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Article

Mountain History in Africa from the Earliest Times  

Christopher Conte

Over the long haul of geological time, the natural history of Africa’s mountains is a story of the lithosphere’s rise and fall. For hundreds of millions of years, tectonic forces have heaved up layers of metamorphic and igneous material while wind, water, ice, and gravity combined to open basins, scour valleys, and obliterate rock. The most recent phase in mountain building in Africa began in the Miocene (twenty-three million years ago) and continues today. Some mountains, like the volcanic mountains Kilimanjaro and Cameroon, are only a few million years old. Other highlands, like Tanzania’s Eastern Arc Mountains, derive from crystalline rock formed more than thirty million years ago. As they appear on the landscape today, Africa’s mountains present a mix of old and new landforms covered by a biosphere of resident plants and animals that evolved in the countless niches provided by elevation, slope, temperature, rainfall, and aspect. Human beings, relative latecomers to mountain history, have altered the highlands dramatically. In Africa, mountains attract people. Africa’s mountains do not constitute a discrete subject of study in the discipline of environmental history, though important studies of individual mountain zones do exist. Nor is the historical scholarship limited to the humanities. In studies that are essentially historical in approach, the natural sciences use empirical evidence to reconstruct mountain landscape change under human use. What follows is an attempt to knit together coherently a messy, multi-disciplinary scholarly literature.

Article

Forest History  

Christopher Conte

Natural and human histories intersect in Africa’s forested regions. Forests of several types cover the continent’s mountains, savannas, and river basins. Most current classifications divide forest by physical structure. Open canopy forests occur in semi-arid regions of western, eastern, and southern Africa, while closed canopy rain forests with large emergent trees cover much of the Congo River basin, the upland forests of Rift Valley escarpments, and the volcanic mountains in eastern and Central Africa. Along the tropical coasts, mangrove forests hug the river estuaries. For much of human history, Africa’s forests have anchored foraging and agrarian societies. In the process of domesticating the landscape through agriculture, Africans modified forests in ways that ranged from large-scale deforestation to forest creation on savanna environments. A boom in forest commodities preceded European colonialism and then continued when foreign governments took formal possession of African territory in the late 19th century. In this context, states ascribed value to forest trees as commodities and so managed them as profitable agricultural crops. Colonial forestry separated people from forests physically and culturally. This fundamental shift in human–forest relations still resonates in postcolonial African countries under the guise of internationally funded forest conservation.

Article

Historiography in the Maghrib in the 19th and Early 20th Century  

Sahar Bazzaz

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

International Organizations in Colonial Africa  

Miguel Bandeira Jerónimo and José Pedro Monteiro

European imperial expansion and consolidation in Africa was, from its inception, a trans-imperial process that was increasingly codified, regulated, and legitimized in an international sphere. Similarly, initiatives that aimed to counter Western dominance and hegemony across the 20th century looked for international institutions as privileged instances for claim-making and enhanced resistance against imperial and colonial projects. All these dynamics included several and diverse actors, networks, and institutions, from distinct geographies and with varied political and social outlooks. They gave origin to the global normative and institutional order of today. From the different but competing “civilizing missions” to the crystallization of self-determination as the global political norm, the history of Africa has been a recurrent feature of the mounting drives for internationalization that marked 20th century, offering several possible avenues of research for a global history of colonialism in the continent.

Article

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.

