Why Study African History

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Why study African History?

Why is it important to learn about Africa’s history?

Why is it important to teach history?

Why Africa is important to the world?

African History important is to the world and also important to Africa.

Some people don’t know that modern humans emerged from Africa. They don’t know that 15 African writing systems predate modern English, that the belief in the afterlife, the belief in a creator or pantheon, bows and arrows, art, engineering, glass-making, mathematics, medicine, multi-storey constructions, propaganda such as King Den’s Sandal, poetry, the police, vaccines, religion, sea-faring vessels, science, surgery, the construction of the first temples, the first zoo in the world, tool making, town planning, veterinary medicine, started in Africa.

Today Africa is still important. Its forests provide 17% of global forest cover. Its trees absorb carbon emissions. A third of all world languages are spoken in Africa. The uranium for the Manhattan project – the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki – came from the Kasolo mine in the Haut-Katanga Province in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Oil and rubber from Africa for vehicles supplied the allies during the world wars. Coltan from Africa is used in tablets, smartphones and laptops. 40% of all gold ever mined comes from South Africa. 46% of the world’s platinum reserves is in South Africa.

If we look around the world it’s clear that history has value, even to those who don’t value it. What is the untapped value of African history?

We think those who study African History are more likely to have a better understanding of society and how to successfully tinker with it.

We think those who study African History gain a better understanding of other world cultures and how to handle international relations.

We think those who study African History are better equipped to combat lies, of which there are many myths, misconceptions and lies about Africa.

We think those who study African History will know their own self-value and see the Atlantic slave trade as just a detour during a timeline of continuous word class contributions.

Those who study African History must develop various skills that have other uses such as economics, mathematics, diplomacy, public speaking, medicine, engineering, geography, law-making, and critical thinking.

Those who study African History are better equipped to become the content creators, tv producers, film producers, writers, journalists and game programmers of tomorrow.

Understanding Society

History should be an integral part of primary education. In societies that were former monarchies each child should learn about the monarchy, the former administrative system, and sites of historical significance. African countries are generally a collection of several pre-colonial states so this local history ought to be combined with the history of the current political system, how law-making works and the history of the current sites of national significance such Houses of Parliament or Houses of assembly.

History can be used to develop languages skills: an awareness of terms used for the past, an awareness of what a thousand years means, what two thousand years means, and common words using to describe the past. People and events should be placed in a timeline for children between the ages of 3 and 7 to understand. Children at such a young age can begin to learn how ways of life changed over time. Children should be taught to start to use a wide range of historical phrases.

They should be encouraged to ask questions, provide answers, compose stories, read stories and role play. They should be taught how to discover information about the past. Their reading assignments could involve magical stories that teleport characters to the past – the time of the Egyptians, the time of the Meroitic kingdom, the time of Mali Empire or the time of the Romans.

The idea of age grades and age sets date to the Neolithic from Africa, and is an Afroasiatic invention, Cushitic to be particular. There are African societies today that still use age sets such as the Oromo. The required curriculum can be split into content to be learned at different age grades.

study african history early humans
Migration routes of early humans

Between the ages of 5 and 7, children should gain a minimum level of knowledge about their national history by law:

  • changes within living memory. These will be taught in line with the teachers’ appropriate judgement, to reveal aspects of change in national life;
  • events beyond living memory that are of national or global significance [such as, the journey out of Africa by behaviourally modern humans, the invention of writing, the invention of art and paint, cotton, the beginning of town planning, the invention of medicine or events commemorated through festivals or anniversaries];
  • the lives of significant individuals in the past who have contributed to national and international achievements. Some of these people should be used to compare aspects of life in different periods such as Cheddar man the oldest complete skeleton found in Great Britain, Pharaoh Hatshepsut, Septimius Severus Roman Emperor, Ivory Bangle Lady, Ibn Battuta global explorer, Imhotep considered by Egyptologists the designer and builder of the Pyramid of Djoser, a step pyramid at Saqqara, Eratosthenes a great mathematician who calculated the circumference of the earth around 200 BCE, Abdallah ibn Yasin the founder of the Almoravid Empire, Mansa Musa the richest man of all time, King Mvemba a Nzinga of Kongo, Oba Esigie king of Benin, Usman Dan Folio founder of the second largest empire since the Songhai Empire, and Julius Nyerere the independence leader of Tanzania.
    These individuals can be compared to their contemporaries from other continents such as Elizabeth I and Queen Victoria, Christopher Columbus and Neil Armstrong, William Caxton and Tim Berners-Lee, Pieter Bruegel the Elder and LS Lowry, Rosa Parks and Emily Davison, Mary Seacole and/or Florence Nightingale and Edith Cavell.
  • significant historical events, people and places in their own locality.

