In The White Man’s Burden, Rudyard Kipling articulates his misinformed perspective on how white people were tasked to save people of color and introduce them to civilization. Indeed, this argument was ultimately used by Europeans to justify their colonial exploits in Africa and served to mask their real intentions: greed, human rights abuse, genocide, and exploitation. Cecil John Rhodes said, “I contend that we are the first race in the world and that the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race. If there be a God, l think that what he would like me to do is paint as much of the map of Africa British Red as possible.”
White imperialists hid behind a need to spread religion and civilization to Africans. False information of an uncivilized Africa was heralded far and wide. On the contrary, Africa had great civilizations which were led by various great leaders. Sadly, great leaders are often lost in the cracks of white-narrated history.
1. King Endubis (Ethiopia c. 270- c. 300)
He was king of a North-East African territory, modern-day Ethiopia and Eritrea. He ascended to power soon after the downfall of ancient Egypt and Nubia. He is credited with bringing an end to the Nubian Kingdom. He controlled the horn of Africa and went across the Red sea into Arabian Plateau. He is the first African king to mint coinage and set the same standard which was to be adopted by succeeding Ethiopian emperors in coinage minting.
2. Mansa Musa (King of Kings) (Ancient Mali c. 1312-c. 1337)
Also known as Musa Keita I, he was the 10th of the Mansa dynasty. Under his rule, Mali became one of the richest countries in the world. Forbes named him the richest person in history. He led the Mali empire too vast wealth through gold, salt, and agricultural production. Mansa Musa also took advantage of the dynamic trading location of his kingdom and imperialistic practices for the expansion of Mali. Musa enriched the trading town of Timbuktu and established a library and Islamic universities. He built modern structures in Mali from palaces, Mosques, and other urban developments.
3. Oba Oduduwa (Oyo Empire, Yorubaland, Nigeria)
Oduduwa is considered the founder of the Yoruba dynasty. He is considered a primordial God in Yoruba culture. There is much debate on where he came from and when he founded the Yorubaland language. However, along with his clan he descended on the lower region of Nigeria and defeated several existing settlements to establish Yorubaland. Legend has it that he had 16 sons and daughters who he sent to the centres of conquered territories to rule autonomously. They founded the kingdoms of Illa, Orangun, Owu, Ketu, Sabe, Popo and Oyo. Oranmiyan established the Yoruba dynasty line.
4. Osei Kofi Tutu (Ashanti Kingdom, Ghana 1660-1717)
The Ashanti was a very wealthy west African kingdom. Under the leadership of Osei Kofu a strong and effective political structure was implemented. The Ashanti was one of the first sub-Saharan militaries to adopt firearms into their arsenal. In 1701 Osei Kofu Tutu, chief of the small Akan city-state of Kumasi, helped form the Ashanti Empire by unifying the other Akan groups under the Golden Stool (Ashanti seat of power). The strong political structures under the Golden stool survived until the British imperial government demanded the sovereignty of the Ashanti be turned over to Britain as its protectorate.
5. Queen Nyamazana (Ngoni 1835-1890s)
The Ngoni people, more than a million strong, consisting of a dozen sub-groups of Bantu speaking people scattered throughout Eastern Africa, each forming an independent state with its own ruler. Nyamazana was one of the many Ngoni leaders. She was a military genius who pillaged through Zimbabwe taking over territory. When Mzilikazi (Ndebele founding King) eventually came into Zimbabwe, Nyamazana formed an alliance with him through marriage and her people integrated into the Ndebele. The Ndebele can be found in modern-day Zimbabwe in the Matabeleland province.
6. Samouri Toure (Wassoulou Empire 1878-1898)
Emperor Samouri Toure was a deeply religious Muslim of the Maliki jurisprudence of Sunni Islam. He rose from a war commander to an Emperor after the death of El Hadj Umar Tall of the Toucouleur Empire. Samouri Toure had a powerful army that he armed with imported breech-loading rifles. He conquered small territories and formed his empire with its capital at Bisandugu. His empire consisted of parts of modern-day Mali, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Cote d’Ivoire, and Burkina Faso. After constant French attacks, he moved his capital along with a huge following to Dabakala. He created a strong and unified empire with a loyal citizenry. He was eventually captured and died in captivity of the French on an island in the Ogooue river near Ndjole in 1900. His tomb is at the Camayanne Mausoleum, within the gardens of the Conakry Grand Mosque. He was the great grandfather of Guinea’s first president, Ahmed Sekou Toure.
7. Changamire Dombo (Rozvi Empire, Zimbabwe 1660 - 1695)
Changamire Dombo was a powerful king and military genius who created an empire while simultaneously extinguishing the power and force of the Portuguese in the region. The superior military equipment that was used by the Europeans counted for nothing as they were defeated at the battle of Maungwe. The Portuguese suffered one of their most humiliating defeats in all of Africa at the hands of Changamire Dombo. The Rozvi name means destroyers. It was the Rozvi threat that led the Portuguese to leave the plateau altogether.
8. Oba Ewaure (Benin 1440-1473)
King Ewaure was a great political visionary who saw the need for diplomatic connections in the region. He traveled as far as Guinea in the west and Congo in the South. His travels gave him exposure and he received training from other regional leaders. Under his reign, Benin developed a central government. He established a state council and state bureaucracy. He built roads and the greatest innermost wall to keep invaders out.
9. Yusuf (Almoravids, Morocco 1061-1106)
Yusuf was the first west African leader to extend influence outside the continent. He extended his influence into southern Spain and created the first Moorish dynasty from Africa. He acquired significant wealth from taxing conquered ethnic groups. He had the loyalty and support of sub-Saharan men because of his power. His greatest military achievement was at the battle of Zalaca when he defeated one of the largest assembled forces of Christian Europe to reinstate the authority of Islam in Spain.
10. Shaka Zulu kaSenzangakhona (Zulu Kingdom, South Africa 1816-1828)
Shaka Zulu assumed the throne after the death of his father Senzangakhona KaJama. He was a military genius who was feared by many including the British Empire. During his reign, more than 100 chiefdoms came under Zulu rule. He assumed the throne of a clan with 1,500 people and 150sq.kms of territory. In eleven years Shaka Zulu had built an empire with an army of over 50,000 warriors and was the ruler of most of the Eastern seaboard and interior of modern-day South Africa. The structures set by Shaka Zulu have survived to this day. The Zulu lineage has continued and in modern South Africa is currently being led by King Goodwill Zwelithini KaBhekuzulu and is situated in the territory known as the province of KwaZulu Natal.