How Africa would look if it hadn't been colonized

Not sure if this topic has been covered before within the SDMB but (and I admit that I got the idea to ask this from other threads I’ve seen): What do you think a (political) map of Africa would look like now if Africa hadn’t been colonized?

Hadn’t been colonized from when?

  1. No colonization in Africa by a nation based outside Africa
  2. By the Romans, but nobody outside Africa after them.
  3. By the Arabs, but nobody outside Africa after them.
  4. By the various other Middle Eastern / Turkish empires (e.g. the Ottomans), but nobody outside Africa after them.
  5. Counting the early European outposts (e.g. the Dutch in Cape Town), but nothing after 1880

Moved to Great Debates from MPSIMS.

Thus. The dark continent. :slight_smile:

Too many possibilities. Large African unions could have formed, or there could be many more countries than there are now. The continent could have stayed relatively isolated or increased trade and immigration with the rest of the world. Religion, tribes, non-tribal regionalism, or economics could have dominated their economies and wars.

The mass slaughter of the elephants would have been at least delayed.

While this is certainly relevant, most of the modern political boundaries in Africa, especially south of the Sahara and north of modern South Africa, were generated after 1850, during the European scramble for Africa. So I think this is the most significant period to consider.

I think it’s safe to say, in the absence of European colonization, African countries would most likely be either nation-states, or the result of expansion by indigenous empires such as the Sokoto or the Zulu kingdom. In both cases the modern boundaries would be vastly different from those established by the European powers, which frequently ignored existing political or ethnic boundaries.

Clarification is definitely needed on what, if any, outside contact is accounted for. Africa has always been connected to the wider world.

But chances are we would see the great medieval kingdoms consolidate power, and eventually develop into modern states. Indeed, in many areas the medieval kingdoms still hold quite a bit of power in direct competition with the modern state. Geography would play a bigger role in borders, and specifically we wouldn’t see so many states spanning both Sahel and forested regions.

I only know West African history well. I would guess there would be a Sahelian empire based in Mali, and another, poorer one based in Chad. We would see a series of West African coastal states, focusing on trade. The Kanem/Borno/Sokoto/Hausa empire in Nigeria would be a major player. Many remote and inhospitable areas would likely be basically ungoverned.

Climate change would be a major issue, but I think we would see less conflict than we have now. Interstate conflict is going out of style, and with more sensible borders intra-state conflict would be reduced.

Or this.

You would have had some colonial outposts along the coast. The Portuguese were established in Angola and Mozambique in the 16th century. The Dutch in the Cape in the 17th century. The Arabs had established colonies in East Africa even earlier than that. So let’s just assume the later colonialism of the 19th century didn’t occur.

You had the Asante Empire in what’s now the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo, and Benin. You had the Dahomey Kingdom to their East in what’s now Benin and western Nigeria. You had the Dagomba Kingdom in what’s now northern Ghana and Burkina Faso. North of this you had the Bamana Empire in what’s now Mali and various Fula states in what’s now Niger and Chad.

Moving down the coast, you had the Kongo Kingdom in what’s now Congo, Gabon, and northern Angola. Past that you’re into Portuguese and Dutch territory.

Moving into the interior you had the Kanem Empire in what’s now Chad with the Wadai Empire to their east and the Baguirmi Kingdom to the south. The Azande were south of them around what’s now the Central African Republic and south of them were the Lunda and the Lube Kingdoms in what’s now eastern Congo. The Kitara Empire was to the east in what’s now Uganda and there was the Nyamwezi in what’s now Tanzania. South of them you get the Lozi in the area that’s now Zambia and the Ndebele in what’s now Zimbabwe. Relatively little is known about the political units of these interior states.

Keep in mind, African political borders were no more static that they were in Europe. The various states I described were the ones that existed around the time the Europeans showed up. But these states were often fighting each other and various nations rose and fell.

That’s actually very close to my conception of what it would be like (although I’d say all the Khoe-khoen polities in the SW would either be much more fractured, or more federated, could go either way starting from the historical precolonial state)

Thank you for that link! That was beautiful, and just possibly the best answer we’ll ever get to this question.

And, yes, click on the map for a full-size image: it really is pretty! That’s a keeper!

Are the Khoikhoi and the San going to be able to hold onto the Cape, though? In real life, the Sotho, the Xhosa, and the Zulu weren’t able to expand further wast and south because the English and Afrikaaners stopped them. Would the San and Khoikhoi be able to hold off Bantu encroachment?

The Bantu had already expanded to the limit of where their existing crops would grow. The Khoi-san polities shown are all in the winter rainfall and desert regions where Bantu summer rainfall crops (sorghum and millet, pre-colonization, maize, post-colonization) don’t grow well. Before colonization, the South Cape Khoe-khoen and the Eastern Cape Xhosa had already settled into a happy equilibrium.

I wonder why that map is “upside down”. Isn’t the concern for political implications of map design extremely new? Even in this day people balk at attempts to disassociate north with “up” and south with “down”. That map is from 1844? Why put south at the top?

It’s not just a political consideration. Here’s an examplefrom 1566, for instance. Other cultures have had e.g. East as the top. Cite.

Thanks, MrDibble!

The map isn’t from 1844, it was drawn recently to depict what the artist thought Africa would look like in 1844 in an alternate history:

Edit: I also found an interesting criticism of this map on reddit’s “badhistory” subreddit.

That criticism completely misses the point.The point of that map is taking existing precolonial setups and projecting what it would be like if they amalgamated into nation-states. He’s just fighting the hypothetical. I’m with him on some of the naming being pants, though, but the mapmaker was OK with the Khoe-khoen naming, which is just completely surprising. Most people don’t even know about the Khoe-khoen seperate from Bushmen, never mind their historic divisions.


People keep blaming the colonial powers for carving up Africa in an arbitrary and unworkable way. This ignores the fact that there is NO way to divide Africa into nation-states that does justice to every ethnic group, especially large ones with divided and overlapping ranges (like the Hausa). Any attempt to do so would end up like the picture in the blog… a giant mess of Balkanized micronations. As has been pointed out, this drawing assumes that they conglomerated into nation-states which is far from a sure thing, and more like a best guess.

What I will say is that any idea of a unified pan-African nation is a joke. Afrocentric statements like njtt’s ignore the reality that Africa is a hodgepodge of competing and often violently opposed tribal groups fighting over limited resources… just like everywhere else in the world. The idea that all of Africa’s woes are based on some foreigner carving up the map is a farce.

This is a strawman argument. “The idea” is that some of Africa’s woes are based on some of the carving-up ignoring some natural groupings. But it’s hardly the sum of the problem.