Africa is the 2nd most populous continent on earth. It is home to a population of 1.1 billion to 1.2 billion people, with further Africans living in diaspora on other continents. It is the 2nd largest continent by area, able to fit the United States of America into its land mass three times. The average African speaks anything from three to seven languages and in total more than 2,000 languages are spoken on the continent. Prior to colonisation, Africa was divided into close to 10,000 different states. Some polities were multi-ethnic such as the federation of Kwararafa.
There are 56 countries within Africa, the most countries within any continent followed by Asia. Africa is the oldest inhabited continent on earth, and the centre of Pangaea – a supercontinent in the Mesozoic eras.
Several behaviours specific to modern humans first emerged in Africa between 340,000 years ago and 120,000 years ago, including co-operative behaviour, abstract thinking, art (as evidenced in the Blosmos cave of South Africa), making paint, hunting animals, gathering food, religion, mathematics, writing, tool-making, inventing, the discovery of fire, deforestation, wood-work and fishing.
Later Africa led humanity in developing medicine, pharmaceutical knowledge, veterinary medicine, astronomy, developing the solar calendar, stellar calendars, lunar calendar, 2,000 varieties of edible foods and developing steel.
Skin colour variation and adaptation to various climates first began in Africa. Genetic diversity among Africans is greater than diversity among all non-African human populations due to a phenomen called the founder effect. Humans lived side by side for longer in Africa than outside Africa according to scientists, amounting 1.5 million years within Africa, compared to shorter time period for human remains found outside Africa.
African languages fall into five language families mainly: Niger-Congo, Nilo-Saharan, Afrasan, Khoisan and Austronesian. Due to the Bantu migration from 3,500 BC to 500 BC, the language family with the greatest number of speakers and also covering the largest geographical area is the Niger-Congo language group according for 67% of the African population. The Niger-Congo family of languages cover some 1,400 languages. The Austronesian language family is a blend of Bantu, Indonesian and Pacific languages spoken by 386 million Africans in Madagascar, South East Asia and the Pacific. Afrasan languages are spoken by 371 million people in Northern Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Nilo-Saharan languages are spoken by 30 million speakers and cover 200 languages in Central and Eastern Africa. The Khoisan family of languages have the smallest population of African speakers and it is the only language group in the world to retain a click sound.
Over the course of time, there have been both out-of-Africa and back-to-Africa migrations based on ice ages, volcano disasters, war and other natural disasters.
Africa has suffered many false accusations including according to George Hegel an 18th century German philosopher “[lacking] … history … movement [and] development.” Many myths about Africa continue to this day. Attempts to avoid an African origin of the Human species led to polygenic theory which has since been abandoned except by hardened entrenched racists.
In this article, we make an attempt to increase awareness about Africa. We cover the geography of the continent, the contributions of Africans to the world, the status of politics on the continent, debunk myths about African writing, cover a sample of civilisations that developed in Africa, religion, architecture, the impact of a sample of Africans in diaspora and military history.
- Abstract Art
- Educational institutions
- Mobile phones
- Oral tradition
- Sea-faring vessels
- Skin tone diversity
- Veterinary medicine
- Town planning
- How Africa votes
- Parliamentary elections
- Presidential elections
- General elections
- Traditional systems
- African Union
- The Kingdom of Aksum
- The Kingdom of Altava
- The Ashanti Kingdom
- The Benin Kingdom
- Kingdom of Imerina
- The Garamantes
- The Kingdom of Kerma
- The Luba Empire
- Kingdom of Makuria
- Mossi Kingdoms
- The Kingdom of Nri
- The Land of Punt
- The Songhai Empire
- Abu Yemata
- Aniba Fortress
- Fasil Ghebbi
- The Great Pyramid of Giza
- Temples of Ancient Egypt
- Walls of Benin
Black Africans in Europe and America
- Cheddar man
- Beachy Head Lady
- Ivory Bangle Lady
- Alessandro De Medici
- Jacques Frances
- Jean Baptiste Point Du Sable
- The other abolitionists
Other Military History
- Aniba Fortress
- Battle of Cannae
- Battle of Kadesh
- Antonine Wall
- Battle of Annal
The name Africa is thought to be derived from different origins. One idea is that Africa comes from a Latin origin, from the word “aprica/apricus” meaning sunny. Another one is “afriki” formerly written “aphrike” from the Greek origin. Aphrike is a name that is derived from phrike (cold). Phrike along with the added negating prefix (a) gives the meaning of ‘without cold’. Even if the origins differ, they all have one thing in common, Africa is derived from linguistic words that pertain to the geography or the climate of the land.
Many believe that abstract art started in European countries. The truth is that archaeological evidence revealed that Africa was the home to abstract art nearly 73,000 years ago when the Blombos cave of South Africa was discovered. Other findings in the form of ornamental shells discovered in Morocco are said to be 82,000 years old, proving that the earliest form of abstract art was created in Africa. Europeans initially did not view African artifacts as works of art, and if they did view the African artifacts as art, they were labelled as ‘primitive’ art. Yet, many European museums displayed large collections of African artworks. It was artists like Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and André Derain who recognized the real value of African abstract art, and hence, Europeans started to admire the African art for its unique beauty, spirituality and variety of uses.
Many people see the word ‘algorithm’ and they immediately think, complex. When actually algorithm has been created to break down the complex process of solving a problem or performing a task into structured and detailed step by step instructions. Even though the word algorithm is commonly associated with Al-Khowarizmi, the Persian polymath, algorithm is actually derived from mathematics, which was founded in ancient Egypt about 5,000 to 4,000 years ago. Proof of this has been found in the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus, which contains the first ever recorded mathematical algorithm, documented around 1650 BC. This papyrus proved that Africans created the algorithm, which along the years became the bases of most inventions.
The excavations done in the Blombos cave near Cape Town, South Africa, revealed the earliest artwork that dates back to about 73,000 years ago, which was created by Africans. The cave also was found to contain middle Stone Age deposits that are somewhere between 70,000 to 100,000 years old. Archaeological findings from the cave include engraved bone, engraved ochre and ochre processing tool kits. The earliest drawing ever recorded by humans was found in this cave in the form of a cross-hatching styled art created using ochre (a natural clay earth pigment) on a stone fragment. This also indicates that early Africans explored and applied the science of making paint from different substances including ochre.
Dried up Liquid Ochre in shell of Abalone Found at the Blombos Cave
Africa and astronomy have a long-standing relationship that dates millennia ago. In the 5th millennium BC, the stone circle structure was discovered in the archaeological site of the settlement of Nabta Playa, located in the Nubian Desert, in southern Egypt. The stone circle or the calendar circle is considered among the oldest of archeo-astronomical devices designed to mark the summer solstice and the stars arrangement in the night sky.
Moreover, more than 2000 years ago, Eratosthenes (born in Cyrene, a city in the present-day Libya) calculated the spherical size of the Earth with none of the present-day technical tools.
Starting from the eighteenth century, the rest of the world recognized Africa’s distinctive geographical importance to global astronomy.
Nabta Playa “calendar circle”, reconstructed at Aswan Nubia museum
The behavioral pattern of burial rites reaches back as early as 300,000 years ago in the Middle Paleolithic, coinciding with the first appearance of Homo neanderthalensis and probably Homo naledi (both subspecies of the archaic human that originated in Africa). Burial is considered as one of the identifiers of behaviourally modern humans (BMH). The behaviourally modern humans are defined by a set of cognitive and behavioural traits that distinguish Homo sapiens from anatomically modern humans (AMH) and hominins.
The traits used as indicators of BMH are:
- Figurative art
- Systemic use of pigments and jewelry for decoration.
- The use of bone for tools.
- Transportation of resources over long distances.
- The technology of blades.
- Diversity, and regionally unique artifacts.
- Composite tools.
The solar calendar with a system of 365 days a year was first created around 5,000 years ago by the Egyptians. Prior to the solar calendar though, the Egyptians had another dating system that relied on the phases of the moon and was known as the lunar calendar. The lunar calendar was created in the ancient Egyptian civilization in correspondence with the agricultural seasons and the feasts relating to those seasons. However, when the solar calendar (consisting of 12 months, 30 days each) was introduced, both systems were used throughout the pharaonic period. Later on, the solar calendar system was revised, and it came to be the basis of the Western calendar that is still used in the present days.
