The attitudes of British colonial authorities towards their subjects are reflected in Oginga Odinga’s memories of his childhood in a Kenyan village. The British government took over Kenya in 1895 after the privately sponsored East Africa Company failed to keep order or find sufficient revenues to reward investors. Although Kenya became one of the few African colonies to receive a large number of white settlers, Oginga Odinga’s village in the remote southwest Nyanza region seldom saw white people. By this time (shortly before World War I) the British had perfected a system of administration that required fewer costly European functionaries and placed responsibility for carrying out government policies in the hands of natives. In this process of “indirect rule” the British appointed headmen or chiefs to serve as intermediaries between villagers and remote district or provincial administrators who were British. Odinga’s memoir describes some of the complexity in the roles of these natives who received enhanced opportunities, wealth, and status from the government, but at the risk of being isolated from their own people.
Oginga Odinga estimated that he was born in 1911 or 1912. He was educated at an English school and became a teacher. In the 1940s he emerged as a leader of the Luo people in his native Nyanza district, pressing for economic development and political rights for Africans. He was the first vice president of independent Kenya, but quickly parted from nationalist leader Jomo Kenyatta because of his insistence that Kenya should have a multiparty political system. After his death in 1994 Odinga was honored for a lifetime of involvement in nationalist and democratic politics in Kenya.
Oginga Odinga, Not Yet Uhuru. New York: Hill and Wang (1967): 1–3, 15–16, 20–22.
Abstract and Key Words
In 1950 the government of South Africa passed apartheid legislation known as the Group Areas Act No. 41, which required South Africans to reside only with members of their own race. At that time, the South African government recognized four racial groups: Black, white, “colored,” and Indian (South Asian). “Colored” encompassed mixed race people, as well as immigrants from Malaysia. Prior to 1950 many people lived in predominantly black, white or “colored,” areas, but mixed residential areas also existed—including a vibrant area of Cape Town called “District Six,” which was razed to the ground, and its non-white inhabitants forcibly removed. After the passage of Group Areas Act No. 41, an estimated three million people were involuntarily moved to segregated areas.
John A. Hobson
John Atkinson Hobson (1858–1940) grew up during an economic depression in England that ultimately shifted his intellectual interests from literature to economics. One of his major contributions is the theory of under-consumption, which argues that low consumer demand and high supply of goods will lead to a sluggish economy. Hobson also held that imperialism could be stripped down to economic interests by the mother country: it was no more than a search for new capitalist markets. This selection explores Hobson’s observed relationships among economy, international struggle, imperialism, and nationalism.
From John A. Hobson, Imperialism and the Lower Races. New York: James Pott and Co., 1902, part II, chapter IV.
‘Abd al-‘Azīz al-Bakrī
Al-Bakrī was born in Spain, and it appears that he never left that country. However, he collected information from people he met who had traveled to the Sahara and the Sudan, and he published his findings in a work called The Book of Routes and Realms (Kitāb al-masālik wa-’l-mamālik). Al-Bakrī, who died in 1094, was famous for his curiosity about the geography, languages, and natural landscape of places he had not himself visited. The greater part of his major book is still unpublished, but the following section provides insight into the changing religious landscape in Ghana in the early eleventh century.
‘Abd al-‘Azīz al-Bakrī, “Ghāna and the Customs of Its Inhabitants,” trans. J. F. P. Hopkins, in N. Levtzion and J. F. P. Hopkins, Corpus of Early Arabic Sources for West African History (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 79–81.
In the medieval period Ethiopia became a multiethnic, multilingual, and multireligious state in which the kings limited the church’s conversion efforts. Nevertheless, the kings continued to emphasize their Christian identity, and this factor is reflected in their adoption and endorsement of the Fetha Nagast, or Law of the Kings, in the mid-fifteenth century. This legal code had originally been written in Arabic by a Coptic Christian in Egypt, probably in the mid-thirteenth century. While living under Muslim rule, the Copts were allowed to adopt portions of Justinian’s law code and the resolutions of church councils for their own governance. Translated from Greek, and with many Biblical passages added, the code connected Egyptian Christians to their Byzantine, Roman, and Judeo-Christian heritage, founding the basis of law squarely in that tradition. The Ethiopian monarchs had the Arabic source translated into Ge’ez (the state language of Ethiopia at the time), and the translator added a section on kingship, a portion of which is offered below. The Law of the Kings remained the law in Ethiopia until 1930, when Emperor Haile Selassie I issued the country’s first modern constitution.
