The climatology of East Africa results from the complex interaction between major global convergence zones with more localized regional feedbacks to the climate system; these in turn are moderated by a diverse land surface characterized by coastal to land transitions, high mountains, and large lakes. The main climatic character of East Africa, and how this varies across the region, takes the form of seasonal variations in rainfall that can fall as one, two, or three rainy seasons, the times and duration of which will be determined by the interplay between major convergence zones with more localized regional feedbacks. One of the key characteristics of East Africa are climatic variations with altitude as climates change along an altitudinal gradient that can extend from hot, dry, “tropical” conditions to cool, wet, temperate conditions and on the highest mountains “polar” climates with permanent ice caps. With this complex and variable climate landscape of the present, as scientists move through time to explore past climatic variability, it is apparent there have been a series of relatively rapid and high-magnitude environmental shifts throughout East Africa, particularly characterized by changing hydrological budgets. How climate change has impacted on ecosystems, and how those ecosystems have responded and interacted with human populations, can be unearthed by drawing on evidence from the sedimentary and archaeological record of the past six thousand years. As East African economies, and the livelihoods of millions of people in the region, have been clearly heavily affected by climate variability in the past, so it is expected that future climate variability will impact on ecosystem functioning and the preparedness of communities for future climate change.
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Climate Change in Eastern Africa
Cocoa and Child Slavery in West Africa
The ongoing scholarship on child slavery in cocoa farming in West Africa is examined by illustrating major developments in the field. Slavery was a mainstay of the labor force in early West Africa cocoa farming, especially in Sao Tomé and Príncipe. Whereas slavery in cocoa farming in West Africa historically involved adult slaves, the modern version is almost exclusively based on child slavery. With the promise of a job, child slaves are transported to Côte d’Ivoire from neighboring countries like Mali and Burkina Faso and transported to cocoa farms in remote villages. In Ghana, child slaves are transported from poorer regions. The modern literature on child slavery in the West African cocoa sector, which to a great extent has been led by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and activists, has not properly engaged with the history or evolution of cocoa farming or its link to modern child slavery. While the documentaries and journalistic case studies produced by NGOs and activists have offered crucial evidence of the occurrence of child slavery on West African cocoa farms, they have generated only limited questions and arguments. This is partly due to the practical goals of this literature—for example, showing that child slavery exists (via documentary approaches)—and the use of surveys to attempt to measure its prevalence. This focus primarily serves the antislavery campaign. The literature has also suffered from a lack of conceptual direction. The proximity of categories such as child labor and hazardous child labor has allowed stakeholders to shift the conversation away from child slavery to less problematic forms of labor, especially given the methodological difficulties encountered in uncovering child slavery. However, the literature that has sought to explain the causes of child slavery in cocoa farming in West Africa has been robust and historical due to the contribution of Marxist and other scholars who are not necessarily involved in the antislavery campaign. The campaign against child slavery in cocoa farming has led to copious programs and initiatives on the part of the West African government and other stakeholders.
Colonial Agricultural Development Schemes
Monica van Beusekom
The period from the 1920s to the end of colonial rule saw increasing government intervention in agricultural production and the adoption of ambitious agricultural development schemes. These development schemes often aimed to increase and control the production and marketing of cash crops such as cotton and peanuts, essential to European industries. Examples include the Gezira Scheme (Sudan), the Office du Niger (French Soudan), the Tanganyika Groundnut Scheme, the Compagnie Générale des Oléagineux Tropicaux (CGOT, Senegal), as well as a host of other schemes. Confident in their agricultural expertise, colonial planners often sought radical transformations in African agricultural systems, away from extensive hoe cultivation toward intensive plow agriculture following a strict crop rotation. Worries about environmental degradation and population growth, as well as the need to manage social dislocation and maintain political stability, framed colonial strategies. Encountering African farmers with priorities and practices that were often at odds with their own, colonial planners failed to transform agriculture in the ways they intended. Nonetheless, development still wrought significant change as farmers considered whether to circumvent, resist, adapt, or adopt new technologies and farming methods. If at first agricultural development schemes were localized and mostly ineffective efforts to make empire profitable, by the 1940s and 1950s, agricultural development interventions became more widespread and intrusive. This helped generate rural support for anticolonial movements. Nonetheless, by the last decades of colonial rule, the idea of planned development as desirable became commonplace, not just within colonial governments, but also in international institutions and among nationalist leaders. Thus, state-led agricultural development would remain a powerful force in independent Africa.
