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Walter E.A. van Beek
There is not one African indigenous religion (AIR); rather, there are many, and they diverge widely. As a group, AIRs are quite different from the scriptural religions the world is more familiar with, since what is central to AIRs is neither belief nor faith, but ritual. Exemplifying an “imagistic” form of religiosity, these religions have no sacred books or writings and are learned by doing, by participation and experience, rather than by instruction and teaching. Belonging to specific local ethnic groups, they are deeply embedded in and informed by the various ecologies of foragers, pastoralists, and horticulturalists—as they are also by the social structures of these societies: they “dwell” in their cultures. These are religions of the living, not so much preparing for afterlife as geared toward meeting the challenges of everyday life, illness and misfortune, mourning and comforting—but also toward feasting, life, fertility, and togetherness, even in death. Quiet rituals of the family contrast with exuberant public celebrations when new adults re-enter the village after an arduous initiation; intricate ritual attention to the all-important crops may include tense rites to procure much needed rains. The range of rituals is wide and all-encompassing. In AIRs, the dead and the living are close, either as ancestors or as other representatives of the other world. Accompanied by spirits of all kinds, both good and bad, harmful and nurturing, existence is full of ambivalence. Various channels are open for communication with the invisible world, from prayer to trance, and from dreams to revelations, but throughout it is divination in its manifold forms that offers a window on the deeper layers of reality. Stories about the other world abound, and many myths and legends are never far removed from basic folktales. These stories do not so much explain the world as they entertainingly teach about the deep humanity that AIRs share and cherish.
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.
The east African coast and its offshore islands are home to the Swahili cultural tradition. This is a fascinating and long-lived urban tradition that has been synonymous with this coast for nearly two millennia. Archaeologically, Swahili culture is most visible in the remains of a series of stonetowns, which contain houses, mosques, and tombs built of coral and lime. These sites were once cosmopolitan centers of trade and an important part of the medieval Islamic world. They are also the culmination of a long period of urban development, starting with villages built of wattle and daub founded on the coast from around the 7th century
The Tunisian Bchira Ben M’rad (1913–1993), a feminist for some, a reformist for others, was a significant figure in Tunisia in the first half of the 20th century in the struggles for women’s education, for a more balanced relationship within the married couple, and against colonialism. Her participation in these struggles was shaped both by her own personal experience as well as by the then social, cultural and political context of Tunisia and its region.
Bchira Ben M’rad was the first Tunisian woman to request official recognition for a women’s organization, the Union of Muslim Women of Tunisia (l’Union des femmes musulmanes de Tunisie, or UFMT), which she founded in 1936 and headed until 1956, during the period when Tunisia was a French colony. The refusal by the authorities to award official recognition and the excuses they offered in defense of their refusal provide an insight into the complex relations between the French colonial power and the Tunisian authorities, headed by the Bey, as the debate over women’s rights, including the right to form women’s organizations, became an increasingly profound societal issue. It was only in the early 1950s, in the years just before Tunisian independence was achieved in 1956, that the UFMT obtained official recognition.
African women were at the forefront of nationalistic struggles for independence in Africa that were at their height in the 1950s. In mainland Tanzania, then known as Tanganyika, Bibi Titi Mohamed emerged as a leading voice in building the liberation movement through a political party known as the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU). As a leader of the women’s wing of TANU, she traveled throughout the country to mobilize both women and men to join the party that led to the independence of Tanganyika in the early 1960s. During the transition to full independence, she became a member of the Legislative Council, agitating for inclusive improvement in the welfare of all citizens. Her contribution in the parliamentary debates focused on rural development and equal access to employment, education, and provision of healthcare, with special attention to women in general and the girl child, in particular. After independence, she became the Junior Minister for Community Development and a leading advocate of people-centered development and gender equality.
