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The Ottomans in Northeast Africa  

A. C. S. Peacock

In the mid-16th century, the Ottoman empire expanded to encompass parts of the modern Sudan, Eritrea, and the Ethiopian borderlands, forming the Ottoman province of Habeş. The Ottomans also provided aid to their ally Ahmad Grañ in his jihad against Ethiopia and fought with the Funj sultanate of Sinnar for control of the Nile valley, where Ottoman territories briefly extended south as far as the Third Cataract. After 1579, Ottoman control was limited to the Red Sea coast, in particular the ports of Massawa and Suakin, which remained loosely under Ottoman rule until the 19th century, when they were transferred to Egypt, nominally an Ottoman vassal but effectively independent. Politically, Ottoman influence was felt much more broadly in northeast Africa in places as distant as Mogadishu, at least nominally recognized Ottoman suzerainty.


Paleolithic and Neolithic Northeast Africa  

Donatella Usai

The Nile Valley with the deserts and the Ethiopian highlands with the Afar depression and the Rift were, albeit to different extents and in different phases, witnesses of the human enterprise from the origin of the species up to the formation of one of the most important forms of complex society. These regions form a vast area of Africa and, although archaeological and anthropological research make great strides, and the help of science contributes ever more to understanding, the available knowledge is still like a drop in an ocean. From the oldest traces of humankind to the societies that underlie the formation of the pharaonic kingdoms, tracing this history requires a great capacity for synthesis on the basis of a precise line; in this case, one approach can be described as evolutionary. The story begins with the oldest evidence of artifacts made by the first hominids and continues with their evolution into increasingly elaborate form, in a constant relationship with the surrounding environment and under the yoke of a climate that has, sometimes, dictated the times and ways of these changes. This part of the story sees the Ethiopian and the Afar and Rift depressions as the richest in evidence. The most recent phases see the Nile Valley with evidence of the hunter-gatherer groups of the Late Pleistocene and the Early Holocene always grappling with climate changes but with new tools to face and overcome them. The invention of pottery may be seen as one of these tools. This is also when the foundations for a food-producing economy are laid. For a long time, however, hunting and gathering practices continue and, especially along the Nile, fishing activities remain a constant in the economy of prehistoric societies, with herding and plant cultivation differently contributing and, supposedly, according to the potential and characteristics of each corner of this immense area.


Precolonial History of South Sudan  

Stephanie Beswick

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of African History. Please check back later for the full article. Histories of South Sudan are rare. Indeed a pre-colonial history of what is actually, geographically, the world’s largest swamp (South Sudan) is challenging and at present impossible without the use of oral histories, along with a very few archaeological and linguistic studies. Only two scholarly accounts lend information about the obscure history of this region of Africa. Oral histories suggest that the very earliest inhabitants of South Sudan were a mound-building folk known to the Dinka as the Luel, and to archaeologists as the Turkwel. Sometime after the later Middle Ages and the fall of the 11th-century Christian kingdom of Alwa, the Western Nilotic Dinka claim to have migrated with their cattle into South Sudan from the Gezira because of fear of slave raiders. The Dinka claim to have found Bari, on the East Bank of the Nile, a historical point that is corroborated by Bari oral histories. Some decades later, the Dinka crossed the Nile following the rich soils that were most favorable to their favorite agricultural food, kec. Over time they penetrated deeply into the western swamps of Southern Sudan. Sometime around the 15th century, another Nilotic people, now known as the Shilluk, thrust northwards beyond the depths of the South Sudanese swamps, settling approximately at the junction of the Nile and the Sobat rivers. Oral histories claim the Shilluk were led to this homeland by a great leader, Nyikang, the first in a long line of kings. The last great ethnic groups to migrate into what is now the boundary of modern South Sudan were the non-Nilotic Azande. Of interest is that all of these ethnic groups were slave-holding cultures and, with the exception of the Azande, were agro-pastoralists. The Bari were prominent iron-making specialists, as were the highly martial Azande. All of these cultures had social hierarchies, and migration is a connecting theme among the larger societies; none of the present cultures of South Sudan appear to have originated in South Sudan except the Nilotic Luo. By the late 17th century, with the fall of Sultan Sanusi of the Central African Republic, numbers of non-Nilotic peoples fled into various western regions of South Sudan. Additionally, with the fall of the Islamic sultanate of Sinnar and the coming of the Turco-Egyptians in the early 19th century, much of South Sudan had been historically peopled by the Nilotic Luo, whose progeny appeared to have evolved into numerous ethnic groups of South Sudan; groups that would now include the Shilluk-Luo, the Nuer, the Atuot, Anyuak, and various Luo communities that now exist under various names.


