The continent of Africa has had a lengthy involvement in global maritime affairs and archaeological research with Middle Stone Age people using marine resources on the coasts of southern Africa, the Classical Pharos lighthouse of Alexandria, and Medieval Indian Ocean trade on the Swahili coast to the Atlantic triangular slave trade. Maritime archaeology is the identification and interpretation of physical traces left by people who use the seas and oceans. Middle Stone Age sites in South Africa such as Klasies River Mouth and Pinnacle Point have the earliest evidence for human use of marine resources including birds, marine mammals, and shellfish. This exploitation of marine resources was also coincident with the use of pigment, probably for symbolic behavior, as well as the production of bladelet stone tool technology. The extensive timespan of human activity on the coast around Africa occurred during changing relative sea levels due to Ice Ages and tectonic movement affecting the location of the coastline relative to maritime archaeological sites. Geomorphological changes may also take place over shorter periods such as the 1909 ce shipwreck of the Eduard Bohlen in Namibia lying c. one and half thousand feet landward of the shoreline. Ancestors of sea-going vessels have been recorded on rivers from dugout canoes excavated at Dufuna in northern Nigeria and the first plank-built boats, such as the Old Kingdom Royal Ship of Cheops of Khufu, found at the Giza pyramids, which imitated the shape of earlier papyrus rafts. Classical documents such as the Periplus Maris Erythraei and Ptolemy’s Geographia record Arabian and Indian trade with eastern Africa including ivory and rhinoceros horn and describe fishing practices using baskets and sewn-hull boats of the inhabitants. The increase in oceanic trade links here during the medieval period encouraged the formation of Swahili port cities such as Kilwa and Mombasa. The former was in a strategic position to manage much of the gold trade between Sofala in Mozambique and the northern Swahili Coast. Portuguese forts, constructed in the 15th and 16th centuries on their trade routes around Africa, such as Elmina Castle in Ghana, Fort Jesus in Mombasa, Kenya, and Fort São Sebastião on Mozambique Island, dominate the ports and harbors. The first sub-Saharan underwater scientific investigations took place in 1976 of the Portuguese frigate Santo Antonio de Tanna that sunk during an Omani siege from 1696 to 1698. At Elmina in West Africa, studies were made of wreck-site formation processes around the 17th-century Dutch West India Company vessel Groeningen, which had caught fire when firing its guns in salute to Elmina Castle after arrival. More broad-based studies that interpret the functioning of the African maritime society in its wider environmental setting, both physically in the context of its religious buildings, harbors, fishing grounds, sailing routes, and shipwrecks, and by taking account of non-material aspects of the beliefs that influence behavior of coastal societies, have led to interpretations of their maritime outlook.
African Maritime Archaeology
African Market Women, Market Queens, and Merchant Queens
In the open marketplaces found in cities and villages throughout Africa, women traders usually predominate. This gives women considerable weight as economic actors, because these marketplace systems are the primary distributive networks in most parts of Africa. A large proportion of Africa’s consumer goods and foodstuffs move through their intricate chains of intermediaries, which can include market retailers, neighborhood shops, street vendors, wholesalers, and travelers who collect goods from farms, factories, and ports. Although the vast majority of women traders live at or below the poverty line, some have risen to powerful positions that earn them the sobriquet of queen. Different regions of Africa show distinctive patterns of trading practices and of men and women’s participation in specific trading roles, reflecting specific gendered histories of precolonial trade, colonial interventions, and waves of national policy. These variations arise not from some primordial isolation, but from traders’ varied positioning within longstanding trade relations that have linked Africans since ancient times between regions, across the Sahara Desert and over adjoining oceans. Women’s trading roles are more highly developed in western Africa than in eastern, northern, and southern Africa, where precolonial trading patterns were more radically disrupted by conquest, land appropriation, and apartheid. Ideologies and arenas of practice such as Islam, Christianity, modernization, socialism, structural adjustment, and globalization likewise shape the constraints and opportunities facing women traders in any given situation. Because these influences operate around the globe, though not uniformly, they to some extent create parallel or convergent trends in widely separated nations. Deepening economic pressures today push even more women and men into trading to support their families and sustain the hope of prosperity. Market women struggle individually and collectively to keep their communities going under difficult circumstances that make formal economic channels function poorly. Their determined efforts give African economies more resilience as they respond to the challenges of war, political instability, and climate change.
