. 6
( 12)


cracy, laying telegraph and telephone links to provincial headquarters, building
the ¬rst railway line and state schools, creating a new capital at Addis Ababa,
and especially strengthening the army. By the mid-1890s his regular bodyguard
of some 3,000 men had a few machine-guns and could be reinforced by up
to 100,000 irregulars with ¬rearms. The regular soldiers were rewarded with
grants of land, which their ¬rearms conquered from Oromo and other south-
ern peoples during a decade of warfare that culminated in 1897 when the King
of Kaffa was led captive to Addis Ababa in golden chains. A year earlier Ethiopia
had repelled Italian invasion at the Battle of Adwa. Its territory almost reached
its modern borders and its power was greater than at any time since Amda
Further west, in the Maghrib, Muhammad Ali™s in¬‚uence was also strong,
but so was the impact of the French invasion of Algeria in 1830, designed to
172 africans: the history of a continent

win cheap glory for the monarchy that had succeeded Bonaparte. Algeria™s
Turkish garrison offered little resistance and was deported to Istanbul, but the
Arab tribes of the western hinterland resisted, electing as their commander Abd
al-Qadir, a leader of the Qadiriyya brotherhood whose role included uniting
these segmentary people against external threats. He built up a standing army
of more than 10,000 men, supplemented by tribal levies, and created a skele-
ton state in the western hinterland administered by Qadiri sheikhs and tribal
leaders. His muskets were better than those of the French and it took a brutal
campaign by 108,000 men “ one-third of the entire French army “ to force his
surrender in 1848. Nine years later, the French took the Berber stronghold in
Kabylia, suppressing a major rebellion there in 1871 to complete an exception-
ally destructive conquest. The colony was governed as three departments of
France. From 1871 effective power lay with European settlers, through their
elected representatives in Algiers and Paris. The settler population, 279,691 in
1872, doubled during the next twenty years as prosperous farmers supplanted
the Mediterranean peasants whom the army had originally settled on expro-
priated land. Muslim tribal notables, although not entirely destroyed, shared a
general impoverishment that contributed to the death of several hundred thou-
sand Muslims from famine, cholera, typhus, and smallpox in the late 1860s. By
the end of the century, however, violent conquest had ended, cholera had lost its
virulence, resistance to vaccination against smallpox was waning, the Muslim
population was increasing by perhaps 1 percent a year, and Algeria had joined
Egypt as a pioneer of Africa™s modern demographic growth.
Recovery from the same cholera epidemic may also have inaugurated popu-
lation growth in Tunisia, but otherwise the decades before the French occupa-
tion in 1881 were among the worst in the country™s history. During the 1830s,
the French invasion of neighbouring Algeria, the Ottoman reoccupation of
Tripoli in 1835, and the model of Muhammad Ali™s Egypt compelled Tunisia™s
rulers to attempt self-strengthening. Ahmed Bey (1837“55), an eager mod-
erniser, built up a New Army of sixteen thousand local conscripts, established
a military academy and supply industries, and strengthened the Tunisian ele-
ment in the bureaucracy. But Tunisia™s ancien r´ gime had not been destabilised
by a Napoleonic invasion, so innovation from above was more super¬cial than
in Egypt. Moreover, it was prohibitively expensive for a country of at most
1,500,000 people. Ahmed Bey doubled his income, partly by taxing exports, but
his army still cost two-thirds of state revenue and a growing foreign debt before
harvest failure in 1852 forced him to disband it. Thereafter crisis deepened.
An attempt in 1864 to restore the state ¬nances by doubling taxes provoked
widespread revolt that left agriculture, industry, trade, and treasury in even
greater disorder. By 1869, when the European Powers imposed a ¬nance com-
mission, interest on the public debt exceeded public revenue. A ¬nal attempt
at reform was made in 1873 by a gifted Mamluk of¬cial, Khayr ed-Din, who
Regional diversity in the nineteenth century 173

sought to combine modernisation of the army, bureaucracy, education, and
¬nance with Ottoman principles of benevolent autocracy in economy and
politics, including the restoration of guild control in industry and the virtual
enserfment of sharecroppers. When he was ousted in 1877 by collusion between
court and European consuls, Tunisia was on the brink of colonial invasion.
Attempted modernisation also destabilised Morocco. Support for Abd al-
Qadir led to a defeat by France in 1844 which stimulated military reforms.
Further defeat by Spain in 1859“60 and the imposition of an indemnity led
to foreign debt and some European ¬nancial control. The able Mawlay al-
Hasan (1873“94) struggled against opposition to change from Morocco™s pow-
erful religious leaders, for modernisation meant levying non-Koranic taxes and
challenging the clerical monopoly of education. Moreover, a powerful state and
modern army threatened the autonomy of tribes, who responded in the late
nineteenth century by acquiring ¬rearms from the traders of the various Euro-
pean nations, themselves deterred from seeking political control only by fear of
their rivals. Morocco, like China, suffered the evils of semicolonialism, but the
kingdom preserved independence until 1912, when the Europeans ¬nally par-
titioned it between France and Spain. Modernisation had failed to overcome
segmentation, as throughout North Africa except perhaps Ethiopia, because
of its expense to underpopulated societies and its threat to vested interests,
especially those of Europeans. But modernisation in North Africa had ended
¬ve centuries of decay and restored the dynamism of a growing population.

the west african savanna
Across the desert, in the Islamic savanna of West Africa, the European threat
was more remote until the late nineteenth century. Here the drive to over-
come political segmentation came from internal sources and used indigenous
techniques. Demographic change, too, arose from indigenous dynamics.
These changes occurred unevenly in different parts of the region. The west-
ern savanna remained divided and impoverished after Morocco™s destruction
of Songhay in 1591. The Moroccan garrison in Timbuktu took local wives, pre-
served only distant allegiance to Morocco, and fought endlessly among them-
selves. In 1737 they were defeated by Tuareg nomads expanding southwards
along with the desert edge. These conditions also encouraged the eastward
and southward expansion of Fulbe pastoralists. The most powerful successor
states to Songhay in the eighteenth century were the Bambara kingdoms of
Segu and Kaarta and the several Mossi states, increasingly supplying slaves
to the Atlantic trade. Yet this period of political fragmentation in the west-
ern savanna also saw religious growth, both in the new kingdoms “ Dulugu
(c. 1796“1825) was the ¬rst Mossi ruler of Wagadugu to adopt Islam “ and espe-
cially in the countryside, where clerical families abandoned courts and towns
174 africans: the history of a continent

to create communities of Islamic zealots and to proselytise among cultivators
and herdsmen. Many belonged to the Qadiriyya brotherhood and looked for
leadership to the Kounta, a family of Berber clerics based in Timbuktu.
Islam spread especially fast in Hausaland and neighbouring areas of the cen-
tral savanna, so that early nineteenth-century Hausa slaves in Oyo or Brazil were
generally Muslims, while even Muslim reformers condemning the eclecticism
of Hausa rulers recognised that the faith had won wide acceptance, especially
in towns and in the north of rural Hausaland. One reason for the expansion of
Islam was that Hausaland™s economy overtook that of the western savanna dur-
ing the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The whole region used a cowrie
currency. Hausa grain-farming and Fulbe pastoralism developed in symbiosis.
Trade routes northwards to Tripoli prospered, while to the south Hausa traders
reached several coastal towns during the eighteenth century. Yet all this took
place amid political instability as the cavalrymen of the many Hausa kingdoms
battled for supremacy. Socioeconomic and political structures diverged.
This was the background to the most important event in nineteenth-
century West Africa, the jihad of 1804 which united Hausaland into the Sokoto
Caliphate. Its origins were almost entirely internal. West African scholars were
certainly aware of turmoil and revival in the wider Islamic world, but neither
the writings of the jihad leader, a Fulbe scholar of the Qadiriyya brotherhood
named Usuman dan Fodio (1754“1817), nor those of his companions show
much interest either in these international issues or in the eighteenth-century
jihads in Futa Jalon and Futa Toro. Mahdist expectations were current as the
thirteenth Islamic century approached and Usuman came to think himself the
Mujaddid (Renewer) who would precede the Mahdi, but the jihad resulted
chie¬‚y from the contradictions that the steady growth of Islam created within
the Hausa states, especially the most powerful, Gobir, where Usuman lived.
In c. 1788 a sympathetic ruler exempted its growing Muslim community from
taxes and allowed them to wear distinctive Islamic dress and admit anyone
as a member. After his death in c. 1790, however, his fearful successors can-
celled these privileges. Usuman withdrew to his rural community, gathered
zealots, preached in the vernacular to surrounding Fulbe and Hausa country-
men, armed his followers, and rejected an order to leave the kingdom. Gobir™s
forces attacked in 1804, the Muslims repelled them, and war had begun.
Usuman claimed that the eclectic Hausa rulers ˜worshipped many places
of idols, and trees, and rocks, and sacri¬ced to them™, killing and plunder-
ing their subjects ˜without any right in the Sharia™.9 This critique attracted
a heterogeneous following. Its nucleus was Usuman™s community of zealous
young students, perhaps 80 percent Fulbe. The war itself attracted many Fulbe
pastoralists, ¬ghting men hostile to cities, governments, and taxes. But Hausa
peasants shared these enemies and some joined the movement. These forces
posed their bows, their twenty horses, and their superior morale against their
Regional diversity in the nineteenth century 175

rulers™ cavalry. Fighting in Gobir catalysed tensions throughout Hausaland. In
the north, where Fulbe pastoralists were numerous, Hausa rulers identi¬ed the
jihad as a Fulbe revolt, moved to suppress the pastoralists, and were themselves
often driven northwards into exile, while strongly Fulbe regimes replaced them.
Away to the east in Borno, the repression of a Fulbe revolt led to an invasion
by jihad forces, but Borno repelled them under the leadership of a gifted cleric,
Muhammad al-Kanemi, whose descendants were to seize the throne in 1846. In
the south, local Fulbe clerics generally responded to news of ¬ghting in Gobir
by securing recognition from Usuman and either overthrowing Hausa rulers,
as in Zaria, creating emirates by conquest of non-Hausa peoples, as in Bauchi
and Adamawa, or intervening to support and supplant non-Hausa Muslims
in local con¬‚icts, as in Nupe and Oyo. The main Hausa states were conquered
by 1809, when the new city of Sokoto was founded as capital of a Caliphate.
Three years later the unworldly Usuman retired. When he died in 1817, his son,
the great Muhammad Bello, suppressed widespread revolt and stabilised the
Caliphate as an enduring polity.
Extending over 400,000 square kilometres, the Caliphate™s necessary decen-
tralisation was accentuated by the separate jihads that had brought local emi-
rates into being and by the continuation of warfare on the borders throughout
the nineteenth century. Yet it survived as an entity, chie¬‚y because the model
of a Caliphate set out in Islamic history and law provided in effect a written
constitution. Muhammad Bello could list the duties of the thirty emirs ruling
component units, referring each obligation to the recorded practice of the early
Caliphate. Such authority was lacking in even the most sophisticated of Africa™s
preliterate states. Sokoto, for once in Africa, was a government of laws and not
of men, especially because, as in Morocco, the sharia was administered by reli-
gious magistrates. The caliph was elected from Usuman™s close descendants by
a council of nonroyals. No caliph was ever deposed. Most observed Usuman™s
austerity. Emirs were descendants of the clerics who had led each local jihad.
The caliph appointed them on the nomination of local electoral councils. He
had more freedom of choice where several families had shared the leadership,
as in Zaria where caliphs deposed four emirs between 1860 and 1890, whereas
an attempt to impose an unpopular emir on Kano in 1893 led to his defeat in
civil war. In this case the caliph, who directly commanded only Sokoto™s local
forces, failed to induce other emirs to put their troops at his disposal. Generally,
however, he could call on loyal emirs and also require them to visit Sokoto each
year with heavy tribute.
Although the jihad was not in origin an ethnic movement, its course had
given it a strong Fulbe bias, so that every emir was Fulbe except Yakubu of
Bauchi (one of Usuman™s pupils), and even his chief of¬cials were Fulbe. Like
Yakubu, who dug his own grave, many emirs preserved the austerity of the early
zealots, but in conquering the Hausa towns the Fulbe, like other pastoralists
176 africans: the history of a continent

