Background Feature: How the States of Africa were Formed and Created


Each of the states of Africa has a rich culture and a vast cultural history. Most of the African states were claimed or won in wars by several European powers. However, the natives of these states sought to gain independence from the West in order to become their own nations.

Colonial Nigeria

Home of the Yoruba culture, Nigeria is the point of origin of the many of the slaves who were sent to America. Northern Nigeria was home to the Fulani Empire around 19th century. From 1750 to 1900 much of the population was slaves. Traders from Portugal and Spain were among first to trade with Nigeria in the 16th century. They used the ports in Lagos and Calabar. In 1900 Nigeria was under British rule. The native Nigerians fought several wars to regain their independence. Nigeria was divided into a northern and a southern province. South Nigeria had more interaction with Europeans due to coastal trading.

Nigerian Independence

As a result of European trading, South Nigeria had a better economy and adapted many Western traditions and educational ideas. Slavery was outlawed in 1936. After WWII, the British government pushed Nigeria toward self-government and it finally gained independence in 1960. The Nigerian’s People’s Congress emerged and consisted of Northern Nigerians of Islamic faith. The National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons were made up of Christians. The Action Group was a liberal party. In 1965, the Nigerian Democratic Party came into power. The Nigerian-Biafran War lasted from 1967 to 1970 and was sparked by attempts of Southern Nigeria to secede as the Republic of Biafra.

Colonial Ghana

Ghana, located in West Africa, was a part of the Ashanti Empire which was one of the most influential empires of the time. The Portuguese first came to Ghana because of the gold trade in 15th century. At the end of the 15th century, Dutch inhabitants had moved to Ghana. French and English trade came next and the French nicknamed Ghana’s beautiful coast, Côte d’Ivoire or the Ivory Coast. Malaria was common in Ghana at the time and Europeans were very susceptible to it.

Struggle for an Independent Ghana

The Dutch pulled out of Ghana in 1874 and the British made it their protectorate. In 1806 came the Ashanti-Fante War. The natives won a few times but lost the Ashanti-British war in 1900’s. The natives did not like the British and after WWII, their thirst for independence grew. Riots in 1948 led to arrests prominent independence seekers. The Convention People’s Party was formed by Kwame Nkrumah and he was arrested for instigating an uprising. In 1957, Ghana gained independence after negotiating with Britain.

Colonial Kenya

Arab and Persian settlements were among the first to spring up beside native peoples. It was a mostly agricultural state, growing tea and coffee. Kenya was one of German’s coastal protectorates in 1885 by the Sultan Zanzabar. Germany then handed control of Kenya over to Great Britain. The British commissioned the Kenya-Uganda railway, which was met with much disdain from the local inhabitants. The Nandi tribe was sent to a reservation by the British authorities so they would not interrupt the building of the railroad.

Independent Kenya

In the early 20th century, British farmers began to gain wealth by growing coffee and tea. In the 1930’s, about 30,000 white immigrants lived in Kenya. Between 1952 and 1959, Kenya was under a state of emergency which stemmed from the Mau Mau rebellion. In 1957, the first African president was elected in Kenya and the British relinquished control in 1963. The next year, the country was renamed The Republic of Kenya. Today, Kenya’s main draw is tourism as well as their beaches and game reserves.

Colonial South Africa

South Africa is home to some of the oldest fossils in the world. It is estimated that humans have been in South Africa for over 170,000 years. Two groups native to South Africa are the Zulu and Xhosa people. These two groups had come from other parts of Africa thousands of years before the Europeans. The first European voyage was led by Dutch explorer Bartolomeu Dias in 1487 and in 1652, Jan van Riebeeck set up a “refreshment station” at what is now Cape Town for the Dutch East India Company. Slaves were brought from Indonesia and India to work in Cape Town due to the discovery of diamonds and gold.

The Fight for South African Independence

The Anglo-Boer War began because of these valuable resources and the British wanted to control South Africa’s mineral wealth. In 1806, the British gained control of South Africa. The Zulu, Xhosa and Afrikaner groups also fought for the rights to the land. In 1909, the South Africa Act started the creation of the Union of South Africa but was still under British rule. In 1931, South Africa was officially independent from any European nation. The Nationl Party came into power in 1948 and they encouraged racial segregation through apartheid. In 1990, President Frederik Willem de Klerk sought to end apartheid and in 1994, South Africa had a black president, Nelson Mandela.

Today, there are 55 sovereign states on the African continent. Each African state has an interesting back story on how they came to be independent states. Each state has a rich cultural past that still lives on today with distinct echoes from the past.