North Africa – 1062 To Modern

The Almoravids were the Berbers that moved north from the Sahara’s west. In 1040 CE, their chieftain made a pilgrimage to Mecca, and this instilled a deep love, respect and zeal for Islam in the minds and hearts of his followers. In 1062, the Almoravids established Marrakech as their base and proceeded to conquer northwest Africa systematically and effectively until they had seized as far as Algeria. On request from the Spanish, the Almoravids moved onto Spain in 1086 CE and conquered all but the east coast, where El Cid captured Valencia 8 years after their arrival in Spain. The country became steeped in the Muslim faith, and the Spanish architecture etc…, in turn, spread into the north of Africa. This vast area became too big for the Almoravid sultans to sustain, and the Christians began their second conquest of Spain in 1118. Likewise, Marrakech was overthrown by the Almohads (also Berbers) in 1147.

The Almohads held far stricter Islam ideals that the Almoravids. After Marrakech, they conquered the whole of the coast of North Africa, right up to Benghazi. This meant that all of the smaller divisions of the greater Berbers were now under one jurisdiction, although their power spread to Spain as well. Once the Almoravids in Morocco had been conquered, the Almohads occupied southern Spain and made Seville (conquered in 1147) the capital of Spain.

The Christian movement began to sneak back in when the Almohad power began its decline and Las Navas de Toloso was conquered in 1212 CE. Between this time and 1238, Cordoba, Seville and Valencia were all won back by the Christians. The Tunisian governor that had declared himself independent in 1229 began the Hafsids dynasty. It took until 1269 for Marrakech and the Almohad rule in Morocco to be quashed. This was done by the Marinids, and their rulership lasted until the 1400’s, while the Hafsids lasted into the 1500’s. This left the northwest coast of Africa and the Barbary Coast to the adventurers and pirates that haled from Portugal, Spain and Turkey.

The Barbary Coast was a valuable strip of land on the northwest shores of Africa. Spain and Turkey soon realised its potential and began to vie for power. The Turkish approach allowed pirates to set up camp along the coast, and the Ottoman Empire granted them status as protectorates. This first began in Algeria in 1512, then Libya in 1551 and Tunisia in 1574.

France began their own invasion of Algeria (which they termed an intervention) in 1830 and finally succeeded in 1847. Europe decided that they needed to control the Barbary region as there was little order or means of ensuring fair and peaceful exchanges. France became the official protectorate of Tunisia in 1881 and Morocco in 1912. Libya was granted to Italy in 1912.

Meanwhile, Egypt, noted as the Cradle of Mankind and the origin of human life experienced little between the 16th and 19th centuries. Anarchy reigned until Mohammed Ali recovered the true strength of the country in the 1800’s. His descendants were responsible for introducing the western world with its customs and financial systems into this land. Because of the increased viability of Egypt, the British became more involved. This benefitted them enormously as Egypt was the shortest route to India after the Suez Canal was opened in 1869. Britain finally conquered Egypt in 1882 as a result of riots going on within the country, forcing the British troops to take action. Their priority was to protect the Canal. Finally, Egypt won independence in the 1950’s, followed by many of the other North African countries. Algeria was the last of these countries to gain independence in 1962 CE.

African Civilisations between the 9th And 18th Centuries


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.

Image of 1000 year old Bushman rockart in South Africa.
1000 year old Bushman rock art in South Africa.

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.

History – South Africa



The whole of southern Africa includes countries such as Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. However, South Africa is, without doubt, the most prominent of these in economical, social and historical terms. It also features in terms of its status as being the Cradle of Humankind and is home to the World Heritage Site of the same name.

South Africa’s earliest ancestors are believed to have roamed Africa’s vast land 3.3 million years ago. Many significant remains and fossils have been found at the Sterkfontein Caves in Krugersdorp. These caves form part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Rock paintings in these and other areas have helped to ascertain the way of life of ancient humans, as well as the time period in which they lived. Hunter-gatherers of the Stone Age (2.5 millions years ago) used rock paintings extensively and these were the early ancestors of the Khoe-khoen (Hottentots) and San (Bushmen) of more recent South African history. The Khoe-khoen farmed along the coast of South Africa, settling in smaller civilisations. The Bushmen were hunters who traversed the region in search of food and safe areas in which to camp and live. These were the conditions in South Africa approximately 2000 years ago and it remained this way for quite some time, as there was little interference from the outside world. It was also at the beginning of our Common Era that the Bantu-speaking farmers from the east and Highveld began moving down into South Africa. These people had had some contact with the East African trading industry and brought with them culture and political ideology that was more advanced than what existed in South Africa at that time.