before them, were absorbed into their subjects™ strongly assimilative culture,
which gave the Caliphate much of its stability and sophistication. They adopted
a sedentary, urban life. Many spoke Hausa, although Arabic was the language
of scholarship and diplomacy. Contrary to Usuman™s wishes, they adopted
the Hausa sarauta system of titled of¬ces. They abandoned their bows for the
aristocratic ethos of cavalrymen. These urban Fulbe noblemen supported their
of¬ces by complexes of land, slaves, and tax-collecting rights:

Do not practise con¬scation as the courtiers do,
Galloping, galloping upon their ponies,
They seize by force from the peasants and leave them
With nothing save the sweat of their brows.10

Except when extracting its highly regressive taxes, the regime seems to have
had few functions and little but military power outside its walled capitals.
It probably grew more oppressive in the later nineteenth century when the
wealthier emirates created standing armies of slave musketeers.
By 1900 most of the Caliphate™s free inhabitants were probably Muslims.
The Qadiriyya was virtually its of¬cial brotherhood. Hausaland had become a
major centre of scholarship, largely supplanting Timbuktu. Its school system
admitted many boys but few girls, for Usuman™s enthusiasm for female educa-
tion seems not to have secured its extension beyond aristocratic women, who
themselves began to live in seclusion. The position gained by Islamic culture
was seen in medicine, for although indigenous herbalism and other practical
skills survived, local medical procedures invoking magical or spiritual power
gave way to similar Islamic practices, at least for male Muslims, although more
scienti¬c Islamic medicine was virtually unknown. Indigenous spirit medicine
survived only in rural backwaters and among urban women, who participated
in a spirit (bori) possession cult using dance to heal the maladies of female life
in an Islamic environment. Muslim power-holders tolerated but avoided these
practices, marginalising a formerly shared culture.
By giving Hausaland a polity appropriate to its economy, the jihad made it
the most prosperous region in tropical Africa. The economy rested on a single
annual harvest of millet or sorghum, plus more specialised crops grown chie¬‚y
in the manured land of the close settled zones surrounding major cities. These
zones were extended in the nineteenth century by attracting immigrants and
creating slave villages, for although free peasants probably remained a majority
among cultivators, the Sokoto Caliphate was the world™s last great slave society.
Slaves were cheap “ perhaps only one-tenth of their price in eighteenth-century
South Africa “ because most were captured from surrounding non-Islamic
peoples in the brutal raids that the Caliphate™s horsemen launched in each dry
season. Most slaves probably formed villages owned by Fulbe noblemen or
Hausa traders. They lived as families, with their own plots, but also worked
Regional diversity in the nineteenth century 177

under a slave supervisor on a common ¬eld whose produce went to their
master in the city. Other slaves worked at all levels of a complex commercial
economy, as porters, artisans, traders, domestic servants, soldiers, and the very
numerous concubines. Some sold their labour and paid their owners a share of
their earnings. The contrast with South African estate slavery was accentuated
by the cultural proximity between slave and master in Sokoto, the greater ease
of escape, an Islamic law protecting slave rights and freeing children of free
men by slave mothers, and a seigneurial ethos giving slaves a value as followers
and not only as labourers. Slavery remained a cruel institution with brutal
punishments, professional slave-catchers, and several maroon communities.
But Sokoto was a more complex and mobile society than the eighteenth-century
Camels, donkeys, and human porters carried the grain, kola, salt, and cloth
that, along with cattle and slaves, were the staples of long-distance trade, lubri-
cated by currencies of silver and cowrie shells and conducted chie¬‚y through
ethnic diasporas of resident brokers: Hausa in Tripoli and Lagos, North Africans
in Kano and Ilorin. The trans-Saharan trade was only the most spectacular part
of this system, tapping the more extensive internal commerce of the savanna,
markedly enriching its Saharan carriers, and surviving little diminished until
the early twentieth century. Internal and trans-Saharan trades met at the walled
cities, especially Kano, whose twenty kilometres of red mud walls, ten to twenty
metres high, enclosed perhaps ¬fty thousand residents plus visiting traders. Its
advantage, a traveller explained, was ˜that commerce and manufacture go hand
in hand™, for Kano and its region were famed for their cloth, notably the glossy,
blue-black, indigo-dyed Yan Kura. Kano™s central position within the ˜Sokoto
common market™ made its textile ¬nishing industry the most capitalised in
tropical Africa, with merchants buying un¬nished cloth to be dyed in their
own pits by hired labourers. Economies of scale enabled Hausa cloth to destroy
Borno™s textile industry, capture the Timbuktu market, outsell local textiles a
thousand kilometres away, and ¬nd outlets as distant as Egypt and Brazil. Zaria™s
cloth merchants employed pretty girls as perambulating models. Other Hausa
traders put out raw materials to craftsmen and marketed the ¬nished products.
Some porters, unskilled townsmen, and migrant agricultural labourers worked
for wages, but most labour fell to slaves, for land was still amply available to
free Hausa. Capitalism was thus retarded by underpopulation, although the
nineteenth-century Caliphate experienced signi¬cant demographic growth.
Its only serious famine took place in 1855. Lake Chad reached its highest known
modern level in 1874. Plague is not mentioned. Smallpox in the early 1820s and
cholera in the late 1860s are the only serious epidemics recorded. Hausa medical
literature did not even mention smallpox, although it was ˜virtually endemic™
in neighbouring Borno. Warfare was probably an obstacle to demographic
growth, but perhaps the main effect of violence was to bring people from
178 africans: the history of a continent

surrounding regions into Hausaland as slaves, reinforcing the ancient
unevenness of population distribution in the savanna. The most striking
evidence of demographic growth was the expansion of cultivation northwards
into Damergou, a Sahelian region in modern Niger on the trade route
northwards from Kano to Tripoli that ˜appears to be common ground™, as a
traveller wrote in 1851, ˜where every one who pleases, and is strong enough,
comes to establish himself™.11
The western savanna also experienced two jihads during the nineteenth
century, but they created less stability. The ¬rst, in 1818, was in the internal
delta of the Niger, hitherto controlled by pagan Fulbe clan heads tributary to the
Bambara rulers of Segu. A Fulbe cleric named Shehu Ahmadu Lobbo gathered
a rural community of Muslim zealots, came to blows with the authorities,
mobilised Fulbe resentment of Bambara overlordship, and created a Caliphate
based on a new capital at Hamdallahi (Glory to God). It was a theocracy,
governed by a council of forty clerics, levying mainly Koranic taxes, organising
charity and a free education system, compelling pastoralists to settle, purging
Jenne and Timbuktu of urban vices, banning dance, tobacco, and all but the
plainest clothes, and seeking to impose Islam on neighbouring peoples. This
rigour owed something to Shehu Ahmadu™s zeal but more to the poverty and
ignorance of a pastoral region and to the austerity of Fulbe culture. When
Shehu Ahmadu died in 1845, his descendants contested the throne and the state
was too poor and isolated to buy the ¬rearms needed to resist conquest in 1862
by the leader of a second jihad, al-Hajj Umar Tal.
This new movement had begun ten years earlier among the Tukulor, the
settled Fulbe of Futa Toro in the Senegal Valley. Umar Tal was a distinguished
Tukulor scholar who spent several years on Pilgrimage and became West African
leader of a new brotherhood, the Tijaniyya, which claimed a special revela-
tion supplementing orthodox Islam. Umar™s targets were the military Bambara
kingdoms, which, although eclectic, were regarded by Muslim zealots as the
last major pagan states of the savanna. Umar™s Tukulor army conquered Kaarta
in 1855, Segu in 1861, and Hamdallahi (allegedly in league with Segu) in 1862.
In Kaarta, it was remembered, ˜He ordered their idols to be brought out and
smashed them by his own hand with an iron mace.™12 But although the Tukulor
created an Islamic state in Kaarta, they could not impose stability on their other
conquests, partly because this region had been unstable since the Moroccan
invasion and partly because the jihad was not an internal insurrection but an
alien invasion that the Bambara continued to resist. When Umar died during
a revolt in 1864, his sons divided his dominions and warfare continued until
the French conquered the region during the 1890s. Militant Islam failed to
overcome the segmentary forces of the western savanna, whereas in Hausa-
land it had merged with a more stable society to create tropical Africa™s most
impressive state.
Regional diversity in the nineteenth century 179

southern africa
During the early nineteenth century the African peoples of southern Africa
used two strategies in attempting to overcome segmentation and create larger
polities. The more dramatic was employed by the northern Nguni-speakers
in the well-watered area between the Drakensberg and the sea that became
Zululand. Archaeological evidence shows a proliferation of settlements here
during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, implying population growth,
perhaps of cattle as much as human beings. Royal genealogies suggest a similar
proliferation of small, kinship-based chiefdoms. One reason for population
growth may have been the adoption of maize. Another, indicated by tree-
ring studies, was high average rainfall. Probably competition for resources
was growing, while scarcity of vacant land prevented dissident groups from
seceding. Certainly, as in Hausaland, the region™s political fragmentation con-
¬‚icted with its economic needs. Northern Nguni had traded since the six-
teenth century with Europeans at Delagoa Bay (modern Maputo), exporting
¬rst ivory and then cattle in return, it appears, chie¬‚y for iron and copper.
This may have given chie¬‚y lineages further reason to expand territories and
assert authority over weaker neighbours, although imported goods seem to
have had little importance among northern Nguni. In the lower lands towards
the coast, several chiefdoms strengthened their defensive capacity by replac-
ing local initiation of young men by chiefdom-wide age-regiments, appar-
ently during the late eighteenth century when the Ndwandwe, Ngwane, and
Mthethwa emerged as the most powerful groups. Rivalry escalated when
drought struck the region in 1800“3, 1812, and 1816“18. Tradition claims that
con¬‚ict over valley land escalated into major warfare in 1817. The eventual
victor was Shaka, the son of a minor chief among the Mthethwa, who incorpo-
rated the whole region into his new Zulu kingdom before he was assassinated
in 1828.
Shaka was a big, jovial, brutal man whose violence was legendary even in his
lifetime. Like Biton Kulibali in Segu, he appears to have exploited the resentment
of the unmarried men who formed his regiments and were almost continuously
mobilised during his brief reign. Use of stabbing spears in hand-to-hand combat
had long been one tactic in the region, but like West African cavalrymen Shaka
made such combat the predominant form of warfare, thereby intensifying
training, discipline, and military ethos. Yet the Zulu kingdom was more than
its army. Young women continued to marry older men, incorporated groups
retained their identities and often their chiefs, and regiments were divided
into chiefdom-based companies, while the original Zulu and their closest allies
formed an aristocracy concentrating military, political, and ritual leadership
in their hands. Tension between royal authority and component social groups
surfaced repeatedly in subsequent Zulu history, but the kingdom survived both
180 africans: the history of a continent

