1-20 of 48 Results

  • Keywords: Islamic x
Clear all

Article

The history of Islam in East Africa stretches back to around 1000 CE. Until the mid-20th century, it remained largely confined to the coast and closely bound up with the history of the Swahili towns situated on it. The Swahili language remains central to many East African Muslims, hence the occasionally heard phrase, “Swahili Islam.” East African Muslims are mostly Shafiites and some belong to Sufi orders, especially Qadiriyya and Shadhiliyya. Since c. 1850, Islam, with many variations in ritual, has become the religion of speakers of a multitude of languages across the region, second only to Christianity. The region’s independent nation-states initially promised equality for all religions within a secular order. Since c. 1990, though, the minority status of East African Muslims has fed into a multitude of grievances related to the region’s economic and political impasses. This situation has led to growing movements of Islamic preaching and activism, supported by increased contacts with congregations elsewhere in the Indian Ocean. At times, they have influenced electoral politics, especially in Zanzibar, where Islamic activism resonates with fear of marginalization by the mainland. In Kenya, Somali-influenced Islamist terrorists committed a series of atrocities in the 2010s. East African governments, in turn, have been proactive in tracking and disrupting such networks, and in Kenya, the government engaged in targeted assassination. Nevertheless, peaceful coexistence between Muslims and adherents of other religions remains the norm in East Africa, and its dynamics are often poorly understood.

Article

Mauritania is an almost universally Muslim society in northwest Africa, with a deep history of Islamic scholarship but also painful legacies of slavery and, more recently, shifting permutations of political authoritarianism. Three main forces have affected the intersection of Islam and politics in Mauritania since independence in 1960: the growing diversity of Islamic identities and affiliations available to Muslims, the role of Islamic discourses within tense negotiations over socio-racial identity in Mauritania, and the state’s efforts to manage Islam and shape the religious field. Some of the diverse Islamic affiliations, postures, and movements in postcolonial Mauritania include loyalism, Islamism, Salafism, the missionary movement Jamāʿat al-Tablīgh, jihadism, and quietism. In terms of socio-racial tensions, there has been growing self-assertion on the part of the ḥarāṭīn (singular ḥarṭānī), an Arabic-speaking population of slave descendants who are classified as “black” within Mauritanian society, in distinction to Arabic-speaking “whites”—bīḍān (singular bīḍānī). Meanwhile, there have been variable and at-times tense relationships between the state and Islamists, as well as key moments when authorities sought to elaborate or modify structures relating to “official Islam” in the country. Amid these changes, there has been an ongoing construction and reconstruction of Islamic scholarly culture in Mauritania. The country has also had consequential exchanges with the wider Islamic world, with influence from Saudi Arabia and other states affecting dynamics of Islamic identity in Mauritania, but with Mauritania also making profound contributions to the trajectory of Islamic authority in the Gulf region through the transnational careers and media prominence of key scholars.

Article

Shobana Shankar

African women’s experiences of Islam reveal the rich and layered ways in which belief has shaped not only the deeply personal relationship to God but also broader political, social, economic, and cultural processes. History in Africa shows examples of pious Muslim women who have made notable contributions through their activities to profess their own faith and strengthen believers and practices within their communities over many centuries. As with all historical actors, women who were literate, in prominent positions, and had power over others tend to be more legible in the African past. Even as Muslim African women have had considerable agency in some spheres in different parts of the continent, the “question of women”—what they do in public and private lives and what power they have in society—has also raised considerable debate and tension in Muslim communities and their relationships with non-Muslims, including but not only with the West. The nature of relations between women and men and the roles of women in public and private spheres, education and opportunity, entertainment and leisure, marriage, sexuality, and love have all been matters of negotiation for Muslims. The tendency to view Islam, women, and gender in terms of “tradition versus modernity” or “orthodoxy versus heterodoxy” was common among European observers of Islam in Africa, often on a presumed comparative basis to the Middle East. Some African Muslims too have engaged in such comparisons, often in the name of reforms of religious practices. Yet such comparisons have never erased the importance of indigenous, local, and regional women’s and gender dynamics. The impossibility of generalizing Islam or even “women,” which is not a singular category, destabilizes simplistic overarching narratives that overstate neat patterns and obscure the meanings of complicated lived experiences of religious belief and practice.

