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History of Africa





History of Africa

  1. Introduction to the Course

In her TED Talk speech, Chimamanda Adichie discussed the dangers of a single story. She started off by narrating about her life as a young writer who liked English literature. She was well-educated back in Nigeria and hence she got a chance to go study further in the U.S. Adichie narrates about her experiences as an immigrant in America where she had an American roommate who knew very little about Africa (Adichie 1). Her roommate thought that in Africa people did not speak English neither did they know how to use a stove; as such she was quite surprised when Adichie spoke good English. The mentality held by the roommate is what Adichie refers to as the dangers of a story.

            Her roommate assumed a lot about Africa since she had only heard a story about Africa. All she knew was that Africa was a country with beautiful landscapes, amazing animals, and people who were complex to understand. Adichie further emphasized the danger of a single story when she tells us that people would turn to her when questions about Africa came up; for instance, people would ask her about Namibia while in fact, she was from Nigeria (Adichie 1). Adichie knew nothing about Namibia at the time, therefore, she would not answer the questions most of time. The assumption that the Americans knew she was from Africa, helped her tell the whole story of Africa.

            Africa is not a single story because its history is rich and diverse but western literature tends to narrate it as a single story. Each and every part of Africa has its own plot which is not narrated, as a rule. The most fascinating stories to any foreigners are about the landscape, people, and the animals. Adichie explains that, the first people who have visited Africa, have given birth to prejudices about the Africans. The matter is that Africa is not a single story but it is so full of diversities (Adichie 1).

  1. Africa

When the westerners hear the word Africa, they often think of landscapes, animals, and exotic people. However, it is not the case for those people who have visited Africa. The Africans and visitors have ambiguous impressions concerning Africa. The Kenyan writer, Binyavanga Wainaina explores this problem in his essay “how to write about Africa.”

            Firstly, Wainaina establishes a mocking tone when he advises the western writers not to use words as darkness, safari, guerrillas, and tribal while defining Africa. In addition, he is not satisfied with the choice of cover for their books. The matter is that most of these pictures are prominent ribs or naked breasts (Wainaina 1). Finally, Wainaina also tells the western writers to refrain from treating Africa as one country which spreads a biased perspective of Africa while in fact it is made up of 54 countries.

            In order to prove his thesis, we can use the book African history: a very short introduction by John Parker where the author gives a short and concise explanation of African history. Major themes include the diversity of African culture, slavery, religion, and colonial conquest. In addition, the book is good evidence that Africa has never been a single story; instead, there are many stories to be told such as slavery, colonialization, and the cultural diversity held by the Africans (Parker 1). Another point we can note from it is that studying history is important to the understanding of contemporary Africa. In this regard, we can use the book by Conrad: Heart of Darkness which gives the tale of a voyage to the Congo. In the story, Conrad gives an account of all the encounters they have had in Africa including the time Africans have attacked them with arrows (Conrad 33). Conrad summarizes his book by concluding that there is very little difference between the colonialists who are considered civilized, and the Africans who are savage. The matter is that both of them have dark hearts (Conrad 63). From this book, we, therefore, get to see another side of the African story.

  1. (Pre?)History and the Precolonial State(s)

The film Lost libraries of Timbuktu gives information about African culture before the colonial age. Africans have been described as an organized community with elaborate features such as libraries and schools (Trayler-Smith 1). It focuses specifically on the manuscripts found in Timbuktu in West Africa. Timbuktu was an ancient library where pre-colonial Africans stored their documents. The film establishes that Africans have had the ability to write, and also they have had other traditions such as marriages and education. Moreover, the film also reveals the evolution of Timbuktu which have survived in times of  the rise and fall of three great empires - ancient Ghana, the Songhay Empire and medieval Mali (Trayler-Smith 1). It vividly shows that Africa has a rich history which includes great empires and great traditions.

            The book the African experience by Khapoya discusses Africa from a geographic, social, political, and linguistic perspective in order to give the reader a comprehensive understanding of Africa. In the first chapter, Khapoya gives a brief discussion of how small Americans know about Africa. The point is further emphasized by the fact that America has not havd any colonies in Africa (Khapoya 11). Chapter 2 states that non-African scholars emphasize the homogeneity of Africa since its people share so much in common. However, they tend to ignore the differences that Africans have on economic, social and political (Khapoya 23).

            Another book detailing African precolonial states is The Ethiopians by Pankhurst. It gives an account of the rich history of Ethiopia which dates back to the days of Solomon. We are told of the economic activities of Ethiopia which have included trade between them and their neighbors; also, we have studied their religious practices (Pankhurst 33). Pankhurst gives a clear and well-balanced account of Ethiopia drawing from recent sources and archaeological work. As such, it is a well-informed piece of literature detailing ancient Ethiopia and its economic and political structure.

  1. European Colonization: Why?

In the 20th century, the European states wanted more and more power, land, and control. Following this principle, the Belgian king Leopold sent his people to make trade relations with the native Africans occupying the Congo basin. The actions of king Leopold triggered a series of expeditions from the other European states including France, Britain, and Germany. In turn, these expeditions caused the European powers to fight for the land - a battle that has come to be known as the scramble for Africa.