Colonial History and Historiography
Marie-Albane de Suremain
The colonial condition in Africa has been revisited by all of the main historiographic currents of thought, from a heroizing, highly political and military history of colonization primarily considered from the colonists’ standpoint, to a much more complex and rich history integrating the colonized perspective. This history has been enhanced by contributions from Postcolonial Studies and Subaltern Studies as well as from New Imperial History and perspectives opened by its global interconnected history. At the intersection of these issues and methods, colonial studies offers an innovative reinterpretation of various facets of colonial Africa, such as the factors and justifications for colonial expansion; conquests and colonial wars; processes of territorial appropriation and border demarcation; and the organization and control of the colonies. In these fundamentally inegalitarian societies, accommodation and social and cultural hybridization processes were also at work, as well as multiple forms of resistance or subversion that paved the way for African states to win their independence. In addition to the role played by the First and Second World Wars, the emergence of nationalist and separatist movements helps to clarify the multifaceted nature of these independences, when approached from a political as well as a cultural and social perspective, while questioning the durability of the legacy of the colonial phase in African history.
The Colonial History of Burkina Faso
Burkina Faso has a remarkable history owing to repeated dissolution and reunification of its territory. Following the French colonial conquest in 1896, a military territory was established over a large part of what would become Upper Volta. In 1905, the military territory was integrated in the civilian colony of Upper Senegal and Niger with headquarters in Bamako. Following a major anticolonial war in 1915–16, the colony of Upper Volta with Ouagadougou as its capital was created in 1919, for security reasons and as a labor reservoir for neighboring colonies. Dismantled in 1932, Upper Volta was partitioned among neighboring colonies. It was recreated after World War II as an Overseas Territory (Territoire d’Outre-mer) within the newly created French Union (Union française). In 1960, Upper Volta gained its independence, but the nation experienced a new beginning in 1983 when it was renamed Burkina Faso by the revolutionary government of Thomas Sankara. The policies and debates that shaped the colonial history of Burkina Faso, while important in themselves, are a reflection of the larger West African history and French colonial policy.
Colonialism in West Central Africa
The article considers a large region comprising Chad, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Gabon, the Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, and Equatorial Guinea.1 From the 1880s onwards, Central Africa was colonized by Spanish, French, German, Belgian, and Portuguese powers. Here Africans generally suffered a harsher kind of rule than in West Africa, as colonialism brought little capital and investments, and imposed brutal forms of extractive economy. Foreign powers, moreover, proved reluctant to dialogue with African elites. Yet, the colonial era was also a moment when Central Africans initiated radical political revolutions and capacious social changes, achieving independence in the 1960s and 1970s. Throughout the period under consideration, moreover, important cultural creations in the form of music, popular painting, photography, and fashion became influential in the rest of Africa and beyond.
Colonial Wildlife Conservation and National Parks in Sub-Saharan Africa
Colonial wildlife conservation initiatives in Africa emerged during the late 19th century, with the creation of different laws to restrict hunting as well as with the setting up of game reserves by colonial governments. Key influential figures behind this emergence were aristocratic European hunters who had a desire to preserve African game populations—ostensibly protecting them from settler and African populations—so that elite sports hunting could persevere on the continent. These wildlife conservation measures became more consolidated at the turn of the 20th century, notably due to the 1900 Convention for the Preservation of Animals, Birds and Fish in Africa—an agreement between European imperial powers and their colonial possessions in Africa to improve wildlife preservation measures—and with the establishment of the Society for the Preservation of the Wild Fauna of the Empire in 1903. This Society, made up of aristocrats, hunter-naturalists, and former government officials, used the influence of its members to advocate for greater wildlife conservation measures in Africa. The wildlife preservation agenda of the Society was largely geared around restricting hunting praxis (and land access) for African populations, while elite European hunting was defended and promoted as an imperial privilege compatible with environmental outcomes. Starting in the 1920s, members from the Society played a key role in setting up Africa’s early national parks, establishing a key conservation praxis that would continue into the late colonial and postcolonial periods. After World War II, colonial wildlife conservation influence reached its zenith. African populations were displaced as national parks were established across the continent.
