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True Mother Africa

Fractals in African Architecture: Ba-ila settlement

Another ancient African wonder, capturing the attention of mathematicians and anthropologists alike is this traditional Ba-ila settlement in Southern Zambia.

Home to the Ila people, thought to be the first of the Bantu groups to settle in what is now modern day Zambia, the settlement is notable for its fractal properties. Made up from a seed shape of a ring, it has been described as a ring of rings. Constructed on flat arid lands,it  has a front/back social distinction: The entrance is low status, and the back end is high status. Thus, there are no family enclosures at all for the first 20 yards or so! 

The farther back one goes, the larger the family enclosures become, with the chief’s being the largest right at the back.  Besides his own house, he also has three or four miniature huts: where offerings are made to the ancestral spirits.  At the back end of the interior lies a smaller detached ring of houses; a settlement within the settlement. This is the home of the chief’s extended family. 

If we were to view a single house from above, we would see that it is a ring with a special place at the back of the interior: the household altar.  

Interestingly,  the word applied to the chief’s relation to his people is kulela:which means to nurse, or to cherish’ the chief is the father of the community and  they his children, and what he does is lela them. 

This relationship is echoed throughout family and spiritual ties at all scales, and structurally mapped through the self similar architecture. The nesting of circular shapes—ancestral miniatures to the chief's house ring to chief’s extended family ring to the great outer ring—was not a status gradient, but successive iterations of lela.

 

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Kora - African Musical Instrument

The Kora is a chordophone which originates in the Senegambian Mandinka of the Kabu (Gabu) empire, which encompassed parts of present-day Guinea Bissau, southern Senegal, and The Gambia, with its seat in Kansala (in Guinea-Bissau). Played by storytellers referred to as jelis, who are usually brought into the art through musical family members, the instrument has often been compared to a harp.

The history and origin of the Kora has been carried down from Jali to Jali, with some variations depending on the family of the teller. Stories of the origin of the kora centre on Jali Madi Wuleng, who is widely believed to have first discovered the kora with the aid of a jinn (genie) during the era of the Kabu empire.

Traditionally, The stringed instrument constructed from a calabash, rosewood,  antelope skin and iron, has 21 strings which are stretched on two sides of the bridge. The 11 strings on the left side of the bridge are played with the left hand of the Jeli and with his right, he plays the 10 strings on the right side allowing him to create the signature intricate polyrhythmic patterns.

Generally kora compositions are based on standard ostinato patterns called kumbengo, with contrasting embellishments called birimintingo periodically interrupting the constant cycle of kumbengo. This will then be accompanied by vocals or clapping, snapping of fingers, tapping on the kora resonator, or the playing of small iron bells. Songs by Jelis are commonly praise songs for ancestors, patrons, or Islamic leaders but may also be historical stories, mythic tales, or improvised verse. 

 

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The Baobab Tree

The Baobab tree is a prehistoric species native to Africa which can live for over 3000 years! It is known as the “tree of life” and has been described as an upside-down tree because the branches resemble roots. The thick trunk has evolved this way to store lots of water for the dry season to nourish its fruit.

The tree is known for its spiritual significance in many African cultures. Native to many parts of southern Africa as well as the country of Senegal, the baobab fruit can provide a traditional snack for children on their way home from school, a dietary supplement for pregnant women and a refreshing beverage similar to lemonade known as bouye. It can also be used medicinally, as it has been for centuries, to alleviate stomach aches, fevers and malaria. 

The tree is central to the life of some communities. There may be a couple of trees in any given town that people look to for spiritual connection. In some cultures, dead relatives are buried at the base of these trees, where it is believed that the baobabs become imbued with their souls. If you have ever seen the 2009 film Avatar, directed by Canadian James Cameron, you will be familiar with the scene where an elder is buried under a spiritual tree. 

It is fitting, then, that the fruit of the baobab tree is used to bring high quality nourishment to the living. This amazing tree is very unique and strong - amid growing concerns about climate change affecting indigenous lands, the baobab is likely to resist the warming of the earth. A true symbol of the resilience and strength of African peoples and cultures.

 

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The Legend of Mansa Musa: The King of Gold

Known as the King of Kings, Mansa Musa was ruler of the Mali empire. He was worth the equivalent in today's money of £300billion – more than twice as much as Amazon's CEO.

Following Mansa Musa’s pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324, news spread fast around Europe about the wealth of the Mali Empire. When Cresques Abraham from Majorca drew up a medieval map of the world in 1375, Ghana was labelled as ‘the richest and noblest of all these lands’.

The text on the map translates as:

‘This Black Lord is called Musse Melly and is the sovereign of the land of the Black people of Gineva (Ghana). This king is the richest and noblest of all these lands due to the abundance of gold that is extracted from his lands.’

Musa I, or Mansa Musa, was the tenth Mansa of the Mali Empire, an Islamic West African state. He has been described as the wealthiest individual of the Middle Ages and it is thought that most of the gold in Europe during the middle ages came from Africa. 

During his reign between 1312 and 1337, Musa expanded the Mali empire across parts of modern-day Mali, Senegal, the Gambia, Guinea, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Mauritania, and Burkina Faso.

 

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The Pyramids of Egypt

A vision of awe and wonder, and evidence of ancient skilled craftsmen, the Egyptian pyramids date back to 2780 BCE.

First built by King Djoser's architect, Imhotep, the earliest pyramids were constructed by placing six mastabas on top of the other to form a pyramid rising in steps. Mastabas are the tombs of early Egyptian kings, shaped like benches. Located on the west bank of the Nile River at Sakkara near Memphis, this ancient monument still stands today. Like later pyramids, it contains various rooms and passages, including the burial chamber of the king. 

During the reign of King Snefru, founder of the Fourth Dynasty (2680–2560 BCE), the formation of the pyramid changed. By filling in the sides of the early step pyramid with stone, before covering with a limestone casing, a new smooth-sided style of pyramid was created, which can be found at Medum. 

Another notable pyramid is one constructed nearby Bahshur, known as the Bent Pyramid. It is thought that they had planned for it to be a smooth sided pyramid, however about halfway up, the angle of incline decreases from over 51 degrees to about 43 degrees, and the sides rise less steeply, causing the appearance of a bent pyramid. The change in angle was probably made during construction to give the building more stability. 

The largest and most famous of all the pyramids is the Great Pyramid at Giza,  built by Snefru's son, Khufu. The pyramid's base covered over 13 acres and its sides rose at an angle of 51 degrees 52 minutes and were over 755 feet long. It originally stood over 481 feet high; today it is 450 feet high. 

Scientists estimate that its stone blocks average over two tons apiece, with the largest weighing as much as fifteen tons each.

 

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Oral Traditions in African Societies

Western Sahel is a geographical area of West Africa including modern day countries such as Senegal, Mali, Nigeria and Burkina Faso. 

Griots or Jeli have played a key role in Western Sahel society since the 13th century. It was their job to learn histories and family trees to be able to recite them to audiences. The practice of sharing stories through music and spoken word continues today on the African continent and in the myriad oral cultural practices of the African diaspora.  

Traditionally, local communities had a Griot caste amongst them - both men and women can train to become Griots. They are skilled storytellers who train for years and often have phenomenal memories. They memorise stories and songs of their heritage often adding in small details which are relevant to the life of the communities around them. They also learn how to build and use the traditional instruments of their profession such as the kora, khalam and ngoni.

One of the most famous Griot stories tells us about the founding of the Mali Empire by Sunjata who lived in the 13th century. This story features prophecies, exile, wars and family conflict. 

 

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Ethiopia's Lalibela Church

Carved out of the rock of the Lasta Mountains some 250 miles north of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, stands one of the most spectacular holy sites in the world: a group of eleven churches conceptualised by King Lalibela (c. 1185-1225), a ruler of the Zagwe dynasty.

During his reign, he made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, a trip that deeply affected his psyche and was the catalyst for the building of the holy monument. In an attempt to create a second, the churches were carved in a mission that took 24 years. Seven of the churches were carved straight into the cliffs of the mountain. Their sanctuaries weave deep into the hillside. Four of the churches were carved from blocks of the volcanic rock that were isolated by excavating downward. The churches are connected to each other by small passages and tunnels.