Article

Urbanization in East Africa, circa 900–2010 CE  

Andrew Burton

East Africa’s urban past is broken down into five historical periods. The first (c. 900–1500 ce) saw the emergence of an urban Swahili culture on the East African coast that flourished thanks to its role as economic and cultural arbiter between the African interior and the Indian Ocean world. Between 1500 and 1800, as in other parts of the world, the intrusion of Europeans (and other outsiders) appears to have had a detrimental impact on “classical” Swahili civilization, although several important urban centers continued to flourish. Inland there is negligible evidence of urbanization before 1800. From around this time, however, important settlements did arise in the interior, thanks largely to the region’s growing integration in an international economy that emerged in the course of the 19th century—with various coastal (Swahili) cities prospering once again through their intermediary role. The situation was transformed with the onset of European colonial rule (c. 1890–1960), which prompted historically unprecedented rates of urban growth and witnessed the emergence of what would become a number of important world cities. Toward the end of the colonial period, from the 1940s, East Africa’s urban centers experienced another upward jolt in their rates of growth; however, the full repercussions of this demographic revolution, which resulted in a substantial (and growing) proportion of the population claiming urban residence for the first time, did not become fully apparent until after independence; with rapid urbanization proving one of the most important features of postcolonial East Africa.

Article

Maps and Cartography in the History of South Africa: From Print to Digital  

Norman Etherington

The first well-attested maps showing Southern Africa date from the late 15th century. Before the 19th century, maps provided little information about the interior but depicted coastlines in great detail, thanks to the requirements of seaborne navigators. Information about the inhabitants was scanty and skewed by misconceptions about the nature of African societies. Land-based exploration activity increased dramatically in the 1830s but the poorly trained and equipped human agents made many errors that had significant historical consequences. Accuracy in the mapping of physical topography improved with the advent of skilled civil and military surveyors, but entanglement with advancing forces of European colonialism resulted in biased representations of the nature and distribution of the indigenous people. Competition among European invaders during the so-called Scramble for Africa in the last decades of the 19th century made cartography a volatile element in the general mix of combustible material. Continual war among Europeans and Africans also affected the production of maps. The impact of African resistance to colonial surveys and land seizures on map making was for too long neglected by historians. By the end of World War I, the geopolitical boundaries of the region assumed their present configuration, marking off South Africa from its neighbors. The imposition of European rule, racial inequality, and segregation introduced cartographical distinctions between areas in which land was held in freehold title by members of a ruling racial elite and so-called African reserves and locations where land was held communally under the surveillance of traditional authorities. Decolonization beginning in the 1960s swept away the colonial racial order but did not abolish its legacy of boundaries, inequality, and parallel systems of land governance. The advent of geographical information systems, digital mapping, and satellite imaging has revolutionized cartography.

Article

History and Politics of the Kenya Archives  

Riley Linebaugh

Heavily reliant on the use of documents in its style of rule, the British Colonial Government (BCG) in the colony of Kenya had surprisingly poor recordkeepers. The history of Kenya’s archives during the colonial period reveals a disregard for efficient record preservation despite the perceived correlation between administrative and archival efficiency, indicating the gap between the fantasy of a well-ordered empire and the reality on the ground. However, the emergency period (1952–1960) ushered in significant archival changes, wherein the control over its archives greatly concerned the colonial government as a matter of its counter-insurgency efforts. In fact, the colonial administration issued its first draft rules and regulations concerning its archives in 1955, suggesting that it did not foresee its relatively imminent expulsion. However, shortly after appointing its first government archivist, the BCG began disassembling its archives through the strategic destruction and removal of sensitive documents in the early 1960s. The independent Kenyan government pursued the establishment of a national archives as a priority, and the Kenya National Archives was codified by law in 1965. The creation of a national archives was viewed as a way to relegate the colonial administration into a fixed past through the physical removal of colonial-era documents from political offices into storage. In so doing, independent Kenya’s inaugural class of archivists saw themselves as making room for both an independent government and a new national school of history for the first time, archival documents stored in Nairobi were available to members of the public. In contrast to the colonial administration, which maintained its archives with a strict policy of inaccessibility, archival documents stored in Nairobi were available, at least nominally, to members of the public for the first time under an independent government and the terms of the Public Archives Act. However, dynamics other than the law have limited and/or offered archival access incidentally or intentionally. While the relationship between archival and political control has not disappeared, the widening of archival access in Kenya has also nurtured critical scholarship and activism.