Comics in Colonial Africa
Comic books did not appear in Africa until the arrival of the Europeans and the methodical integration of their civilization at the expense of preexisting civilizations. However, prior to their arrival, there did exist, among many peoples—particularly the Bamum people—a culture of the image. The end of the First World War corresponds to a stronger Western presence on the continent. Therefore, one finds some comic panels and strips in newspapers intended for an audience of literate Europeans and Africans. The 1940s and 1950s—and even earlier in South Africa and Madagascar—mark the appearance of some of the first publications aimed at youth on the continent. Many contained comic strips, but these were often reproductions of stories that had already appeared in Europe. Examples include Kisito, a Catholic youth magazine (1954), and Ibalita (1957). Local missionaries also used graphic narratives to instruct, to arouse interest in particular vocations, and to evangelize. This is particularly true in the Belgian colonies. In fact, it was probably in the Belgian Congo that one of the first comic books appeared on the continent (Les 100 aventures de la famille Mbumbulu, 1956), while the first comic series (Matabaro) was born in 1954 in Ruanda-Urundi. The case of Egypt is of particular interest: it has an old tradition of publishing newspapers, magazines, and journals, including journals for children like Sindibad created in 1952.
Communism in South Africa
The history of communism in South Africa began with the formation in 1921 of the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA). The party was entirely white, as was the majority of organized labor—its main constituency. The CPSA attempted to fight for equality of black and white workers, but white labor refused to desegregate, and the party’s support among Africans was practically nonexistent. In 1928, the Communist International (Comintern), of which the CPSA was a member, sent it an instruction to work for an “independent native republic.” This slogan helped the party to attract a black membership, but resulted in much infighting. The CPSA’s position strengthened during World War II, but in 1950, after Afrikaner nationalists came to power, the party was banned. It re-emerged in 1953 as the underground South African Communist Party (SACP). Since then, the party has worked closely with the African National Congress (ANC). Many of its cadres were simultaneously ANC members. In 1955, communists helped to formulate the Freedom Charter, the ANC’s overarching program. In 1960, the SACP launched the armed struggle against apartheid. The ANC took the nascent liberation army under its wing in 1963. In the early 1960s, many party members, including Nelson Mandela, were arrested or forced into exile. The party had a deep ideological influence on the ANC: from 1969, its ideas on South Africa as a colony of a special type and on the National Democratic Revolution (NDR) have become part of all ANC programs. After the end of apartheid, communists occupied important positions in all ANC governments. Despite this, many in the SACP have been unhappy with the direction the ANC has taken. However, the party has not contested elections on its own, trying instead to influence ANC policies from inside. This has cost it its reputation as a militant revolutionary party.
Community-Based Approaches to African History
Peter R. Schmidt and Kathryn Weedman Arthur
Several trends in the historical scholarship of Africa require recognition and remediation. The first is a quickly shrinking interest in African history of the past two millennia, with a shift in emphasis to early hominins and to the modern period. The precolonial history of Africa, once a subject of considerable excitement for historians, historical linguists, and archaeologists, is fading from interest. The high cost of interdisciplinary research is one reason, but a deeper, more alarming cause is the rapid erasure of oral traditions by globalization, disease, and demographic changes. Archaeologists and heritage experts are faced with a need to find innovative means to investigate and recover historical information. One proven path is partnerships with communities that want to initiate research to document, recuperate, and preserve their histories. Community approaches in other world regions have shown important research results. Adapting some of the philosophy and methods of other experiments as well as innovating their own approaches, archaeologists and heritage managers in Africa are increasingly involved in community projects that hold out significant hope that the quickly disappearing oral and material history of Africa can be preserved and studied into the future. Two case studies—one from the Haya people of Tanzania and the other from the Boreda Gamo of Ethiopia—illustrate that long-term and trusting partnerships with local groups lead to important historical observations and interpretations. Such collaborations also lead to thorough documentation and preservation of historical sites and information that otherwise would be lost to posterity. Moreover, they account for the ability of local groups to initiate and to conduct their own research while recognizing local control over heritage and history.
