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Friday, May 25, 2018




The Pre-African Societies refers to the african social information before the coming the intruders especially the colonizers. The history of Pre-African Societies is very complex and with contradictions in the narrations given by historical scholars.  Various Historians have got the various views about the african society before the coming of the Whites, the schools of thoughts are two i.e the Afro-centric Historians visa vie the Euro-Centric Historians


This is an outlook of European historians on they interpret and view the Pre-Colonial Africa social formation in idealistics way of thinking, it is mostly advocated by conservative bourgeosie concepts. It approaches African history in a racist way, for example the reasons given by the europeans nations for colonizing Africa was the responsibility of Whites to civilize the backward people of Africa. Such answer lacks historical support, so they aim at only justifying their act of colonizing Africa but no spelling out the truth. And one among the prominent scholars in this school of thought is George W. F. Hegel.    

Content of Euro-Centric View

According the Euro-Centric View, before the establishment of colonialism in Africa all the African societies were classless, with no political, social and cultural development of any kind. What existed was only darkness, and darkness is not a subject of history that implies that nothing can be written from African history than its darkness.

The life was stagnant and static with no change of any kind, no any level of development, backwardness of all sorts like living naked, eating raw food, stateless, barbaric, chaotic and uncivilized disorder was the order of the day. For example Henry M. Stanley a European explorer reported that he found the Ngoni killing left-right during the Mfecane period, and it was him who saved the society from total collapse by introducing colonialism.

George W. F. Hegel and  Henry M. Stanley

The outlook goes further by asserting that colonialism is a blessing in Africa because it brought social transformation and developlment in Africa. They do argue that if colonialism had not taken place in Africa, Africa was at the verge of total collapse. That africans were savages  and had nothing like culture and customs in their customs in their societies. 

Analysis of the Euro-Centric View

At the level of analysis the Euro-Centric outlook is misleading, the view has no similarity to the truth about the reality of the Pre-Colonial Africa, it hides the reality about the pre-colonial Social formation. The outlook undermines the concept of motive force i.e. change which is the foundation of human struggle which enabled the Pre-Colonial African Societies to obtain political, social and ecolopment.

The explanations offered by Euro-centric scholars are explanations which suit the interest of countries which exploited the rest of the World through trade and investment. It tries to justify the presence and exploitation of African societies. The Euro-centric outlook is not correct and it can not be valid in explaining the Pre-colonial social formation in Africa.

It should be made clear that Africans were not static as the Whitemen are trying to deceive the World so as to justify their barbaric act of colonialism. Ans the fact is that, the level of development of the World towards the 15th century was almost the same. 


It is an outlook which interprets the Pre-colonial African social formation in a Marxist way of thinking, and it is advocated by the Marxist historians mainly of African origin such as Walter Rodney, Franz Fanon and Cheikh Anta Diop. The outlook is traced from the 1960’s when many African countries were achieving political independence. In this period the view was further intergrated by nationalistic leaders and historians to counter attack the Euro-centric historians who were not giving the Africans a place below the Sun.

Walter Rodney, Franz Fanon and Cheikh Anta Diop

The Content of Afro-Centric View

At the level of analysis the Afro-centric outlook is correct since it is objective. It is right and useful outlook. The African societies before colonialism were dynamic, changing and some had obtained big political and economic development.

Evidence Showing that the Pre Colonial African Societies were not Static, Barbaric and Uncivilized

1. Modes of Production. 
This is relationship between production and productive forces. The pre-colonial African societies passed through various moded of production which started with primitive communalism where people lived in small communal groups and slept mainly in rock shelters did not keep domestic animals or cultivated the land, they ate wild roots and vegetable. Then developed to advanced communalism where man begun domestication and agriculture practicing, and lastly feudalism where private ownership started. All these are signs that show the African societies were changing from the lower stage to the upper stage.

2. Existence of Education. 
The pre-conial African societies had education in their societies both formal and informal but informal was more dominant that largely depended on the environment of a given society. It was largely for survival for the members of each society, most of the education in the pre-colonial societies was informal that varied from one society to another. Also formal education was provided at the University of Timbuktu in Mali something shows that pre-colonial African societies were not static or unchanging, they were moving forward.

3. Occurrence of Neolithic Revolution. 
The discovery of iron was  was a significant age whereby man discovered iron and its application. This occurred about 1500 BC, iron provided a better cutting edge than copper or bronze, agriculture increased using iron hoes, domesticastion of animals, migration, population growth and trade were all as a result of Neolithic Revolution. The Bantu speaking people were the first of all smelted the iron in the long trenches in the ground then in the land blown clay furnaces using charcoal as fuel. The iron was was then made into arrows head and spears, head axes and small trinket and razors. Thus the pre-colonial African societies were changing.

4. Existence of Strong Political System. 
The pre-colonial African societies had centralized and decentralized political set up which were able to expand and build strong empires like Buganda, Ethiopia, Nyamwezi, Bunyoro, Asante, Ghana, Mali, Songhai, Ethiopia among others that were even able to resist the intruders bravery. Such centralized had standind army with outstanding leaders like Kabaka Mutesa of Buganda, Theodore of Ethiopia among others. These were clear vsigns that the African societies were organised and moving forward.

5. Existence of Strong and Technology. 
The pre-colonial African societies were developing various science and technology which began with the discovery of fire, iron smelting, mining,bark cloth making etc that was enough to shoe that African societies were changing from one level to another level.

6. Existence of Agriculture. 
The africans practised agriculture as their major economic activity, it was mostly for substence such agriculture included permanent agriculture, mixed agriculture, shifting cultivation and pastoralism which acted as the backbone of their livelihood.

7. Existence of Trade. 
The African societies conducted trading activities, long distance trade was dominant in the East and Central Africa, Trans-Saharan trade in the Northern and Western Africa. And the medium of exchange was through barter system.

8. Changing of Stone Ages. 
The pre-colonial African societies changed from Early Stone Age to Middle Stone Age when hunting and fruit gathering were the common activities up to the Modern or New or Late Stone Age then Neolothic Revolution occurred that made agriculture and pastoralism to be the major economic activities. These are indications that African societies were on the move and not stagnated.

9. Existence of various culture, norms and taboos. 
The pre-colonial African societies had their various norms, culture, traditions, taboos which guided them, and anybody who went against them was punished.

Timbuktu University, Mali


A mode of production is a combination of productive forces and social relations of production. It is the way people relate to the physical world and the way they relate to each other in a specific and necessary ways for a long period of time.

Mode of production is historically distinctive because it is a self-reproducing whole that perpetuates itself for a long time. When however new productive forces or new social relations develop which contradicts the existing mode of production, the social relation begins to collapse to give room for a new social order - a new Mode of Production.

Pre-colonial Africa had two main modes of production; Primitive Communalism and Feudalism. Though some societies had slave holding systems, the Slave Mode of Production did not develop into a fully-fledged mode of production in Africa. By the beginning of the 19th C, most African societies were still in the Communal Mode of Production; a few in a kind of Slave Mode and some in Feudal Mode. Nonetheless, communalism was still dominant in the continent so that even Feudal and Slave holding societies contained communal elements.

PRIMITIVE COMMUNALISM (Communal Mode of Production)

Primitive Communalism was the first mode of production in the development of man and society. The mode is called “primitive” because it was the first and with very low level of productive forces and called “communalism” because of the collective ownership of means of production and without exploitation of man by man of any kind. The mode is also referred to as Non-antagonistic system due absence of contradicting classes in it.

It was the first stage on which the development of human society began. Thus it is a system of life from which the evolution of society started, covering the periods of stone, bronze and even iron ages. Being the first mode of production, Primitive Communalism existed for a much longer period than the modes of production that followed like Slave and the Feudal modes.

Primitive communalism is still practiced by some hunting and gathering and pastoral societies in Africa. The slow pace or reluctance to adopt new life standards, the nature of their environment being either thick forested or arid or semi arid and less population in areas they live dictate the primitive mode of life on such societies like; the Mbuti Pygmies and the Twa (Congo equatorial forests), Tindiga and Hadzabe (central Tanzania), Dorobo and Pokot (Kenya), Karamajong (Uganda), Gala (Somaliland) and the Khoikhoi and Sans (southern Africa). While the Mbuti, Twa, and Sans are hunters and gatherers, the rest are nomadic pastoralists.

The Khoi Khoi

Features of Primitive Communalism

1. Collective ownership of the means of production. 
All providence objectives like land, animals, labour and tools were communally owned. People had to live together and jointly conduct production activities for survival. Since ownership and labour were communal, there was more or less equal distribution of property and products of labour.

2. Low level of productive forces. 
Technology was at the lowest stage that the instruments of labour were rudimentary. During the Stone Age for example, man used tools made of sticks and stones. Due to that, man depended much on the provisions of nature and thus major means of livelihood were hunting and gathering; only a few societies practiced primitive farming. With low productive forces man produce little for his consumption alone.

3. Classlessness. 
Absence of class contradictions was due to low population and low development of productive forces. Low population meant that resources were plenty so no struggle by man to control them. People lived, worked and shared equally together. Hence there were no exploiters and exploited which is caused by class differentiations.

4. Low division of labour and specialisation. 
This was a result of limited productive skills and activities. One’s gender or age dictated his/her responsibility. Men went hunting and gathering or for war, women and girls for domestic duties that included looking after children. Boys looked after herds while old men stayed at home making tools.

5. Low population. 
There were small and scattered communities of kin and kith groups. Each group occupied its own territory from which it searched, for food. Collisions between communities were rear as they were separated from each other by large tracks of land. Low population allowed communal living due to plenty of resources that limited class formation.

6. Stateless societies. 
People lived in small groups of kinship. Family heads formed the council of society governance. The absence of dominant classes meant no need for rulers. Also mans needs were limited to his consumption hence limited chaos and wars that would need strict laws and armies. In such a situation man did not need states to organise society.

7. Fully democratic. Communal societies enjoyed full democracy. Decision making involved the entire body of adult member of society regardless of sex. Due to low populations and absence of dominant classes of rulers, the entire society population of elders formed the assembly and equal chances were given to all to make decisions.

In this early stage of development of society, man entirely relied on the provision of nature due low development of productive forces. Nevertheless, this does not tell that society was static. Due to curiosity or the drive to arrest his challenges, man arrived at certain inventions. Among them was the discovery of fire which changed his live as he changed diet, protected, warmed himself and cleared more land; transformation from a nomadic life to permanent settlement that allowed him make more changes to his life, notably the Neolithic Revolution.

Neolithic Revolution in Pre-colonial African societies

Neolithic means the later part of the Stone Age. Neolithic Revolution was the first agricultural revolution when man began domestication of animals and plants in the later part of Stone Age. It was the major change in human life marked by the beginning of farming as man moved from food gathering to food producing.

The revolution was man’s invention in his struggle to master and control his environment by increasing his labour productivity. It describes man’s transition from nomadic hunting and gathering to permanent settlement and agriculture. The domestication of crops and animals assured man of food and protection.

Neolithic Revolution

Factors for the Neolithic Revolution

The factors responsible for the Neolithic Revolution were:

1. Improvement in productive forces. 
Advancement of skills and technology increased man’s ability to master and control nature. Notably, the use of iron tools enabled man to open land for farming and settlement. Likewise he could easily protect or distance himself from dangerous animals and enemies.

2. Population increase. 
Expansion of families conditioned man to adopt permanent settlement. It made it difficult for man to continue with the nomadic life. Expanded families also increased labour to till the land for man’s essential provisions like food. This certainly conditioned man to domesticate some crops and animals.

3. Changes in climatic conditions. 
Ecological changes made man’s life difficult to entirely depend on nature for his vital provisions. In the areas where climate became hotter like in arid areas, man adopted some animals like cattle to provide him food while in wet climate he adopted crop cultivation to attain food.

4. Impact of man’s curiosity. 
Man made a number of discoveries from his experimentations and through trial and error. By such means man discovered crops and animals which he could put under his care and that can provide him with needs he desired like food and security.

5. Need for security. 
Early man lived in constant danger like attacks by wild animals. The threats of that kind stimulated his innovation and thus discovered how to control the situation. That resulted in domestication of some animals like dogs which protected or alerted him in case of danger.

6. Increase in the division of labour. 
The division of labour led to specialization and specification of duties and responsibilities. As men went hunting and gathering, women stayed home looking after children. Staying at home by women made the domestication of crops and animals necessary and easy because they could take care of them.

Socio-Economic Changes brought by the Neolithic Revolution

1. First and foremost was permanent settlement. 
The domestication of crops and animals necessitated man to abandon a nomadic life for permanent settlement living style because the domesticated crops and animals required more attention hence occupied man for most of his time. Permanent settlement enabled him provide security to his livestock and crops. 

2.Population expansion. 
This was mainly a result of increased food production and permanent settlement. Increase in birth rates was vital to offset increase in death rates and that required settled occupation of territory that encouraged population expansion. In permanently settled communities, population expanded faster due to the sharing of child raising responsibilities.

3. Extension of the division of labour. 
The division of labour went beyond the lines of sex and age to community level due the Neolithic Revolution. The specification of occupation was now dictated by the society’s environment. For example areas with abundant rainfall specialised in farming of permanent crops, while arid and semi-arid areas were pastoralists.

4. Rise of social classes of exploiters and exploited. 
The upper classes of leaders and people with special duties like diviners and healers, who though did not directly engage in production, organised certain aspects of production and utilised the accumulated wealth produced by others (their subjects). They dominated their communities by means of property control and decision making. For example while as land could be collectively owned by the community but it was entrusted to the leaders to distribute it.

5. Development of socio-political organisations. 
Population increase and permanent settlement allowed the development of new social, economic and political institutions such as leadership, law, and army needed for man’s welfare. Besides, increase in population reduced land gaps separating societies and thus prompted closely related neighbouring societies to unify. Leaders of the adjoined societies formed governance councils to organise society.

6. Production of surplus. 
This was made possible with division of labour (specialisation) and improvement in productive forces that helped man improve his productive skills. This helped man produce enough for consumption and surplus for exchange.

7. Increased energy possibilities. 
Domestication of animals like oxen, donkeys, horses and camels made man access more energy possibilities. Such animals facilitated intensive subsistence farming as man could open more land for farming. Also improved transport that enable man to move for long and short distances for trade and other issues like adventure.

8. Conflicts and wars. 
The increase in population and improvement of productive forces, contributed to scarcity of resources that led to conflicts and wars. Societies with greater improvement of productive like iron technology plundered and expanded into others to grab them of their resources like land, livestock and food.