Cotton was first domesticated about 7,000 years ago in the Old World, during the sixth millennium. The Gossypium species in particular is one of the earliest and most important crops to be domesticated in the Old and New Worlds. Gossypium herbaceum was first cultivated in Arabia, and the word ‘cotton’ is derived from the Arabic name “al-qutn”. However, further investigations by specialists reveal that the wild ancestor of the Gossypium herbaceum species was from Africa. The studies reveal that the G.herbaceum subsp. Africanum first appeared in South Africa, and then it spread into several areas where new sub species started to appear.
In the diagram above, Hutchinson illustrates his theory of the distribution and diversification of the old-world cotton varieties. They were initiated from G.herbaceum subsp. africanum which first appeared in South Africa (1), then it moved to several areas where new sub species started to appear starting from Arabia. From this point it started to spread to central Africa (2) and Asia (3, 4 and 5).
Until the discovery of the New World (the Americas), the origin of the cotton used in the old world was Sudan and Southern Africa. The New World varieties were independently domesticated from wild species. Later, the haploid species G.Hirsutum and G. Barbadense started to evolve in the New World.
The city of Timbuktu, Mali in Africa was home to one of the most intellectual institutions that existed in the early 15th century, The University of Sankoré. The university was founded by the erudite chief judge of Timbuktu in 989 AD. The Sankoré University functioned as multiple independent colleges, each run by a single scholar. Even though Sankoré was founded in earlier times than medieval Europe’s universities, it held a high level of education that matched Europe’s studia generale. The university prospered, particularly in the period between 1307 and 1332, during the reign of Mansa Musa – emperor of the Mali empire – and from 1493 to 1591, during the Askia Dynasty of Songhai empire.
Long ago, it was Africans that travelled to different parts of the world in several waves of ‘human migration’ to populate the earth with Homo Sapiens. 1.76 million years ago, due to changes in glaciation, archaic humans left Africa and migrated close to the equator east towards China. More recently, however, they were able to explore Central Asia, Central and Eastern Europe and the Middle East. The archaic humans were capable of making tools and their migration allowed them to spread the Achuelean technology. A relatively more recent exploration of the world was conducted almost 735 years ago by the Moroccan explorer, Ibn Battuta. Over a period of 30 years, Ibn Battuta widely travelled the medieval world covering the Middle East, Central & Southeast Asia, India and China, clocking over 75,000 kilometres. He recorded accounts of his journeys in a manuscript titled, “A Masterpiece to Those Who Contemplate the Wonders of Cities and the Marvels of Travelling”.
The earliest tracing of bread crumbs is dated to be somewhere between 11,600 and 14,600 years old. It was when a team of archaeologists and scientists from the University of Copenhagen and the Weizman Institute of Science found charred bread crumbs of flatbread in the Black Desert of northeast Jordan. The exact location was a Natufian hunter-gatherer site. The Natufian culture originated from the mingling of the Iberomaurusians in North Africa (near the coasts of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya) and the Levant natives (originating from western Asia and Northeast Africa). The discovered charred bread crumbs are confirmed to be the earliest form of bread discovered.
A common grain of rice is a seed of either the species Oryza glaberrima or Oryza sativa. Oryza sativa is the Asian rice, while Oryza glaberrima is the African rice grain species, which has been cultivated for about 3500 years. The African rice originated in the Niger River delta, and then between 1500 and 800 BC, it extended to Senegal. African rice was preferred for its quality and taste. In the late 1800s, when the Asian rice species was introduced to East Africa, African farmers would grow Asian rice to sell, and they grew African rice for their own consumption.
The widely consumed beverages of Coca Cola & Pepsi originate from recipes based on the Kola nut. The domestication of Kola nut started around 5,000 BC (about 7,000 years ago) in the tropical rainforest region of West Africa. Almost at the same time, Coca was domesticated in northern Peru. The kola nut started as more than just a beverage for native Africans, the fruit was and still has a sacred and social significance to West Africans. In some African countries, the kola nut is chewed during special events. It is also used as a sweetener and serves as a flavouring agent. The kola nut is highly rich in caffeine and has many health benefits such as boosting immunity and metabolism.
The starchy vegetable root tubers commonly known as yam were first cultivated in Africa. It is grown in tropical climates, and West Africa accounts for 96% of the world’s total production of yam. In West Africa, yams date back to the 16th century. At that time, African yams spread to different cultures. They reached Europe and they also reached the Americas through precolonial Portuguese and Spanish on the borders of Brazil and Guyana. Yam in its raw form is poisonous. It has to be cooked by boiling, roasting, frying or it can be processed into flakes or chips. Yam is a staple food in many African events, including marriage ceremonies, thanksgiving ceremonies and other traditional rituals.
More than 3000 years ago, between 10,000 BCE and 1,000 BCE, the vast continent of Africa started cultivating different kinds of food to sustain its people. This caused the transition of ancient Africans from being food hunters and gatherers to farming their own food and domesticating animals….the start of agriculture. Wild fruits grown include gingerbread plums (Parinari and Kindred genera), gumvines (Landolphia and Saba species), tree grapes (Lannea species), aizen (Mukheit) and chocolate berries (Vitex specoes). Vegetables include amaranth, Bambara bean, baobab, celosia, shea and yam bean. The size of Africa’s land, and the variation in the types of soil and climate from area to area is what gives rise to such a wide variety of over 2,000 cultivated African foods.
The imbedding of political systems is essential for the growth of any society since they manage wealth and income distribution, crime and punishment, and rights of international relations. From 4,000 BC to 1800 CE, African societies developed no less than fifteen different pre-colonial governmental systems & systems that manage property rights. These systems are;
- Gada system of the Oromo people in Ethiopia, which is still ongoing.
- Confederacy of the Federation of Kwararafa, in what is the present-day Nigeria.
- Contrapuntal paramountcy, by the Hausa people of the modern-day Nigeria.
- Democracy in the Kingdom of Meroe.
- The Federal Republic in the Ashanti Empire.
- Hegemony in the Songhai Empire.
- Hereditary Theocracy, by the Fatimid Caliphate.
- Matrilineal practiced among the Akan people.
- Meritocratic Theocracy, by the Umayyad Caliphate.
- Monarchy in the Kingdom of Ta-Seti.
- Patrilineal descent, by the Amhara people.
- Plutocracy in Rhapta.
- Stratocracy, by the Mamluks.
- Thalassocracy, by the Phoenicians.
- United Kingdom in the Mossi Kingdom.
There are about 6500 spoken languages in the entire world. Africa alone is home to more than one-third of the world’s spoken languages. Compared to other continents in the world, Africa is highly bilingual with some regions like western Uganda having each person speaking 4 languages or more. Scientists attribute this to the fact that Africa is the cradle of human species, with the Homo sapiens developing the first language group. Africa has about 2146 living languages (from a total of 6000 – 7000 worldwide). Furthermore, Africa has dead languages, deciphered and undeciphered writings and polyglots.
The most ancient mathematical documents available are Egyptian papyri from 2000 – 1800 BC. They are the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus and the Moscow Mathematical Papyrus, both written in the 17th century. The two papyri contained complex problems in arithmetic, algebra and geometry and the different methods for solving them, along with detailed explanatory theories.
The Ishango bone is a prehistoric artifact, discovered northeastern Congo, and is estimated to be 20,000 years old or more. This bone has markings that indicate early attempts to make a tally demonstrating a sequence of prime numbers, further proof that the bases of mathematics originated from African lands.
The first recorded female physician is Merit-Ptah, 2700 BC. The second is Pesehet, 2500 BC. This shows that medicine was practiced early on in ancient Egyptian civilizations and that it was not a profession restricted to the male gender. Pesehet held two titles; “Lady Overseer of Female Physicians” and “King’s Associate”. Her name is associated with the temple medical school of Sais, located in the ancient city of Sais in the Western Nile Delta. The medical school of Sais focused mainly on the fields of gynecology and obstetrics.
