Who discovered Africa


In pre-colonial Africa there were very different forms of political rule. These were each based on different economic modes and forms of society, each of which also included special worldviews and religions. The question of whether there was a decentralized or absolute form of rule in Africa is controversial.

Extract from:
Information on political education (Issue 264) - pre-colonial forms of political organization

Discovery and exploitation of Africa

Although sub-Saharan Africa is relatively close to Europe, it came into the consciousness of the European public late. For a long time it was considered the land of wild people and exotic animals and was mystified as a dark continent. In the perception of politicians and merchants, it played a role primarily as an obstacle to the sea route to India and China. Due to the lack of a written language, little is known about the cultural and economic life in African societies and their forms of political organization well into the 19th century. The research here is dependent on oral records, on the contemporary reports of Arab, Portuguese and Dutch traders who explored Africa long before the explorers' voyages and before the colonial era. Some of the analyzes that are carried out in the chapter on pre-colonial forms of political organization are also about historical conclusions based on the observations of the first European explorers.

With the expansion of European colonial empires in the 19th century, scientific knowledge about Africa became more precise. The colonial conquest of Africa, which is anything but a glimpse of European history, was preceded by an even darker chapter: the transatlantic slave trade. The number of enslaved people who were "exported" from Africa, especially to America, amounted to several million. Slavery was not an unknown phenomenon for African societies, but this form of intra-African slavery never reached the inhuman dimension of the transatlantic slave trade.

While the effects of the slave trade on African cultures and their development have undoubtedly been negative, the debate about the consequences of colonialism remains controversial. In contrast to the sixties, seventies and eighties, when only its negative effects on African societies were emphasized, the discussion of the nineties also included considerations about possible positive consequences. Sometimes colonialism, which lasted less than a hundred years in Africa, has also been trivialized as a mere episode in African history. By analyzing the colonial structures and their effects, the chapter on colonialism tries to put the reader in a position to judge its importance for themselves.

The decolonization phase began in the late 1950s. Within a few years, the huge colonial empires of France and Great Britain in sub-Saharan Africa dissolved. The Portuguese colonies also gained independence in the 1970s. After Namibia and Zimbabwe had also succeeded and Eritrea split off from Ethiopia, the region south of the Sahara now has 48 independent states. The process of decolonization outlined in the chapter "State independence since the late 1950s" was painful for most African states. They came into a difficult social, economic and political legacy.