9. Spread of diseases. 
The domestication of animals and permanent settlement spread diseases easily than during the period of hunting and gathering. Inadequate sanitation and man’s closeness to animals was the cause in the spread of environmental and animal diseases such as Small Pox, Measles and Nagana/Sleeping Sickness that attacked man and his livestock.


Slave Mode of Production was that within which the relations of production that existed was of two classes of Slave Masters and Slaves. The Slave Master owned the means of production that included the slaves as his private property. The slave was owned as instrument of labour so he was disowned of whatsoever rights and freedom. It was the second mode of production in human history and the first notorious form of exploitation, suppression and humiliation.

Slaves were involuntarily held under the control of another person, group, organisation, or state. That is, they were the unfree labour held against their will.

Slave Mode of Production

Features of Slave Mode Production

1. Existence of classes. 
Two major antagonistic classes existed with the Slave Mode of Production; the Slave Masters and the Slaves. The Slave Mater owned wealth like land and the salves themselves as his instruments of labour. The slaves owned nothing since even his life and labour belonged to his master.

2. Private ownership of means of production. 
Property ownership was enjoyed by the Slave Masters who owned the means of production, the slaves and the products made by the slaves. The slave owned no property but instead was himself owned as instrument of production.

3. Exploitation relations. 
Slave Masters exercised notorious exploitation on the Slaves. On top of being held against their will, the Slaves were overworked to produce surplus for the master and in return he gained nothing but only very little means for subsistence like food.

4. Advanced productive forces. 
The Slave Mode of Production had more improved science and technology compared to Primitive Communalism. The notable development was iron technology that enabled surplus production for Slave Masters (rulers) who engaged in trade and built states for their protection.

5. Emergence of state. 
state emerged as a tool of class domination by the Slave Masters. State apparatuses like the military and laws were put in place for security purposes, to supervise slave labour, maintain discipline among the slaves or subjects and therefore maintain production for the Slave Masters.

6. The system was undemocratic and lacked respect for humanity. 
The status of a slave was not that of a human being since he was owned as property an instrument of labour. In that situation, the slaves were denied all sorts of individual, socio-economic and political rights.

7. Class struggles. 
The antagonistic relations of the Slaves and the Slave Masters developed frequent conflicts between the two classes. The conflicts were struggles of slaves against exploitation and denial of freedom by the slave masters. Slaves could destroy their masters’ properties like farms and others could run away (escape).

8. Development of Trade. 
Societies under the Slave Mode of Production developed trading contacts due to surplus production. The possession of extra labour provided by Slaves and advancement in productive forces enabled the Slave Masters produce in surplus. The surplus products were then exposed for exchange for what the Master lacked.

Origin of the Slave Mode of Production

The basis of Slave Mode of Production was the development of technology (productive forces) and class differentiations.

1. Advancement in technology. 
The development of productive forces, in particular, the use of iron was the major factor for the development of classes or societal differentiations on which slavery stand. It improved labour productivity to enable man open more land for farming and other activities like mining and trade. Societies with this technology became more powerful, and their increased desire for wealth led them to control others for extra labour hence slavery.

2. Development of division of labour. 
This also was responsible for social differentiation within the communal system. Development of personal skills, talent and experiences led to specialisation in different fields such as medicine, tool making, trade and farming. Such divisions led to classes and inequalities in distribution of material wealth. It was from such groups that rulers emerged to dominate and enslave others for power and wealth.

3. Development of trade. 
Trade called for production expansion to avail the surplus needed for exchange. To produce the surplus extra labour was needed. To avail extra labour those with wealth and power forced the weak and poor into slavery to work for them. More powerful societies with improved productive forces attacked their weak neighbours and enslaved them.

4. The role of state. 
The state and its military apparatuses emerged as a tool of class domination by the Slave Masters but also were crucial in the development and sustenance of the slave Mode of Production. State armies raided weak neighbouring communities for slaves supervise slaves labour and maintain discipline among the slaves.

5. Population expansion. 
This was mainly due to permanent settlement and food production. Population expansion led to shortage of means of production like land. In the struggle to control the scarce resources there emerged antagonistic classes of haves (the rich) and have-nots (poor). The rich subjugated the poor into slavery to produce them the surplus.

Slavery in Africa

The Slave Mode of Production did not develop in any African society in full sense of a mode of production though there were a few slave holding societies. That means that slavery did exist but a Slave Mode of Production as a complete institution never existed in Africa.

A few slave holding societies were found in North Africa, West African, South Africa and along the East African coast. Slave labour was employed in building cities, worked in mining and agriculture societies that practiced slavery. They as well served as domestic servants, soldiers and guards. Slave holding societies in Africa included Egypt, Zanzibar, West African societies and South African by the Boers.

Slavery in Ancient Egypt

Egypt is among the oldest states and civilisations in the world. Agriculture was the foundation of ancient Egyptian economy and vital to the lives of its people. Archaeological findings show evidence of agricultural use dating back to 8000 BCE in Egypt and by 5000 BC., Egyptians lived in farming villages. Each village had its own chieftain that enabled Egyptians transform an expanse of semi-arid land into rich fields by use of the Nile river waters. This proves that Egypt transformed from hunting and gathering earlier than any other place in the world.

The chieftains organised production by constructing irrigation canals and dams to bolster agriculture and control famine that affected them. As a result, some people specialised in leadership to organise society and mobilise labour while others did manual work.

During the dynastic periods, Egypt made tremendous development in science and technology. For example, the astronomical discovery of a calendar improved farming as Egyptian could track the floods of the Nile and plan their planting season well.

In the later periods of Egyptian history, slavery became a widespread source of labour. Slaves were usually captives from foreign wars. The Egyptians however, were not locked into their social classes. Lower and middle-class Egyptians could gain higher status through marriage or success in their jobs. Even some slaves could hope to earn their freedom as a reward for their loyal service. Once a person had skills like reading and writing, many careers were open in the army, royal treasury, priesthood, and the king’s court.

Slavery developed in Egypt due the following reasons;

1. The construction of pyramids and temples. 
The construction tasks of such structures were so tough and vigorous hence extra labour force was demanded.

2. Impact of floods caused by River Nile. 
The floods seasonally attacked Egyptian communities along the Nile River. So to safeguard themselves Egyptians needed extra labour to raise strong flood walls and dams to check on the flood.

3. Facilitating Irrigation Schemes. 
Being in a desert, Egyptians depended much on irrigation for their farming. Irrigation being a continuous activity which needed readily available labour.

4. Construction of towns and cities. 
Slave labour was deployed in the construction of towns like Memphis and Alexandria. Great walls were constructed to protect towns from the floods.

5. Slaves also served as porters, domestic servants of the rich and in royal courts. Slaves were availed at the service of the upper classes for such purposes as well

6. The need for surplus. 
Surplus was needed for exchange with other societies Arabia and Mesopotamia. Slaves were therefore acquired to produce surplus for trade.

Western Sudan

The Western Sudan is a historic region that is considered by historians as a land of great empires. The most prominent of these states were Ghana (7th to 11th C), Mali (13th to 15th C) and Songhai

(1464 to 1591), but smaller large scale polities have also been important, the empire of Great Foula (late 6th to early 18th C), the Bamana Empire (late 17th to early 19th C), and the 19th C empires of Tukolor of Al Hadj Umar Tal and Mandika of Samore Toure.

The development in productive forces led to emergence of three socio-economic classes; the upper ruling classes of the kings, military aristocracy, merchants and artisans. The second class of peasantry which comprised of cultivators and livestock keepers and at the base were the slaves who were either for domestic production or sale to foreign merchants.

Economically, agriculture, fishing, and livestock keeping were all important to the economies of the Sudanic empires. These activities produced a variety of products that stimulated trade. Merchants established a network of commercial routes, and used relatives and slaves to help conduct their businesses.

Trade, particularly, the Trans-Saharan Long Distance Trade was very crucial to these states. It strengthened the power of the rulers by bringing them wealth and connections with foreign merchants. As the empires grew, the trade routes became better established.

Religion was as well a core factor for consolidation of these states. Islam was the dominant faith in the region. It was introduced to the region by merchants from the north, mostly Arabs and Berbers. The rulers were the first to convert to Islam, followed by merchants and most common people. Many were drawn to Islam because the faith represented a higher, more prosperous civilization, and was seen as a powerful religion. Besides uniting people under their leaders, Islam promoted trade and education.

Slavery developed in the region due to;

1. Slaves were obtained to work as domestic servants especially in farms by rich landlords who needed surplus production.

2. Slaves were also used as porters by rich traders to carry goods to and from the making centres in the long distance trading systems like the Trans-Saharan trade.

3. Slaves served in Kings’/chiefs’ courts and palaces for example as carriers of their masters at the time they needed to move around their kingdoms/chiefdoms/ territories.

4. The development of trade also intensified slavery due to high need of trade items. But also, slaves themselves were a crucial trade item.

The Forest and Coastal Zones of West Africa

The region covers all of Liberia and Sierra Leone, most of Guinea, the southern halves of Ivory Coast and Nigeria, and part of Ghana, Togo and Guinea-Bissau. State development in the region took place between 1000 and 1500 AD when a number of small tribal villages ruled over by chiefs in the region began to consolidate into larger political units and eventually formed powerful centralised states that included Benin, Oyo, Dahomey and Asante. Also was the Manikongo kingdom in the Congo.

The reasons for the development of centralised states in this region are diverse;

Partly, was due to the influx of people from the Sudan, driven south by the increasingly harsh climatic conditions. These brought with them new forms of government, including hereditary monarchy into the region.

But important also as the development of class differentiations. Similar to other regions like Western Sudan the development of productive forces and division of labour resulted into classes that were mainly; the ruling class of the king, nobles, military aristocracy, rich merchants and artisans. This class controlled wealth and trade in the states. The second class was of peasantry, agriculturalists and the bottom class was of the slaves who produced surplus for the upper classes. They were also essential commodity for trade especially with European maritime traders.

The development of technology (iron and industry) was also paramount in the development of states in this region but along other factors that included trade with the European maritime traders through which they acquired wealth and firearms; agriculture and population expansion due favourable climate and fertile soils and; rise of charismatic rulers among others.

East African coast - Zanzibar

The East African coast adopted slavery during the period of Umwinyi before the advent of the Arabs. With the Umwinyi system society was stratified as follows; at the top was the Mwinyi Mkuu who was the overhead controller of the land, next to him were Sheha (in Zanzibar) or Diwani (in Pemba), the landlords and merchants. In the middle were peasants and at the bottom were the serfs and slaves.

Slavery however, increased with the arrival of merchants from the Middle East as more African rulers and merchants needed more surpluses for exchange with foreign traders. The slaves were also important item of the trade. Slavery in Zanzibar increased with the settlement of the Arabs and the eventual shift of Sultan Sayyid Said’s capital from Muscat to Zanzibar due to;

1. Establishment of plantation farming. Plantations were established for the production of the highly demanded coconuts and cloves. To meet the increasing labour demands, slaves were obtained in the interior of East and Central Africa to work in the plantations.

2. Increase in the Asiatic population. As more Arabs and Indians flocked to Zanzibar to participate in the lucrative trade in slaves, gold, cloves and coconuts, more slaves were imported to serve as porters and domestic servants and they were important item of trade.

3. Slaves were exported to the Middle East where they used as cheap labour as domestic servants, porters, herdsmen and guards.

4. More slaves were sold to European merchants who shipped them to the islands of Reunion, Mauritius and Comoros while others to the New World to work in plantations and mines.

East African Interior

In the interior of east Africa slavery developed in the Interlacustrine Region that included the kingdoms of Bunyoro Kitara, Buganda, Ankole. Toro, Karagwe, Buha, Buhaya, Rwanda and Burundi. Like in other regions of the continent, societies in the region developed classes from around 1000 AD. The major classes were; the ruling class that comprised the kings, chiefs, knights and merchants, the middle class was of peasants and tenants and lower class was of slaves commonly referred to as “Abairu.” Slavery was as well practiced among other societies like Nyamwezi and the Chagga. Like in the other regions of Africa slavery existed in the womb of feudalism and thus societies that developed the Feudal Mode of Production were in some cases slave holding. The Ntemiship (among the Sukuma, Nyamwezi and Gogo), Nyarubanja (Karagwe and Buhaya), Busulo (Buganda) and Obugabire (Rwanda, Burundi and Buha) systems practiced slavery. Slaves were held as labourers, porters, herdsmen, domestic servants and guards.

South Africa

Slavery in South Africa started with the arrival of the Boers at the cape since the 17th C.

1. The Dutch farmers (Boers) enslaved Africans (the Khoikhoi and the Hotentoes) in their farms. Africans were alienated from their lands and then turned to slaves by the Boers.

2. Slaves were sold to European maritime traders who shipped them to the Indian Ocean islands of Reunion, Mauritius and Comoros and others to the New World of Americas and Caribbean where they worked in plantations and mines.

3. The discovery of minerals; diamonds (1867) and gold (1886). The British and the Boers enslaved the natives of South Africa and the immigrants to South Africa in the mines.

Slave Mode of Production emerged due to the further development of productive forces and social division of labour and later the development of exchange (trade). Thus, as productive forces developed, man begun to obtain more means of subsistence leading creation of surplus. All of which contributed to the transition from primitive communism to slavery.

Why African societies did not develop a Slave Mode of Production?

The reasons explained underneath implies that slavery existed but did not develop into a formidable Slave Mode of Production.

1. Slavery existed in the womb of feudalism. 
Slavery existed within the Feudal Mode of Production and prominent feudal societies like Ghana and Karagwe were slave holding. With that arrangement, slavery was absorbed by serfdom in feudal systems like Nyarubanja and Obugabire in which slaves were adopted as labourers in farms and homes of rich landlords and rulers and could be given part of the landlord’s land to cultivate on their own.

2. Slavery was not permanent. 
Slaves were not locked into slavery forever. They could earn freedom as reward for their loyal service and could gain higher status by marriage or success in their jobs. Those who showed talents or skills for example could be integrated into armies. They could also marry or be married in their master’s families hence integrated into kinship.

3. Low levels of productive forces. 
This slowed down division of labour and specialisation that would consequently give birth to classes. It meant the dominance of subsistence economy and a very gradual process in production of surplus that slowed down the evolution of class formation from which dominant classes on which a Slave Mode Production would develop.

4. The dominance of communal and kinship living in Africa. 
This way of life was common in all African societies. Means of production mainly land were collectively owned though entrusted to the rulers who distributed them to all their people. Labour with its fruits like food and security were jointly shared. This discouraged development of antagonistic classes.

5. The mechanism of obtaining slaves and purpose for slavery differed from one society to another. In some societies war captives were condemned to slavery as punishment. In other societies, law breakers or indebted were forcefully or voluntarily enslaved as a means to settle their cases. In some instances the helpless poor volunteered to be slaves in exchange for means of survival. This explains that slavery was a means of punishment or survival.