as a political entity and in its citizens™ minds, displaying the possibility and the
cost of overcoming segmentation by militarism.
The turmoil among the northern Nguni after 1817 drove several groups to
seek refuge to the north and west. The Ngwane, already a substantial chiefdom,
withdrew northwards, absorbed other Nguni and Sotho groups, and formed the
Swazi kingdom; it became more militarised during the mid-nineteenth century
in response to Zulu and Afrikaner aggression, but it balanced this with Sotho
consultative institutions, creating a remarkably stable polity. One Ndwandwe
group led by Soshangane retreated northwards into modern Mozambique and
established the Gaza kingdom over indigenous Thonga and neighbouring peo-
ples, attracting their young men into the regiments but otherwise seeking to
preserve a sharp distinction between rulers and subjects. A second Ndwandwe
group, known confusingly as Ngoni, also struck northwards but fragmented
and created several small chiefdoms in central and eastern Africa. These Ngoni
despised the long-settled, unmilitarised agriculturalists they conquered, who
replied by regarding Ngoni as barbarian invaders. Yet complex interaction
took place, especially west of Lake Nyasa where Ngoni created four chiefdoms
among the Chewa and related peoples during the 1860s. Young Chewa men
admired Ngoni military techniques, dances, and dress, but the Nyau society,
which defended Chewa villagers against rulers, resisted Ngoni control. Ngoni
attacks on ancient Chewa rain shrines only changed their means of commu-
nication from mediumship to more generalised spirit possession, to which
rulers became as susceptible as subjects. Like Fulbe conquerors in Hausaland,
Ngoni were absorbed into a more sophisticated culture. ˜We defeated them
with our women™, Chewa remembered. Something of this happened also to
the Ndebele, who ¬‚ed Shaka and settled in about 1840 in the rich pastures of
southwestern Zimbabwe, creating a kingdom that subjected many indigenous
Shona. As immigrants with no royal graves at which to sacri¬ce, Ndebele came
to terms with the territorial cult of Mwari, the Shona god, and consulted other
Shona ritual and medical specialists. But Ndebele preserved their language and
military system until European conquest.
To the west of the Drakensberg, the Sotho-Tswana peoples of the high-
veld pursued another strategy to overcome segmentation. Instead of trying to
restructure societies on military lines, leaders relied on the ancient resources of
African chieftainship: mediation, compromise, marriage, redistribution, and
clientage. The difference was mainly because the highveld bordered the Cape
Colony, where warfare involved not massed spearmen but mobile commandos
of mounted gunmen. Because water sources were scarcer on the highveld than
among the Nguni, settlements had long been more concentrated and chiefs
more powerful, but ¬ssiparation had been normal until the eighteenth cen-
tury, when larger units were formed, perhaps owing to increased population.
From the late eighteenth century, the Pedi of the eastern highveld constructed a
Regional diversity in the nineteenth century 181

chiefdom that survived white aggression until 1879, thanks to ¬rearms bought
by migrant labourers. Several nineteenth-century Tswana chiefs followed the
same strategy, ¬nancing it by marketing the wild produce of the Kalahari,
acquired by reducing San hunters to servile dependence. But the main new
highveld kingdom was Lesotho, created by Moshoeshoe, a minor Sotho chief in
the Caledon Valley. In the 1820s, this area was harried by drought, Nguni refugee
groups, and mounted Griqua gunmen of mixed Khoikhoi and Afrikaner ances-
try who raided the highveld for slaves, ivory, and cattle. Moshoeshoe responded
in 1824 by creating a mountain fortress at Thaba Bosiu and attracting refugees.
Missionaries estimated that he had some 25,000 followers in 1834 and 80,000 in
1848. By 1904 Lesotho™s population was 347,731.13 Most settled as groups under
their former chiefs, who were tied to the king by marriage, cattle loans, consul-
tative meetings and councils, and personal relationships. Moshoeshoe himself
was a wise and open-minded man who rejected ˜the lie of witchcraft™, welcomed
missionaries in 1833 to provide literate skills and diplomatic alliances, and by
1852 commanded some six thousand ˜well armed horsemen™. Yet he probably
found no enduring answer to segmentation. His planned bureaucracy staffed
by mission-educated sons failed because they preferred to become provincial
chiefs. Moshoeshoe himself feared in the 1850s that con¬‚ict among them would
destroy the kingdom when he died, although in fact a British protectorate in
1868 preserved its unity.
Sotho political techniques also proved ineffective in sustaining a larger polity
when a group known as the Kololo broke away northwards and conquered the
Lozi kingdom of the Zambezi ¬‚oodplain in 1840. Unlike such Nguni conquerors
as the Ndebele, Kololo sought to conciliate and integrate Lozi leaders through
ties of marriage and cattle-clientage. This left Lozi loyalties intact, while Kololo
from the highveld died of malaria in the valley. In 1864 a Lozi claimant raised an
insurrection that massacred surviving Kololo men and restored the old regime.
These events on the highveld were deeply in¬‚uenced by British occupation
of the Cape Colony in 1806. Concerned chie¬‚y to protect their sea-lanes, the
British initially accepted the colony™s slave society but tried to stabilise its eastern
frontier by driving the Xhosa back across the Fish River in 1812 and introducing
some ¬ve thousand British settlers into the Eastern Cape in 1820. Intended as a
buffer between Afrikaners and Africans, these settlers became instead a power-
ful lobby for the further advance of the white frontier. They also increased the
demand for African labour, already made acute by the abolition of slave imports
in 1807. The British response was to intensify exploitation of the Khoisan peo-
ple, who lost further land and became tied servants of white masters under the
Caledon Code of 1809. This excited humanitarian protest among British mis-
sionaries, which merged with their growing campaign against slavery, leading
to its ¬nal abolition in 1838. Most of the 39,021 slaves (in 1834) moved to towns
or mission stations, but they had few nonagricultural skills and the authorities
182 africans: the history of a continent

deliberately made no land available to them, so that within four years the estate
labour force was largely restored, now bound by poverty, debt, alcoholism, lack
of alternatives, and the rigorous Masters and Servants Ordinance of 1841. Yet
the former slaves did gain in bargaining power and the opportunity to enjoy a
normal family life. The replacement of slavery by a basically capitalist economy
was of fundamental importance, although so was the perpetuation of semifree,
unskilled, black labour. Emancipation probably sharpened racial divisions,
which replaced slavery as social categories. Interracial marriages became less
common. Urban residential segregation, pioneered by the British in the Eastern
Cape from 1828, took shape also in Cape Town as the elite abandoned the city
centre and the working class clustered in social and racial subgroups.
Emancipation had important consequences on the frontier. Afrikaner pio-
neers had employed Bantu-speaking workers since the 1770s. Such labourers
became numerous after 1834“5, when a new frontier war enabled settlers to
incorporate thousands of ˜Mfengu™ labourers. But the British then vetoed any
further seizure of Xhosa land. This, together with inadequate armed protection,
the freeing of Khoisan and slaves, and attempts to enforce equality before the
law, convinced Afrikaner frontiersmen that black people were ˜being placed on
an equal footing with Christians, contrary to the laws of God and the natural
distinction of race and religion™.14 Between 1834 and 1840, several thousand white
people left for the north, mostly poor Trekboers seeking fresh land, often led by
more speculative (if bankrupt) notables with reputations as frontier ¬ghters.
Some seeped across the Orange River, but the mainstream of the Great Trek
skirted Lesotho to the west before turning east across the Drakensberg into
Natal, where their ¬‚intlocks defeated Zulu spears at Blood River in 1838. The
victors proclaimed a Republic of Natalia, but the British declared a protectorate
in 1843 and most trekkers returned westwards into the Transvaal.
The Great Trek preserved the Afrikaner people from lingering anglicisation,
but they found state-building on the highveld as dif¬cult as Moshoeshoe did.
In 1870 their two republics contained only some 45,000 white people. Both
began as conglomerations of kinship groups. The Orange Free State consoli-
dated ¬rst, freeing itself of British interference in 1854, annexing half of Lesotho
during the following fourteen years of sporadic warfare, and stabilising after
1864 under the presidency of J. H. Brand with the aid of wool exports. By the
early twentieth century, only some 17,000 of its Africans possessed land in three
small reserves. Another 200,000 lived on white farms, often as sharecroppers
or labour-tenants. The Transvaal was more remote and turbulent. Ten armed
confrontations between trekker groups took place there between 1845 and 1864.
A constitution drafted in 1858 set out a more rigidly segregated social order than
had ever existed on the Cape frontier, but effective government scarcely existed
until temporary British occupation in 1877“81 provoked relatively united resis-
tance. This British intervention also transformed the Transvaal™s relations with
Regional diversity in the nineteenth century 183