From the late fourth millennium BC, the ancient Egyptians’ medical practice was rather advanced for its time. They performed surgery, practiced dentistry and created a set of pharmacopoeia documented in medical papyri.
Pesehet, Lady Overseer of Female Physicians (2500 BC)
Coltan is the combination of columbite and tantalite to give a dull black metallic mineral that is refined to produce tantalum. Tantalum is used in the manufacturing of tantalum capacitors which are known for their low leakage and high capacity. This favours their use in technical devices such as medical electronics, computer motherboards and mobile phones.
Africa is one of the four main regions recorded to have the highest number of coltan mine. Columbite-tantalite mines in Africa are found in Mozambique, Madagascar, Angola, Namibia, Ethiopia, South Africa, Algeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Morocco.
Oral traditions are messages that pass from one generation to the other by verbal means. This can be in the form of speech, songs, folktales, narrations, proverbs or poetry. Oral tradition allows for the passing of knowledge across generations without writing. Religious texts of early centuries in Christianity and Islam, namely the Bible and the Quran were initially passed on through oral tradition. Great and ancient works of literature such as Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey were passed down through generations of poets by word of mouth before the invention of the writing system. The ancient Egyptian scribes, the early Hausa and the Swahili memorizers and copyists have been the essential figures in the transition from oral to literary traditions in Africa.
Around 200 BC, Aristophane, head librarian at the Library of Alexandria (appointed by the Egyptian Pharaoh, Ptolemy III Euergetes) was the first person in history to actively seek plagiarism and rebuke it. Prior to that, plagiarism (the representing of another person’s publication, thought or idea as one’s own original work) was in some cases actively revered and not perceived as malpractice. Under Aristophane’s guidance, every major library followed the newly created and unified system for literary review, which meant that authors wouldn’t be able to get their plagiarized content approved simply by switching libraries. Plagiarism has become heavily criticized and authors who resorted to plagiarism were ostracized.
The nature and structure of the tools used by mankind to make work easier indicates the age of when that tool was used. The three-stage system comprises the Stone Age, the Bronze Age and the Iron Age. According to the evolutionary theory, the Stone Age lasted for nearly 2.66 million years, and ended around 9000 BC in some parts of the world, but overlapped with the Bronze Age in most parts of the world. Stone tools had a myriad of functions, from hunting to fighting. They were constructed from different types of stones. Flint and chert were chipped to be used as cutting tools and weapons, while sandstone and basalt were used for ground stone tools. Other materials such as bones, woods, shells, and deer antlers were also used in this age.
Ancient Egyptians used to harvest the aquatic Cyprus papyrus plant, which was indigenous of the Nile delta. The plant was collected, pressed and dried to create a smooth writing surface known as the “Papyrus” from which the English name of “paper” was derived. The papyri were first used for legal documents, and then for the production of books in the form of scrolls. It was a valued material and its use was permitted only for experienced scribes. Ancient Egyptians created papyri covering almost every important matter in their life. Examples of famous papyri include; the medical Ebers Papyrus and the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus.
King Den’s Sandal Label (front)
Throughout history, all ruling entities have resorted to propaganda as a means to influence the people or to promote a certain ideology. Their methods differed across the decades. The ancient nations, such as the Egyptians are no strangers from using propaganda either, only their methods differed. In 3000 BC, pharaohs resorted to hieroglyphic writings and sculptured reliefs on all available surfaces at the time including stone tablets, labels, papyri and temple walls. King Den, the fourth king of the first Egyptian Dynasty promoted an image of himself as a powerful and undefeatable ruler in the form of a relief known as The King’s Sandal label.
The first and oldest surviving religious texts are known as the Pyramid Texts which were created in 2494 -2345 BC in Ancient Egypt. The oldest Egyptian Pyramid dates back to 2635 -2610 BC, commissioned by Pharaoh Djoser. The pyramids are ancient masonry structures built to serve as tombs for Egyptian Pharaohs.
To the Egyptians, life on earth was simply one stage of an eternal journey. They believed that when a person dies, they are judged in the Hall of Truth, and if deemed righteous (in accordance with the will of gods), they would move on to eternal paradise. Their belief (as well as that of other Ancient African nations was that humans were created to work with the gods toward a mutually beneficial eternal journey. The people were to worship the gods and the gods repaid them by taking care of their daily needs (providing food and protecting them).
Nearly 10,000 years ago, maritime trade between civilizations took place between the ancient coastal civilizations of Africa. The construction of sailing vessels was complex enough to withstand long journeys crossing the vast water boundaries between civilizations, such as the Arabian Sea. The early sea-faring vessels had sails made from woven fabrics or animal skins. Several African civilizations were pioneers in the construction of sea-fearing vessels. Ancient Egypt constructed the grand Khufu ship, the Kingdom of Axum and the ancient land of Nibua were also known for their elaborate and well-structured sea vessels.
The African populations have more skin tone genetic diversity than non-African populations, ranging from the dark, the light, and all that is in between. The lowest levels of melanin, – the pigment responsible for the skin colour- was found in Africans living in the Southern area of the continent. Africans with the highest levels of melanin were found to be in Eastern Africa, while the regions in between have a variety of skin tones. Eumelanin (the darker melanin) can dissipate about 99% of the harmful Ultraviolet radiation, resulting in more skin protection. Pheomelanin (the lighter melanin) allows for a higher vitamin D absorption from sunlight. Thus, the darker skin tones are better adapted to survive in areas with high sun exposure, and as Africans migrated away from the equator, humans gradually transitioned to lighter skin tones.
The Haya is an African tribe, based along the western shore of Lake Victoria, the present-day Tanzania. Evidence has been found indicating that the Haya were among the early people to create steel. About 2400 years ago, they created their own method of smelting iron to produce high-grade steel. Their method, however, was different from those applied by Western nations. In order to reach temperatures that exceeded 1300 °C, Tuyere (pipes) were used inside the furnace for preheating. This method of preheating allowed the final temperature to rise beyond 1200°C, and it wasn’t applied in the Western World until around the 19th century.
A model of the Haya smelting method
The Edwin Smith Papyrus is the world’s oldest surgical document estimated to have been written around 1600 BC. It was written in the hieratic script (the cursive form of hieroglyphs). The papyrus discusses 48 cases of medical issues ranging from injuries and fractures to wounds and tumors. For each case, it explains the anatomical observation, the diagnosis, treatment and prognosis in elaborate detail. It also discusses different forms of wound closing with the use of sutures. The tomb of Qar (a royal physician during the sixth dynasty of Egypt) revealed the oldest metal surgical tools known to the world.
Animals played a major role in the lives of Egyptians, apart from them assisting people in their daily lives, or being a source of food, several of the animal species were considered as sacred creatures in ancient Egypt. Hence, it is no wonder that the first documented text that discusses veterinary medicine in ancient Africa is the Kahun Papyrus that dates back to 1825 BC during the reign of Amenemhat II in ancient Egypt. The papyrus discussed a myriad of animal ailments. This includes cattle diseases and their treatments, along with diseases affecting dogs, birds and fish, particularly the ailments of the animal’s eyes. Another portion of the Kahun Papyrus discusses veterinary gynecological matters.
Plate number 7 of the Kahun Papyrus discussing veterinary medicine
The town of Kahun in ancient Egypt built under the reign of King Senusret II shows that advanced town planning and infrastructure have taken place in Africa from as far as 1895 BC during the Middle Kingdom period. The town was constructed in a rectangular shape covering 14 hectares and was divided into two parts by a wall, separating the worker dwellings in the west quarter from the high ranking residential areas in the east quarter. The main street was 9 meters wide, and the alleys and other streets were as narrow as 1.5 meters, all of which were laid out in straight lines. The highest spot in the town was the acropolis. The town also had a temple area and a storage area in the southern quarter.
In the parliamentary system, a legislative body (the parliament) is formed through elections by the people. Under the parliamentary system, the party leader of the political party which secures the majority of seats within the legislative body becomes prime minister. Party leaders are members elected by party members. The legislature (the head of government or prime minister) runs the government on a day-to-day basis and gives power to the executive that enforces the laws. In the parliamentary republic system, the head of state is a person different from the head of government.