6. Low population in Africa. 
The population of African societies was low and scattered over a large area so it was very difficult to develop strong class formation. The low population meant that the essential means of sustenance like land and food were plenty. Slavery existed were resources were scarce as the struggle to control the available resources created classes. The great diversity of environmental and material conditions in Africa.

7. This failed the development of connective internal revolutions that would have led to a Slave Mode of Production. While some societies lived in woodlands and practiced hunting and gathering with primitive shifting cultivation, others were in arid or semi arid areas and lived a nomadic life of pastoralism and others in conducive climate practicing subsistence agriculture.

8. Slavery was adopted as a culture of some societies. 
In societies like the Western Sudan kingdoms of Ghana, Mali and Songhai and in Buganda, Buhaya and Rwanda, it was prestigious and a sign of power to own slaves. In some Muslim societies of like in Eastern Africa, it was a fashion to enslave non- Muslims. Slaves were owned by rulers and the rich who worked them as domestic servants, farm labourers and porters.


The term feudalism is derived from the Latin word Feudum — meaning a “piece of land.” In that sense, the Feudal Mode of Production based on land ownership and land as the major mean of production. In this system land is owned and controlled by few individuals, the landlords (Feudal lords). Since the landlord cannot put his entire land into use, he apportions part of it to the landless people, the serfs/tenants/vassals to work on it in return for paying him rent.

Feudalism is the second exploitative mode of production after Slave Mode of Production. It is based on exploitation of man by man basing on land ownership. In the system, land is owned by a few, the landlords who enter into relations with the landless tenants by renting them land on condition of paying them rent/taxes/tributes. The Feudal Mode of Production developed within state organisations.

Feudal Mode of Production

Features of Feudalism in Africa

1. Land is the basic means of production. 
Land being the principle factor of production, agriculture is the major economic activity of feudalism. Feudal societies like Buganda and Karagwe practiced permanent crop cultivation or mixed farming like Oyo and Rwanda.

2. Private ownership of means of production. 
The landlords owned the land and other means of production like livestock. They also partly owned the serfs who worked and depended on their landlords’ lands.

3. Existence of classes. 
Feudalism was characterised by two major antagonistic classes of the landlords and the tenants/serfs. The landlord controls the land and other means of production such as cattle. The serf lives and work on the landlord’s land in return for rent.

4. Exploitation. 
The landlords exploit the serfs by rent or tribute payment for using their land. Majorly only two forms of rent were applied in pre-colonial Africa; the labour rent also termed as land rent that required tenants to work on plots allocated to them to get products for livelihood while sometimes offer free labour on the landlord’s land and; rent in kind that required tenants to share their produce like crops and cattle with the landlord. Money rent was not common in pre-colonial Africa.

5. Advanced productive forces. 
Within feudalism, technology was more developed than in the Communal and Slave modes of production. It was featured by the wide use of iron tools that established agriculture and other economic activities like trade due to surplus production.

6. Advanced state formation. 
State development had reached high stage in feudal societies. With authority to control means of production, land in particular, landlords became rulers. They formed private armies which helped them maintain their positions, keep law and order, collect rent and tributes from the tenants and offer security to them and their subjects.

7. In feudalism in Africa, tenants as opposed to slaves owned some means of production like plots of land, livestock and instruments of production. After fulfilling his duty to his landlord’s land, the tenant had time to work for himself. This made him interested in improving the implements of labour and labour skills to raise his productivity.

8. Advancement of specialisation. 
Specialisation and division of labour was more developed in feudalism than in communalism. Men specialised in commodity production and military while women and children engaged themselves in tilling the land and other domestic duties.

Development of Feudal Relations in Africa

Societies like Egypt, Ethiopia, the interlacustrine states of Bunyoro, Buganda, Ankole, Toro and Buhaya and the Western Sudan states like Mali and Songhai had developed strong feudal systems long before contact with Europe from the 15th C. However a few others like the Khoisan of the Kalahari, Tindiga and Hadzabe of Tanzania, Dorobo of Kenya, Tuso of Uganda, and Mbuti and Twa of the Congo forest were until the 19th C still in primitive the communal mode.

The Khoisan

Transition from Communalism to Feudalism

The transformation of African societies form Primitive Communalism is enough to invalidate the unjustified nature of the Euro-centric view that African societies were static. It is rather an attestation that African societies were undergoing progressive transformation from time to time. The transition from Communalism to Feudalism was facilitated by the; the environmental factors and man’s activities (curiosity) in his struggle to control nature.

1. Climate. 
Societies within favourable climate conditions of reliable rainfall developed agriculture with cultivation of permanent crops such as bananas in Buganda and Buhaya and yams in the West African forest states like Oyo and Benin that needed continuous attention. This called upon landlords to seek for extra labour (Serfs). It also led to permanent settlement that led to population expansion that resulted to the struggles to control land.

2. Population expansion. 
This resulted to land shortage in areas with economic importance like agriculture. The struggle to control land created classes of landlords and landless poor from which the classes of rulers and subjects developed and therefore the formation of political organisations (states). More so, population growth brought with it improvements in productive forces that forced for adoption of new skills that threatened Primitive Communal.

3. Improvement of productive forces. 
This mainly due to the discovery of Iron technology that was a great revolution in man’s life that suffocated Communalism. It enabled man improve his labour productivity to control nature hence went beyond food gathering and hunting. It enabled him open more land for agriculture and produce surplus hence required more labour. Also he became able to subdue others who had not advanced and made them work for him.

4. Availability of natural resources. 
Feudalism developed in areas with natural resources, particularly iron but also mineral resources like gold, silver and copper. Societies with such resources were empowered to establish economic activities, notably agriculture, mining and trade that worked with extra labour. The presence of such resources led to classification of people and societies and encouraged production and so the rich had to enter into relations with the poor or subdued them (the poor) to produce surplus for them.

5. Development of Trade. 
The improvement in productive forces facilitated trade as man could produce in surplus. Trade increased the value of land as communities had to settle permanently to produce surplus. For example states like Mali and Songhai, were required to produce for the Trans-Saharan trade. Land owners had to enter into relations with the landless by giving them part of their land to produce them surplus for trade.

6. Unequal distribution of products of labour and property. 
The start of unequal distribution of property and fruits of labour gave birth to classes within the Communal system. The increasing inequalities eroded the non-exploitative communal nature of African societies. Societies endowed with resources like good climate and iron transformed much quickly to Feudalism. These invaded weaker societies and the conquered peoples were made serfs and labourers.

7. The development of division of labour and specialisation. 
When African societies became complex, they developed division of work to improve labour efficiency. Division of labour led to specialisation and classes such as rulers, diviners, artisans, solders and producers. The upper classes could not directly engage in production, they controlled the means of production and subjugated the lower classes to be their labourers to produce for them surplus.

8. Nature of the soils. 
Areas with fertile soils also led to agriculture expansion and permanent settlement to ensure constant production for both subsistence use and surplus for future use and exchange (trade). Besides leading to population increase, it raised the desire to secure more land to expand production. The struggle for more productive land resulted to classes.

9. Need for security. 
In the times of troubles such as wars and hunger, weaker or impoverished people could submit themselves to their invaders or stronger neighbours for protection. In return for protection, they offered labour or tributes to their new masters in forms of sharing fruits of their labour like farm products or precious materials like salt and iron materials.

Feudal Mode of Production among African societies

The Feudal Mode of Production in Africa existed in a variety of forms depending on the place where they evolved. Nevertheless, though in different forms, the systems shared significant features. The importance of land as the principle means of production as well as the existence of antagonistic classes of landlords and tenants was constant. Though societies like the Hutu, Tutsi and Ankole had livestock, as means of production, land remained the major means of production.

Egyptian farmers turned from free workers to Pharaoh’s serfs, and had to pay 20 percent of their income as a tax to Pharaoh.

Feudalism in the Great Lakes Region

In Buhaya or Karagwe the feudal system was referred to as Nyarubanja. In this system, the class of people who owned private estates (Nyarubanja) was called the Batwazi. These were mostly from the royal family, the Balangira. The landless were the Batwara subjects) and Bairu (slaves). The Batwara had to give part of his products or offer free ibour services to the Batwazi for using their land. In that way they produced surplus or them. The system entirely evolved on agriculture and specifically on cultivation of bananas. Productive forces tremendously improved after the discovery of iron dating back before 1000 AD as evidenced in the archaeological discoveries at Engaruka. The development of trade increased the need for surplus production hence increase exploitation of the Batwara and Bairu.

In Buganda, the system was known as Busulo (Nvujo). Land belonged to the Kabaka king) who also held the title Sabataka meaning the chief landlord (from the term Etaka meaning land). The Kabaka appointed chiefs who headed provinces of the Kingdom. The chiefs were offered private

land and controlled land in their areas on behalf of the Kabaka. Also was a class of Bataka (landlords) that was allowed to own land privately. At the bottom were the poor, the Bakopi (subjects). The Bakopi had to pay rent by sharing the products of the land with landlord or offer his labour services. All the Bakopi offered part of their produce that was called Busulo and/or labour services to the Kabaka that was called Akasanvu to the immediate chief who shared it with the Kabaka. The main activity was agriculture with bananas as main crop. Also trade flourished.

In Rwanda, Urundi, Buha and Ankole, the feudal system was known as Obugabire. The system in these societies was found on cattle ownership alongside land ownership. For instance the Tutsi could transfer some of his cattle to a Hutu. Accordingly, the donor became the master (Sebuja) of the recipients (Bagabire) — meaning the given/offered. The Omugabire and his family were now obliged to perform duties for their master like cultivating crops. In Ankole the landowners were the Bahima and the Bairu were the subjects.


The Nyamwezi and Sukuma Societies

Among the Nyamwezi and Sukuma the leader entitled Mtemi controlled the land and the producers themselves. The Mtemi mobilized his people to new land wherever it was available to till (kutema) it. He distributed the land among his subjects to avoid conflicts. A successful Mtemi was the one with many people under him, as more people meant more labour hence more production, wealth and power.

The Mtemi opened the planting season and enforced proper use of land forests and other resources. He was also the one in charge of the state’s grain reserves. Mtemi system had emerged by 1300 AD in the Nyamwezi and Sukuma societies. The same system was adopted by the Gogo in present central Tanganyika and in south central Tanganyika among the Hehe, Sangu and Bena where the leader was referred to as Mtwa.

The Feudal System at the East African Coastal Region

At the East African coast, feudal relations developed before the domination of the Arabs in the l9thC. The great landowner and controller was the Mwinyi Mkuu. Next to the Mwinyi Mkuu in hierarchy of governance were the Sheha (in Zanzibar) or Diwani (in Pemba). These mostly known as Sheha wa Mji or Mjumbe headed the village (ward). Under them were other landlords, the Wamwinyi who received land from the Mwinyi Mkuu. Besides controlling the land, the Wamwinyi controlled the serfs and monopolised political and economic powers. The tenants lived on the land of the landlords (Wamwinyi) and in return paid labour services and tributes. The Mwinyi Mkuu appointed tax collectors known as Shakau to collect taxes for him. Taxes were mainly paid in forms of labour and food. Also in the hierarchy were the religious leaders, the Wazale (Wavyale) who also received surplus products from the peasants.

When the Arabs arrived, there was no quick change of the system. In the beginning, the Arabs ruled over the local peoples indirectly through Mwinyi Mkuu and his system. Nevertheless, when the capitalist demands of raw materials and markets intensified, the local ruling system was phased-out. By 1840, the Arab aristocracy took direct control over the islands. They seized

land and introduced plantation economy for cloves and coconut production. Under the Arab rule, religion and race determined classes and status of individuals. Society was divided into Arabs, Shirazi, Swahili and Africans, in that downward order. To march the world demand for cloves, the Arab aristocrats largely relied on slave labour in the plantations. The Arabs, Shirazi, Swahili and African Muslims were referred to as Waungwana, the rest were called Washenzi.


Feudalism in the States of Western Sudan

States of Western Sudan such as the ancient empires of Ghana, Mali and Songhai were highly developed. Indeed in this region Africans had reached political, administrative, military and economic greatness in the period before the coming of the Europeans. Africans in this region showed greater capability in development than in many other regions of the continent. State formation in this region was not only more advanced, but as well began earlier than the rest of Africa; for instance the origin of ancient empire of Ghana, goes back to the 5th C AD and Mali had its glorious days in the 13th C. Long distance trade across the Sahara stimulated the famous cities of the region such as Walata, Timbuktu, Gao and Jenne and spread enlightenment through Arabic literature and Islam. The trade also strengthened state power of the images which transformed themselves into permanent aristocracy.

Feudal relations in the region were reasonably strong though not as such strong like in other parts of Africa like in Egypt. Feudalism in Western Sudan was much associated with trade and mining activities and was much involved with the Islamic religion since a big population was Muslim and concentrated on trade through Trans-Saharan trade.

Feudalism in Egypt

In Egypt, a small aristocratic and landed class monopolised most of the land leaving a large class of the people landless. The peasants with little or no land were known as the Fellahin. The Fellahin was exploited to produce revenue and surpluses to the landlords. Peasants were turned into mere agricultural labourers and were tied to the land as tenants and vassals of the landlords. Egypt had developed an efficient irrigation system and had advanced agriculture. Indeed it was the first country where the technology of food production spread from. The development of agriculture and pastoralism capable of supporting a large population depended on the ability to master the annual flood water of the Nile. This need to control the water of the Nile forced the different Kinship communities to come together in order to construct dams and canals for irrigation. At first they adopted the basin irrigation system and later improved on it with a new irrigation system referred to as. Shadoof (irrigation system) before invention of the canal system. Archeological evidence shows that in Egypt the transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture was made between 5,000 and 4,000 BC.

Egyptian rulers were also able to establish efficient labour relations through which they were able to build attractive canals, dams, and bridges that stimulated trade and commerce with the outside world. Egypt at that time was able to teach Europe in many things including city life where Cairo for centuries was the most cultured city in the world.

Egypt was a more advanced during the era of the Fatimid dynasty (969 — 1170 AD). Science and technology flourished and industrialisation reached a high level. Windmills and water wheels were introduced from Persia in the 10th century. New industries were introduced for papermaking, sugar refining, porcelain and the distillation of gasoline. And the older industries of textiles, leather and metal were improved up on.


