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History of West Africa part II

Updated on August 7, 2017

Pre-Colonial west African states

  • According to great scholars like Plato: A state is an ethical religious institution which care for material needs.
  • Aristotle pointed out that; man is apolitical animal (Homo political). A society / state is built gradually i.e it starts from the family up to the national level.
  • The Medieval conception of a state was influenced by Aristotelian ideology. Many scholars concurred with the idea that a state is an ethical religious institution because it takes care of spiritual people.
  • Modern scholars pointed out that a state is a contract between the rulers and the ruled which means is a product of socialization.
  • Benedict Spinoza, states that a state arose from the contract entered to by people who lived in irrational nature (perpetual wars)
  • Thomas Hobbes asserts that man lived in natural egoism with a drive to procure maximum leisure because man by nature has the right to every thing. But in the society there is no security for everyone hence they had to form a state.

Marxist State Formation

  • According to Marxist conception, a state emerges where there is economic classes, and where there is economic exploitation. The function of the state is to regulate struggles between conflicting classes.

Origin of a State

  • The state arises because of the needs of the people. Man by nature is not satisfied by the simple division of labour. As soon as man acquires basic needs he needs other luxurious.
  • Plato pointed out that rich people are not supposed to rule. To him those knowledgeable should rule the society. He also poses an argument that a ruler should not get married (to devote time to think, plan, and implement the society’s needs)
  • Every political system must have material base i.e economic base and production. Production according to Karl Marx is divided into material production and reproduction.

Theories of State Formation

  • Voluntaristic – Spontaneous, Hydraulic, Automatic (Jean Jacques Rousseau’s social contrast)
  • Coercive theory – Wars and conquest theories
  • Circumscription theory – Harsh circumstance or environment force people into favourable geographical conditions/ state formation. (E.g the Mfecane wars compelled Moshesh to form the Basuto kingdom at Thaba Bonsiu mountain)

Eurocentric scholars have kept on arguing that state craft was brought from outside Africa.

Some of states formed in west africa

Development of Ghana empire.

Ghana Empire developed in the areas of Western Sudan. This region is where empires such as Mali and Songhai were located. It was also known as the “land of gold”.

Factors for the Development of Ghana Empire

  • Geographical location, the kingdom of Ghana was located in place which received enough rain fall which supported agricultural activities.
  • Specialization in economic activities such as agriculture, trade and mining.
  • Availability of minerals such gold, salt and copper. Gold was very important for trade. The kingdom of Ghana controlled Gold deposits.
  • Development of iron technology and productive forces. Iron improved agriculture and weapon making.
  • The rise of Trans Sahara Trade. Through Trans Sahara Trade, Kings were able to get guns for expansion.
  • Tributes and taxes were used to pay officials and soldiers.
  • Good administration, it is said that the king possessed divine power and the kingdom was divided into provinces like central government and provinces. The king was at the top and was assisted by the ministers.

The Decline of Ghana Empire

  • Internal contradictions within the empire. Ghana was heterogeneous state as opposed to homogeneous.
  • The introduction of Islam which divided Ghana Empire into Muslim and non-mulim.
  • The conquest of Ghana Empire by Almoravids. The Almoravid were led by Abdallah Ibn Yasin.
  • Ghana also was attacked by the Susu leader and defeated.

The Asante Empire

Asante Empire was one among the forest states of West Africa. The founders of Asante Empire were part of the Akan people of modern Ghana. It consisted of many petty states and kingdoms around Kumasi.

  • Obiri Yeboa formed the state around 1670 as a chief of the Oyoko clan. He became chief of the small state of KWAAMAN.
  • Through conquest and diplomacy he persuaded the chiefs of the small states to accept him as a king. However, Yeboa was soon killed at a war with a small state of Roma.