Article

The Maghrebi tradition of historical literary production extends back to the early centuries of Islamic expansion and conquest in North Africa and comprises a rich corpus including dynastic chronicles (tarikh), biographies (tarajim), and hagiographies (manaqib/rijjal), and, since the 20th century, positivist national histories as well. While this tradition had evolved since its inception, 19th- and 20th-century Maghrebi historical production both influenced and was influenced by the extension of European military, economic, and political power into the Maghreb. Grappling with the legacies of colonialism, nationalism, and pan-Arabism, among others, Maghrebi historians continue to sow the rich terrain of historical literary production in the postcolonial period by absorbing, reacting to, and building upon new trends in the historical profession.

Article

Stephanie Wynne-Jones

The east African coast and its offshore islands are home to the Swahili cultural tradition. This is a fascinating and long-lived urban tradition that has been synonymous with this coast for nearly two millennia. Archaeologically, Swahili culture is most visible in the remains of a series of stonetowns, which contain houses, mosques, and tombs built of coral and lime. These sites were once cosmopolitan centers of trade and an important part of the medieval Islamic world. They are also the culmination of a long period of urban development, starting with villages built of wattle and daub founded on the coast from around the 7th century ce, which were key players in international trade circuits. The Swahili world is thus associated with a diverse and changing culture, united through oceanic connections and with a range of relationships with interior regions of Africa. The archaeology of these settlements reveals a developmental trajectory that continues directly to the stonetowns of the contemporary coast and islands.

Article

The modern Libyan state began to take shape within the Ottoman Empire from the mid-16th century onward. Libya’s path to independent statehood was violently interrupted in 1911 with the onset of an Italian conquest. Rome’s efforts to annex Libya through settler colonialism and ethnic cleansing were in turn disrupted by World War II. The United Nations (UN) helped to guide Libya to independence under the Sanusi monarchy in 1951, albeit in close collaboration with the United Kingdom and the United States. The Sanusi monarchy, founded in the eastern region of Cyrenaica in the late 19th century, faced substantial difficulties in its efforts to transform an incredibly vast, thinly populated, socially diverse, and seemingly resource-poor country into a modern nation state. Though the extraction and exportation of oil from the 1960s onward help to alleviate some of the financial constraints on the government, the increasing centralization of power within the monarchy eventually led to a military coup in 1969. Libya’s new regime, under the leadership of Mu‘ammar Al-Gaddafi, would eventually pursue a radical program involving centralized economic planning funded through oil sales, a baroque system of popular consultation, a terrifying array of “revolutionary” security institutions, military aggression in Chad, and confrontations with North Atlantic powers directly and indirectly. Though the Gaddafi regime was able to survive an array of domestic and international challenges for over four decades, a mass armed uprising in 2011, which precipitated a merciless civil war and foreign military intervention, led to its downfall. Subsequent international assistance and successive transitional authorities, however, were unable to address the spiral of insecurity that consumed Libya from 2012 onwards. A second civil war erupted in 2014, one fed not only by competing domestic visions for the future of Libya, but also by the competing ambitions of other states in the region.

Article

Sean Hanretta

Emancipation is a broad concept that includes liberation from slavery as well as broader projects of self-fulfillment. Muslims in Africa have drawn on Islamic sources both to justify and to critique enslavement, slaveholding, and slavery as an institution. Commercial law in particular recognized slave owners’ rights and early debates focused on categories of enslaveability. Slaves themselves drew on Islamic resources to improve their personal situation, to press for reforms, and to critique or try to overthrow the institution as a whole. Political transformations often created openings for more radical attempts to remake social hierarchies in the name of Islam, while Islamic revolutions both disrupted and facilitated the slave trade, depending on time and place. More broadly, critiques of other forms of ascriptive inequality, such as those based on race, caste, former slave status or slave descent, gender, and sexuality, have had equally complex relationships with the ways people have drawn on Islam. Many, but not all, analysts have emphasized the greater effectiveness of emancipatory projects that mobilize Islamic repertoires rather than relying on “Western” ideas of liberalism. The colonial era provided a new set of intellectual and political resources for those seeking to support or critique inequalities in Islamic terms. Halfhearted efforts to abolish slavery created some openings, but colonial commitment to maintaining social order limited its impact. The discursive legacy of colonialism has been more pronounced, particularly by creating an alignment between cultural nationalism and some conservative readings of Islamic sources, while neocolonial discourses can marginalize or even hamper the emancipatory efforts of Muslim activists.