Africans in World Wars I and II
World Wars I and II were very probably the most destructive conflicts in African history. In terms of the human costs—the numbers of people mobilized, the scale of violence and destruction experienced--as well as their enduring political and social impact, no other previous conflicts are comparable, particularly over such short periods as four and ten years, respectively. All told, about 4,500,000 African soldiers and military laborers were mobilized during these wars and about 2,000,000 likely died. Mobilization on this scale among African peasant societies was only sustainable because they were linked to the industrial economies of a handful of West Central European nation states at the core of the global commercial infrastructure, which invariably subordinated African interests to European imperial imperatives. Militarily, these were expressed in two ways: by the use of African soldiers and supporting military laborers to conquer or defend colonies on the continent, or by the export of African combat troops and laborers overseas—in numbers far exceeding comparable decades during the 18th-century peak of the transatlantic slave trade—to Europe and Asia to augment Allied armies there. The destructive consequences of these wars were distributed unevenly across the continent. In some areas of Africa, human losses and physical devastation frequently approximated or surpassed the worst suffering experienced in Europe itself; yet, in other areas of the continent, Africans remained virtually untouched by these wars. These conflicts contributed to an ever-growing assertiveness of African human rights in the face of European claims to racial supremacy that led after 1945 to the restoration of African sovereignty throughout most of the continent. On a personal level, however, most Africans received very little for their wartime sacrifices. Far more often, surviving veterans returned to their homes with an enhanced knowledge of the wider world, perhaps a modicum of newly acquired personal prestige within their respective societies, but little else.
Afro-Brazilians in West Africa
The Afro-Brazilians of West Africa refers to a community of people that was born in the 18th century and matured the 19th century in the course of trade exchanges between Brazil and West Africa. This is not a racial group but one united by a mixture of racial, commercial, cultural, and familial ties with a range of African, European, and American ancestries. The original foundation of the community emerged through the shipment of enslaved West Africans to Brazilian plantations. Upon liberation, many of these men and women, wanting to avoid a life of bondage and racial discrimination in the Americas, returned home to Africa. Others too old to leave Brazil or unwilling to abandon their American families and investments sent their Brazilian-born children back to Africa to see long-lost families and for business and education. There were also those descended from Brazilian traders who made Africa their home, sometimes marrying African wives, as well as their descendants and associates, free and unfree. Whether born in Africa or the Americas and regardless of color, the presence of Afro-Brazilians on both sides of the Atlantic necessitated intercontinental travels and exchanges and the birth of a transoceanic community. The history of Afro-Brazilians in West Africa has been a long and widely studied subject with a focus on its political and cultural contributions to the subregion.
The Ahiara Declaration
Samuel Fury Childs Daly
The Ahiara Declaration was a speech made by Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, the head of state of the secessionist Republic of Biafra, on June 1, 1969, in the town of Ahiara. It was issued in the final year of the war between Nigeria and Biafra, also known as the Nigerian Civil War. The Eastern Region of Nigeria seceded from Nigeria as the Republic of Biafra in May 1967 following a series of mass killings of easterners, especially members of the Igbo ethnic group, in northern Nigeria the previous year. In his address, Ojukwu gave a partisan account of the war and the events leading up to it, rallied Biafrans to continue the fight, and set out a political philosophy that would guide Biafra from that point on. It was written by a committee of Biafran intellectuals, most notably the novelist and poet Chinua Achebe. The declaration had multiple meanings: it was both ideology and propaganda, and it served both proscriptive and descriptive purposes. Its influences included the broader intellectual currents of black internationalism, a novel theory of radical anticolonialism, and the idea of “African Socialism”—a communitarian philosophy that emerged in distinction to socialist thought in other regions of the world. The Ahiara Declaration was not meaningfully implemented, both due to limited resources and to the fact that Biafra was defeated six months later. Nonetheless, the declaration is an important source for Nigeria’s history, and for the broader study of political philosophy in postcolonial Africa.
