Africa from 1200-present

Mali Empire: 1235 - 1670

Key Features:

  • Founded by Sundiata Keita in 1235

  • Had its capital in Niani

  • Flourished by taxing trade in gold and ivory

  • Spread Islam, built lodges for Muslim merchants, built Islamic schools and mosques


Mansa Musa, King of Mali

  • Went on hajj in 1324, brought enormous amounts of gold with him

  • Distributed gold to many people he met along the way

  • Known as one of richest men of all time

  • Inspired by Islamic teachings when on the hajj → Came back to Mali to spread Islam

    • Built mosques, Islamic schools, sent students to North Africa to study Islamic theology

    • Brought Muslim scholars with him to Mali to help spread Islam


Trans-Saharan Trade

  • Connected Mali to the rest of Islamic world

  • Muslim merchants spread Islam to West Africa

  • West African kings and merchants converted to Islam to forge better relations with Muslim merchants

  • Traded gold and ivory in exchange for salt as salt couldn't grow in West Africa

  • Camels helped transport goods as they could hold heavy loads and survive without water for 10 days


Swahili City-States

  • City-states on East African coast

  • Flourished through Indian Ocean trade

  • Kilwa Sultanate was most prominent city-state there

    • Had multi-story stone buildings

    • Used copper coins for currency

    • Many Islamic scholars traveled there


African Religion and Society

  • Mostly kinship and family-based society

  • Slavery was common, people would raid other kingdoms to capture slaves to trade

  • African religion involved a creator god and lesser deities

    • People would honor their ancestors

    • People would worship diviners, who can communicate between humans and supernatural beings

    • Believed in proper moral behavior

  • While some adopted Islam, everyone still retained their indigenous cultural traditions (syncretism)​

  • Kingdom of Axum in Ethiopia was Christian

    • Avoided spread of Islam due to its isolation

    • Churches were built of stone, Bible was translated into Ethiopian language


Songhai Empire

  • Founded in 800s, were part of Mali empire then
  • In 1494. Sunni Ali led raid against Mali Empire & established autonomy of Songhai Empire
    • Had capital at Gao in West Africa, had control over trade cities of Timbuktu & Jenne

    • Used wealth from trade to conquer entire Niger River Valley

    • Had a navy patrol the Niger River

    • Supported Islam & trans-Saharan trade, built many mosques & Islamic schools

  • Fell in 1591 as an army with muskets (supplied by Europeans) easily took them over


Kingdoms of Central Africa

Kingdom of Kongo

  • Portuguese established diplomatic relationships with Kongo in 1483
    • Portuguese supplied advisors, tailors, priests, ​and many other important people
    • In exchange, Portuguese wanted slaves to send to the Americas to work on plantations
    • Encouraged converts to Christianity
  • King Nzing Mbemba (Afonso I) of Kongo converted to Christianity & zealously promoted it
    • Built many churches in his capital of Mbanza (also known as Sao Salvador)

    • Encouraged his subjects to convert to Christianity


Kingdom of Ndongo

  • Located just south of Kingdom of Kongo
  • Portuguese built a coastal colony in 1575, ventured inland into Ndongo in 1611
    • Wanted slaves to send to the Americas in exchange for supplying goods & specialized people (missionaries, advisors, tailors, etc)
  • Queen Nzinga of Ndongo resented Portuguese presence
    • She acted & dressed like a man
    • She planned to use the Dutch in South Africa to expel the Portuguese, then she would expel the Dutch herself. This plan failed

European Presence in Africa

Dutch Presence in South Africa

  • Dutch built a trading post in Cape Town (present-day South Africa) in 1652 & later ventured inward
    • Conquered native Khoikhoi & Xhosa ​people of South Africa

    • Forced natives to do labor, built a prosperous colony with native labor


European Alliances with African Kingdoms

  • Europeans allied with African kingdoms to get slaves
    • European states would give manufactured goods (including guns) to West African kingdoms in exchange for war captives as slaves

    • As African kingdoms keep trading with European states, they acquire more guns from Europeans, which they use to capture more slaves

      • Ultimately, certain African kingdoms became super power this way

    • This led to political turmoil as the most powerful states would attack other states for slaves

  • Since most slaves were men, society was disrupted in Africa

    • Many people practiced polygyny, the practice of having multiple wives​

      • This was because more women were left behind as most slaves were men

    • Many families lost their laboring men → Women had to work on farms or the family would go into poverty

Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade

Triangular Trade


Raw materials cultivated by slaves



Manufactured goods 


Middle Passage

  • Journey of slaves across the Atlantic
    • Deadliest part of a slaves live
    • Journey takes about 6 weeks, almost 25% of slaves die
    • Slaves are packed into a crowded ship, barely have enough room to sit upright on bunk beds
    • Many fall sick; sick slaves are thrown overboard so the crew doesn't have to deal with them
  • Since working conditions for slaves are so cruel, slave mortality is high, so demand for new slaves is high​​
    • Many slaves die within the first year of working, especially on sugarcane plantations​

