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al-Nafzaouiya, Zaynab  

Hasna Lebbady and Hiam El Hilali

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

Article

Archaeology of the Kerma Culture  

Sarah Schrader and Stuart Tyson Smith

Kerma was a Bronze Age culture (c. 2500–1500 bce) located in what is today Sudan and southern Egypt. It is one of the earliest complex societies in Africa and, at its height, rivaled Ancient Egypt. The ancient Kerma culture spans the Pre-Kerma, examining the settlements and cemeteries of this ancient culture during the Pre-Kerma (3500–2500 bce, included here as a precursor to the Kerma civilization), Early Kerma, Middle Kerma, Classic Kerma, and Recent Kerma periods. Much of what is known comes from the capital city and type site, Kerma. However, other urban centers such as Sai, as well as hinterland communities, are also discussed. An archaeological approach is crucial to the examination of Kerma’s past because an indigenous writing system had not yet been developed. Interaction with Egypt is discussed, but only as it relates to Kerma’s historical context. Chronological changes to craft production, religious practices, domestic spaces, and funerary rituals are framed by larger sociopolitical and socioeconomic issues, including inequality, political authority, and economic development.

Article

Bori Religion in West Africa  

Kari B. Henquinet

Bori is a religious tradition with origins in West Africa dating to at least 1500 ce. Based on oral histories, ethnographies, archaeological analysis, and limited written sources, its origins lie in complex, syncretic blendings of pre-Islamic Arna (Maguzawa) religious traditions, Hausa aristocracies, and Islam throughout what became Northern Nigeria and south-central Niger over many centuries. Bori practitioners have special knowledge of the spirit world and thus are skilled at healing spirit-induced illnesses or interpreting communal problems with a spiritual basis. Individuals are frequently initiated into Bori as they seek healing but also sometimes through their heritage. Once initiated, Bori adepts learn to live with their spirits for the rest of their lives, inviting spirits to possess them during ceremonial rituals. Bori specialists are more prominent in areas heavily influenced by Arna traditions or Hausa aristocracies that maintained special leadership positions connected to Bori for the protection of the kingdom. Women have often found opportunities for power and prestige through Bori in a patriarchal society, although in some regions, men dominate religious leadership and healing practices in Bori. From the early 19th century, Bori was condemned and banned in the Sokoto caliphate and subsequently under British rule in Nigeria. Nevertheless, it persisted in these areas and especially flourished in regions of Hausaland outside of the caliphate, where historical practices of Hausa kingdoms and Arna religion were practiced more openly and centrally in society. Over the course of the 20th century, Bori has been studied by researchers not only in these regions of West Africa but also among diasporic communities and pilgrims with ties to West Africa.

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Christian and Islamic Nubia, 543–1820  

Bogdan Zurawski

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.

Article

The Empire of Ghana  

Nikolas Gestrich

The Empire of Ghana is one of the earliest known political formations in West Africa. Within the context of a growing trans-Saharan trade, Arabic sources begin to mention “Ghāna,” the name of a ruler as well as of the city or country he ruled, in the 9th century. Repeatedly named in connection with fabulous riches in gold, Ghāna had acquired a preeminent role in the western Sahel and was a leader among a large group of smaller polities. Ghāna’s influence waned, and by the mid-14th century its ruler had become subordinate to the Empire of Mali. Over the course of a complex history of research, the Empire of Ghana became equated with the Soninké people’s legend of Wagadu and the archaeological site of Kumbi Saleh in southern Mauritania was identified as its capital. Yet between historical sources, oral traditions, and archaeological finds, little is known with certainty about the Empire of Ghana. Most questions on this early West African empire remain unanswered, including its location, development, the nature and extent of its rule, and the circumstances of its demise.