Africans. Initially the scattered Afrikaner bands raided the weaker African
groups for ˜apprentices™ but were not strong enough to defeat major peoples
like the Pedi. The British did this for them in 1879, enabling the Afrikaners
to complete the occupation of the highveld, restrict African land mainly to
the lowveld, and replace their apprentices by ˜free™ labourers. Of some 921,000
Transvaal Africans in 1904, 130,000 owned land, 303,000 occupied state land,
and 488,000 laboured or farmed on white property.
The two British colonies in South Africa also took distinctive shape during
the mid-nineteenth century. Natal, annexed in 1845, had in 1871 some 17,886
white inhabitants, perhaps 300,000 to 350,000 Africans, and 5,070 Indians, the
¬rst of 152,184 imported between 1860 and 1911 as indentured labourers, mainly
to undertake work on sugar plantations, which Africans were still suf¬ciently
independent to refuse. Although Africans could theoretically qualify to vote
alongside white men for the Legislative Council established in 1856, only three
ever did so. In the Cape Colony, by contrast, representative government was
introduced in 1853 with a franchise low enough to allow Africans to be 43
percent of voters in six Eastern Cape constituencies in 1886. This was one
aspect of the ˜Cape liberalism™ which British authorities enforced until the
colony gained responsible government in 1872. Another aspect was equality
before the law. A third was a free market economy, based from the 1840s on the
sheep grazed on the dry pastures of the Eastern Cape and the Karoo. A fourth
was trade with Africans on the eastern frontier, who sold produce worth an
estimated £750,000 a year in 1875, making merchants the chief local supporters
of Cape liberalism.
The Cape™s assimilative strategy gave a central role to Christian missionar-
ies. Moravians had worked among Khoisan since 1737. Wesleyans opened the
¬rst station among the Xhosa in 1823. By then, members of the London Mis-
sionary Society had penetrated deeply into the interior, settling at Kuruman
among the southern Tswana in 1816 and crossing the Limpopo in 1859 into
Ndebele country. In 1833 Moshoeshoe welcomed French Protestant missionar-
ies, who later settled also in the Lozi kingdom. Roman Catholic penetration of
the interior began in 1852. Scottish Presbyterians reached Lake Nyasa in 1875.
Based in a Victorian settler society and themselves often self-educated arti-
sans or intellectuals, these missionaries believed that Africans could best adopt
Christianity as part of a larger cultural package including European literacy,
technology, clothing, and social practices, together with the abandonment of
African beliefs and family patterns. As a leading missionary wrote, ˜Civilisa-
tion is to the Christian religion what the body is to the soul.™15 Africans agreed.
They expected religion to bring material bene¬ts and were generally eager for
the trade, skills, ¬rearms, horses, and political alliances available across the
white frontier. Sometimes rulers took the initiative. Moshoeshoe sent an emis-
sary with a hundred cattle to procure a missionary, whom he promptly set
184 africans: the history of a continent

to educating princes. Among the Ngwato section of the Tswana, the young
Khama used his fellow Christians to seize his father™s throne in 1875 and ruled
for the next forty-eight years as a model Christian moderniser, fostering trade
and education, discouraging indigenous ceremonies, banning imported alco-
hol and the sale of land, and using missionaries both as ritual experts and as
intermediaries to secure British protection against Afrikaner aggression. By
contrast, Zulu kings barred Christians from their courts and the missionaries™
failure for twenty-two years to convert a single Ndebele owed much to the
˜aboriginal vigour™ of the society.
As elsewhere in nineteenth-century Africa, many early Christians in the south
came from threatened groups. These included the subjects of Ngoni kingdoms
in Malawi and especially the much-oppressed Khoisan peoples of the Cape
Colony, who provided many of the ¬rst Christian converts, some seeing the
missionaries as agents sent by the Khoisan God to ˜show us Hottentots a narrow
way, by which we might escape from the ¬re™.16 Elsewhere, early Christians were
often from the subordinate strata of patriarchal societies. In Khama™s kingdom,
for example, a majority of Christians were women who supported their ruler™s
campaigns against beer-drinking and other aspects of the masculine village
culture that resisted centrally imposed change. In the Ovambo chiefdoms of
what became northern Namibia, the most eager response to Christianity came
from young people denied access to married adulthood when increasing trade
and violence enabled powerful men to appropriate wealth and women. Such
con¬‚ict, together with the missionaries™ hostility to indigenous customs and
Christianity™s obvious links to white expansion, bred deep divisions between
those rejecting and accepting Christianity, or ˜Red™ and ˜School™ as they became
known in South Africa (˜Red™ referring to the cosmetic use of red ochre).
Often the two communities lived apart. Schooling had special value for those
integrated into the white economy. Africa™s ¬rst great missionary school opened
at Lovedale in the Eastern Cape in 1841. During the next ¬fty years, it gave
secondary education to over two thousand Africans including many clergymen,
the ¬rst, Tiyo Soga, being ordained in 1856. By 1914 one-third of the African
people of South Africa professed to be Christians.
Many southern Africans initially responded to Christianity with their cus-
tomary eclecticism, seeking to adopt those aspects that might enhance their
lives. Xhosa incorporated many Christian ideas into their cosmology as they
had previously incorporated Khoisan notions. One such idea was the concept of
heaven, propagated in the ˜Great Hymn™ “ a praise-poem to the Christian God “
composed by their early nineteenth-century prophet Ntsikana.17 Yet these
Christian teachings could be dangerously subversive. Ideas of resurrection,
for example, helped in 1857, at a time of cattle disease and white expansion, to
inspire the prophets who persuaded many Xhosa to kill their cattle and abandon
cultivation because their ancestors were to return with ¬ner cattle and drive
Regional diversity in the nineteenth century 185

the Europeans back into the sea. Perhaps one-third of Xhosa died and the Cape
government seized the opportunity to destroy their society, alienating more
than half their land and admitting at least 22,150 of them to work in the colony.
This crisis came after two generations during which southern Africa prob-
ably enjoyed little if any population growth, owing to the conjunction of its
regular cycle of wet and dry years with widespread warfare. An even greater
crisis followed in 1860“3, when the whole region suffered the worst recorded
drought in its history, coinciding with the century™s most widespread smallpox
and measles epidemics. Mortality was especially terrible in southern Malawi,
owing to extensive slave-raiding. Thereafter, however, the African population
of South (but not Central) Africa probably grew substantially, to judge from
the large proportion of children in late nineteenth-century censuses. Growth
may have been aided by vaccination against smallpox, less frequent famine,
improved transport, wage employment, and the general economic expansion
of the period.
One source of African prosperity was access to new markets and European
agricultural techniques, especially ox-ploughs introduced by missionaries. A
few Khoikhoi pro¬ted from these during the 1820s, Mfengu during the 1830s,
Sotho from the 1850s, and Xhosa after the cattle-killing of 1857. By the 1880s there
were between one thousand and two thousand African commercial farmers in
the Cape Colony, some owning over twelve hundred hectares of land and
two hundred cattle, using ploughs and wagons, and discussing ˜the servant
problem™ as interminably as their white neighbours. During the second half of
the century, progressive African farmers throughout South Africa adopted the
new technology and cultivated greatly increased areas, at the cost of heavier
female workloads.
One major stimulus to commercial agriculture was the urban market created
by the discovery of diamonds at Kimberley on the northern Cape frontier in
1867. This discovery also transformed southern Africa™s political situation. Dia-
mond revenues enabled the Cape to accept the costs of responsible government
in 1872. During the next thirteen years, it borrowed over £20 million, mostly
to build 2,500 kilometres of railway into the interior. No longer restrained by
British liberalism, Cape governments imposed the stricter segregation their
white voters wanted. Hospitals, prisons, sports facilities, and many schools
and churches were segregated. In 1901, during a plague, Cape Town™s Africans
were marched at bayonet point to a segregated location outside the city. The
nonracial Cape franchise was amended to exclude Africans in conquered east-
ern frontier territories. Responsible government also stirred Cape Afrikaners.
In 1879“80 they created the Afrikaner Bond, which became the Cape Colony™s
dominant party and won initial support in the Afrikaner republics, affronted by
the British annexation of the Transvaal in 1877 in an attempt to create a South
African Confederation under Cape leadership. Afrikaner political solidarity
186 africans: the history of a continent

waned after 1881 when this scheme collapsed, but a cultural identity began to
take shape around the Afrikaans language, hitherto a congeries of local dialects
spoken by poor Afrikaners and Coloured people, but developed as a written
language after 1875 by nationalist intellectuals. To aid the confederation scheme,
British imperial troops conquered the Pedi, Zulu, and surviving Xhosa peoples
in 1878“9, ¬nally making white power supreme throughout South Africa.
Like the emancipation of the slaves, diamond mining hardened South
Africa™s social order rather than transforming it. Initial surface ¬nds at Kimber-
ley attracted a rush of small diggers (some black) and labourers (some white). As
the diggings deepened, however, successful entrepreneurs amalgamated claims
and resistant white diggers drove out independent black operators. The last
African digger, the Reverend Gwayi Tyamzashe, departed in 1883. Five years
later, almost the entire Kimberley ¬eld was controlled by De Beers, jointly cre-
ated by European ¬nanciers (led by Rothschilds), Cecil Rhodes, and Alfred
Beit (the most successful diamond buyer). In 1885 De Beers began deep-level
mining, using white employees to supervise black migrant labourers who were
housed in closed compounds “ literally huge wire cages “ in order to prevent
theft and intensify control of labour. White workers successfully resisted com-
pounds. In the Cape, white men had long earned more than blacks for the same
work “ twice as much in railway construction, for example. At Kimberley in
the 1880s, white men earned ¬ve times the average black man™s wage, partly
because whites monopolised jobs of¬cially designated as skilled or supervisory.
Black workers were short-term migrants by preference, a pattern established on
Cape farms early in the nineteenth century. Half of the ¬rst African workers at
Kimberley were Pedi from the Transvaal, often very young men sent by chiefs in
parties to earn guns. By 1877 workers were arriving from as far away as modern
Zimbabwe. This labour system would be passed on to the Witwatersrand when
gold mining began there in 1886.

eastern africa
The eastern interior was one of the most isolated parts of Africa until the
eighteenth century, when it was drawn into the world economy through long-
distance trade. This offered new opportunities to overcome political segmen-
tation, but it also threatened existing polities and such mastery over nature as
they had achieved. Changes occupying centuries in West Africa were now com-
pressed into decades in the east. Yet externally induced change was only one
aspect of the period. Internally generated change was a second and continuity
a third.
Portuguese intervention from the end of the ¬fteenth century altered the
pattern of East African coastal trade but did not destroy it. For the next two
centuries, Swahili-speaking traders, based chie¬‚y in the Lamu Archipelago,
Regional diversity in the nineteenth century 187

supplied Arabia and the Persian Gulf with slaves from Madagascar and other
Indian Ocean islands, although not from the mainland. By the late sixteenth
century, Zanzibar Island apparently had numbers of agricultural slaves.18 In
the south, Yao traders brought ivory from the Lake Nyasa region to the coast
at Kilwa. During the eighteenth century, however, the growing vitality of
the Indian Ocean economy stimulated deeper commercial penetration of the
mainland. Kilwa began to export slaves from its own hinterland and from
the Yao trading network to the Middle East and French plantation islands.
Nyamwezi traders from western Tanzania reached Lake Nyasa, probably sup-
plying a trade route to the coast opposite Zanzibar Island that ¬‚ourished in
the 1770s. At the same period, increased rivalry among chiefdoms on Kili-
manjaro suggests new commercial activity further north.19 During the 1780s,
Indian merchants escaping Portuguese oppression in Mozambique established
themselves in Zanzibar.
It was probably this prosperity that led the rulers of Oman on the Persian
Gulf to convert into real authority the nominal overlordship of the coast that
they had claimed since leading opposition to the Portuguese there in 1698.
They took control of Kilwa in 1785, established more effective administration
in Zanzibar in 1800, placed governors in coastal ports during the 1820s and
1830s, and moved their capital to Zanzibar in 1840, all against resistance from
Swahili-speaking coastal notables. Oman™s light rule on the coast concentrated
on channelling trade to Zanzibar. In the interior, Omanis long exercised only
in¬‚uence. Coastal towns swelled with slaves, immigrants, and caravan porters.
Swahili culture experienced considerable Arabisation. Coastal traders, oper-
ating on Indian credit, led caravans of human porters inland, because tsetse
¬‚ies ruled out animal transport. Perhaps some 100,000 porters travelled the
central route between Bagamoyo (opposite Zanzibar) and Nyamwezi coun-
try each year during the late nineteenth century. The main export was ivory,
whose continuously rising price drove the traders ever deeper inland. Slave
exports rose to rival it during the mid-century, when up to ¬fty thousand left
the mainland (including Mozambique) each year, a ¬gure less than the West
African peak and extending over a much shorter period, but drawn from a
smaller population.20 The chief import was cloth, whose falling prices, owing
to industrialisation, fuelled the whole trading system. Firearms supplemented
it from the mid-century, imports reaching nearly 100,000 a year during the
1880s. Zanzibar Island became not only a capital and trading centre but a plan-
tation colony, using cheap slaves “ perhaps half its 200,000 inhabitants during
the mid-century “ to grow cloves for the world market.
As trade routes penetrated deeper inland, so the trading system changed.
A northern route from Mombasa, opened in the eighteenth century and long
controlled by local Kamba people, was taken over in the mid-nineteenth century
by coastal traders with greater resources and armaments. Coastal traders also
188 africans: the history of a continent