The mid-19th century was an era when the French colonial administration was consolidating its control over colonies in French West Africa. Having witnessed armed resistance movements from non-Muslim and Muslim leaders in the region, the French administration was suspicious of popular leaders who did not support the colonial agenda. Some were killed, and others were arrested, exiled, or put under house arrest in order to destroy their movements. Ahmadu Bamba (1853–1927) was one of the Muslim leaders the French administration regarded as a threat to colonial rule. Because he did not share the position of local Muslim leaders who allied with the Wolof ruling nobility whom he regarded as unjust, Bamba founded a new Sufi movement that sought to provide the masses with an ethics-centered Islamic education. His conflict with the Muslim leaders and Wolof aristocratic rulers exacerbated his tension with French administrators who saw him as an imminent threat. As a result, Bamba was arrested and exiled in Gabon (1895–1902) and Mauritania (1903–1907) and was kept under house arrest in Ceyeen-Jolof (1907–1912) and Diourbel (1912–1927). The exiles and arrests, which were designed to destroy his movement, did not work as his Murīdiyya order has become one of Senegal’s most culturally, economically, and politically powerful movements, with committed members spread around the world. His legacy endures. He was a prolific writer and has left an impressive corpus of Arabic texts that continue to guide his followers around the world. His senior disciples, who translated his ethos to the broader Wolof audiences using Wolofal or Wolof ʿAjamī (Wolof written with the Arabic script), have also left a rich corpus of primary sources that capture the history, traditions, and doctrine of the Murīdiyya from Murīd perspectives. Unfortunately, these sources remain largely inaccessible to academics.
Ahmed Bâba at-Timbuktî
Ahmed Bâba (1556–1627) was among the most prolific and the most celebrated of Timbuktu scholars of the 16th and 17th centuries. During his childhood he was educated and trained in Arabic law and Islamic sciences by his father, Ahmad, and other relatives. His principal teacher, the man he named the regenerator (al-mujaddid), was the Juula scholar Mohammed Baghayogho al-Wangarî, whose teaching he followed for more than ten years. Following the Moroccan occupation of Timbuktu in 1591, he was exiled to Marrakesh in 1594, jailed for two years, then obliged to remain in the city for many years. He was widely known both for his teaching and for the fatwas (legal opinions) he issued. He was offered administrative positions but declined them all in favor of teaching. In 1608, he was permitted to return to his hometown, Timbuktu, where he continued to write and teach until his death in 1627, but he held no public office there. His special field of competence was jurisprudence. He was also recognized for his abilities in hadith and wrote several works on Arabic grammar. He is probably best known for his biographical compendium of Mâlikî (founded by Malik ibn Anas died A.D. 795 is orthodox school of Muslim jurisprudence predominating in Sudanic Africa and the Maghreb) scholars, Nayl al-Ibtihâj bi tadrîs ad-dibâdj, a valuable supplement for the Western Islamic world to Ibn Farhûn’s ad-Dibâj al-Mudhahhab. His work specifically addresses issues relating to the significance of racial and ethnic categories as factors in the justification of enslavement. In the Bilâd as-Sûdân, Ahmed Bâba influenced the debate over slavery by relying on interpretations of Islamic precedent, which was invoked to protect freeborn individuals from enslavement. By extension, he impacted the transatlantic slave trade on the basis of religious identification with Islam and the desire to avoid the sale of slaves to non-Muslims, especially Christian Europeans on the coast of West Africa.