Article

The Empire of Mali  

Sirio Canós-Donnay

The Mali Empire is one of the largest and most widely known precolonial African states. It has featured in films, video games, works of fiction, and its memory is still a profound force in the articulation of social and political identities across Mande West Africa. Founded in the 13th century in the south of modern Mali, it quickly grew from a small kingdom to a vast empire stretching from the Senegambia in the west to Ivory Coast in the south. Before its disintegration in the late 16th century, its connections to distant trade networks stretched from Europe to China and its rulers became famous across the Old World for their wealth. In the absence of indigenous written histories, knowledge of the Mali Empire has been based on a complex combination of oral traditions, medieval Arabic chronicles, European accounts, oral histories, and archaeology. Through a critical analysis of these sources, it has been possible to learn much about Mali’s history, including aspects its social organization, political structure, belief systems, and historical evolution. However, there is much we still do not know, including the location and nature of its capital(s).

Article

The Gambia  

Bala Saho

Oral history tells of an indigenous trader who lived in the middle belts of the River Gambia known as Kambi. His wealth and popularity transcended boundaries, villages, and communities from the interior of western Africa to the Atlantic Ocean. When the Portuguese arrived in the region during the first half of the 15th century, they immediately realized that Kambi wielded economic and social authority because of the frequent movements of traders up and down the river. The traders told the Portuguese that they visited Kambi-yaa (or Kambi’s place in Mandinka) in order to trade, and the Portuguese decided to name the region Gambia. Whether the above oral narrative is accurate is not of great concern. What is important is that the account provides a glimpse of the history of the region and the changes that were already under way by the 15th century. It is evident that the ancestors of present-day Gambians had arrived in waves, or series of migrations, and were fully established on both banks of the Gambia River when Portuguese explorers first arrived in the 15th century. The Portuguese reported having found Mandinka kings on the river who claimed to be vassals of the king of “Melle.” In 1620, Richard Jobson also reported that the Mandingo were the “lords and commanders” of all the Gambia. These early 15th century contacts, led to a continuous Europeans’ presence in the River Gambia that still persist. By 1816, Bathurst was established as the new capital of the Gambia but it was not until nearly 100 years later that the entire territory we now know as Gambia came firmly under British influence. British rule lasted until 1965, when a new era of self-rule began. The country has since witnessed three republics, the first ending in 1994, the second in 2016, and the third still existing as of 2018.

Article

History of Higher Education in Kenya  

Michael Mwenda Kithinji

The history of higher education in Kenya is defined by a struggle for domination by the various forces that have sought to influence the country’s social, economic, and political trajectory in the colonial and postcolonial periods. During the colonial period, the church had a major interest in education, which they viewed as an important tool in their evangelizing mission. However, the colonial government regarded education as an agency for social control as it attempted to mediate the competing interests of the missionaries, white settlers, and African nationalists. Similarly, the postcolonial governments saw education, especially at the higher level as significant due to its role in forming the elite class and as a mechanism for ideological control. Consequently, Kenya’s higher education landscape has witnessed a striking transformation as it served as an arena for powerful competing interests from the colonial period to the present. The period between the inception of higher education in the late 1940s until the early independence period in the late 1960s was dominated by the colonial inter-territorial policy that severely limited the opportunities to access higher education. While the first postcolonial government of President Kenyatta largely upheld the colonial elitist ideas on higher education, this approach changed when President Moi came into office in 1978. President Moi wanted to leave his mark on education by increasing access to higher education. Many students were thus able to access university education, previously a preserve of the privileged few. University expansion remains an enduring legacy of President Moi’s administration, which the succeeding government of Mwai Kibaki inherited and enhanced.