However, in countries like South Africa, there is no prime minister, and the president acts as both head of state and head of government.
In some countries like the USA, the president is elected by the electoral college. In most African countries, however, it is the people who vote to elect their country’s head of state or president.
In contrast to the parliamentary system, in the presidential system, the head of state or president is often also the head of government. Moreover, the executive does not obtain its democratic legitimacy from the legislature.
In a general election, all or most members of various bodies involved in government are elected. These bodies may be the head of state, parliament and the local councils under the parliamentary system, or the president, the senate and house of representatives. In general elections, registered voters elect the head of state as well as national and local representatives. The term refers to the elections that are held for the primary legislative body of a nation. As an example, when the parliament is dissolved, all the parliament seats become vacant and so, a general election is held to form a new parliament.
|Systems||No. of African countries using it|
Minimum age for voting:
|Minimum age for voting||No. of African countries|
Frequency of elections:
|Frequency of elections||No. of African countries|
|No set period||–|
Maximum terms leaders can service:
|Maximum terms||No. of African countries|
Years in office of current leader:
|No. of African countries|
|< 1 year||7|
|1 to 4 years||25|
|5 to 9 years||7|
|10 to 19 years||5|
|20 to 29 years||5|
|More than 30 years||3|
Voting rights for prisoners:
|No. of African countries|
From the period between 4,000 BC to 1800 CE, Africa developed 15 different pre-colonial political systems. The systems were established for income distribution, to manage wealth, to set rules for crime and punishment, to provide military security and to handle international relations. Across the centuries, the political systems changed and evolved. They ranged from a federation in Kwararafa and the Contrapuntal Paramountcy by the Hausa to Democracy in the Meroe Kingdom and a Federal Republic system in the Ashanti Empire. Matrilineal descent was practiced among the Akan people while patrilineal descent was practiced by the Amhara people. Other systems include the Hegemony, the Plutocracy, the Stratocracy and the Thalassocracy. The Gada system was developed by the Oromo people in Ethiopia and it is still practiced till this day.
On July 9th, 2002, the African Union was officially launched, with its headquarters located in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and known as the African Union Commission. It is an alliance of African sovereign states that have consented to the constitutive acts of the organization. It is currently comprised of 55 member states from all over Africa, representing 98% of the African countries. The African Union developed objectives that pertain to the welfare of African nations. These include: protecting the interest of African nations, fast track development of African nations, achieving greater unity, promoting democratic principles, promoting peace and the protection of human rights.
Latin is considered as one of the oldest languages in the world. However, some African writing systems were developed for Latin, nine writing systems in total, and fifteen African writing systems emerged before Europe’s oldest language systems.
Around the 32nd century BC, the Ancient Egyptians developed the Hieroglyphs, a well-developed writing script with over 1000 distinct characters. Later, Hieroglyphs evolved into Hieratic. The direction of both scripts was from right to left. The other Ancient African writing systems are Demotic (derived from Hieratic), Sahidic (a Coptic dialect), Meroitic, Coptic, Archaic Hebrew, Ge’ez (developed in the kingdom of Aksum), Nsibidi, Punic, Ajami, Wolofal, Gicandi symbols, Proto-writing (Proto-Saharan) and Somali Hieroglyphs
During the 2nd and 3rd centuries A.D, the Kingdom of Aksum was a vital trading link between ancient Europe and the Far East. The Kingdom of Aksum extended over what is now Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen and parts of Egypt. Due to its size, the kingdom of Aksum controlled an area of 1.25 million square kilometres at its peak. As a comparison the Eastern Roman Empire at its peak covered an area of 1.05 million square kilometres. Aksum had its own writing system, known as the Ge’ez – one of the first writing systems to emerge from Africa.
The Berber Kingdom of Altava existed from the year 578 AD to 708 AD, in Northern Africa, located in the present-day Algeria. Prior to Altava, the land was ruled by the Mauro-Roman Kingdom that existed in Maghreb. However, after the Battle of Altava in 578 AD, the power of the Mauro-Romans diminished and the land shrank into the Kingdom of Altava, named after its capital city.
From 1701 to 1984, the Ashanti kingdom in West Africa stretched from central Ghana to the present-day Côte d’Ivoire and Togo. The kingdom was bordered by the Dahomey to the east and the Dagomba kingdom to the north. The kingdom operated like a Federal republic politically. Today, the Ashanti kingdom is constitutionally protected and survives as a traditional state and a sub-national proto-state in union with the Republic of Ghana.
Between 1240 and 1897 CE, the Benin kingdom was considered one of the oldest and most developed civilizations in West Africa. It had a sturdy trading relationship with the Portuguese providing them with valuable local goods such as palm oil, pepper and ivory in exchange for Manilla (a form of currency), cowries and firearms. The Benin kingdom also produced famous art masterpieces using ivory, iron and brass (referred to as Benin Bronze).
For over 500 years, Carthage was a flourishing commercial hub in North Africa, in the present-day Tunisia. The city began its life around the 8th century BC as a Phoenician settlement, but it grew to be an expansive seafaring empire extending from North Africa to Spain. The head of state of Carthage was annually elected. It dominated the trade of textiles, gold, silver and copper.
Off the coast of Southeast Africa, the Kingdom of Imerina was a pre-colonial state which dominated most of the present-day Madagascar from the 16th to 19th century. The Kingdom had two capitals, a political capital at Antananarivo and a spiritual capital at Ambohimanga. Andriamanelo was credited with founding Imerina in 1540 and is said to be the origin of a long line of hereditary Imerina kings and queens who ruled over Madagascar.
Between 500 BC and 700 AD, the Berber Garamantes tribes constituted a local power in the southwest of ancient Libya. The abundant rock art in the region makes for an important source of historical information. The Garamantes founded a number of kingdoms in Libya, in the Fezzan area. Even though they were in the middle of the desert, they invented the “Qanat Garamantian irrigation system”, making their land suitable for agriculture for a thousand years. When their reserves of fossil water ran out, it became unsustainable to remain in the Sahara desert.
From the 9th century of our Era to the 19th century, the Kanem-Bornu was an African trading empire that existed in the regions of the present-day Chad and Nigeria. The empire was ruled by the Sef dynasty who controlled the area surrounding Lake Chad. Due to its unique central location, the empire flourished from being a point of contact in trade between North Africa, East Africa and the sub-Saharan regions.
Located in the heart of Sudanese Nubia, the Kingdom of Kerma was an ancient civilization. It is believed that the Kingdom of Kerma had no writing system, which makes the source of information about this kingdom either archaeological findings or sources from its neighbor, ancient Egypt. The Kingdom of Kerma existed between 2500 BC and 1500 BC and its people were known for being talented warriors and archers.
The multiethnic state or confederacy of Kwararafa was centered along the Benue River valley in the present-day Nigeria. It was located south of the Hausa States and southwest of the Bornu Empire. Its capital was in Beipi. The Kwararafa rose in status before 1500. The power center of Kwararafa was a spiritually significant Jukun priest-kingship at Wukari. A bureaucratic state with regional administrators was in place, headed by the Aku, who had limited powers. In the same way MPs in the United Kingdom gather at Westminster in the capital of the United Kingdom, the administrators of Kwararafa had to assemble at the capital for national government.
The pre-colonial Central African Kingdom of Luba was constructed in the Kamalondo Depression in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The success of the Luba Empire is mostly attributed to its development of a strong enough government that could withstand the disruptions of succession disputes, and it was flexible enough to incorporate foreign leaders. The governmental model of Luba was so successful that it was adopted by other regions including the Lunda Kingdom.
From the 5th century to the late 15th – 16th century, the Nubian Kingdom of Makuria existed. It was located in the present-day Northern Sudan and Southern Egypt. At some point in the 7th century, Makuria expanded its territory by annexing Nobatia, its neighbor in the north while maintaining close ties with the Kingdom of Alodia in the south. From the 9th to the 11th century, Makuria’s culture developed greatly with the erection of new monumental buildings and the crafting of fine wall paintings and decorated pottery.