Akan Slavery in Africa and the Atlantic
Slavery was a macroscopic reality in the documentable historical itinerary of the Akan region of West Africa, both as a recognized institution existing in all the societies of the region up to the late 19th century and as a crucial component of its relationships with the outside world from the late 17th to the 19th century. During this phase, and although it lagged behind other parts of West Africa, the Akan region became also one of the most important exporting areas in the Atlantic slave trade. The condition of a slave until the end of the 19th century was generally the consequence of capture in war, judicial sentence, sale for debts, and so on. Akan societies distinguished between different degrees and types of slavery: prisoners of war, convicts sold into slavery, foreign slaves who were purchased, individuals enslaved for indebtedness, children of slave parents, and the like. These gradations corresponded to differences in treatment and could guarantee certain privileges. Many slaves suffered harsh exploitation, deprivation, and constant existential precariousness, while many others were instead immersed in a whole gamut of living and working conditions that bespoke of a more or less advanced integration into the host society, mainly operating through inclusion within the institutions of matrilineal kinship. Pawnship was another widespread institution of servitude that veered toward slavery but remained distinct from it, at least in principle, due to its temporary nature. The slaves who were shipped from the ports of the Akan region were called “Amina” (or “Mina”) or “Coromantee” in the Americas. These terms morphed into definitions of identity that the deported slaves themselves appropriated—whether or not they were of Akan origin—and that were largely based on common cultural traits originating primarily in the Akan world. The enslaved Amina/Mina and Coromantee left lasting marks on the history and culture of the black communities of several countries, especially in the Caribbean and Latin America and, to a lesser extent, in parts of North America too. A crucial reason was their role in slave insurrections and in the “Grand Maroonage,” that is, the establishment of stable communities of slaves who escaped from the plantations and eked out spaces of independence on the fringes of plantation society. The early 19th-century abolitions of the Atlantic slave trade caused a decline in slave exports, but the demand for enslaved labor grew within the Akan region itself. While for most of the 19th century, slavery experienced an overall growth, in various coastal centers, and in some areas of the Gold Coast, this same period saw the development of anti-slavery sentiment and strong abolitionist pressures. Later in the 19th century, the abolitionist legislations put in place as a result of the colonial occupation by Great Britain and France had some crucial effects. These laws recognized for the first time the fundamental right to freedom of bonded individuals by outlawing their subjection and providing them with effective and immediate legal instruments for claiming their freedom in colonial courts. In actual terms, however, the pace of change in the realm of subjection was very slow and, all in all, unsatisfactory with respect to the initial intentions of the anti-slavery legislation. Throughout the first half of the 20th century, there were still cases of individuals sold or pawned. Slavery and pawnship, in fact, survived for decades, notwithstanding profound changes in the economic and socio-political framework. That legacy is still very much present in the memory and discourse of Akan societies in the early 21st century.
Amílcar Lopes Cabral, 1924–1973
Abel Djassi Amado
Amílcar Cabral, the founding father of Cabo Verde and Guinea-Bissau, was one of the African political leaders who masterfully exercised key and decisive roles in the twin realms of political action and theoretical development. As the founding leader of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cabo Verde, Cabral wore several hats: he was the chief diplomat and the commander in chief of the liberation movement; he was also the master organizer of the party and of the incipient state in the liberated areas. Yet, Cabral was far from solely a man of action; he developed a complex and sophisticated political theory of national liberation that gave substance and meaning to political action.
Mohammed Bashir Salau and Oyedele Oluokun
Aminu Kano was born into the family of Mallam Yusufu and Malama Rakaiya of the Sudawa quarters of Kano city in 1920. He obtained Islamic education and attended various local Western schools before serving as a teacher at the Bauchi Provincial Middle School. After leaving Bauchi, he attended the University of London, where he became more politically active. Upon returning to Nigeria from London, Kano served in different capacities, but mainly as a politician, a statesman-parliamentarian, and a cabinet minister. In the context of serving in these capacities, he was primarily committed to attacking the corruption and oppression of the emirate system, fighting for the liberation of women, fighting for Nigeria’s independence, promoting the democratization of Northern Nigeria, and fighting for Nigeria’s unity. By 1980, Kano’s focus on such issues had led to some important victories including the weakening of the emirate system. By this same date, Kano had had many wives even though he never embraced polygamy. In 1983, Kano died of a stroke. However, his ideas and work still have an impact on 21st-century Nigeria. The primary materials for the study of his ideas, work, and legacy include those Kano himself wrote, those written by other individuals, and oral data. Some of the extant literature based partly on such materials have primarily provided biographical details on Kano, while others have considered either his social and political thoughts or his legacy. Despite this, there are still significant gaps that exist in the relevant literature, which provides future research opportunities.
Ancient Developments in the Middle Senegal Valley and the Inland Niger Delta
The study of West Africa has contributed to the expansion of comparative arid-lands floodplain prehistory, from both the data collection (cultural and historical) and the theoretical aspects. The neoevolutionary approach that often pictures Africa as a backward continent has been successfully challenged. In the Middle Senegal Valley and in the Inland Niger Delta, research on their societies’ complexity done along these two subcontinent’s floodplains has described new processes (including urbanization) that were not previously featured in the archaeological literature. The two floodplains, because of their ecological diversity, with the richness of their ecological diversity, attracted Saharan populations affected by drought at the end of the second millennium and the first millennium BC. However, after their initiation occupation the two areas took different trajectories in complexity and settlement organization. Large complex settlements have been found at Jenne-jeno and in the Ile a Morphil that illustrate whole new trajectories of civilization. These forms of complexity, found in areas with historically known polities, were not included in the range of possibilities predicted by standard complexity theories regarding civilizational development. Ethnographic and historical data, reveal the existence of societies with a central authority embedded within and balanced by a diffuse, segmented and heterarchical power structure; often as a strategy to resist the individual consolidation of power. These societies exhibit evidence of horizontal differentiation and consensus-based decision making. All these types of organization are characterized by the presence of several sources of power vested in corporate entities, such as lineages, age groups, cults and secret societies.