Congo in the Americas and Brazil
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.
Christian and Islamic Nubia, 543–1820
In the 6th century, after the arrival of the Christian missionaries from Constantinople, Nubia became the southernmost outpost of Byzantine culture in Africa. New religion brought new sacral iconography and literary genres based on Greek, which became the sacred language of the Nubian liturgy and hymnology. The Greco-Byzantine elements diluted in the indigenous African traditions created an original culture in the Middle Nile that preserved much of its Byzantine ideal until the fall of the Christian Kingdoms in the 14th and 15th centuries. However, at the beginning of the 11th century, Nubia witnessed the process of nationalization of its culture, which is evidenced by the proliferation of the Nubian language in official documents and visitors’ graffiti in the churches. The economy of Christian Nubia was enhanced by the high productivity of the riverine agriculture based on the widespread use of the water wheel (saagiya) and trade. Nubia played the role of intermediary in the exchange between Africa’s interior and the Mediterranean. However, the profitable trade in slaves, cattle, and gold was stripped of its benefits when the traditional north–south routes diverged from the Nile Valley, thus avoiding the Nile checkpoints where the duties in kind were levied from the caravans by the Christian rulers. The first symptoms of Nubia’s political decline appeared in the 9th century when the Arabs started to settle in the gold-bearing regions along the Nile. The fall of the Christian Kingdom of Makuria was preluded by a period of total dependence on the Mamlūk sultans of Egypt, who openly interfered in the dynastic disputes among the Nubian ruling families. The outbreak of the second plague pandemic in the mid-14th century destabilized the Nubian economy, ruined the agriculture, and forced people to turn to God and the heavenly intercessors for help. In the 15th century, Nubia reverted to its original state of political segmentation and anarchy under the rule of petty kinglets who could not prevent the subjugation of Upper Nubia to Funj Sultans and Lower Nubia to the Ottomans. The last attempt at military unification of the Middle Nile by an indigenous power was the ascendance of the Islamized Nubian tribe of the Shaiqiyya, which in the early 18th century dominated a huge part of the Middle Nile. The coming of the Mamlūk refugees from Egypt in 1811 weakened the Shaiqiyya’s supremacy. Ten years later the Middle Nile was incorporated into the Ottoman eyālet of Egypt governed by Muhammed Ali.
Copts received the Christian faith through Mark the Evangelist in ad 42. Through the first seven centuries of Greco-Roman rule, a distinctive Coptic theological stance was formed as well as its literature, art, and liturgy. Coptic monasticism shaped Coptic spirituality and influenced the universal church. With the Arab Islamic conquest in the 7th century and with its successive dynasties, followed by Ottoman, British, and French political rule, the Copts adapted to each political system. Coptic Christianity survived through all this political turmoil to the present time, emerging in the 21st century as a vibrant Coptic Christianity that is spreading throughout the world.
Cory Library for Humanities Research
Cory Library in Makhanda (Grahamstown), South Africa, was established on the basis of historical papers bequeathed by Sir George Cory, a professor of chemistry and enthusiastic amateur historian. Initially characterized by a strong settler and colonial bias, the Library was transformed by the deposit of records from black tertiary institutions threatened by the apartheid “Extension of Universities Education” Act of 1959. These included the valuable manuscripts of the Lovedale Press, which had been, for many years, the sole publisher of books in isiXhosa and other African languages. Civic organizations such as the Black Sash, the End Conscription Campaign, and the Surplus Peoples Project, which sprang up following the Soweto uprising of 1976, likewise deposited their records. The Cory Library thus became a valuable resource for all the peoples of the Eastern Cape, rather than only for its privileged sector. Its unique and comprehensive collection of books, maps, manuscripts, official documents, and visual representations across all disciplines of all things Xhosa and Eastern Cape make the Cory Library an essential resource for all researchers with interests in this area.