Article

Interactions between North Africa and Spain: Medieval and Early Modern  

Camilo Gómez-Rivas

Arabic-speaking Muslim polities existed in medieval Spain and Portugal where they were superseded by Christian empires that gradually disavowed cultural connections to this past. Hebrew and Arabic were largely expurgated from homes and libraries. Jews and Muslims who refused to convert were expelled. And while an incipient study of that past existed, echoed even in popular literary forms, the need to disavow kinship prevailed, at least publicly and officially. The Maghrib, for its part, separated by a mere fourteen kilometers of sea from the southern tip of Spain, experienced Portuguese and Spanish imperial expansion firsthand, receiving the bulk of the displaced and interacting with fortified settlements and encroachments along the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts. Later European colonization of North Africa completed the galvanization of a Maghribi culture of resistance to and disavowal of European, Latin, and Christian cultural forms and connections. Spain and North Africa came to be conceived as separate worlds; domains of inimical faiths; divided by culture, language, religion, and a history of mutual hostility. This sense of separateness is deceptive, however, as the Iberian Peninsula and North Africa are bound by deep and extensive commercial, material, and cultural contacts. They share inextricable histories in which alternating movements of commerce, conflict, and migration have played fundamental roles in shaping recognizably Western Mediterranean societies. They should be thought of as areas of a unified region with a common culture, or at the very least, as areas sharing a common region, in which they interact regularly, creating extensive ties and parallel forms of cultural and social organization.

Article

Ismaili and Fatimid North Africa  

Christine D. Baker

The Fatimid dynasty ruled North Africa from 909 to 1171 CE. The Fatimids identified as Isma’ili Shi’is and they declared a Shi’i countercaliphate in Qayrawan to rival the Sunni ‘Abbasids in Baghdad. Their dynasty rose to power from an underground missionary movement, but eventually conquered most of North Africa, the Levant, the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina, and Yemen. Their first capital was in Qayrawan, but they are best known for founding the city of Cairo as their imperial capital in 969. The Fatimids linked North African and Mediterranean trade with the Indian Ocean via the Red Sea, creating an era of unprecedented economic growth. Further, Fatimid sponsorship of Isma’ili Shi’i ritual and scholarship allowed for the development of several Isma’ili movements that have persisted into the modern era. The Fatimid era ended in the 12th century during the rise of Turkic dynasties and the influx of Crusader forces into the eastern Mediterranean region.

Article

Kilwa and its Environs  

Elgidius B. Ichumbaki and Neema C. Munisi

Between the 10th and 16th centuries ce, the coast of eastern Africa and the adjacent islands developed commercial interactions with many parts of the Indian Ocean and beyond. The interactions resulted in the growth of coastal towns built of coral stones bonded with lime mortar. One of the key coastal towns along the coast of Tanzania is Kilwa, part of which is a UNESCO World Heritage property. Kilwa, off the coast of southern Tanzania, was once a celebrated maritime city-state. The town grew significantly to the extent of minting its coins, becoming a main trading center, and dominating a large part of the Swahili coast, especially between the 11th and 15th centuries ce. Due to commercial growth, Kilwa attracted merchants worldwide to trade in gold, mangrove poles, animal skins, and slaves, among other products. Because of its archaeological and historical potential, Kilwa has attracted research attention from a multidisciplinary perspective since the 1950s. Results of several research projects ranging from historical, archaeological, anthropological, genetics, and heritage management studies inform that Kilwa was the center of a unique coastal culture famously known as “the Swahili civilization.” Because of this uniqueness, the site receives significant national and international support for unraveling more site histories and preserving the existing integrity. Indeed, there is a need to continue conducting research and implementing monument conservation projects; hence, keeping the momentum for the locality remains important in the early 21st century and the future.

Article

Mechanisms of Enslavement  

Daniel B. Domingues da Silva

The transatlantic slave trade involved the capture and transportation of millions of Africans across the Atlantic for a period of approximately four hundred years. European and New World merchants, traders, and ship captains were behind much of the organization of this huge forced migration. They also captured and loaded Africans onto slave ships themselves via raids, warfare, or trade. However, the traffic would not have evolved as it did had they failed to rely on a series of mechanisms of enslavement indigenous to Africa. Some of these mechanisms included judicial proceedings, debts, pawning, trickery, kidnapping, and, of course, warfare. Each of them had an impact on Africa and her children, both those who stayed behind and those scattered across the Atlantic. Nevertheless, these mechanisms helped sustain the traffic as a long-lasting and complex historical event.