challenged Nyamwezi control of the central route from Bagamoyo, reaching
Buganda by the 1850s, crossing Lake Tanganyika during the 1860s into the Congo
forest where Livingstone reported that ˜ivory is like grass™, and penetrating to
the Luba and Nyoro kingdoms, where they met rival traders from Luanda and
Khartoum. Trade grew ever more competitive and violent, partly because of
the greater concentration on slaves and ¬rearms but also because the shooting
of elephants left Africans along the trade routes with little to sell and hence
dependent on extortion from passing coastal merchants, who replied by using
armies of slave musketeers to acquire territorial power, especially around Lakes
Tanganyika and Nyasa. During the later nineteenth century, eastern Africa
entered a downward spiral of violence. It was truly, as Livingstone said, the
open sore of the world.
Trade had often given Africans the means to overcome segmentation and cre-
ate larger political units. This did occur in nineteenth-century eastern Africa,
especially among the Nyamwezi and Yao trading peoples, who created mercan-
tilist chiefdoms similar to those of eighteenth-century western Africa. During
the 1860s, a Nyamwezi trader named Msiri with a following of musketeers
founded such a chiefdom in the area of Katanga where the Sanga culture had
once ¬‚ourished. Within Nyamwezi country itself, his most powerful contem-
porary was Mirambo (Corpses), formerly a minor chief and active trader whose
extensive but ephemeral state rested on rugaruga, young mercenary gunmen
comparable to the warboys of Yorubaland. Successful Yao traders of the same
period used slave wives to create personal followings “ the only means available
in their matrilineal society “ as nuclei of territorial chiefdoms. Yet trade could
also disrupt polities based on older principles, as Kongo, Oyo, and Maravi had
found. Two examples in eastern Africa were especially striking. One was the
Luba kingdom in the Katanga region, which disintegrated in the 1870s when
coastal traders introduced ¬rearms into a succession con¬‚ict. The other was
the Shambaa kingdom in the northeast of modern Tanzania. Its ruler, living
deep in the mountains and relying heavily on ritual power, had little access to
traders who supplied ¬rearms and other goods to border chiefs who were his
sons. When he died in 1862, the sons fought for the throne and fragmented the
Whether trade encouraged consolidation or fragmentation, it emphasised
wealth and military force as sources of authority rivalling the older principles of
heredity and ritual status. It also enabled merit to challenge birth as a criterion
for recruitment to of¬ce. Similar processes were taking place everywhere from
Morocco to Zululand. These new principles did not replace the old. Rather,
either military force and ritual status con¬‚icted and disintegration occurred,
as happened in the Shambaa kingdom where no contestant could triumph
because none controlled both guns and rainfall, or a ruler secured both sources
of authority and consolidation occurred, as happened with Mirambo, who was
Regional diversity in the nineteenth century 189

both hereditary chief and commander of rugaruga. The new did not supersede
the old but interacted, con¬‚icted, and sometimes synthesised with it into a
novel political order.
The best illustration of these dynamics took place around the Great Lakes.
During the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the kingdom of Bunyoro
fragmented, its outlying provinces either falling under Buganda™s control or
gaining independence, while the nuclear kingdom was dominated by hereditary
chiefs and royal clansmen. But when traders from Khartoum reached Bunyoro
during the 1860s, followed by Zanzibaris in 1877, the king created an army of
mercenary musketeers, reasserted authority over his chiefs, began to recon-
quer seceded provinces, repelled annexation by Egypt, and, in 1886, defeated
Buganda™s spearmen. In terms of political consolidation, Bunyoro was East
Africa™s chief bene¬ciary from nineteenth-century trade.
In Buganda, by contrast, this opening to the outside world brought dis-
integration after two centuries of success. By the mid-nineteenth century,
its kings had used resources gained by territorial expansion to achieve an
unusual concentration of power at their court, where competition for skills
and advancement was intense. When coastal traders arrived around 1852, the
court embraced not only cloth and ¬rearms but Islam, in contrast to its leisurely
in¬ltration into West Africa. The gifted Kabaka Mutesa (1856“84) saw Islam as
a potential state religion to offset the clan-related spirit mediums, only to be
obliged to execute young courtiers in 1876 for defying his authority on grounds
of Islamic principle. Anglican missionaries arrived a year later and Roman
Catholic White Fathers in 1879. Whereas missionaries elsewhere in East Africa,
as in the west and south, had won adherents chie¬‚y among marginal people,
in Buganda teaching was con¬ned to the court. Mutesa rejected conversion,
seeking to patronise all religions, but some ambitious young courtiers showed
unprecedented eagerness for the literacy, enlightenment, and moral support
that missionaries offered. When Mutesa died in 1884, these forces of innovation
intertwined with the generational and factional con¬‚ict normal at an accession.
The young Kabaka Mwanga found his Christian pages more loyal to Christian-
ity than to himself. He executed some forty-two “ subsequently canonised as
the Uganda Martyrs “ and then armed the remainder, along with Muslims
and some traditionalists, as regiments of musketeers on the Nyoro model,
intending them to assert his authority over his father™s chiefs. Instead, the old
men incited the musketeers against Mwanga. They deposed him in 1888 but
then fought among themselves. By 1890, when troops under British command
reached Buganda, four armies “ Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, and tradition-
alist “ controlled different parts of the kingdom. Interaction between old and
new forces threatened Buganda with disintegration. But it had also bred inno-
vative and courageous young leaders who were to make their kingdom uniquely
successful under colonial rule.
190 africans: the history of a continent

Yet this account of response to external pressures is misleading, for two rea-
sons. First, it neglects purely endogenous change. The most dramatic social
transformation anywhere in nineteenth-century East Africa took place in
Rwanda, which excluded coastal caravans and scarcely used ¬rearms until the
last years of the century. The intensi¬cation of con¬‚ict between Tutsi and Hutu
during this period was due rather to the multiplication of aristocratic lineages,
their violent competition for power at the expense of the monarchy, the expan-
sion of cattle herds, and the adoption of American crops fostering population
growth, which created land scarcity and enabled aristocrats to exploit the peas-
antry more ruthlessly. The result, from about 1870, was uburetwa, an enserfment
of the Hutu, whose tenure of land was made dependent on supplying much
of their harvest and half their labour to their chiefs. Uburetwa crystallised the
long-emerging distinction between Tutsi and Hutu. As it spread outwards from
the centre of the kingdom, it provoked several peasant revolts, sometimes with
millenarian overtones, which merged with the resistance of outlying peoples
to subjugation by the expanding state, especially in the north and west. Later
nineteenth-century Rwanda was a place of great violence and rapid change gen-
erated almost entirely by internal forces. Much the same was true of Burundi,
which also resisted coastal traders while experiencing rapid population growth
and endemic civil war, but it was a less centralised kingdom, Tutsi and Hutu
were more evenly balanced, and no enserfment took place.
A second reason to avoid overemphasising long-distance trade is that other
intruders also provoked change. In the south, militarised Ngoni refugees from
Zululand settled northeast of Lake Nyasa during the 1840s, obliging neigh-
bouring peoples to reorganise for resistance, notably the Hehe in the Southern
Highlands of modern Tanzania whose powerful chiefdom and spear-using cit-
izen army emerged during the 1860s. In the north, the Ngoni role was taken
by the pastoral Maasai. After gaining control of the Rift Valley, Maasai groups
spent much of the nineteenth century ¬ghting one another for predominance.
Losers raided surrounding agriculturalists, who often adopted Maasai mili-
tary culture and age-grade organisation before turning, in the later nineteenth
century, to ¬rearms.
Mobility and interaction bred cultural change. The Yao, long experienced in
trade, were most receptive to coastal culture; their late nineteenth-century chiefs
adopted Islam and built capitals in coastal style, while their children played a
game of traders and slaves in which the loser ˜died on the way™, just as small
boys almost everywhere made imitation guns. Islam also spread in the coastal
hinterland, where upwardly mobile young men used it to free themselves from
social constraints. It won many adherents in Buganda but only isolated indi-
viduals elsewhere in the interior, although Islamic magic and medicine were in
wide demand. The Swahili language was widely adopted for communication
with coastal traders, although in remote areas ˜Swahili™ connoted corruption
Regional diversity in the nineteenth century 191

and disease. Much exchange of dance and music took place, Chagga borrow-
ing Maasai dances and Ganda playing Soga instruments. Religious practices
also mingled. Insecurity may have multiplied witchcraft accusations, especially
where witches were saleable; certainly the mwavi poison ordeal spread widely as
a method of identifying them. Improved communications enlarged the repu-
tations of rainmakers and ritual experts. Spirit possession cults were especially
responsive to change. Msiri™s followers introduced the ancient Chwezi cult into
Katanga, a new cult of Nyabingi led resistance to Rwandan expansion, and
coastal people incorporated Arabian, European, and alien African spirits into
their pantheon. Many spirit cults cared especially for women; their workload
probably grew as men took to arms, while their reminiscences show that they
gained little from long-distance trade but suffered brutalisation that bred con-
cern for security, protection, and the elementary family that might provide
The trading system™s economic impact varied with place and time. Slave raids
were most devastating in the densely populated but stateless areas around Lake
Nyasa and west of Lake Tanganyika, where even the experienced Livingstone
gained ˜the impression of being in Hell™.21 Ganda armies wrought similar havoc
in Busoga. Yet long-distance trade also had bene¬cial effects. It stimulated spe-
cialisation, breeding professional traders, hunters, soldiers, caravan porters,
and townsmen. It enlarged the market for domestic ironworking, although
competition from imported cloth destroyed most of eastern Africa™s textile
production. Caravan trade stimulated markets, regional trading systems, and
commercial food production both on the coast, to supply Zanzibar and Arabia,
and along trade routes, to feed caravans, so that a British of¬cer could, in 1890,
buy ten tonnes of food in a few days in southern Kikuyuland. Some food pro-
duction was by slaves, for whereas inland societies had hitherto incorporated
captives or the poor as dependants, some now bought slaves as ¬eld labourers,
especially when the prohibition of slave exports in 1873 made them exception-
ally cheap on the mainland. The crops grown included maize, which found
especially suitable climatic conditions in East Africa and spread inland along
the caravan routes; it reached Buganda by 1862 and was followed by cassava
and rice. Cattle from south of Lake Victoria were driven a thousand kilometres
to the coast for sale. Eastern African economies were thus restructured around
Zanzibar and its trade, much as southern Africa was restructured around the
mining industry. Unlike the mines, however, trade in ivory and slaves did not
survive into the twentieth century. Instead, eastern Africa suffered a brutal
economic discontinuity. Its nineteenth-century growth proved only a vicious
form of underdevelopment, ˜progress towards an inevitable dead end™.22
The consequences were seen in demographic history, wherever sparse evi-
dence reveals it. During the nineteenth century, eastern Africa™s population
probably followed exactly the opposite course from South Africa™s, an initial
192 africans: the history of a continent