Culture and Society at the Cape of Good Hope, 1652–1795
In 1652 the Dutch East India Company founded a “refreshment station” in Table Bay on the southwestern coast of Africa for its fleets to and from the East Indies. Within a few years, this outpost developed into a fully-fledged settler colony with a “free-burgher” population who made an existence as grain, wine, and livestock farmers in the interior, or engaged in entrepreneurial activities in Cape Town, the largest settlement in the colony. The corollary of this development was the subjugation of the indigenous Khoikhoi and San inhabitants of the region, and the importation and use of a relatively large slave labor force in the agrarian and urban economies. The colony continued to expand throughout the 18th century due to continued immigration from Europe and the rapid growth of the settler population through natural increase. During that century, about one-third of the colony’s population lived in Cape Town, a cosmopolitan harbor city with a large transient, and overwhelmingly male, population which remained connected with both the Atlantic and Indian Ocean worlds. The unique society and culture that developed at the Cape was influenced by both these worlds. Although in many ways, the managerial superstructure of the Cape was similar to that of a Dutch city, the cosmopolitan and diverse nature of its population meant that a variety of identities and cultures co-existed alongside each other and found expression in a variety of public forms.
Customary Law in Colonial East Africa
African customary law has always regulated the legal relationships of the east African population. It is still significant in the fields of land and personal law (succession and inheritance and the family), and it refers to the principles, rules, customs, and practices of a certain local ethnic community that are accepted by its members as binding. Most research on customary law in east Africa has been done so far in Kenya and Tanzania. As a result of the colonization of east Africa, Europeans imported their own legal systems to their colonial territories, while African customary law remained applicable to the autochthonous population. Subsequently, a discriminatory dual legal and judicial system was established. In order to codify and unify the various sets of African customary law, several research projects carried out investigations of such law in east Africa. At the time of independence, African customary law was considered an important element in the formation of nations in Kenya and Tanzania. After academic interest in customary law gradually subsided, it has gained again in importance due to the conflict with human rights and the revitalization of such law on the ground, as observed on the threshold of the 21st century. However, since legal activists regard African customary law as outdated and in need of reform, future legal reform projects should pay particular attention to intergenerational justice and gender equality.
Cyril Ramaphosa became South Africa’s fifth post-apartheid president in February 2018. He was born close to the center of Johannesburg in 1952 and grew up in the dormitory township of Soweto. A Christian and black consciousness activist in his youth, he was detained and held in solitary confinement twice in the mid‑1970s. He founded the giant National Union of Mineworkers in the 1980s and rose rapidly in the liberation movement after Nelson Mandela’s release from prison. Ramaphosa led the African National Congress (ANC) team in the negotiations that enabled a transition to constitutional democracy in 1994, before political marginalization forced him to divert his energies into business. The unionist-turned-tycoon returned to political prominence fifteen years later, rising to deputy president of the ANC in 2012, president of the movement in 2017, and then state president the following year. As president, he has wrestled with intractable problems, including a sclerotic economy and public institutions weakened during the tenure of his predecessor, Jacob Zuma.