While many cite the trip to Jerusalem as the inspiration for building the churches, according to Lalibela’s hagiography, it is the vision he had during a near death experience that prompted him to create the holy sanctuary.  Before he was king, his older brother, the previous king, tried to poison him. However, instead of dying, he was carried by an angel to heaven, where he was shown the vision of the magnificent wonder that he was yet to execute. 

Following the completion of the churches, Lalibela renounced his throne and chose to spend the rest of his life in the holy space he had created. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church later canonised Lalibela and renamed the city in his honour.

 

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Who is Mama Africa?

The oldest inhabited continent on Earth, Africa has been home to humans and human ancestors for more than five million years. It is no surprise that she is often nicknamed the Mother continent: Mother Africa.

Bounded by the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean, and the Atlantic Ocean, the continent has the most countries of any other, and includes the islands of Cape Verde, Sao Tome, Madagascar, Mauritius, Seychelles, and Comoros.

Whilst the origin of the name “Africa” is greatly disputed, common belief is that it stems from words used by the Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans. Some of these words include the Egyptian word Afru-ika, meaning “Motherland”; the Greek word aphrike, meaning “without cold”; and the Latin word aprica, meaning “sunny.”

No matter what one believes, the phrase Mother Africa is one commonly attributed to the continent, but what does it mean? And, who is Mother Africa?

According to Professor Dr. Daniel Tetteh Osabu-Kle: ‘Mother Africa is the common ancestor of all people of African descent irrespective of their physical characteristics and current location on this planet. Mother Africa is known by several names including Naa Jaku, Naa Yoomo, Asaase Yaa, the Human Spirit, and the Mother of the Human Race. Her names as the Mother of the Human race and the Human Spirit point to the fact that there is only one true race - the Human Race - and only one true nation - the nation of Human Beings. The two names also emphasize the undeniable fact that human life originated from Africa even as science has also confirmed. Hence, all human beings on this planet are essentially and potentially Africans.’

What does she look like? What does the human race look like? What does an African look like? These are questions which can be answered in many ways.

Whilst there is not one way to describe Mother Africa physically, one can argue that spiritually, yes there is. Her essence is one that we can all identify despite its many forms.

 

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Adinkra Symbols

When we talk about Adinkra, we’re referring to a medium of communication that African ancestors used. Translated to departing messages, from twi “Adi” (departing) “Nkra” (messages), the symbols were a key tool of communication amongst the people of the Asante Kingdom.

Due to a lack of written history, there are differing accounts about their origin. One school of thought is that they were first used by the people of the Abron kingdom of Gyaman (modern day Côte d'Ivoire) to decorate drums for the then king Nana Kofi Adinkra. The belief is that, following the Gyaman-Asante war in which the Asantes conquered the Gyaman, the Asante people, having seen the symbol, copied and developed the craft and symbology, weaving in their own proverbs and tales and introducing its use of cloth. 

However, many contest this and believe that they were used long before by the Asante. Some look to Thomas E. Bowdrich’s book Mission from Cape Coast to Ashantee, published in 1819, to reject the claims of the Cote d'ivoire origin. Although the book does not state the origin of the symbols, it predates the war and is the first known recorded account of the existence of Adinkra.

Traditionally printed on fabric using stamps carved from calabash and dye made from the badie tree, the symbols adorned the cloth of Kings, chief and other dignitaries and gave different meaning to the people of Asante. For example if the King or chief appeared in front of his people wearing the akoben (war horn) symbol, this meant that an enemy was approaching: a warning sign and a silent replacement of the horn, whose familiar rhythm alerted the people of danger.

 

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Asantehene King Osei Kofi Tutu I

It was after escaping the war between the Akans and Dormaa, during the latter part of the 17th century, that Osei Kofi Tutu I started the journey towards becoming the first Asantehene.

The Dormaa people of what is modern day Ghana were from the Aduana clan that was originally part of the Akwamu Kingdom. During this time they sought to absorb the Akan people into the Dormaa kingdom,  taking the ruler of the Akans, Kumasehene Nana Obiri Yeboa prisoner. After refusing their demands, he was killed. His only surviving male relative from his mother's side, Osei Kofi, escaped the war, only to be later captured by the the most powerful and largest Kingdom in the Denkyira. Eventually he escaped eastwards and found himself among the second most powerful Kingdom, the Akwamu.

There, he learned all he could about politics and warfare. In 1699, accompanied by about a hundred Akwamu including the chief priest Okomfo Anokye, Osei Kofi returned to Kumasi. Given some "magical" amulets that would protect him in battle and assured victory by Okomfo Onoyke, Osei Kofi immediately set about organising his people on the basis of what he had learned. He now knew that the small separate Akan states should merge together to form one United Kingdom, especially if they were to repel the Denkyria, their powerful neighbours to the South.

The Akan, realising that Osei Kofi had learned a great deal and spoke
with logic, passion and authority agreed and declared him King of Asante of Kumasi.
Now with a large enough Kingdom, Osei Kofi embarked on a series of wars but first, in revenge for his uncle's murder, he conquered the Kingdom of Dormaa, killed their leader and absorbed them into the Asante Empire.

In the meantime, Okomfo Anokye, the Chief Priest had become the spiritual leader of the Kumasi Kingdom. It was believed that he prayed for a symbol from God that would unite the whole Asante Nation. With the appearance of a stool covered in pure gold, he told the people that it had descended from Heaven and landed in the King's lap.

As a sign of the mystical bond between all of the Asante, the Golden Stool became the Spirit of the nation. Now with a spiritual basis for unity, all the other Asante states merged with those from Kumasi to form the Kingdom of Asante. Osei Kofi Tutu I was also now the Ashantehene (King of the Asante).

 

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From Here to Timbuktu!

The phrase “from here to Timbuktu!” was often used by British people to suggest somewhere impossible to get to. In fact, the Oxford English Dictionary still defines the city as 'a place that is very far away’. 

In fact, Timbuktu is in Mali, West Africa, a city that is 3,500 miles away from London. This is, in truth, exactly the same distance between New York and London but no one ever dismissed that city as being ridiculously far away.  

So, how has this city come to be associated with mystery and distance? 

The journey to Timbuktu was challenging. Europeans were reportedly unable to reach the famous city until 1830, which led to expressions that highlighted its distance and mystique. But what is the truth about this city and the kingdom it belonged to?

By the 14th Century, Timbuktu was known as a world-leading centre for trading gold, salt and elephant ivory. The city was on the Western side of the ancient Trans-Saharan trade route, connecting the West African Malian Empire with North Africa, the Middle East and Europe. People also travelled to Timbuktu to visit the Sankoré Madrasah, originally founded in 988CE.  

Timbuktu was a centre for Islamic Studies as well as Mathematics, Medicine, Law, Astrology and Anthropology. By the 1500s, 25% of Timbuktu’s population were scholars.

The decline of the city started in the 15th century due to competition from neighbouring kingdoms and the erosion of the trade route (that fueled Malian wealth) by European (Portuguese in particular) naval trade. Despite this decline, Timbuktu has remained immortalised in the minds and memories of many across the world as a symbol of distant knowledge, treasure and opportunity.

 

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Great Zimbabwe

At the turn of the 11th century C.E., one of Africa’s greatest empires was founded. Reaching a peak population of over 10,000 Bantu-speaking ancestors of Shona, the principal city of this expansive nation state extended across almost 1,800 acres of the gold-rich plateaux of Zimbabwe. The remains, now known as Great Zimbabwe, is the largest ancient structure south of the Sahara Desert.  

Located near modern day Masvingo, Zimbabwe, the formidable stone edifice with distinctive flowing curves, has helped archaeologists understand more about the civilization. Having found pottery from China and Persia within the ruins as well as Arab coins, it has been concluded that the mediaeval African site was the capital of a wealthy trading empire.  

However,  it is estimated that in about 1450, the capital was abandoned due to deforestation, as the people were unable to cultivate enough food for the overpopulated city. 

Whilst this migration is believed to have benefited Khami, the second largest stone built monument in Zimbabwe, which became the most influential city in the region, it also signalled waning political power. In 1505, when the Portuguese settled in Sofala, the region was divided. It was later distributed between the rival powers of the kingdoms of Torwa and Mwene-Mutapa.