During the second half of the 1960s, Bibi Titi’s promising political career took a downward turn, bringing it to an abrupt end in the early 1970s. Her downfall started in 1965 when she lost her parliamentary seat in the general elections. Since one had to be an MP in order to be a Minister, she also lost her ministerial position in the government. Although she continued to serve as a notable member of the ruling party’s executive organs and vocal leader of its women’s wing, her career hit another snag when TANU issued the Arusha Declaration on Socialism and Self-Reliance in 1967. She would appear to have disagreed with provisions of the Arusha Declaration’s Leadership Code that barred leaders from owning rentable properties as well as being of the opinion that the process used in adopting the Declaration had been inadequately consultative. On this account, she resigned from all party positions. One would have assumed that after the resignation she would have had a quiet retirement from her momentous political career, but this was not to be. Three years later, she was charged for treason and then jailed for life prior to getting a presidential pardon in 1972.
Bibi Titi’s life after imprisonment went on unrecorded and unnoticed. She largely lived out of the public limelight that characterized the first decade of her political career. One of the most recognized names in the country partly faded from the public for almost an entire generation. Reference to her name and contribution to national his/herstory disappeared from party and government official records, almost extinguishing her significant role in the early years of Tanzanian history. However, in the 1980s and 1990s, her name started to re-emerge, not least because of the rise of the feminist movement, life histories, and gender and women studies. Hers is the story that ought to be told and retold—of the muting and unmuting of a leading voice of freedom. It is a story that will continue to manifest itself in various debates on the nature and character of the leadership of liberation movements, with specific reference to women leaders in Africa.
In the late 15th century, the coast of West-Central Africa was integrated into Atlantic trading circuits due to the actions of Portuguese navigators and traders, supported by the Crown and followed by the Dutch, French, and English. Thousands of people were enslaved through Congolese routes and sold several times until they reached the Americas, where they were put to work in agriculture, artisanal activities, cargo transportation, mining, and domestic and urban services, among many others. The enslaved Central Africans, for three centuries brought to the Caribbean and the Americas, and especially to Brazil, established new communities and cultural manifestations from the knowledge and sensibilities that they brought from their societies of origin.
The Congo has been present in the Americas in many ways. One of these was the election of a Congo king, celebrated with festive processions, in which the royal couple and their court paraded through the streets and attended dances with special choreographies set to African musical rhythms. These celebrations articulated and consolidated black identities and existed in various parts of the Americas and the Caribbean. In Brazil, they have been a tradition since colonial times and still go on today, referred to as congadas. Such festivities project an abstract idea of primordial motherland onto the memory of a mythic Congo, annually updated in festive rites that celebrate a Catholic African king and affirm black identities in Brazilian society.
Kelly Duke Bryant
Education was profoundly political in colonial French West Africa (1895–1960), a federation that included the modern-day countries of Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso (formerly Upper Volta), Benin (formerly Dahomey), Côte d’Ivoire, and Niger. It shaped political discourse across the federation as officials, educators, missionaries, African families, and African students weighed in on the type of education they thought best. Dissatisfaction with education policies or with the quality of schools encouraged Africans to become politically active, and the practical skills they learned in school along with the status gained through school attendance prepared young people to agitate for colonial reform and ultimately for independence.
Colonial officials engaged in a back and forth with the Catholic missionary orders that provided public schooling in much of the region, especially as they sought to balance early 20th-century metropolitan demands for secularization with the colonies’ need for reliable and inexpensive schools. In the second half of the 19th century, administrators attempted to undermine Qur’an schools through regulation and surveillance, hoping that this would result in increased attendance in French schools. In doing so, they competed directly with popular Islamic leaders and the interests of the Muslim community, which had the unintended effect of involving African Muslims in colonial politics in new ways. Officials also attempted to “adapt” colonial school curricula to the local realities of African communities, usually by decreasing academic content and focusing instead on vocational and agricultural training. Yet over several decades, they encountered significant resistance from urban educated elites and rural farmers alike, all of whom pushed in one way or another for schooling that would allow for social mobility and, ultimately, claims for equality with the French. Finally, education played a crucial role in formal politics in the region, preparing Africans for political candidacy and leadership, mobilizing the voting public, and helping to determine access to voting rights after African subjects became citizens in 1946. Education and politics were thus inextricably linked in colonial French West Africa.