Excerpt from The Fetha Nagast, trans. Paulos Tzadua, ed. Peter L. Strauss (Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 2009), 271–273.
Samuel Clemens (1835–1910), who took his pen name from a command shouted on riverboats, was the quintessential American writer: his major works The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are classics about the American experience. A humorist, Twain borrowed and responded to current political material in his works. This essay provides a satirical yet scathing depiction of King Leopold II of Belgium, whom Twain condemned as a heartless imperialist for his destructive policies in the Belgian Congo. Consider how Twain gets his point across while nonetheless speaking from King Leopold’s point of view.
From King Leopold’s Soliloquy: A Defense of His Congo Rule, By Mark Twain. Boston: The P. R. Warren Co., 1905. Second Edition
Nzinga Mbemba (Afonso I)
A Portuguese sailor came into contact with the Kingdom of Kongo, which occupied a vast territory along the Congo River in central Africa, in 1483. When he returned in 1491, he was accompanied by Portuguese priests and Portuguese products, and in the same year the Kongolese king and his son were baptized as Catholics. When the son succeeded his father in 1506, he took the Christian name Afonso and promoted the introduction of European culture and religion within his kingdom. His son Henrique was educated in Portugal and became a Catholic bishop. However, Afonso’s kingdom began to deteriorate in subsequent decades, as the Portuguese made further inroads into his territory, pursuing ruthless commercial practices and trading in slaves captured in his dominions. In 1526, the king sent desperate letters to King João III of Portugal, urging him to control his own subjects and to respect the alliance—and the common Catholic faith—that bound the Europeans and the Africans together.
In 1807 most of the countries involved in the centuries-long Atlantic slave trade signed an international agreement to abolish the shipments of Africans to the western hemisphere. The British Royal Navy established a west Africa duty station to intercept smugglers of contraband human cargo. Africans freed by the British were returned to Freetown in Sierra Leone. Surrounded by strangers and often far from their native lands, many stayed to be educated at schools set up by the Church of England’s Church Missionary Society (CMS). Often they converted to Christianity, and their knowledge of two very different worlds helped European missionaries to reach peoples of the interior.
Perhaps the most famous African to follow the path described above was Samuel Crowther (c. 1806–1891). As a young teenager Crowther was captured and sold to Portuguese slave traders. Leaving the Nigerian port of Lagos, the ship carrying him to South America was spotted by a Royal Navy squadron, which took Crowther and his fellow captives to Freetown. There Crowther was one of the first students at the Church Missionary Society’s Fourah Bay College. He became a teacher and evangelical Christian with strong ideas on the value of the Christian message for Africans. In 1841 he joined the First Niger Expedition to explore commercial and missionary opportunities away from the Nigerian coast. The mission is usually considered a failure. As was frequently the case, most Europeans could not survive the diseases they encountered in the African interior, and many of the party died. But Crowther proved himself to the British as a translator and intermediary with the village peoples. In 1842 he was sent to England for training and ordination in the Church of England.
When Crowther returned to Africa, the mission he established among the Yoruba people became a model for others. As much as possible, each mission community became self-sufficient, so that it would not be dependent on the villages around it. The residents grew cash crops that authorities hoped would replace revenues lost with the abolition of slavery, ran schools for the young, wore western clothes, and accepted any tribal peoples who wished to receive education and learn of the Christian religion. Crowther was so successful in managing the Yoruba and Niger missions that he was invited back to England to be consecrated as bishop of the Niger territories, a huge tract reaching from Nupe in the north to the Niger Delta along the coast. He was the first African to reach such a position in the Anglican Church.
Samuel Crowther, Journal of an Expedition up the Niger and Tshadda Rivers. London: Church Missionary House (1855): xiii–xviii.
A prominent Liberian, West African, and pan-African figure, Edward Wilmot Blyden advocated for the rights and abilities of Africans (and people of African descent) to govern themselves. Born in the Virgin Islands to free black parents in 1832, he lived briefly in Venezuela and the United States before emigrating to Liberia at the age of eighteen. Liberia had been founded by liberated American slaves on the west coast of Africa in 1822, and Blyden was fully engaged in the project of establishing a Liberian identity, based on the intellectual and political development of the nation’s citizens. Blyden was appointed professor of classics at Liberia College in 1862. In his quest to make the college (the first secular English-speaking institution of higher learning in sub-Saharan Africa) more relevant to Liberia, he began teaching Arabic in 1867. He was also a significant figure in Liberian politics, serving as secretary of state (1864–1866) and an advisor to the reformist President Roye after 1870. In this address, celebrating Liberian independence, Blyden compares his nation’s constitution with that of the United States, promoting the benefits of reform and self-government for his fellow citizens.
