First I asked the following question:
How much contact did Sub-Saharan Africa actually have with the rest of the world since the beginning of civilization?
I was expecting answers such as 'not much contact' because to me that actually explained why Sub-Saharan Africa hasn't develop as fast as Europe, Middle East and North Africa.
But I was wrong, Sub-Sarahan Africa wasn't isolated from the developments that led to centralised societies, to civilisations. So now my question is the following: why hasn't Sub-Saharan Africa developed in the same pace as its "neighbouring regions" between the beginning of civilisation and European colonialism?
Why hasn't the knowledge from for example Egypt, Ancient Greece, Romans, the Arab World reached Sub-Saharan Africa and if it indeed reached Sub-Saharan Africa, why didn't it catalysed higher levels of organisation and technological development there? And why didn't it spread?
Edits to this question are more than welcome!

  • 4
    This question or a variant pops up every month or so. There are entire college departments set up to analyze comparative development and they can't come to answers - they write book after book and come to the conclusion that there are many factors. On the other hand, every time the issue is raised people will post simple answers that thin veneers over racism.
    – MCW
    Sep 23, 2016 at 14:22
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    (Aside: No offense intended; today is one of those days where people are lining up to stand on my last nerve. Comparative development is a very touchy subject; most of the people asking the question are sincere and well intentioned, but there are a small minority of racists who will leap into the fray wielding their microagressions & falsehoods with gleeful abandon.
    – MCW
    Sep 23, 2016 at 14:25
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    We've half-joked on Meta that we need a "Answered by Guns, Germs, & Steel" close reason. If there were such a close reason, this question would definitely be a candidate for it. While it isn't an "exact duplicate", if you check out the top listed "Related" question on the right, all but the last paragraph of @BrotherJack's highly-rated answer would be a really good answer to this question.
    – T.E.D.
    Sep 23, 2016 at 14:49
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – T.E.D.
    Sep 23, 2016 at 21:35
  • The answer you got to the original question is a pretty good answer to this one. Exporting gold = bad.
    – D J Sims
    Sep 26, 2016 at 22:09

1 Answer 1


As pointed out in the comments by T.E.D. this answer given to the question 'Why are many African nations poor?' explains well the beginnings of developmental differences in Africa and Eurasia.

BrotherJack wrote:

An interesting analysis on this question was brought up by Jared Diamond author of "Guns, Germs and Steel" and I believe it is a more accurate answer to the question than that offered by Lennart Regebro (no offense intended to that author!). While Regebro is certainly true in explaining major factors to the continuation of many African nations relative poverty, it ignores the root cause of the initial wealth in-balance between Europe and the U.S. in contrast to many African nations. According to Mr. Diamond's analysis, while Africa in general is rich with many types of natural resources, it was initially poor in the resources most important to early civilization, domesticable plant and animal life.

First, Mr. Diamond identifies 14 major domesticable animal types of which five are most important those being sheep, goats, cows, pigs and horses. The lesser animal types include the Arabian camel, Bactrian camel, Llama and Alpaca, Donkey, Reindeer, Water Buffalo, Yak, Bali cattle, Mitha. It is important to point out that NONE of these animals have ancestors in sub-Saharan Africa; 13 of the 14 DO have ancestors in Eurasia. Most animals in Africa, particularly in the Sahara, are either difficult to domesticate or do not provide sufficient quantities of meat, milk, or labor. Furthermore, four of the five major domesticable plant types: wheat, corn, rice, barley, and sorghum are found in Eurasia. Climate was also a factor as it promoted the diffusion of both domesticable animals and plants throughout Eurasia while hindering their spread through Africa and the Americas.

All this slowed the development of civilization in Africa and subsequent technological advances, while assisting development in Europe and Asia. Hence, while major empires such as the Sassanian, Han Chinese, Greek, Roman, Mesopotamian, Babylonian, Mongolian etc all derive from Eurasia, Africa has had less success in cultivating sedentary agricultural societies necessary to develop empires and subsequent technological/societal advancement (likewise the environmental devastation caused by many early farming techniques helps in part to explain the decline of the empires of the once-fertile crescent and the now relative poverty of non-oil bearing Arabian states).

Colonialization is a major factor indeed, and while not a symptom of poverty it has greatly exacerbated it. The development of colonies has created a continuing drain on African nation's resources and the destructive political/military intervention of outside powers (note current destabilizing American wars in Yemen and Somalia). However I would note for the asker that the difference between the colonization of America and that of African nations is more profound then the author realizes. In the former Britian sought to develop widespread settlement in North America, whereas in the latter European powers have instead sought widespread control of resources. Thus many of the British settlers in North America grew powerful as a result of owning/working the land and the largely beneficial policies/support of Britian (despite taxation w/out representation, the colonists did receive a great deal of military, technological and financial investment), whereas African nations were subject to massive resource theft and control from a small minority of European colonists. The key point here is that American colonists benefited from the advantages bestowed by their client empire (which in turn was granted them by luck), whereas American natives and Africans have suffered precisely because of said advantages to early Eurasian development.

  • I don't think anyone knows really. On paper Africa is the wealthiest Continent in the World. Certainly a lot easier to get around the Mediterranean Sea however than any other place on Earth. Sep 25, 2016 at 19:26
  • This answer is wrong. The Nile is the best farmland in the world.
    – D J Sims
    Sep 25, 2016 at 22:59
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    @Bobb If you are going to start a debate, please give more info rather than just stating a fact. The Nile isn't the best farm land in the world. Because that's relative and anyways Northern Africa is very arid nowadays. Sep 25, 2016 at 23:19
  • My question is about Sub-Saharan Africa. There's a whole desert in the middle of the continent obviously. Livestock from Eurasia and Northern Africa come originally form Mesopotamia according to GG&S. This livestock was essential for development and gave Europeans the "germs" advantage. These domesticable animals might not been present in Sub-Saharan African until European colonisation. I'm not talking about the region of the Nile. GG&S says the societies of ancient Egypt too experienced technological advantages after Mesopotamian livestock was brought there. Sep 25, 2016 at 23:29
  • Then it sounds like the book doesn't really explain anything.
    – D J Sims
    Sep 25, 2016 at 23:32

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