An Introduction to the Lower Niger Bronzes of Southern Nigeria
Philip M. Peek
Southern Nigeria is rich in copper alloy cast works, such as those of the 9th-century burial goods of Igbo-Ukwu, the busts from 13th-century Ife, and the heads and plaques from the early 16th century from Benin City. Much scholarship has been devoted to these centers and yet there are other, perhaps even more historically important, works which have barely been acknowledged. The label “Lower Niger Bronzes” was proposed in the 1960s by William Fagg to account for those few pieces which did not fit with the three well-known centers’ works. On closer examination, these bronzes are far more numerous and of greater antiquity than previously realized. The quality and composition of these works indicate that most were likely cast prior to the European coastal trade in Nigeria which dates from the late 15th century. Leopard skull replicas, humanoid bell heads, small hippos, scepter heads, and masks make up only a portion of the works now under study. Without their original cultural contexts, these artifacts are somewhat mysterious, yet with careful study of their compositions and forms, much is revealed of a period of southern Nigerian history which predates the current arrangement of ethnic groups.
The Anlu Rebellion
Jacqueline-Bethel Tchouta Mougoué
From 1958 to 1961, Kom women in western Cameroon cast aside their regular domestic and agricultural duties to engage in a revolt against British administrative interference in agriculture—normally their domain—and the alleged plan by the ruling political party, the Kamerun National Congress (KNC), to sell Kom land to Nigerian Igbos. In keeping with the practices of anlu, a centuries-old women’s organization generally deployed against people who violated the Kom moral code, women interfered with burial rituals; hurled insults at men in public; demanded the closing of schools, courts, and markets; set up roadblocks; destroyed and burned property; and defied both traditional and British authorities in the Bamenda Grassfields of western Cameroon. Their tactics included stripping naked in front of men. While local men considered the sight of the vagina in public to be a bad portent and thus understood the seriousness of the revolt, flabbergasted British officials had no idea what was to come. By seizing control of resources and demonstrating in public, Kom women disturbed local political power, and protested against British rule in the Southern Cameroons. They were a crucial force in the victory of the Kamerun National Democratic Party (KNDP) in 1961, which brought a restoration of political order at the time of independence.
Archaeology of Senegambia
The Senegambia is the area located between the rivers Senegal and Gambia, as well as its surrounding regions, including the countries of Senegal, the Gambia, and Guinea-Bissau. The earliest documented references to the archaeology of the Senegambia date from the mid-19th century, in the form of short mentions in colonial reports and generalist scholarly journals. In the 1930s through the 1940s, the creation of research institutions facilitated the gradual professionalization of the discipline; and since independence, the quantity of researchers has both increased and diversified, as they use a range of approaches and period foci. Since the onset of the 21st century, the Stone Age has been a fast-developing area of study, ranging from the first evidence of hominin or human occupation 250 kya, to the development of pottery and animal domestication. Increasing social complexity, as well as technical developments, are a hallmark of the subsequent Iron Age, whose archaeology initially focused on the emergence of kingdoms and towns and has subsequently broadened to encompass also a wider range of societies at the margins of centralized polities. From the 15th century onward, the opening to the Atlantic world, together with the rise of the transatlantic slave trade, brought new dynamics across the region. As a result, much of the archaeology of this period has focused on trade (particularly the impact of the slave trade), new Afro-European settlements and sociopolitical change. Finally, although the archaeology of colonial and postcolonial remains is still incipient, it has received some coverage, particularly through ethno-archaeological studies, although the extent varies from country to country.