Black Spokesman: Selected Published Writings of Edward Wilmot Blyden, ed. Hollis R. Lynch (London: Frank Cass, 1971), 77–79.
Ghana Census Office
Abstract and Keywords
The kingdom of Ghana was originally an ancient and medieval Sudanese kingdom on the Guinea Coast with no fixed political boundaries and no single ethnic or national identity. Each community preserved its historical traditions and political autonomy. After what is present-day Ghana became the British Gold Coast Colony in the late nineteenth century, the boundaries of this new entity were set by colonial administrators. Decolonization after World War II brought independence in 1957, the first for an African country south of the Sahara.
The colonial history of Tanzania (then known as Tanganyika) bears many similarities to the experiences of other African colonies. The primary intention of both the German and British colonizers was the extraction of raw materials to be processed and sold in Europe. But although the production of such cash crops as cotton, coffee, sisal, and peanuts was ultimately dependent upon low-cost African labor, there was very little reciprocal European investment in local food production, education, or public health. Overall, the colonial economy in Tanzania (as in most other African colonies) was created by Europeans to serve their interests and their profits, and for many decades Tanzania was a net exporter of goods and wealth to Europe.
When Tanzanians began to demand self-rule in the 1950s, they found a ready leader and eloquent spokesman in Julius Nyerere, known fondly as mwalimu, or teacher in the national language of Kiswahili. Nyerere was born in a small rural village in colonial Tanzania in 1922, and as a young boy, he is reputed to have walked twenty-six miles to attend one of the few primary schools established by British missionaries. His superior academic performance and hard work led to a scholarship to study at Makerere University in neighboring Uganda, and later he became the first Tanzanian to study at a British University (the University of Edinburgh). Graduating with an M.A. in history and economics, Nyerere left Britain and returned to Tanzania in 1952, where he taught for several years.
In the 1950s, Nyerere became increasing involved in the national struggle for Tanzanian independence. In 1954, he founded the Tanganyika Africa National Union (TANU), a broad-based political party that advocated self-rule through national unity and nonviolent protest. After a period of difficult and protracted negotiations, Britain agreed to grant Tanzania complete independence in 1961, and Nyerere was duly elected president in the nations first democratic elections. Serving four successive terms from 1961 to 1985, Nyerere emerged as one of Africas most popular, respected, and idealistic leaders. He was one of the founders of the Organization of African Unity, a leader of the international nonaligned movement during the Cold War, and an active opponent of racism and apartheid in colonial Zimbabwe (Rhodesia) and South Africa.
Julius Nyerere, Socialism and Rural Development, in Freedom and Socialism: A Selection from Writings and Speeches 19651967, 33739, 340, 34548, 35152, 36466. Copyright 1968 Oxford University Press, Inc.
Twice Prime Minister of Britain, Sir Winston Churchill (1874–1965) led his country in uncompromising opposition to Nazi Germany during World War II. In addition to his prodigious political activity spanning a half century in government, Churchill was also a prolific writer—he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953. His work The River War recounts his participation in the Mahdist War, an insurgency by Sudanese against Anglo-Egyptian colonial power. This selection describes the bloody Battle of Omdurman (1898), which established British control in Sudan. While ten thousand Mahdists were killed, the British force under Kitchener lost fewer than fifty men. Consider how evocative imagery and selection of information reveal Churchill’s point of view.
From Winston Churchill, The River War: An Account of the Reconquest of the Sudan. New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1902.
The chiefdom of Ijebu encompassed a capital and villages on a territory of 22 square miles, surrounded by a deep moat and towering rampart almost 100 miles long. The iron-saturated soil would have made the construction process very difficult, especially since the labor was achieved with nothing more than iron shovels. This line drawing illustrates what archaeologists believe to have been the arrangement of a typical cross section of this structure. It is named for Bilikisu Sungo, a mythical priestess-queen who was credited with ordering the construction of the moat and rampart.
By Nyame Akuma, 1998