Article

History of Niger  

Abdourahmane Idrissa

Until the late 19th century, the central Sahel was a trade corridor between West and North Africa, which, especially since the fall of Gao at the end of the 16th century, had become a fairly violent and chaotic place. Around 1900, the French added to the violence when they undertook to conquer it and set up a colony there. From that point, two competing but intertwined histories began to evolve: the history of the colony and that of the nation. The French tried to make the colony work for French commerce, albeit under the self-defeating premises that the place had no economic value and its people were more burden than asset. A cash crop—groundnuts—eventually started to make exploitation colonialism profitable in the 1930s, but after World War II, a new Zeitgeist saw the rise of the ideas of economic development and political independence. By then, colonialism had unwittingly fostered a Nigerien society, which turned nationalistic in this context. National development became the general theme of Niger’s history until the late 1980s. Colonialism was criticized for failing to achieve it; dissension arose between Niger’s leading politicians of the 1950 over the methods—radical or moderate—with which it should be pursued; a coup in 1974 was made in its name. The theme of national development grounded regimes that claimed to act through a “development administration” (1960–1974) or a “development society” (1974–1991). This seemingly bland concept was thus the source of the dramatic contests and upheavals and the driving force of the Nigerien project, until it became history some decades ago.

Article

Anthropological and Ethnographic Methods and Sources  

Constance Smith

For scholars of African history, anthropology offers a number of valuable and invigorating methodological avenues, from engaging directly in ethnographic fieldwork to analyzing anthropological data compiled by others. Given the asymmetries of written documents and the biases of archival material for Africa, anthropological methods and sources offer a different type of access to those who, for various reasons, tend not to appear in other forms of documentary record. The materials of past ethnographic research—texts and material objects, produced and collected by anthropologists and their assistants as well as by missionaries, government officials, travelers, and others—constitute one of the largest categories of written source material. However, the contexts in which such research was conducted can present certain challenges when using these materials as sources. For example, the complex entanglements between colonial governance and the making of anthropological knowledge make it imperative for historians to be aware of the discipline’s intellectual history and how its ways of seeing and ordering have shaped portrayals of Africa’s diverse cultures. Methodologically, historians are also experimenting with field methods that draw heavily on ethnographic techniques. The emergence of historical ethnography has developed a rich, syncretic approach, in which communities’ own relationships with, and understandings of, the past are brought to the fore. Although ethnography is known for its immersive and long-term fieldwork, elements of the technique can also be incorporated into other historical methods. This is in part a matter of approach, rather than of different source material. For example, engaging ethnographically with archives can offer different insights into issues of governance and the production of knowledge.

Article

Joshua Nkomo  

Eliakim Sibanda

Joshua Nkomo was a dominant force in the anticolonial independence movement in colonial Rhodesia between 1949 and 1980, and then a major political figure in independent Zimbabwe from 1980 until his death on July 1, 1999. Four historical themes emerge, however, themes that form the context of Nkomo’s life and work and that have intersected in the larger story of Zimbabwe’s independence. First is the politics of the state, which revolves around the question of state power and who controls it, and which has ethnicity as its subtext. Second is the struggle over property ownership, pitting the haves against the have-nots, which has informed class formation. Third is the politics of land, which has likewise informed the nature of class formation and political cleavages. Fourth is the theme of ethnicity and race, especially pitting one ethnicity or race against another. Nkomo rose from a railway welfare officer to lead a militant union, and then three political parties between 1957 and 1987. He made significant contributions to the downfall of a white supremacist colonial regime in Zimbabwe. After independence, the anticolonial revolutionary became a statesman who championed both reconciliation and social justice until his death in 1999. After independence, Nkomo, would become a Member of Parliament, Minister of Home Affairs, and rose eventually to be Vice-President of Zimbabwe.