Article

Nationalism and Decolonization in Cameroon  

Joseph Takougang

The union between the former French Cameroun and the British Southern Cameroons on October 1, 1961, to form the Federal Republic of Cameroon was a unique experiment in nation building and the struggle for independence in Africa. For instance, the Union des Populations du Cameroun (UPC), the first truly nationalist party in the former French trusteeship that advocated immediate independence and reunification with the British Cameroons, was banned in May 1955 by French colonial authorities because of its radical views, since France was still reluctant to grant its African colonies complete independence. For France, the choice of who and which party could lead the territory to independence depended on who French authorities thought could guarantee continued relations with France following independence. In the end, Ahmadou Ahidjo and his Union Camerounaise (UC) emerged as the best candidate to meet France’s objectives in a postcolonial Cameroun. On the other hand, because of the colonial arrangement that allowed Britain to administer its section of the former German colony as part of its colony of Nigeria to the west, the nationalist struggle took a different trajectory and was more against Nigerian rather than British colonial domination. In other words, for many Southern Cameroonians, the focus by the two major parties (Kamerun National Democratic Party (KNDP) and Cameroons Peoples’ National Convention (CPNC)) during the campaign leading to the plebiscite on February 11, 1961, was whether the territory should be part of the Republic of Cameroun, which was engulfed in violence and bloodshed following its independence on January 1, 1960, or face the threat of Igbo domination if Southern Cameroonians decided to become part of an independent Nigeria.

Article

Numerical Data and Statistical Sources  

Leigh Gardner

The use of numerical data and statistical sources in African history has expanded in recent decades, facilitated by technological advances and the digitization of primary sources. This expansion has included new analysis of traditional measures (population, government, and trade) as well as new sources of individual-level data such as census returns, marriage registers, and military and police records. Overall, this work has allowed for a more comprehensive quantitative picture of Africa’s history, and in particular facilitated comparisons within Africa and between African countries and other parts of the world. However, there remain misunderstandings about the collection, use, and interpretation of these data. Increasingly sophisticated methods of quantitative analysis can alienate scholars who have an intimate knowledge of the data and how they are produced, but lack specialist methodological training. At the same time, limited understanding of the origins and reliability of quantitative data can lead to misinterpretation.

Article

Pastoralism in Africa  

Andrew B. Smith

To find the origins of African pastoralism it is important archaeologists look for the wild progenitors of animals. The wild sheep of Africa (Ammotragus lervia) were never domesticated, so all domestic sheep and goats came from the Near East. There has been some debate over whether there was an independent domestication of African cattle, because wild cattle (Bos primigenius) remains have been found in the Nile Valley. Genetic evidence shows that the source of African domesticated cattle was the Levant, some 8,000 years ago. Cattle spread across the Sahara as the environment was conducive to pastoralism, being well watered at this time. This lasted until after 5000 bp when the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) retreated and the Sahara dried up to its present condition. The tsetse barrier also retreated at this time, allowing pastoralists to move south into West Africa and, via the Ethiopian highlands, to East Africa, arriving c.4500 bp, although it took another 1,000 years for them to fully adapt to the grasslands of southern Kenya and Tanzania. Domestic stock then went on to southern Africa via a tsetse-free corridor, arriving around 2000 bp. The effect of herding societies on local hunters throughout Africa appears to have been an initial rapprochement, with a later hardening of relations. In East Africa, this was probably due to the need to learn about the new environment with the help of local hunters and to adjust to new epizootic diseases. In southern Africa, the first pastoralists were primarily sheep herders during the 1st millennium bce, with few cattle bones being found from this time. Pastoralists only became fully fledged cattle herdsmen around 1000 bp when they developed the attributes of the historic Khoekhoen. A further debate existed in southern Africa over whether pastoralism there was the result of immigrant herders who arrived in the northern Kalahari and then spread to the Cape, or if local hunters took up sheep herding.

