The Wall of Benin
Created by the Edo people of the Benin Empire(1447-1897). Currently located in Benin City, Nigeria.
"They extend for some 16,000 kilometres in all, in a mosaic of more than 500 interconnected settlement boundaries. They cover 6,500 square kilometres and were all dug by the Edo people. In all, they are four times longer than the Great Wall of China, and consumed a hundred times more material than the Great Pyramid of Cheops. They took an estimated 150 million hours of digging to construct, and are perhaps the largest single archaeological phenomenon on the planet."-Fred Pearce
Yet people still maintain Africa has no significant achievements. We’ve been spoon fed bullshit all out lives.
The Royal Niger Company’s dominance of Akassa and other tracts of the Delta was the culmination of several centuries of European plunder in the region of West Africa that became Nigeria. The first contact came via the arrival of the Portuguese in the late fifteenth century. Soon, trade in gold, other commodities & slave flourished. The Portuguese, British and Dutch fought for territory they could already see was rich in resources and ripe for exploitation. Locals chiefs proved willing suppliers for the European Hunger for human beings.
Then, in 1807, as a result of campaigning by abolitionists & religious sentiments, as well as changing commercial times, Britain outlawed slave trading by its own nationals. As part of a plan to end the practice all together - thereby, among other things, preventing its European rivals gaining a competitive advantage - London deployed patrols on the West African coast to intercept slave-trading vessels, free their cargoes and arrest their crews. In 1851, British ships attacked Lagos, then a small island-port, on the grounds that it was being used for slaving. A decade later, London formally declared that area a colony, gaining for the first time a political foothold in the land mass area that was to become Nigeria.
As Britain grappled for political control, its companies fought for commercial victory. The main rivals were French, who were eventually to take charge of many countries across the West Africa region, from Senegal to Cameroon. All the businesses wanted power over the River Niger, an invaluable trading route that rises in Guinea & snakes through the region before emptying into the was off the southern coast of Niger Delta.
In 1886, The United Africa Company - by now a behemothic agglomeration of British manufacturing and trading Interests - found a novel way of gaining extra competitive leverage. It won a royal charter from the British government, creating a trade protectorate exclusively to the company. The idea appealed to London, which wanted to block the region to the French & other rival European governments but -like many invading powers down the years- was to overstretched to do the job properly itself. According to one history of the time, the British vice-consul of the Delta’s Oil Rivers Protectorate candidly admitted that London’s policy would ‘chiefly assume negative character. So long as we keep other European nations out, we need not to be in a hurry to go in’
The charter awarded the conglomerate almost unlimited powers. It was subject to few controls, and could effectively rule the Delta with the sanction and military support of the British government. Sir George Goldie, the UAC’s head, highlighted the business’s enhanced prestige by renaming it the Royal Niger Company. It’s political connections were evident in the appointment of Lord Aberdare, a former home secretary, as it first governor. It was one of the great imperial multinationals of an era of the East India Company and its peers held considerable sway in the world trade.
The conglomerate’s modus operandi was starkly laid out in the documents held in Britain’s National Archives. Perhaps the most striking of them was a thick Foreign Office book so old and worn that it was bound together by a cloth tie. The yellow leather cover was fraying at the corners, exposing layers of hard cardboard beneath. On the spine, written in a burgundy-coloured box, was the tittle: ‘Royal Niger Company Treaties. Part One 1891-98’. Inside, there was a covering letter by Goldie to the undersecretary of state for colonial affairs.
Writing under the ornate Royal Niger Company letterhead, Goldie introduced what he said was a full list of the treaties the company had signed. The following pages were divided by vertical red lines into three columns dedicated to the numbers, place and dates of the deals mad by this capitalist buccaneer. The document had the air of a proud pupil seeking congratulations from his teacher for his industry: in one 20 day period in July 1889 alone, the company recorded it struck six separate deals. According to British government records the Royal Niger Company made between 340 and 500 of these agreements in total, to take spurious legal control over many territories of the River Niger.
The deeds were written in English and were mostly ‘signed’ by ‘x’ marks purported to have been placed by local chiefs. The language in Goldie’s book gave a sense of the scope of these agreements and how skewed they were in favour of him and his men. ‘With the consent of our people and with the view of bettering their conditions’ chiefs are quoted as agreeing in one deal, ‘[we] do this day cede to the company, and to their assigns, for ever, the whole of our territory’.
Armed with these documents, the company started trying to dislodge the palm-oil traders who stood between it and the commercial monopoly it wanted. Opponents were driven out, if necessary by force. The company soon established the dominance it desired; palm oil flowed to Britain and elsewhere in Europe, where it was used to make soap, candles and the explosive nitro-glycerine. Most important of all, it a served as a lubricant, to stop the machines that were driving Europe’s industrial prosperity from wearing out.