The 1924 Revolution in Sudan  

Elena Vezzadini

The 1924 Revolution marked the first time in Sudanese history a nationalist ideology became the language of politics and was successfully employed to mobilize the masses. It was a part of a broader movement of anticolonial nationalist agitation that merits studying this Sudanese event as an illuminating example in world history of the period. Thousands of people from all over Sudan protested in the name of principles such as self-determination and the will of the Nation, and the right of citizens to choose their own destiny. Moreover, the movement that led it, the White Flag League, explicitly sought to include people from different backgrounds, statuses, professions, and religions, to counteract the colonial policy of reliance on ethnic affiliations and social hierarchies. Even though it was bloodily put down after only six months, the events of 1924 represent a revolutionary departure in the in the history of modern Sudan.


Routes to Emancipation in Ethiopia  

Alexander Meckelburg and Giulia Bonacci

Slavery and the trade in slaves are deeply rooted in the economic and cultural history of the Ethiopian–Eritrean region. Various polities and societies across the Christian, Semitic languages-speaking highlands, the Rift Valley, and its surrounding lowland regions—bordered by the Nile Valley on the west and the Red Sea coast to the east—engaged in practices of human bondage and trade. These societies practiced manumission culturally, while the legal abolition of slavery and the slave trade were lengthy processes lasting many decades. Abolitionism, as a political process, was influenced by domestic and international political bargaining among regional polities and Western imperial interests. As the leading force of abolition in the 19th century, Britain took relatively late interest in Ethiopia. British abolitionism emerged in the region in order to support colonial and imperial aspirations, which were attached to commercial treaties. Abolition thus looked like a Western import and is still often discussed from a singular Western perspective. The uneven production of knowledge by travelers, diplomats, or the British Anti-Slavery Society amplified the Western abolitionist ideologies and overshadowed the contemporary Ethiopian discourse on abolition. The abolition of slavery became a major bone of contention in Ethiopia’s attempt to become a member of the League of Nations in the 1920s. Eventually, it became a matter of state survival in the standoff between Ethiopia and the threat of an invasion by Italy, which used slavery as a pretext to justify its violent occupation. Despite a long period of abolitionist efforts, slavery died a slow death in Ethiopia and has left a durable imprint on the local societies. Emancipation was never achieved throughout Ethiopia. In some areas, people of slave descent suffer from exclusion and marginalization until the early 21st century.


Second Intermediate Period  

Danielle Candelora

The Second Intermediate Period of ancient Egypt was the second of three eras of political fragmentation in pharaonic history, traditionally spanning from approximately 1773 to 1550 bce. It encompasses the late 13th–17th dynasties of Egypt, which ruled semi-contemporaneously from several different political centers. The beginning of the era was a continuation of the proceeding unified period, the Middle Kingdom, and was also marked by the increased influx of immigrants from Southwest Asia, the Eastern Desert, and Nubia. At the height of the Second Intermediate Period, a dynasty of foreign kings known as the Hyksos (Dynasty 15) ruled the north of Egypt from Avaris, modern Tell el Dabʿa, in the Eastern Delta, while a native Egyptian dynasty ruled from Thebes (Dynasty 17). These Theban kings began a war to expel the Hyksos from Egypt, formally ending this period and ushering in the New Kingdom. Although this period has long been characterized as one of decline and crisis, it actually featured an unprecedented level of innovation and regionalism, not least of all due to the impact of immigrants on Egyptian society and culture.


