In the 18th century, racist views of Africa were most famously expressed by Scottish philosopher David Hume: 'I am apt to suspect the Negroes to be naturally inferior to the Whites. There scarcely ever was a civilised nation of that complexion, nor even any individual, eminent either in action or in speculation. No ingenious manufacture among them, no arts, no sciences.'

Whilst some changed slightly over time, there were still some who continued to hold these derogatory views. In the 19th century, the German philosopher Hegel simply declared: 'Africa is no historical part of the world.' Later, Hugh Trevor-Roper, Regius Professor of History at Oxford University, expressed openly the racist view that Africa has no history, as recently as 1963.


Ancient histories and records

Egypt - about 3000 B.C.

Nush - about 1000 B.C.

Berber North Africa - about 1000 B.C.

Ethiopia - about A.D. 0

Western and Central Sudan - about A.D. 300.

East Africa - about A.D. 700.

The Forest lands south of the Western Sudan - about A.D. 1000.


Images of long history:

the eastern or Egyptian Sudan, often called Nubia and known to the Egyptians as Kush

A Kushite civilisation in Nubia, with its capital at Napata, flourished from the 11th century B.C; and at the same time Egypt

entered into a long period of weakness and divided rule. About 750 B.C. the Kushites began the conquest of Egypt,

and in 715 established there a Kushite dynasty (misleadingly known as the Ethiopian Dynasty). The Kushites were great traders - from Red Sea ports to the east, and skilled iron workers; and had great armies



But about 50 years later the Kushites were driver out of Egypt, after some tremendous battles, by invading Assyrians.

The Kushite kings retired to their old capital at Napata, where they continued to rule until early in the 6th century B.C. They then

transferred their capital to Meroe, 300 miles further south, perhaps because Meroe was situated in an area rich in iron ore.

The Kushite Kingdom of Meroe lasted for eight centuries, until about A.D. 320, when it was destroyed by the King of Axum,

the rising power in Ethiopia. The Kushite civilisation vanished completely.


the Nubian descendants of the Kushites were converted to Christianity by missionary monks from Egypt. and craftsmen, they were also greatly interested in learning. They developed a modified form of Greek writing suitable for their own language, and built schools and libraries. After the Moslem conquest of Egypt in the 7th century (see chapter 4) the Nubian Christians continued on friendly terms with Egypt until about 1250, when their kingdoms were invaded by Moslem Arabs and African neighbours who had been converted to Islam. By the 14th century this Nubian Christian civilisation had faded out.


In early times the peoples of the western and central Sudan were subject to many outside influences - from the Egyptians, the Kushites, the Carthaginians - but mainly from the Berbers of the North African coastlands. The links were the trade routes across the Sahara.






The empire of Ghana dominated West Africa for seven centuries, reaching its peak in the 11th century. Based on the gold trade, the Kings of Ghana were immensely rich, and powerful. King Tunka Manin, who ruled in the middle of the 11th century, had a magnificent court in his stone-built capital of Kumbi Saleh, and is said to have been able to field an army of 200,000 men. Ghana, however, was unable to withstand Moslem invasions in the second half of the 11th century. The Moslem Arabs had been infiltrating the settlements in the Sahara oases since the 7th century. Then, in the 1070s, Ghana was attacked by the armies of the Almoravids of Morocco. Though the Almoravids retired or were driven out, after destroying Kumbi Saleh, Ghana was permanently weakened. In the course of the next 150 years it was absorbed and it s place as the leading West African power taken by the Kingdom of Mali.


Mali - wealth of its rulers, the peace and order in its territories, and for its learned men - influenced by Islamic studies in law, government and business affairs... society more complex - and more divided. At the bottom were

those who had lost the right to be treated as free men, either through some serious offence or by capture in war. They were "rightless persons" or "permanent servants' and subject to sale, in effect slaves...