Azza El Kholy
Shajarat Al-Durr’s life and death constitute a story that deserves to be told. Turkic in origin, she was sold into slavery but grew up to become a great Sultana. She was purchased by Al- Saleh Ayyub, and soon became his favorite concubine, and later his wife after bearing his son Khalil who died in infancy. She was intelligent and beautiful, and was the Sultan’s companion and advisor in many state affairs. Her astuteness appears in her role in boosting the morale of the army by concealing her husband’s death during the Crusade in 1249. Upon Al- Saleh’s death, his son Turanshah became Sultan, and persecuted her and his father’s Bahari Mamluks who, abetted by her, murdered him. They then instated her as Sultana of Egypt because of her liaison with the Ayyubid dynasty as wife of the Sultan, and mother to his deceased son.
For eighty days she ruled as Sultana. Coins were minted in her name, and she was praised in prayers around the country until the Abbasid Caliph, Al- Musta’sim, sent a derogatory message offering to send a “man” to rule Egypt. Shajarat Al-Durr, a wise woman, abdicated the throne in favor of Aybak, one of her husband’s Mamluks and the man she took as husband to avoid political turmoil, thus finally marking the end of the Ayyubid dynasty and the beginning of the Mamluk era. They ruled together until he betrayed her trust when she learned that he was thinking of taking another wife, and seeking to rule on his own. A proud woman, Shajarat Al-Durr ordered him dead. In retaliation, Aybak’s Mamluks and his first wife killed her, and thus ended the life and reign of one of the most prominent women in Islamic history.
Free French Africa was the part of the French empire that came under the control of General Charles de Gaulle’s movement. From 1940 to 1943, it encompassed French Equatorial Africa and Cameroon; Brazzaville served as its capital. These African lands provided Free France with legitimacy, manpower, revenue, natural resources, and a starting point for military operations in the Desert War. These territories fell into Free French hands for a number of reasons, including the actions of African noncommissioned officers who spearheaded the arrest of Vichy’s governor in late August 1940. Thereafter, they were thrown headlong into the war effort. Some 17,000 soldiers were recruited in these regions and a run on natural resources ensued. It was at considerable cost to local populations that de Gaulle built a military machine in Central Africa, one capable of bringing France back into the global fray. For Africans, the advent of Free France signaled economic hardship, multiple imperatives including military enlistment and rubber collection, and a hardening of colonial practices.
There is no singular or universal experience of girlhood in Africa. Conceptions of childhood, youth, generation, gender, and sexuality have differed across the continent and around the world over time. Since the 19th century, varying understandings of African girlhood have been deeply connected to the growth of racist hierarchies of human societies, the European colonization of Africa, African nationalisms, transnational feminist movements, and crises in capitalism. Case studies of two areas concerning African girlhood—female circumcision and the emergence of the girls’ rights movement—show how politicized girlhood in Africa has been. These two topics provide a distinct vantage point from which to understand far-reaching political processes and how these processes have uniquely played out in and through debates over girls’ bodies.
This paper concerns the long-term evolution of labor in East Africa up to the twenty-first century. While it considers the classic themes of labor history, trade unions, strikes and politics, it is concerned with the broader question of how people relate to their environment, how their work is organized and what the economic consequences are. Taking 1500 as a bottom line, it proceeds to look at changes before and with the coming of imperialism and colonialism and the contradictions of colonial labor policy. It also considers how labor conditions have altered since independence. Mau Mau in Kenya and the institution of villagization in Tanzania, which both shed a light on labor conditions, receive particular attention. Since the majority of the population even in the twenty-first century are rural dwellers, there is much concern with agricultural and pastoral activities. If the greatest concentration is on Tanzania and Kenya, East Africa is defined broadly in part for purposes of comparison.
Alice Lakwena’s transformation from a healer into a Christian prophetess occurred during a period of civil war and unrest in Uganda. In 1986, she founded the Holy Spirit Mobile Forces (HSMF) in northern Uganda and waged war against the government of Yoweri Museveni. Above all, her power was based on the practice of possession by gendered spirits, a ritual that fostered a unique form of holy war. Though her forces were defeated, and she later died in a refugee camp in northern Kenya, her fame continued to grow after her death.