  • In total, 16 million slaves were taken from Africa, of which about 4 million died in the Middle Passage


Slave Culture

  • Slaves often harmonized their indigenous African culture with American culture (syncretism)
    • Practiced African music, rituals, and religion in Americas

    • Harmonized African deities with Christian saints whose feast days coincide

    • Slaves often came from different African kingdoms, so they all syncretized their cultures

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European Imperialism in Africa

Scramble for Africa & Berlin Conference

  • In late 1800s, European nations raced to colonize Africa

    • Some imposed direct rule, others had local concessionary companies rule​

    • Often exploited tribal boundaries by grouping rival tribes together or splitting up a tribe into multiple colonies

    • Built railroads & other infrastructure

    • Formed export-oriented economies

  • In 1884, European leaders met at Berlin Conference to discuss rules for colonizing Africa

    • Decided that nations must publicly announce their claims & get permission from local African leader to colonize them​

  • Eventually, all of Africa (except Ethiopia & Liberia) were colonized by Europeans

  • King Leopold II of Belgium created Congo Free State in Central Africa & promoted free trade


British Involvement in Egypt & Suez Canal

Muhammad Ali (Egyptian ruler) industrialized Egypt, borrowed money from Europeans, prepared to declare independence from Ottomans

Egyptian debts were so high, so rulers raised taxes. This led to popular uprising, rebellion, and turmoil

British took advantage of political turmoil & colonized Egypt in 1882. Wanted to gain access to Suez Canal as it provides easy access to India

Africa During the Interwar Period

Africa's Involvement in the War

  • Many battles were fought in Africa itself
    • British & French often attacked German colonies in Africa
    • French sought to retake Cameroon from Germans
  • Many Africans participated in the war
    • Many served as soldiers, representing their colonizer
    • English & French had mandatory conscription for young adult men
    • Others would help transport supplies for soldiers
    • Over 1 million Africans participated, over 150,000 Africans died
  • As many Europeans left Africa to join the war, Africans could protest against colonization
    • Many Africans didn't want to participate in the war
    • Europeans successfully put down all revolts

African Colonial Economy

  • Europeans built lots of infrastructure, including railroads, telegraph lines, and roads in Africa
    • Made communication, transportation, and governance easier
    • Africans paid for this with taxes & labor
    • French sought to retake Cameroon from Germans
  • Most Africans were cash crop farmers as they had to pay taxes to Europeans with their income
    • Specialized in 1-2 crops
    • Mostly white settlers (in South Africa) dominated this industry
    • Mining enterprises also hired men from rural areas
  • Forced labor was commonly used
    • Many railways were built with forced labor
    • About 15,000 forced laborers died each year of overwork

African Nationalism

  • Many Africans were inspired by European ideals of freedom & independence
    • Inspired by Woodrow Wilson's idea of self-determination
    • Many Africans studied in Europe & were inspired by Enlightenment ideals of freedom
  • African nationalists differed in their views on nationalism
    • Some believed in nationalism based on ethnicity
    • Others believed in pan-African nationalism (all of Africa as one nation)
    • Some believed in using existing colonial boundaries for nationalism
    • After WW2, these nationalist movements turned into actual independence movements

Independence of African States:

Algerian Independence War (1954-1962)

France wanted to keep Algeria but gave independence to all 13 other French African nations (1960)

France shot Algerian peaceful protestors (1954)

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The Algerian independence war started. Algerian National Liberation Front (NLF) resorted to guerilla warfare

In 1962, Algerians won, but hundreds of thousands of Algerians died

African Nationalism

  • There was a growth in pan-African nationalism as people celebrated their blackness (negritude)
  • Revival of indigenous African traditions helped spread African nationalism
  • There were many delays to African independence
    • Europeans believed Africans were incapable of self-governance, so they slowed the transition to independence
    • Some Europeans & Asian states colonized African nations to prevent communism or nationalism from spreading there (Cold War politics)

Independence of Ghana & Kenya

Kwame Nkrumah became first African to negotiate independence. Became first president of Ghana in 1957

Nkrumah inspired other African nations to fight for independence

Kikuyu tribe in Kenya resented British rule. Hated that they were sent to lowlands & regarded as wage farmers

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Other nations empathized with Kikuyu & supported them. Jomo Kenyatta negotiated independence in 1963

British went on violent campaign to kill dissidents. Killed thousands of Africans

Kikuyu led violent campaigns against Europeans

Apartheid in South Africa

South Africa was settled by many whites & blacks. Had a strong economy

Industry grew during WW2, so many blacks got jobs

Whites hated that blacks got jobs. Instituted Apartheid (separation). Afrikaner National Party (whites) kept 87% of land for whites, restricted jobs for blacks

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First South African president, F. W. de Klerk, (elected 1989) dismantled Apartheid, legalized ANC, had first multi-racial elections, Mandela became president in 1994

Other nations imposed sanctions on South Africa & opposed Apartheid

Black leaders, including Nelson Mandela, founded African National Congress (ANC). ANC members protested against Apartheid, & police shot them