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The process of state-building relies on many factors like politics, social dynamics, and cultural development. The history of Africans includes all of them mixed in various patterns. Some countries were created by the indigenous population, while others developed as a result of repatriation. One part of them was centrally governed, and the rest were ruled by community effort. This paper reviews the origins of several African states that appeared centuries ago.
In the late XVIII century, the status of Blacks in the Western world began to change. This was a direct result of the American War for Independence, which had engaged many of them. For instance, the British government liberated former slaves who used to fight on its side (Harris 103). This led to the appearance of a rather large population of free Blacks in London. Some of them found jobs in England, but the majority could not find any decent work.
The situation became suitable for implementing the idea of resettling Blacks in Africa. In 1787, more than four hundred people left Britain to create a state of Sierra Leone, which became the first application of repatriation practice (Harris 104). The start was difficult, as settlers suffered from diseases, lack of money and supplies, and attacks from the indigenous population. The distinguishing feature of Sierra Leone was that its people, coming from the Western world, recognized the value of education (Harris 105). It became the place for the first college in Africa, where people could receive a degree. As newcomers mixed with the locals, the Krio group emerged, which was successful at first as its members occupied administrative positions (Harris 107). The situation changed after the British intervention, which imposed a colonial rule in Sierra Leone.
Liberia became another state created as a result of repatriation. It was founded in 1816 by Blacks that used to reside in the United States (Harris 109). The White American population supported the process, fearing the possibility of revolts. The first group that reached Liberia suffered from the same issues as people in Sierra Leone. However, the distinguishing feature of this state became the attempt of its administration to use all the benefits of mixing American and African culture. Unlike Blacks in Sierra Leone, who never truly experienced life in England, Liberians were former U.S. residents who carried Western culture.
The indigenous population of Africa also demonstrated skills in state-building. The wealthy region of the Guinea coast allowed several centralized kingdoms to develop in the area, including those of Oyo and Dahomey (Harris 121). The former had a vast influence between Volta and Niger rivers, reaching its peak around 1650 (Harris 122). The primary source of its wealth and power was the coastal trade with Europeans, who supplied the local population mainly with firearms. Oyo was ruled by the Alaafin, who was supported by the administration including the chief judge, the head of Shango, and the treasurer (Harris 122). The political system relied on checks between the head of state, the council, and other subordinate groups allowed the area to remain powerful for a long time.
However, the Fon people of Dahomey presented a threat to the kingdom. They took over the Oyo state and began to control the coast by the middle of the XVIII century (Harris 124). They engaged in the slave trade with Europeans, being dependent on Western goods. Dahomey had an absolute monarchy as its governing style, and the king was supported by top officials (Harris 125). The state was also characterized by the great influence of women and the elements of national identity.
Apart from the described kingdoms, there also were decentralized societies in Africa. The Ibo people, who inhabited a territory between Benin and Igala, represented one of such communities (Harris 129). They did not have cities, choosing to live in villages instead. Each small society was governed by a group of elders and an assembly (Harris 129). This was an example of democracy, where a community benefited from the diversity of opinions.
The book of Joseph E. Harris helped me to see the process of state-building in Africa from different viewpoints. It was interesting to see how different the scenarios of development were in each case. At the same time, it is evident that Western influence was strong in each state, whether it was a colonial rule or trade relations. It seems impossible to view the development of African kingdoms without giving credit to European interference.
African states developed in many ways and included various political systems. Sierra Leone and Liberia appeared as a result of the repatriation of former Black slaves from the Western countries. People in both states experienced similar difficulties like diseases and the lack of supplies, while their development relied on relations with Britain and the U.S. Kingdoms such as Oyo and Dahomey were created by the indigenous population but were strongly influenced by the Europeans. They were ruled as monarchies, yet there were other places in Africa like the Ibo society that demonstrated the democratic approach to governance.
Harris, Joseph E. Africans and Their History. Meridian, 1998.