Factors for the rise

(i) The rise and existence of many small states in the area around modern Kumasi.

e.g Mampon, Afigyaase, and Seniagya. Others included Abooso, Baman Malcom and Agona. The last group of states to emerge in the area were Dwaben, Kokofu,Nsuta,Bekwai, and Kumasi. These states were brought under a strong leader and formed the Asante Empire.

(ii) Oppressive rule by Denkyira. Pre-Asante states were subjected to tyrannical rule of Denkyira. Denkyira enslaved the people of these states and stopped them to engage into trade with European merchants at the coast. Many of these states were prepared for revolts against Denkyira.

(iii) Trade

Asante Empire developed trade links with people in the interior and European traders at the Coast .They traded in gold, ivory, kola nuts, and slaves.

The rise of Atlantic trade contributed greatly to the emergence of Asante in particular

because it gained access to guns and ammunition which were essential for expansion.

(iv) Strong army

The Asante had a royal army for keeping peace and conquest.

- Obiri Yeboa organized military campaigns for the expansion of his kingdom.

- When Yeboa died (1670s) Osei Tutu continued conquering the Akan states placing his capital at Kumasi.

(v) Good leadership

The growth of Asante Empire was a result of the work of the first three rulers, Obiri Yeboa,

Osei Tutu and Opuku Ware.

- The Empire had a council headed by the Asantehene who evaluated the Empire’s activities.

(vi) Strong unity

The Asante unity was forged and represented by the “Golden Stool” which was introduced by the priest Okonfa Anokye. The Golden Stool was a symbol of unity in the kingdom.

- The Asantehene introduced the Odwira festival once a year on which chiefs of the conquered states (Amanhene) gathered at the capital to settle disputes.

The Decline

  • From around 1820 to 1880’s the greater Asante started to decline. The reason for the decline was due to the succession of weak rulers and the threat of the British.
  • The Asante empire had a weak system of central and provincial administration. It consisted of three clear divisions at the peak of its power. Kumasi was under Asantehene; Amantoo was under its own Amanhene, although united by the Golden Stool, it was independent. The provincial Asante it was made by the conquered territories. The conquered states were not properly incorporated in the Empire nor given a place in the Union Council.
  • On a number of occasions earlier in the century the British had attacked Asante who wanted to prevent foreign control of the coastal trade. In order to assert their authority the British invaded Asante in 1874, Kumasi was captured by the British and the Empire came to an end.

The Hausa City- States

  • The Hausa are believed to have migrated into what is now northern Nigeria and southwestern Nigeria during the first millennium of the Christian era. They accepted the customs and religious beliefs of the Sudanic farmers whom they found and conquered. Because of the continuous warfare, fortified villages and towns began to develop as early as the 11th and 12th centuries. It was around these fortified towns the Hausa feudal states emerged.
  • As population increased, villages grouped together under the protection of the largest Hausa town. The Hausa states included Kano, Katsina, Gobir, Zamfara, Kebbi, and Zazzau.

    The economic base of the Hausa city states was agriculture, manufacturing and trade, though each had its own specialization.

    • Agriculture was conducted by the settled communities. The Niger valley provided good area for agricultural production for the Hausa people.
    • The Hausa city states had artisans who made articles which were exported across the Sudan and the Sahara. They weaved cloths from wool and cotton; there were leather workers who cut, tanned and fashioned animal skins into a variety of products such as shoes, bags belts etc. Some artisans worked on iron and turned copper and gold into ornaments and utensils. This form of industry is called “Cottage Industry” because it done by individual artisans in small houses e.g in Kano developed skills of cloth-dying and leather work.
    • From an early stage the strength of Gobir came from its Trans- Saharan trading contacts. Katsina also was an important trading centre. Zamfara and Kebbi were other important trading centres.

    Other states among the Hausa states became major suppliers of slaves e.g Zazzau raided slaves in the regions of Benue river.