Image of South Africa Map
South Africa Map

The European influence was only introduced when, in 1652, the Dutch East India Company (DEIC) was established in Cape Town. Dutch farmers settled and supplied the many passing ships with fresh produce. These farmers needed workers and brought slaves down from Madagascar, East Africa and the East Indies. With the help of these slaves, South Africa became a fertile, productive epicentre for trade. It was only in the 1770’s that conflict with the Bantu-speaking community 700km east of Cape Town began. This warfare lasted approximately 100 years, and resulted in the colonists’ being dominant over the Xhosa-speaking kingdoms. In 1806, Britain took occupation of the Cape and this area became part of Britain’s international trading industry.

Meanwhile, in areas outside of where the Dutch had set up their colonies, the African cultures were in land battles of their own. The Zulu empire rose above the others and became the dominant state. Shaka Zulu was the leader of this empire and, by 1820, had most of southeast Africa under his control. It was only when this power was dissipated as a result of the Zulu subjects splintering into communities of their own, that the Dutch were able to break into this area. The Afrikaans farmers, known as Boere, trekked through Southern Africa and settled in formerly Zulu-dominated areas.

From the time that Britain had occupied the Cape, the Boer Voortrekkers and the European colonialists spread upwards and eastwards through South and southern Africa. In 1838, slavery was eradicated. By the mid-1800’s, the Voortrekkers had established the South African Republic (which became the Transvaal and then Gauteng) and the Orange Free State (now the Free State) as their white-ruled republics. Natal was bound for success as it boasted fertile sugar plantations, and many of the Indian labourers were sent to this area for farming and agriculture. Natal remains a community of many of South Africa’s Indian population.

In the 1860’s, a major discovery changed the prospects for much of South Africa completely. Diamonds were found in Kimberley, just north of the Cape and it did not take long for Britain to annex these diamond fields. Tens of thousands of people had flocked to this area to begin their quest for fortune. Africa had already been in the sites of those seeking imperialism and this discovery just made it one of the most influential sites of that time. All the smaller African kingdoms were swiftly subjugated and put under colonial control. Zulus were brought under imperial control in 1879 in the Anglo-Zulu war. It was in this war that King Cetshwayo’s impis defeated the British at Isandlwana, an event that remains one of Africa’s most celebrated victories.

After diamonds, gold was discovered in 1886, which pushed the immigrants who spoke English to demand franchise rights. This prompted Britain’s attack on the Transvaal and Orange Free State in 1899. At first, the Boer defence was strong but, by 1902, they were defeated. The Boere experienced the cruel wrath of having their farms destroyed, their women and children taken and being imprisoned in concentration camps.

From the earliest 1900’s, white empowerment clashed with black equality ideals. This situation was only righted towards the end of the 20th century, when South Africa became a democracy under free and fair elections. This was after decades of Apartheid, which proved to be a cruel and unsympathetic attempt for whites to dominate all other races.

Certainly then, South Africa has always been one of Africa’s most significant countries on many levels and has earned its commonly accepted title as being the original site of human development and civilisation.

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History – Southern Africa


Southern Africa comprises several countries, each with a rich and varied history. These include:


Angola is on the western side of southern Africa and was ‘discovered’ by Portuguese explorers in the 1500’s. However, it was long before the 16th century that humankind descended on areas such as Luanda, Congo and the Namib Desert. These are the sites at which remains and fossils of these prehistoric humans have been found. A written record of the history of this area, however, only came into being millennia later. These earliest records began when people from other lands discovered Angola and made it their home.

The first arrivals were the Bushmen, famous for their hunting and gathering skills. Then, at the beginning of the sixth century of our Common Era (CE), the Bantu arrived from the north (near Cameroon). The Bantu were more advanced than the Bushmen and dominated them immediately. During centuries of Bantu domination, different ethnic groups arose. The Kingdom of Kongo was the most prominent of these and stretched from Gabon to Kwanza during the 1200’s. From 1482, Portuguese caravels began to arrive, introducing a brand new culture and system into the area. In 1575, Paulo Dias de Novais and the Portuguese colonists accompanying him officially established Angola.

Since this time, the country has experienced much political upheaval, as well as a civil war in the 1970’s. Finally, in 1975, Angola was declared independent of Portuguese rule.

Image of Southern Africa map
Southern Africa map


Botswana was inhabited by the San or Bushmen of prehistoric times. It was only in the 17th century CE that they were displaced by the Tswana, or Bantu Batswana, who migrated into Botswana from South Africa during the Zulu wars. Before this, the Batswana had been tribal farmers until the Europeans descended on South Africa and began to claim land and rights. This caused major conflict between the Batswana and the Boere (from Dutch descent). Cecil Rhodes was instrumental in establishing the Bechuanaland Protectorate of 1885. Bechuanaland was the entire northern region of the South African area. The northern part of it is now known as Botswana, while the southern part is South Africa’s northwest province. However, despite this protection, Botswana only gained independence in 1966.