In the 17th century many of the Yoruba became united under the central government of the city of Oyo; and by the end of the century the empire of Oyo included much of Nigeria. The empire was powerful for over a hundred years. The Yoruba of Oyo were farmers, but their craftsmen were proficient in spinning, dyeing and metalwork.


Benin City in southern Nigeria... reached its peak in the 16th century, when the Kings of Benin established close relations with the Portuguese... began to decline in the 17th century; and in the 19th century the empire of Oyo disintegrated through invasions by its neighbours.


In 1446 they land ed and established trading posts in the Senegal district of West Africa. In the south west they reached

the Congo estuary in 1482, and later made settlements in Angola, with access to trade with the Kingdoms of Kongo and Ndongo. In 1497-98 the Portuguese Vasco da Gama sailed round the south of Africa and on to India, calling at the East African ports Malindi and Mombasa on the way. When da Gama returned to Portugal he described the great wealth of the Swahili cities; and subsequently the Kings of Portugal sent fleets to capture and loot these cities. The Swahili trading community was largely ruined.





Slave trade:

The European colonists in America soon found the need for imported labour to work on the sugar plantations and in the mines, and later on the tobacco and cotton plantations. The Spaniards started using slave labour in their West Indian colonies early in the 16th century; and the Portuguese in the middle of the century started sending slaves from Africa to Brazil. Other European nations soon joined in this lucrative trade, and the slave trade became big business.


The trade went on until the 19th century, with Europeans of many countries taking part in it - notably the British, French, Dutch and Danes as well as the Spaniards and Portuguese. The British first engaged in the trade as agents providing slaves for the Spanish colonies in 1562 - over 50 years before slavery itself was introduced into British North America.  Procurement of the slaves was sometime s by raids into the interior, or even actual wars, but more usually by trading agreements with the local native rulers or by providing them with military help against their African enemies.




Exploration of the interior of Africa by Europeans, in search of geographical and other knowledge of the continent, and not start until- late in the 18th century. James Bruce, who went through Ethiopia and the Sudan and traced the course of  the Blue Nile in 1770-72; and Mungo Park, who was drowned on his second attempt (in1805) to find the source of the Niger. The first non-Africans to penetrate far into central Africa were Arabs from Zanzibar, one of whom crossed the continent to Benguela in Angola in 1848. Then came the best-known of all explorers of Africa, the Scottish doctor and missionary David Livingstone. In 24 years (1849-1873) of travels over a third of the continent - from the south to the equator.


The interest first manifested itself towards the end of the eighteenth century in expeditions to obtain more accurate information about the main

geographical features such as the sources of the principal rivers, the location of mountains and lakes, distribution of population, leading states and markets, and the main agricultural and industrial products. Next, the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars in Europe and the efforts,

notably of Britain as the leading maritime power to contain the expansionism of France, spilled over to Africa.


T h e British seized the Dutch colony at the Cape of Good Hope. Thereafter, the increasingly triumphant British naval power found in the growing abolitionist movement a mission providing all necessary opportunities for intervention in Africa. In 1807 the British government prohibited the slave trade to British traders and converted the freed-slave settlement in Freetown into a Crown Colony and a base for a West Africa-wide naval campaign against the slave trade. The French were expelled from Egypt, but continued to seek commercial advantages and in other ways to profit from the weakness of the tottering Ottoman empire in North Africa,


In the 1820s the main European colonies inAfrica were Portuguese Mozambique and Angola in the south, the French settlement in coastal Senegal, and the British possessions (in addition to South Africa) in Sierra Leone, the Gold Coast and Gambia


French in Algiers in 1830; 40,000 fench settlers by 1840 and in Senegal by 1850, Dahomey 1880


Mfecane as the great scattering in Southern Adfrica due to ethnic conflict between 1815 and 1840

King Shaka created the militaristic Zulu Kingdom, his forces caused a wave of warfare and disruption to sweep to other peoples. This was the prelude of the Mfecane, which spread from there. The movement of people caused many tribes to try to dominate those in new territories, leading to widespread warfare; consolidation of other groups, such as the Matabele, the Mfengu and the Makololo; and the creation of states such as the modern Lesotho.