growth giving way to decline after the mid-century. Apart from widespread
drought and famine during the 1830s, rainfall seems to have been relatively
high until the 1880s, Lake Victoria reaching its peak level in the late 1870s.
A more serious demographic constraint was disease, encouraged by greater
mobility, warfare, and clustering in large defensive settlements. Caravans often
carried smallpox, Ganda armies seemed incapable of marching without it, and
the severity of some epidemics (especially around the Great Lakes in the late
1870s) suggests virulent Asian or European strains. The trade routes carried
four epidemics of cholera, the major innovation of the period, and possi-
bly new strains of venereal disease. Against these, however, must be weighed
evidence of agricultural colonisation in many regions, especially in Rwanda
and Burundi where favourable environmental conditions and American crops
supported demographic growth until at least the 1880s.23 Elsewhere, condi-
tions deteriorated earlier. Patrick Manning™s computer model suggests that
slave exports caused eastern Africa a serious but relatively brief decline of total
population during the mid-nineteenth century,24 probably localised in areas
of intensive slave-raiding. During the 1880s, violence, drought, and disease
became widespread. Repeated famines along both northern and central cara-
van routes during that decade suggest that drought was exacerbated by grain
sales and the breakdown of risk-averting mechanisms. As population clustered
into defensive settlements, bush, game, and tsetse ¬‚ies reoccupied large areas
of the Zambezi Valley, southern and central Malawi, western Tanzania, and
perhaps other regions.
As elsewhere in nineteenth-century Africa, closer integration into the world
economy gave East Africans new reasons and resources to enlarge their politi-
cal and economic organisation but also destabilised earlier structures. Under-
population, the fundamental reason for political segmentation and economic
backwardness, was relieved by demographic growth at certain times and places
but exacerbated by decline at others. Rwanda and Burundi shared the expan-
sion of Igboland, Egypt, the Sokoto Caliphate, and the late nineteenth-century
Cape Colony and Algeria. Southern Malawi and eastern Zaire shared the mis-
ery of Angola and southern Sudan. In a century of rapid demographic growth
elsewhere, Africa™s share of world population probably fell dramatically.25 That
was the context for colonial rule.

Colonial invasion

during the last twenty years of the nineteenth century,
European Powers swiftly and painlessly partitioned the map of Africa among
themselves. To implement the partition on the ground, however, was anything
but swift or painless. Widespread possession of arms, codes of military hon-
our, and long hostility to governmental control made popular resistance to
conquest more formidable in Africa than, for example, in India. In creating
states in a turbulent and underpopulated continent, colonial administrators
faced the same problems as their African predecessors and often met them
in the same ways, but they had technological advantages: ¬repower, mechan-
ical transport, medical skills, literacy. The states they created before the First
World War were generally mere skeletons ¬‚eshed out and vitalised by African
political forces. But European conquest had two crucial effects. As each colony
became a specialised producer for the world market, it acquired an economic
structure that often survived throughout the twentieth century, with a broad
distinction between African peasant production in western Africa and Euro-
pean capitalist production in eastern Africa perpetuating the ancient contrast
between the two regions. And the European intrusion had profound effects on
Africa™s demography.

The slow European penetration of Africa during the nineteenth century began
to escalate into a scramble for territory during the late 1870s, for a complex
of reasons. One was a French initiative in Senegal launched in 1876 by a new
governor, Bri` re de l™Isle. Faidherbe had pursued an expansionist policy there
twenty years earlier, but his departure in 1865 and France™s defeat by Prussia in
1871 had aborted it. Bri` re de l™Isle, however, belonged to a faction determined
to revitalise France with colonial wealth, especially that of the West African
savanna. The faction included many colonial soldiers, eager for distinction
and accustomed in Algeria to extreme independence of action, and certain
politicians who secured funds in 1879 to survey a railway from Senegal to the
Niger. The military used the money to ¬nance military advance to the river
at Bamako in 1883. This forward policy extended to two other West African
194 africans: the history of a continent

10. Colonial invasion.
Colonial invasion 195

regions. First, French agents sought treaties with local notables on the lower
Niger that threatened long-established British trading interests. Second, in 1882
the French Assembly rati¬ed a treaty in which the Tio ruler at Lake Malebo
on the River Congo professed to cede his hereditary rights to the traveller
Savorgnan de Brazza. This treaty, the basis of French empire in equatorial
Africa, threatened the plans of King Leopold II of Belgium, who, since 1876,
had used his private wealth to establish commercial stations on the lower Congo
but now felt obliged to advance territorial claims. Fearing a French protectionist
regime on the lower Congo, but not desiring responsibility there themselves,
the British recognised Portugal™s ancient claims in the region in return for
freedom to trade there. This angered other European statesmen, especially the
German chancellor.
Bismarck had no wish for German colonies, but to protect German com-
mercial interests in Africa was a responsibility that might also earn him some
political support. He therefore authorised German protectorates in Southwest
Africa, Cameroun, and Togo during 1884, taking advantage of a dispute between
his main European rivals, France and Britain. The dispute arose from events
in North Africa. In 1881 France declared a protectorate over deeply indebted
Tunisia, chie¬‚y to prevent Italian predominance there. Egypt too was indebted
and was under joint Anglo-French ¬nancial control. When the Europeans
secured the Khedive Ismail™s deposition in 1879, Egypt™s political vacuum was
¬lled by Arabic-speaking landowners and army of¬cers, led by Colonel Arabi,
hostile to foreign control. France and Britain drew up plans to invade, but a
new French government abandoned them. British of¬cials in Cairo told their
government that order in Egypt was collapsing, enabling an imperialist faction
within the British Cabinet to insist on invasion of Egypt in August 1882. They
intended to entrench an amenable Egyptian regime, stabilise the ¬nances, and
withdraw, but found this impossible. The resulting Anglo-French antagonism
left Bismarck great authority.
He used it to convene the Berlin Conference of 1884“5. This recognised
Leopold™s claims to the Congo Independent State (subsequently Belgian
Congo), acknowledged French rights in equatorial Africa, and insisted on free-
dom of trade throughout the region. The delegates accepted the British position
on the lower Niger and French primacy on its upper reaches. Most important,
the conference laid down that future European claims to African territory must
be more substantial than the informal predominance that Britain had hitherto
enjoyed through her naval and commercial power. The subsequent partition
was shaped by Britain™s attempts to defend her most valuable claims, either
strategic positions guarding sea routes to India or areas of especially extensive
trade, such as Nigeria.
The ¬rst step took place one day after the Berlin Conference ended, when
Bismarck declared a protectorate over mainland territory opposite Zanzibar
196 africans: the history of a continent

where German adventurers had obtained treaties. Hitherto content to exercise
indirect in¬‚uence here through the ruler of Zanzibar, Britain now partitioned
the region in a treaty of 1886 which gave modern Kenya to Britain and mainland
Tanzania to Germany. A further treaty in 1890 gave Britain a free hand in
Uganda, where the headwaters of the Nile were thought vital to Egypt™s security.
The Berlin Conference also precipitated rapid European expansion in West
Africa. The British declared a protectorate over the Niger Delta, whence they
later expanded into Igboland and Benin. They also asserted predominance
in Yorubaland in 1886 by brokering a peace treaty ending nearly a century
of warfare, subsequently persuading war-weary Yoruba states to accept British
residents. Britain thereby gained control of southern Nigeria, the richest part of
the West African forest. The main French conquests in this area were Dahomey,
taken after ¬erce resistance in 1892, and Cote d™Ivoire, initially seen as a route
from the coast to French positions on the Niger.
The upper Niger was France™s chief interest in West Africa. In 1888 her army
resumed its advance inland from Bamako, capturing the Tukulor capital at
Nioro in 1891, taking Jenne and Timbuktu in 1893“4, and expanding southwards
to conquer Futa Jalon and the Mossi capital in 1896. The chief adversary here
was Samori Ture, who during the 1870s had created a Mande-speaking state
between the upper Niger and the forest edge, dominating it through bands
of young professional gunmen ¬nanced by massive slave-raiding. His long
resistance ended with his capture in 1898. The French could now advance to
Lake Chad, where columns from the Niger, the Congo, and Algeria met in
1900. This advance eastwards had led coastal colonies to expand northwards to
secure their commercial hinterlands. Sierra Leone and Liberia were con¬ned
quite closely to the coast, but the British had time to occupy Asante in 1896,
without resistance, and to declare a protectorate over the Sokoto Caliphate in
In West Africa the British were content that France should occupy huge areas
of ˜light soil™, as Britain™s prime minister described it. In northeastern Africa,
concern for Egypt™s security made the British more sensitive, but they had no
need to act until 1896 because the middle Nile Valley was controlled not by a rival
European power but by the Mahdist state. The Sudanese Mahdi, Muhammad
ibn Abdallah, had revealed himself in 1881 as leader of Sudan™s stateless peoples
against Egyptian rule, then weakened by political turmoil in Cairo. Three years
later his forces took Khartoum and established a theocratic regime, which
the British were content to contain. More alarmed by French ambitions in
Ethiopia, Britain encouraged Italian interests there, leading to the occupation
of Eritrea in 1889 and the advance southwards into the Christian kingdom that
Emperor Menelik repelled at the Battle of Adwa in 1896, the greatest African
victory against foreign invaders. This undermined British policy, as did French
schemes to approach the Nile from equatorial Africa. In 1898 Britain destroyed
Colonial invasion 197