 

Explicit Content

The following story contains content which some readers may find disturbing and / or may not be suitable for younger readers. Themes may include racism, racist language, violence, sexual assault, death. Viewer discretion is advised.

The Faces of Slavery

What is Chattel Enslavement?

A chattel slave, as it operated in the Caribbean and the Americas, was a human being forced to work without compensation. In many cases, people remained in this position from the moment they were enslaved until their death. People who were considered chattel were seen as personal possessions and the property of another person with no rights themselves. Children born into the systems of chattel slavery were also considered to be the property of those who "owned" their parents. Therefore, these children were automatically enslaved. Under chattel slavery, human bodies and lives could be legally inherited.

The practice of chattel slavery that emerged in the 16th century was supported and made legal by European governments and monarchs in their territories. The capture and trafficking of Africans to the western hemisphere, across the Atlantic Ocean, for enslaved labour on European plantations, was an economic endeavour. It quickly became a vastly profitable industry. 

The ideology that this industry was founded upon turned people into property. 'Given the strength of the idea that Africans were property, chattel, that could bring great wealth, some Europeans dubbed Africans, "Black Gold".’ - Dr Molefi Kete Asante. 

 

The Faces of Slavery

Christian Ideals and the Evolution of European Slavery

Christianity played an instrumental part in the evolution of how enslavement was enacted by European colonists. Enslavement was not a new invention. Before expansion into the "New World", the enslavement of people dwindled in Europe, where common Christian beliefs made enslaving people of the same faith prohibitive.

In Africa, and beyond, in Asia and the pre-colonial Americas, enslaved people were bought, sold and traded between different empires. The powerful used enslaved people for labour, war and influence. Across the African continent, before the transatlantic trade of enslaved people, those who were under the control of enslavers had a greater chance of liberation. Chiefly, although ethnic differentiations existed, race was not a determining factor of people's rights. Enslaved people could also rise in status. For instance, an ex-enslaved military man, Mameluks, ruled Egypt from 1250.

Following several religious conflicts, including the expansion of the Ottoman Empire, which brought Christians into conflict with Muslims, European attitudes towards enslavement began to change. Several 15-century popes preached the virtues of enslavement as “an instrument for Christian conversion”.

Eventually, non-Christians evolved into non-Europeans as a category for enslavement. This further developed into a non-white criterion, as European Christians attempted to justify their commercial endeavours against their religious practices. The 13th century philosopher, Thomas Aquinas, building on Aristotle's thinking, was used to popularise the belief that an enslaved person was the instrument of their enslaver. This Christian moralising, which led to distancing and eventual dehumanisation, created damaging racial ideologies, which are still pervasive today. 

 

The Faces of Slavery

Edward Long: the Father of English Racism

Edward Long (1734-1813) was a plantation owner, an advocate of enslavement and the author of a racially charged work, The History of Jamaica (1774). The book, which influenced attitudes towards people of African descent for around 100 years, offered a deeply negative view of Africans. 

Long returned to England due to his faltering health after spending 12 years as a proud member of the plantocracy of Jamaica. The plantocracy was a collection of plantation owners who saw themselves as a superior group. When back in England, Long documented his time in Jamaica in his three-volume work. However, alongside his geographical mapping of the island, were hostile descriptions of enslaved people and problematic comments on the nature of African civilisation. In one instance, Long states his belief that 'everything that is monstrous in nature' comes from Africa.

A great deal of Edward Long's thinking stemmed from his stance as a polygenist, Long believed that Black people and white people are different species. He also expressed the opinion that Black people were inferior to white people and that slavery actually benefitted Africans as is offered them discipline and order. Despite the lack of scientific evidence to support the theory, the belief was popularised through his book, especially in North America, where people sought justification for enslaving people. 

In light of his racist theories, some have come to call Edward Long the 'father of English racism'. 


 

 

The Faces of Slavery

Enslavement and Tribal Dynamics

Before, during and following colonisation, a rich web of diplomatic connections spanned across Africa from along the coasts, to the forests and far beyond into the great Sahara Desert of the north. This vibrant network negotiated complex trade agreements, safe passage, and terms of war and peace through ambassadors. 

Reports from 1730 reveal, in seeking an 'an advantageous Peace' between Dahomey (present-day Benin) and Oyo (present-day eastern Benin and western Nigeria), the king of Dahomey,  Agaja, sent gifts of coral and one of his most beautiful daughters to Oyo's king. In acceptance, the king of Oyo sent a daughter for marriage in return. 

Another tool of diplomacy was enslaved people. Kingdoms which accepted the practice of enslavement offered the enslaved to maintain good relations. Reflecting on how people became enslaved by his Ibo people in Nigeria, on a return to the country after liberation from slavery, Olaudah Equiano (1745-1797) observed: 

'They were only prisoners of war, or such among us as had been convicted of kidnapping, or adultery, and some other crimes, which we esteemed heinous.'

Evidence suggests that the treatment of these people was far greater than those in the "New World". Some accounts refer to the enslaved being seen as an extension of the family. However, even as a pragmatic consideration, enslaved people were a luxury. In Egypt, between the tenth and twelfth centuries, estimates place the price of enslaved people at around 20 dinars (US$2000). Due to the high cost of "owning" an enslaved person Herbert Foster asserts 'they were cherished as individuals and were often regarded as irreplaceable.'

 

The Faces of Slavery

Types of Enslavement

The practice of capturing people and enslaving them for free labour has been around as far back as 3,500 BC. Enslavement occurred in the Ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman Empires.

Across the globe, the models for enslaving people took different forms. Below is a list of these three types of enslavement. 

Chattel Enslaved

A type of enslavement whereby the enslaved are seen as the “property” of the enslaver. People enslaved in this way are paid nothing by their enslavers and are bought, sold or traded like any other asset or object. The children of the enslaved automatically became the property of an enslaver. Those enslaved in this way are stripped of their rights and their humanity.

Serfs

Serfdom was a position where people were bound to a life of labour. Farmers who held the status of serf worked land that was owned by a lord. The lord took a significant percentage of the produce. The difference between a serf and a chattel enslaved was that a lord did not "own" a serf. The lord only owned the land which the serf worked.

Indentured servants

A contractual form of labour where a person would agree to work for a prescribed amount of time until the debt they owed was paid back. Whilst in this position the creditor would agree to feed, clothe and house the servants. Once the debt was paid, the indentured servant would be liberated of their contractual duties.

 

The Faces of Slavery

The Roles of Africans in European Enslavement

The roles some Africans played in the enslavement of other Africans is complex. People in Africa have always had different ethnic identities and cultural practices. A host of different nations and populations across central and west Africa, such as the Fulani, Mende, Ashanti and Igbo went through periods of peace and conflict. 

The accelerated demand for enslaved people created by the transatlantic trade had several effects. While some societies rejected enslavement as a practice, others such as the Kingdom of Dahomey flourished by trading enslaved people to colonialists. Some estimate the annual revenue of Dahomey around the 1750s, made by trading enslaved people, to be £250,000.

As demand escalated exponentially, raids on neighbouring villages became more frequent. With no shortage of monetary incentives, "merchant princes", with armed groups, became middlemen between rulers of African kingdoms. The impact loss of labour had on village economies was enormous. Along with this, trust between communities was eroded. This was further provoked by European encouragement.

One question remains. Did these Africans know exactly what conditions would be like in the "New World"? Travelling in West Africa between 1859 and 1860, Martin Delaney, a Black American explorer, recounts the differences: 

‘It is simply preposterous to talk about slavery, as that term is understood, either being legalized or existing in this part of Africa. It is nonsense. The system is a patriarchal one, there being no actual difference, socially between slaves (called by their protector sons or daughters) and the children of the person with whom they live.’

 

The Faces of Slavery

The British Monarchy and Enslavement

The British Royal family of the past has long, historical ties with the trade in enslaved Africans. 

The Royal African Company was created in 1660 by the Stuart Royal family. This company was created to monopolise the slave-trading market in Britain and initially shut out independent traders, ensuring maximum profits for the royal family.

From 1680-86, the company trafficked an average of 5,000 enslaved Africans per year to the Caribbean and the North American colonies with the protection of the Royal Navy. It is reported that they shipped more West African enslaved people to the Americas than any other institution.