The Mossi was a complex of independent and powerful West African kingdoms covering the present-day region of Burkina Faso and Ghana. The Mossi states existed from 1500 to 1895. With the increasing power of the kingdoms, there was a rise in conflicts with regional powers. The Mossi, particularly the Yatenga Kingdom played a major role in attacking the Songhai Empire and taking over Timbuktu between 1328 and 1477.
One of the oldest kingdoms in Nigeria was the medieval state of a subgroup of the Igbo people (the Nri-Igbo) known as the Kingdom of Nri (1043 – 1911). The Kingdom of Nri was managed by a priest-king referred to as the “eze Nri” and the kingdom existed as a province of religious and political influence. The “eze Nri” had no military power over his people, but managed trade, diplomacy and religious matters.
Punt is known as one of the most mysterious African civilizations as its exact location remains unknown. The land of Punt appeared in Egyptian records around 2500 BC and was referred to as “Land of the Gods. The travels of Egyptians to Punt was to obtain some of its rich products through trade. Punt’s riches include ebony, myrrh, gold and exotic animals.
In the 15th century, the Songhai Empire was formed from some former regions of the Mali Empire. This Western African Kingdom is recognized for its enormous size, for it was larger than Western Europe and it comprised parts of about 12 of the modern-day nations. Thanks to a sophisticated bureaucratic system and dynamic trade policies, the empire enjoyed a long period of prosperity.
The different people groups of Africa ideated different religions across the continent. Religion also had a great influence on development of art, mathematics, medicine, politics, philosophy and culture amongst Africa’s civilizations. Many polities were led by priest-kings.
In present times, the majority of Africans follow either Christianity, Islam or traditional beliefs. In some cases, Africans combine ideas from various religions.
Of some of the lesser known traditional and folk religions, that are unique to the African continent, some of those are ancient such as the Nilotic, the Ennead and the ancient Egyptian beliefs. Others emerged more recently, in the second millennium of the Common Era, such as the traditional Zulu and Yoruba beliefs.
In the one African country that was not colonized by Europeans, Ethiopia, stands the ancient church of Abu Yemata Guh. The church is located on a height of 2,580 meters on the side of one of the highest cliff points in the Gheralta mountain area of the Tigray region, and to be reached, one has to climb on foot. Abu Yemata dates back to the 5th century, but some even say it existed earlier. It is notable for its dome and magnificent wall paintings which have been well preserved.
Painting inside the Dome
Located in Nubia, about 230 km south of Aswan, the Aniba Fortress was a significant fortress in the village of Aniba, part of the important ancient town of Miam. During the reign of Senusret I (between 1971 BCE and 1926 BCE), a number of permanent fortifications were built to ensure uninterrupted access to valuable resources from the region. Among those fortifications and fortresses was the Buhen, Kubban, Ikkur and Aniba fortresses. The Aniba fortress was constructed with a rectangular layout, surrounded by wide ditches that were protected by separate walls. The archeological remains of Nubian fortifications demonstrate high architectural standards that are unmatched by Western Europe prior to the Common Era.
Artist’s reconstruction of Aniba Fortress
Fasil Ghebbi is a fortress city that was founded in the 17th century and located in Gondar, Ethiopia. It was founded by Emperor Fasilides and was home to Ethiopia’s emperors. Fasil Ghebbi is an Amharic name that translates to “Royal Enclosure or Royal Compound”. The Royal Enclosure is made up of a number of buildings including the Fasilides’ castle, Iyasu I’s palace, Dawit III’s Hall, Empress Mentewab’s castle, a chancellery, a banqueting hall, a library, stables and three churches. Fasil Ghebbi has a notable unique architecture that demonstrates diverse influences including Nubian architectural styles.
AERIAL VIEW OF A PORTION OF THE FASIL GHEBBI
The oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World is the Great Pyramid of Giza, which is also, the only Wonder that remains largely intact. The Great Pyramid of Giza is named after its location, the Giza area in Cairo, Egypt. However, its original name is the Pyramid of Khufu, named after the Pharaoh for whom it was built for: to serve as a burial site. The Great Pyramid is estimated to consist of 2.3 million blocks brought from nearby queries, and Tura limestone was used for the casing. The Khufu Pyramid has a base of 754 feet and a height of about 474 feet making it the largest pyramid in the Giza Pyramid complex.
In the ancient Egyptian society, religion formed an essential part of their daily lives. The temples had a great social and political power, as it was believed that they were homes of the gods and goddesses and so they were built for the worship of those gods through a variety of rituals and the giving of offerings.
Temples were constructed with six main parts; the Pylon (entrance gate), a courtyard, the hypostyle hall, a second hall, a sanctuary, and a sacred lake. All parts were elaborately designed in a style that gives a sense of magnificence upon entering them. Most of the walls were filled with reliefs, some were decorative, while others were descriptive of specific rituals or tales of a great pharaoh to whom the temple is made for. The temple of Karnak, the Abu Simbel temple and the temple of Hatshepsut are among the most impressive temples.
Priest relief at the Karnak Temple
The ancient Walls of Benin are an enormous earthwork that consist of about 16,000 kilometers in the rural area around Benin (in modern-day Nigeria) and 15 kilometers in the city of Iya. The walls are made up of banks and ditches known as “Iya” in the Edo language. They are located in the present-day city of Benin, Nigeria. It is estimated that the walls were constructed somewhere between the 13th and 15th centuries CE. The ancient Walls of Benin were dug by the people of Edo to protect and secure their kingdom from invaders. They are the lengthiest archeological phenomenon in the world, as they are four times longer than the Great Wall of China.
In 1903, the oldest skeleton of the human species, Homo sapiens, in the United Kingdom was found in Gough’s Cave, in Cheddar Gorge, Somerset, Britain. Normally, people would expect that the genetic markers of the Cheddar man would indicate pale skin, however, the genetic markers indicated pigmented skin, linked to individuals from Sub-Saharan Africa. The examination of the Cheddar man revealed that he was dark-skinned, with dark brown hair and blue eyes, and that he was about 166 cm tall. He is estimated to have died in his twenties. The Cheddar man is an early indication that Africans or descendants of did live in Europe, and were a part of its population.
Rendered model of Cheddar Man
The first ever known female African Briton in history is referred to as the Beachy Head lady. In 1953, her remains were discovered at Beachy Head, Eastbourne in South Sussex. Close examination of her remains determined that she lived somewhere between 200 AD and 245 AD, in the middle of the Roman British era, and that she originated from Sub-Saharan Africa. Beachy Heady Lady is estimated to have been about five feet tall, with healthy bones and teeth and that she probably died in her thirties. Evidence also indicated that she ate a good diet of fish and vegetables and that she grew up in what is now the East Sussex region.
Model of Beachy Head Lady
The remains of another young African lady were found in 1901, in the city of York, Northern England. The Ivory Bangle Lady – named after the ivory-made bangles discovered with her – was found buried in a stone sarcophagus. Her burial site contained a number of expensive and exotic goods including: different bracelets, earrings, pendants, beads, a blue glass perfume jar and a glass mirror. Many of these items were only owned by wealthy individuals at the time, which indicates that the Ivory Bangle Lady lived an extremely luxurious lifestyle. Her skeleton tells us that she was slender, about 5.1 feet tall and that it showed no signs of strenuous lifestyle or hard physical activity. The Ivory Bangle Lady’s discovery strongly disproves the common theory that Africans in Europe were only either slaves or of the working class. She has been identified from burial inscriptions as Julia Terrtia, a high-status rich female of African ancestry, that lived in 4th century York.
Model of Ivory Bangle Lady
In 1531, Alessandro De Medici was officially appointed Duke of Florence and he was the first of the Medici family to rule as a hereditary monarch. Alessandro possessed strong feelings for justice and a common sense of decency that allowed him to win the affection of his subjects. During his reign, what is now the largest historical monument in Florence, the Fortezza da Basso was constructed. Also, during his rule, Medici supported scientists such as Galileo Galilei in their efforts in the various fields of science. Alessandro demonstrates that Africans made prominent contributions to Europe allowing for the society’s evolution. It was during his reign in the 16th century that Florence became the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance from where the spirit of modern scientific innovation spread across Europe.