The Influence of Islamic Religion

  • From the 14th century onwards, Islam began to take root and became the most favoured religion among the Hausa kings and nobles. Islam did not, however spread quickly to the rural areas. It remained an urban religion as the indigenous people in the countryside held their tradition religion and beliefs.
  • Islam had a strong influence on the urban people; mosques were built in many of the Hausa towns. Each city developed a university along lines of the school in Timbuktu where scholars instructed young men of Hausa in writing, reading, ethics, philosophy, mathematics, government and religion.

Bureaucracy and Government Organization

  • The Hausa city states were governed independently. Each city had its own government and governor. The governors were assisted by nobles whose ancestors had been royal to the dynasty.

The Hausa states’ sources of revenue

1. Taxes and duties

  • land tax paid by farmers
  • professional tax paid by craftsmen
  • custom duties payable on certain products entering into the territory

2. Livestock tax

Large stock herders’ also nomadic people paid grazing duty.

3. Gifts from aristocracy to the superior. A political act expressed by some leaders so as to win


4. Spoils such cattle, slaves, as sources of revenue.

5. Duty paid on girls’ marriage. A portion of dowry was paid as a tax to the government.

6. Scholars also paid duty

Fall of the Hausa States

The fall of the Hausa States was sparked by a number of reasons

  • Disunity, the Hausa States were organized independent and were not united against their rivals.
  • They had equal power and so difficult for one to establish dominion over the others.

The Hausa cities were conquered by Songhai under Askia Muhammad and the final conquest was from the emperors of Kanem Bornu.

The rise of mercantilism in Europe

  • Before the 15th century, Europeans had very little knowledge about Africans and their life. The known area to Europeans was the Carthagean North Africa and some extent Western Sudan as a ‘land of gold’. The situation changed between 1400 and 1600 when Portugal pioneered the age of exploration and discovery under the patronage of Prince Henry of the Aviz Dynasty. In 1415 Prince Henry the Navigator established a school of navigation and cartography at Sagres in Portugal.
  • The age of exploration started with the union of Portugal and Spain to form the Iberian Empire, before that unification Prince Ferdinand of Aragon wed princess Isabella of Castile in 1469; the marriage united Christian Spain under their rule.
  • The Iberian Empire established trade relations in the Middle East and Asia, before 14th century they were trading with Asia through Mediterranean to Constantinople via the Black Sea to India and other parts of Asia. The Iberians relied on trade because their region was not good in agricultural production.
  • However, the “Black Death”, a bubonic disease that took place in Between 1348 and 1351, killed up to three in five people as it spread rapidly through pre-industrial cities, unchecked by sanitation or modern medicine. This plague claimed the lives of tens of millions of Europeans who were potential to feudal agricultural economy. The small remaining population moved to new emerging centers where trade was booming to sell their labour for wage. Slowly feudalism started to collapse and in its place a capitalist mode in a form of Mercantilism emerged.
  • The Crusade Wars of 14th and 15th centuries and the insecurity there after, the route through Constantinople in Turkey was closed in 1453. The closure of this route forced the Iberians to search another route to Asia by rounding the African continent.
  • In 1487 Bartholomew Diaz reached the southern tip of the African continent. Vasco da Gama reached India via East African coasts between 1497 – 9. Christopher Columbus working under the Spanish Monarchy reached West Indies and America in 1492.