            We can, therefore, say that the greatest impetus for European colonization was mostly power. Adam Hochschild in the book King Leopold’s Ghost states that the main reason king Leopold has invaded Congo is to make it his colonial empire and thus obtain international recognition for having such a huge colony (Hochschild 11). Besides, king Leopold have used complex schemes made up of propaganda, corruption, and political intrigue to win public opinion as well as the support of powerful states in his conquest of Congo.

  1. European Colonization: What happened?

European colonization was successful basically due to two things; firstly, the Europeans were able to maintain law and order in their colonies, and hence the authority of their administrations was upheld. Secondly, the Europeans could collect revenue from their colonies in order to finance the affairs of the colony. These two features of colonization predominated in every colony regardless of the method by which the colony was obtained or governed. Adam Hochschild’s book, King Leopold’s Ghost, can be used to support this point because it clearly outlines the methods which king Leopold have used to colonize Congo. For instance, he has subdued the native Africans with the help of his armies. Besides, the king has established a system of forced labor where the people of Congo have collected rubber and Ivory which the he has used to finance his palaces and administration (Hochschild 33). In addition, the colonial administration of king Leopold shows the two pillars which colonial administration has used to survive. They are the army to maintain law and order, and collection of revenue to finance the administration.

  1. European Colonization: How did it happen?

The process of colonization went through various phases before it finally became successful. Hochschild’s book, King Leopold’s Ghost, tells us that the Belgians first have initiated trade relations with the natives in Congo before they finally took over (Hochschild 11). As such, trade has been the first step into colonization; this notion is further supported by the words of Gregory, Chris A. in his essay Cowries and Conquest where he explains that before the Europeans’ invasion, Africans have had elaborated trading networks. They have exchanged products such as beans and potatoes; in short, there was no concept of money (Gregory 1). Later, the king introduced cowrie-money as a means for conducting trade and finally. After attaining economic control, the Europeans have had to establish political control which meant exercising brutal force. Mbembe in his essay Necropolitics, speaks about the capacity of the dictator to decide who may live or die as the ultimate expression of sovereignty (Mbembe 1). As such, the colonial masters have used brutal force which presupposes killing some people in order to preserve the sovereignty of the colonial masters.

  1. Colonial Culture and ‘Citizenship’

The colonial masters had to establish a system of life and social stability to maintain order within the colony. Nowadays it is known as the colonial culture. The colonial powers divided the land amongst themselves, and, therefore, they created borders to divide Africa. This new system necessitated the implementation of citizenship. The French in West Africa used the policy of assimilation in an attempt to spread colonial culture. As a result, Africans were taught the French way of life and in the process, they were declared French citizens.

            In his article, The French Colonial Policy of Assimilation and the Civility of the Originaires of the Four Communes (Senegal), Diouf explains the assimilation policy used by the French and how it failed. The assimilated African people refused to submit fully to the French rule (Diouf 9). Other colonial masters used Christianity to bring order to the African colonies. Christianity was part of the European culture, and, therefore, by spreading it, they were dispersing colonial culture. The article by Comaroff & Comaroff, Christianity and Colonialism in South Africa, details how the Christian evangelists have contributed to the colonial process of Africa. Further, Comaroff & Comaroff explain how spreading the colonial culture of Christianity have enabled the colonial masters to instill the authoritative imprint of western capitalist culture which help them control the Africans (Comaroff & Comaroff 17).

  1. The End of the Colonial Order

As time passed, the Africans were exhausted of the colonial period and fought for their freedom. The foreign rule had lasted for a long time, that’s why the twentieth century marked the end of the colonial era which led to the development of post-colonial states in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. For more than six decades, Kenyans fought against the rule of the Britons in their land. There are famous stories about courageous people in the Mau Mau such as Dedan Kimathi who fought and died to see their country free from the foreign rule. The Mau Mau was among the largest anti-European rebel movement which was out to gain back the land and resources of Kenya.

Another good example of it is Jomo Kenyatta, the first president of Kenya, who governed Kenya for the first time after it attained its independence. The Mau Mau helped to lay the foundation for Kenya in the fight for independence, (). In 1961 on August, Jomo Kenyatta was set free because Kenya was on the journey to gain its own government, and he was marked as the outstanding independence leader. When the elections were held, he was named the prime minister of Kenya in June 1963 and later in 1964, he became the first president of the free Kenya (). In conclusion, to achieve the end of the colonial order, countries in Africa had to fight and struggle to gain their freedom, and in each they had different ways to mark their struggle.