Mahdist forces at Omdurman and took control of the Sudan. Six years later
France abandoned her opposition to British policy in Egypt in return for a free
hand in Morocco, which she invaded in 1911. The Italians were compensated by
similar freedom to invade the Ottoman province of Tripoli (modern Libya).
The interconnections between events in different regions that converted
gradual expansion into a scramble also embraced southern Africa. Here the
main initiative was Britain™s unsuccessful annexation of the South African
Republic (Transvaal) in 1877 in an attempt to create a South African
Confederation under Cape leadership that would secure Britain™s imperial
communications. Seven years later Bismarck challenged Britain™s regional hege-
mony by creating German Southwest Africa (Namibia). To prevent a junc-
tion between this and the hostile South African Republic that would block
expansion northwards, Britain declared her own protectorate over interven-
ing Bechuanaland (Botswana) in 1885. A year later, the discovery of gold in
the South African Republic transformed the situation, for with gold, and per-
haps European allies, the Republic might dominate southern Africa. Britain™s
¬rst response was to encourage the diamond magnate Cecil Rhodes to launch
a pioneer column northwards into Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) in 1890,
hoping that gold discoveries there might offset the South African Republic.
Britain also occupied Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) and Nyasaland (Malawi),
defying Portugal™s claims there but giving recognised borders to Mozambique
and Angola. Yet Southern Rhodesia™s gold proved disappointing. Instead, with
covert British acquiescence, Rhodes organised in 1895 an abortive invasion of
the South African Republic to provoke insurrection by British immigrants. Its
failure left no means of domination except the threat of war. In 1899 Britain™s
High Commissioner at the Cape, Sir Alfred Milner, manoeuvred President
Kruger of the South African Republic into issuing an ultimatum that drew
the reluctant British Cabinet into the Anglo-Boer War, not to control the gold
mines but to protect Britain™s position in South Africa against the threat aris-
ing from the gold mines. Victory cost Britain three years of war, nearly 500,000
troops engaged, 22,000 dead, and £222 million.
By the First World War, the European Powers had, on paper, partitioned
the entire African continent except Liberia and Ethiopia, both of which had
used ¬rearms to extend their territories. On the ground, however, many large
and remote areas remained outside European control. Darfur in the Sudan
and Ovamboland in northern Namibia were conquered during the First World
War, the interior of British Somaliland in 1920. Berber followers of Abd el-
Krim in the Rif Mountains of northern Morocco resisted 250,000 Spanish and
French troops until 1926, while the High Atlas escaped colonial administration
until 1933. The Beduin of Libya had submitted two years earlier. Even in 1940 the
interior of the Western Sahara was outside European control. Yet these were only
major instances. Throughout the continent smaller groups, usually stateless,
198 africans: the history of a continent

de¬ed European overlords as they had de¬ed all previous government. ˜I shall of
course go on walloping them until they surrender™, a 27-year-old district of¬cer
wrote from central Nigeria in 1925. ˜It™s rather a piteous sight watching a village
being knocked to pieces and I wish there was some other way but unfortunately
there isn™t.™1 Only thirty-two years later he became the ¬rst governor-general
of independent Ghana. In Africa the experience of colonial rule was often very
brief indeed.
There had been no single European motive for the partition. Africa was not
central to European economies: during the 1870s it accounted for little more
than 5 percent of Britain™s trade, most of it with Egypt and South Africa. Com-
mercial interests in tropical Africa were vital to annexations on the west coast,
but elsewhere merchants such as the Germans in Zanzibar often opposed colo-
nial conquest lest it disrupt existing trade. Successful businessmen left risky
colonial investments to less prosperous competitors or to enthusiasts with
noncommercial motives. Rhodes™s British South Africa Company never paid
a dividend during the thirty-three years it administered Rhodesia. Only after
others had borne the costs of pioneering did the great German investment
banks or Belgium™s dominant trust, Soci´ t´ G´ n´ rale, put money into Africa.
ee e e
The important economic motives in the partition were Britain™s wider imperial
interests and such long-term hopes and fears as Leopold™s vision of Congolese
wealth, French dreams of Eldorado in Timbuktu, or British fears of exclu-
sion from protected French colonies. These motives might move statesmen,
although less than their strategic concerns to control the southern shores of
the Mediterranean or the routes to India.
Yet European statesmen did not always control imperial expansion. Bis-
marck certainly controlled his country™s, and so generally did British cabinets,
although their agents on the spot took the lead in Egypt in 1882 and to some
degree in South Africa, while missionary agitation outweighed other considera-
tions in Nyasaland. Such sectional interests were especially powerful in France™s
multiparty political system, where imperial expansion was driven forward by
ambitious colonels on the frontiers and the parti colonial in Paris, a pressure
group of colonial deputies, geographical and commercial interests, civil ser-
vants, retired of¬cers, publicists, and professional patriots. They framed the
policies that took French troops to Lake Chad, threatened Britain on the Nile,
and acquired Morocco.
Moreover, Africa was partitioned not only because European statesmen or
soldiers willed it but because they for the ¬rst time possessed the technological
capacity to do it. Two obstacles had hitherto con¬ned European power to the
African coastline, except in the north and south. One was disease, especially
malaria, which in the early nineteenth century killed within a year roughly
half of all Europeans reaching West Africa. The introduction of quinine pro-
phylaxis during the 1850s reduced the deathrate by about four-¬fths and made
Colonial invasion 199

European military operations possible. The other obstacle had been the absence
of overwhelming military superiority so long as early nineteenth-century mus-
kets took at least a minute to load, had an effective range of only eighty
metres, and mis¬red three times in ten. Breech-loading ri¬‚es were ¬rst used
extensively in 1866. Two decades later, they gave way to repeating ri¬‚es, which
French forces in West Africa began to adopt in 1885, one year after the patenting
of the Maxim machine-gun, ¬ring eleven bullets a second. Field artillery dev-
astated the palisaded strongholds of East Africa and the baked-mud defences
of the savanna, sparing the French a single casualty when driving the Tuku-
lor from Segu. Whereas Abd al-Qadir™s followers had fought the French in
the 1830s with a near-equality of weapons, the British at Omdurman in 1898
killed at least 10,800 Sudanese for the loss of only 49 dead on their own
Both those campaigns were exceptional in employing large white forces. Most
colonial armies were warbands of African mercenaries barely distinguishable
from Mirambo™s or Samori™s. The Tirailleurs S´ n´ galais who conquered the
West African savanna for France were mostly slaves, while many African troops
were deliberately recruited from ˜martial tribes™ in remote regions. Yet even
these forces had weapons vastly superior to the muzzle-loaders that Buganda™s
warriors ¬red from the hip or at arm™s length from a range of about ten metres,
wearing their whitest cloth to display their courage. Several African leaders
acquired breech-loaders; Samori, for example, had perhaps six thousand at
his peak. But in tropical Africa only Ethiopia, Dahomey, the Tukulor, and the
Mahdists possessed a few artillery pieces, while Menelik and the Mahdists alone
used machine-guns. Abd el-Krim, however, employed over two hundred cap-
tured machine-guns and bought (but never used) three aeroplanes during the
1920s. By then Europeans were losing the near-monopoly of modern weapons
that had brie¬‚y made their conquest cheap enough in men and money to be

resistance and negotiation
Constrained by technological inferiority, Africans had to decide whether to
¬ght or negotiate with invaders seeking to convert their paper-partition into
power on the ground. This was a question of tactics, for the African objective
was the same in both cases: to preserve as much independence and power as
was possible in the circumstances. In choosing their tactics, Africans had to
consider their total situation. Those with previous experience of European ¬re-
power might think resistance futile, as did Asante in 1896 after experiencing in
1874 ˜guns which hit ¬ve Ashantees at once™. Others might be given no choice
but to ¬ght. Ambitious French commanders, schooled in the Algerian tradi-
tion that Islam was irreconcilable, brushed aside attempts by Tukulor leaders
200 africans: the history of a continent

to ¬nd a modus vivendi, just as British of¬cers in Uganda treated Bunyoro as
an inevitable enemy because it had previously con¬‚icted with visiting Euro-
peans and with the Buganda kingdom where the British made their base. Even
if negotiation were possible, some peoples could not hope to preserve their
way of life under European control, notably the slave-trading Yao chiefdoms
of Nyasaland, which resisted stockade by stockade. For others, by contrast, the
advantages of accepting an initially remote European paramountcy might seem
to outweigh its costs, as for most of the war-weary Yoruba kingdoms that signed
treaties with the British after one kingdom, Ijebu, had resisted and been heav-
ily defeated. Africans learned quickly from their neighbours. King Lewanika of
Bulozi asked his ally Khama in Bechuanaland whether, given his experience of
British ˜protection™, he recommended it, and accepted his assurance that he did “
advice coinciding with that given to Lewanika by a resident missionary, another
element in the situation. This Central African region illustrated the full com-
plexity of the historical circumstances within which Africans had to make their
choices. It was still dominated by the consequences of its invasion by Ndebele,
Kololo, and other South African groups during the ¬rst half of the nineteenth
century. The Ndebele military kingdom tried to coexist with Rhodes™s Pioneer
Column but was forced into war in 1893 by white aggression and the militancy
of its own young warriors. The whites found allies among some Shona peoples
who saw them as potential protectors against Ndebele aggression. Lewanika
also feared the Ndebele, which was one reason for negotiating with the British,
but more important was the instability of his Lozi throne, recaptured from
Kololo invaders only in 1864 and threatened by royal rivals, dissident subjects,
and numerous slaves. He wanted a British protectorate, he declared in 1888, ˜to
protect myself against those [Lozi]. You do not know them; they are plotting
against my life.™2
Amidst these complex calculations, the one common feature was that African
polities were divided. Like the European Powers, each had its war and peace
parties, its hawks and doves. Sometimes, as in Asante and Dahomey, advocates
of the two policies had long contested power. Sometimes they were virtually
at war, as in Buganda, where the weaker Protestant party used the British
forces that arrived in 1890 as allies to secure its own predominance over Roman
Catholic, Muslim, and traditionalist parties. More commonly, the European
advance itself polarised opinion. In 1879, following the British victory over
the Zulu, the Pedi ruler, Sekhukhuni, proposed at a public meeting to accept
European rule, only to be denounced as a coward and compelled to resist.
Twelve years later, the Mpondo people on the northeastern border of the Cape
Colony fought a civil war over whether to ¬ght the British. Such anguished
dispute divided the Sokoto Caliphate when British forces invaded in 1900. Each
emir made his own decision for war or submission. Kontagora, a militarised
frontier chiefdom deeply engaged in slaving, resisted in arms. Zaria, on poor
Colonial invasion 201