Slave Trades and Diaspora in the Middle East, 700 to 1900 CE  

George La Rue

In the Middle East, Africa was only one of multiple sources of enslaved and servile labor. Building on the legacy of earlier civilizations, the region drew on all of its immediate neighbors for slaves. Local kingdoms and empires arose, clashed, expanded, and adapted old and new slaving strategies from internal and external rivals. From the 7th century, the rapid expansion of Islam and the building of Muslim empires are salient features in this history, but many other historical developments played key roles. Ensuing encounters with other civilizations, empires, and trading networks frequently resulted in friction, mutual adaptation, or new cultural, political, or economic synergies. In the Middle East, Islamic practices toward slaves influenced all regional cultures, yet many variants emerged due to local customs; changing economic and political considerations; specific environmental conditions; and the experiences, cultures, and talents of the enslaved. Slaves were captured directly or purchased. In wars and raids, Middle Eastern armies captured enemy combatants and civilians to ransom or enslave. The mix of enslaved and servile persons brought into the region varied in its composition, reflecting the geographical areas of military actions, the development of powerful trading partners, and the extent of trading networks. Foreign merchants imported additional slaves from the Balkans, the Black Sea region, the islands and shores of the Mediterranean, Central Asia, and Africa—including the West African savanna, the Lake Chad region, Sudan, Ethiopia, and the Horn of Africa, particularly via the Swahili coast. These practices brought new servile populations as workers, domestic staff, concubines, soldiers, or bureaucrats to serve in imperial outposts, trading towns, or centers of agricultural, handicraft, or industrial production. The constant demand for servile labor was driven not only by expanding empires and new economic enterprises but also by growing urban populations, the multiple options for manumission under Islamic law, high mortality rates and low rates of reproduction among enslaved populations for social and medical reasons, and the resultant scarcity of second-generation slaves. Broadly speaking, enslaved Africans were more common in the southern tier of the Middle East and demand for them generally increased over time, as northern and internal sources of slaves dwindled. Enslaved persons, including Africans, served in numerous capacities and were dispersed throughout the Middle East and its areas of slave supply.


Stone Tools: Their Relevance for Historians and the Study of Historical Processes  

Justin Pargeter

From at least 3.4 million years ago to historic periods, humans and their ancestors used stone as the raw material for tool production. Archeologists find stone tools on all the planet’s habitable landmasses, even in its cold and ecologically sparse Arctic regions. Their ubiquity and durability inform archeologists about important dimensions of human behavioral variability. Stone tools’ durability also gives them the ability to contribute to the study of long-term historical processes and the deeper regularities and continuities underlying processes of change. Over the last two millennia as ceramics, livestock, European goods, and eventually Europeans themselves arrived in southern Africa, stone tools remained. As social, environmental, economic, and organizational upheavals buffeted African hunter-gatherers, they used stone tools to persist in often marginal landscapes. Indigenous Africans’ persistence in the environment of their evolutionary origins is due in large part to these “small things forgotten.” Stone tools and their broader contexts of use provide one important piece of information to address some of archaeology and history’s “big issues,” such as resilience in small-scale societies, questions of human mobility and migrations, and the interactions of humans with their environments. Yet, stone tools differ in important ways from the technologies historians are likely to be familiar with, such as ceramics and metallurgy, in being reductive. While ceramics are made by adding and manipulating clay-like substances, stone tools are made by removing material through the actions of grinding, pecking, or fracture. Metals sit somewhere in between ceramics and stone: they can be made through the reduction of ores, but they can also be made through additive processes when one includes recycling of old metals. Stone-tool technologies can also be more easily and independently reinvented than these other technologies. These distinctions, along with the details of stone tool production and use, hold significance for historians wishing to investigate the role of technology in social organization, economy, consumption, contact, and cultural change.