Article

Women in Namibia  

Heike Becker

Women have had a significant role throughout Namibian history. Prior to colonization men were generally dominant, but certain women of high rank attained powerful positions. Namibian societies and politics became thoroughly gendered during the German and South African colonial periods. After independence the postcolonial Namibian state drew on the intensive involvement of women in the liberation struggle and adopted a legal framework and policies that emphasized gender equality. Nonetheless, little real improvement has been achieved for the majority of women in postcolonial Namibia. The country’s high level of social inequality continues to be profoundly gendered. Namibia’s independence in 1990 followed prolonged colonial rule by South Africa, which ruled the country, named “South West Africa,” as a de facto fifth province. Post–World War II South Africa retained the full range of apartheid legislation and policy in Namibia until about 1980, when the apartheid state’s colony became a laboratory for social engineering geared toward limited change. Namibia was divided into two distinct zones in 1907 and throughout the South African colonial period. Southern and central Namibia were governed similar to South Africa and the northern regions experienced colonial rule more akin to the British doctrine of indirect rule. Both colonial projects were profoundly gendered. Thus anticolonial resistance was both varied and gendered, including its defiance of apartheid.

Article

The History of Christian Missions to Africa  

Norman Etherington

Christianity came very early to Africa, as attested by the Gospels. The agencies by which it spread across North Africa and into the Kingdom of Aksum remain largely unknown. Even after the rise of Islam cut communications between sub-Saharan Africa and the churches of Rome and Constantinople, it survived in the eastern Sudan kingdom of Nubia until the 15th century and never died in Ethiopia. The documentary history of organized missions begins with the Roman Catholic monastic orders founded in the 13th century. Their evangelical work in Africa was closely bound up with Portuguese colonialism, which both helped and hindered their operations. Organized European Protestant missions date from the 18th-century evangelical awakening and were much less creatures of states. Africa was a particular object of attention for Evangelicals opposed to slavery and the slave trade. Paradoxically this gave an impetus to colonizing ventures aimed at undercutting the moral and economic foundations of slavery in Africa. Disease proved to be a deadly obstacle to European- and American-born missionaries in tropical Africa, thus spurring projects for enrolling local agents who had acquired childhood immunity. Southern Africa below the Zambezi River attracted missionaries from many parts of Europe and North America because of the absence of the most fearsome diseases. However the turbulent politics of the region complicated their work by restricting their access to organized African kingdoms and chieftaincies. The prevalent mission model until the late 19th century was a station under the direction of a single European family whose religious and educational endeavors were directed at a small number of African residents. Catholic missions acquired new energy following the French Revolution, the old Portuguese system of partnership with the state was displaced by enthusiasm for independent operations under the authority of the Pope in Rome. Several new missionary orders were founded with a particular focus on Africa. Mission publications of the 19th and 20th centuries can convey a misleading impression that the key agents in the spread of African Christianity were foreign-born white males. Not only does this neglect the work of women as wives and teachers, but it diverts attention from the Africans who were everywhere the dominant force in the spread of modern Christianity. By the turn of the 20th century, evangelism had escaped the bounds of mission stations driven by African initiative and the appearance of so-called “faith missions” based on a model of itinerant preaching. African prophets and independent evangelists developed new forms of Christianity. Once dismissed as heretical or syncretic, they gradually came to be recognized as legitimate variants of the sort that have always accompanied the acculturation of religion in new environments. Decolonization caught most foreign mission operations unawares and required major changes, most notably in the recruitment of African clergy to the upper echelons of church hierarchies. By the late 20th century Africans emerged as an independent force in Christian missions, sending agents to other continents.