Black Africans in Europe and America
Jacques Frances, an African man born in Guinea, was a part of a ship salvage operation team led by the Venetian Piero Paolo Corsi. In July 1547, during the reign of King Henry VII, the team was entrusted with the operation of salvaging the valuable sunken warship, Mary Rose after two failed salvage attempts by other teams. The 20-years-old Jacques Frances was appointed head diver and under his leadership, the team was able to recover parts of the expensive weaponry from the ship and the English government appreciated their success and their use of innovative techniques that were uncommon in England at the time. Frances demonstrated outstanding skills in underwater exploits distinguishing himself as an expert diver.
Later on, when Corsi was accused of theft from other salvage jobs, Frances was called to testify. Despite the attempt of many to discredit him labelling him as a “slave” or an “uncivilized man”, the judges were more persuaded by his humanity, intelligence and his articulate speech. Jacques Francis became the first African witness to testify in an English court.
Born in Morocco around 1520, Esteban was enslaved by the Portuguese at a very young age, then sold to a Spaniard Andres Dorantes de Carranza, and regained his freedom much later, around 1535. Around 1527, while still a slave to Dorantes de Carranza, out of 600 men who went on a Spanish expedition to the United States, Esteban was one of the only four survivors, and it is widely believed that he is the first African to have reached North America (specially the region of the present-day USA).
His status of arriving in the New World as a slave led to an underappreciation of his achievements in the 16th century. Esteban had a rich life that demonstrates lots of perseverance, courage and strength. He was an intelligent man who contributed to the knowledge of Native Indian tribes, Native American languages, place names and the mapping of parts of many of the present-day American states including Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and Northern Mexico.
Jean Baptiste Point Du Sable was born in 1745 on the island of Haiti to an African mother and a French father. Du Sable was educated in France, where he acquired a taste for culture and fine arts. After that, he went on voyages as a seaman, and later, he developed an interest in exploring the interior of the North American wilderness.
In the 1770s, Du Sable explored the Great Lakes area and reached the north bank of the present-day Chicago River. Even though it was a damp barren area with swampy odours, Du Sable foresaw the value of the location and established his first permanent home on the site of the present-day Tribune Tower, downtown Chicago. He started to financially flourish and created a complex of commercial buildings on this strategic land.
Jean Baptiste Point Du Sable was an African entrepreneur who had a futuristic vision in establishing the cosmopolitan city of Chicago.
DuSable 22 ¢ Stamp, issued 1987
The abolishing of slavery was by no means a simple feat. It was a long-lasting campaign involving the pressure movement composed of different anti-slavery and anti-racism supporters along with slave revolts. African American abolitionists and former slaves wrote books and created art that expressed their strong opinion and antagonism to slavery. The abolitionist writers and speakers accounted for the cruelty of slavery, the damage and destruction of black families and the acts of rape committed against African women. Examples of such literary works include:
- Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, by Fredrick Douglass.
- The Narrative of the Life of Henry Box Brown, by Henry Box Brown.
- West African Countries and Peoples, British and Native, and a Vindication of the African Race, 1868 by James Africanus Beale Horton.
- A Narrative of the Adventures and Escape of Moses Roper from American Slavery by Moses Roper.
- The Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano, by Olaudah Equiano.
- “Aint I a Woman?” a speech by Soujourner Truth (Isabelle Baumfree)
Yakut Khan (Siddi Qasim Khan or Sidi Yaqub) was an African Indian of the Siddi (Sheedi or Habshi) social group in the Karnataka and Kerala areas of India. The Siddi is a social grouping for the descendants of East Africans who migrated to India during the second millennium. Qasim Khan was given the title Yakut Khan by the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb only when he became the Admiral of the Mughal navy. Under Yakut Khan’s leadership, the Mughal fleet acquired many victories including the defeat of the Marathas and the most prominent victory, the defeat of the British (the East India Company) during the 1689 Bombay siege.
Since 1622 AD, the Janjira state located in the Konkan of Rangai district of Maharashtra in India was ruled by Siddis (a respectful term for North Africans potentially from the Arabic sahibi). The Siddis originally came from Ethiopia and Somalia and were followers of Islam. They were known to be the best sea fighters of the time among the Muslim nations. The west coast of India referred to them as Siddis, yet, to the rest of India, they were known as Habshis. The Janjira rulers were of Abyssinian origin, but they combined forces with the Ottomans in 1587 to route a Portuguese fleet at Yemen. After that, Janjira was known for the important role that they played in the resistance of the Portuguese.
In 1791, the princely state of Sachin, India was established, and it was ruled by Africans. The state of Sachin was a self-contained nation with its own coat of arms, currency, stamped paper, Calvary and a mixed Royal court of Africans and Indians. The African rulers of Sachin were Muslims of the Sidi dynasty of Danfa-Rajpuri and Janjira State. In 1948, the last ruler of Sachin, Nawab Sidi Ibrahim Muhammad Yakut Khan III signed an agreement to join the Indian union, making the state part of the Surat district in the Province of Bombay. The rulers of Sachin were addressed by the title “Nawab”, and the British authorities granted them a nine-gun salute.
Most people think world war 1 and world war 2, were wars involving only the US, Europe, and a few countries in Asia. There is very little awareness that black people of African, Caribbean, American and European descent took part in the war, died, suffered due to the war and economically sacrificed during war.
The following estimates are of manpower contributed by Africa and Afro-Caribbeans in the form of service personnel, porters, carriers and excludes Afro-Americans:
|Low end estimates||Top end estimates|
|World War 1||1.6 million||1.7 million|
|World War 2||1.3 million||1.5 million|
|Total||2.9 million||3.2 million|
Between 1500 and 1900 and estimated 5.6 million Africans died in wars purely related to conflicts between European powers and African states for instance 480,000 died in the Franco-Algeria wars and 36,000 died in the Italo-Ethiopian Wars. These figures exclude the Trans-Atlantic slavery and Trans-Sahara slave trade fatalities.
Afterwards, during the conquest and/or pacification of various territories in Africa in the period called the Scramble for Africa, colonial military units were created across the continent.
Colonial troops had better local immunity, accepted 25% to 90% lower pay than European service personnel posted to Africa, were allotted worse equipment, sometimes were provided with no medical supplies, received little respect in death and the form of their burial ceremonies, and were sometimes denied pensions or ill health benefits after leaving the armed forces. While the service death causes of European troops mainly related to tropical diseases leading to the phrase “white man’s grave”, colonial troops died due to combat, lower quality equipment and bad working conditions such as having to match long distances without footwear.
The Formation Of Colonial troops
Many think that the contributions of Africans, Caribbeans, Afro-American and Black British service men to the world war 1 and world war 2 started in 1914. Sadly, it started much earlier.
Prior to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, up a year before world war 1, in 1913, the estimated numbers and composition of regular colonial troops during peacetime stationed in Asia, the Caribbean and Africa looked as follows:
|Proportion of indigenous soldiers in the colonial armies
(% of total force)
|Number of colonised people per home country soldier
|United States (d)||18.5||29.7||0.7|
|United Kingdom (f)
|Total and averages||517.4||69.8||3.3|
Source: Bouda Etemad, Possessing the World, pp 47
a) Eastern Africa, Southwest Africa, Cameroon;
b) Belgian Congo;
c) Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) and in the West Indies (Suriname and Curacao) 497 colonial soldiers;
e) Active European colonial troops + regular indigenous troops not including the colonial forces stationed in the home country (28,600 in February 1914).
f) Not including the dominions (Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa), or North China
The formation of colonial troops started with the conquest of parts of Asia and the levy of troops from Asia. When European launched the Scramble for Africa, European service men from the home countries of Colonial Powers, Europe’s penal corps, mercenaries from neighbouring countries (such as the Swiss and Polish etc.) and Asian troops converged on Africa.
Indian troops (non-European) were used by Britain as the cannon fodder in India (90%), Burma (1824-1885), Persia (1856-57), China (1839-42 etc.), Afghanistan (1878 – 80), Egypt (1882 – 85), Central Africa (1897 – 1804), West Africa (1840 – 1904), Sudan and South Africa (1860 – 1890).