The Atlantic slave trade

  • The Atlantic slave trade I also known as “Triangular trade”. It was a trade in slaves which was closing the Atlantic Ocean. It joined basically three continents Africa, America and Europe. It started with the Portuguese explorations when Gonzalves, a Portuguese commander returned to Lisbon with ten Africans and presented them to Prince Henry so as to justify that he had reached the land of the Negroes in 1441.
  • The Africans were converted to Christianity and it was planned that they would be taken back and evangelize their fellow Africans. But by the time of the Prince’s death in 1460 many Africans were exported; about 700 and 800 annually.
  • When the first Portuguese reached West Africa they were mainly interested in tropical goods such as ivory, pepper, gum and above all gold. They established trading posts at El mina in Gold Coast and Whydah in Benin.
  • Meanwhile in 1480, the Portuguese had discovered the uninhabited equatorial island of Principe` and Sao Thome. They grew sugar cane plantations by using slaves from main land. Through the use of slaves in agricultural production the Portuguese were able to produce cheaply and gained many profits. The next 150 years Portugal imported slaves to work in Europe and American plantation and mining centres. Through Portuguese and Spaniards expedition, mercantilism in a form of Trans Atlantic slave trade developed. The Europeans took advantage of the discovery of the new lands through trade and exploitation.
  • By the time the Portuguese merchants were concentrating on African coast their neighbour the Spaniards were opening the Trans Atlantic route to the Americas and Caribbean. They opened large plantations of cotton, tea, tobacco; gold and silver mines. These sectors needed labour to start with; they used the indigenous Red Indians who were not good for the task. Most of them died of either by heavy labour or infectious diseases brought by Europeans.
  • Planters immediately turned to Europe whereby the solution was thought in the use of Indentured Labour. The people who were sentenced to go to jail were taken to serve in the plantations in America. This also proved a failure because after finishing their sentences the indentured opened new farms and also demanded labourers.
  • Naturally, the Spaniards who had used slave labour –Africans, found the solution was to turn to African slaves. The first bunch of African slaves to the new world was from Lisbon in 1501.
  • So far as many mines were opened and plantations being set up the demand for slaves increased. Between 1530- 1600 an average of 13,000 slaves a year were sent from Africa to the Americas. Most of the slaves were from Ghana, Cameroon, Congo and Angola.
  • The earlier stages of Triangular trade were dominated by Portuguese and Spaniards but later on Britain, France and Holland joined them between 1600 and 1763. the commodities were African slaves and non- human goods such as the industrial goods from Europe e.g cloths, books, looking mirror, outdated guns. These commodities were exchanged with slaves, ivory rhino horns, indigo, beeswax and came wood.
  • Slaves were taken to America to be used in the plantations and mines. They were sold at higher prices. From the Americas the merchants took agricultural products such as cotton, coffee, tea, tobacco sugar and minerals needed in the European industries.
  • Mercantilism is considered to be the core of capitalism through primitive accumulation of capital by piracy, looting, plundering and slave trade. For example, in 1572, Francis Drake obtained a privateer's commission from Queen Elizabeth I (essentially a license to plunder any of King Philip of Spain's property.) He planned to attack Spanish ships bringing silver and gold from Peru.
  • The wealth accumulated from America, India and Africa was used to build up industries and improve agriculture in Europe and America.
  • At this point in time, trade was officially restricted to powerful monopoly companies which afford building and maintaining garrisons. The forts were considered essential in 17th century for conducting slave trade. The companies included the English company called the Company of the Royal Adventurers into Africa, the French West India Company and the Dutch East India Company among others.

Africans were enslaved by the following ways:-

  • Criminal sold by chiefs as punishment
  • Free Africans obtained from raiding or kidnapping
  • Reselling off domestic slaves.
  • Prisoners of wars due to inter tribal wars waged so as to get captives
  • Through exchange with European goods. Europeans began to ask for slaves in exchange for their goods, beer, cloths, books, mirror, tobacco etc.


  • Depopulation, about 24 million people were taken from Africa. Disregard of peoples lives; torture and killing.
  • Raiding wars was a serious cause of misery, bloodshed and destructions. Slaves were no longer treated as human beings but rather as properties. Even those who remained suffered the trauma.
  • Famine due to lack of production. People feared to be captured in farms.
  • Underdevelopment of African continent. Slaves v/s commodities. Only 3 pounds were paid for a fit male slave
  • Slave trade tended to eliminate indigenous industrial technology because of imported goods.
  • Intermarriage, between European merchants and African women.

