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Article

The urban history of Africa is as ancient, varied, and complex as that of other continents, and the study of this history shares many of the theoretical, conceptual, and methodological challenges of urban history generally. Knowledge of Africa’s historic cities is based on archaeological investigation, analysis of historic documents, linguistics, and ethnographic field methods. The historiography of cities in Africa has debated what constitutes a city, how urbanization can be apprehended in the archaeological record and in documentary sources, why cities emerged, and how historic cities have related to states. The great impact colonization had on African urbanization is a major topic of research, including in the study of postcolonial cities. The “informality” of much contemporary urbanization, both in terms of economic activities and architecture, has been a major topic of research since the 1970s. With few exceptions, prior to the 20th century cities were relatively small, with no more than 20,000–30,000 inhabitants. Religion, trade, and the concentration of power were major factors in the rise of cities across the continent. The largest and most well-studied cities were often the capitals of important states. At times networks of city-states flourished, as in Hausaland, Yorubaland, and along the Swahili coast. The cities of northern Africa shared many morphological characteristics with other cities of the Mediterranean Basin and the Middle East, being characterized by a high density of population, masonry architecture, and encircling city walls. South of the Sahara, cities tended to be multinucleated, with low densities of population and built-over surfaces, and they tended to merge with surrounding agricultural landscapes in an urban–rural continuum. Perishable construction materials such as earth, wattle, and thatch were widely used for both domestic and public architecture.

Article

Nomusa Makhubu

The intersecting histories of African women artists are often found in three historical categories: traditional/classical, modern, and contemporary. As historical categories they mark the transitions in conceptualizations of gender, race, and class. Treated as a linear progression of history, these categories may, on the one hand, be useful in understanding the radical impact of imperialism and colonialism on African societies and specifically African women and their creative practices. On the other hand, however, they obscure the intricacies of intertwined creative practice, separating urban and cosmopolitan art forms from rural, localized ones, drawing more attention to art that circulates in market-driven international exhibitions, making it harder to comprehend and account for nuanced historical narratives of African women artists. Furthermore, the hangover of hypermasculine colonial bureaucratic structures not only displaced African histories but more specifically silenced gendered perspectives on art and creative practice in general. The modern African nation, though liberated, confined women to colonially constructed gendered spaces. However, through nationalist ideologies the figure of the woman—or at least as male artists generally portrayed her—came to symbolize rebirth and the rising nation. This artistic rendition of women did not materialize into the formal recognition of the work of women artists, making it possible to declare that “African women artists remain unknown to the Western world,” as art historian Freida Tesfagiorgis states. This is affirmed by the sparse literature on African women artists and analyses of their work. There are more resources about internationally recognized contemporary women artists than there are about modern women artists or women whose work has been foundational in the so-defined traditional category. These categories, then, are indicative not only of the gaps in art history but also of the incongruent methodological approaches to how that gendered history is constructed. In this article, these categories are used loosely to reflect on gender and creative practice in Africa.

Article

The first permanent African residents of the new towns established by whites in southern and eastern Africa at the end of the 19th century were female. These towns were new social spaces, existing where no towns had existed before. The residents had to invent the rules for living: new forms of urban identity emerged over time. For white settlers, the towns were intended to mirror familiar European urban spaces. For Africans, little was recognizable, but there were many opportunities to adapt familiar social relationships to the new contexts. African women’s lives in the early years of these white settler towns seem paradoxical. They were permanent residents, but officially they had no rights of residence at all. They had very limited economic opportunities, being pushed into prostitution and beer brewing, yet they ended up being powerful property owners with independent wealth. They can appear as both victims and liberated agents. Their lives were complicated. But part of the paradox arises from trying to interpret their lives through European lenses, in which terms such as “prostitute wife” seem oxymoronic. Their lives perhaps made more sense to these women pioneers than they have to the academics who have attempted to reconstruct them.