Feudalism in Ethiopia

In Ethiopia feudal relations were maintained through tenants. Tenants became labourers in farms and in the construction of palaces and public work. They rented houses and were subjected to payment of rent to their landlords. In the feudal Ethiopia the church (Orthodox Church) and the state were in a close alliance just like it was in Europe with the Catholic Church and states. Feudalism in Ethiopia included land that was communally owned by the villages or ethnic communities or the crown. However large territories were conferred by the conquering Amharic dynasty onto members of loyal family, soldiers and priests (Abanus).

Feudalism in Zululand

In Zululand, feudalism depended on agriculture and pastoralism. The masses would acquire land and cattle in exchange for the agreement that they would remain loyal to the king and work for him. The king was then the chief landlord. He distributed land to his loyal subjects and soldiers. The advancement of productive forces in feudal societies was behind the advancement of major economic sectors namely; agriculture, mining, fishing, manufacturing industry and trade.

Advancement in technology notably, with iron technology feudal system came into place and became more efficient in production and protection. Population expanded with permanent settlement and improved life standards and trade due to production of surplus. Indeed man’s skills to control nature were improved.

The existence of different modes of production in Africa at the same time portrays the heterogeneous nature of African societies. They were divergent social communities at different levels of social, political, economic and technological developments. Communal societies lagged behind feudal societies.

General Characteristics of Pre-colonial African societies

Though at the time of colonisation African societies were at different levels of development with some still under Primitive Communal, some on transition to Feudalism (semi-feudal) and others already at Feudalism, they more or less shared some common features which included;

1. African societies were mostly scattered communities of independent producers clustered in different social groupings. They were mostly separated from each other over large areas with independent activities determined by the environment. Areas with abundant rains practiced permanent agriculture while those with less rains practiced shifting cultivation or pastoralism

2. The main production activity was based on family, clan or community. 
The basic unit of production was the family. Nonetheless, because most of the communities based on kinship the whole community lived as family and hence a family affair was a community affair.

3. Productive forces were largely underdeveloped. 
The highest technological stage reached by some societies was use of iron. But even societies with iron technology, labour instruments were still rudimentary as the commonest tool of production was the hand hoe. Due to low forces of production, subsistence economy was dominant.

4. Land was the most important object of labour. 
Almost all man’s labour was exercised on making the land provide him all needs especially food. Land being the principle object of labour the common economic activities was agriculture. 

5. Societies were self-sufficient producers. 
Societies produced almost all their needs due to dominance of subsistence economy and limited basic needs, specifically food and security which basic economic activities like agriculture could provide. Though trade existed among some societies, it never meant that a community could not exist without others.

6. There was no wage labour and forced labour. 
The purpose of work was not the creation of surplus but for the reproduction of the worker, his family and the community. In that sense, labour was not for sale but for the community. Even feudal societies labour was not coercive as tenants willingly entered into relations with landlords who were always the rulers.

7. There was no land alienation. 
Land was communally owned. It belonged to the clan or at least a family and was distributed on kinship relationship based on cultural values and norms. This meant that land belonged to a large group of people and all community members even to feudal societies could get a share. Such an arrangement made land alienation really difficult.

8. Low population. 
Pre-colonial African societies were mostly small communities with low population. Areas with fertile soils and sufficient rainfall like West Africa and Great Lakes region of East Africa had a relatively high population compared to arid areas.


Most of African societies had well established settled communities with defined sociopolitical settings before colonialism. Indeed by end of the 16th C, mainly three types of socio-political organisations had emerged in Africa; Clan (kinship), Ag-set, and State organisations. The organisations can be classified (grouped) into two; stateless and state political structures. The diversity of political systems portrays the heterogeneous nature of pre-colonial African societies. It reveals the disparities in the level socio-political and economic development of African societies. The diversity of political systems was determined by a number of circumstances, notably;

1. The nature of climatic conditions that societies evolved. 
The climate dictated the economic activities and type of settlement of society. It was a determinant of the population structure of society.

2. The material conditions within society, that is, nature and availability of natural resources a society possessed

3. The level of productive forces within society. Man’s ability to work on the provisions of nature like land and environmental provisions like land

4. The political philosophy of a particular society. This determined the socio-cultural perspective of a society. It was on this basis that feudal societies developed state organisations.

Benin Kingdom


Clan Organisations were socio-political institutions of group of families sharing same ancestral origin (blood relations) organised together under one leader, the Clan-head. A clan (kinship) is a group family who are related to each other with same blood relations. The nucleus of a clan is a family which in other words, is the simplest unit of social organisation and basic unit of production. The family made of a husband, wife (wives) and a child (children).

Societies that were still under Clan Organisation at the time of colonisation included; Nyamwezi, Makonde, Yao, Mwera, kukuyu and kamba in East Africa and Luba and Lunda in central Africa.

Political Organization in Clan Organization

Clan Organisations were under clan-heads whose position was elective. The system was possible in settled communities. It operated under communalism, thus the means of production such as land and sometimes tools of production belonged to the whole clan and most of the products of the clan’s labour were shared out among the clan members. Land was entrusted to the Clan Heads whose role was to distribute it to clan members and also provided guidance in the production process. Other roles of the Clan-head included, settling disputes, protect clan traditions, presided over religious ceremonies, chose spouses for the young and officiating marriages and counselled the young. Each member of the clan was freely given as much land as he could cultivate. Clan organisations in Agricultural societies were either Patrilineal or Matrilineal societies like Makonde, Makua, Mwera, Kamba and Kikuyu.

 Nyamwezi people dancing to "Ndelule" traditional Nyamwezi music from Tanzania

Environment in which Clan Organisations Developed

Clan organizations were common in the grassland plateaus with woodlands like in the Miombo woodlands in central Tanzania mainland where rainfall is seasonal and in areas where population was sparse and scattered. Soil in parts of these areas leached easily and in the process washed away the fertility of the soil hence easily exhausted when cultivated.

Economic Activity of Clan Organisation

The main occupation under Clan Organisation depended on the environment. In open grasslands, they practiced agriculture on shifting cultivation with seasonal crops such as millet, sorghum and Maize due to seasonal rainfall. Some societies like the Sukuma, Nyamwezi and Gogo under their Ntemiship systems practiced mixed farming; both crop cultivation and animal keeping. In this system, the Miemi (leader) searched for new land and when found organised production by distributing it to the families in his clan for tilling (kutema which means cutting). Production was mainly for subsistence and due to low productive forces.


This was a system of social organisation where allocation of duties and responsibilities based on age and sex. People of the same age bracket and sex were initiated together. Initiations taught them their culture, history and responsibilities. After initiation they join their respective regiments (groups) to perform specified duties together. Seniority in each age-group depended upon age, wisdom and good character.

The system, like the clan organisation, was very democratic and operated under communal societies. Obedience was much emphasized. Trouble makers were punished by the community. And decisions on day to day issues were made by the people themselves in their age groups. Age-set system was much common in pastoral communities such as the Maasai, Turkana, and Fulani, but was also practiced by some agricultural communities like the Nyakyusa, and Kikuyu.

The Maasai

Age-set Organisation in Pastoral Communities

Pastoral communities led nomadic life since livestock keeping was their permanent activity. Being in Arid or semi-arid areas, their environment demands great efforts in search for pasture and water for themselves and their livestock. Due to low level of productive forces pastoral societies could not grow pastures neither tap underground water on their own hence only relied on rain for water and wild bushes for pastures. Besides, livestock keeping requires a continuous system of mobilising young men for feeding livestock, defence and offence for cattle rustling.

Such continuous duties required combined efforts and could not be limited to only the family therefore had to fall upon the entire community. They thus organised themselves in age-set groups. Each age group and sex was given its own responsibility to accomplish.

The Example of the Maasai Societies

The Maasai societies were grouped into four age regiments/groups. 

a) Children of 0-8 years and women. 
These were not directly involved in production. Their main task was to fulfill domestic duties that were mainly to cook food, milk animals, and attend to the young, sick and old. They involved in no economic activity outside the home.

b) The second group consisted of young boys aged 8-18 years. 
These were directly concerned with livestock grazing and milking. They carried duties together with women.

c) The third age-set consisted of the middle-aged men; the Moran aged 20-40 years. These were the soldiers of the whole society. 
The group’s duties were;

- To protect the whole community against attacks.

- Protect livestock/herds against wild animals and thieves (cattle rustlers).

- Searching for pasture and water. As animals were taken for grazing, the Moran escorted the herds as they moved far in search for pastures and water.

- Raiding neighbouring communities for livestock and other forms of wealth. Raiding was mainly to expand the size of herds and grazing zones.

- Collected tribute from traders reaching Maasai land.

d) The last group consisted of elders aged about 40 years and above; the Laibons. The group was further divided into three sub-groups; the junior elders, the elders, and the senior elders. 
The Laibons had the following responsibilities;

- To ensure that there was peace and order in their society. By this, they settled disputes in society.

- They advised and provided counseling to the society. This was mainly on societal daily issues like cattle grazing and other societal orders.

- They provided training on the fulfillment of duties. Being the most experienced members of society, the Laibons possessed knowledge on all age-groups’ responsibilities.

- Controlled livestock and all properties on behalf of the communities.

- They were the top overseers of the spiritual and political matters of the community.

- They observed the respect of the norms, customs and ethics that governed the society.

- The most senior elder was the top most political and religious authority.

The Laibons were highly respected by the other age-groups due to their wisdom, experience and past contribution to the community.

The Moran

Age-set organisation in agricultural societies

Among the agricultural societies which developed Age-set organisations were the Nyakyusa, Kikuyu and Kamba.

The example of the Nyakyusa

The Nyakyusa were forced into Age-set system due to the rapid population growth. However, and fortunately, they had plenty of fertile land. So in order to prevent overpopulation they organised themselves on the basis of age-set. Due to availability of plenty of land, each age group had to clear its own land to establish its own village when it attained adult-hood. A ceremony called Obusoka was held to mark this passing of a new age-set into adult-hood.

Advantages of Age-Set System

1. The system enabled the existence of a well-disciplined hardworking and responsible society. It involved all members of society in performing different societal duties.

2. It was a good in providing a systematic defence system for the people and their properties like cattle. The responsibility to defend was entrusted to the energetic youth, like the Moran in the Maasai societies.

3. The system created a strong and able leadership like Laibon in the Maasai society. It was clear that the leaders of the society came from the eldest age-group of the society. That limited leadership contradictions to arise in age-set organisations.

4. Enabled a fair distribution of labour as each age-set group had to fulfill duties assigned to it. It left no room for laziness because all members of the society were directly occupied.

5. It promoted material production. The fair division of labour promoted specialisation. This enabled even pastoralism to be involved in material production.

6. It was much systematic, organised and reduced the problem of overpopulation through its system of labour, in which each age-set was involved in production. This was especially in agricultural societies like the Nyakyusa.

7. It prepared the pastoral societies to resist colonialism to a certain recognisable degree. The agents of colonialism did not favour to penetrate into pastoral societies due to strong anti-colonial resistance.

8. The system facilitated peaceful co-existence. There were no rivalries as people of different families lived and worked together in the same age-sets. Cases like fratricide did not exist

Disadvantages of Age-Set System

1. There were frequent clashes between agricultural and pastoral societies over land control. Pastoral communities encroached agricultural communities in search for food, pastures and water to feed their animals. Such practices led to clashes.

2. The raids of other societies by the youth like the Morans among the Maasai to increase the size of their herds put the society in jeopardy as it was vulnerable to attacks.

3. Women had no voice in the society. They could not become leaders and their work evolved not beyond domestic obligations.

4. There was a low level in the development of science and technology due to the migratory nature of their activities.

5. The age-set system stressed the quantity of the hard over the quality of the livestock. Efforts were focused on increasing the number of cattle and not their quality. This could lead to overgrazing, droughts and soil erosion and diseases Nagana/sleeping sickness.


Age-set organisations were mostly in dry areas (Arid and semi-arid areas). Such areas with scanty rainfall and high temperature such as in the Rift valley areas of Tanganyika and Kenya, Northern Uganda and Kenya, and in the Sahara desert region. In few cases however, the system existed in areas with abundant rainfall that practiced agriculture like the Nyakyusa and Kikuyu.

Economic Activity

Bearing the fact that, Age-set organisations mostly developed in Arid and semi-arid areas, the major economic activity was Nomadic livestock keeping. This economic activity demanded constant attention for the animals in search for grazing land and water and constant security against wild beasts and the invading cattle rustlers.

In few instances, permanent agricultural societies with plenty of fertile land faced with rapid population also organised themselves in the age-set basis to arrest over population.


State is an organised political community in a defined territory controlled by one government - with administrative and military machinery, judicial functions and ability to collect taxes (tributes).

A state is a more complex political unit than clan organisations. It is a large political unit under specific government ruled by a chief or king, with administrative and judicial duties, commands of an army and collects taxes from the subjects who as well are obliged to be loyal to the ruler.

King Taharqa, Nubia

Environment under which states developed

States emerged in areas with reliable rainfall and fertile arable soils that supported permanent agriculture. Permanent crop cultivation needed permanent settlement and instruments of production due to the Continuous nature of the activity.

Economic activities

The main economic activity of states was permanent crop cultivation being favoured by abundant rainfall, fertile soils, permanent settlement and improved productive forces mainly supported by iron technology. Examples of states include those in the interlucatrine region; Buganda, Toro, Ankole and Karagwe whose main food was bananas.

Functions of the State

a) Make laws
b) Maintenance of law and order

c) Carrying out administrative functions
d) Protect citizens against external attacks

e) Collect taxes and tributes
f) Provide for the socio-economic welfare of the people

Factors for State Formation (expansion) in Africa

State formation in Africa was to a great extent due to the internal dynamics - the material conditions within African societies. Nevertheless, the material conditions did not operate in isolation as they were in hand supplemented by the natural and external factors. So the important factors for the state formation were;

1. Favourable geographical advantagesThis was a combination of good climate with reliable rainfall and fertile soils. Such a climate favoured permanent food crop production that developed permanently settled communities and population expansion. This explains the emergence of powerful states like Buganda, Bunyoro and Karagwe in the Interlacustrine Region and Oyo, Dahomey and Benin in the Equatorial Region of West Africa.

2. Efficient leadership and administrative systemsSocieties endowed with ambitious leaders like Mansa Musa of Mali, Kabaka Katerega of Buganda and Mkwawa of the Hehe, rose to greatness. Such leaders put in place strong administration and armies, united their people and organised production and trade. Efficient administrative system enforced law and order. Typical examples are the Parliamentary systems of Buganda (Lukiiko) and Oyo (Oyo Messi).

3. The role of tradeParticipation in trading activities mainly, long distance trades had vital implication in the making of powerful states in pre-colonial Africa. They accumulated wealth through profits and taxes/tribute from traders and also firearms which they used to strengthen their states. Remarkably, the Trans-Saharan trade with the development of states like Mali and Songhai and the East African Long Distance trade with states like Buganda and Nyamwezi.

