Modern African history in 5 minutes

Colonial Africa

Colonial Africa. (c) Curtis Perry

The modern African state is a product of Europe, not of Africa. The borders were drawn by the colonial powers. Often they separated what belonged together and unified what should have been apart.

The way modern Africa was divided, made the continent even more complex and diverse. Many have learned that whatever you say, the opposite might also be true. Every generalization is likely to be wrong.

African leaders

Frontline States Summit. (c) Ernst Schade

Independence officially restored power in Africa to the Africans. Some impressive leaders emerged.

Some of the independence heroes proved to be leaders who did whatever they could, under difficult circumstances, to develop their country. Others turned into despotic dictators.

For the new African rulers the new nation state was a state created in Europe. But most Africans felt that their identity grew out of the clan or ethnic group. Somehow therefore the new rulers had to invent nationalism. Slogans were launched, such as “One Zambia, one Nation”.


The colonialists sometimes used ethnicity as a tool to secure their interest. This picture shows how the Belgians determined who were twa, hutu or tutsi in Rwanda.

Keynan runners

(c) Marlene Thoms

After independence African athletes conquered the world. Their achievements were used to strengthen national identity, showing that they represented a nation and not a smaller group.

An open pit mine

An open pit mine. (c) Sara Korhonen

Africa has some of the world’s poorest people living on the top of some of the world’s richest resources. But with a few exceptions, African countries have failed to exploit the resources to the benefit of the many, not only to the few.

As political and economic crises developed, the World Bank and the IMF took control of a Africa’s economies. Economic independence proved to be harder than gaining political independence.

But the situation is now about to change. After having been labeled as the “hopeless continent”, Africa is now seen as the “hopeful continent”. Economies are growing and investors are attracted.

But there are challenges to be met to avoid another setback: One of the most serious shortcomings in African governance is its reliance on patronage rather than politics. Inequality in society and youth unemployment are other major threats to security, peace and stability.


Inequality at all levels of society.

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1 Response to Modern African history in 5 minutes

  1. Very interesting and catchy article!
    When it comes to reliance on patronage, then it is a reality that getting involved in politics in Zambia is mostly a means of getting an income for most people, very few do it to help their communities. If there is nothing in it they will not become,for instance, a Ward Councillor. The ward councillor will get access several plots which they can sell at a huge profit. For the ward councillors to get into position they need help form cadres in their communities, these also need to be rewarded, or else they wont get involved. And the reward is normally more plots, which they can sell. That`s what its about. We often call it corruption, but is it really corruption? (for them?). Can we expect people who are struggling with almost no income to engage in politics “for free”? And besides, this is how they came to power, by the help of their friends and relatives. It is expected from them that they will have to give back when they come to power or get a position. What else can they do? It becomes a dilemma, even for well meaning politicians!

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