Article

While African women in film have distinct histories and trajectories, at the same time they have common goals and objectives. Hence, “African women in film” is a concept, an idea, with a shared story and path. While there has always been the hope of creating national cinemas, even the very notion of African cinema(s) in the plural has been pan-African since its early history. And women have taken part in the formation of an African cinema infrastructure from the beginning. The emergence of an “African women in cinema movement” developed from this larger picture. The boundaries of women’s work extend to the global African diaspora. Language, geography, and colonial legacies add to the complexity of African cinema history. Women have drawn from the richness that this multiplicity offers, contributing on local, national, continental, and global levels as practitioners, activists, cultural producers, and stakeholders.

Article

While women in certain regions of Africa have always enjoyed relatively equal access to view performances and perform publicly, many have not always enjoyed the same access to public performances of their craft. The role of women in music, theater, and performance in Africa has been diminished often by its demotion to the lyrical performances of women to enliven life’s transitions, from celebration of births to rites-of-passage ceremonies, marriages, and funerals. However, African women have always instigated social and political protests through songs and musical performances, imitation, and meaning-charged lyrics. The record and achievements of women as individuals or band-associated public performers were available mostly from the middle of the 20th century. Many African women have broken barriers in the categories of music, theater, and performance through exceptional demonstration of their crafts and talents. Some of them, like Sonah Jobarteh and Jalil Baccar, mostly wielded influence within a specific region of the continent, while some, like Miriam Makeba and Cesária Évora, were well known throughout the continent and globally. These African women compelled the continent, and sometimes the world, to stop and ponder on their talents in the arts of music, theater, and performance.

Article

The Afro-Brazilians of West Africa refers to a community of people that was born in the 18th century and matured the 19th century in the course of trade exchanges between Brazil and West Africa. This is not a racial group but one united by a mixture of racial, commercial, cultural, and familial ties with a range of African, European, and American ancestries. The original foundation of the community emerged through the shipment of enslaved West Africans to Brazilian plantations. Upon liberation, many of these men and women, wanting to avoid a life of bondage and racial discrimination in the Americas, returned home to Africa. Others too old to leave Brazil or unwilling to abandon their American families and investments sent their Brazilian-born children back to Africa to see long-lost families and for business and education. There were also those descended from Brazilian traders who made Africa their home, sometimes marrying African wives, as well as their descendants and associates, free and unfree. Whether born in Africa or the Americas and regardless of color, the presence of Afro-Brazilians on both sides of the Atlantic necessitated intercontinental travels and exchanges and the birth of a transoceanic community. The history of Afro-Brazilians in West Africa has been a long and widely studied subject with a focus on its political and cultural contributions to the subregion.

Article

David Birmingham

Agostinho Neto was an Angolan medical doctor who was born in the agricultural hinterland of Luanda City in 1922 and died in a Moscow hospital in 1979. He had been assimilated into Portuguese colonial society by gaining a school education at a Methodist mission station where his father was the minister, and he proceeded to university studies in Lisbon. There his radical politics fell foul of the dictatorial police, and after a spell in prison he escaped, via London, to become an itinerant political exile in Africa. There he became a guerrilla commander leading small bands of soldiers who fought a gainst both a Portuguese conscript army and rival political movements seeking independence for Angola. In 1974 the Portuguese colonial empire imploded, and Neto found himself leader of the largest nationalist movement in Luanda, the Movement for the Popular Liberation of Angola (Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola; MPLA). On November 11, 1975, he became Angola’s president as the last Portuguese governor-general sailed away on a gun-boat under cover of darkness. Neto’s four years in the presidential palace were not happy ones. Rival political movements not only challenged his legitimacy but also made unholy military alliances with South Africa, Congo, and the United States. He also alienated his domestic constituents, and when they attempted a coup d’état he rounded on them with all the ferocity that he had experienced himself when being persecuted by the Portuguese political police. His health rapidly deteriorated, and two years later he was flown to Moscow, albeit too late, to seek a cure.