To help Africans and non-Africans develop a knowledge of significant individuals that have contributed to national and international achievements, thinkafrica.net has prepared a list of 140 iconic Africans.

Between the ages of 5 and 7, it is already a good time to start to teach children how parliaments work or how a legislative system based on a bicameral house of assembly operates.

Older children between the ages of 7 and 11 are mature enough to learn and understand even more – pertaining to national, regional and world history. Older children are able to grasp changes, connections, and contrasts over time. This age grade is able to form questions about causality, similarities, differences, and significance. They should learn critical thinking – how to select and organise time-specific information. They should learn how to gather information from a wealth of sources – the internet, books, adults, documentaries and libraries.

These older kids should learn about:

In the same way African kids should attempt to learn key changes during the development of various civilisations of Africa.

The basic structure of African History should cover the following time periods

ca. 340k BC-50k BC
early Nubian civilization
The emergence and spread of Behaviourally Modern Humans throughout the globe. At this time humans developed stone tools, harpoons, bows, arrows, art, paint, religion (and the behaviour of burying the dead), language, astronomy, mathematics, mining, war, raiding, feuding, cities, hunting, gathering, clothing and the construction of temporary shelters.
Ca. 6000 – 1000 BC The emergence of Predynastic Egypt, Ta-Seti, and Pharaonic Egypt
ca. 2,500-1000 BC
early Nubian civilization
The emergence of the kingdom of Kerma (A-Group) in Upper Nubia, briefing incorporating Upper Egypt as a tributary during the Second Intermediate Period from 1,750 BC – 1,550 BC
ca. 1000 BC-300 AD
Nubia flourishes as the independent kingdom of Kush and becomes an empire briefly between 750 BC – 650 BC spanning Egypt and parts of Canaan
ca. 300-650
peak of Aksum
the kingdom of Aksum experiences the peak of its power
(ca. 300, Aksum achieves regional dominance by destroying Kush; ca. 650,
Aksum declines as Islamic civilization spreads across northern Africa)
Ca. 650 – 1500 The Islamic invasion of North Africa coincided with stories of refugees from the east and north arriving in the empire of Ghana, the Hausa states, the kingdom of Kanem-Bornu, and the kingdom of Ife.
ca. 650-1880
age of pre-colonial civilization
three types of civilization flourish across Africa:
Christian (Ethiopia and medieval Nubia),
Islamic (kingdoms across the northern half of Africa, as well as east coast city-states),
traditional (kingdoms across the southern half of Africa)
ca. 1880-1980
colonial Africa
European powers (especially Britain and France) seize and govern Africa
ca. 1941-present
modern Africa
Africa gains self-rule due to article 3 of the six-point Atlantic Charter, giving rise to Africa’s modern nations. The Atlantic Charter – documented as a statement – was as a compromise agreed between Britain and the USA setting out the post-World War Two vision of both countries for the world. To avert future world wars the USA demanded an end to Europe ownership of colonies. The six points were: no territorial aggrandizement, no territorial changes made against the wishes of the people (self-determination), restoration of self-government to those deprived of it, reduction of trade restrictions, global co-operation to secure better economic and social conditions for all, freedom from fear and want, freedom of the seas, and abandonment of the use of force, and disarmament of aggressor nations. The rise of Nazi Germany and its axis exposed the hypocrisy of Britain, the USA and Free France in defending their right to self-rule while depriving much of the globe of Westphalian sovereignty.

Aspects of history involving violence, wars, genocide and more complex themes could ear-marked for children between the ages of 11 and 15.

