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
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.
lands south of the Western
Sudan - about A.D. 1000.
Images of long
the eastern or Egyptian Sudan,
often called Nubia
and known to the Egyptians as Kush
A Kushite civilisation in Nubia, with its capital
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
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. ...farmers
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
- 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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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...
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.
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