Size and composition of the Indian colonial armies in British India and the Dutch East Indies from the mid-eighteenth century to 1913, in thousands
(% of total)
Source: Bouda Etemad, Possessing the World, pp 40
Asians and Africans helped conquer their own continents. Indigenous soldiers were happy to be paid 25% to 75% less than European soldiers and had no lack of immunity.
At the Berlin conference of 1884-1885, Germany was allotted Togoland, Kamerun, Southwest Africa and North-East Africa. To secure and keep its possessions German created the German West Africa Schutztruppe, German East Africa Schutztruppe and German Southwest Schutztruppe (based in Namibia). Ghana and Nigeria went to Britain, and the constabulary forces of local Africans led by Europeans were formed as Imperial units which later become the Royal West African Frontier Force in times of war. Large parts of North east Africa, East Africa and South Africa also went to Britain, annexed into protectorates by violence mostly. The askari force created by Britain to suppress movements for independence by East African civilians was called the King’s African Rifles.
Total Manpower Contributed To The World Wars
African and Caribbean Manpower Contributed to World War 1
|Regiment/ Corps||Lower est.||Higher est.|
|Force publique (Belgian empire)||16,660||17,000|
|King’s african rifles (British empire)||30,658||TBC|
|Royal West African Frontier Force (British empire)||65,000||65,000|
|East Africa Carrier Corps||340,000||400,000|
|163,000 Kenyan Africans, 183,000 Ugandan Africans|
|South African Native Labour Contigent||25,000||25,000|
|South African Labour Corps (other)||35,000||35,000|
|Cape Auxiliary Horse Transport||2,800||2,800|
|German west africa schutztruppe||3,000||3,000|
|German east africa schutztruppe||4,122||4,122|
|German southwest africa schutztruppe||2,800||2,800|
|Egyptian Labour Corps||55,000||55,000|
|Uganda Volunteer Reserve||100||100|
|Somali Scouts (British empire)||400||400|
|Baganda Rifles (British empire)||555||555|
|Royal corps of colonial troops (Italy)||66,000||66,000|
|Tirailleurs Senegalais (Senegalise Rifles) (French empire)||190,000||190,000|
|Algerian, Tunisian and Moroccan troops (French empire)||200,000||200,000|
|Royal Rhodesian African Rifles||2,450||450|
|Madagascar’s Malagasy Rifles (French empire)||17,000||17,000|
|West Africa Carrier Corps (British empire) (Sierra Leone and Nigeria)||14,200||14,200|
|German Ruga-Ruga irregular troops||12,000||12,000|
|West africa inland water transport services||1,700||1,800|
|Somali Camel Corps||700||700|
|British West India Regiment (Caribbean)||10,000||50,000|
|North african civilians||Tbc||Tbc|
|West african civilians||Tbc||Tbc|
|East african civilians||365,000||365,000|
|South african civilian||200,000||200,000|
|Civilian deaths post-war epidemic in Sub-Sahara Africa||NE||NE|
|Total||1.6 m||1.7 m|
African and Caribbean Manpower Contributed to World War 2
|Lower est.||Higher est.|
|Force publique (Belgian empire)||24,000||24,000|
|King’s african rifles (British empire)||289,530||289,530|
|Royal West African Frontier Force (British empire): Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Gambia||200,000||300,000|
|East Africa Carrier Corps||TBC||TBC|
|Mauritius and Seychelles (British empire)||6,500||6,500|
|Royal corps of colonial troops (Italy)||??||??|
|Eritrean colonial troops (Italy)||60,000||60,000|
|Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Benin, Chad, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Niger and Republic of Congo (Vichy France)||122,800||122,800|
|French Expeditionary Corps (Moroccan, Tunisian and Algerian) (Vichy France)||67,200||67,200|
|South African Troops (British empire)||334,000||334,000|
|Southern Africa (British empire): Lesotho, Botswana, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe||77,767||77,767|
|South African Troops (British empire)||334,000||334,000|
|Madagascar’s Malagasy Rifles (French empire)||10,500||10,500|
|West Africa Carrier Corps (British empire) (Sierra Leone and Nigeria)||Tbc||Tbc|
|West africa inland water transport services||Tbc||Tbc|
|British West India Regiment (Carribean)||15,000||15,000|
|Egypt (British empire)||100,000||100,000|
World War I [1914 – 1918]
Even though Africa was naturally dragged into both World Wars, its role in helping win the war for the Allies often goes unmentioned and understated. Next, we take a look at two military organisations and their role in World War I.
African Carrier Corps
In World War I, the British military’s demand for supplies became excessive and daunting as they weren’t expecting such a long-lasting conflict. To deal with this issue, the District Commissioner Lt Col Oscar Watkins along with several officials from the East African Protectorate’s administration formed the Carrier Corps.
The East African Protectorate was located in the present-day Kenya and Uganda. From this region, they recruited more than 400,000 local African men to serve as porters to carry the supplies for army men and to perform other military labor tasks in order to support the British campaign against the German military forces in East Africa during the war.
To the native East African population and some African tribes, the cause for which they were made to serve was largely irrelevant and foreign. Yet, from being constantly mobilized to being exposed to extreme climate conditions to an outrageous amount of physical work to insufficient rations and medical supplies, they were practically forced to endure considerable suffering just for the sheer benefit of another nation.
With the beginning of World War I, the French started recruiting Africans from the colonized population into their armies. In the span of the four years of war, a total of 45,000 Malagasy (natives to Madagascar) men served in the French army. 4000 of those were recruited as administrative staff and nurses while 41,000 were assigned to Malagasy infantry units. Moreover, about 5000 other Malagasy were assigned to work in munition factories in France to maintain a steady supply of weaponry for the French during the war.
During the operations in 1918, the Malagasy 12th infantry battalion was cited as ‘magnificent’ on three different occasions. The battalion was awarded the Croix de Guerre (“the Cross of War”, a French military decoration) exemplifying their distinguished acts of bravery in the war.
However, despite their outstanding service, the Malagasy troops were not given the same respect as the French troops. The 2400 Malagasy who were fighting for France and died in battle were buried in primitive ways at the military cemeteries in Fréjus. It wasn’t till about 48 years later in 1966 that they were reinterred with proper honor.
Flight Lieutenant: Peter Adeniyi Thomas
The first African to be granted a commission in the Royal Air Force (RAF) was Peter Thomas. The Nigerian born RAF officer’s full name is Emanuel Peter John Adeniyi Thomas. He was born in 1914 in the city of Lagos where he also studied in King’s College after which he joined the Labour Department of the Nigerian Government. After reading about the Battle of Britain, he applied to the RAF, and his application was supported and forwarded to London by Nigeria’s chief secretary. On 17th September 1942, Peter Thomas became the first Black African pilot. Later on, he received two promotions; Flying officer in 1943 and Flight Lieutenant in 1944. He passed away in an air crash in 1945 leaving a great memory of his courage and skills as an African flight lieutenant in the RAF.
King’s African Rifles
From 1902 to the 1960s, King’s African Rifles (KAR) acted as a multi-battalion British colonial regiment. The KAR’s main goals were to maintain internal security and to perform military actions within the colonial territories. They also took part in both World Wars. The soldiers were recruited from native inhabitants and they were known as ‘askaris’. Askaris is a term given to local African soldiers recruited to serve in European colonial armies. Most of the officers were from the British Army. However, at the start of KAR, some of the officers were Sudanese raised in Uganda, and by the end of the British colonial rule, native officers were commissioned.
The original KAR formed in 1902 in Kenya
Tirailleurs is French for sharpshooter or riflemen, which explains the term ‘Senegalese Tirailleurs’ as riflemen recruited from Senegal in French West Africa during the World Wars. The Senegalese Tirailleurs were colonial corps in the French army. At first, soldiers were recruited only from Senegal, but later on, they were recruited from other areas of the main sub-Saharan regions of the French colonial empire, namely Western, Central and Eastern Africa. The first permanent battalion of the Senegalese Tirailleurs was formed in 1857 by Louis Faidherbe, the military governor of Senegal. The Senegalese Tirailleurs served France in a number of wars including World Wars I & II.