Article

Samuel Fury Childs Daly

The Ahiara Declaration was a speech made by Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, the head of state of the secessionist Republic of Biafra, on June 1, 1969, in the town of Ahiara. It was issued in the final year of the war between Nigeria and Biafra, also known as the Nigerian Civil War. The Eastern Region of Nigeria seceded from Nigeria as the Republic of Biafra in May 1967 following a series of mass killings of easterners, especially members of the Igbo ethnic group, in northern Nigeria the previous year. In his address, Ojukwu gave a partisan account of the war and the events leading up to it, rallied Biafrans to continue the fight, and set out a political philosophy that would guide Biafra from that point on. It was written by a committee of Biafran intellectuals, most notably the novelist and poet Chinua Achebe. The declaration had multiple meanings: it was both ideology and propaganda, and it served both proscriptive and descriptive purposes. Its influences included the broader intellectual currents of black internationalism, a novel theory of radical anticolonialism, and the idea of “African Socialism”—a communitarian philosophy that emerged in distinction to socialist thought in other regions of the world. The Ahiara Declaration was not meaningfully implemented, both due to limited resources and to the fact that Biafra was defeated six months later. Nonetheless, the declaration is an important source for Nigeria’s history, and for the broader study of political philosophy in postcolonial Africa.

Article

Hamadou Adama

Ahmed Bâba (1556–1627) was among the most prolific and the most celebrated of Timbuktu scholars of the 16th and 17th centuries. During his childhood he was educated and trained in Arabic law and Islamic sciences by his father, Ahmad, and other relatives. His principal teacher, the man he named the regenerator (al-mujaddid), was the Juula scholar Mohammed Baghayogho al-Wangarî, whose teaching he followed for more than ten years. Following the Moroccan occupation of Timbuktu in 1591, he was exiled to Marrakesh in 1594, jailed for two years, then obliged to remain in the city for many years. He was widely known both for his teaching and for the fatwas (legal opinions) he issued. He was offered administrative positions but declined them all in favor of teaching. In 1608, he was permitted to return to his hometown, Timbuktu, where he continued to write and teach until his death in 1627, but he held no public office there. His special field of competence was jurisprudence. He was also recognized for his abilities in hadith and wrote several works on Arabic grammar. He is probably best known for his biographical compendium of Mâlikî (founded by Malik ibn Anas died A.D. 795 is orthodox school of Muslim jurisprudence predominating in Sudanic Africa and the Maghreb) scholars, Nayl al-Ibtihâj bi tadrîs ad-dibâdj, a valuable supplement for the Western Islamic world to Ibn Farhûn’s ad-Dibâj al-Mudhahhab. His work specifically addresses issues relating to the significance of racial and ethnic categories as factors in the justification of enslavement. In the Bilâd as-Sûdân, Ahmed Bâba influenced the debate over slavery by relying on interpretations of Islamic precedent, which was invoked to protect freeborn individuals from enslavement. By extension, he impacted the transatlantic slave trade on the basis of religious identification with Islam and the desire to avoid the sale of slaves to non-Muslims, especially Christian Europeans on the coast of West Africa.

Article

Anne Hugon

Ama Ata Aidoo is one of the most prominent African writers of the 20th and 21st centuries. Her works comprise plays, novels, short stories, poetry, and essays. She is recognized worldwide and has received many prizes and honorary distinctions. In Ghana, her country of origin, her books are part of the syllabus for secondary schools, and they are studied in many universities around the world. A number of late 20th and early 21st century women writers from the African continent acknowledge their debts toward her work and speak of her as their literary big sister, as did Nigerian author Buchi Emecheta, or mother, as does Ghanaian author Amma Darko. Like many other African authors, she is both a major writer and more than “just” a writer: she is also an activist, notably an acknowledged feminist, a dramatist, a teacher, and a craftswoman—this list is not exhaustive.