Biographical portrayals of Mandela have been strongly influenced by his own self-representations, beginning with his trial testimonies in 1962 and 1964. Authorized narratives about his life that were consolidated during the 1990s reflected Mandela’s political priorities at that time. In the unitary subject that these stories project—in the “unchanging man” whose story they told—their protagonist is a patrician-born aristocrat whose values and codes of behavior are shaped by his upbringing in the culture of a royal court. In important respects, though, this understanding of Mandela is at odds with earlier treatments of his life for which he had been a willing collaborator. Several of the biographical interpretations written in the early 21st-century draw upon archival evidence and prompt serious revisions of established or conventional understandings of Mandela’s life, particularly in terms of the validity of biographical investigations that emphasize consistency and order. Questions persist in the early 21st century as to whether Mandela’s experiences as a political prisoner and his role in constitutional negotiations will be subjected to such archive-based research, and whether the final stages of his public life will undergo an assessment.
Fatima Mernissi (1940–2015) was a sociologist, writer, feminist, and activist, and above all a free thinker and an avowed humanist. She was committed to dialogue, dismantling all sorts of boundaries, whether between East and West, South and North, women and men, rural and urban, illiterate and educated, activism and academia, as well as that between fiction and scholarly writing. Her work is multifaceted, intersectional, fluid, and organic. In her scholarly writings Mernissi was concerned with identifying and critiquing the different structures that intersect to oppress women, ranging through colonialism, nationalism, patriarchal interpretation of Islam, capitalist development, and imperialism. She was also dedicated to shedding light on subaltern women’s agency, amplifying their voices for the hearing of decision-makers and development planners. She significantly contributed to the emergence of “Third World feminism,” fostering pan-African and transnational feminist solidarity. Credited as one of the founders of “Islamic feminism,” she inspired Muslim women all over the world to advocate for women’s rights from a faith-based position. At the end of her life she identified as a Sufi, committed to fostering civic bonding and synergy between civil-society actors, intellectuals, and ordinary women and their communities, always struggling against elitism and egoism.
Mernissi wrote over sixteen books, edited a significant number of volumes, and authored numerous articles. Some of her books have been translated into over twenty-five languages. She directed many writing workshops and was the founding member of numerous research groups and organizations. Mernissi was also the recipient of prestigious awards, among them the Prince of Asturias Award in 2003 and the Erasmus Prize in the Netherlands in 2004. The Guardian ranked her among the top 100 most influential women in the world in 2011. Another recognition—that of which she would perhaps have been most proud—is the acknowledgment and love ordinary women and their communities, with whom she mixed and worked for decades, continue to vow for? her after her passing.
The nature of motherhood and maternalism in Africa challenges perceptions and assumptions about women, families, and societies in unexpected ways. Across Africa, motherhood has operated as an institution and ideology that shaped social, economic, and political organization, especially before European colonialism expanded across the continent during the late 19th century. The sociocultural significance of biological motherhood and childrearing remains an important theme in the study of the past and the present as African women form families, sometimes outside of the bonds of marriage. Ideas about biological motherhood have also shifted to address health, disease, and sexuality. African women and men are reimagining motherhood in the face of diverse issues such as infertility, the impact of HIV/AIDS, and an emergent, self-identified LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) community.
Similarly, maternalism in Africa extends beyond the common focus on issues such as women’s rights, reproductive health, or children’s education. Maternalist politics in Africa in the 20th and 21st centuries have addressed broader political questions such as state policies, housing, and infrastructure, often with an internationalist vision. Taken together, motherhood and maternalism in Africa not only encompass personal and emotional realms often associated with both terms but also bridge historical and political questions, including ones about belonging and citizenship in an interconnected world.
Jean Ping (born November 24, 1942) was a leading figure in Gabonese politics from the late 1980s well into the 21st century. His mother belonged to the Nkomi ethnic group and his father was a rare Chinese resident of Gabon. Like most other young Gabonese intellectuals, he studied abroad in France and then became a supporter of the ruling Parti Démocratique Gabonais (PDG) party. After working as the Gabonese representative to UNESCO, Ping returned to Gabon in 1984. He became a close associate of dictator Omar Bongo, had two children with Bongo’s daughter Pascaline, and held a series of top ministerial posts from 1990 to 2014. Ping became Gabon’s most prominent diplomat. African Union delegates voted for Ping to become the president of the African Union in 2008. He held this position until 2012. Perhaps his greatest disappointment was the failure of the African Union to successfully mediate between Libyan president Muammar Qaddafi, Libyan rebels, and Western countries who chose military intervention to overthrow Qaddafi.