terms with Sokoto, opened its gates. Kano strengthened and manned its walls
but made little resistance once the ¬eld guns breached them. Opinion in Sokoto
itself was divided between resistance, negotiation, and withdrawal. A minority
fought to the death outside the city, but others departed eastwards towards
Mecca, found their way blocked, had no chance to surrender, and died on 27
July 1903 with their Caliph Attahiru at the Battle of Burmi, some roped together
so that they could not retreat.
Where aims were so similar and decisions so complex, it would be idle to
think that ˜warrior societies™ inevitably fought or more paci¬c peoples invari-
ably negotiated. Sotho fought the Orange Free State in the 1850s and 1860s,
negotiated a British protectorate in 1868, fought in 1880 to prevent the Cape
government from disarming them, and in 1884 negotiated the restoration of
British protection. What mattered at any moment was whether the circum-
stances gave predominance to hawks or doves, on both African and European
sides. Yet hawks were especially numerous in two kinds of societies. Locally
dominant, militarised polities formed one category. They did not always ¬ght “
Ibadan, the dominant Yoruba state, chose to negotiate “ but the reasons against
resistance had to be compelling. Neither Sekhukhuni of the Pedi nor Lobengula
of the Ndebele could convince his young men to negotiate. Military honour
was vital here, as it was also for those like the Mahdists for whom resistance
was holy. The other societies with especially strong war parties were state-
less peoples who lived amidst continuous intervillage feuding, cherished their
own notions of honour, and had no experience of external rule. Often remote
and amorphous, they were exceptionally dif¬cult to conquer. The Baoul´ of e
Cote d™Ivoire, for example, fought the French village by village until 1911. The
Igbo of Nigeria were not fully defeated until 1919, the Jola of Senegal not until
the 1920s, and the Dinka of southern Sudan not until 1927. Pastoralists like the
Somali or the Beduin of Libya were even more intractable, for their statelessness
and ¬erce independence were compounded by mobility and Islamic fervour.
Such societies “ the militarily dominant and the stateless “ not only resisted
most stubbornly but also launched the major rebellions against early colonial
To rebel against a colonial government was more dif¬cult than to resist initial
conquest, for rebellion had to be organised both secretly and on a large scale
if it were to have hope of success. Most leaders of large armed rebellions were
therefore established political and military authorities in major states, espe-
cially where initial resistance to conquest had been muted, colonial demands
for tax and land and labour were heavy, and a favourable opportunity presented
itself. The Ndebele of Southern Rhodesia launched such a revolt in 1896, three
years after their defeat by Rhodes™s white pioneers in a war that had engaged
only part of the Ndebele forces. Embittered by seizure of land and cattle and
emboldened by the absence of many white policemen on the Jameson Raid,
202 africans: the history of a continent

the Ndebele rose under their leading military commanders, mobilised subject
peoples and surrounding Shona clients who had not participated in the earlier
resistance, and spread the revolt to hitherto hostile Shona chiefdoms, which
now had their own reasons for insurrection. After besieging Bulawayo, Ndebele
leaders won important concessions before accepting peace. In Buganda, Kabaka
Mwanga launched a rebellion in 1897 mobilising many of those excluded from
the colonial and Christian order, but it was defeated by the British and the
dominant Christian chiefs. Three years later Asante sought to remedy by rebel-
lion its failure to resist British occupation in 1896, rising under the leadership
of a queen mother and military chiefs during the king™s exile and besieging the
British in Kumasi for four months until reinforcements suppressed the revolt.
The last great rebellion drawing chie¬‚y on established political and military
institutions took place in Mozambique in 1917, when the Barwe people (a Shona
group) restored an ancient kingship and won widespread support at a time of
wartime grievances and Portuguese weakness.
Because grievances against early colonial rule were widespread, stateless peo-
ples and small chiefdoms launched many local revolts, but they generally lacked
the organisation to threaten European control on the scale achieved by Nde-
bele or Asante, even when they utilised institutions stretching across politi-
cal divisions such as the Nyabingi cult, which led opposition to German and
British control on the border between Rwanda and Uganda until 1928, or the
secret society that organised the Ekumeku resistance to British rule in western
Igboland between 1898 and 1910. One exception to this narrowness of scale
was the Maji Maji rebellion of 1905“7 in German East Africa (modern Tan-
zania), which spread widely among stateless peoples through the leadership
of a prophet, Kinjikitile, who operated within the framework of a territorial
religious cult, spoke with the authority of divine possession, and distributed
water-medicine (maji) alleged to give invulnerability to bullets. Similar revolts
with religious inspiration took place in Upper Volta (Burkina Faso) in 1915“17
and in French Equatorial Africa in 1928“32. Elsewhere, however, large-scale
rebellion by stateless peoples took place only under Islamic inspiration. The
Sudanese Mahdi™s revolt against Egyptian rule had employed the same com-
bination of divine authority and multiethnic appeal as Kinjikitile™s. The chief
Islamic revolt against early European control took place in Niger in 1916“17,
when Tuareg tribes besieged Agades at a time of French weakness and decline
in the desert economy. Christianity inspired only one signi¬cant rebellion, in
1915, by plantation labourers in southern Nyasaland led by John Chilembwe,
an African clergyman with American training. His followers harboured mil-
lennial expectations and launched a brief and bloody attack on their employers
but gained no widespread support, for Christians were still few and engaged
in building up their strength within the colonial order, a task to which most
Africans turned once armed revolt was defeated.
Colonial invasion 203

colonial rule
Because most African colonies were acquired in hope of long-term advan-
tage, their early governments were only holding operations. Their subjects
were impressed by their strength, as the memoirs of literate Ganda show, but
Europeans ruling Buganda were more conscious of their weakness in the face of
˜something like a million fairly intelligent, slightly civilized negroes of warlike
tendencies, and possessing about 10,000 to 12,000 guns™.3 To maintain a precari-
ous order, if necessary by swift use of violence, was therefore the administrator™s
¬rst priority. The second was to do it cheaply. ˜Get to know your district, and
your people. Keep an eye on them, collect tax if possible, but for God™s sake don™t
worry headquarters™, as a veteran native commissioner in Southern Rhode-
sia remembered his duties.4 To collect tax for his impecunious government
was the purpose for which his of¬ce had been created. ˜In assessing you,™ the
governor-general of French Equatorial Africa warned his of¬cials in 1903, ˜I shall
base myself above all on the results which you will have obtained with regard
to the native tax.™5 A poor colony like Nyasaland introduced direct taxation
from the moment it was created in 1891, generally requiring each adult male to
pay the equivalent of one or two months™ wages “ a common pattern in eastern
Africa, where tax was seen not only as a source of revenue and a ˜sacrament of
submission™ but also as an ˜educational™ measure compelling Africans to supply
produce or labour to the colonial economy. Early tax collection involved much
brutality and provoked much resistance, notably the Sierra Leone Hut Tax War
of 1898 and the Bambatha Rebellion of 1906 in Zululand. There are accounts
of men in Uganda killing themselves when unable to ¬nd the cash to pay tax.
For most individuals, however, tax was probably less burdensome than early
colonial demands for labour. Long Africa™s scarcest commodity, labour was
doubly so when European rulers added new demands for porters and con-
struction workers before they introduced mechanical transport. This was why
forced labour was the most widespread abuse of the early colonial period. The
French required each man to work unpaid for up to twelve days a year. They also
conscripted Africans for longer periods of paid labour and for military service,
taking about half a million men from the continent during the First World War
alone, despite widespread evasion and armed resistance. The Congo Free State™s
labour tax, as codi¬ed in 1903, was forty hours a month, although the reality was
arbitrary impressment. Forced labour remained common there until at least
the Second World War, as also in Liberia and in Portuguese colonies, where it
was not abolished even formally until 1961 “2. In British colonies it generally
ended during the early 1920s. Until then a Ganda peasant might theoretically
owe ¬ve months™ labour a year: one month (in lieu of rent) to his African
landlord, one month of local community labour, two months (in lieu of tax)
to the state, and one month of compulsory paid (kasanvu) labour for the state
204 africans: the history of a continent

11. Colonial boundaries. Source: Adapted from Roland Oliver, The African experience
(London, 1991), p. 215.
Colonial invasion 205

or (rarely) a private employer. Recruiting for private employers was often an
early colonial of¬cial™s most distasteful duty.
Administrators took more pride in their fourth basic task: to judge cases
and administer law. Early district of¬cers were as eager as Ethiopian emperors
and Asantehenes to attract cases into their courts, and for the same reasons: it
augmented their political power, implied con¬dence in their rule, and enabled
them to impose their notions of justice. Historians have neglected the process
by which colonial governments destroyed rival African jurisdictions, repressed
blood feuds, and asserted a sole prerogative to take life, but Africans remem-
bered it vividly and of¬cials thought it a crucial achievement, for many African
societies had been violent and cruel. Yet early colonial justice was itself often
oppressive. Many early of¬cials were brutal men, recruited only because they
were available. They were entrusted with overwhelming ¬repower and were
remote from control by superiors or public opinion. Their quality improved
enormously after the First World War, but even the most just among them rep-
resented alien and impersonal regimes: an Igbo masquerade caricatured ˜Gov-
ernment™ as a faceless ¬gure clutching a sheet of paper. Their courts mainly
enforced their own orders and prohibitions. And when these ˜student mag-
istrates™, as an African described them, tried to enforce indigenous law, its
unwritten character left them in the hands of the elderly men they consulted,
who often reshaped custom to their own advantage, chie¬‚y at the expense of
women and the young. ˜The white men brought . . . peace between Igbo com-
munities,™ an Igbo later recalled, ˜but they have not brought peace within the
Of¬cials could not avoid reliance on African agents. At headquarters they
depended on clerks and interpreters, one of whom was accused in Dahomey
in 1909 of having ˜established a court in which he regulates all matters before
submitting them to the administrator; this is not done for nothing, chicken,
sheep, money . . . have to be paid. . . . [He] has said that the white man will
believe anything he says.™7 For communication with the countryside, of¬cials
relied on messengers “ the key ¬gures in Northern Rhodesia™s rural adminis-
tration “ or soldiers, ˜pure barbarians . . . [whose] brutality on the villagers™8
was one grievance underlying John Chilembwe™s rebellion. Their rural agents
might have indigenous authority, but they might be merely appointed ˜tax
chiefs™, as they were known in Cote d™Ivoire, or ˜government dogs™, as the Nuba
of Sudan described them. Many early colonial agents had no better claim than
eager collaboration. Some were aliens, such as the Swahili-speaking coast-
men whom the Germans used in East Africa or the Fulbe whom they and
the British imposed on stateless highlanders in Cameroun and Nigeria. But
the most powerful Africans within the colonial situation were the farseeing
modernisers who quickly recognised that armed resistance was doomed and
that wisdom dictated the manipulation of the colonial order to their own
206 africans: the history of a continent

and their people™s advantage. The greatest of these was Sir Apolo Kaggwa,
chief minister of Buganda from 1889 to 1926, a tireless moderniser who led his
Protestant party into pro¬table alliance with the incoming British and nego-
tiated in 1900 a Uganda Agreement that ensured Buganda much autonomy,
preserved its monarchy, and empowered its Christian leaders to distribute the
kingdom™s land among themselves as freehold property. His closest counterpart
in West Africa was perhaps Obaseki of Benin, but many lesser men of like mind
helped to ensure that colonialism in Africa was not merely an ordeal but an
How a colonial administration selected, trained, and controlled its African
agents chie¬‚y determined its character. This was more a matter of expediency
than of principle. The small West African coastal colonies of the mid-nineteenth
century were governed on broadly European lines. Permanent residents of
Senegal™s coastal towns enjoyed French citizenship. British possessions were
Crown Colonies with formal institutions and British law. But these meth-
ods were impracticable in the huge territories acquired during the partition.
Where occupation was relatively peaceful and foreign trade extensive, as in
southern Nigeria, government could be ¬nanced by customs duties, so that


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