The Dakar School of African History
The Dakar School, as the historians of Cheikh Anta Diop University (the University of Dakar) were called, had a brief French antecedent in Yves Person, whose teachings communicated to students the importance of African oral sources. He himself worked primarily on such sources from the 19th century. The Dakar School was then taken over and given its name by the young Guinean historian Boubacar Barry, who had been based in Senegal since the 1960s. Research collaborations between Cheikh Anta Diop University and the University of Paris 7 (today known as Paris-Diderot) then became active through exchanges involving both instructors and doctoral students. The Senegalese department strengthened over time, thanks to well-established historians, a number of them being non Senegalese scholars expelled from their own country by dictatorial regimes such as Boubacar himself or others who taught several years in Dakar such as Sekene Mody Cissoko, a well known Malian historian, or Thierno Moctar Bah from Guinea. After Boubacar Barry, the department was headed successively between the years 1975 and 2000 by Mbaye Gueye, Mamadou Diouf, Mohamed Mbodj, Penda Mbow, Ibrahima Thioub, and Adrien Benga, among others. They and their colleagues understood how to maintain and reinforce the quality and cohesion of an original and diverse research department over the course of many years, one that was simultaneously independent of any political power and rather opponent to any authoritarian State and tolerant toward its colleagues. Among them, several scholars are currently enjoying late careers in the United States, while Ibrahima Thioub has become vice chancellor of Cheikh Anta Diop University. However, their succession has been consistently assured by their own doctoral students. Nowadays, does the “Dakar school” still exist? Yes because historians remain proud of and faithful to this innovative past, no because Senegalese historians are now part of the world wide international community of historians.
Dar es Salaam
Dar es Salaam, a major urban center in early 21st-century East Africa, was founded in 1862 as a mainland outpost of the sultanate in Zanzibar. From its very beginnings, the town was a cosmopolitan, polyglot, and multiethnic space. Following colonial conquest, the Germans used Dar es Salaam as their capital of German East Africa from 1891 onward, as did the British administration of Tanganyika, as the territory was renamed after the transfer of power following World War I, until independence in 1961. Colonial rule shaped the city’s geography according to racialized zoning, yet both colonial and subsequent postcolonial governments often found themselves reacting to dynamics (particularly immigration and informalization) rather than initiating them. Since the late colonial period, social and political dynamics in Dar es Salaam—such as the growth of nationalism—have had repercussions in all of Tanzania. In the 1960s and 1970s, the city became a transnational revolutionary hub at the crossroads of Pan-Africanism, anticolonial currents, and Cold War rivalries. At the same time, at the national level, the government tried to peripheralize Dar es Salaam and announced the relocation of the capital to Dodoma in 1972. Despite the antiurban bias of Tanzania’s policies of African socialism ( ujamaa ) and neoliberal reconfigurations from the 1980s onward, both of which put a brake on state investments in urban infrastructures and services, Dar es Salaam remained a commercial, cultural, and diplomatic center. With a population that grew from 22,500 in 1913 to 5.4 million inhabitants in 2022, it has become one of Africa’s major metropolises.
Decolonization in French West Africa
Studies of French decolonization in West Africa have traditionally treated it as a planned and reasonably smooth process. It has therefore been portrayed as a successful decolonization that stands in stark contrast to the much more conflictual decolonization processes in Indochina (1947–1954) and Algeria (1954–1962), which were marked by prolonged wars. This approach has tended to give pride of place to the role of individuals—members of France’s governing elites and African political leaders—who are portrayed as having successfully managed the transition to independence. While the importance of such individuals cannot be denied, it is important to recognize that French decolonization in West Africa was a contingent process. Shaped by the particular nature of French colonial rule in the region, the new international context after 1945, events on the ground, and—on the French side—the perceived need to maintain empire at all costs in order to restore French grandeur after the humiliation of defeat and occupation in the Second World War, it was a process that involved a multiplicity of French and African actors who were not in control of the policy agenda but who were, on the contrary, operating in a highly constrained context and constantly being forced to react to rapidly unfolding events. De Gaulle finally decided to grant independence in 1959, and within a year all the territories of former French West Africa had gained their political independence. However, political independence did not mean French withdrawal and the end of French dominance. There were many continuities between the colonial and postcolonial periods, which have been analyzed in a burgeoning literature on French neocolonialism in sub-Saharan Africa. Decolonization should therefore be seen as a process that started well before French rule formally ended in 1960 and that is—arguably—still ongoing.