Archival and Digital Sources on Unfree Labor in Northern Nigeria
Mohammed Bashir Salau
Unfree labor in Northern Nigeria is a subject of interest to an increasing number of scholars. The National Archives Kaduna (NAK) and other repositories in Northern Nigeria and elsewhere hold many records that are useful for the study of several forms of unfree labor that occurred within the present-day borders of Northern Nigeria. The history of these records is long, but most of the written records were produced in the period after 1800. The written materials are mainly in Arabic and English. Unlike the written records, the oral sources are mainly in the Hausa language and the collection of such oral information is related to the post-1960s efforts by scholars led primarily by Paul E. Lovejoy. Lovejoy also initiated the digitization of archival materials and oral sources related to unfree labor in Northern Nigeria in the early 2000s. The digitization effort is still ongoing. Scholars who have drawn on the available archival and digital material have focused on the theme of slavery in the precolonial era. Such scholars addressed several topics including plantation agriculture, military slavery, slave control, slave resistance, the ending of slavery, and the wages of slavery. Apart from the works on slavery that mainly focus on the 19th century, there are relatively few other works on the topic that have primarily dealt with the early colonial era or with the period between 1903 and 1936. While the history of slavery has attracted the most critical attention, the history of corvée and convict labor in Northern Nigeria has largely been neglected. Indeed, to date, only two works mainly deal with convict and corvée labor. Considering the little attention given to the themes of convict labor and corvée labor, there is clearly more room for additional historical works on these subjects than on the topic of slavery.
Archives and History in The Gambia
The Gambian archives, established in the 1960s, have rich and valuable resources for deeper study and teaching of the history of The Gambia and the subregion. The collections are representative of a substantial amount of The Gambia’s precolonial, colonial, and postcolonial history on a range of subjects, including settlement patterns, migration, family histories, folktales, myths, legends, proverbs, songs, religion, early colonial trading in The Gambia, histories of the ethnic groups and their cultural ceremonies, history of individuals, nationalists politicians, postcolonial political parties, and World War II. Although these sources can be valuable to students, international researchers, and specialists, there is a great need for their care and maintenance.
Asante Queen Mothers in Ghana
Beverly J. Stoeltje
The queen mothers of Asante are linked together with chiefs in a dual-gender system of leadership. The symbol of authority and leadership in Asante is a stool (like a throne in England). Throughout the polities of Asante, each queen mother occupies her own stool, and each chief occupies his own stool, representing the authority of chieftaincy in a town or a paramountcy. This political model shapes Asante like a pyramid: queen mothers and chiefs of towns and villages at the base, paramount queen mothers and chiefs at the next level with authority over those of towns and villages, and the king of Asante, the Asantehene, and the queen mother of Asante, the Asantehemaa, at the top ruling over all of Asante. The king of Asante occupies the Golden Stool, the symbol of the Asante nation, which holds the souls of the Asante people according to popular belief. Although the position of queen mother has survived challenges, the relative salience of specific features of her authority has varied. Colonialism ignored queen mothers, and yet Yaa Asantewaa led a war and became a symbol of Asante identity. When the global women’s movement provided inspiration, queen mothers joined together to reclaim their authority.
The Biafran War
Ogechukwu E. Williams
From the onset of Nigeria’s independence on October 1, 1960, the nation was an uneasy union of numerous ethnicities whose ethnic rather than national allegiance had become entrenched in Nigerian politics under British colonial rule. These ethnic divisions came to the fore following a military coup on January 15, 1966, that became increasingly interpreted in the Muslim Hausa-dominated northern region as an Igbo coup against northerners. The coup worsened anti-Igbo sentiments in the north and resulted in repeated massacres of Igbos in the region. The widespread killing in the north continued unchecked by a new northern-led federal government that had come into power during a countercoup on July 29, 1966. When the government reneged on agreements it had made in Ghana regarding a confederal system of governance that guaranteed regional autonomy, eastern Nigeria seceded to form Biafra on May 30, 1967. Two months later, Nigeria declared war on Biafra, resulting in a conflict that lasted for thirty months. Although the war was initially regarded as merely another conflict in the Third World, Biafra propaganda, promoted by a Swiss media establishment, Markpress, ensured that the war and its image of starving children became common knowledge across the world. Markpress’s successful media campaigns resulted in the mobilization of many international organizations in a massive humanitarian effort to save Biafra and Biafran children. The war remained in a stalemate between 1968 and 1969 until the federal government made one final push in June 1969 that reduced Biafran territory to about one hundred miles by the end of that year. The war ended shortly after on January 12, 1970, following Biafra’s surrender to Nigeria. Shortly after, Nigeria implemented a “no victor–no vanquished” policy to prevent summary punishment of participants in the war. The government’s postwar policy has been criticized for excluding Igbos from key political and economic roles and potentially stoking reemerging demands in the east for Biafra.