Article

Kamal Salhi

North African historiography is interested in the history of mankind, though it tends to overlook the contribution of half of humanity: women. Women are often characterized by virtues of sobriety and purity, or the conventional attributes of wives, mothers, and mistresses common in pre-Roman times. Within an erroneously interpreted Muslim tradition, prevalent since the Ottoman period, the Algerian woman was under patriarchal protection and considered a genitor, destined to perpetuate the group. It was expected that she stayed in a private, enclosed space, inaccessible to any foreign male gaze. The veil she wore created around her body an impermissible mobile believed to control her desires. In reality, the fantasizing of its representations has contributed key points to the Western—mostly French—history of women in Muslim-influenced Algeria. The haremic image of polygamy in general essentially problematizes Western Muslim societies. The Western imagination of the past, as well as that of all contemporary societies, has long nurtured the Muslim East, characterized by the appealing odalisque, far removed from any consideration and daily concerns. The examination of the contexts in which Algerian women have become hypervisible as centers of debate and protest is no less essential to the understanding of Algeria than the history of the successive roles and challenges women have taken and experienced. Political attitudes, predominantly male, led to the introduction of the restrictive Algerian Family Law in postcolonial Algeria. Women have become the focal point for a contemporary dutiful discourse that presents itself as saving Muslim women, and that can be construed to pose a dilemma to the Western emancipation model. Women’s critical role in the unpredictably rapidly developing nation has marked events and national realizations. Despite Algerian women’s participation in various struggles and the roles assigned to them in nation-building, or even the centrality of social, political, and religious life consequential in gender relations, they demonstrate predispositions for transformational roles.

Article

Robert S. Kramer

It is tempting to seek an auspicious beginning for the Sudanese city of Omdurman, given its eventual significance, but there is none to be found. From its humble origins as a watering place for local pastoralists on the west bank of the Nile, and a mere hamlet and waystation for travelers by the early 19th century, it grew rapidly in the 1880s into a crowded market center, an administrative capital, and even a holy city: all due to the tumultuous events of the Sudanese Mahdist movement (or Mahdiyyah) of 1881–1898. And while it was not the intention of Muhammad Ahmad al-Mahdi to found anything—he considered Omdurman just another “spot” (buq‘a) among the many he had camped at—the policies of his successor and the devotion of his followers enlarged and ennobled the place, transforming it into the dominant urban center of the Nilotic Sudan. As a holy city, Omdurman can hardly be compared to such places as Jerusalem, Rome, or Mecca, with their centuries or even millennia of existence; and although it resembles Shaykh ‘Uthman dan Fodio’s city of Sokoto in northern Nigeria as the capital of an expansionist jihadist state, it also differs from it in some important ways. Ultimately, whether one considers its messianic or economic importance, its military or administrative functions, its planned or spontaneous origins, Omdurman is remarkable for becoming, in just over a decade’s time, one of the most important cities across Sudanic Africa. Moreover, the experience of the Sudanese people in so tribally and ethnically diverse an urban environment, under such concentrated and extreme conditions, both impelled by the policies of the state and inspired by fervent Mahdist belief, helped to accelerate ongoing social changes, which ultimately led to the formation of a more coherent national identity.

Article

The East African coast is an interface between the continental world of Africa and the maritime world of the Indian Ocean, and the monsoons provided a convenient wind system to link them. It was inhabited by a littoral society that was best placed to play a leading role in economic, social, and cultural interaction, including intermarriage, between the two worlds. Its written history goes back at least to the beginning of the Contemporary Era, and it can be termed Swahili from the beginning of the second millennium when this branch of the Bantu languages spread down the coast to give it linguistic unity. Its speakers were organized in towns and villages from southern Somalia to northern Mozambique, which developed into city-states when there were major upturns in international trade and were integrated in the wider Indian Ocean world. The citizens spoke an “elegant” language that was further embellished through its interactions with Arabic and other Indian Ocean languages and literature. Islam spread with that trade, and mosques became a prominent part of the archaeological remains along the Swahili coast. In the process, the Swahili became thoroughly cosmopolitan. Any attempt to disentangle the different strands, “oriental” or “African”—which are two sides of the dense cultural fabric of the littoral people—is bound to be futile. They are two sides of the Swahili coin. This civilization was partially disrupted by the entry of the Portuguese in the 16th century when they tried to divert the spice trade to their channel around the Cape of Good Hope, but it revived during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Article