The governor of the company was the Duke of York who would later become King James II. The initials DY were burned onto the chests of thousands of enslaved Africans to mark them as “chattel”, property of the Royal African Company.

 

The Faces of Slavery

Free to Enslave - The Africa Trade Act of 1698

'In 1698 … Parliament passed the Africa Trade Act, which opened the slave trade to all English citizens for a period of thirteen years on payment of a 10 percent duty on imports and exports,' said historian William Pettigrew

Before 1698, the monarchy, via the Royal African Company, held a monopoly on the growing trafficking and trade in African peoples. Free Africans were captured, shipped across the Atlantic in appalling conditions and set to work, for the remainder of their lives, on American and Caribbean plantations for the enrichment of European economies. 

This highly profitable arrangement excluded anyone not permitted to trade under the Royal African Company banner. Independent British traders wanted access to this lucrative market. The profits of this new trade were so explosive, it has been compared to how information technology shares might be considered today.  

In 1698, these British companies became ‘free to enslave’ as the historian Pettigrew has recently commented. 

After Parliament opened up the trade of enslaved peoples from Africa, the British economy rose six-fold (in large part through duties and taxes paid on the trade in human bodies). At its peak, the trade was worth £47 million (well over £2 billion in modern money.)  

The British National Archives estimates that between 1640 and 1807, Britain dominated the trade in enslaved Africans, reportedly transporting 3.1 million African people to the Caribbean, North America, South America and other territories. 

 

Explicit Content

The following story contains content which some readers may find disturbing and / or may not be suitable for younger readers. Themes may include racism, racist language, violence, sexual assault, death. Viewer discretion is advised.

Enslaving Africa

Spiritual Practices: the arrival of Christianity

The transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans between the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries was the largest forced movement of people in history. Surely Christianity had no part to play in this? There are a number of references to slavery in the Bible. Some say it is a bad thing, others seem to suggest it is acceptable.

Both Christianity and Islam played pivotal roles in the trade in enslaved peoples. Emmanuel Antwi’s 2018 study of the links between Christianity and the trade states: “The church's involvement in this economic venture seems paradoxical … to its mission of love for all humanity.” St Paul's New Testament epistles states the enslaved ought to be treated fairly as “brethren”.

This was not the case for enslaved Africans, however.  Although to modern readers this may seem disappointing and confusing, it is important to remember that hundreds of years ago, the Bible or Koran were considered the only text one needed to help people understand the world around them. As people began to explore further and further, these texts and the descriptions and scenarios within helped to explain differences between groups, religions and cultures.

Even though modern scholars believe Christianity was present in Africa from around the second century, this was not enough to save Africans from the European belief that African people were not fully human, deserving of respect and equal treatment. 

Interestingly, when Europeans pushed into the Americas (utterly affecting indigenous Americans’ trajectory in this part of the world) the Europeans used religion as a convenient excuse to enter into the trade in enslaved Africans. It would, so the belief went, enable Africans to come into contact with Christianity and dissuade them from pursuing Islam.   

Elmina Castle in Ghana is a clear example of how religion did not conflict with the economic beliefs of greedy Europeans. Beneath a chapel, inside which Europeans would pray fervently to an all-loving Christ, there was a dungeon. In shackles, enslaved Africans would no doubt plead and fear for their future. Most, if not all, would have no idea they would be shipped off across the Atlantic, to never set foot on the continent again. 

 

Enslaving Africa

Who Do You Trust? The Impact of Human Trafficking on Trust in Africa

Estimates predict that by 1800 Africa’s population was half what it would have been if the enslavement trade had not occurred. The enslaved were captured through kidnappings, raids, and warfare. During transatlantic human trafficking, individuals frequently turned on one another; kidnapping, tricking and selling each other into enslavement. It is estimated that as many as 20% of the people who became enslaved were tricked by a family member or friend. One of the greatest casualties of the trade of enslaved people was trust.

Harvard University Professor Nathan Nunn, conducted a study (2008) to determine whether human trafficking is partly responsible for Africa’s current underdevelopment. He found that the countries from which the most slaves had been taken, (in proportion to their size), were the poorest in Africa in the twenty-first century.

Trust is understood to be an important foundation for economic prosperity. A subsequent study (Nunn and Wantchekon, 2011) explored whether enslavement had eroded trust. It found a strong negative relationship between the intensity of human trafficking among one’s ethnic ancestors and an individual’s trust in others today.

What does this mean for people today? One possibility is that transatlantic human trafficking made individuals and their descendants less trusting. The study suggests that the human trafficking of Africans to the Americas may have resulted in a long-term deterioration of legal and political institutions. Difficulties enforcing good behaviour among citizens also results in far less trust among people.

 

Enslaving Africa

Brain Drain - last effects of Transatlantic Slavery and colonialism

Many of the major cities of Europe, North America, Canada and Australia are likely to have populations of people from African countries who recently migrated. The movement of people from their African countries of birth to other countries is relatively high and sustained. The term ‘brain drain’, first used by the British Royal Society in the 1950s, describes the migration of young, highly-educated people from one location to another. 

There are complex push and pull factors that explain why people - especially skilled graduates - are attracted to leave their countries of birth to move thousands of miles away. Some of the reasons include better earning potential; safer environments to raise families; and the  political instability which can often be found in African states.  

Scientists have long established that ‘modern’ humanity developed in the Southern African region during the last 200,000 years. Clearly then, Africans have moved around the world since that time. More recently, however, people of African origin have migrated around the world for different reasons. Voluntarily, explorers, sailors and traders will have navigated the globe for a number of reasons. There is historical and genetic evidence pointing to people of African origin having migrated within and without the African continent for many centuries. 

Much of the movement of Africans, however, as we know, was involuntary. The Transatlantic Trade in Enslaved Africans from the sixteenth century to the nineteenth century was responsible for the movement of more than 10 million people: the largest forced migration in human history. 

Even after enslavement, there were race-based acts of violence and greed perpetrated by people of European origin. White farmers in countries like Kenya, South Africa and Zimbabwe forced Blacks from their ancestral farming lands in order to keep the best land for themselves. This displacement has led to fractured communities and histories that demonstrate the long-lasting damage done by minority communities unbothered by ideas of human rights or equality.  

The migration of African people is not necessarily all negative. The World Bank estimates that people from the diaspora (the spread of people from their original homeland to other countries) are responsible for sending over $55 billion back to relatives. This source of income is invaluable to those who remain on the continent, sometimes in situations that make it difficult for them to earn sufficient money to sustain themselves. (Interestingly, Africa remains the most expensive place to send money, with the cost of sending $200 to Sub-Saharan Africa approximately 8.2 per cent.) 

Looking to the future, it is likely the 54 countries of the African continent will begin to do what South Africa has done: create a registry of people and their particular skills in order to keep track of where people - and their training - are heading to. It is vital for a country’s development that they encourage future generations to stay and develop their homelands. This is especially important for countries decimated by slavery, colonisation and neo-colonisation such as multi-national corporations that exploit corruption and racial conflict for their own benefits. 


 

 

Enslaving Africa

How Past Enslavement Still Affects Africa Today

Just imagine if one of your family members was kidnapped from your neighbourhood; one of the youngest and strongest in your family. That family member’s theft would inevitably affect everyone left behind emotionally, but there would be other effects of this permanent kidnapping as well. The marriage and children they might have had would evaporate. The future earnings of this person would be forever robbed. The social contribution this missing person might have made would be forever missed. 

Although the trade in enslaved Africans was inflicted on more than 12 million people. It is important to remember their absence is still felt by their surviving families and regions and countries and the entire continent of Africa. Slavery may have been made illegal in the UK in 1807, but the continent of Africa is still struggling to recover from this crushing blow. 

Academics, such as Nathan Nunn from the University of Harvard, have written that the enslavement of millions of Africans ‘affected a wide range of important outcomes, including economic prosperity, ethnic diversity, institutional quality, the prevalence of conflict, the prevalence of HIV, trust levels, female labour force participation rates, and the practice of polygyny’ (where men marry more than one woman). Economists have suggested that Africa, as a continent, might well be at a level of sophistication similar to Latin America or Asia had it not been decimated by this sustained attack on its people. 