Mfecane is used primarily to refer to the period when Mzilikazi, a king of the Matabele, dominated the Transvaal. During his reign, roughly from 1826 to 1836, he ordered widespread killings and devastation to remove all opposition. He reorganised the territory to establish the new Ndebele order. The death toll has never been satisfactorily determined, but the whole region became nearly depopulated. Normal estimates for the death toll range from 1 million to 2 million


Thus depite the increasing emergence of Imperial powers


 the Euro/American presence was waterborne and coast-centred. It made no appreciable penetration into the interior of

the continent before 1850, whereas the major events in Africa in the early nineteenth century - the Ethiopian revival, the Mfecane, the West African djihads - were initiated from the interior of the continent,




In the light on this we have to think about:


The nature of the Historiography of Africa



Change in 18th C lead on to 19th C and integration into 'World System'.




Once it was accepted that change in African history did not originate with the colonial period, considerable attention began to be paid to the preceding century. Major events and changes with revolutionary import during the century




Nevertheless, the general characteristics of the nineteenth century, and the significance of

the century as a whole in the historiography of Africa, remain controversial.


In the first place, because of the relative abundance of reliable oral material and the new written sources produced by the expanding scale of European activities in Africa in the period - such as accounts of European travellers, missionaries, traders, and government consular and other agents penetrating into the interior of the continent, often for the first time - the nineteenth century in many parts of Africa is better known and better researched than earlier periods. There has been a tendency, similar to what happens in oral tradition, to telescope all significant change in the whole precolonial history of Africa into the favoured period of the nineteenth century.




Unfortunately, the corollary has persisted in the assumption that change in the nineteenth

century was necessarily different from change in earlier periods....




important here to examine the extent to which the changes taking place in the nineteenth century were a continuation of changes already taking place in the eighteenth century, and to what extent they were due to new factors associated with the expanding scale of European activities and increasing integration of African economies into the world system.




So what are the historiographical issues at stake here


What are the alternative narratives that could have been brought into play?



tendency to explain change in Africa in the 'precolonial century' unduly, if not exclusively, in terms of the expanding scale of European activities constitutes the second issue in the historiography of the period. The increasing integration of African economies into the world system is often treated not merely as a major factor leading to change but in fact as the dominant theme of African history in the period.



that 'the history of modern West Africa is largely the history of five centuries of trade with European nations' - changes in the overseas trade and trade routes, and the internal network of markets and long-distance trading that fed the overseas trade have for too long been perceived as the major, if not the sole, dynamic factor in African history in the nineteenth century. Thus, the changes in Egypt are explained by the impact of Napoleon Bonaparte, rather than by the complex of internal factors dating back to the eighteenth century that produced a national movement that rallied round the Albanian M u h a m m a d 'All's efforts to set Egyptian renaissance against Ottoman attempts to reimpose direct rule.


Why might an alterative narrative be a bit of a bore - why a dialectic of Western interference and African response? What does that do for political explanation? and why mention Ottoman rule?



the extent to which the European factor is to be regarded as 'a necessary precondition of the development of African societies, technical, cultural and moral' or the predominant cause of African underdevelopment...



If we place emphasis on the internal forces of Africa can that help[ provide a radical history of Africa as the victim of exploitation?




By 1800, the main linguistic and cultural divisions of the African population had long been established in their various locations, claiming rights over

their o w n portions of the land mass.5 Indeed, for most parts of Africa, the process was complete by the sixteenth century and, by the nineteenth

century, varying degrees of consolidation had taken place and stability had been established.


Stability as opposed to the idea of  disorganised mobile populations.



mobility of people in the process of earning their livelihood continued, either as pastoralists or crop farmers alternating between land under cultivation and land left fallow; or hunters and gatherers roaming.... regular flows of population that usually did not involve permanent abandonment of locations or displacement of people and the movement of significant numbers over long distances or long periods of time.