Article

Anthropology and the Study of Africa  

Jessica Johnson

Anthropology is the study of human societies and cultures. It developed from the 19th century with a focus on the study of societies located outside Europe, often colonized peoples. It has since transformed and diversified but maintains an interest in cross-cultural comparison and social and cultural diversity. Anthropologists often conduct long-term ethnographic research, or fieldwork, living among a community in order to learn their language and become familiar with local norms, ways of life and cultural assumptions. The method is also referred to as participant-observation, which captures its dual nature. Anthropologists aim both to join in, and learn though participation, and to maintain a degree of critical distance from which to observe and question what they see and hear around them. Their findings are generally written up in the form obf ethnographic monographs and articles detailing their research and discussing their observations in relation to the work of other anthropologists working in similar and/or distant locations. Africa has long been central to anthropological research, particularly for British-trained anthropologists. This is in part a reflection of British colonial history, as colonialism afforded opportunities for anthropologists to travel to Africa and live among African communities. African scholars and research assistants have played important roles in developing the anthropology of Africa and continue to do so. Contemporary ethnographic writing tends not to be holistic in the sense of aiming to produce a exhaustive account of a particular people and their way of life, but rather focuses on particular issues of interest in connection to wider debates, both scholarly and policy-oriented. In the 21st century, anthropologists of Africa study a wide range of topics, from gender relations to religion, development projects to social media.

Article

Berbers and the Nation-State in North Africa  

Bruce Maddy-Weitzman

Throughout history, North Africa’s native Berber-speaking populations have been central to the mix of political, social, cultural, and linguistic attributes that rendered the region distinct. At the dawn of the 20th century, Berbers still constituted a substantial majority of sharifian Morocco’s population, and a significant minority of French Algeria’s Muslim populace; their numbers were smaller in Ottoman Libya and smaller still in France’s Tunisian protectorate. Nationalism began to spread in North Africa during the first decades of the 20th century. Each nationalist movement was shaped by a particular combination of factors; all of them, however, foregrounded the Arab and Islamic components of their collective identities, downplaying or ignoring the Berber ones. Berbers actively participated in the struggles for independence in both Algeria and Morocco, often in leadership roles. This pattern would continue during the decades after independence, even as both the Algerian and Moroccan states placed supreme value on the Arabization of the educational system, and of public life in general. The state’s overall view of Berber identity was that it should be consigned to the realm of folklore. However, even as the number of Berber speakers continued to decline, there arose a modern Berber (Amazigh) identity movement that demanded a reexamination of the underlying premises of their countries’ collective identities, one that would bring the Berber language and culture to center stage. It also demanded genuine amelioration of the dire conditions of poverty that characterized much of the rural Berber world. As ruling regimes struggled to maintain their legitimacy after a half century of independence, the Berber “question” now took on a new salience in North Africa’s increasingly contested political space.

Article

Race and Decolonization in North Africa  

Muriam Haleh Davis

The precolonial history of slavery is fundamental for understanding the roots of antiblack racism in the region known as the Maghreb. At the same time, the question of skin color does not capture the diverse forms of discrimination that have been experienced by populations in the region over the last two hundred years. French colonial officials, for example, upheld the Berber population as a separate race that was inherently more civilized and less Muslim than the Arab population. Jews in Algeria were offered French citizenship in 1870, further complicating the racial formation of the colonial Maghreb. Despite colonial attempts to posit a racial difference between so-called white and black Africa, the porous geographical boundaries in the southern regions of the Sahara made it difficult to assert a clear distinction between Arab and African peoples. After independence, Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia sought to foster a coherent national identity and achieve political legitimacy, and their experiences of state building in turn influenced how religious and ethnic minorities were treated after independence.

Article

The History of Togo and the Togolese People  

Marius Kothor and Benjamin N. Lawrance

The history of Togo and the Togolese people may best be told as a pluralizing historical narrative. Togo’s history is first narrated in a relatively conventional framework, which one might find in any historical dictionary or encyclopedia, to show how national histories can weave, bend, and misdirect attention at particular national and regional dimensions. A subsequent richer retelling of Togolese history via a transnational and translocal approach, inclusive of women in events in the region, broadens an historian’s understanding of the history of Togo and the Togolese people to offer new insights beyond those of the traditional nation-state and area studies models. The archives of Togo are scattered around the world, notably in Germany, France, Switzerland, and Great Britain. Scholarship on Togo, covering themes from the precolonial period to the postcolonial epoch and present day, is well developed and multilingual.