A Swamp Full of Dollars
by Michael Peel
The Kanem-Bornu Empire was a large African state which existed from the 9th century through the end of the 19th century and which spanned a region which today includes the modern-day countries of Niger, Chad, Cameroon, and Nigeria. The empire was founded by the Zaghawa nomadic people, who may have been the first in the central Sudan to acquire and make use of iron technology and horses.
Kanem was situated north east of Lake Chad. Its early origins are thought to lie in the 7th century with the settlement of the Zaghawa people. In the early 11th century, the Kanuri-speaking Sefawa dynasty was established, displacing the Zaghawa.
The empire was first mentioned by Arab chroniclers in the 9th century, and by the 10th century the ruler of Kanem had control of the Kawar Oases, a vital economic asset. The political structure of the Kanem empire had most likely grown out of rival states coming under the control of the Zaghawa. In the 11th century the Zaghawa clans were driven out by Humai ibn Salamna, who founded the kingdom of Kanem with a capital at Njimi. The Saifwa dynasty was established, a dynasty which ruled for 771 years—-the longest known reign in history.
Saifwa rulers (known as mais) claimed they were descended from a heroic Arabic figure, and the dynasty greatly expanded the influence of Islam, making it the religion of the court. Wealth came largely through trade, especially in slaves, which was facilitated by the empire’s position near important North-South trade routes.
Kanem converted to Islam under the ruler Hu or Hawwa (1067-71). There is some speculation that this ruler might have been a woman. The faith was not widely embraced until the 13th century. Certainly, Muslim traders would have played a role in bringing Islam to Kanem.
The wealth of Kanem derived from the ability of its rulers to control trade in the region. Their main exports were ostrich feathers, slaves and ivory. Their exports were crucial to their power and ability to dominate their neighbour. They rode horses, which they imported from the north.
Kanem reached the height of its power under the long rule of Mai Dunama Dibalami (1210-1248). His cavalry numbered over 40,000. But over the next hundred years, a combination of overgrazing, dynastic uncertainties and attacks from neighbours led the rulers of Kanem to move to Borno, which had previously paid tribute to Kanem. At this point, the state is sometimes referred to as Kanem-Borno.
Bornu expanded territorially and commercially, but increasing threats from other rival states, drought, trade problems, and rebellious Fulani groups eroded state control. Muhammad al-Amin al-Kanemi, a Muslim cleric, eventually defeated the rebellious Fulani and built a new capital at Kukawa in 1814.
His successors ended the Saifwa dynasty and the Kanem-Bornu Empire when they killed the last mai in 1846. Al-Kanemi’s Shehu dynasty was short-lived, and succeeded by slaver and warlord Rabih Zubayr, who was defeated by the French in 1900.
Despite all the talk we hear of colonialism today & all the information we have available to us concerning the matter, I have noticed that there is still a significant amount of ignorance that exists on the subject of Colonialism in Africa, especially amongst Africans. Like no doubt, a lot of us are aware of Africa’s colonial past, many people have some kind of general basic knowledge of her colonial history, but that’s were it usually ends. You know like ‘Africa was colonised back then, exploited, & then it was set free; & given independence, blah blah blah.’ & this, to me is a problem.
To a lot of us, our history of hundreds of years has been shrunk into little lines of dates & facts. A lot of misconceptions, myths & inaccuracies have been accepted, & even worse a lot facts have been left out. Many people have not bothered or have not been prompted to deeply explore/ understand Colonialism in Africa, its significance, & most importantly its after effect.
We begin the series with the creation of African states. Using Martin Merediths extracts, we’ll look back at how the Africa we have today was influenced/shaped, & what effects that process form centuries ago still has on the continent today.
“During the scramble for Africa at the end of the nineteenth century, European powers staked claim to virtually the entire continent. At meetings in Berlin, Paris, London & other capitals, European statesmen & diplomats bargained over the separate spheres of interest they intended to establish there. Their knowledge of the vast African hinterland was slight. Hitherto European had known Africa more as a coastline than a continent; their presence had been confined mainly to small, isolated enclaves on the coast used for trading purposes; only in Algeria & in southern Africa had more substantial European settlement taken root.”
“The maps used to carve up the African continent were mostly inaccurate; large areas were described as terra incognita. When marking out boundaries of their new territories, European negotiators frequently resorted to drawing straight lines on the map, taking little or no account if the myriad of traditional monarchies, chiefdoms, and other African societies that existed on the ground. Nearly one half of the new frontiers imposed on Africa were geometrical lines, lines of latitude & longitude, other straight lines or arcs of circles. In some cases, African societies were rent apart: the Bakongo were partitioned between French Congo, Belgian Congo & Portuguese Angola; Somaliland was carved up between Britain, Italy & France. In all, the new boundaries cut through some 190 culture groups. In other cases, Europe’s new colonial territories enclosed hundreds of diverse & independent groups, with no common history, culture, language, or religion. Nigeria for example contained as many as 250 ethno linguistic groups. Officials sent to the Belgian Congo eventually identified 6000 chiefdoms there. Other kingdoms such as Asante in the Gold Coast (Ghana) & Loziland in Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) were merged into larger colonial units. Kingdoms that had been historically antagonistic to one another, such as Buganda & Bunyoro in Uganda were linked into the same colony. In the Sahel, new territories were established across the great divide between the desert regions of the Sahara and the belt of tropical forests to the south – Sudan, Chad & Nigeria – throwing together Muslim & non-Muslim people in latent hostility.”
