cities such as Bagamoyo, Zanzibar and Alexandria. Timbuktu and Fez in Africa and Amsterdam, London and Paris in Europe.
6. Discovery of medicine
Africa and Europe were making medicine to cure different diseases. This helped them to reduce deaths.
Differences of the levels of development of science and technology between Europe and African states in the 15th century
1. Europe had advanced transport technology
Europe had the technology to make big ships that could travel around the world. Africa, it had canoes that were used to travel in nearby areas and fishing.
2. In Europe the cottage industries were more advanced than those in Africa
Those industries produced larger quantities of higher quality goods for both domestic and foreign market than the industries in Africa.
3. In weapon making, Europe was further ahead of Africa
Europe was making more sophisticated and deadly weapons. African societies still made ordinary weapons such as spears and arrows.
4. In the field of agriculture, Western Europe was adopting the enclosure system in which scientific breeding was applied on sheep and cattle to increase wool and meat production. Also land reclamation and mechanization after invention of farm machines like plough and seed drills more land was opened for cultivation to increase food and raw material production. Africa had not developed enclosure system neither agricultural mechanization due to low technological development.
5. Europe had invented paper and printing press
Europe was making paper and had printing presses. Due to this knowledge and learning was spreading fast in Europe. In Africa, neither paper making nor printing press technologies were present.
6. Europe was switching to capitalism
During this period, Europe was moving into the capitalist system while many African societies were in the form of communalism and feudalism and there was no sign of switching to capitalism.
Rise of the development gap between Africa and Europe
As we have seen that Africa and Europe were almost the same in the 15th century. But then things changed and there has been a great gap of development between the two continents. So we are going to discuss the reasons for this gap.
Factors which contributed to the rise of the gap in development between western Europe and Africa, since the 15th Century
1. Mercantilism
During this period, the Europeans exploited the continent of Africa, through unequal exchange and slave trade. It is in this period, our natural resources were taken to Europe and left our continent poor.
2. Colonialism
Colonialism destroyed Africans economy because they took Africans resources to Europe. Also, during colonialism, Africans worked in plantations and settler farms for the benefit of whites.  For these reasons Africa failed to stand alone, hence dependence economy.
3. Neo-colonialism
Neo-colonialism maintains unbalanced terms in trade and exploit Africa by price fixing in world market. Also European countries plant puppet regimes which support them in exploiting African resources like gold, diamond, etc.
4. Globalization
Globalization has led Africans to be left behind in development. The world has become like a small village due to globalization.
European countries use technology to spy on Africa's affair and set barriers to development.
Also, globalization has ruined our cultures, and young people who are able to build Africa, are now using drugs.
Globalization also, has led to the spread of many rebel groups and terrorist that have weakened many African governments such as Nigeria, Somalia, Congo, Rwanda. Because of globalization, these groups have been receiving various weapons from developed countries.
5. Corruption
African leaders have been using public resources for their own personal benefit. Also, they have been robbing money in their own countries and going to put in the European bank which is increasingly benefiting the European countries and leaving Africans as poor.
6. Diseases
Diseases such as AIDS, Ebola, Malaria and many other diseases, make Africa even more poor because of the loss of human labor that dies every year.
Impact of the gap in development between western Europe and Africa
1. Dependence
Africa, depend on Europe for technology and market for her primary goods like minerals and cash crops.
2. Technological retardation
During mercantilism goods from Europe were superior in quality. This made locally manufactured goods lose market and thus local technology declined.
3. Exploitation of resources
This exploitation is mainly through unequal exchange by which Africa exchanged high valued goods like minerals and raw materials for cheap manufactured goods from the capitalism world. Now exploitation is done under neo-colonialism
4. Colonization on Africa
Industrial revolution led to the gap between Africa and Europe. The revolution led to competition for industrial demands such as raw materials and market that pushed imperialist powers to invade and colonize Africa to acquire the demands.
5. Africa has been made a dumping place of the developed world
Due to her low technology, Africa has been made market for old technologies such as military technology, automobiles and other technology that are imported to her from the developed countries at low prices or given as donations.
6. Culture distortion
The feeling of inferiority implanted to Africans due to widening gap, colonialism and neo-colonialism has led to culture distortion in the continent. Africans are ready to adopt all sorts of cultural norms from the west due to their inferiority complex.
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