Africa and the Africans in the Nineteenth Century: A Turbulent History

By Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch; Mary Baker | Go to book overview

Conclusion

In sub-Saharan Africa, the nineteenth century was the major period for internal slavery and slave trading as well as the century of Muslim political revolutions. While adherence to Christianity was rare in 1900, throughout the nineteenth century, from the time of the Egyptian revolution to colonial imperialism, Western capitalism was clearly infiltrating the entire continent. Almost everywhere in Africa in the second part of the century, political regimes emerged that were in some respect “modern,” or at least innovative. It was a century full of change and with a weighty heritage that would later mire societies in the twentieth century.

One thing that is clear from the many case studies described in this work is that the relations and ties between the north and south, and the east and west, were much stronger and well-defined than partial regional histories might lead us to think.

Despite a major difference between North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa— namely the longer history of widespread popular Islam in the north—there were many similarities between the regions north and south of the Sahara. There were analogous social structures based on a complex interplay of hierarchy and kinship, and trade in commodities was beginning to predominate over the slave trade. There was also greater contact and more commercial and cultural exchange than ever before. Rabīh was famous in Egypt and known to Tippu-Tip in the Upper Congo. Population movements, religion (pilgrimages), economics, politics, and cultural exchanges created links between Morocco and the Niger, Senegal and Arabia, the Niger River and Cairo, and the Atlantic Coast and Zanzibar. By contrast, between 1880 and 1940, during the early part of colonial imperialism in the twentieth century, and again during the first twenty years of independence marked by military regimes and one-party systems, people withdrew inside colonial-era borders and virtually all societies regressed in ways that should not be idealized. Indeed, the perverse effects of global changes had made Africa the world leader in slavery for several centuries, culminating in the precolonial nineteenth century, which shaped African social organization and condemned it to lag behind in the “modern” capitalist economy.

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