The Fortunes of Africa: A 5 000 Year History of Wealth, Greed and Endeavour
By Martin Meredith
Published by Simon and Schuster (2016)
THE PATRIOT recently reviewed Martin Meredith’s The Fortunes of Africa: A 5 000 Year History of Wealth, Greed and Endeavour focusing on the history of Africa and paying particular attention to the social, economic and political development of Africa before she was invaded by foreigners.
Meredith says Africa had its unique development, so advanced that it resulted in the construction of ancient cities pyramids, monuments and sites that are still intact to date.
One’s mind will marvel at the excellence of Zimbabwe’s Great Zimbabwe, Egypt’s pyramids and Mali’s Timbuktu, among other cities and sites.
However, this week’s review brings a different aspect that traces the history of religion in Africa, showing how it was used by both Europeans and Arabs to penetrate the continent, while at the same time influencing and corrupting the African mind.
As a historian, Meredith uses his book to highlight the importance of African traditions to the social development and unity of African societies.
It is against this background that one can reflect on how the Rozvi of the Great Zimbabwe state established the sacred Njelele shrine in Matobo hills for rain-asking ceremonies.
Despite having or adhering to their own religion, Africans were exposed to foreign religions that include Christianity and Islam.
Without doubt, centuries after the introduction of both Christianity and Islam, scars of their dominance remain visible in the African minds and culture.
Africans have proved to be loyal to the doctrines of both Christianity and Islam.
Africa is an example of a continent that not only celebrates but follows religiously the doctrines of foreign religions.
As a result of the introduction of Christianity to Africa, the African man is presented as a ‘slave’ in bondage to the principles of Christianity.
So colonised is the African that he goes to the extent of regarding his/her religious practices as ‘archaic and demonic’.
Through foreign religions such as Islam, the African is in continual struggle with his/her kith and kin as a result of the wrong perceptions that some religions are superior to others.
One of the reasons for the existence of Boko Haram in Nigeria is the misconception that Islam is a superior religion.
In his book, Meredith says Christianity is one of the earliest religions to be introduced to Africa.
“By actively seeking converts to their faith, rather than making it exclusive, Christian preachers turned Christianity into a ‘universal’ religion that appealed to rich and poor alike, peasants as well as townsfolk,” writes Meredith.
The Fortunes of Africa: A 5,000 Year History of Wealth, Greed and Endeavour points out to the spread of Christianity in Africa as a dominant religion for the poor in both urban and rural areas.
Meredith writes: “In Egypt, the Christian Church, despite bouts of Roman persecution, went from strength to strength, much of it resulting from the respect to St Antony of the Desert and ascetic movement. By 400, the vast majority of Coptic–speaking Egyptians, perhaps 90 percent, counted themselves as Christians.”
It is through Meredith’s observations that one is able to understand reasons for the riches which the Christian church possess.
It is clear when missionaries invaded Africa, under the guise of spreading religion, they had some hidden agendas to pursue – one of them being to exploit Africa’s resources while the major one was to initiate colonialism.
“Gold was used by governments, princes and the Christian Church to finance wars and settle disputes; it was fashioned into jewellery, hoarded as treasure and exchanged for merchandise from India,” Meredith writes.
Today, despite being independent, many African states are still paying rent for various buildings which are still owned by churches that include the Roman Catholic and Anglican.
In Zimbabwe, the biggest Anglican Cathedral is the only church building whose walls abut the Parliament building.
And, every year rent is paid to the Anglican Church in England.
The Fortunes of Africa: A 5,000 Year History of Wealth, Greed and Endeavour also talks about the spread of Islam in Africa as a religion that became dominant in many African countries.
Writes Meredith: “The advent of Arab rule brought not only a new religion and a new language to North Africa but a new social order and code of law.
Arab Muslims were zealous in upholding the tenets of the Koran, the series of revelations that Muhammad is said to have received from God and that were written down by his disciplines.”
The spread of Islam saw Muslims penetrating and influencing social, political and economic setup of African societies.
Meredith gives evidence that Arab immigrants settled in Africa were favoured for posts in administration, thereby controlling the fortunes of Africa and taxing non-Muslims.
The next review of Meredith’s The Fortunes of Africa: A 5 000 Year History of Wealth, Greed and Endeavour will continue to explore how the fortunes of Africa were looted through slave trade and colonialism.