Article

Forced Labor in Portuguese Africa  

Zachary Kagan Guthrie

Forced labor was central to the modern history of the Portuguese empire. It was widely imposed across Angola, Mozambique, São Tomé, and Guinea after the imposition of Portuguese colonial rule in the late 19th century and persisted within the Portuguese empire for decades after it had been abolished by other European powers. The brutal violence and far-reaching social disruption created by forced labor had a profound impact on colonized communities. It was one of the most important ways that individual subjects interacted with the Portuguese colonial state. Forced labor was also fundamental in structuring the economic, political, social, and ideological contours of the Portuguese empire: the colonial economy was deeply dependent on the exploitation facilitated by forced labor, and both the operations of the Portuguese colonial administration and the justification for its existence were closely intertwined with conscripting forced workers. Finally, the prevalence of forced labor in the Portuguese empire precipitated recurring international scandals, which did a great deal to define Portuguese colonialism in the eyes of the world. Studying forced labor has therefore become an important methodology for understanding the depredations of Portuguese colonial rule, its impact on the lives of the people it governed, and the economic and political organization of the Portuguese empire.

Article

Southern Africa before Colonial Times  

John Wright

Perspectives on southern Africa’s past in the eras before the establishment of European colonial rule have been heavily shaped by political conflicts rooted in South Africa’s history as a society of colonial settlement. The archive of available evidence—archaeological finds, recorded oral materials, and colonial documents—together with the concepts used to give them meaning are themselves products of heavily contested historical processes. Archaeological evidence indicates that Homo sapiens, descended from earlier forms of hominin, was present in southern Africa at least 200,000 years ago, but many members of the South African public reject evolutionary notions of the past. From about 200 bce onward, groups of hunter-gatherers, pastoralists, and farmers were in constant contact in southern Africa. A widespread European settlerist view, based on deep-seated stereotypes of warring races and “tribes,” is that they were permanently in conflict: historical evidence shows that in fact they interacted and intermingled in a range of different ways. Interactions became yet more complex from the mid-17th century as settlers from Europe gradually encroached from the southwest Cape Colony into most of southern Africa. In some areas, settler graziers sought to wipe out groups of hunter-gatherers, and to break up pastoralist groups and enserf their members; in other areas, particularly in the shifting colonial frontier zone, mixed groups, including settlers, made a living from raiding and trading. In the 19th century, groups of settler farmers sought to subjugate African farmers, and seize their land and labor. Contrary to a common view, they had only limited success until, in the later 19th century, Britain, the major colonial power in the region, threw its weight decisively behind British settler expansion. Other Europeans—traders and missionaries in particular—worked with Africans to make profits and save souls. Some Africans sought to resist loss of land and sovereignty; others sought to take advantage of the colonial presence to seek new political allies, loosen ties to chiefs, find wage work, produce for the market, join churches, seek a book education, and incorporate Christian ideas into their politics. Even before they came under colonial domination, many chiefs sought to move from a long-established politics based on alliance making to a politics based on what Europeans called “tribal” rule.

Article

Philosophical Perspectives on the History of African Socialism  

Ajume H. Wingo

The heyday of African socialism as the animating force behind African political developments has passed. Yet, like other political doctrines of great revolutionary movements, its name and principles continue to be invoked by political and social leaders today. As recently as 2005, the Rev. Johnson J. Chinyong’ole of the University of KwaZulu-Natal argued that the principles of African socialism should guide the Anglican Church’s efforts in reducing poverty in Tanzania. As part of the zeitgeist of early postcolonial Africa, the traditions and principles of African socialism have had a profound impact on how Africans have seen and shaped their world. An understanding of the central tenets of African socialism helps to explain the unique ways in which Africans have responded to and appropriated features of Marxism, socialism, and capitalism, as well as to illuminate distinctly African traditions of communalism, philosopher-kings, aestheticism, and perfectionism in politics.