Senegalese Tirailleurs serving in France, 1940
During Senusret I’s reign, the construction of several fortifications took place to ensure that the valuable resources of the region would not be sought by others. Among those were the Buhen Fortress, the Ikkur Fortress, the Kubban Fortress and the Aniba Fortress in the ancient Nubian village of Aniba, 230 km south of Aswan. Most of the fortifications were built from mud-brick. Aniba’s rising wall was covered with white plaster. The fortress had three floors, and on the upper floor, the watchtower could be accessed by a pull-up ladder for safety. The rectangular fortress was surrounded by ditch defenses. The Aniba fortress was considered as one of the oldest military constructions in Lower Nubia.
On the 2nd August 216 BC, the Battle of Cannae took place between the Roman Republic and Carthage. The battle occurred in ancient Cannae, Apulia in southeast Italy. The battle is also considered to be part of the Second Punic War. In the battle of Cannae, even though the Roman army was larger in strength with 86,400 men, 80,000 infantry, 6400 cavalries, while the Carthaginian army had 50,000 men, 40,000 infantry, 10,000 cavalries, the Carthaginian army which was led by Hannibal managed to surround and annihilate the Roman army. The Battle of Cannae is considered as one of the greatest tactical feats in military history.
During late May 1274 BC in the city of Kadesh (near the present-day Lebanon-Syria border), the Orontes River witnessed the Battle of Kadesh. The battle occurred between the New Kingdom of Egypt led by Ramesses II and the Hittite Empire led by Muwatalli II. The battle ended with a tactical victory to the Egyptians, and the formation of a peace treaty. It is considered to be the best documented battle in ancient history due to the discovery of multiple Kadesh inscriptions and the Egyptian-Hittite peace treaty that resulted from the battle.
Ramesses atop chariot, at the battle of Kadesh. (Relief inside his Abu Simbel temple.)
In 142 AD, the Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius ordered the construction of the Antonine Wall in Scotland to mark the Roman territory border in Britain and to act as a defense from raids by the Caledonians (Northern Britons). The wall was 4 meters wide and 3 meters high, topped with imposing wooden paling and the entire length of the wall was fronted by a 3.5 meters deep ditch. Quintus Lollius Ubricus, the Roman general who was of African descent was assigned to oversee the construction of the wall. The Romans used to organize army positions according to ethnic identity to ensure that a nation’s finest qualities were used well in military tactics.
Dongola, the capital of the Nubian Kingdom of Makuria witnessed the victory of the Makurians in major battles named after the capital city. In 642, the First Battle of Dongola took place between the Nubian Christians of Makuria and the Rashidun Muslim Caliphates. The Makurian victory in the battle resulted in a temporary halting of the Arab incursions into Nubia and an increased hostility between the two cultures. In 652, the Second Battle of Dongola between the same two forces was more decisive as it ended the Muslim expansion into Nubia. As a result, a historic peace treaty called the Baqt and trade was established between the Muslim and the Christian nations which allowed Makuria to grow as a regional power.
The Umayyad Caliphate dynasty was the second of the four major caliphates that were established after the death of the prophet Muhammad, in existence from 660 AD to 750 AD. Covering an area of 11,100,000 km2, the Umayyad Caliphate was considered one of the largest empires in history with respect to area and population, which spanned 33 million people. They maintained strong military forces which allowed them to secure Muslim conquests, incorporating several regions into the Muslim world such as the Maghreb, Transoxiana, Sindh, and the Iberian Peninsula.
The Fatimid Caliphate dominated North Africa from 909 AD to 1171 AD as an empire that spanned from the Red Sea in the east to the Atlantic Ocean in the west with Egypt acting as the center of the caliphate. The army units of the Fatimids were separated according to ethnicity; the Berbers were the light cavalry and foot skirmishers, while the horse archers or heavy cavalry were usually Turks (Mamluks). The foot archers and heavy infantry were mostly black Africans and Arabs. The Fatimids’ well-structured military served as an effective defense against threats. They were highly successful in repelling the Byzantine attack in the 10th century forcing the Byzantine ruler Nikephoros II Phokas to retreat and make peace with the Fatimids.
On 22nd July 1921, the Battle of Annual was fought in the settlement of Annual in northeastern Morocco. The Spanish army led by Manuel F. Silvestre and Felipe Navarro had relatively more strength than their opponent, the Republic of Rif. The Riffians were Berber speaking combatants, who under the lead of Abd el-Krim managed to conquer the Spanish causing a military defeat for the Spanish that they always referred to as “Desastre de Annual” (Disaster of Annual). This defeat led to a major political crisis and a redefining of the Spanish colonial policy towards the Rif.
General Silvestre and staff, 1921
The Henricus Martellus map
Maps are a symbolic depiction that illustrates relationships between spatial elements such as regions and objects. Most maps are fixed on paper or other media, while some are interactive and dynamic.
In the 1490s, the Henricus Martellus map was created by the German Henricus Martellus featuring all the best routes at the time. It is said that Christopher Columbus might have used this type of map.
In 1569, the Flemish Geographer Gerardus Mercator designed the Mercator map. This map is a cylindrical projection of the world, which makes it easy to view the entire globe through those projections. The meridians are kept in a straight line which makes it easier to navigate. However, the object sizes are distorted which is quite a disadvantage when it comes to appreciating the true size of Africa.
In Africa, mountains are distributed across the continent like islands rising from the lowlands and the plateau below. Most of Africa’s mountains are of volcanic origin, while others are Block Mountains, thrust up by forces relating to faulting and cracking of the earth’s crust. Africa can be broadly divided in two halves, the lower half of Africa in the west, north and center, and the higher half of Africa, in the east and south. East Africa has the three highest peaks of the continent, which are; Mount Kilimanjaro (5895 m) (Africa’s tallest mountain), Mount Kenya (5199m) and Mount Stanley (5109 m) in the Rwenzori range.
Where there is water, there is life. That is why African rivers and lakes played an important role in the start of settlements and the rise of civilizations. The River Nile ensured a reliable and fertile soil for crop growth, giving rise to the Egyptian civilization in the northern part of the Nile and the Nubian Kerma civilization in the south. Extending over 6650 km, the Nile is the longest river in the world. Other major African rivers include the Congo River (4700 km), the Niger River (4200km) and the Zambezi River (2693 km).
Africa also has a number of lakes located in different regions, including Lake Victoria (the largest lake in Africa and the second largest freshwater lake in the world), Lake Tanganyika, Lake Nyasa, Lake Albert and Lake Chad.
Map of African rivers
The city of Alexandria in Egypt is home to the Great Library of Alexandria, the largest library in the ancient world that contained works by the greatest thinkers and authors and served as a research institute.
The city of Carthage, Tunis is currently a UNESCO World Heritage site preserving the remains of the city walls, the religious sanctuary, and the limestone cannonballs that tell the history of the city that was a leading commercial power in the Western Mediterranean.
The city of Zimbabwe holds the largest collection of ruins in East Africa that are a testament to a civilization of great wealth and architectural skills.
These are examples of the many ancient African cities that left behind spectacular architecture and artifacts that give us a glimpse of the grand African era of the past and the contributions they made to the entire world that are highly appreciated and are used till this day.
The largest city in Africa by population is Lagos in Nigeria. Ironically Africa’s largest city is also the smallest state in Nigeria, an astonishing 23 times smaller than Nigeria’s largest state, Niger state.
African islands are a major geographical sub-region which is not widely portrayed on media when describing the continent. Africa has a number of islands that can be divided into; Atlantic Ocean Islands and Indian Ocean Islands. The Indian Ocean holds the largest number of African islands. The African islands represent a distinct demographic and historical culture that influences the continent. At 587,041 square kilometers, Madagascar stands to be the fourth largest island in the world. Most of Africa’s islands came to exist through volcanic formations. The Mumbo Island (Malawi), Chief’s Island (Botswana), Lamu Island (Kenya), Mauritius and Seychelles are among the most popular islands in Africa.
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