The 19th century jihadic movements in west Africa

  • Islam is one of the major religions of the world. It was founded by Prophet Muhammad (SAW) He preached against the old pagan beliefs of the Arabs and introduced the Koran: the book whose content was dictated to him by God. He called people to discard idols and follow Allah; the true God.
  • Prophet Muhammad had many convents to Islam, its literally meaning is “submission to God”. After his flight from Mecca to Medina in 622AD his followers took up swords and conquered the whole of Arabia, Syria and some parts of Africa.
  • The Muslim Arabs conquered Egypt in 642AD. Using Egypt as their base, they extended their Jihads westwards under the leadership of Ugbaibn Nafi, a general who had been sent to conquer North Africa. His conquest and occupation collapsed soon after his death. It was up until the time of General Hassan bin an Nu’man North Africa fell under the Muslim in 708.
  • In order to spread Islam, the Arabs recruited Berbers into the Arab army. It was[1] essential the Berber to soldiers in the Arab army profess the Islamic faith. Despite the presence of Islamic religion, the Muslim faith was not accepted as a whole by the Berber in general until the 11th century.
  • It was the Berber merchants rather than the Arabs who brought Islam across the Sahara to West Africa. The people responsible were the Sanhaja Berbers. They were determined to control the trade routes across the Sahara. Sanhaja was actually a loose confederation of three large ethinic groups of which Lamtuna and Godala were the largest and most important.
  • The Sanhaja Berber of the Lamtuna group set up a Jihad in which they forced the indigenous Africans of Mauritania to accept Islam. Jihads were holly wars undertaken by Muslims to non-believers.
  • In West Africa there were four major jihads in the 19th century. They include jihads organized by:-
  • Uthman dan Fodio in Hausaland -1804
  • Seku ahmadu in Massina -1818
  • Al- Hadji Umar in Bmbara -1852
  • Samouri Toure among the Mandinka -1870

Apart from Toure who was a Mandinka all other jihads were organized by Fulbe or Fulani pastoralists of Western Sudan. The Fulani saw jihads as an opportunity to reform Islam as it was then practiced as a way of readdressing political, economic and social grievances. Nevertheless, jihadist saw themselves as being ordained by Allah and their jihad is seen as a fulfillment of prophesies by the Prophet Muhhamed: as far as they were concerned they were executing a divine will.

Causes of Jihads in West Africa

  1. The revival of Islamic religion in the region
  • West Africa observed a rapid expansion of Islam between the 7th and 16th centuries, but due to growth of European power and Christianity around the16th century Islam was put on the defensive side. The 18th century saw a determined effort to revive Islam. It started with the Wahhabi movements in Saud Arabia. In West Africa jihads were carried out by the Fulani who embraced Islamic religion in the 14th century.
  • The Muslim reformers were very critical of Islam practiced in the 19th century. The people of Sudan did not abandon their traditional practices. They mixed Islam with their beliefs. The jihadists’ reformers wanted Islamic converts to be true believers and pious Muslims. Muslim scholars such as Al- Kunt (1729-1811) and Jibril Umar greatly influenced the Jihadists of the 19th century. For example Al- Kunt’s writing and preaching stimulated interests of Muslims and generated intellectual and ideological excitements. Both Fodio and Seku regarded Kunti as their spiritual guide.

2. The belief on the coming Mahdi

  • A Mahdi is a spiritual and temporal leader who will rule before the end of the world and restore religion and peace. In the Muslim world it was believed that a Mahdi would be coming in 13th century Islamic Calendar which was from 1785-1882.
  • It was due to this expectation in the late 19th century the jihads developed in West Africa. People were ready to accept anybody who claimed to be a Mahdi or forerunner of the Mahdi (e.g Muhammad Ahmad of Dongola in Sudan 1843-1885) declared himself Mahdi in 1881 and captured Khartoum.