4. Strong armiesThe role of strong armies like the Rugaruga of the Nyamwezi and Abarusula of Bunyoro cannot be underrated. The armies were instrumental in keeping law and order, defence against foreign invasions, conquest of weak neighbouring societies for expansion and for collection of tributes/taxes. By powerful armies men like Samore Toure of the Mandika, Mansa Musa of Mali and Mirambo and Nyungu ya Mawe of the Nyamwezi and Mkwawa of the Hehe were able to build large commercial empires.

Role of the Army in State Formation;

a) Defended states against foreign invention

b) Maintained internal stability by keeping law and order. This was done side by side with disciplining of law breakers.

c) Carrying out expansionist wars — through conquest and subduing of weak neighbours.

d) Collection of taxes and tributes

e) Enforced production, food and surplus for exchange in their states.

f) Raised leaders. Some state founding rulers like Sundiata Keita of Kangaba were military commanders.

g) Promoted trade by protecting traders along trading (caravan) routes

h) Conducted raids for slaves, cattle, women and food and other valuable items needed for wealth and trade.

5. Technological advancementMost significant was iron technology that definitely improved productive forces greatly. Societies with Iron works like Buganda and Bunyoro advanced economic activities like agricultural, industry and trade. As iron instruments improved efficiency, food production increased to support population expansion and production of surplus was realised to make trade possible. Most crucial also was improvement in weaponry for state defence and expansion.

6. Population expansion. Population increase was mostly due to reliable food supply and security. It led to intense land competition between clans or societies leading to conquest of weak ones. Large population availed abundant supply of labour and armies for state building. High population in the Interlacustrine Region led to powerful states like Buganda and Toro and in West African forest region states like Oyo and Dahomey.

7. MigrationThe early migrations played a vital role in state building as the moving peoples carried with them new skills in new areas where passed or settled. Notable case is the Ngoni Migration with formation of states like, Sotho, Ndebele and Hehe in South, Central and East Africa. In the Interlacustrine Region and the Congo, states like Buganda and Mani Kongo were largely due Eastern Bantu migration.

8. ConquestSome clans or communities developed into powerful states by conquering weak neighbours to absorb their land and people. For example a small state of Kangaba expanded into weak neighbours like Kankan to form a large Mali Empire. Also King Shaka conquered the weak Nguni communities to build a strong Zulu Kingdom.

7. The role of religionThe influence of religion in state formation and growth was its uniting factor and significance in shaping leadership, administrative and judicial roles of societies. African traditional Religion, Islam and Christianity had greater role. Notable states where traditional religion was a strong factor include Buganda and ancient kingdoms of Ghana and Zimbabwe; Islam played a recommendable job in building of states like Egypt, ancient Mali, Songhai, Bornu and Mandika while Christianity was responsible for Ethiopia.

The Egyptian Pharaoh Kamose showing a battle plan map to a group of Kushites (nubian) nobleman during a war against the Hyksos in 1500 BC


Two types of states emerged in Africa; 
i) Centralised states
ii) Decentralised States 

1. Centralised States

Centralised states were political organisations with a central ruling authority. They are political organisations whose administrative powers were rested at the specific identified centre. At the helm (centre) of administration was the king or Emperor (Monarch) with supreme powers, who in most cases governed with the assistance of a parliament and body of ministers.

From 5th to 19th C Africa, centralised states included; Ghana, Mali, Songhai, Kanem Bonu, Asante, Dahomey, Benin, Oyo, Sokoto, Tokola and Mandika in West Africa; Bunyoro, Buganda, Toro, Ankole and the Hehe in East Africa; Egypt in North Africa; Ethiopia in North East Africa; Mwenemotapa, Ndebele and Gaza of Central Africa; Zulu, Swazi and Sotho of South Africa.

Mansa Musa. One of the greatest emperors of the Malian Empire. He came to power in 1307, he was perhaps the wealthiest ruler of his day, he is credited with the Golden Age of Mali.

Characteristics of Centralised States

a) Centralised authority. 
At the centre of administration was a king with absolute authority to make all major political, social and economic decisions of the state. Also, he was supreme judge and controlled the wealth of the state. The Monarch was a symbol of Unity.

b) Hereditary succession. 
Centralised states had royal families from which kings came. A successor could be named by king before his death or appointed by a council of elders from the departed king’s close relatives like his son or brother as per the customs of the state.

c) Standing army. 
Centralised states had specific military forces comprising of well bodied trained soldiers with the king as commander in chief to maintain the internal stability, defend the state against external attacks and also conquest of weak neighbours.

d) Parliamentary system. 
Due to complexity of administration, Kings ruled with the assistance of parliaments made of his appointed officials like ministers, nobles and clan heads whose duty was to advise the king on important matters. In Buganda for example was the Lukiiko under chief minister “Katikiro” and in Oyo was the Oyo Messi.

e) Covered large territory and high population. 
Centralised states were complex organisations that incorporating many clans and sometimes many tribes through conquests or alliance making. For effective control states were divided into provinces which were put under chiefs and governors or Clan Heads to represent the king.

f) Payment of taxes and tributes. 
The citizens of the kingdom and traders passing through the kingdom and vassal states were obliged to pay taxes or tributes to the metropolitan state. The king had full powers to direct the use of state incomes for example rewarding loyal officials.

g) Advanced productive forces. 
Improvement in productive forces consolidated division of labour and specialisation, sometimes beyond the levels of age and sex. Specific areas of specialisation were farming, industry and trade. All these were supported by improved technology, notably iron working that also led to production of surplus for trade. h. Expansionist policy. Centralised States had a tendency of conquering their weak neighbouring societies to expand their territories for land, labour and wealth. The conquered were absorbed to be integral parts of the state or could remain semi-independent as vassal states.

Queen Amanirenas of Kush in Nubia (Sudan)


The Buganda Kingdom was geographically on the shores of Lake Victoria; that means it is found in the interlacutrine region. It grew to its apex by the mid of the 19 th C. This was highly centralized monarchy and was one of the daughter states that came into existence after the collapse of the vastly expanded Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom. By the second half of the 19 th C Buganda became one of the strongest and largest Kingdoms in the interlacustrine region. They conquest and controlled several Kingdoms. Buganda Kingdom was under the leadership of Kabaka Mutesa.

Factors Responsible for the Rise of the Buganda

1. Centralization of power. 
The Kabaka governed the political organ and was considered as overall ruler. All political power was concentrated in his hands. He appointed all leaders on merit and dismissed all chiefs. His decision was final and binding. There was a hierarchy in administration, whereby there were a number of chiefs below the Kabaka. They helped to spread Kabaka’s authority throughout the Kingdom. The Kabaka’s throne was hereditary but there was no royal family/clan

2. Organized Administrative System. 
The Kabaka governed the Kingdom with assistance of advisory council (Lukiiko). The council constituted the Prime Minister (Katikiro), the treasure (Muhanika) and the Chief justice (Mugema) as well as country chiefs; all these were Kabaka’s nominees. The legislative council gave advice to the Kabaka and enacted laws.

3. Stable military machinery. 
Kabaka established strong and well disciplined army for the sake of maintaining political stability in the state and defend the kingdom from external aggression. The Kabaka used army to maintain law and order, to pin down the rivals powers and pursued expansionist policy.

4. Bureaucratic system of government. 
The Bureaucratic system was employed in order to ensure effective administration of the Kingdom; whereby the whole of Buganda was divided into two countries (Gomborola), the sub–countries into parishes (Miluka) and finally perishes into sub–parishes. At all level the chief were Kabaka’s appointees.

5. Kabaka’s marriage in each clan. 
The Buganda Kingdom had approximately 52 clans, each with its own leadership. These provided the basis for the political unity for the whole administration of the Kingdom. For the sake of political harmony in the Kingdom, Kabaka married almost from every important clan. Hence intermarriages were a political weapon and created the possibility of getting Kabaka from any clan.

6. Agriculture. 
Good climate and fertile soil favored crop cultivation. Due to the availability of goods, the population of the Kingdom began in tinkles and became flooded. Also some of them engaged in livestock keeping (pastoralism).

7. Trade. 
The Buganda Kingdom developed trading contacts with he neighbors that were under governance of Kabaka. Because the Buganda were excellent bark clothes manufactures they participated in commercial activities by exchanging bark clothes for items such as iron tools and with the Bunyoro and cow , cattle, groundnuts and simsim with the iteso , langi and Ankelo.

NB: It is clear stated that the second half of 19 th C, Buganda was one of the highly centralized Kingdom in the intercontinental region, Kingdom that had sound organization in the field of politics economic and social set up.

Buganda Warriors

2. Decentralised States

Decentralised states were state organisation without a well-defined and complex centralised system of government. They were chieftainships (chiefdoms). They were societies that transformed from mere Clan Organisations to comprise a number of clans or communities. They were under Chiefs who were mostly appointed from the dominant Clan Heads.

The leader/chiefs’ position was often not hereditary. He was chosen from clan elders/heads by a council of elders basing on his reputation; excellent leadership and wisdom qualities and wealth. The powers of the chief were checked by the council of elders. Such societies included; the Yao, Nyamwezi, Sukuma, Kikuyu, Makonde (East Africa), Lozi, Shona and Luba (central Africa)

Characteristics of Decentrailised States

a) Leadership was not hereditary. 
Leaders were chosen by the clan councils by merit and considerable reputation on their leadership, wisdom and good judgment skills. Elected leaders could even be replaced if he proved incompetent or became unpopular.

b) There were no standing armies. 
The defence of the society was done by all able- bodied men of the society. Standing armies were not necessary because wars were very scarce due to the fact that these societies hardly involved themselves in expansionism.

c) There was no centralised authority to control society’s affairs. Means of production like land and labour were communally owned. Members of the society regarded themselves equal. No one would therefore rise up to assume supreme powers over the others.

d) Decentralised societies had low population. This was due to low productive forces. The low population limited the rise of social differentiations and thus facilitated the communal living due high availability of resources like land - resources were not scarce to give way to classes.

e) These societies were more democratic. In the society’s general assembly, decisions were passed by the majority vote. This was different from the centralised societies where the monarch made the final decision and their words were law and final.

f) The clan councils of elders and the society’s General Assembly were the two bodies that governed the affairs of the state. The General Assembly was above the Clan Heads and the clan council hence the two were answerable to the General Assembly.

g) The clan elders were responsible to solve internal conflicts. Nonetheless, if case became more difficult for them, it was referred to the general assembly. Nevertheless, conflicts and crimes were limited by collective responsibility using society’s sanctions. If a member of a clan committed a crime against a member of another clan, the clan members handed him to the offended clan to be punished.

h) They encouraged intermarriages. Members of the same clan were in most cases not allowed to marry each other and instead people were to marry from other related clans.

Nyamwezi Warriors 

The Role of the Long Distance Trade in the Formation of States in East Africa

The long distance trade in East Africa refers to the type of trade that took place between the people of the interior of East Africa and the ones from the coast. The main participants were the Yao, Kamba, Nyamwezi and Baganda from the interior and the Arabs and Swahili traders from the coast. The main items traded were guns, beads and glassware that came from the coast and slaves, ivory, tortoise shells and copper from the interior of East Africa. The main medium of exchange was batter trade system, which is exchange of goods for goods.

The long distance trade provided a crucial role in the formation of states in East Africa as follows:

1. Accumulation of wealth. 
Those African chiefs who monopolized trade in pre–colonial African accumulated a lot of wealth that was used to build state in East Africa such as Buganda and Bunyoro. Kings such as Mutesa of Buganda, Kabalega of Bunyoro and Nyungu ya Mawe of Ukimbu accumulated a lot of wealth that was used to build strong states.

2. Introduction of guns. 
The long distance trade led to the introduction of guns into the interior of East Africa. These guns were used to strengthen armies that were used for conquest and expansion. Most of the states in East Africa were established through conquest and expansion.

3. Active participation in agriculture. 
The long distance trade encouraged people to participate actively in agriculture to produce goods that can be exchanged during the trade. Active participation in agriculture increased agricultural production which accommodated in high population, this contributed to the formation of states. States such as Buganda, Karagwe and Bunyoro were formed in those areas where agriculture was active.

4. Emergency of strong leaders. 
The long distance contributed to the emergence of strong leaders such as Mkwawa of the Hehe and Mutesa of Buganda. These leaders played a fundamental role in the emergence of states in East Africa by uniting the people

5. Migrations. 
The long distance trade encouraged migrations in East Africa. People moved from one place to another to take part in exchange of goods. The migration of people contributed to permanent settlement that had a role to play in state formation.

6. Development of towns. 
The long distance trade contributed to the development of towns in East Africa, these include Ujiji, Tabora and Bagamoyo. These areas acted as trading centers therefore they attracted many people thus contributed to the state formation.

7. Growth of trade routes.
The long distance trade contributed to the development of trade routes in East Africa. These routes opened the interior of East Africa.

An illustration of slaves being transported by Arab traders in Buganda Kingdom in the 1800s. The first foreigner to reach Buganda was an Arab trader named Ahmed bin Ibrahim. 


Islam is an Arabic word which means: Obedience and peace. The two meanings describe what Islam (Islamic Religion) means and stand for, that is, complete submission to the will of God and to be at peace with all the creatures of God. In terms of belief; Islam firmly stands for the belief in the unity of God (belief in only one God who has no partners) and Muhammad as God’s messenger and prophet. Islam believes in all God sent messengers and prophets mentioned in scriptures like the Qur’an and Bible and in Muhammad as the seal of all God’s prophets.

Islam and its influence were very significant in state formation in Africa, especially in North, West and East Africa. In the 19th C, however, Islam was more significant in the emergence of new states in West Africa (Western Sudan) than other regions of the content. Virtually, all the new states that appeared in West Africa after 1800 were largely as a result of the influence of Islam than other factors. This influence was by far through the 19th C Muslim Movements (“Jihad”) of Western Sudan.

The states that include the Sokoto Caliphate, Tukulor Empire, the states of Masina, Segu and the Moss and the states of Futa Toro, Futa Bondu and Futa Jalon were a product of Muslim Revolutions of the 19th C.


The word Jihad is an Arabic word whose root word is “Juhud” meaning; effort or struggle — “Juhudi” the Kiswahili version. In that sense, the term Jihad means to strive or to struggle. In the spiritual sense of the true teachings of Islam, the ultimate Jihad is self-reformation, that is, individuals’ struggle to excel in righteousness (virtue).

