Before the Europeans moved into Africa and colonised its traditional tribes and empires, there were numerous states already in existence. These are thought to have numbered to approximately 10 000, some of which were large polities, while others were smaller cultures of hunter-gatherers.
The large groups included the Bantu speakers who moved through and colonised much of southern Africa and eventually established themselves in modern-day Zimbabwe. Another significant culture at the time was the Yoruba and Igbo communities in West Africa and the Swahilis on the east coast of the continent. The hunter-gatherer communities included the Bushmen or San who traversed the southern African plains in search of food and safe lodging. Generally, the larger civilisations (such as the Bantu people) were more structured in terms of family roles than those that moved around constantly in smaller numbers.
By the early 800’s of our Common Era (CE), there were several politically influential states throughout the African continent. The Hausa states extended from the west, across the sub-sahara and into central Sudan. These states included key players like the Ghana and Gao empires. This Ghanaian empire is not to be confused with modern-day Ghana, and its empire was conquered in the 11th century, when the Mali Empire succeeded it. This meant that western Sudan was, largely, under one rulership during the 1200’s. The Kanem-Bornu Empire, another Hausa state, had become Muslim by the 11th century. Soon, most of North Africa was under Muslim influence or control.
The coastal region of West Africa did not have this Arab influence, and encouraged the uprising of small, independent kingdoms. The Igbo people established the Nri Kingdom in the 9th century. This date has been established from findings of bronze items in the Nigerian archaeological town of Igbo Ukwu. Ife has been acknowledged as being the first Yoruba state to have been established in Africa and was considered to be the religious and cultural centre of the entire continent. The kings of the Ifa controlled many of the non Yoruba states.
The Berbers dynasty under Islamic rule, the Almoravids, originated in the Sahara and spread upwards and westwards. Some of the Arab Bedouin tribes went across Egypt and into the west between the 11th and 13th centuries. These tribes encountered the Berbers, who then adopted many of their practices and cultures.
As the Mali Empire disintegrated, the Shonghai Empire rose to power under the leadership of Sonni Ali, and was situated in the Niger / Sudan area. Ali and his successor managed to seize Timbuktu, Jenne, and suchlike states, introducing the Muslim religion and enforcing its doctrines in schools and mosques all over the area.
It was also during this time that the slave trade hit an all-time peak in popularity and commercial success. In fact, during this time, in excess of 15 000 000 slaves were exported from Africa to other countries. This had an enormous effect on the strength of African civilisations as families, tribes and villages were torn apart. Slaves lost their kinship upon being taken away, so these individuals became anonymous members of an unspecified origin. It was only in the 19th century, when this slave trade lost its credibility and appeal that Africa’s economic system began to change.