There is a re-awakening happening to the continent of Africa at the moment. It is the reawakening of reaching out to our far and wide, age-long historical precedents which is the true essence of distinctiveness amongst the comity of other nations of the world. Africans at home and in the diaspora are now telling the undiluted and unique African stories. The story of our ancient civilization, our technological advancement and that of our collective prosperity as one black continent before the shackles of colonialism forced us farther apart.

Africa before the advent of modern-day civilization had a vibrant economic, military and social base that caused empires existing at the time to thrive. But for the set back of colonialism mixed with poor economic planning in our nation states over the years, we have failed to maintain that template that saw our old empires succeed many decades ago.

A few of these ancient kingdoms in Africa are going to be examined in the body of this blog. Kindly read along.

1. The Mali Empire (1275 to 1670 AD)

The Mali Empire, City of Timbuktu

This empire was the second of three great empires that dominated West Africa between the 9th and 16th centuries, this powerful kingdom was a juggernaut in its day. Rising to prominence in the region during the twilight years of the Ghana empire, at its peak, the Kingdom of Mali would stretch across a territory so large that its only contemporary superior in terms of landmass conquered, was the Mongolian Empire.

It is on record that during the Mali Empire in the early 14th century during the reign of Mansa Musa I witnessed a massive economic uplift like never before all over the world. Often considered the wealthiest man that ever lived, Mansa Musa’s widely documented pilgrimage to Mecca between 1324 and 1325 famously destabilized the economy of most of Northern Africa and parts of the Middle East because of the sheer volume of gold he introduced into the economy. His massive spending and generous gifts so inflated the price of goods in the region and devalued gold and other precious metals, that it sparked a 10-year recession.

The Mali Empire and Mansa Musa are also credited with the establishment of one of the world’s oldest universities. Based in Timbuktu, the Sankore Mosque was one of three Islamic centers of learning in the region that facilitated the studies of 25 000 students, making it arguably the largest university in the world at the time. At its peak, the library at Timbuktu was home to potentially as many as 700 000 manuscripts, which is simply bizarre for the time and speaks to the depth and richness of the academic tradition at Timbuktu.

2. The Songhai Empire (1464 to 1591 AD)

King Sonni Alli of the Songhai Empire

Under the rule of Sunni Ali, this empire grew in its influence as the power of the Mali empire in the region began to wane. Conquering and then fortifying the key cities of Timbuktu and Djenne in 1468 and 1475, Sunni Ali’s successors would rule over an empire that stretched over 1000 miles from modern-day Niger, westwards towards the Atlantic Ocean. Sunni Ali’s son, Sonni Baru was notoriously weak upon his succession to the Songhai throne and within a year was usurped by Askia Muhammed I or Askia the Great. Askia went about making sweeping political and economic reforms that consolidated the power of the empire and grew it to be the largest empire in Western Africa.

3. The Kingdom of Kush (c 1000 BC to 350 AD)

The Kush Empire

This great kingdom's territory ranged over an area as large as Egypt. They controlled the Nile Valley, and neighbouring kingdoms saw them as a force to reckon with.

They are composed of the Nubian peoples, and they had three great capitals over the span of their influential period in history: Kerma, Napata, and most notably, Meroe. Whilst they did develop many cultural similarities with the Egyptians, that came with the intermarriage of the royal families of both kingdoms, such as the veneration of Egyptian gods and the building of pyramids (although Kushite pyramids were notably smaller and steeper), they were distinguishable from the Egyptians in several ways e.g. complexion.

The Nubians attained a highly advanced civilization that studies have shown included the invention and use of reservoirs, water wheels, and blast furnaces. We were also made aware that the Nubians pioneered the use of early antibiotics and had established their own form of geometry, which was bolstered by a trigonometric method similar to that of the Egyptians.

At the height of their power, the Kushites completely conquered Egypt, with king Piye of Napata establishing Egypt’s 25th Dynasty in 747 BC and becoming the first of a line of five Black Pharaohs that ruled Egypt until 656 BC.

4. The Kingdom of Benin (1180 to 1897 AD)

The Great Walls of Benin

This is probably the most obscure kingdom on this list and by comparison to the others, was tiny.
The first king or oba in Benin was a prince of Nigerian descent called Eweka but the kingdom would reach its greatest power under the reign of Oba Ewuare the Great who reigned from 1440 to 1473 AD. Ironically, the violent coup in which Ewaure became king destroyed much of Benin City but Ewuare's legacy is as a great builder.

Scientists reckoned that the Benin city walls were at one point four times longer than the Great Wall of China and consumed a hundred times more material than the Great Pyramid of Cheops. The walls extended for 16 000km or 9941 miles and are estimated to have required 150 million hours of digging to construct. In fact, it was described as “perhaps the largest single archaeological phenomenon on the planet.”

Benin City was iconic and all the contemporaneous descriptions of it prove this. In 1691, a Portuguese ship captain called Lourenço Pinto observed that:“Great Benin, where the King resides, is larger than Lisbon, all the streets run straight and as far as the eyes can see. The houses are large, especially that of the king which is richly decorated and has fine columns. The city is wealthy and industrious. It is so well governed that theft is unknown and the people live in such security that they have no door to their houses.”. Benin City is also said to also have been one the first cities to have street lamps, which were tall metal lamps, several feet high that were fueled by palm oil and designed to provide light mostly in and around palace grounds.

5. The Mutapa Empire (1450–1629)

Prince Nyatsimba Mutota of the Mutapa Empire

The Mutapa Empire stretched between the Zambezi and Limpopo rivers of Southern Africa and encompassed parts of modern-day Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia, and Angola. This state was composed mostly of the Shona peoples who are the ethnic ancestors of most modern-day Zimbabweans and much of what we know about the empire, its geography, customs, and military practices come from their contact with the Portuguese.

According to oral tradition, the first mwene or Lord of the Mutapa empire was a prince named Nyatsimba Mutota from the Kingdom of Zimbabwe who expanded the kingdom in a search of salt mines. In the years after this initial expansion, the original mwene’s successors would go on to establish arguably the most economically significant empire in Southern African history. At its height, the Mutapa specialized in the import and export of luxury goods such as silk, ceramics, and glass.

The region was also rich in gold, silver, and copper, which were expertly worked by smiths into all manner of jewelry and artefacts, many of which are still on display in Portuguese museums. According to 17th-century Dutch writer, Olfert Dapper, the Mutapa palace was said to have four grand gateways which led into the halls of the palace, the ceilings of which were gilt with golden plates and had ivory chandeliers hanging from them. According to Dapper “When his majesty deigned to rise from his imperial bed, he was clothed by his valets in garments of native silk. All his servants approached him on bended knees and served him like dumb slaves.”

There is clearly much more to the glorious continent of Africa than it meets the eye or makes it into the history books. The onus however lies on us to take key lessons from the dominance of our past and use the same to rally round and transform Africa. Africa will be great again !

Credit: Stephen Bhasera | Medium