Statistics demonstrate that there is a 72% gap in the wages of those in Africa compared to the wages of those in the rest of the world. This vast financial gulf clearly leads to disparities in health, education and basic quality of life.

So, your family member has forever been taken, deposited in North America, South America or the Caribbean. Hundreds of years later, both sides are still suffering the effects.

 

Enslaving Africa

British Trading in West Africa: Warfare & The Legacy of Human Loss

How could the trade of trinkets, beads and guns fuel the largest forced extraction of human beings from their homes in West Africa?

Europeans first started trading with various countries in Africa in the 15th century. Gold, ivory, wood and peppers were highly sought after items in Europe. As time went on, and as Europeans pushed into the Americas, however, the trade in enslaved Africans began to grow steadily.

The kingdoms heavily involved in this trade included the Asante / Ashanti in present day Ghana and the Kingdom of Dahomey in present day Benin.

In addition to the cloth, copper and trinkets brought by Europeans, studies reveal that an estimated 180,000 guns per year were sold in West Africa by 1730. English traders were reportedly responsible for 45% of the total firearms sales. Today, North American and European companies make up 95% of the top 20 firearms manufacturers.

European traders fanned the flames of war between ethnic groups in West Africa with the supply of guns. European traders encouraged conflict between West African ethnic groups as this lead to an increase in prisoners of war. These people would inevitably be transported to the coasts to be trafficked in the trade in enslaved Africans.  

“This legacy of conflict along ethnic lines still impacts African countries today”, writes Ghanian journalist Cameron Douda in the Guardian newspaper. Douda comments that the history of European trading, “is the cause of so much of the ethnic distrust that exists in Africa today, and which makes African countries find it difficult to establish stable policies… Rwanda proved in 1994 what a terrible toll the memory of the past is capable of exacting today. In Biafra in 1967, in the Sudan over the past 30 years and in Darfur and the Ivory Coast today - to mention but a few - Africans have been reaping the deadly harvest of a past that was forced upon them by clever marauders from Europe.’’

 

Enslaving Africa

Enslavement, Colonialism and Finally, Independence

The British Empire, at its greatest in 1922, ruled over 458 million people and managed over 36 million square kilometres. If this had been a relationship built on mutual respect, trust and equality, no doubt these countries would have decided to stay under Britain’s umbrella. However, more than 65 countries have since claimed their independence. Why is this? 

It is surely to do with self-respect. Many countries recognised that if they were to grow and develop as a self-governed state, this could not be done while under British rule, regardless of how ‘friendly’ this rule appeared to be. 

Let us consider modern-day Ghana, on the west coast of Africa. Although British rule there after WWII might appear friendly, it was impossible to ignore the fact that Britain should not have been there in the first place. This part of west Africa suffered from insatiable European greed for hundreds of years since the 1600s. Greed and racism were a wicked mix and enabled apparently God-fearing Europeans to firstly steal African people and ship them to the Americas and then steal these countries’ incredible natural resources for their own coffers. In fact, Ghana was formerly named The Gold Coast by the insatiable British. 

It was inevitable, then, that countries like Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya would seek their independence from British rule, just like the USA did in 1776. Freedom did not come easily. Ghana (1957), Nigeria (1960) and Kenya (1963) had to fight to prove their ability to self-govern. 

Still, today, these countries are plagued by foreign interference, the legacy of centuries of interference and Fair Trade policies that do not always seem fair when you explore the contracts a little more than browsing the back of a chocolate packet. 

As Ireland and Scotland seek independence from centralised English government, the question must be asked ‘When will England honestly confront its past and recognise its Empire legacy, while rich and far-reaching, is coming closer and closer to being dismantled?’


 

 

Enslaving Africa

How Europeans encouraged Africans to “Fight, Fight, Fight”

Which continent has the most Gold? Oil? Diamonds? Coltan? (This is a metallic ore used in mobile phones, laptops, tablets, televisions … )

Africa is the continent with all of these elements in abundance. How is it then, that Africa is also considered the poorest out of the five continents? Many of the 54 countries that make up the continent struggle with famine, poor education and brain drain (where the youngest and brightest are desperate to leave their home country to seek their fortunes elsewhere.) 

The complex web of reasons that lead to this inequality go back many hundreds of years. 

The initial contact between Africans and Europeans was built on trade. Portuguese merchants began trading with North Africans in the 15th century. Then, just as now, Africa had precious metals, ivory and food flavourings such as pepper to trade. After the Portuguese, there came the British, Dutch and French. 

While this trade was developing, however, Europeans were also pushing into North America, South America and the Caribbean. By the 17th century the wholesale kidnapping and sale of African people began. Greedy Europeans had phenomenal areas of land under their control but precious few people who were able to withstand the harsh climate and hard work involved in harvesting the riches of these lands. Sugar, which Europe was rapidly becoming addicted to, was in ever-increasing demand. This meant an equal ever-increasing demand for people to work the lands where sugar grew well.  

One of the often misunderstood aspects of the trade in enslaved Africans, is that African people were involved in the sale of other African people. Up until the 19th centuries, however, there was no unified African or Black identity. Different ethnic groups, such as Ashanti, Igbo and Mende, considered themselves very different from each other. This meant involvement in the trade of a rival was not frowned upon.  

The majority of African people who were captured for the purposes of being trafficked to the Americas were caught in tribal wars between these groups. Europeans encouraged these rivalries and battles and thereby increased the numbers of captives. 

To this day, greedy conglomerates and even secretive countries, deliberately encourage fighting between African groups in order to make the extraction of precious materials, such as those in your mobile phone, much easier and cheaper than they would be if the country these resources were found were well-organised and politically rigid.

 

African Renaissance

Wangari Maathai and the Green Belt Movement

As the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, Wangari Maathai was breaking more than one ceiling. With her Green Belt Movement (GBM) she coordinated the planting of more than 51 million trees across Kenya alone. 

Waangari Maathai is a groundbreaker. She was the first woman to gain a doctorate in East and Central Africa in 1971. She also became Chairwoman of the National Council for Women between 1981-87. 

The Green Belt Movement extends outside of environmental advocacy. It is also at the forefront of women’s empowerment; supporting education, legal aid and promoting platforms for female financial independence, patriarchal norms. Currently, GBM supports 4,000 community groups aimed at encouraging women’s liberation and independence, whilst incorporating environmental preservation and restoration into its plans as well. 

On top of her environmental and community advocacy, Wangari extended her life into politics, as she swept across the country with ‘trees of peace’ and tried to unite ethnic and political factions during a period of extreme volatility in Kenya. In 2002, she ran for a seat in Parliament, and despite public scepticism that she should stay as an environmentalist, she won 98% of the vote. She went on to found the Mazingira Green Party of Kenya in 2003 which incorporated the GBM policies into their political manifesto. 

Waangari continued her life in politics, social and environmental work, until her passing in 2011. Her list of accolades is extensive and there are several memorials around the world in her honour. 

Just a few of her awards include:

The Sophie Prize (2004), The Petra Kelly Prize for Environment (2004), The Conservation Scientist Award (2004), The Hunger Project’s Africa Prize for Leadership (1991) and the Woman of the Year Award (1983). 

Professor Maathai was also listed on United Nations Environmental Programme’s Global 500 Hall of Fame. In June 1997, Wangari was elected by Earth Times as one of 100 persons in the world who have made a difference in the environmental arena. 

Professor Maathai has also received honorary doctoral degrees from several institutions around the world including the prestigious Yale University (2004).

 

African Renaissance

Global Leadership: Kofi, Mohammed and Ghebreyesus

Late Ghanaian, Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-General, was described in a posthumous article written by his wife, Nane Annan as having, 'a decency and instinctive respect for others that struck all those who met him.' Nane recalled a man with, ‘a deep respect for the rules and institutions of the post-war international order.’ In remembering his qualities as a leader, she reflects that, 'principled statesmen and women who can forge bold, morally consistent responses to today's global problems are in short supply.' However, there are still global leaders making tireless and concerted efforts to enrich the lives of people.