Jihad also means a holy war for the defence of faith. In the early period of Islam, during the lifetime of the Holy Prophet of Islam, Muhammad and his successors, when Muslims wielded the sword. it was only in self-defence or in the defence of others’ I religious freedom — never to force others to convert to Islam. Therefore Muslims never raised the sword except against those who first raised it themselves against them (Muslims) and most mercilessly killed innocent and pious men, women and children. That is to say, while Islam is falsely supposed to be spread by the sword, the fact of the matter is that Islam was never imposed on a person.

Islam clearly forbids the use of force or coercion for the propagation of its teaching. On this matter the Quran categorically emphasises that;

“There is no compulsion in religion. Surely, the right way has become distinct from error; so whosoever refuses to be led by those who transgress, and believes in Allah, has surely grasped a strong handle which knows no breaking. And Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing.” (Quran chapter 2, verse 257)

The verse removes the misunderstanding (about Islamic teachings and the early Jihads) and not only forbids Muslims in most emphatic words to use force for converting non- Muslims to Islam, but also gives reasons why force should not be used for this purpose. It is because truth stands out distinct from error, so there has remained no justification for using force.

The great and real Jihad, according to Islam, is to preach the Message of the Qur’an harmoniously. Thus to strive for the propagation of Islam and dissemination and diffusion of its teachings is the Jihad which the Muslims are enjoined to carry on with unabated zeal.

Jihad Wars in West Africa

The Muslim Movements (“Jihad”) in the 19th C West Africa

By the standards highlighted above, it is vain to think that the 19th C West African movements by Muslims were Jihads in the authentic sense of the true Islamic teachings. Islam strictly forbids taking up arms against anyone and thus, waging war for political and economic gain is not permissible. Then what were the movements all about?

The 19th C “Jihad” Movements in West Africa were revolts by the oppressed masses led by a new class of Muslim elites like Uthman dan Fodio and Al’haj Umar that wanted political freedom from oppressive regimes by using Islam as a uniting factor between 1800 and 1880s. Nevertheless, because the movements were organised and led by radical Muslim zealots against non-Muslim or nominal Muslim rulers. they are alleged to have been Islamic religious reforming arrangements.

The Jihads began in the present day Nigeria among the Hausa and Fulani and ended in the Senegal. They started by sweeping across the Hausa city-states. By the end of the second half of the 19th C, they had spread to the entire Western Sudan.

The most prominent these movements were the three “Jihads” of Uthman dan Fodio which led to the establishment of the Sokoto Caliphate State; of Ahmadou Lobbo (Hamad Ban) in Massina and the Bambara and; of Al-hadj Umar and the Tukulor Empire.

The Origins of the Jihad Movements in Western Sudan (West Africa)
The Jihad Movements of Western Sudan are traced from the 11th C when the Islam became powerful in the region. The Islamic faith spread in a number of states including Mali, Songhai and Bornu which indeed had deep rooted Islamic presence in the earlier centuries.

However for a variety of reasons by 1800 the fervour of Islamic faith had waned considerably. For instance, at the end of 16th C, the empire of Songhai disintegrated into small states that fell under traditionalist rulers. More so, even the Hausa states, of which Gobir and Katsina were the most powerful with a great Muslim population, were ruled either by traditional religionists or nominal Muslims. This upset the influence of Islam in West Africa.

By the beginning of the 19th C, famous Muslims scholars and zealots like Uthman dan Fodio, Ahrnadou Lobbo and A1-Hadj Umar were threatened by this chaotic state of affairs which could lead to complete decay of islamic faith. They took it to be their duty to reform and purify Islam by enforcing the observation and respect of Islamic laws as prescribed in the Holy Quran.

Uthman dan Fodio and the Jihad in Gobir

Uthman dan Fodio was most famous wandering scholar and reformist whose influence spread through the Western Sudan. He was born in 1754 to a Fulani Islamic teacher in Gobir — one of the Hausa states (in Northern Nigeria). After studies at Agadis, he returned to Hausa land at the age of 20 to begin teaching and preaching in Gobir, Kebbi and Zamfara. He demanded a stronger religious leadership within the state and complained against grievances of the oppressed masses.

By the 1790’s his fame had become a potential threat to the pagan king, Yunfa of Gobir who attempt to assassinate Uthman and his Muslim community. But Uthman and his companions withdrew to Gudu on the western frontier of Gobir. This was an imitation of Hijra - Prophet Muhammad’s flight from Mecca to Medina. His supporters from all over Western Sudan, majority of Fulani, followed by Tuaregs and Hausa followed him at Gudu.

In 1804, Uthman declared a revolution (“Jihad”) against Gobir, and, by 1808 he had conquered. He built a new capital at Sokoto hence marking the foundation of the Sokoto caliphate. The Jibad spread until the caliphate became the largest unified state in subS aharan Africa at the time. His success triggered other revolts like those led by Ahmad Lobbo and Al-hadi Umar. On his death. Uthman was succeeded by his son Muhammad Bello and brother Abdullahi as new Caliphs.

Ahmadou Lobbo and the Jihad in Massina and the Bambara

Ahmadou Lobbo was a more active reformist Fulani Cleric. He followed Uthman dan Fodio’s leadership in some respect.

Lobbo’s fame as a scholar, reformer and devoted Muslim spread, and thus faced the same fate of persecution as had fallen Uthman dan Fodio. He performed his “Hijra” to Hamdulullahi, and proclaimed the “Jihad” against the king of Jene in 1816. His campaign began as a civil war to liberate Fulani from the Bambara of Segu and the Massina and also an effort to create a rightly guided Muslim state. His campaign was successful and he set up the Hamdulillahi Caliphate.

Al-hadj Umar and the Tukolor empire.

Umar was born in Futa Tooro in about 1797 and studied to become Muslim cleric. In 1820, he went on Hadj (pilgrimage) to Mecca and returned in 1839. In his early 20 years travelling and studying he witnessed and was influenced by Islamic reform movements.

Tukulor comprised of three states of Futa Tooro, Futa Bondu and Futa Jalon. Between 1839 and 1848 basing in Futa Jalon, Umar made wide preaching tours among Mandinka and Tukulor and won many followers. As the Almamis of the Futa Kingdoms were worried of Urnar’s message and popularity, they expelled him from Fula Jalon, and he performed his flight (hijra) to Dinguiray and thus followed the example of dan Fodio and Ahmedou Lobbo. With his followers, Umar overrun the Futas (Futa Tooro, Futa Bondu, and Futa Jalon), the Bambara states of Bambuk and Kaasta, the entire Senegal and later the Massina to establish a large unified Tukolor Empire. He died in 1864 and was succeeded by his eldest son, Ahmadou Sekou.

Causes of Muslim Movements (“Jihads ‘9 in West Africa (Western Sudan)

The causes of the 19th C Muslim movements in West Africa are multifaceted; though the movements are said to have been religious in cause, were largely motivated by plenty of long and short term social, political, economic and intellectual grievances (forces) against aristocracies by the oppressed masses majority of who were Muslim communities of Fulani, Hausa and other communities including Tuareges. The causes are as follows;

Socio-religious Reasons

1. Need for purification and strengthening of Islam. 
The movements called for the restoration of Islamic faith to its devotional standard. Preachers and orthodox Muslims accused Nominal Muslims rulers and commoners who were abandoning orthodox Islam, for example by incorporating Traditional and Christian religious practices with Islam. Such practices provoked Muslim zealots like Uthman dan Fodio for change and defend Islam from decay.

2. Moral decay. 
Immorality ensued after the collapse of Muslim states like Mali and Songhai. There was widespread corruption and injustice in the courts of law as the ruling classes claimed bribes and passed judgment in favour of the rich. Divorce, adultery, theft, robbery and murder were also rampant. To that effect Muslim scholars intended to install the rule of law that would restore justice and put things in order as required by the Islamic faith.

3. Selling of Muslims into slavery by the Hausa rulers. 
This pricked the conscience of majority Muslims leaving them displeased. Muslim clerics preached against the practice as completely against God’s desire and humanity. Such disgruntlements could not be tolerated hence called for immediate action.

4. Unfair taxation. 
The rulers imposed heavy taxes on the people. For instance merchants and nomads, majority of whom were Fulani disliked the heavy market and cattle taxes. Making matters worse, tax collection involved brutal measures such as flogging. On such basis, the wealthy urban Fulani looked at the Jihads as great chance to establish rule of law and secure states that would protect their wealth and treat them fairly.

5. The Muslims also objected conscription into armies to fight fellow Muslims. 
It is against the Quran teachings for Muslims to fight each other yet Hausa rulers recruited Muslims in their armies and used them in fighting and raiding neighbouring Muslim societies. This moved the scholars to organise these movements to bring things into the right order.

6. The influence of Muslim groups from North Africa. 
The spread of Muslim brotherhoods of Tijaniyya and Qadiriyya to Western Sudan played a role in influencing the religious movements in the region. The brotherhoods were embraced by Muslim scholars like Uthman dan Fodio (belonged to Qadiriyya) and Al-hadj Umar (to Tijaniyya) and inspired them to spread Islamic faith in the entire West African region.

7. The Muslim world experience. 
The past history before the Jihads had witnessed the collapse of Islamic states such as Turkey, Songhai and Bornu. This threatened orthodox Muslims who felt that unless the situation was reversed, Islam would enter into total decay and eventually would be surpassed by other religions like African traditional and Christian religions.

Political Reasons

8. The oppressive rule of the Hausa rulers. 
The autocratic tendencies of the Hausa rulers downgraded their administration in the eyes of their people. In response, the Fulani, Hausa and Tukulor Muslims and non-Muslims joined the movements because it was a golden opportunity to oust the oppressive rulers in order to create a fair government of their favour.

9. Intellectual force. 
Muslim youth and clerics were better educated and widely travelled that they knew the world better than illiterate pagan rulers. They were often employed as judges, secretaries, scribes, authors and diplomats. Despite their education, they were unfairly represented with few positions in government. Their education status motivated them to seek for changes and thus the Jihads were also perceived as intellectual revolutions.

10. Charismatic leadership. 
Muslim scholars such as Uthman dan Fodio, A1-hadj Umar and Ahmadou Lobbo used their scholarly skills to spearhead the revolts. Their wondering, rhetoric and heroic preaching spread their fame and influence throughout western Sudan. Moreover, their denunciation of evil acts like corruption greatly appealed to many Muslims and non- Muslims whom they inspired to wage revolutions against the oppressive rulers.

11. The influence of the Fulani. 
The movements were largely led and supported by the Fulani who mostly being immigrants to various parts of West Africa but also much educated and wealthy, must have wanted to use wars to become the next class of rulers. Hence the call for revolts was also an appeal for power struggle and not merely done so out of Islamic zeal.

However much the reasons for the movements could have been partly religious and with the intention to free the oppressed from the autocratic rulers, but that does not qualify the revolutions to be Jihads of the authentic Islamic teachings that forbids taking up arms against anyone for political and/or economic gains or for the spread of faith — unless for self defence.

Effects of Jihad Movements in Western Sudan

1. Formation of large centralised political units. 
Empires such as Sokoto Caliphate and Tukulor, and also Mandika that reshaped their administration along the Islamic lines emerged due the revolutions. For instance the Sokoto Caliphate was a result uniting the small Hausa states such as Katsina, Zamfara and Zaria along with the non-Hausa peoples.

2. The birth to new political systems. 
The revolutions inspired the creation of theocratic states (caliphate system) of Sokoto, Massina and Tukulor. Basing on Islamic democratic principles, these states were far better than the despotic Hausa states. The Caliphates were the largest political units in the 19th C, made up of several emirates.

3. Contributed to the renewal and spread of Islam. 
Installation of Sharia Law boosted moral standards, so evil practices such as corruption, drinking and bribery were checked. Preachers and the masses were set free and learning spread. Islam that had been a religion of a small minority in 1800 spread that by 1850 the largest part of Western Sudan was Muslim. In addition the just administration and condemnation of evil practices attracted many to Islam.

4. The “Jihads” stimulated education. 
The leaders were first and foremost scholars with volumes of learning materials which they circulated throughout Western Sudan to educate masses about Islamic, societal norms and the world. Learning institutions and libraries were set up at some places like Sokoto and Segu. Literacy became necessary for high office, and Arabic was made official language of communication.

5. Unity. 
Using Islam as a factor, leaders solidly joined different peoples of Western Sudan like the Fulani, Bambara, Hausa and Touregs together as Islam undermined tribal loyalties. Along with that, the Islamic brotherhoods of Qadiriyya and Tijaniyya emphasised unity and adherence to the moral code of Islam and zeal for the spread of the faith.

6. Peace and order. 
The Jihads brought peace that enabled economic progress. Trade flourished as caravan routes between North Africa and Western Sudan were safe, farmers could till their soil, herdsmen tend their cattle and artisans and merchants play their trades undisturbed.

The Jihads of Western Sudan inspired the rise of Jihads in other parts of Africa. Among the inspired was the Mahdist revolt in 1881-85 in Sudan led by Muhammad Ahmad. The revolt intended to overthrow colonialism and carrying out socio-economic transformation in Sudan.

7. Creation of strong armies. 
Muslim leaders created strong armies comprising of Muslim majority that fought the old rulers and their corrupt systems to create new and just order. The armies also stood to safeguard their states. It was on such basis that the Mandika Empire of Samore Toure’s posed a strong fight against the French colonisers for a long time, 188 1-88.

8. The “Jihad” movements stirred the birth of nationalism in West Africa. 
Jihads raised a sense of political conscious and instilled a great need to safe self- governance against foreign control from European imperialists. It was on this ground that Mandika Empire of Samore Toure fought against the imposition of colonial rule by the French long (1881-88).

9. Disunity. As Islam spread widely in the region, a minority group remained loyal to other religions like African Traditional Religion and Christianity. Besides, the Muslim population was divided along the lines of the Muslim brotherhoods of Qadiriyya and Tijaniyya. While Qadiriyya stressed study and intellectual activity as the way to salvation, Tijaniyya stressed salvation through action and emphasised strict adherence to the moral code of Islam and the zeal for the spread of faith.

10. Loss of lives and destruction of property. 
Many people died and properties like houses and firms were destroyed during the fighting. Villages which became hostile to the Jihadists were raided. Similarly, during the wars commerce and agricultural production were on stand still.

Role of Islam in State formation in the 19th C

The role of Islam in state building in the 19th C was more remarkable in West Africa Western Sudan). Through the “Jihad” movements, the old systems were substituted by the more organised and acceptable systems. States formed included the Sokoto Caliphate by Uthman dan Fodio; the States of Massina and Bambara; by Ahmadou Lobbo (Hamad Ban) and the Tukolor Empire by Al-hadj Umar. The “Jihads” also influenced the formation of Mandika Empire by Samore Toure.