The Sudanese Communist Movement  

Yoshiko Kurita

Throughout the political history of Sudan, the presence of the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP, established in 1946) has been quite conspicuous. Often referred to (rather exaggeratedly) as one of the strongest communist parties in the Middle East and Africa, it has undoubtedly played a significant role in Sudanese society, struggling for both the expansion of civil and political rights of the ordinary masses and the achievement of social justice. The significance of the communist movement in Sudan might be better understood when located within the context of the history of the national liberation movement in Sudan. As its original name, the Sudanese Movement for National Liberation (SMNL) suggests, the communist party started initially as a movement by a group of Sudanese students and youth, who aspired to the liberation of their country from British colonial rule (to which Sudan had been subjected since 1899) but were disappointed with the attitude of the traditional political elites and, guided by Marxist ideology, came to realize the importance of the social dimension of national liberation. Subsequently, the party succeeded in expanding its social basis among the working masses, notably the railway workers and the peasants working for large-scale cotton schemes. After the independence of Sudan (1956), while the ruling elites who came to power (tribal and religious leaders, big merchants, elite officials, and so on) were not interested in changing the essentially colonial nature of the Sudanese state they inherited from the British (such as the unbalanced development and the oppressive nature of the state apparatus), the Sudanese Communist Party called for making radical changes in the economic and political structure of the country, advocating a “national and democratic program.” This aimed at the de-colonization of the economic structure, democratization of the state apparatus, and the expansion of civil and political rights. It also called for a democratic solution for the question of economically and politically marginalized peoples and regions inside Sudan, such as the South. One of the most remarkable achievements of the SCP was its role in the struggle against military dictatorships, which came to dominate the Sudanese political scene only a few years after independence. When, in order to contain the growing strength of the working masses, the traditional elites involved the army in politics (1958) and the ‘Abbud military regime came to power, the SCP played a significant role in organizing popular struggle and paved the way for the 1964 “October Revolution,” which put an end to the dictatorship. Again, the SCP played a significant role in the struggle against the Numeiry regime (a military dictatorship that took a quasi-leftist posture when it came to power in 1969 but eventually revealed its reactionary character) and contributed to the success of the 1985 intifada (popular uprising), which toppled the dictatorship. Finally, when another coup d’état took place in 1989 and ‘Umar Bashir and the other army officers affiliated with the National Islamic Front came to power, the SCP played a key role in the establishment of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), a broad umbrella organization that included not only the political parties in the North but also political forces representing the interests of marginalized areas, such as the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). The SCP contributed to the crystallization of the program of the NDA, which agreed on important principles concerning the future of Sudan, such as democracy, a balanced economy, the separation of religion and politics, and the right to self-determination for the South. Developments since the conclusion of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (2005) between the Bashir regime and the SPLM have been presenting new challenges to the SCP. As a result of the independence of the South (2011), the party members in the South established a new party, the Communist Party of South Sudan. In the North, the dictatorial regime still persists, and suppression of the working masses and marginalized areas (such as Dar Fur) intensifies. Changes in the international and global milieu, such as the failure of Soviet-type socialism and the fragmentation of the working class as a result of the onslaught of neoliberalism, have also had their repercussions, and the Sudanese communists in the early decades of the 21st century are obviously experiencing a time of ordeal, politically, socially, and intellectually. In assessing the role of the communist movement in Sudan, social and cultural aspects should not be overlooked. Being a movement basically aimed at the democratization of Sudanese society, it has inspired the movements by hitherto-neglected social groups such as women, youth, and people from marginalized regions. Culturally also, it has been a source of inspiration for many artists and musicians, such as the singer Muhammad Wardi and the poet Mahjub Sharif.


The Indian Ocean and Africa  

Edward A. Alpers

The Indian Ocean has occupied an important place in the history of Africa for millennia, linking the continental land mass to the peoples, products, and ideas of the wider Indian Ocean world (IOW). Central to this relationship are environmental factors, including the biannual operation of monsoon winds, which determined the maritime movement of people, things, and ideas. The earliest of these connections involve the movement of food crops, domestic animals, and commensals both from and into Africa and its offshore islands. From the beginnings of the Current Era, Africa was an important Indian Ocean source of valuable commodities, such as ivory and gold; in more recent times, hardwood products like mangrove poles, and agricultural products like cloves, coconuts, and copra gained economic prominence. Enslaved African labor also had a long history in the IOW, the sources and destinations for the export trade varying over time. In addition, for centuries many different Indian Ocean immigrant communities played important roles as settlers, merchants, sailors, and soldiers. In the realm of culture and ideas, African music, dance, and spiritual concepts accompanied those Africans who were forcibly removed from the continent to the different Indian Ocean lands where they were enslaved. A further indicator of Indian Ocean connectivity is Islam, the introduction of which marks an important watershed in African history. The human settlement of Madagascar marks another significant Indian Ocean connection for Africa. At different times and in different ways, colonial rule—Portuguese, Dutch, Omani, French, and British—tied eastern African territories to India, Arabia, and Southeast Asia. Since regaining independence, African nation-states have established a variety of new linkages to other Indian Ocean states.


