Home ~ Biographies ~ Comparative Essays ~ Change Over Time Essays ~ FAQs
Introduction to Africa
by Rit Nosotro
As migrations from the Middle East spread South into Africa, the first civilization to be established was that along the Nile River. These early tribes adopted animistic religions as they "changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the creator" (Rom:1:21). Egypt, the oldest African civilization, built the great pyramids as "houses for eternity" during the old kingdom. Toward the end of the middle Kingdom the Hebrew slaves grew into a populous nation. Egypt reached it high point during the New Kingdom but began a long decline after the plagues killed all the first born and the Egyptian army was drown in the Red Sea. The gradual expansion of the Sahara Desert pushed tribes further South onto the broad savannahs of the Sudan. Nok, Bantu, Nubia, and Kush were some of the well known people groups from before the birth of Christ. Kush controlled Egypt for a century until 715 BC when the Assyrians forced them down into Ethiopia. King Solomon had sent fleets to trade with the Ophir on the Somali Peninsula for gold, silver, sandalwood and gems. Kush was famous for its gold and reached its height around 200 BC. [Rome had just defeated Hannibal but not yet destroyed Carthage.]
Christianity entered the area of Ethiopia with the return of the eunuch whom Philip had converted (Acts 8:27). About AD 350, Kush was conquered by Aksum. King Azana accepted Christ through the evangelism of two ship wrecked youths from Syria. Azana declared Christianity the official religion. Christianity grew strong in the kingdom of Aksum and kept its status even after 200 years when the kingdom of Nubia took power. As Christians fled Nubia, during the arrival of Islam in the 7th century, the gospel spread into other areas of Africa. Still, the region of Ethiopia remains one of the strongholds of Christianity in the 21st century.
Much of North Africa, however, succumbed to the power of Islam during the Islamic expansion in the seventh and eighth centuries. It was from the Maghreb in North Africa that the Muslims sailed across the Strait of Gibraltar when they attacked and conquered Spain in 711. Unfortunately, the Northern Africa has remained in the hands of Muslims, and Islam continues to wield powerful influence in the region to this day.
Trade along the Nile River and Sahara Desert carried the exchange of goods, technology, religion and other ideas. According to the Roman historian Herodotus, Carthaginians in North Africa traded in "perfect honesty" using silent barter with foreigners. Herodotus also mentions that salt was nearly as valuable as gold in the dry Sahara. There were many other African societies that rose and fell from 700 to 1400.
Africa was known as the "Dark Continent" not for the color of native skin but for the mystery it was for the Europeans. During the 1400's, Portuguese traders began accepting slaves from the Kongo. As sugar plantations grew off the coast of West Africa, so did the demand for slaves. By the early 1500's African slave traders had raided and kidnapped so many tribes that Kongo's King Afonso complained to his Catholic brother, the King of Portugal. Even Afonso's complaints to the Pope fell on deaf ears as the demand for slaves intensified with the colonization of the Americas. The social fabric of Africa continued to unravel as a mix of war captives, debtors, criminals and innocent kidnapped victims were sold to sail the middle passage of the triangle trade route.
Through the years, Africa has suffered from war, famine, and sickness. Well meaning Europeans took up the "white man's burden" to educate heathen peoples. Missionaries, such as Doctor David Livingston, and later Mary Slessor gave their lives to share the gospel and medical knowledge. However, secular Europeans were more interested in feeding their factories the raw materials required by the industrial revolution. Nationalism intensified as the European imperialists scrambled to carve artificial boundaries across tribal lands and geographic features at the Berlin Conference of 1884. Often the boundaries divided ethnic groups and lumped hostile tribes together because the imperialist governments only cared for their own interests. Rwanda’s genocide in 1994 demonstrated the tragic consequences the greed of the imperialists sometimes had.
Imperialism forced rapid change in Africa. Were the benefits of transportation, communication, medicine, and education outweighed by the depletion of natural resources? Although the imperial powers often constructed railroads and telegraph lines, these usually ran from the coast inland to facilitate the exploitation of natural resources. As a result, they often failed to create effective networks of transportation and communication. At the same time, the natural resources were severely depleted.
In 1957, Ghana became the first African nation to gain independence. Other independence movements soon followed. Before long, the entire continent was free of colonial rule.
After the independence movements of the 20th century, economic chaos followed as African warlords struggled for power. The conflicts were intensified by the fact that the imperial powers had paid no attention to tribal, historical, or linguistic divisions when they drew artificial boundaries for their colonies. Unstable governments sought assistance from the first donor, whether communist or capitalist.
Prolonged famines have resulted from desertification of the encroaching Sahara along with mismanagement of limited resources. Sickness is compounded through illiteracy and superstitious religious beliefs. AIDS continues to decimate much of continent with the notable exception of Uganda, which has turned the tide through Christian radio broadcasting of abstinence education.
Yet a healthy economy seems to be on the horizon as a new generation of democratic leaders take the reigns. With political stability comes investment in infrastructure and diversified economies. Tourism is growing beyond the borders of game parks as poverty retreats. Christian missionaries have focused their attention on the "10-40 window" where socioeconomic misery has resulted from centuries of false religions such as animism and Islam.