Souad T. Ali

Mariama Ba was a renowned feminist, author, and advocate for women’s rights in her home country of Senegal, Africa, and globally. After attending and thriving at the French École Normale postsecondary school for girls, Ba became a teacher and education inspector for many years. Ba went on to write two novels: So Long a Letter, originally published in 1979, and Scarlet Song, published in 1981. Both novels are critical of polygamy in African life and examine the various ways in which women deal with similar situations, celebrate sisterhood, and demonstrate that there is no right or wrong way to be a feminist. Mariama Ba’s texts demonstrate clear criticism of the polygamous society she grew up in and the abuse of religion by some men to further their agenda. Ba’s essay, “The Political Functions of Written African Literatures,” describes her belief that a writer should be political and serve as a critic of surrounding society and misogynist practices. Mariama Ba’s personal life clearly influenced her written works, a topic that has been thoroughly examined in much of the scholarly literature that has been written about her. Ba did not try to define feminism. Rather, she understood that it is different for every woman and is a reflection of background, culture, history, and religion. Ba believed it was her mission as a writer to be a voice for the most vulnerable members of society. Ba was a leader in emerging global feminism and created written works that discussed topics that cross cultural barriers and demonstrate the unity of humanity.

Article

While the single most consequential event in Africa during the 19th century was European colonization of the continent, most of the century was characterized by tremendous growth and innovation in African political and economic institutions, as well as the expansion of literacy and the development of enduring intellectual traditions. Many African societies were making strides toward the creation of new self-governing nations over the course of the 19th century, as the ending of the transatlantic slave trade made way for the development of new industries and commercial systems. Large powerful states governed in numerous places across the continent, including the Sokoto and Tukulor Empires, Asante, Dahomey, Egypt, Buganda, Bunyoro, and Ethiopia. Many African states had powerful armies and distinct political identities. The emergence of modernities in 19th-century Africa also came in the form of religious change. This era saw the expansion of Islam in rural areas of western, northern, and eastern Africa, accompanied by the rapid growth of Islamic education and literacy. At the same time, Christian mission societies facilitated the establishment of mission schools and colleges based on European institutions of higher education. The new class of mission-educated African elites included teachers, clergymen, doctors, civil servants, law clerks, journalists, private entrepreneurs, and academics. These individuals, mostly men, had a profound influence on African visions of modern nationhood, particularly in West and Southern Africa. In many ways, Africa was becoming modern in the decades prior to the European conquests of the late 19th century. For the purposes of this article, “modernity” refers to the cultural and social revolution that accompanied the rise of industrial capitalism and included an expansive universalism. The development of modernity in Africa and elsewhere was linked to the new age of science, economics, realism, rationalism, and humanism dawning toward the end of the 18th and start of the 19th century. In particular, the newly founded colonies of Sierra Leone and Liberia became centers for the diffusion of African-American cultural influence, as liberated former slaves and their descendants from the British Empire, the United States, maroon communities, and captured slave ships settled there. In order to appreciate the 19th-century development of African modernity, it is important to remember, as A. Adu Boahen once explained, that European colonization of the African continent occurred suddenly and unpredictably. As late as 1880, there was little indication that European nations intended to dramatically alter the map of Africa by force. Most African states and societies were entirely autonomous and controlled by their own rulers. The unexpected European conquest of African territories at the end of the 19th century thwarted much of the progress Africans had made throughout that century and arguably reversed key processes of modernization. And while colonial regimes also introduced new modernities into Africa, these were mainly destructive and exploitative in nature.