The Islamic State in the Maghreb  

Zacharias P. Pieri

On June 29, 2014, The Islamic State (IS), also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), Islamic State of Iraq and the Islamic Levant (ISIL), and Daesh, proclaimed the establishment of a caliphate in areas straddling Iraq and Syria. IS is a Sunni Muslim extremist movement that was under the leadership of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi until his killing in 2019, and it is driven by a vision to unite all extremist Muslims under its caliphate, which was grounded in Syria. IS was, for a period, the most robust and adept insurgent force in Syria and Iraq, and by 2015, it controlled a landmass and population larger than that of many existing states. At the height of its power, it included a vast coastline in Libya, a portion of Nigeria’s northeast where affiliated Boko Haram declared an Islamic territory, and a city in the Philippines. Beyond this, IS was able to establish franchises in different parts of the world including North Africa and the Sahel. Leaders of IS called on extremist Muslims from across the world to leave their homes, and to travel to the so-called caliphate to take up residency there as jihadists and citizens of a proto-state. Those that could not physically join were encouraged to participate online, and others were instructed by Sheikh Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, the IS’s chief spokesman, to find an infidel and smash his head with a rock. IS, from its inception, has looked to the Maghreb and the Sahel as strategic geographic areas for the expansion of its ideology, incorporation of territory into its caliphate, and operational purposes. It is clear that the notion of an Islamic state was popular for a segment of the population in the Maghreb, with many leaving the countries of Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, and beyond to join, train, and fight with IS in Syria and Iraq. Tunisia had the highest number of IS foreign fighters, estimated at approximately 6,000; Morocco had 1,200; Libya and Egypt had 600; and Algeria had 170. Returning fighters are destabilizing North Africa. Libya was an early focus of IS due in part to the fall of the Gadhafi regime in 2011, and the ensuing political chaos, which caused a weak and fragile state. Libya served as the first addition to the territories of IS’s caliphate outside Syria and Iraq. Tunisia faced several large-scale attacks linked to IS activities in the country. In 2015 a number of terrorist attacks were carried out, including the massacre of 38 tourists at a beach resort in Sousse, the bombing of a bus containing presidential guards in Tunis, and an attack on the Bardo museum in Tunis. Algeria has had to monitor the country’s borders to prevent the entry of jihadists affiliated with IS who operate in neighboring countries. At the time of writing, concerns were being raised about different franchises of IS that are seeking to better integrate and to take advantage of insecurity in the Sahel, especially around the borders of Mali, Burkina Faso, and into Niger and Nigeria.


The Nile Waters Issue  

Terje Tvedt

To understand the role of the modern Nile in African history, it is first necessary to have familiarity with the premodern “natural” Nile, including both its hydrology and societal importance. It is well known that no river basin in the world has a longer, more complex, and more eventful history. The Nile water issue in modern times is a history of how economic and political developments in East and North Africa have been fundamentally shaped by the interconnectedness of the Nile’s particular physical and hydrological character; the efforts of adapting to, controlling, using, and sharing the waters of the river; and the different ideas and ambitions that political leaders have had for the Nile.


Urban Society in Colonial Sudan  

Ahmad Alawad Sikainga

As in the rest of Africa, the establishment of colonial rule has accelerated the pace of urban growth in the Sudan. During the period of British colonial rule (1898–1956), a number of new administrative centers, ports, and railway stations were established and metamorphosed into full-fledged cities. Among the most important towns and administrative centers were Khartoum, the capital of the Anglo-Egyptian administration; Atbara, headquarters of the Sudan Railways; the port city of Port Sudan; and Khartoum North, the headquarters of the steamers division of the Sudan Railways. These towns grew from small administrative headquarters into major urban centers and became the home of a diverse population that included Sudanese as well as immigrants from the Middle East, Europe, and neighboring African countries. The inhabitants of these towns engaged in a wide range of economic, social, and political activities that shaped the character of these towns and developed a distinctive urban culture.