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Saharan Peoples and Societies  

E. Ann McDougall

The Sahara: bridge or barrier? Today, most would answer that the desert was more a historical facilitator than hindrance in moving commodities, ideas, and people between North and sub-Saharan Africa. A recent publication even coined a new name for the region: “trans-Saharan Africa.” However, the Sahara is also a place where people live. Complex societies, sophisticated polities, extensive economies—all flourished at various times, waxing and waning in response to much the same factors as societies elsewhere. It is just that in the Sahara the vagaries of climate and the availability of water always established the parameters of development. A long-term drying era led to the dispersal of the Late Stone Age Dhar-Tichitt agro-pastoral settlements in eastern Mauritania, but in the east, Lake “Mega-Chad” shrank, leaving rich, sandy soils that attracted new cultivators. The Garamantes people of the Libyan Fezzan overcame their lack of water by developing a sophisticated underground irrigation system that supported an urbanized, cosmopolitan civilization that outlasted the Roman Empire. The introduction of the camel in the 4th century and the gradual growth of Islam from at least the 9th century added new possibilities for economic, cultural, and religious life. The Sahara benefited from the sequence of medieval empires emerging across its southern desert edge. Camel pastoralism, salt mining, oasis agriculture, and expansive trade networks shaped the region’s economy; those same networks facilitated cultural and scholarly exchanges. As Islam took root, growing its own understandings of North African and Middle Eastern schools of thought, a prodigious body of Saharan scholarship was created. It underpinned much of the jihad-led political upheaval and state-building in the 18th and 19th Sahel. Saharan clerics also directed their religious fervor against the invasion of French imperialists; “pacification” took the colonialists decades to achieve. But the impact of this violence exacerbated traditional clan conflict and disrupted economic life. So too did policies aimed at sedentarizing pastoralists and reshaping their social relations in the interests of the colonial economy. Much talked-about but largely ineffective efforts to abolish slavery had far less real impact than taxation policies; these both suppressed traditional exactions such as those levied by “warriors” and introduced new ones, including those to be paid in forced labor. Life in the Sahara became increasingly untenable. The arrival of Independence did nothing to address colonial legacies; the years of drought that devastated herds and crops in the desert and along its edge less than a decade later further fueled both political instability and economic crisis. That today the region nurtures radicalized Islamic movements promising to return “true meaning” (not to mention material benefits) to that life is not surprising.

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The Sahel in West African History  

Barbara Cooper

The Sahel or Sahil is in a sense the “coast” of the Sahara and its cities major “ports” in trade circuits linking long-standing regional exchange in the products of different ecozones to the markets of the Mediterranean through the trans-Saharan trade. Despite botanical diversity and the capacity to support high concentrations of humans and livestock, the productivity of this region depends upon a single unpredictable annual rainy season. Long- and short-term fluctuations in aridity have required populations specializing in hunting, farming, fishing, pastoralism, gold mining, and trade to be mobile and to depend upon one another for their survival. While that interdependence has often been peaceful and increasingly facilitated through the shared idiom of Islam, it has also taken more coercive forms, particularly with the introduction of horses, guns, and a dynamic market in slaves. Although as an ecozone the region stretches all the way to the Red Sea, the political Sahel today comprises Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Chad—all former French colonies. France’s empire was superimposed upon the existing dynamics in the agropastoral meeting ground of the desert edge. Colonial requirements and transportation routes weakened the links between the ecozones so crucial to the success of states and markets in the region. Despite the abolition of slavery in 1905, France tacitly condoned the persistence of servile relations to secure requisitions of labor, food, and livestock. Abolition set off a very gradual shift from slavery to other kinds of labor patterns which nonetheless drew upon preexisting social hierarchies based upon religion, caste, race, and ethnicity. At the same time, gender and age gained in significance in struggles to secure labor and status. “Black Islam” (Islam noir), both invented and cultivated under French rule, was further reinforced by the bureaucratic logic of the French empire segregating “white” North Africa and “black” sub-Saharan Africa from one another. Periodic drought and famine in the region has prompted a perception of the Sahel as a vulnerable ecological zone undergoing desertification and requiring intervention from outside experts. Developmentalist discourse from the late colonial period on has facilitated the devolution of responsibilities and prerogatives that typically belong to the state to nongovernmental bodies. At the same time, competition over political authority in the fragmented postcolonial states of the Sahel has often reinscribed and amplified status and ethnic differences, pitting Saharan populations against the governments of desert edge states. External and internal radical Islamic movements entangled with black market opportunists muddy the clarity of the ideological and political stakes in ways that even currently (2018) further destabilize the region.

