Africa: From partitioning to power – Part One

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AFRICA’s generic existence is a reproach to the violence, cruelty, colonialism, imperialism and selfishness of Western bondage and underdevelopment of the continent.  

In Zimbabwe, traditional ways were governed by the tenets of hunhu/ubuntu and unwritten divine laws of retribution.  

Ancient people were accommodating, diplomatic and cordial.  

The saying: “I am because we are,” prevailed throughout most of Africa as testimony to our humanitarianism.  

However, while Africa was not always nirvana, with inter-tribal and succession wars, the people were masters of their own destiny.

Africa, with its great diversity of ethnicities, cultures and languages, encompasses an area of approximately 30 300 000 km2, and is the second largest of the five continents that include Europe, America (north and south) Asia and Australia.  

It is sited between the Mediterranean in the north, the Atlantic in the west, the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean in the east and is connected to Asia by the Isthmus of Suez.

African people have lived in Africa for over three million years. The continent is widely believed to be the birthplace of modern man, where some of the world’s greatest civilisations emerged – such as the Egyptian, the first known major African civilisation, and Nubian societies on the Nile (much of Nubia is now submerged under Lake Nasser).  

With a population exceeding 1,1 billion (2013) people, it possesses a rich and varied history, diversity of ethnicities and cultures with over 800 languages. 

It is a huge continent, second only to Asia, which possesses extremely rich and diverse environments, from dry deserts to dense rain forests. 

Some are conducive to trade, others are surrounded by rich mineral resources, while others possess rich soil suitable for farming and plateau regions suitable for cattle grazing.

In c.4000 BC, Egyptians were cultivating crops and by c.3500, had evolved into the early Egyptian states unifying Lower and Upper Egypt.  

From the building of massive pyramids that still stand today, to the development of hieroglyphics (a complex written language), to the creation of the plough, Egyptian civilisation profoundly shaped world civilisation and the concept of agriculture and food security.

The Sahara Desert divides the continent unequally into North Africa and Africa south of the Sahara.  

North Africa, in close proximity with Europe and West Asia, was the centre of early civilisation which is now predominantly inhabited by Arabs.  

Sub-Saharan Africa, mainly inhabited by San people, was said to be comparatively removed from the rest of the world until the 19th Century.

During the 18th and 19th Centuries, Africa was colonised by European imperial powers, mainly Portugal, Britain, France, Germany, Belgium and, to a lesser degree, Italy and Spain. 

Today, the African continent embraces 54 independent sovereign nations; most of which have retained the borders drawn up by European colonisers. 

However, European exploration of Africa did not start there.  

It began with the Ancient Greeks and Romans when Alexander ‘the Great’ was welcomed as a liberator in Persian-occupied Egypt in 332 BC and founded Alexandria. 

Alexandria became the prosperous capital of the Ptolemaic Dynasty after his death, and remains Egypt’s capital to this day.  The Roman Empire conquered the North Africa’s Mediterranean coastline and integrated the area economically and culturally into the Roman system. 

Roman settlements were established in modern-day Tunisia and elsewhere along the coastline and were ruled (colonised) by ancient Rome. 

There are four main African linguistic groups – Khoisan, Afro-Asiatic, Nilo-Saharan and Niger-Congo, commonly referred to as Bantu languages. 

Linguistic similarities exist in Bantu languages from Nigeria to Mozambique.  

Societies, such as the Zulu, Fang, Shona, Kikuyu, Swahili, Tswana, Herero and Kongo, all are Bantu-language speakers. Their languages share similarities in structure, grammar and key words. 

Today, there are more than 400 Bantu languages in Africa, all linked together, similar to the number of European languages derived from Latin. 

With the absence of written languages, African societies favoured oral tradition. 

Stories and oral histories documented the past and were handed down from generation to generation.  

However, many of these oral histories have either been forgotten or distorted after being retold by each passing generation or completely subsumed by Western colonisation. 

Africa’s civilisations have undergone many changes since Roman rule, to the dawn and indignation of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and centuries of colonial domination, to the disproportionate commerce of today.  

Environment and climate have also altered over time – the Sahara Desert once, once a fertile grassland, began to dry up around 2000 BC as rainfall diminished. 

Civilisations adapted to these changes while societies developed in areas conducive to agriculture or trade.

While African civilisation was, and remains, extremely diverse, sophisticated and varied, their common experiences, resilience and the ability of the African people to adapt to the changes that beset them, from early State formation to the present day, have helped the people and civilisations to adapt to the challenges and changes imposed on them.

Africa was profoundly impaired by Western influences.

Pre-colonial Africa possessed as many as 10 000 different states and polities characterised by many different political organisations and rule. 

These included small family groups of hunter-gatherers, such as the San people of Southern Africa, to larger, organised groups such as family clans of central, southern and eastern Africa.  

Prominent pre-colonial African civilisations were Egypt, Nubia, Ghana, Mali, Carthage, Zimbabwe and Kongo. 

In West Africa, the empires of Sudan, Ghana, Mali and Songhai flourished.  

In central Southern Africa, Great Zimbabwe, established around 1250 AD, emerged as the most complex civilisation throughout the region extending to parts of Botswana, Mozambique and the northern half of South Africa. 

Here, the people of Zimbabwe created elaborate civilisations, exploiting the mineral wealth and agro-botanical resources of their land.  

MaDzimbahwe’s Munhumutapa empires and Changamire dynasties built permanent stone structures and traded with their neighbours and ultimately established a large trading network throughout the sub-Saharan region, North Africa, near east and beyond.  

The structures at Great Zimbabwe are the largest and second-oldest in sub-Saharan Africa.

With the formation of States came the development of modern civilisations with common languages, belief and value systems, religions, art, lifestyles and cultures.

Dr Tony Monda holds a DVM and is currently researching Agronomy, Farming and Veterinary epidemiology in Zimbabwe.

For views and comments, email: tonym.MONDA@gmail.com

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