Article

Edward A. Alpers

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

Article

The Republic of Mali comprises a very diverse population spread over a vast territory composed of a large part of the southern Sahara, the Sahel, and the savannah. One of the world’s great rivers, the Niger, runs through much of the national territory, reaching its northern apex near Timbuktu. For over a millennium, this territory has allowed empires and kingdoms to flourish alongside decentralized societies. These include the empires of Ghana, Mali and Songhay, as well as any number of smaller states, trading diasporas, and nomadic and semi-nomadic communities. The territory of Mali has long been a hub in African commercial and intellectual circuits, notably those linking the societies of the Maghreb (or North Africa) to those bordering the Atlantic. In the 19th century, as elsewhere in Muslim Africa, new and explicitly Islamic states emerged in western and central Mali. They did not endure more than a few decades, as the territory was colonized by France in the late 19th century. The Republic of Mali claimed its independence in 1960 and rapidly developed greater autonomy from French neo-colonialism than did most of its neighbors. Mali has maintained an out-sized diplomatic and cultural role on the African continent and beyond under a socialist government from 1960 to 1968, military government through 1991, and a vibrant democracy in the decades since. However, since 2011, the country has been increasingly beset by violent conflicts between nonstate actors, the national government, and foreign forces including the French. Thus, in historical perspective, Mali’s geographic position and its environment have proven conducive to the production of expansive, diverse, and mutually dependent communities that have produced radically distinct and often fragile states.

Article

Zacharias P. Pieri

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

Article

According to traditional medieval histories—those that focus on the European West as a distinct civilization from North Africa and the Middle East—the advent of Islam in the 7th century was the final blow to the hope of a restored Rome, one that split the Mediterranean in two. In this version of the past, the Muslim conquests of the 7th century permanently divided Islamic North Africa and the Maghrib from the culture, society, and thinking of Christian Western Europe. In fact, the Maghrib was a major port of the culture, architecture, society, religious development, commerce, and politics of a common, medieval western Mediterranean zone. It is true that Christian and Muslim dynasties and states on both sides of the Mediterranean regularly saw themselves as enemies and rivals. The dogmatic and violent use of religion to justify enslavement, forced conversion, and conquest was common practice throughout this period. It is also true, however, that infidel Christian kings and unholy Muslim warriors formed alliances with one another, both across the sea and across faiths.1 The existence of a “convenient enemy” was often used as a means of gaining political or military advantage within Muslim or Christian lands. Popes and kings signed agreements with Muslim caliphs and Muslim sultans sought protection of Christian kings. In addition to high-level political alliances, ties between the Maghrib and Western Europe ran deep through the medieval economy. Commerce and business partnerships prospered and the 12th-century Commercial Renaissance lifted all boats. Christian, Muslim, and Jewish merchants took advantage of flows of trade and gold from Africa to the Mediterranean and into Europe. Dreams of conversion fostered unintended cultural interactions and exchanges, as was the case with the Franciscans and Christian mercenaries who journeyed deep into the Maghrib during this period. More than religion or politics, common artistic and architectural styles make perhaps the most compelling argument for a common, trans-Mediterranean culture.

Article

Of central interest here are the historical sources on Islam and Africa, the role and contributions of manuscripts to the narrative, and how the new cyber world has become a domain for those sources as instruments for the generation and utilization of knowledge. Africa came in contact with Islam right from the birth of the faith in the 7th century. Although Judeo-Christian, Late-Antique, and pre-Islamic materials provided the earliest historical sources on Islam and its people, the Qur’an, hadith (statements of the Prophet Muhammad), and the sira/maghāzī (biography/expeditions) were the first original sources on Islamic history on which later writings, including those from Africa, drew. The manuscript tradition in Islam is as old as the faith itself; it was one of the earliest material sources on Islamic sciences, and in the case of Africa, it provided a treasure trove of materials. At the beginning of the 21st century, the approach to scholarship and utilization of manuscripts changed radically, as digitization, creation of online databases, interconnected portals and links to universal portals, catalogs of manuscripts and published materials, among other innovations, redefined the ways knowledge of Islamic history is generated, accessed, and utilized.