Article

Robert Vinson

Albert Luthuli, president of the African National Congress (ANC), South Africa’s leading anti-apartheid organization, became the first African-born recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in December 1961. During Luthuli’s presidency (1952–1967), the ANC became a mass organization, articulating a broad, inclusive African nationalism and leading the Congress Alliance, a multiracial, multi-ideological anti-apartheid coalition that shared Luthuli’s vision of a democratic, equitable South Africa. The Prize recognized Luthuli’s Gandhian strategy to end South African apartheid, state-sanctioned laws and policies designed particularly to ensure White supremacist racial domination over the African majority, who were approximately 75 percent of the country’s population. The Nobel also reflected Luthuli’s success in portraying apartheid as a crime against humanity that violated the 1948 United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and to contextualize South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle as central to expanding global human-rights campaigns. The Nobel Peace Prize cemented Luthuli’s enduring image as an uncompromising advocate of nonviolence who—during intense debates in 1960 and 1961 within the anti-apartheid movement about the relative efficacy of violent and nonviolent tactics against an increasingly violent apartheid state—remained implacably opposed to Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), which eventually became the ANC’s armed wing. But recently available archival documents, along with autobiographical accounts and oral interviews reveal that Luthuli accepted and authorized MK while insisting that the ANC maintain its official nonviolent position. In retrospect, the Nobel Prize was the apogee of Luthuli’s global renown, as increasingly restrictive state bans limited his ability to participate in political activity. Despite Luthuli’s tragic and still-controversial 1967 death, the ANC survived lethal state repression to become in 1994 the first democratically elected governing party in South African history. But Africa’s first Nobel Peace Prize winner eventually became overshadowed by younger ANC leaders Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela. This article aims to recover Luthuli from relative historical obscurity and highlight his key leadership of the ANC as it transformed into a mass anti-apartheid movement and his revolutionary belief that apartheid South Africa could become one of the world’s first truly multiracial democracies.

Article

Anissa Daoudi

While the literature on the Algerian War of Independence (1954–1962) is extensive, studies on the armed conflict between the Algerian military and the armed Islamic groups, which cost the lives of more than 200,000 remain insignificant. The complex intersections between the political, social, and economic factors leading to the war in the 1990s show that the critical junctures began after independence in 1962. These junctures continued through the 1970s (Arabization movement) and 1980s (1988 Berber Spring), which together can help in contextualizing the Algerian Civil War. These different periods reveal the history of the National Liberation Front (FLN) as a one-party rule and contextualize its historical strong relationship with the Algerian National Army, revealing the power dynamics between the two and the roots of the struggle over the country’s sovereignty. Furthermore, the 1980s were marked by the youth riots in 1988 (Berber Spring) and their crucial role in what president Chadli Benjedid presented as a political reform program, including a new constitution, which ended the political monopoly of the FLN and saw the emergence of more than thirty new political parties. In January 1992, the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) overwhelmingly won the municipal elections, with a much larger number of votes than the ruling FLN in the first round. However, instead of accepting the Islamists’ victory, the military promptly stepped in and cancelled parliamentary elections, banned the FIS, and arrested its leaders. After President Mohamed Boudiaf’s assassination, the government imposed a national state of emergency and used a combination of strategies including economic reforms as well tough laws to repress the Islamic armed groups and control the situation. The idea that the armed Islamic groups started after the official ban of the FIS has been contested. Two parallel strategies were adopted by the successive governments of the 1990s: one was based on the repression of the FIS, who in turn retaliated with car bombs and assassinations of women, intellectuals, police, and military forces; and the other was based on the introduction of social and economic reforms. The country went into cycles of extreme violence for more than a decade, in which the negotiations between the Islamists and the military were not interrupted. President Liamine Zaroual’s amnesty initiative, Rahma, was unsuccessful, yet it was the basis upon which his successor, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, proposed his project of amnesty, known as the Civil Concord, in 1999, later replaced by the Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation in 2005. Bouteflika resigned on April 2, 2019, after months of mass protest called the Revolution of Smiles, which started on February 22, 2019, against his candidacy to the presidency for a fifth mandate.