Women in Eritrea  

Milena Belloni

The understanding of womanhood in Eritrea reflects the country’s complex ethnic mosaic, social divides, and stratified history. Given the paucity of sources, understanding of women in traditional precolonial society is mediated by the accounts of colonial ethnographers. These accounts tend to produce an overall image of a patriarchal society in which women had little or no power. However, studies in the early 21st century have highlighted how women also assumed important responsibilities in traditional societies, and in some cases in negotiations with colonial rulers. Indigenous women played an important symbolic role during the Italian colonial period as objects of conquest, domination, and violence. However, the economic and social transformations triggered by the colonial administration indirectly allowed Indigenous women to enlarge the spectrum of gender expectations characterizing traditional societies. Women became laborers, business owners, heads of households, and concubines playing important political and cultural roles and mediating between Indigenous and colonial societies. With the end of Italian rule and emergence of the nationalist movement, some Indigenous women became active in the arts, theater, and then the political struggle for Eritrean independence. Many women actively participated in the thirty-year struggle against Ethiopia, and this led to a revolution in the way of thinking about gender equality, womanhood, and the female body. However, this cultural shift had limited effects on wider society. Notwithstanding the important legal recognition of women’s rights after independence in 1993, society remains overwhelmingly patriarchal. While some women engaged in the struggle for independence, others became refugees in Sudan or were pioneers of international migration, supporting their families and the nation in times of crisis; Eritrean women made up the bulk of those who moved to Italy and the Middle East in the 1960s and 1970s. Since the 1990s, womanhood in Eritrea is characterized by the coexistence of contradictory models of femininity, which range from a patriarchal understanding of women as mothers and wives to a conception of women as fighters, breadwinners, and migrants.


Youth Activism in 21st-Century North Africa  

Christoph Schwarz

In the 21st century, North African societies have been counting with the largest cohorts of young people worldwide. These demographics, in combination with the highest youth unemployment rates worldwide, have been a cause for concern since the turn of the millenium. But in the respective debates in social research and among policy makers, the political subjectivities of young people themselves were rather overlooked. Instead, the situation of young people was often discussed either as a question of deficit—they were regarded as lethargic and apolitical and in need of help—or security—they were discussed as potential adherents of radical interpretations of Islam, as prone to political violence and as a threat to “stability.” However, in 2010 and 2011, mass protests initiated mostly by young people, starting in Tunisia and soon spreading to Egypt, Morocco, Libya, and, to a lesser extent, Algeria and Sudan, very quickly and effectively mobilized large swaths of the population and thus illustrated young people’s social agency, political relevance, and capacity for inclusive solidarity. To many observers, the events that were soon dubbed the “Arab Spring” came out of the blue and appeared as a sudden “generational awakening.” But the region-wide protests, and in particular the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt in 2011, not only mobilized people from all walks of life, they were also the result of at least a decade of persistent experimentation by young and not-so-young activists with different forms of collective action under extremely unfavorable conditions. Youth activism in 21st-century North Africa has been operating and strategizing under the constraints of authoritarianism, surveillance, and violent repression. Young people, particularly young women, have long been excluded from most institutional forms of politics. Against this backdrop, many political activists eschew the terms politics or the political, which they associate with corruption, manipulation, and illegitimate rule. Many other young people who appear at first sight “apolitical” have nevertheless engaged in different meaningful endeavors to improve everyday lives in their communities. Following a critical youth studies and youth cultures perspective, as well as a feminist perspective, young people’s activism can thus be analyzed along a spectrum that ranges from rather innocuous forms of everyday quiet encroachment, to public, but “apolitical” forms of mobilization, to highly committed and exposed social movement activism, as well as digitally networked forms of engagement and explicitly political demands for new forms of citizenship. A decade after the Arab Spring, and despite a “Second Wave of the Arab Spring” in Sudan and Algeria from 2018 to 2020, authoritarian rule has gained the upper hand in the region, even in Tunisia, the country that, for a long time, was considered “transitioning” to a representative democracy. Despite these setbacks, the experience that young people, as part of an organized citizenry, were able to oust long-ruling authoritarian presidents within a matter of a few weeks has arguably had an impact on political culture in the region. In the mid-2020s, their example continues to inspire youth activists in North Africa and elsewhere and will likely continue to pose a challenge to authoritarianism.