Although Ping had become a member of Omar Bongo’s inner circle, he pulled away from the PDG party after Omar’s son Ali Bongo Ondimba won the 2009 presidential elections. Ping quit the PDG in 2014 and ran for president in the 2016 elections. Many Gabonese and outside observers believed Ping triumphed in this contest. The official results that proclaimed Ali Bongo as the winner stated Bongo had won 95% of the vote in Haut-Ogooué province, where supposedly 99% of all eligible voters actually cast their ballot. Ping rejected the findings and declared he was the true president of Gabon. Ping’s career, starting as a young Gabonese intellectual and becoming a member of the PDG elite and finally the leader of the Gabonese opposition, is a crucial part of the political history of Gabon after the end of French colonization.
While the single most consequential event in Africa during the 19th century was European colonization of the continent, most of the century was characterized by tremendous growth and innovation in African political and economic institutions, as well as the expansion of literacy and the development of enduring intellectual traditions. Many African societies were making strides toward the creation of new self-governing nations over the course of the 19th century, as the ending of the transatlantic slave trade made way for the development of new industries and commercial systems. Large powerful states governed in numerous places across the continent, including the Sokoto and Tukulor Empires, Asante, Dahomey, Egypt, Buganda, Bunyoro, and Ethiopia. Many African states had powerful armies and distinct political identities.
The emergence of modernities in 19th-century Africa also came in the form of religious change. This era saw the expansion of Islam in rural areas of western, northern, and eastern Africa, accompanied by the rapid growth of Islamic education and literacy. At the same time, Christian mission societies facilitated the establishment of mission schools and colleges based on European institutions of higher education. The new class of mission-educated African elites included teachers, clergymen, doctors, civil servants, law clerks, journalists, private entrepreneurs, and academics. These individuals, mostly men, had a profound influence on African visions of modern nationhood, particularly in West and Southern Africa.
In many ways, Africa was becoming modern in the decades prior to the European conquests of the late 19th century. For the purposes of this article, “modernity” refers to the cultural and social revolution that accompanied the rise of industrial capitalism and included an expansive universalism. The development of modernity in Africa and elsewhere was linked to the new age of science, economics, realism, rationalism, and humanism dawning toward the end of the 18th and start of the 19th century. In particular, the newly founded colonies of Sierra Leone and Liberia became centers for the diffusion of African-American cultural influence, as liberated former slaves and their descendants from the British Empire, the United States, maroon communities, and captured slave ships settled there.
In order to appreciate the 19th-century development of African modernity, it is important to remember, as A. Adu Boahen once explained, that European colonization of the African continent occurred suddenly and unpredictably. As late as 1880, there was little indication that European nations intended to dramatically alter the map of Africa by force. Most African states and societies were entirely autonomous and controlled by their own rulers. The unexpected European conquest of African territories at the end of the 19th century thwarted much of the progress Africans had made throughout that century and arguably reversed key processes of modernization. And while colonial regimes also introduced new modernities into Africa, these were mainly destructive and exploitative in nature.