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Slavery and the Making of West African Muslim Empires in the 19th Century  

Paul Naylor

The various Muslim theocratic states that emerged in West Africa over the 18th and 19th centuries (including Sokoto, Masina, and, later, the Umarian state) came to power in a series of conflicts, or jihads, against political systems in which slavery preexisted as the basic system of labor extraction and population control and in which slaves were the medium of exchange in wider Atlantic and trans-Saharan economic networks. The conflicts promised emancipation for Muslims enslaved in these systems but also involved the capture and enslavement of large numbers of people. The economic and political rationales for mass enslavement remained. However, for the first time they were framed within a written, Islamic discursive tradition, circulated by the leaders of the jihads. These texts enforced a new policy of enslavement that drew upon Islamic legal traditions but, for the most part, recycled preexisting arrangements of slave raiding in non-Muslim areas. Over time, what emerged were societies in which slavery was essential to the growth, functions, and reproduction of state power and in which slave labor of various kinds fueled the majority of economic, political, and social activity. Because of the multidimensional uses of slavery, the institution continued well into the European colonial period and continues to inform social dynamics in the early 21st century.

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The Archaeology of Political Complexity in West Africa Through 1450 CE  

Stephen Dueppen

Political complexity in archaeological research has traditionally been defined as socio-political differentiation (roles, statuses, offices) integrated through centralized systems of power and authority. In recent decades the assumption that complex organizational forms tend to be hierarchical in structure has been called into question, based upon both archaeological research and ethnological observations worldwide, including in classic archaeological case studies of centralization. Moreover, there has been an increasing interest in exploring variability in political legitimizations and articulations of power and authority globally. Until these theoretical shifts, West African complex societies, both archaeological and from ethnographic analyses, were largely ignored in discussions of political complexity since many (but not all) conformed poorly to the expectations of highly centralized power and administration. West African ethnohistoric and archaeological examples are now playing important roles in current discussions of heterarchical organizational structures, checks on exclusionary power, cooperation, urbanism, ethnicity, and the nature of administration in states.

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Women in Guinea  

Anna Dessertine

Women’s involvement in the processes of state formation is marked by a strong ambivalence in Guinea: female political mobilizations appear as an indispensable advantage for state power when they are deployed in support of it, but these mobilizations can likewise disrupt and generate major problems for the state when they are directed against it. The efficacy of female political involvement is closely linked to the historiography of relationships between women and the state in Guinea, a country that helped construct an image of female activism outside of areas considered to be exclusively political, and as a guarantor of social justice. During the colonial period, as was the case for many other countries under French colonial rule, the influence of women was restricted to the domestic sphere: once households ceased to constitute a political resource for the colonial regimes (in contrast to the precolonial era), the influence that women were able to wield within, for example, matrimonial alliances was considerably reduced. Yet, women played a highly important role in nationalist conflicts and under the regime of Sékou Touré, who served as Guinea’s first president from 1958 to 1984. Presented as the “women’s man,” Touré sought high integration of women into his political party, based on structures inspired by the Soviet socialist model. This was a Guinean political originality. In this context, even though women were given official prominence, their demands nonetheless drew on conservative models that relied on a politicization of the maternal figure. Yet the domestic and apolitical character of female mobilization still lends it a spontaneous efficacy in a context in which laws supporting women are seldom enforced and in which the situation seems to have become increasingly precarious for women due to male emigration and inequalities in property rights.