A strong leader enacting meaningful change in today's world is British-Nigerian UN Deputy General Amina Mohammad. In 2022 Mohammad was reinstated for a further five years, in recognition of her contribution to forging forward with SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) and upholding the Paris Agreement. The United Nations accredits her with being a force behind a necessary conceptual shift in the organisation, which will help the Member States meet their goals of sustainability. Born in Liverpool, Ms Mohammed previously held the position of Minister of Environment and served as Special Advisor to three Nigerian administrations.

The first African lead to the World Health Organization (WHO), Eritrean-born Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, became Director-General of the organisation in 2017. Since his appointment, Ghebreyesus has implemented a measurable strategy to change the lives of a billion people, created new departments to support a restructuring of the organisation, developed more efficient processes, and refined the organisation's culture. His decisive leadership has led to innovative partnerships, which are having real-world effects on peoples' lives.

The examples set by these leaders of integrity and effectiveness have had a positive impact on the global community and will hopefully inspire generations of leaders to come.

 

African Renaissance

African Climate Youth Activists

Climate change disproportionately affects the continent of Africa, despite African countries contributing the least emissions. Africa is experiencing more global heating than the rest of the world, leading to increasingly frequent extreme weather events like droughts, floods and storms.

A new generation of climate change activists are stepping up to hold governments and big polluters to account. Here are four of the young people fighting for change in their communities and across the planet. 

Yero Sarr, Senegal (20)

Campaigning from the age of 16, student Yero launched the Fridays for Future movement in his native Senegal. He believes collective action is better than individual action, mobilising individuals and organisations in the fight against climate change.

Dixon Bahandagira, Uganda (23)

Aiming to plant one million trees in his home country of Uganda, Dixon hopes to counter the impact of the climate crisis which has caused severe floods and landslides, leading to the deaths of more than 200 people. He’s already planted 100,000 trees of different species, teaching locals how to care for them.

Remy Zahiga, Democratic Republic of Congo (24)

Living in the Congo Basin, the world’s second largest rainforest, Remy has first-hand experience of the impact of environmental degradation. The geology graduate feels that world leaders need to take decisive action on the climate crisis.

Fatna Ikrame El Fanne, Morocco (22)

Academic, English teacher and co-founder of the Youth for Cliamte Morocco movement, Fatna works towards a vision of beating climate change, alongside poverty, violence and discrimination in her role as ambassador for the AFCD Foundation.

Read the full list of 10 youth activists from Greenpeace here.

 

African Renaissance

The Nigerian Schoolgirls Who Won Top Silicon Valley Tech Prize

A group of Nigerian schoolgirls have won the top prize at a tech event in Silicon Valley.

The five teenagers won first place in the junior division of the Technovation World Pitch Summit held in San Jose, California last with an app that has the potential to save thousands of lives.

The event is the world’s largest tech entrepreneurship program for girls, inviting girls from ages ten to eighteen from all over the world to identify a problem in their community and then challenging the girls to solve it.

Team Save-a-Soul was selected from 2,000 mobile app developers to represent Africa at the pitch competition. Their winning mobile app, FD Detector (Fake Drug Detector), tackles the problem of counterfeit pharmaceutical products in Nigeria. The team won ahead of rivals from the US, Spain, Turkey, Uzbekistan and China. The app is used to spot counterfeit medicine using a barcode scanner to verify the drugs authenticity and expiration date.

Their mentor Uchenna Ugwu has taught thousands of children, majority of them girls, hopes to close the gender divide in STEM education. Ugwu was the one who introduced them to computers and coding through her Edufun Technik organisation, which teaches STEM to underprivileged children in Anambra State, southeastern Nigeria.

The award was celebrated on Twitter by Nigeria’s vice president, Yemi Osinbajo, and Ugwu hopes that this success will inspire other girls to tackle problems in their country.


 

 

African Renaissance

Kwame Nkrumah and the Birth of Ghana

Kwame Nkrumah (1909-1972) was instrumental in the fight toward the Gold Coast, now Ghana, becoming the first country in Africa to claim independence after colonisation. However, despite such a monumental achievement, Nkrumah remains a controversial figure.

Born in the Gold Coast, Kwame studied in Philadelphia and London before returning home with Pan-African and Socialist sentiments. Setting up the Convention People's Party (CPP) in 1949, Nkrumah campaigned against British imperial rule through nonviolent protests, strikes and noncooperation. His activities saw him sentenced to a year of imprisonment by the British. 

Nkrumah was released in 1951, following the Gold Coast's first general election, to become the leader of government business. In 1952 he became the president of the Gold Coast but the country remained under British control. When the Gold Coast and British Togoland established their independence, becoming Ghana in 1957, Kwame Nkrumah became the nation's first leader. 

Although his leadership style was authoritarian, Nkrumah initially won favour with Ghanaians, as he improved infrastructure, advancing industry and building medical and educational facilities. Beyond Ghana, he supported other African colonies which had yet to achieve independence. 

Given greater power in 1960, when Ghana became a republic, Nkrumah became preoccupied with creating a unified Black Africa — a United States of Africa. Several well-meaning development initiatives failed and the country suffered economically. Rationing and higher taxes led to civil unrest. Aggressive methods of control against the discontent created conditions for a US-backed military coup. 

 

African Renaissance

Nigerian Invention Which Can Smell Cancer

A Nigerian scientist has invented a new form of technology which could be used to detect explosives and diseases.

Creator Oshi Agabi founded his company Koniku in 2017 and now runs a team of engineers at its Silicon Valley base. “Koniku” means “immortal” in Yoruba, one of three predominant languages in Nigeria.

The device, called Koniku Kore, is the first of its kind, fusing neurobiology with silicon technology to give computers powers to detect odours. Agabi has taken live neurons from mice stem cells and fused them with a silicon microchip to mimic the sensory system which will allow it to sniff out illnesses, in the same way that dogs can detect cancerous cells via smell.

The Koniku Kore could be used to “sniff out” diseases and explosives, revolutionising healthcare and security systems.

The company says that, with their “smell cyborgs”, airport security delays would be no more, with travellers simply needing to walk from their car to the aircraft. Cancer could be detected by simply smelling the skin, years before any symptoms present themselves.

It’s a breakthrough in technology that has the power to transform the world we live in, and save many lives.


 

 

African Renaissance

Nigerian Youth’s Political Power: Enough is Enough

In Nigeria, young people under 30 make up 40% of the population. However, levels of unemployment among this age group is the highest in the country, with around two in five young people out of work, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

In fact, according to Chatham House, if Nigeria’s unemployed youth were its own country, it would be larger than Tunisia or Belgium.

Youth in Nigeria feel let down, abandoned and even targeted by the Nigerian government. And, in 2017, the Nigerian youth mobilised to protest against police brutality and violence as part of the #EndSARS campaign. The aim was to highlight police brutality of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) in the Nigerian police force.

'They marched in tens of thousands chanting ‘Enough is Enough’ against police brutality and violence.'

- Stephanie Busari, 25th October 2020, CNN

Nigerian youth called out a system which was failing them through organised protest and campaigning online and offline. Celebrities such as Kanye West, John Boyega and Rihanna gave their support, shining a global spotlight on the #EndSARS hashtag. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted about the movement and his platform gave verified blue tick status to some who were prominent in it and created an #EndSARS emoji symbol.

Young people in Nigeria are taking a stand, and showing that they refuse to stay silent in the face of discrimination, violence and lack of opportunity.

 

African Renaissance

The African National Congress in South Africa

Starting its life in 1912 as the South African Native National Congress, the ANC, or African National Congress, became one of the most important political bodies in Africa in the 20th century. Originally set up to ensure Black peoples' voting rights were upheld in South Africa, the Congress went on to tackle the racially segregating apartheid.

Apartheid in South Africa was a law which enforced the separation of Black and white people. The law encouraged active discrimination of Black or "coloured" (mixed-race) people. A move towards more militant campaigns in the 1940s, by a younger collection of activists, led to the formation of the ANC Youth League. The invigoration of the Congress engaged figures who would go on to become celebrated activists, such as Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo, and Nelson Mandela. 

Against targeted harassment from officials, the ANC campaigned in South Africa until 1960. A breakaway group from the ANC, the Pan-African Congress, organised a large protest at Sharpeville. However, the demonstration took a fateful turn and police killed 69 unarmed demonstrators. The government banned the PAC and the ANC, resulting in the ANC running operations from other countries. 