Genocide, defined in international law as killings and related mass atrocities that are committed “with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group,” has negatively impacted countless communities across Africa over the centuries. The resulting historical literature is strongest regarding those genocides that occurred in the 20th and 21st centuries due to a tendency to privilege written sources. Within this literature, African women’s experiences remain understudied compared to the experiences of men, despite widespread recognition that genocides often affect people differently according to their gender identity. However, in looking at the widely studied examples of colonial genocides in Belgian-occupied Congo (1885–1908) and German-occupied Namibia (1904–1908), and the subsequent genocides in Burundi (1972), Rwanda (1994), and Sudan (2003–2008), it becomes evident that perpetrators have targeted women in particular ways as part of their broader efforts to exterminate unwanted communities. While women are frequently killed alongside men during genocides, the literature on these case studies abounds with examples of sexual violence, particularly rape, that the perpetrators inflict upon women as part of their efforts to undermine the social vitality of their intended victims’ communities. Women’s experiences of genocide are often far more diverse than the literature’s singular focus on sexual violence suggests, however. The case of Rwanda demonstrates that women can also serve as combatants and perpetrators, while the case of Belgian-occupied Congo reveals that women can lead resistance movements in opposition to genocidal violence. Similarly, German-occupied Namibia and Rwanda demonstrate that women can serve important roles in rebuilding their communities and advocating for recognition and reparations in the post-genocide period. Scholars are beginning to pay greater attention to women’s diverse experiences of genocide, but there is a great deal of research to be undertaken, particularly regarding how different facets of women’s identities, such as class, ethnicity, and socio-economic status, among others, shape their experiences of genocide.
Mariana P. Candido
Kidnapping, warfare, seizure, and enslavement were gendered experiences in the sense that men, women, and children did not necessarily face the same process. Each enslaved woman and man was an individual who navigated bondage, resistance, dependency, and violence with different degrees of success within specific contexts. Recognizing their complexities and the variations regarding their enslavement and bondage is vital to avoiding essentialization of African slavery as a monolithic or an ahistorical institution. Women composed most of the enslaved population within the African continent, due in part to the operation of internal markets and local demands. The internal demand for enslaved women affected prices, values, and flows of the external slave trades, as well as gender imbalance.
Women in bondage played major economic roles in the domestic and public spheres as farmers, skilled craftspersons, street vendors, miners, healers, and cooks, performing tasks that respectable and honorable free women would not do. They were valued as producers and reproducers who could attend to sexual demands and be incorporated into lineages as unfree people. In different societies within and outside of Africa, enslaved women in bondage were sexually objectified and exploited. There is thus nothing “African” about this violence, since one of the premises of enslaving girls and women was the ability to abuse their bodies. The sexual dimension of the use of women’s bodies explains the higher value for female captives in internal African markets, as well as the silence surrounding the enslavement of women. It is important to recognize that in Africa, as elsewhere, the institution of slavery was not monolithic. Detailed regional studies indicate variations across time and space. Women experienced capture, enslavement, and bondage in different ways. One cannot make general assumptions when analyzing exceptional lives.
Associations and organizations are groups of individuals who form a body to achieve an aim. Women’s leadership and membership in associations constitute a vital part of Africa’s economic, social, and political history. Women-only associations and women in dual-sex organizations protested against colonial rule; fought for independence; and mobilized for democracy, peace, and equality. Still, women in associations also supported colonial projects, fought in war, and held up postcolonial authoritarian rule. Taken together, economic, social, and political accounts of Africa are inherently incomplete if they fail to interrogate women’s participation in collective action on the continent.
Women have created and joined many kinds of associations and organizations in Africa. These include secular and religious associations. Some groups represent the interests of a profession (e.g., academics, journalists, lawyers, midwives, traders) or a political party or ideology (e.g., African National Congress Women’s League in South Africa). Others explicitly try to bring together women and men from multiple status and political groups (e.g., Women’s National Coalition in South Africa). Women have formed groups of friends and family members in their immediate vicinity, at times through small-scale rotating savings and credit associations. Other associations have a national membership base. Associations further vary in their relationship to the state. Some are formally recognized, and others are informal. Whereas some groups receive state financing, others depend solely on the contributions of its members, and many fall in the middle of the spectrum. Women have also forged intra-regional, pan-African, and global networks of individuals and organizations. It is not uncommon for a woman to belong to multiple kinds of associations simultaneously and for her memberships to vary over her lifetime.
The associations and organizations that women have spearheaded rise and fall, consolidate and fragment, and succeed and fail in achieving their aims, reflecting local, national, and international contradictions and dynamics. The power of women-led organizations has changed over time. Women-led organizations registered economic revolutions, political upheavals, and religious conversion on the continent before the advent of European colonization, under European rule, and in postcolonial Africa.