Boko Haram: History and Context
Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad, better known as “Boko Haram,” is the most violent phenomenon of the Nigerian Fourth Republic. It is responsible not only for a regional food crisis that has devolved into famine in some areas, but also the displacement of millions and the deaths of tens of thousands of people. The insurgency in Nigeria began as a dissident religious sect’s venting of local grievances in Maiduguri, the capital of the northeastern Borno State. The movement was founded at the turn of the century by Mohammed Yusuf, a Salafist preacher notorious for his rejection of Western education and government employment. Boko Haram only gained significant international attention in the aftermath of the 2014 abduction of more than 270 schoolgirls from their dormitory in the remote town of Chibok, but the group did not always employ such deplorable tactics. Although policymakers in capitals the world over have been eager to emphasize the group’s connections to international terrorist groups, the movement is localized and often more akin to an African insurgency than to a prototypical terrorist organization. The group’s initial years were characterized by relatively benign activities like the provision of social services, punctuated by occasional bouts of criminality that, over time, escalated into a series of targeted assassinations that provoked federal government response. A series of violent actions ultimately transformed Boko Haram from a largely nonviolent fundamentalist religious movement into the lethal and resilient force it is today, known internationally for its brutality: notably, the group’s interactions with the Nigerian security sector, categorized by indiscriminate state violence; leadership changes within the insurgency’s ranks that elevated Abubakar Shekau following Mohammed Yusuf’s execution; and regional trends in weapons flows and ideological currents.
British Antislavery and West Africa
Resistance to slavery within African societies was as complex and heterogeneous as slavery itself. For enslaved Africans and their descendants taken by force to Europe’s colonies in the Americas, antislavery was an existential struggle. Among European states, Britain was among the first imperial powers to pass laws abolishing its slave trade (in 1807) and slavery in its colonies (in 1833). Antislavery was a transnational phenomenon, but Britain made suppressing the Atlantic slave trade an element of its foreign policy, employing a Royal Navy squadron to search for slave ships, pressing African leaders to sign anti-slave-trade treaties as a condition of trade and coordinating an international network of anti-slave-trade courts. And yet, for many leading British abolitionists, “Africa” was an ideological sandbox—an imagined blank space for speculation and experiment on the development of human societies and the progress of “civilization.” In the 18th century, early British critics of the transatlantic slave trade argued that “Africa” presented an unparalleled commercial and imperial opportunity. Although the slave trade—and the plantations in the Americas that slave ships supplied with labor—were profitable, some argued that slave-trading regions could, with enough investment, produce goods and commodities that would be many times more lucrative. Moreover, if Britain were the first European power to abolish the slave trade, it might also be among the first to gain a territorial foothold on African soil. Over time, these arguments coalesced into the concept of “legitimate commerce.” A combination of Christian teaching, slave-trade suppression, and commercial incentives would persuade slave-trading polities to give up the practice and instead produce other goods. Legitimate commerce intertwined with a theory of civilization that held that any society that enslaved people was so degenerate in its social development that nearly any reform or intervention was justifiable. By the end of the 19th century, antislavery became a justification for European conquest. There were at least three broad reform projects launched by British officials and merchants in Africa in the name of antislavery. First, drawing on critiques of the slave trade from the 18th century that emphasized the commercial potential of legitimate commerce, antislavery activists and politicians argued for replacing the slave trade with new kinds of export-oriented commerce. Second, in two colonies, Sierra Leone and Liberia, Britain and the United States experimented with the possibility of using Black people from the African diaspora as settlers and missionaries. In Sierra Leone, more than seventy thousand people, usually known as “Liberated Africans,” were repatriated from slave ships into the small colony. Third, in the mid-19th century, as the transatlantic slave trade declined, Britain and other European powers invested heavily in African plantation agriculture, particularly in cotton and palm oil monocrops.