Article

The Comoro Islands were first settled toward the middle of the 1st millennium ce by Arab or Austronesian traders and navigators and their African slaves. Strategically located in the southwestern Indian Ocean between Madagascar and the African mainland, the islands were well embedded in regional trading networks and served as an entrepôt for goods, particularly slaves, as well as producing livestock and foodstuffs for export. The islands continued to prosper following the arrival of Europeans in the Indian Ocean in the early 16th century, and developed a niche supplying ships, particularly those of the East India Company (EIC), on their way east. During the 19th century, however, shipping declined and the islands fell within the French sphere of influence. Cut off from their trading partners and suffering from a lackluster plantation economy, the islands stagnated, and were a neglected corner of the French colonial empire for much of the 20th century. In 1975 the three westernmost islands attained independence, while the fourth, Mayotte, remained a French possession. The newly independent state was plagued by a string of coups d’état, lurching from one crisis to another as a socialist revolution that bankrupted the country was followed by a mercenary-led dictatorship aligned with South African interests. Toward the end of the 20th century, and despite (or perhaps because of) the restoration of democracy, the country fell apart: two of the three islands not only declared independence, but also called for recolonization by France. A new constitution in 2001 provided for a renewed, if fragile, stability founded on principles of equality between the islands and greater decentralization; but the economy remains weak, based on vanilla, spices and perfume oils, remittances, and foreign aid, while a steady flow of undocumented migrants to Mayotte continues to foment discontent on the latter island, a French department since 2011.

Article

Tropical Africa has been in communication with the global economy since at least the last centuries bce through either land travel across the Sahara to the Mediterranean or navigation along the Indian Ocean coast. Despite recent archaeological research, not too much is known about this earliest trade. Only after Islam was firmly established in North Africa and the Indian Ocean do we have evidence of significant trade (slaves, gold, and ivory) and cultural exchange across these frontiers. Entrepôt cities now flourished in both the West and Central Sudan and the Swahili coast, where either camel caravans or large dhow vessels received export goods from indigenous Muslim merchants. During the 15th century European navigators opened up the Atlantic coast of Africa as well as a direct water route to the Indian Ocean. For the next 500 years Europeans dominated Africa’s global connections, initially seeking gold, then slaves for New World plantations, and later large quantities of less costly commodities such as vegetable oils, cocoa, coffee, and cotton. Initially Africa’s trans-Saharan and Indian Ocean commerce continued to operate under the control of Muslim rulers and merchants and even grew in volume, although declining in global significance. By the early 20th century European powers had established colonial regimes in almost all of tropical Africa, providing new infrastructures of political administration and mechanized transport (mainly railroads) that overcame the geographical barriers impeding commerce between the coasts and the continent’s interiors. However, limited capital and the spatial orientation of colonial transport undermined the dynamism of such advances. In the last stages of colonialism (c. 1945–1960) and the first decades of political independence, greater investments were made in both infrastructure and industrialization but with poor results leading, from the 1980s, to the global imposition of “structural adjustment” policies upon African states. During the early 21st century African economies experienced “miraculous” growth linked to a major new relationship with China.

Article

West African manuscripts are numerous and varied in forms and contents. There are thousands of them across West Africa. A significant portion of them are documents written in Arabic and Ajami (African languages written in Arabic script). They deal with both religious and nonreligious subjects. The development of these manuscript traditions dates back to the early days of Islam in West Africa, in the 11th century. In addition to these Arabic and Ajami manuscripts, there have been others written in indigenous scripts. These include those in the Vai script invented in Liberia; Tifinagh, the traditional writing system of the Amazigh (Berber) people; and the N’KO script invented in Guinea for Mande languages. While the writings in indigenous scripts are rare less numerous and widespread, they nonetheless constitute an important component of West Africa’s written heritage. Though the efforts devoted to the preservation of West African manuscripts are limited compared to other world regions, interest in preserving them has increased. Some of the initial preservation efforts of West African manuscripts are the collections of colonial officers. Academics later supplemented these collections. These efforts resulted in important print and digital repositories of West African manuscripts in Africa, Europe, and America. Until recently, most of the cataloguing and digital preservation efforts of West African manuscripts have focused on those written in Arabic. However, there has been an increasing interest in West African manuscripts written in Ajami and indigenous scripts. Important West African manuscripts in Arabic, Ajami, and indigenous scripts have now been digitized and preserved, though the bulk remain uncatalogued and unknown beyond the communities of their owners.