Article

Richard Anderson

ʿAlī Eisami Gazirmabe, later known as William Harding, was one of an estimated 99,752 “Liberated Africans” intercepted by the British Royal Navy from slave ships at sea and taken to the colony of Sierra Leone as part of Britain’s 19th-century campaign against the transatlantic slave trade. Eisami was born in the metropolitan district of Borno. He was enslaved c. 1812–1813 during the jihād waged by Hausa-Fulani jihadists against Borno. He was taken westward through the nascent Sokoto Caliphate and eventually to Oyo Ile, the capital of the Oyo Empire. For four or five years he was enslaved to a member of the Oyo aristocracy. In 1817, a Muslim uprising at Ilorin prompted his enslaver to sell Eisami to European slave traders on the coast. British naval forces captured Eisami’s slave vessel at sea, transporting him to the abolitionist colony of Sierra Leone. In Freetown, ʿAlī Eisami took up the name William Harding. In extensive interviews with the missionary linguist Sigismund Wilhelm Koelle from 1848 to 1852, he provided detailed accounts of his native Borno. This included stories, historical accounts, and poetry in his native Kanuri, as well as a substantial narrative of his enslavement. Harding’s linguistic work with Koelle represented an important step in the study of the Kanuri language, while his “Biographical Sketch,” as published by Koelle in 1854, has become a canonical account of enslavement in Africa. Eisami’s eyewitness accounts are important sources on the 19th-century jihād movement, experiences of enslavement in Africa and the transatlantic slave trade in its final half-century of existence, and the experience of being a Liberated African in Sierra Leone.

Article

Hasna Lebbady and Hiam El Hilali

Referred to as the best-known Amazigh malika (queen), Zaynab al-Nafzaouiya was centrally involved with the building of the Almoravid dynasty of Morocco and its empire in the 11th century. The Almoravids were Sanhaja tribesmen who, led by Abdellah b. Yasin, started off as religious reformers and developed into empire builders when they embarked on a campaign to regain control over trans-Sahara trade, which the Sanhaja had lost the previous century. Two Almoravid leaders, Abu Bakr b. Umar and Yusuf b. Tashfin, married Zaynab, who had already been married twice before, and brought her to the world’s notice. The sources, in which she receives brief but significant notice, mention her only as her life touches upon those of the Almoravids; however, they depict her as playing a pivotal role in both the cultural and the political spheres of Aghmat (near Marrakesh), in which she was based. Although some called her a magician, Zaynab was actually just intelligent, knowledgeable, and capable of benefitting from the intellectual and cultural affluence that characterized her era. She was, moreover, gifted with political acumen, making her a good advisor for Abu Bakr b. Umar and a good co-ruler for Yusuf b. Tashfin. Her understanding proved to be particularly helpful concerning the founding of the Almoravid empire, stretching from modern-day Senegal to al-Andalus (Muslim Spain), which the two emirs were instrumental in building. They were both virtuous men who possessed considerable military skills; however, they were basically nomads from the desert. It was Zaynab who was familiar with the more settled and refined way of life in Aghmat, enabling her to advise them diplomatically concerning the politics of the area to which she was accustomed. She was even able to advise Yusuf b. Tashfin on how to handle Abu Bakr b. Umar, enabling him, with her at his side, to take over the leadership of the dynasty and launch the extension of its empire all the way to al-Andalus.

Article

Oscar Gakuo Mwangi

The Somalia-based Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujaheddin, commonly known as al-Shabaab, is a violent nonstate armed actor that has been designated a terrorist group. Its origins are a function of domestic and international factors that include the resurgence of political Islam in Somalia, the Afghan War of 1979 to 1989, state collapse and the prominent rise of the Union of Islamic Courts in the country. Consequently al-Shabaab adopted Islamism, in particular Salafi jihadism, as a political ideology to achieve its objective of creating an Islamic caliphate in the Horn of Africa. Since its formation in 2006, al-Shabaab’s organizational structure, its strategies and tactics of radicalization, recruitment, financing, and military warfare have been based on Islamist doctrines. Al-Shabaab’s effective use of Salafi jihadism to pursue its objectives has made it the greatest threat to peace and stability in Somalia. By establishing links with international groups that advocate a similar ideology, such as al-Qaeda, al-Shabaab has successfully managed to transform itself from a domestic to a transnational actor, thereby also constituting a threat to international security.

Article

Abel Djassi Amado

Amílcar Cabral, the founding father of Cabo Verde and Guinea-Bissau, was one of the African political leaders who masterfully exercised key and decisive roles in the twin realms of political action and theoretical development. As the founding leader of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cabo Verde, Cabral wore several hats: he was the chief diplomat and the commander in chief of the liberation movement; he was also the master organizer of the party and of the incipient state in the liberated areas. Yet, Cabral was far from solely a man of action; he developed a complex and sophisticated political theory of national liberation that gave substance and meaning to political action.