The Trans-Atlantic and Trans-Sahara Slave Trade

Although there is shame and hurt in revisiting the trans-Atlantic slave trade, not many Africans are aware of contributions slaves made to developing today’s “developed economies” – some of whom include France, Portugal, Spain, Britain, the United States of America and North Africa.

In North Africa, cruelly indigenous black Africans, Muslim black Africans and non-Muslim black Africans were enslaved by way of the Trans-Sahara Slave Trade and forced during a period of 13 centuries to function as soldiers, domestic help, sex slaves and concubines.

In Europe and America, the proceeds of the slave trade contributed enormously to its development. The Atlantic slave trade provided forced labour for mining the looted gold and silver of South and Central America. The Atlantic slave trade created cash to invest in the banking industry, the formation of Central banks, the Sugar industry, cotton industry, Tobacco industry, metalworking industry, shipping industry, and insurance industry. The Atlantic slave trade generated the cash donations made to places of worship, schools, local governments, universities, and museums. The wealth amassed by slave traders and slave owners allowed various famous individuals spare time to indulge in the sciences, mathematics, literature and the arts.

Furthermore, Africans and other world societies can learn how slavery (today called human trafficking) was abolished, a process that could still be applied to ending forced labour in a few dysfunctional societies. In 1834, 25% of the UK GDP – equivalent to £300 billion in 2015 – was borrowed to compensate slave owners. Slaves received their freedom only. At the time British slave owners wanted £100 million, but the government could only afford £20 million. To bridge the gap, slaves were forced to work an extra four to six years before being free to leave their place of torment. This process is similar to how Portugal, France, Spain, the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and Brazil abolished slavery.

First World War and Second World War

The following estimates are of manpower contributed to the 20th century world wars by Africa and the Caribbean in the form of service personnel, porters, carriers and excludes Afro-Americans:

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

Many think that the contributions of Africans, West Indians, Afro-American and Black British service men to the world war 1 and world war 2 started in 1914. Actually, 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 Carribean and Africa looked as follows:

Colonial troops

(in thousands)

Proportion of indigenous soldiers in the colonial armies

(% of total force)

Number of colonised people per home country soldier

(in thousands)

Colonial Powers
Germany A 6.5 62.2 4.4
Belgium B 18.3 97.6 24.9
Netherlands C 33.8 69.2 4.8
Italy 47.8 75.8 2.0
Portugal 10.2 69.0 1.8
United States D 18.5 29.7 0.7
France E 101.6 86.7 3.6
United Kingdom F








Total and averages 517.4 69.8 3.3

Source: Bouda Etemad, Possessing the World, pp 47

Skill Development

Learning about African history can be used to develop a love of learning, and skill build a child in physics, mathematics, genetics, linguistics, comprehension, geography, grammar, oratorical skills and global awareness.

The Book Industry

In the west the book industry is a significant industry. In the United Kingdom the book industry is worth $4.9 billion – equivalent to 47% of the GDP of Rwanda ($10.4 billion in 2019). In 2016, 40% of digital and physical sales of books by UK publishers was exported. The source material for some fiction and non-fiction published books is history.

The Gaming Industry

Historical knowledge has been essential for constructing the plots and environments for various successful gaming titles such as Call of Duty, Medal of Honor, Operation Flashpoint, Thief, Assassin’s Creed, and so on. In the Medal of Honor, gamers are given the opportunity to re-live various missions that were undertaken by American operatives from Office of Strategic Services during World War 2.

Combating lies

For obvious reasons learning about African History will be important for combating messages that an African child will hear for the rest of his or her life, such as:

“Black people have no history”

“Slavery civilised black people”

“Slavery didn’t benefit slave trading countries; it was a charity project.”

“Black people predisposed to committing crimes.”

“Black is the colour of evil and witches”

“Africans are black, poor, stupid, violent, with wavy hair, fat noses and thick lips.”

The study of Africa and African history is therefore important.

If you agree or disagree, please add comments and write to us to share why you think African history is important. Share this article to spark a conversation about African History.

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Why Study African History

by Editorial Team time to read: 10 min