While the British were trying to stamp
out the slave trade and spread the word of Christ, Berbers and Fulanis
continued to preach the Islamic faith
in West Africa.
Already by 1809 all the Hausa states were under Muslim rule and Sokoto
was established as the Caliphate for the region. In East Africa, Islam
came from the East with the rule of the Omani sultanate; but many coastal
people remained Muslim even though the power of the Sultanate began to
give way to the British and Germans.
It is estimated that nearly two thirds of Africa would have been converted
to Islam had the European powers not embarked on the 'Scramble for Africa'
in the 1880's.
Islam, compared to Christianity, had
a great deal more to say about the precise nature of political rule and
administration. In one sense, the order imposed by Islam impressed the
Europeans - the British liked to work though Muslim leaders. On the other
hand, Islam also endorsed the idea of sacred war, or jihad, a war launched
against nonbelievers in order to spread the word of Islam, something the
British saw as a threat to colonial control.
In the 1880s Mohammed Ahmed, the Mahdi (The Redeemed one) established
himself as a Muslim leader, and set out to establish a new society in
Sudan. The British were determined to crush him. When he died he became
celebrated as a martyr in many parts of the Muslim world.
In Central Sudan one of the Mahdi's disciples,
Rabin ibn Fadl Allah, led a resistance against the French. On his death
his son followed in his footsteps and fought the French for 15 years until
he died in 1901.
In Libya the Sanussi Brotherhood fought
the Italians tenaciously for twenty years until 1932.
The Tukuloor Empire, located in what is
now modern Mali and Burkina Faso, was founded in the 1860s by the hugely
effective and militarily successful Al Haj Umar. His son Ahmadu came under
growing pressure from the French in 1880s. He tried to negotiate with
them in the face of growing disunity in the Empire. The French were keen
to take advantage of this and very late in the day Ahmadu decided to launch
a Holy War against them, calling on Muslims throughout the region; the
response was weak and he was defeated by the French in 1890.
A far more successful and formidable enemy
of the French was Samori Toure who kindled some of the glory of old Mali
with his Mandinka Empire, defended by an army 30,000 strong. He kept this
force very mobile, constantly surprising the French and had a tremendous
sense of military tactics. He used the latest quick loading guns, which
his blacksmiths knew how to mend. After his death, his son was defeated
by the French in 1901.
A number of rebellions against European
powers were inspired by spirit mediums. This tradition of fighting off
bullets with magic potions and spells goes back hundreds of years. In
the 19th century these acts of resistance were common throughout Africa.
1. MAJI MAJI
The hated regime of cotton growing provided the impetus for rebellion
against German colonial rule in Tanganika. The leader of the Maji Maji
movement was Kinjikitile Ngwale, a medium possessed with a snake spirit
called Hongo. He encouraged his supporters to sprinkle their bodies with
magic water, known as maji maji, which they believed would protect them
His movement spread from his base in Ngarambe,
some 200 miles south from Dar Es Salaam. Five missionaries were murdered
and German reinforcements were sent in. In the end, the magic water which
they thought would protect them from the German guns failed.
Thousands were killed in battle. German revenge was terrible; a scorched
earth policy wiped out whole villages and all their crops. It's estimated
250,000 died from famine.
2. AMBUYA NEHANDA
The Chimurenga wars 1896-7
in Matabeleland and Shonaland (in modern Zimbabwe) were inspired by traditional
prophets and priests or svikiro. They blamed the Europeans for all hardship:
the hut tax, forced labour, drought, rinderpest. The most famous svikiro
was Ambuya Nehanda. Some 8,000 Africans died in these wars. Four hundred
and fifty Europeans were killed.
3. CHRISTIAN DISSENT
John Chilembwe was an American
trained missionary who returned to his native Nyasaland (now Malawi).
He believed in a new African society based on Christian values but independent
of Europeans. He attacked tax and recruitment, and led an armed insurrection
against the British. He was executed in 1915.
In Nigeria Garrick Braide called himself Elijah II and claimed the British
were about to leave Nigeria because of the war - his prophesies contributed
to a revolt in Kwale Ibo.