Article

The study of West Africa has contributed to the expansion of comparative arid-lands floodplain prehistory, from both the data collection (cultural and historical) and the theoretical aspects. The neoevolutionary approach that often pictures Africa as a backward continent has been successfully challenged. In the Middle Senegal Valley and in the Inland Niger Delta, research on their societies’ complexity done along these two subcontinent’s floodplains has described new processes (including urbanization) that were not previously featured in the archaeological literature. The two floodplains, because of their ecological diversity, with the richness of their ecological diversity, attracted Saharan populations affected by drought at the end of the second millennium and the first millennium BC. However, after their initiation occupation the two areas took different trajectories in complexity and settlement organization. Large complex settlements have been found at Jenne-jeno and in the Ile a Morphil that illustrate whole new trajectories of civilization. These forms of complexity, found in areas with historically known polities, were not included in the range of possibilities predicted by standard complexity theories regarding civilizational development. Ethnographic and historical data, reveal the existence of societies with a central authority embedded within and balanced by a diffuse, segmented and heterarchical power structure; often as a strategy to resist the individual consolidation of power. These societies exhibit evidence of horizontal differentiation and consensus-based decision making. All these types of organization are characterized by the presence of several sources of power vested in corporate entities, such as lineages, age groups, cults and secret societies.

Article

Lucilene Reginaldo

André do Couto Godinho was born in 1720 in the Brazilian captaincy of Minas Gerais, in the town of Mariana, and died in the Kingdom of Kongo, probably around 1790. Born not only a slave but the slave of a slave, he went on to obtain his freedom, becoming literate, later studying at a university, and finally going on to serve as a missionary in Africa. Between the beginning of his life, in Brazil, and its end, in Africa, he spent a number of years in Portugal, in the cities of Coimbra and Lisbon. While his life story is certainly extraordinary, it provides a window into the possibilities of, and strategies for, social and geographic mobility of free and freed black people in different parts of the Portuguese Empire during the second half of the 1700s. Retracing André Godinho’s footsteps is an exercise in micro-history, a technique that, when used as a counterpoint to a more global analysis, offers fresh insights into familiar subjects, with the seemingly insignificant details of an individual life raising questions that would have gone unnoticed in a strictly macroscopic analysis. André’s path in life, as a free man of color helps understand the larger historical contexts that defined the possibilities, choices, and limitations of his personal history. Godinho’s story provides insights into African descendants’ possibilities for social ascension, also clarifying the limitations imposed by emerging social hierarchies based on skin color and slave origin.

Article

Southern Africa has experienced significant environmental changes since the breakup of the Gondwana supercontinent, starting around 180 million years ago. These environmental changes broadly reflect the interplay between tectonic and global-scale climatic drivers, which in combination result in changes to the properties and dynamics of land surface physical and ecological processes. The preserved record of such processes can be used as proxy indicators to reconstruct past environments and climates. In southern Africa, different types of proxy indicators have formed and are preserved in different geographical areas, broadly corresponding to their individual climatic and geomorphic contexts. Three significant time intervals over which landscape evolution have taken place are the Phanerozoic, the late Quaternary, and the last 200 years. A critical outcome of this analysis is that the record of environmental change in southern Africa is highly variable and only partly preserved, and that there are spatial and temporal gaps which mean that it is difficult to construct a continuous or unambiguous environmental history either for all areas of the region or for all time intervals. Changing physical drivers and environmental controls over time, including land surface feedbacks, are now being supplanted by a stronger imprint of human activity in the Anthropocene.

Article

Sandra Swart

Animal history in Africa—the multi-species story of the continent’s past—as a separate subdisciplinary “turn” is both recent and tentative, but as an integrated theme within the broader historiography it is both pioneering and enduring. Historians of Africa have long engaged with animals as vectors of change in human history and, of course, at the same time, understood that humans were a key agent of change in animal histories too, especially in the long-lived and extensive writing on epizootics, livestock farming, pastoralism, hunting, and conservation. African animal histories should resist the imposition of intellectual paradigms from the Global North.