3. Spreading Islamic religion.

  • In West Africa there were some areas which had not touched by Islam. The Mossi and the Bambara for example, continued to practice their traditional religion. In Hausa the goddesses of hunting and agriculture were still worshipped. Therefore, Jihads in Western Sudan aimed at converting the remaining infidel societies into Islamic religion.

4.The jihads were against nominal Muslim rulers of Western Sudan.

  • These movements wanted to remove from power the local rulers who practiced syncretism. The reformers criticized the decline of Islam and Islamic learning. They were against corrupt leaders, their abuse of power and worldliness. Jihad was a right option to unseat unwanted rulers.

5. Jihads in West Africa were organized partly due to economic, social and political grievances of the Fulani.

  • Fulani were pastoralists who moved from one place to another. More often the Fulani were denied grazing land by the farmers. They were required to pay taxes for grazing land which was said to be illegal. They also paid fines for damages caused by their cattle on crops. In general the Fulbe lacked political power to execute decisions on their favour in the village or towns they settled.

Jihads of Uthman Dan Fodio

  • The Jihads in Hausa States were the first in the 19th century. They were led by Uthman dan Fodio. According to the Kano Chronicles, Islam in Hausaland was introduced between 1349 and 1385 by the Dyula from Mandinka. Islam remained the religion of the urban trading class. The rest of the agriculturalists remained pagan until the jihads of Uthman dan Fodio in the 19th century.
  • Uthman was born in Maratta in Gobir in 1754. He studied under various scholars of the Qadiriyya order by Alfamuhu, and under Gibril Umar of Sadez. He studied as a shehu preacher. Because of his learning, he worked for the King as his adviser but when he criticized King Yunfa’s ways of life he was dismissed. Following his dismissal, dan Fodio became a rebel. In his preaching Fodio attacked and condemned corruption and unjust governments.
  • He was against illegal taxation; grazing taxes, dowry taxes, forgiveness taxes
  • He advocated education for women
  • He insisted on spiritual and moral value of Islamic religion.
  • After the death of Bawa in 1790, the succeeding was alarmed by the growing size of Uthman’s followers. Dan Fodio was expelled by his former student Yunfa who was the king of Gobir in 1802. The Islamic reformer Fodio assembled a Fulani army to lead a Jihad against the Hausa city states.
  • Uthman made a flight or hijira from Degel to Gudu, in 1804 he declared a Jihad against the corrupt government of Gobir. He received help from Zamfara state which disagreed with Gobir earlier.
  • Although the reformers were few and possessed weaker weapons, they were able to win the war due to their superior morale and good planning. After conquering Gobir, the reformers attacked the Hausa states. By 1809 the main Hausa towns were under Uthman dan Fodio. He formed the Sokotho Caliphate.
  • Gradually, Nupe, a part of Oyo Empire and Bornu were added to Fulani Empire with its capital at Sokotho. Before his death in 1817, Uthman divided the empire into two and gave the western half Gwadu to his brother Abdullahi and the eastern half Sokotho to his son Mohammad Bello who reigned from 1812 to 1837.

Consequences of Jihads

  • Creation of Islamic states

Jihads helped in the formation of Fulani Empire of Sokotho, Massina and Futa Djallon.

  • Spread of Islamic religion

Through Jihads, Islam enjoyed massive conversion of non-Muslim societies e.g the Bambara and Hausa People.

  • Intellectual revolution

Perhaps, the greatest success of the Jihads was in the field of education. Many schools and colleges were founded to educate followers the meaning of Islam as a religion.

  • The new governments controlled corruption and abolished unfair taxes.
  • Established peace and harmony in the Islamic states through the use of sharia laws.
  • Jihads were sometimes regarded as sources of wealth through raiding. War captives were sold as slaves and captured goods confiscated as booty. Slaves who supported the reformers were set free and those who didn’t were re-enslaved. In their later stages Jihads are said to have become increasingly more political and less religious in character.

© 2017 Kiluwasha


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