The ANC continued campaigning for 30 years whilst in exile as many of its members (including Mandela) served life sentences in prison. In 1990 the ban was lifted on the APC by F.W. de Klerk. Nelson Mandela took over the party in 1991 and headed the party's 1994 victory in the general election. 

Today the APC's popularity is waning in South Africa, but the Congress' importance in working toward human rights and racial integration is undeniable.

 

African Renaissance

Makerere University's Electric Car - The Kiira

This is the inspiring story of a group of students and professors of the Makerere University in Uganda. Together, they are leading the way in the development of green transport and cost-effective technologies in Africa. 

Following an inter-university event in Italy 2009, the team of 25 designers, engineers and electricians went home inspired. The team who had already developed a prototype hybrid fuel-electric car decided to build a fully electric car.

After nearly three years of development, they unveiled the electric car known as the Kiira EV. Kiira means "roaring" in Lusoga, a local Ugandan dialect. The Kiira can gain speed of 100km/h and cover 80km before it needs re-charging. 

Following their success, the team went on to build the Kayoola Solar Bus, the first Electric Solar Bus designed and built in Africa.

The creation of these vehicles is not only great for the environment; it will help in the phasing out of the importation of end-of-life vehicle technology, bring economic diversification, attract foreign investment and provide lots of jobs too. 

 

African Renaissance

The Attitude of Negritude

Born during the Renaissance of Black identity, Negritude was a concept created by Francophone African and Caribbean writers and artists in Paris. 

Aime Cesaire of Martinique, in the Caribbean, Leopald Senghor of Senegal and Leon Damas from France have been noted as the founders of the movement. Cesaire, the man who coined the term “Negritude” describes it as, ‘The simple recognition of the fact that one is black, the acceptance of this fact and of our destiny as blacks, of our history and culture.’

Living in Paris in the 1930s, the question of identity arose amongst Black thinkers. They strove to identify themselves while living in the legacy of European colonialism. A movement of counter-assimilation grew, meaning that people did not simply accept the identities that were thrust on them by a society they considered racist and hostile to their presence.  

Although the Negritude movement was focussed on a definition of Blackness that dealt with its links to Europe, it caught the attention of the Harlem Renaissance, which was happening nearly 4,000 miles away in New York. During the 1920s and 1930s African American art, music, literature and scholarship went through an incredible period of revival.  

Jamaican poet, Claude McKay, who alongside Langston Hughes were integral figures in the Harlem Renaissance, began affiliating themselves with the French-speaking Negritude movement, with McKay spending extended periods in France. 

The Negritude movement, Black intellectuals, poets, writers, artists and musicians began to shift their aspirations of identity that were shaped by slavery and colonialism, and looked towards Africa, its cultures, belief systems and the importance of knowing oneself outside the lens of whiteness. The onset of the second World War only strengthened the resolve of the movement as frustrations mounted over the loss of thousands of Black lives fighting for countries who did not see them as equal citizens. 

Like many movements of Black empowerment, Negritude suffered much criticism, but also birthed a wave of creativity and the definition of a Black identity that rejected colonialism. It was one of the first pro-Black movements stemming from Europe that swept the globe.

 

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Nelson Mandela

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela  is a world leader renowned for his leadership of the South African anti-apartheid movement, and his opposition to the racist laws which oppressed black South Africans.  As a result of his activism, he was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment for conspiring to overthrow the state.

Whilst Britain did eventually align with the anti-apartheid movement, originally the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher vetoed a UN resolution to impose sanctions in 1986. Both Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress were demonised, using the same racially coded narratives that excused atrocities in the colonies formerly under direct British rule. The Federation of Conservative Students published a poster with the slogan ‘Hang Nelson Mandela and all ANC terrorists. British conservatives sought to dehumanise Black Africans who challenged the established racial status quo.

This stance changed in response to widespread moral outrage to the atrocities committed by the South African National Party. Across Britain public boycotts and popular protests culminated in the famous 1989 ‘Free Mandela’ concert.

After 27 years and amid growing domestic and international pressure and fears of racial civil war, President F. W. de Klerk released Mandela in 1990.

Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, jointly with de Klerk for their often-tense cooperation in moving South Africa away from institutionalized racism and toward democracy.

In 1994 the first fully representative democratic election was held and Mandela was elected the country's first Black president with 63% of the vote. It was reported that in rural areas with limited infrastructure, people queued for days in order to vote.  The date of that historic election, 27 April is now a public holiday in South Africa, known as Freedom Day.

Mandela is held in deep respect within South Africa, where he is often referred to by his Thembu clan name, Madiba, and described as the "Father of the Nation".

Mandela's 90th birthday was marked across the country on 18 July 2008, with the main celebrations held at Qunu, and a concert in his honour in Hyde Park, London

After suffering from a prolonged respiratory infection, Mandela died on 5 December 2013 at the age of 95, surrounded by his family. Ten days of national mourning were held in his honour and, a memorial service attended by international leaders  was held at Johannesburg's FNB Stadium on 10 December 2013.

“I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.”

 

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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has been able to maintain her position as a confident literary voice for a number of years, despite being relatively young. She is not only able to discuss literature but has articulated her thoughts on various topics such as racism, sexism and grief after the loss of her beloved father. 

Education has always been an important part of Adichie’s life. Born in 1977, the writer grew up on a university campus where both her parents worked. Aged 19, she moved to the US to study Communications and Political Science. She went on to gain two Master’s degrees, one in Creative Writing and the other in African History. It is clear how her studies have helped shape and fine tune her literary voice. She has been presented with no less than 14 honorary doctorate degrees. 

Through her novels ‘Purple Hibiscus’, ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’, and ‘Americanah’ and her collection of short stories ‘The Thing Around Your Neck’, Adichie has helped to present captivating and fascinating ideas about love, race, identity and the immigrant’s experience.

It is likely her two Ted Talks have introduced her to even wider audiences. Her first, ‘The Danger of a Single Story’ tackles the portrayal of Black people as ‘other’ in Western stories. She discusses “how impressionable and vulnerable we are in the face of a story, particularly as children.” Her second Ted Talk ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ details sexist experiences and how they helped to shape her outlook on the world. Adichie recalls a journalist advising her not to call herself a feminist as they are “women who are unhappy because they cannot find a husband.” The journalist, of course, was male. 

Adichie holds a writer’s workshop in Nigeria each year, sharing her experiences and advice with the next generation of writers. Truly, she is a powerhouse who has demonstrated African writing continues to be a powerful fount of storytelling; an alternative story in a western-dominated landscape.  


 

 

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Haile Selassie - Conquering Lion

While there is a long list of people who have been honoured by having their names included in popular song lyrics, few have registered as many songs as Haile Selassie. 

The Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930-1974, he is considered one of the most important figures in modern African history. He even managed to become a religious figure to many on the Caribbean island of Jamaica, 7,800 miles away. 

Born in 1892, Selassie helped to redefine the stereotype of African leaders. He introduced a written constitution in 1931, an important step in codifying and modernising Ethiopia, a vast east African country of over 1.1 million kilometres squared. (By comparison, the four nations that make up the UK have a combined landmass of 244,000 kilometres squared.) William Stern, who translated the constitution into English stated that this was the first time in history that “an absolute ruler sought voluntarily to share sovereign power with the subjects of his realm.”

It was important for Selassie to have Ethiopia take its place on the world stage. As such, Ethiopia joined the United Nations in 1945, at the end of the Second World War. However, Selassie also recognised how important African unity was and he, together with president of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah, was a founding member of the Organisation of African Unity. Its main aims were to rid the continent of continuing colonialism. 

Around 1930, the religion of Rastafari developed in Jamaica. Judged as both religion and social movement, Rastafari is an interesting belief system in that it does not have a single person or authority who directs the religion. Despite this, Selassie is considered by some Rastas as the second coming of Jesus, encapsulating the religion’s African-focussed ethos. Bob Marley, arguably the most famous Rasta ever, was inspired by Selassie. Marley took many refrains from Selassie’s 1963 United Nations speech and used them in the song ‘War’ from perhaps his most militant album, ‘Rastaman Vibration’. The name Haile Selassie is sung in reggae music and Rasta spirituals to this day. 