“As haggling in Europe over African territory continued, land & peoples became little more than pieces on chessboard. ‘We have been giving away mountains & rivers & lakes to each other, only hindered by the small impediment that we never knew exactly where they were,’ Britain prime minister, Lord Salisbury, remarked sardonically to a London audience. Britain traded the North Sea island of Heligoland with the Germans for Zanzibar, & parts of northern Nigeria with the French for fishing rights off Newfoundland. France exchanged parts of Cameroon with Germany in return for German recognition of the French protectorate over Morocco. By the time the Scramble for Africa was over, some 10, 000 African polities had been amalgamated into 40 European colonies & protectorates.”
“Thus were born the modern states of Africa.”
From these paragraphs we can establish how the colonialists knew very little about the African continent or her people. From their home country they drafted lines & maps that would change the destiny of millions of people.
Some of us subconsciously view our various African nationalities as if they existed since beginning of time, forgetting that these were all false states created for the sole reason of exploitation. We must begin to understand that when the colonialists decided to carve up Africa for themselves, they did so with very little regard for the Africans on the ground; these countries were being drafted for maximum profit not cohesiveness. The order of the day was Divide & Conquer.
So what are the effects of this? The most obvious is that today, these African states still, to a large extent, fulfil what they were created to do back in the late 19th century i.e to be exploited. These states were drawn & mapped out to maximise profit for the colonial countries & till today they still do so.
Look around the continent today, we have so many mineral rich African countries like the Congo, Cote d’ Ivoire, Nigeria, Angola, Sierra Leone etc. that have countless suffering/impoverished citizens, but somehow still manage to feed their colonial masters. We also seem have a very small sense of African Unity on the level of state goats, because a lot of the individual nations are more tied to linked to their colonial masters than their African sisters.
We have nations that are not united within themselves as well. Politics & Government are decided on the merit of tribes, because historically, there’s no true sense of nationality in the making of these Mordern African States. We also have countries in Africa that have are constantly are war because colonialist maps fused conflicting/rival tribes together into nations.
These are some of the sediments of colonialism in Africa, & to break out of them we must explore & understand each one of them as we have done above. By uncovering such knowledge we trace back the roots of our problems today, & we can make better & more informed decisions when it comes to dealing with them.
Today, many African countries have a lacking sense of national patriotism. People are more attached to their tribes than they are than they are to their country because their so-called countries are the product of some profit driven sketches from centuries ago.
So, do we disregard them or try to modify them to suite us better? Are our nationalities a true reflection of who we are as Africans? Does it need to be changed? Does it really affect us as a people? Socially? Psychologically? Are Africa’s societal structures working for the benefit of Africans? or for the benefit of our colonial masters? What kind of changes can be made?
We now know that these false borders that we guard so jealously were actually created to ensure that we do not progress, do we have to abide by them or disregard them? Should Africans using homogeneity as a priority remap the African continent? Should secession be as frowned upon as it is today in Africa, or could it hold the answer to more peace & harmony on the continent?
The theft of the Benin Bronzes.
Many of the Benin Bronze artifacts are currently housed in the British Museum, as well as other museums across Western Europe, and the United States.
Some of the priceless pieces are procured by wealthy art collectors through auctions, like this Bronze Memorial Head sold by Christie’s Auction House in London for 1.2 million pounds in 1989. The British Museum itself sold numerous pieces, as late as 1972. (Source)
Privately (black market), collectors acquire all kinds of Benin art not just limited to bronze/brass. Rare artifacts made from ivory, clay, wood, terracotta, and other materials all command high prices. Many of these are in the hands of German estates. German collectors bought them first when a sizable amount was sold in the late 1890s.
It needs to be stressed that these weren’t an archaeological find. These are looted artifacts. Under the command of Admiral Sir Harry Rawson, the artifacts were stolen by the British Army in the Benin Expedition of 1897. They deliberately destroyed, plundered, and burned Benin down to the ground. To date, no one knows how many Edo people were killed in Benin by the British. The expedition brought an end to the Kingdom of Benin. Click here for a short video on how the looting occurred.
Only a handful of these artifacts are in Nigeria today. Nigeria had to buy back 50 pieces of their own artifacts from the British Museum. The British Museum refuses to return the rest, despite being fully aware that they were stolen.
Click here for a listing of pictures and details on some of the various Benin artifacts housed mostly in museums in Europe and the US.