1. Rise of strong leaders. 
Islam groomed state founding leaders like Uthman dan Fodio, Al-hadj Umar, and Ahmad Sekou. On their scholarly, leadership and organisation skills, such men formed respected and majority supported leadership class under which new states like the Sokoto Caliphate and Tukola Empire were established.

2. Establishment of strong standing armies. 
The armies were made among the displeased Muslims and non-Muslims especially Fulani, Hausa and Tuareges to overthrow the oppressive regimes. They maintained law and order and protected their new states against foreign attacks like the Mandika that resisted French colonial invasion for long (188 1-88).

3. State unification. 
Through the “Jihads”, Islam unified small political units into large states. For instance, the Sokoto Caliphate that became the largest state in the 19th C West Africa was as a result of joining small Hausa states such as Katsina, Zamfara and Zaria and nearby societies. Other unified states included the Tukola and Mandinka empires.

4. Strengthened unity. 
Islam was uniting factor for the establishment of large states in the 19th C West Africa. As Islam became the overwhelming faith, ethnic loyalties were suffocated and that enabled leaders such as Uthman Dan Fodio to rally behind them different ethicises like the Fulani, Hausa, Bambara, and Touregs to form solid states like the Sokoto Caliphate.

5. Islam stimulated education. Muslim clerics and ruling classes of men like Uthman dan Fodio and Al-hadj Umar in Muslim states like Sokoto Caliphate were themselves scholars. They trained people on different fields like teachers, administrators, judges and scribes. They opened learning institutions and libraries at various areas like Sokoto and Segu and circulated written materials throughout Western Sudan. This spread awareness about religion and the world and justifies why Muslim states like Mandika resisted colonialism.

6. Establishment of efficient administrative and judicial system. A systematic centralised Caliphate system was introduced. At the top was the caliph, under him were Emirs in charge of the Emirates (provinces), district officials in charge of the districts and village-heads for villages. The Caliph was as well the highest judge. Sharia Law was applied to instill justice and eliminate immoralities like corruption, adultery, murder and robbery that consumed pre-Jihad society. Moreover, a fair taxation system based on income basis was introduced.

7. Islam promoted trade. 
History acknowledges Islam as a religion that promotes trade and certainly encourages fairness and honesty. The Muslim Fulani and Bambara and the ruling classes controlled trade and production of major trading items like Kola-nuts, Palm Oil and iron tools. Towns like Kano, developed into major market centres that attracted many traders. Trade helped states acquire wealth, firearms and iron tools.

8. Restoration of peace and order. 
Islam phased out the chaotic conditions which were source of anarchy in West Africa as leaders applied the Islamic principles based on equality, sincerity, humility and justice. The wide spread of Islam united people and thus ended internal rivalries. Peace and order contributed to political stability and economic prosperity.

9. Consolidation of Feudalism. 
After the Jihads, feudalism was strengthened in Muslim states. Land was controlled by the Caliph (Head of state) who distributed it to the Emirs (province heads) who then distributed it to the subjects in their areas. The subjects offered land were obliged to pay tributes to the Caliph and the Emirs as rewards for the land. The control of land by the ruling classes gave them power to win loyalty of their subjects.

By large, Islam does not permit the use of force or coercion for the purpose of its propagation, and strictly forbids taking up arms against anyone, therefore it is altogether vain and absurd for Muslims to take part or support any form of violence in the name of spreading Islam. Indeed, all sorts of aggression against; Muslims or non-Muslims and all God’s creatures are contrary to the clear teaching of the Qur’an. Selfish people use the word Jihad as an excuse for the fulfillment of their selfish desires.

Spread of Islam in West Africa


The term Mfecane means; crushing or grinding in Nguni language. Mfecane is however, used to describe the early 19th C great upheaval in Southern African Bantu societies that occurred as a result of tribal wars starting from 1818 and lasted for nearly 20 years.

To this note, Mfecane was a period of turmoil engineered by the Nguni people it southern Africa in Zululand. It was a period of wars of wondering characterised by massive killings, migrations and unification of people to form strong defensive forces

The Background of Mfecane

The Mfecane was a complex process with great regional variations as expressed by historians. The events that sparked off Mfecane occurred in the Zululand and Natal, among Northern Nguni who lived in a narrow area bounded by Delagoa Bay in the North, the Tugela river in the South, the Indian ocean in the East, and the Drakensberg Mountains in the West, the area that possessed fertile soils, reliable rainfall and conducive environment for both farming and pastoralism.

Internal stresses had developed in the region since the middle of the 18th C.  As population was rapidly expanding, it became increasingly difficult to find unclaimed land suitable for the customary farming, pastures and  hunting  grounds  leading to  clashes  between  communities. Besides, the customary cattle raiding between societies were developing into lethal contest.

In the first decade of the 19th C, powerful northern Nguni chiefdoms; the Mthethwa under Dingiswayo, the Ndwandwe under Zwide and Zulu under Shaka were expanding at the expense of their weaker neighbours. They gained control over most of their neighbouring chiefdoms and created rival confederacies that from 1917 clashed with each other in struggle to control more land. The disruptions between them are what are known as Mfecane.


Causes of the Mfecane

1. Increased population pressure. 
This was the main internal stress that led to Mfecane. Due to favourable climate and fertile soils in Nguniland, population rapidly expanded that it outmatched the available resources. As land became inadequate, it became difficult for groups of people to find more land for farming and pasture. The hunger for land raised conflicts that forced Nguni tribes adopt regular armies to fight for more land thus Mfecane.

2. The struggle to control trade with the Delagoa Bay. 
From the late 18th C, European maritime traders at the Delagoa Bay were trading with African societies in the vicinities like the Mthethwa, Ndwandwe and Zulu. The struggles to control the trade and acquire items like slaves, ivory and gold needed by maritime traders led to conflicts among the chiefdoms.

3. The Boers expansion northwards. 
The Boer Trek in the interior heightened the severity of Mfecane. With their determination to control any fertile land in the interior, the Boers fought African tribes included the Zulu, Nguni, Xhosa and Kumalo dislodging from the areas. The wars caused a lot suffering as tribes started fighting each other for the little land left.

4. The rise of Shaka as the King of Zulu state. 
Shaka was over ambitious and hostile and indeed much responsible for intensif.ing violence in the area. With a large, strong standing well-organised army he built of about 40,000 warriors, Shaka was determined to expand and absorb all his neighbouring states into his dominance. His extreme ruthlessness resulted in constant wars, massive death and forced many to flee from the area.

5. The great pride in military skills of Nguni trial leaders. 
The Nguni tribal leaders like Zwide of the Ndwandwe and Shaka of the Zulu fought each other to control the region by forcefully incorporating their neighbours into their hegemony. The constant wars between them forced many communities abandon their traditional homes to seek refuge elsewhere.

6. Attacks by the Griquas. 
Since the early 19th C, coloured people from the Cape colony, known as Griquas, were a source of instability among the southern Bantu communities. Using horses and firearms, the Griquas from time to time attacked the Nguni societies like the Sotho and capture women and children whom they sold as slaves to the Boers and British farmers.

7. Deadly cattle raiding acts. 
The Nguni adopted lethal cattle raiding activities against each other to expand their herds. As herds expanded communities competed for more grazing lands. The two; cattle raiding and need for more pastureland resulted in endless conflicts which ultimately led to Mfecane.

8. Transformation from communal to feudal system. 
It is argued that this was as well the root cause of Mfecane. Emergence of classes gave way to the rise of strong landlords - tribal leaders who were itching to consolidate power by acquiring more land. This settled the Nguni into small but rival chiefdoms such as Ngwane, Mthethwa, Zulu and Ndwandwe which contested for control of land in the region.

Effects of the Mfecane

Mfecane was indeed one of the notable 19th C African revolutions that have far reaching effects that touched a vast region of South, Central and East Africa. However much it brought havoc, it also brought considerable military, political and social development. The effects include;

1. Massive depopulation. 
Large parts of southern Africa namely, the regions of Natal, Orange Free and Transvaal states were largely depopulated. Some societies were annihilated as thousands were massacred and more forced to flee from the constant tribal wars.

2. Economic and social disruptions. 
Mfecane made life more insecure so people could hardly concentrate on economic activities like agriculture and trade leading to widespread famine, properties were and livestock stolen. Moreover, the migrating communities like the Ngoni raided societies they passed through like the Hehe for food, women and labourers. State building. Some small tribal Nguni communities transformed to powerful militaristic centralised states. Notably, Shaka forcefully unified several Nguni societies to form a strong Zulu state. Other states like Sotho by Moshoeshoe, Swazi by Sobhuza and the Ndebele by Mzilikazi were formed by the migrating communities in south and central Africa.

3. Redistribution of Bantu tribes. 
Mfecane forced migrations of several Nguni tribes from southern Africa. The migrating tribes like the Ngoni and Ndebele also invaded societies they came across forcing them out. This chain of reaction led to continuous trouble and migrations that redistributed Bantu tribes in South, Central and East Africa.

4. Emergence of powerful military leaders. 
The severity of tribal wars led to the rise of strong military leaders who emerged to defend their tribes. The leaders included Shaka of the Zulu, Mzilikazi of the Ndebele and Moshoeshoe of the Basuto.

5. Military transformation. 
The intensification of tribal wars, forced the Bantu tribes to have a military outlook that they never had before. Certainly, southern Africa became a home of military innovation. For instance Shaka the notable military innovator introduced new weapons, the Assagai (short stabbing spear) and new tactics like the age-regiment system and cow-horn military strategy. Such inventions were previously unknown in local warfare.

6. Emergence of migrations and refugees. 
Bands of northern Nguni refugees and Sotho groups who were driven from their homes scattered through the region. A number of surviving families and communities migrated (ran away) as refugees like the Ndebele and Northern Nguni who migrated northwards to Central and East Africa.

7. Adoption of dubious acts. 
Some groups among the remnants of the upheaval having lost means of production, that is, land and cattle, adopted dubious practices. For instance the Tlokwa were reduced to a miserable life of pillage and banditry and some even resorted to cannibalism. Also some among the southern Nguni became beggars-known as Mfengu.

8. Provoked more Boer penetration into the interior of South Africa. 
The Boers were encouraged to move into the interior by the availability of wide fertile land abandoned by the massacred and migrating communities from the turbulence of Mfecane.

The Influence of Mfecane in State Formation during the 19th Century

The Mfecane was an amazing terrible disaster in Africa, though its mark shall never be forgotten. One of its remarkable contribution was the accidental and as if planned role in state formation in southern, central and eastern Africa. States like Zulu, Sotho and Swazi in southern Africa and Ndebele, Gaza and Kololo in central Africa were its direct result while the Hehe and Nyamwezi in East Africa were indirectly influenced by the same disaster.

1. Mfecane raised charismatic leaders. 
The ceaseless wars led to appearance of strong military leaders who organised forces to guard their people from destruction. Men like Shaka of the Zulu, Sobhuza of the Swazi and Moshoeshoe of the Sotho (states in southern Africa), Mzilikazi of the Ndebele and Soshangane of Gaza (states in Central Africa) organised their people to form protective states of their own. In East Africa, men like Mirambo of Nyamwezi and Mnyigumba of the Hehe rose to protect their societies from the invading Ngoni people.

2. Military advancement. 
Due to Mfecane, innovative military tribal leaders notably Shaka, established disciplined armies, new weapons like the Assagai and methods like cow-horn strategy to build strong Zulu state. Emulating Shaka’s tactics, other tribal leaders like Sobhuza, Moshoeshoe, Mzilikazi, and Shoshangane formed strong armies to establish states of their own. Same tactics were borrowed by leaders like Mirambo of the Nyamwezi and Mnyigumba and Mkwawa of the Hehe in East Africa to strengthen their states.

3. Unification of weak states. 
Societies like Hehe, Yao and Nyamwezi that encountered Mfecane (Ngoni) emigrants were forced to form political unions (states alliances) to protect themselves from the Ngoni who attacked societies they passed through for land, cattle, women and labourers. The Hehe tribes for example were unified by Mnyigumba and Mkwawa who borrowed Ngoni military tactics to form a strong centralised Hehe kingdom.

4. The role of Mfecane migrations. 
States like Ndebele and Gaza in present day Zimbabwe and Mozambique respectively were as a result of Mfecane migrations. The migrating Nguni like the Ndebele moved in large groups of thousands hence easily form organised states where they settled. Also along their movements, the Ngoni fought and incorporated members of societies they encountered leading to population growth in the new areas they settled.

5. Development of economic activities. 
Trade boomed as the turmoil availed more items like the captives who were sold as slaves to European maritime traders by African societies. In addition, the migrating Ngoni carried new productive and warlike skills to central and east Africa that aided societies like Yao, Hehe and Nyamwezi, improve security, agriculture and trade. Such skills enabled them control the central and southern routes of the Long Distance Trade. Trade availed societies with firearms and wealth that was used to consolidate states.

6. Mfecane also stimulated cultural and ethnic assimilations. 
Stronger Mfecane migrating groups conquered weak communities they came across. The conquered groups were absorbed into the culture of their conquerors. This led to the establishment of largely plural (multi-ethnic) societies but united by a new adopted culture. The Kumalo, for example incorporated other Nguni refugees and some Sotho to form the Ndebele culture and Kingdom.

7. Formation of a powerful Zulu state by Shaka. 
Using his large strong standing army, Shaka unified all the Mfecane weakened Nguni societies in Natal to form a strong militaristic Zulu state. The incorporation of other Nguni communities within the Zulu control transformed the Zulu chiefdom into a large centralised state.

Shaka of the Zulu


Pre-colonial Education

Education is the transmission of knowledge, skills, values and experiences from one person to another or one generation to another. It is a lifelong experience given that one acquires education from birth to death.

Pre-colonial education was the indigenous transition of knowledge, skills, values and experiences from one person to another or one generation to another that was provided in Africa before colonisation of Africa. This education was a means to transmit a heritage from one generation to the next for the continuity of a culture and to help individuals integrate themselves into their community.

Types of Education in Pre-colonial Africa

Basically, the two most distinguished types of educations known worldwide, that is, informal and formal education were provided in pre-colonial Africa.

a) Informal Education 
It is the type of education without a systematic procedure. It is not provided at school, did not follow an orderly prescribed curriculum or a timetable, not imparted by specialised personnel. In the pre-colonial era, it was provided by the elders who mainly relied on personal experiences or what they had. Knowledge was transmitted orally. The young learnt by imitating the elders or parents. Boys practiced what fathers or men did while girls practiced what their mothers or women did. This is what is known as traditional education widely provided in pre-colonial era in Africa.

b) Formal Education 
This is a systematic type of education characterised by a well- defined structure, that is, systematic curriculum, given by specifically qualified personnel (teachers), limited to a specific period and observes strict discipline. It is the type of education provided in schools involving reading and writing.