Selassie was overthrown by a Marxist coup in 1974 and assassinated the following year. Despite this end to his reign and life, he towers as a forward-thinking titan of African pride and modernism.   


 

 

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Jomo ‘Burning Spear’ Kenyatta

One of the most difficult aspects of the trade in enslaved Africans and the following period of colonisation was the way Africans needed to prove their humanity to Europeans. While great strides were taken in the direction of equality and self-determination, it is important to realise the painful legacy of racial and economic prejudice are still to be found to this day. 

Kamau Ngengi was born in Kenya in 1894. At the time of his birth, the region was actually called British East Africa - a ridiculous concept until you remember that the British ruled over 25 per cent of the globe at one point. 

Raised among his Kikuyu people, away from regular contact with Whites, it was only when he became seriously ill and was treated by a Christian hospital that Ngengi became interested in a life previously unknown to him. He ran away from home to become a student at the Christian school attached to the hospital and paid his fees by working as a servant.

From the Christian school, Ngengi moved to Nairobi, working in various jobs and changing his name to Kenyatta. He joined growing protests against White minority rule in British East Africa in 1922. This path eventually led Kenyatta to become increasingly political. A period of study in Moscow, then the London School of Economics enabled him to articulate the value of respecting traditional lives as he gave evidence to an investigation into land ownership in Kenya. It was at this point he changed his first name to Jomo (“Burning Spear”). 

Kenyatta understood a key theme of African politics: all countries had to fight European oppression together. He was against the Italian occupation of Ethiopia and supported the newly-formed Pan-African Congress. 

Upon his return to Kenya, the Mau Mau Rebellion began. This eight year uprising against White minority rule captured the attention of the world. Kenyatta was blamed by British authorities for organising the rebellion and was subsequently arrested, tried and sentenced to seven years in prison. Eventually, however, the British knew they had to relinquish their cruel control of the region. Kenyatta became Prime Minister and eventually President for fourteen years. 

Under Kenyatta’s rule, Kenya was economically successful. After decades of fighting, he had proved that African nations could and should be led by Africans. 


 

 

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Nana Benz - Formidable Togo Traders

Hailing from Togo, the Nana Benz women were early pioneers in female financial power within the confines of a patriarchal African society.  

This group of women managed to handle a large percentage of the import and export business in Togo, located on the West Coast of Africa, next to Ghana. Their textiles trading skills were so important to the country, they can be hailed for contributing to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP is a way to measure a country’s economic health.)

The women specialised in a particular type of textile - wax printed fabrics in various colours and styles. Starting in the 1930s, even before independence, the women created a name for themselves with high quality printed cloth. Imported from Danish companies situated in Indonesia, women from African backgrounds would travel far to obtain the well-known Nana Benz’ fabrics. 

The name ‘Nana’ is a term of respect for a woman, such as a mother, grandmother or aunty. The nickname ‘Benz’ came from the women’s liking for the expensive German cars - at the time, they were the only people of Togo origin who were rich enough to be able to afford the cars. At one point, even the government would rent the Nana Benz’ vehicles for visiting dignitaries.  

Although many of the women were uneducated, they managed to become involved in politics. Madame Amedome was given responsibility for social welfare at one point. Unfortunately, economic disruption and political upheavals brought the Nana Benz’ dominance in the market to an end in the mid-90s.  

As ever with women who manage to forge success despite facing racial and sexual prejudice, they came to represent something inspirational and are still remembered respectfully.


 

 

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Nobel Peace Prize Winners - Gbowee and Sirleaf

Liberia, on the west coast of Africa, is a fascinating country. It was ‘founded’ in 1822 and had a problematic history from day one. It is important to remember that when we say ‘founded’ this ignores the fact that there were indigenous people who had inhabited the region for millennia before. 

When the formerly enslaved in America began to be freed, the American Colonization Society, under the guise of assistance, aimed to ship as many of these recently freed people back to Africa to help them live a life free of prejudice and poverty. It was clear, however, that this organisation’s motives were based on racism and a reluctance to suffer the prospect of freed Black people living their lives on American soil.  

Of the 4,571 people who arrived in Liberia between 1820 and 1843, only 1,819 survived. This is one of the most shocking mortality rates of immigrants to another country recorded in recent history. The Americo-Liberians, as they came to call themselves, needed assistance from America that was not always forthcoming. The USA refused to make Liberia a colony but its links with America meant it escaped the greedy ravages of the European scramble for Africa from 1885 - 1914. 

It was only in 1980 that Americo-Liberians lost political control of the country. The minority had ruled the country for all this time and, sadly, exhibited many of the race-based prejudices towards the indigenous population that America was infamous for. There were two violent civil wars (the first from 1989-1997 and the second from 1999-2003) that decimated the country. 

It is during the course of the second civil war that Leymah Gbowee rose to prominence. Her Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace helped bring the war to a close. Her 2003 speech to the president in the capital city, Monrovia was moving: “We are tired of war. We are tired of running. We are tired of begging for bulgar wheat. We are now taking this stand to secure the future of our children.” It illustrated the basic but necessary demands for equality. Gbowee and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf campaigned for free elections in Liberia until they managed to accomplish this in 2005 (Sirleaf won.) In 2011, both women were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their equality campaigning.


 

 

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Fela Kuti: A Joyous Resistance

Fela Kuti (1938-1997) was a Nigerian multi-instrumentalist, singer and activist. His music fused jazz, funk and highlife with traditional Yoruba music. Fela created the Afro Beat style of music and developed the form into a political weapon. With his long and rhythmic compositions, Fela addressed the social and structural issues which plagued his home nation of Nigeria.

Fela's joyful music, coupled with his frank, playful and antagonistic lyrics, took direct aim at the government and military. Kuti fearlessly called out the power imbalances and violence created by the country's relationship with oil and the corrupt political and military figures who wielded power.

Fela's musical activism did not come without consequences. One of his most well-known songs, Zombie, outwardly criticised the military. The government response was a raid of his compound, Kalakuta Republic. Fela, his wives (of which there were eventually 27) and others, including his mother, were brutally beaten by government forces. His mother, a feminist, activist and teacher, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, died from her injuries. Throughout his life, the Nigerian government imprisoned Fela on several occasions. His body was left scarred from successive attacks by authorities.

Despite ever-impending retaliation from political powers, Fela Kuti's music became increasingly political, challenging the brutality generated by capitalist and power-driven regimes. Performed in Pidgin English, Fela Kuti's songs united people across the African continent against the injustices inherent in the misuse of political power. Beyond Africa, his words and his acts of fearless resistance speak universally to the power of nonviolent protest and human courage.

 

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The Last King of Dahomey’s Resistance Against Colonialism

The kingdom of Dahomey (present-day Benin) was founded in the 17th century. King Ahidjere Behanzin was the last true king of Dahomey, and spent his five-year reign (1889-94) opposing the encroachment of European colonists. 

French colonial expansion into West Africa in the late 19th century, and efforts to suppress the slave trade, led to conflict between France and Dahomey. The French, who considered the Dahomey people savages, continued their expansion by establishing plantations on their land.

In retaliation, Behanzin developed a relationship with France’s European rivals, the Germans, who provided him with weapons. Behanzin and his Amazon warriors launched a series of brutal attacks against the French. 

The French, intent on colonising Dahomey before their European opponents could, retaliated viciously, killing hundreds of the Behanzin’s Amazons and forcing his surrender.

When finally defeated in 1894, the last king of Dahomey lamented: 

‘Where are now the ardent Amazons who were inflamed by a mighty anger? Who will praise their splendid sacrifice? Who will tell about their generosity? How could I accept any sort of abdication without them? How could I present myself to you, brave warriors, if I signed the general’s paper? For the survival of my people, [I agree] to meet in his country, according to his promise, the President of the French.’

Dahomey became a French colony and Behanzin was exiled from his homeland to the Caribbean island of Martinique, and later transferred to Algeria, where he lived out the last of his days. He died in 1906.

The kingdom of Dahomey became independent in 1960 and changed its name to Benin in 1975. A statue of Behanzin in Benin bears the inscription: ‘I will never accept to sign any treaty making us susceptible by alienating the independence of the ancestor’s land.'

 

Fiona Compton - Know Your Caribbean

Fiona Compton - Know Your Caribbean