  1. Uneasy Postcolonial Life

The history of Africans is full of saddening ordeals, not only of slavery, but also the confusion after the period of colonization. The members of the African society were hit by the social realities of having to rule as one nation before being divided into tribes (). It marked the beginning of ethnic conflict because they reorganized their societies and created a governing system based on their tribes that led to ethnicity. Africa was still a victim of colonial works that had a corrupting influence on the operations in

The continent came to a reality when their culture had been distorted but still struggled to assert their originality to date. The post-colonial can be identified as the loss of the identity of Africa. The post-colonial period involved measure taken to evaluate European codes which would be eliminated and which would be kept. A good example is given in Chinua Achebe’s book where Obis’ first day at work with a white boss reminded him of the time when his headmaster was slapped by a white man. Therefor, it shows the dominance of the colonizers in the life of Africans even after the colonial period is over (Achebe 56).

  1. Remnants: disorder and dependence

The film by Sembene addresses the matters on disorders and creates a clear picture of the corruption of morals, degradation of African wealth, a dependency which emanate from African rulers trying to perform their duties. His film demonstrates the poor lives that Africans have and the inequality that colonialists have left behind in Africa (Perry 36). Mandabi as a film explores themes, which are the problems that colonialism has left behind in Senegal and Africa at large. Neocolonialism, religion, and corruptions are the problems that Africa has had to handle even after gaining freedom (Achebe 32). Post-colonial leaders are held responsible for the current state of Africa especially corruption and dependency on other developed nations (Falola 54).

  1. Aesthetic Practices

African’s art represents themes which describes the stories of their culture and their struggles. It points out the unique identity of people who speak various languages but is joined together by culture. The wide range of African’s art cannot be provided in one exhibition because it covers ideas and themes that are so sentimental to an extent that the artists decided to tell their story in the form of art. The uniqueness of African’s art lies in the fact that these skills are passed on from generation to generation, and various skills are gender specific. In this way, each person has a way to gain identity in what one chooses to create. Picasso is known as the father of modern art but Gikandi has opened the eyes of the world to the fact that Picasso is guilty of plagiarism of African art (Gikandi 455).     

            The western have a deep attraction towards African art because of its nature which is uncorrupted and rich. They cannot hide their admiration for African art since it is the backbone and subject of all works of art. It has set standards that the world struggles to reach. In his work, Gikandi insists that Africans are more perceptual that conceptual (Gikandi 460). It would cause conflict to suggest that African’s art influences the western culture and is even capable of taking over and this is the reason for fear that the civilized world may adopt traditional art and culture. To conclude, African art is unique because it is sincere and tells a beautiful story of existence and does not hold back the truth of its struggles.

  1. The African City and its Delights

Africa, itself, has so much to offer in contrast to the belief that it is just a land of beautiful landscapes, animals, and complex people. The film An African City clearly shows all the delights of the African city. In its focus there is a woman who has spent her life abroad, but she decides to go back to her home in Africa, Ghana, and pursues her career and life goals there. We get to see that there is modern stuff in Africa such as the fancy hotel where the protagonist meets her friends during the first episode when they welcome her back to Ghana (Ppandp 1). In addition, the friends assure the main character that she can get all she needs from Ghana so she should feel at home. In the second episode, we get to see that businesses such as real estate are conducted in Africa, and the house rent is almost as expensive as in Paris or New York. All these facts show that except the wild animals, beautiful landscapes, and complex people, the civilization exists there as well.

            The modernity Bluff by Newell also serves to show us that the African city has so many delights. He writes about modernity and the views different people have about what is modern, and what is traditional (Newell 3). Newell states that modernity is inhered in objects, places, and people rather than in the state of development. In its turn, Africa has much to offer because it has its own construct what is urban (Newell 22). Finally, Nuthall and Mbembe in their article Writing the World from an African Metropolis describe Africa as a novel and unique continent whose originality has not been captured by contemporary scholars. They summarize that in order to learn about all the delights that the African continent has, one needs sufficient knowledge about the continent (Nuttall 17).

  1. The African City and its Perils

The African continent also has its perils despite the numerous delights, for instance, Africa is well-known for huge unresolved issues such as poverty, disunity due to political fragmentations, gender inequality, and food insecurity. The film Live in Joburg clearly illustrates the challenge of disunity where the people of Johannesburg are in conflict with each other due to the differences in political views (Neill 1). Further, The Modernity Bluff by Newell also describes disunity and poverty among the Africans which lead to social inequality and civil wars (Newell 13). Finally, Pfeil’s Sarax and the City: Alms and Anonymous Objects in Dakar, Senegal talks about the post-colonial Senegal which has been affected by missing services, supplies, and people hence the stuff of urban life is now gone in Dakar (Pfeil 7).

  1. Reflection: African Modernity

            African modernity has taken a diverse and distinct route hence it is not adequately understood by most people. Modernity in Africa has taken a consciousness of new possibilities according to the article by Comaroff & Comaroff Theory from the South, the Global Order from an African Perspective. Comaroff & Comaroff insist that African modernity has taken its own trajectory, but it gives new meaning to everyday life. As a result, the majority of the Africans have their own way of making sense of the world, fashioning their social relationships and values according to the contemporary society (Comaroff & Comaroff 23). However, Comaroff & Comaroff caution us not to mistake modernity with modernization. They define modernity as an orientation of being in the world while modernization refers to the trajectory towards a future which all history should lead to and to which all the humans ought to aspire and evolve.



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