Formal education was provided in Africa long before the arrival of the Europeans. Egypt developed the earliest known literature in the world since 4th Millennium BC. Literature, schools and universities like Al-Azhar and Fatimid universities in Egypt, Fez University in Morocco and Timbuktu University in Mali had developed in Africa before the coming of not only colonialism but the Europeans in general. Besides, several religious schools (Madrasas) developed in areas where Islam took root like in North Africa, Western Sudan and along the coast of East Africa. Arabic literature spread widely in those regions and others, for instance the Yao and Hehe were using Arabic in their transactions.

Timbuktu University, Mali

Characteristics of Pre-colonial Education

Though both formal and informal education had been in existence in African, long before the coming of the Europeans, informal education was the widely given. Therefore, in laying the characteristics of pre-colonial education, more attention will be put on traditional education.

a) Education was closely linked to the environment. 
Traditional education was dictated by the environment of society, so, provided the necessary skills needed to master the environment. It thus gave life skills fitting a particular society like agriculture, pastoralism and security.

b) All elders were teachers and all young ones were learners. 
The elders taught the young aspects of life and rituals that would help them in adulthood. Parents specifically played an important part in the education of their children.

c) Education was gender centred. 
Boys and girls were taught separately to prepare each sex for its adult roles. Boys were brought up to take occupation their fathers engaged in like trade, hunting and industry. Girls were expected to learn domestic chores such as cooking.

d) Knowledge was transmitted orally. 
Education was conducted through the word of mouth. No written documents were used to facilitate learning and keep records. People were to memorise knowledge acquired like the riddles, stories, legends, rituals and life skills.

e) Absence of segregation and discrimination. 
Education was given to all members of the community regardless of their sex and social status. Girls and boys, young, youth and elders, people from ruling classes and commoners all received education.

f) It was non-commercial. 
Traditional education was freely provided to all members of the community regardless of their social status. People received education freely and thus also disseminated it to others freely.

g) It was closely associated with society’s culture. 
The transmission of culture was a core part of traditional education. Knowledge transmission was intimately integrated with the social, cultural, artistic, religious and recreational life of the indigenous peoples.

h) Education was not uniform. 
Since pre-colonial education was determined by the environment, economic activities and culture of the society, it was not homogenous due to diversity of environmental and cultural set-ups of African societies.

i) Education was both informal and formal. 
Informal education was all over the continent provided by the elders who relied on their experiences. The young learnt orally and practically by imitating the elders or parents. Formal education was provided in some areas like Egypt, Western Sudan and East African coast where literature, schools and universities like Al-Azhar and Fatimid universities in Egypt were built.

Learning how to fight

Content of Pre-colonial Education

The curriculum of traditional education consisted of;

a) The environment. 
The environment of a given society dictated what was to be taught. The focus to equip individuals with the needed knowledge and skills to master their environment.

b) Economic activities. 
Skills for self-sustenance and economic development of individuals and society were central part of this education. Skills such as farming. pastoralism, fishing, industry and trading were given in reference to the environment of a particular community.

c) Culture and traditions. 
Cultural and traditional values were passed on through ceremonies, games, festivals, dancing, singing and drawing. Culture was society’s identification.

d) Morals. 
This education is also referred to as moral education due to its greater emphasis on morality. It cultivated acceptable behaviours and thus stressed on discipline and obedience, honesty, dutifulness, good communication and respect to the elders.

Methodology used in the Transmission of Knowledge and Skills

a) Practical skills. 
It was learning by doing. Education was disseminated at fields of work; while farming, herding, hunting, fishing, cooking and so forth according sex and age.

b) Oral transmission. 
Knowledge was basically handed down orally through daily instructions on work, storytelling, through riddle, poems and idioms.

c) Social, cultural, religious and recreational practices of the community. 
These included ceremonies, games, festivals, dancing, singing and drawing.

d) Memorisation. 
Education based on human memory. Knowledge and skills acquired were not written due absence of writing skills in majority African societies.

e) Experimentation. 
Curiosity and inventions were encouraged and appreciated. This encouraged innovativeness and through trial and error people learnt and invented.

Building a House

Objective and Roles of Pre-colonial Education

i) Imparting good morals. 
Traditional education aimed at enabling individuals to cultivate good habits and developing goodness. Discipline and obedience, honesty, good communication and empathetic to the elders were core elements taught.

ii) Preserve the culture of society. 
Education looked at passing to the young the societal customs and traditions. So the culture, traditions, rituals, legends and tales were its cardinal parts.

iii) Enable the young master the environment. 
Education was determined by the environment. The young were to be provided with skills needed to master their environment. For example different seasons in the year, types of plant and animal species and their importance.

iv) Prepare the young for adulthood responsibilities. 
This educational consisted of teaching aspects of life that would help individuals in adulthood roles that mainly were parenthood, leadership and security duties. Boys were to imitate their fathers and girls their mothers.

v) Promote peace and cooperation. 
Traditional Education based on the philosophy of communalism so, it looked to prepare children to provide for the community. Emphasis was put on working together and harmonious living.

vi) Provide economic skills. 
Education in pre-colonial Africa was to act as a catalyst in production. It was given in various fields such as in agriculture, medicine, industry and trade. It aimed at enabling individuals to survive and provide society with essential needs like food.

vii) Provide skills for defence. 
Defence of the society was a responsibility of all community members particularly men. Safety education was given and people were engaged in activities as archery, wrestling, use of spears, bows and arrows and climbing trees.

Strength of Pre-colonial Education

1. Education was practical. 
Pre-colonial education was very pragmatic by imparting special skills needed for man’s well-being and survival. Such skill included medicine practitioners (doctors) and midwives, masonry, industry and agriculture. People learned by practice.

2. Education was non-commercial. 
In pre-colonial Africa, education was freely provided to all members of the community regardless of their social status. People received education freely and thus also disseminated it freely to others.

3. Absence of discrimination. 
Education was given to all members of the community regardless of their sex and social status. By doing so, education preferred people to be the same (equal), enjoy the same privileges and share the pleasures of nature.

4. It was a relevant education. 
Education was closely linked to the environment and therefore equipped people with the vital knowledge to master the environment since it determined their lives. For example, knowing different seasons for different activities like farming and trade.

5. Encouraged hardworking. 
This education trained individuals to be useful to their societies by giving economic skills for self-sustenance and development of society. Economic life skills such as farming, pastoralism, industry, fishing and trading were encouraged to enable people earn good living. Laziness was discouraged and punished.

6. Preserved culture. 
Education was helpful in the conservation of societies’ cultural aspects. This was not only done in cultural, religious and recreational ceremonies, games, and festivals. But also in traditions, rituals, legends, songs and tales which were passed to the young.

7. Encouraged specialisation. 
Specialisation mainly based on gender. age and types of economic activities of individuals or communities. Men performed economic activities like farming, grazing cattle, industry and trade, while women concentrated on domestic roles like cooking and raising children. Societies concentrated on different activities like farming or industry or fishing or trade depending on the environmental resources available.

8. Emphasis on morality. 
Someone with good character was considered educated. Recipients of traditional education were supposed portray characters like respect, obedience, honesty, and faithfulness to the elders and the entire community and good communication skills.

9. Encouraged peaceful co-existence. 
Pre-colonial education built and consolidated peace and cooperation by promoting communality living. It prepared children to love one another, work together, promote peace and built a strong sense of belonging to their community needs.

Making Hair Styles

Weaknesses of Pre-colonial Education

1. Traditional education was partly mythical. 
What was pointed in the stories, myths and fables mostly lacked scientific proof. For example traditional stories on the origin of man (creation), were mostly imaginary descriptions of historical or religious ideas.

2. It was parochial. 
Education was limited to only few topics as the minds of educators did not go beyond provision of a fixed knowledge on the community environment, culture and emphasising humble submission to communal norms and values. People mostly lacked knowledge beyond their environmental circumstances.

3. It was not uniform. 
The fact that education was determined by the community’s environment, economic activities and culture, it was not homogenous. For example knowledge and skills passed in farming communities differed from that given in pastoral communities.

4. It was associated with bad cultural practices. 
Some awful cultural values and taboos were passed to individuals through traditional education. These included murder of twins in societies like Benin and customs that undermined women like prohibiting them to eat certain foods like eggs and chicken in some societies and denying them the right of inheritance.

5. It largely based on memory. 
The absence of writing made people depend on the power of individuals’ memory for retention and transmission of all learned ideas to individuals and future generations. But memory could fail and in the event of the death of a custodian of some useful information or skill, all was lost.

6. It was conservative. 
Education was predominantly static in subject matter. The fact that it was determined by the environment, it took long for people to acquire new ideas since environment changed over a long period of time. Also certain specialised skills such as medicine and tool making were kept a secret of a few who passed to their children.

7. Gender bias. 
Traditional education portrayed elements of gender bias in as far as girls and boys participation in society was concerned. Women were relegated to listeners and would be confined to the kitchen while boys were prepared for intellectual ideas and practices.

8. Lacked qualified teachers. 
The idea that all adults could contribute to the educational upbringing of the children was illogical. The elders could not teach beyond their general experiences and imaginations. Some based on the little knowledge given or what they heard from others. Lack of specialised teachers meant lack of specific knowledge on issues.

Despite the denigration by the Western countries, Africans had an equally worthwhile education. The fact that pre-colonial Africa did not have ‘schools,’ did not mean that people were not educated. They learned by living and doing. People were taught the life skills, and the behaviour expected of society members. Indeed, it was an all-round education, that also gave the children a sense of security, belonging and identity.

Iron Smelting

Culture in Pre-colonial Africa

Culture is the total way of life of the people of a given society in a given time. It is the customs and habits of a particular society.

Culture includes all man’s created aspects of life in a given environment such as customs, traditions, legends, language, beliefs, education, governance systems and artistic expressions like songs, dancing and games. Culture was vital in shaping societies’ values and directed the daily trend of affairs of the society.

Importance of Culture in Pre-colonial Africa

1. It was a central part of education system of societies. 
Through culture, knowledge, skills, experiences and values were passed to children and future generations to another.

2. It was identification. 
People were distinguished form others by their cultural presentation since African societies had different cultural aspects — there was no one African culture. Culture built and consolidated unity and cooperation. Cultural relations tied people together. For instance people marrying from different clans bonded different clans or the whole tribe together.

3. Preserved the history of society. 
Cultural aspects like tales, fables, songs and games, myths and stories like creation stories and ceremonies like weddings, child birth and initiation told the past about the society.

4. Determined norms of society. It dictated the socio-political and economic life of the society by giving the daily routine which answers daily questions on what to do. how and when.

5. Culture encouraged hardworking. 
By African culture everybody was a worker for the wellbeing of the whole society. Laziness was discouraged and the lazy punished.

6. Culture shaped societal morals. 
It showed the young social values, taboos and beliefs. That is, the desirable and undesirable conducts of the community and so, encouraged people to do good while cautioning them of what is bad.

7. It maintained continuity of society. 
Through initiation ceremonies, youth were graduated into adulthood. That tells that culture exposed youths to tasks similar to those of their elders and for that reason incorporated the youth into their society for continuity.

Weaknesses of Pre-colonial Culture

a) It was dictatorial. 
African culture was not subjected to question. People were to obey everything without hesitation. Abuse or violation of any rule was punished. Punishment included flogging and sometimes death.

b) Gender inequality. 
African culture was built on aspects of the superiority of men. Women were to always be subservient to men. For instance confined to domestic roles while men were prepared for economic practices like trade and industry and political issue of society.

c) Culture incorporated inhuman practices. In societies like Benin, twins were murdered by being buried alive as they perceived to be a curse in some communities. Other societies infertility among women was taken for a curse hence victims were sometimes divorced.

d) It was much mythical. 
Some legendary beliefs were unrealistic with no elements of truth. For example the tales about creation. life and death lacked proof and differed from society to society. Others norms included prohibition of women to eat eggs and chicken.

e) Culture was conservative. It took long to change or incorporate new ideas and practices. Even when some practices seemed irrelevant, it was hard for society to abandon them.

Sample -
 Revision Questions

1. Assess why pre-colonial African societies did not develop the slave mode of production

2. The feudal mode of production did not develop in the entire African continent. Account for the variations. (Give six points)

3. Analyse five characteristics of the first non antagonistic mode of production which developed in Africa and elaborate three factors that show how African communal societies transformed to feudalism. (NECTA 2014)

4. Analyse the characteristics of pre-colonial exploitative modes of production in Africa. (Give four characteristics in each mode of production). (NECTA 2016)

5. How did Neolithic revolution affect the pre colonial African societies?

6. Though the characteristics of feudal mode of production were the same their approaches however were different. Identify six differences between the feudal mode of production practiced in Buganda with the one that along the coast of East Africa.

7. Discuss the main factors that facilitated the rise and development of the Nyarubanja system in the West lake region in pre colonial Africa.

8. Explain six outstanding features of the centralised societies that existed in prec olonial Africa. (NECTA 2013)

9. With vivid examples, account for the rise and expansion of large scale social political organisations in pre colonial African societies.

10. Describe six factors for the development of State Organisation in pre-colonial West African Societies. (NECTA 2016)

11. The emergence and consolidation of African societies was to a large extent due to internal of dynamic of the African societies rather than external influences. Discuss 

12. Discuss how basic political organizations in Africa were related to the environment where they evolved.

13. Explain six roles of Islamic religion in the formation of Pre-colonial West African states. (NECTA 2015)

14. Discuss the political, social and economic factors for the 19th C religious movements in Western Africa.

15. Account for the outbreak of the political turmoil and its consequences among the Nguni speaking people of South Africa in the 19th Century.

16. By using six points, examine the influence of Mfecane war in the formation of centralised states in Central and East Africa during the 19th century. (NECTA 2017)

17. Examine four usefulness and four weakness of the pre-colonial education (NECTA 2012)

18. Assess the objectives and aspects of pre-colonial education

19. Examine critically the characteristics of pre colonial education and its role enhancing African cultural aspect

20. Pre-colonial African societies were dynamic. Justify this statement by giving six points. (NECTA— Private candidates 2015)


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  2. Thank you a lot for ur notes.

  3. Good site i really like it god bless you

  4. the notes are well organised,,,, would enable students 2gain and apply them''' thanks so much

  5. can yu sent me all notes for form five HKL?email me elton.mwashalla@gmail.com

  6. can you send me notes for
    form five & six HKL WITH EMAIL