Malawi has yielded some very interesting remains and fossils of hominids, thought to be 1 million years old. Human beings are believed to have lived approximately 55 000 years ago in the area around the grand Lake Malawi. The remains that have been dated back to 1500 BCE (Before our Common Era) display definite African and Bushmen characteristics in terms of features and bone structures. The Portuguese colonists had entered Malawi in the 1500’s, but it was only when David Livingstone arrived in 1859 that Malawi felt the effects of colonisation. Christianity was introduced and the slave trade became the object of their attack as they fought to abolish it. The political history of Malawi is abundant and fascinating and, towards the end of the 20th century, Malawi became a democracy.


Many tools and implements from the Stone Age (the period that began approximately 2.5 million years ago) have been found scattered throughout Zimbabwe. Even ruins of ancient buildings built of stone have testified to the existence of prehistoric civilisations inhabiting the plains of this country. Just outside Masvingo lie the ruins after which the country was named, built by the indigenous people and dated to between the ninth century and the 13th century.

Zimbabwe also felt the effects of the Europeans’ arrival in southern Africa, as well as that of the migrating Bantu speakers. These Bantu people eventually replaced the locals and are now the ancestors of the Zimbabwean race. Zimbabwe came to be under British administration in the late 1800’s (when it was called Rhodesia after Cecil Rhodes) and gained complete independence in 1980.

Although only a small portion of the southern African countries have been covered in brief detail, it is clear to see that this region is, indeed, abundant in valuable artefacts from prehistoric Africa. It is for this reason that many scientists term southern Africa the Cradle of Humankind.

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History – Western Africa


West Africa’s history begins in about 12 000 BCE (Before our Common Era), according to archaeologists who have made studies of the Mejiro Cave. This is believed to be the time when our human ancestors first arrived in West Africa and, more specifically, the Sahara. The Sahara was, at that time, a lush, fertile place where animals and humans thrived on the abundance of its water and vegetation.

Microlithic tools were found in the Savannah of West Africa. A microlith is defined as a small stone tool, usually made of flint, and measures 3cm (30mm) or less. These were made by agriculture farming tribes who hunted or defended themselves using spears and stone blades. In areas such as Guinea, the Sahel farmers would use bone to create these same tools. In the 4000’s BCE, other tribes and cultures moved into the area and introduced cattle farming, as fossilised findings have indicated. In 3000 BCE onwards, the civilisation of West Africa had become influenced by the new cultures to such a degree that major changes started to take place in terms of tool development and hunting / farming methods. Harpoons and fish hooks from this era have been discovered and these, although primitive, were effective in enabling the farmers to migrate towards the shore for food and industry. It was also at this time that the Sahara underwent massive climate changes, with dramatic alternating of moist / humid and dry spells. Eventually, the entire region became arid desert, uninhabitable to most life, animal or human.

In the third millennium BCE, Guinea’s Sahel farmers began to migrate as well, entering into the area of the other natives. This movement was prompted by the Sahara’s final devastation, and was instrumental in severing ties with Europe’s advancement in terms of culture and technology, isolating this civilisation. It took longer for technology to improve the quality of the weaponry being used by these native West Africans but, when it did, it allowed for the development of their societies.

In the first century BCE, West Africa had established a trade of gold between the Mediterraneans and the Berbers. Along with gold, cotton, metal and leather were in demand from North Africa. In return, the Mediterraneans supplied them with horses, salt and textiles, amongst other valued products. Eventually, these supplies extended to ivory and even slaves.

This trade created a stable economy and, from there, specific empires. The most significant of these was the Ghana Empire, established in the 700’s CE (Common Era). It was the Mandé people, the Soninke, who founded it around Kumbi Saleh city. Eventually, the Ghana Empire ruled the whole of western Sudan and boasted 200 000 soldiers by the 800’s. It was when Islam arose that internal conflicts began. This, coupled with the introduction of the Almoravids into the area, caused the Ghana Empire to disintegrate by the 11th century CE.

The Sosso tribe succeeded the Ghana Empire for a while, but were defeated by the Mandinka in the 1240 Battle of Kirina. This became the Mali Empire, which continued until the 15th century. During this time, trade escalated and free healthcare was administered to all Malians. This state of abundance declined due to a lack of strong Malian leadership. The Mali Empire was taken over by the Songhai, who restored trade and commerce. The Songhai also played an enormous role in making Islam the dominant faith once again. In 1591, Morocco invaded the Songhai Empire and conquered them successfully.

While Songhai was in the middle of its demise, West Africa was full of other, smaller powers springing up. These included the Bambara Empire (Ségou), the Bambara kingdom (Kaarta), the Malinké kingdom (Khasso), and the Kénédougou Empire (Sikasso).

Many West Africans were taken to North and South America to become slaves during the 18th century. Today, these areas are still home to large parts of the West African population of that time. In 1898, the last of these West African empires, Wassoulou, fell and resistance to French colonialism of this region was over.

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Image of Morocco, ancient town of Aït Ben Haddou.
Morocco, ancient town of Aït Ben Haddou.