North Africa: A History from Antiquity to the Present



“Livy contemplated Polybius’s generous assessment as he described Hannibal’s exceptional transcultural consciousness, which the Carthaginian exploited: Hannibals’s army was composed of so many men who had nothing in common in terms of language, culture, law, weaponry, dress, physical appearance, and their reasons for fighting and he varied his exhortations accordingly….The Gauls could be aroused by their own particular and instinctive hatred for the Romans.”

“The Ligurians, who had been brought down from their rugged mountain homes, were inspired hopes of victory by the prospect of the rich plains of Italy. The Moors and Numidians Hannibal frightened by telling them how brutal Masinissa’s rule would be. He worked on their various races by inspiring different hopes and different fears. (Livy 2006, 602)”

“Although Polybius and Livy admired Hannibal’s transcultralism, Carthaginians characteristically evinced these sensitivities for centuries given their commercialism and their need to enlist mercenaries. They realized that Carthage’s survival depended on positive and patient interaction with diverse societies. Carthaginian transculturalism was not casual but crucial and compulsory.”

“Carthage remained independent, but hardly a threat to Rome. Instead, Numidia loomed as Carthage’s greatest menace, whose dynamic King Masinissa aspired to unite the Maghrib. The growth of Numidian power, coupled with the pathological fear of a potentially resurgent Carthage, led to another Roman expedition against its archival.”

“Aided by their Numidian allies, the belligerent Romans, commanded by the adopted grandson of Scipio, Scipio Aemilianus, finally breached Carthage’s walls after a determined and desperate defense. The Romans enslaved the survivors and destroyed the city, reputedly plowing its debris underground and then symbolically salting the land to prevent its regeneration. Establishing a new province, Africa Proconsularis, Romans settled permanently in North Africa.”

“Significant Berber kingdoms exercised considerable power and influence by the time the Romans defeated Carthage, notably Numidia. In addition, Mauretania (the country of the Mauri) bordered Numidia on the west and included Morocco. Although the Romans had allied with Berbers, specifically the Massyli, against Carthage, relations between them declined and ultimately led to the Jugurthine War. In the first century BCE, rivalries among Roman commanders contesting for power embroiled North Africa, ending the Berber Kingdoms and also Hellenistic Egypt. For the first time, an imperial state, the Roman Empire, ruled North Africa’s Mediterranean littoral and, in varying degrees, its hinterland from Egypt to the Atlantic.”

“Ibn Odhari refers to al-Kahina as a Malika or a queen. The resistance of Kusayla and al-Kahina remains important regarding contemporary Berber-Arab cultural controversy, such as the use of the Berber language, Tamazight. See also El-Aroui 1990.”

“Phillip Hitti credited the Arabs’ Semitic (refers to language, not ethnicity) kinship with the Phoenicians in expediting their relations with the Berbers who still spoke Punic in some regions: “This explains the seemingly inexplicable miracle of Islam in Arabicizing the language and Islamizing the religion of these [Berbers] and using them as fresh relays in the race toward further conquest” (Hitti 1970, 214). On the other hand, a significant number of bishoprics remained in North Africa three hundred years after the conquest (ibid.,361). Regarding Arabization, see also the section on the Bantu Hilal in this chapter. Musa’s trust in Tariq illustrated an exceptional sensibility between Arab and Berber, which obviously expedited the campaigns in the far Maghrib and Iberia.”

“The extraordinary expansion of the Umayyads also led to problems in North Africa. Animosity intensified between Berbers and Arabs. Berber, especially those who contributed to Arab success in al-Andalus and elsewhere, demanded the application of Muslim equality. Despite legal prohibitions, Arab administrators imposed taxes and even enslaved Berbers, fellow Muslims, and sent them to the East. The renowned Abbasid historian al-Tabari recounted how Berbers questioned the caliph and Umayyad authority: “They make us give them the most beatiful of our daugthers, and we say, ‘We have not found this in the Book or in the Sunna [the customs of the Prophet Muhamad (see below)]. We are Muslims and we wish to know: is this with the approval of the Commander of the Faithful or not?” (Lewis 1974,2:57-58). The Berbers subsequently revolted and in 741, led by a self-proclaimed “caliph” named Maysara, defeated an Arab force sent from Qayrawan. Although Maysar was eventually killed, the Berber revolt spread into Algeria and al-Andalus.”

Source: North Africa: A History from Antiquity to the Present By Phillip C. Naylor

In 1042 the Berbers who had also converted to Islam conquered Ghana.

“The Ghanaian people were mostly animist, but Islam filtered into the Empire and some of them became Muslim. The people were all living in peace and harmony when Mudu Ture became Muslim. Others who had also converted to Islam encouraged him to take the power from the traditional ruling Cise clan.”

“According to the oral tradition, the Diane clan and the Koma clan supported Mudu Ture, but the rest remained faithful to the descendants of the Dinga family, who represented the established traditional power at that time. Nevertheless, after some time, Mudu Ture succeeded and he became emperor. Because he had challenged the traditional established power, however, he could not have the Kaya Maga title (which was the highest title of kingship).”

“Therefore, he governed under his own name. In 1042 the Berbers who had also converted to Islam conquered Ghana. Their chief, Yaya Ibn Omar, took the city of Aoudaghost in 1054. His successor, Aboubakar, fought more than fifteen years against Bessi Tunkara, who was the ruling Emperor then. Finally, in 1076 Ghana was totally destroyed by the Almoravid Berbers. Internal divisions among Ghana’s people facilitated this conquest.”

“However, in 1087 the Berber chief was killed. Once againGhana recovered its freedom but the Empire had been broken down and weakened by internal decay. The Berber occupation created a great deal of trouble throughout the Empire. Because Islam had become the religion of the ruling elite, it was imposed on all citizens. Consequently, the vassal kingdoms like Diara, Kingui, Kaniaga, and Mail, which were animist, broke away from Ghana.”

“That is how Ghana became a small kingdom once again. Many people who were hostile to Islam migrated further south or towards the east. They bandoned their commercial trade, agriculture, and raising cattle activities, and consequently, the country became poor. The Empire was thus largley depopulatied and its military power also declined. One the other hand, the animist areast, where people remained in place, prospered and developed. This waws precisely the isutation of the Soso poeple, who were animists led by Sumanguru Kante, who took over Ghana early in the 8th century.” 

“Ghana, after the invasion of 1076, was no longer the same kingdom. The cradle of future Kingdom of Mali, which later was to become the Empire of Mali, was then called Mande. The Mande Kingdom was under Soso domination spearheaded by Sumanguru Kante.”

“The Mande Kings at that time were: Djigui Bilali, Musa or Allakan, as he was known by his nickname, and Nare Famakan Keita. It would be Sundiata, son of Nare Famakan Keita, who would fight the Soso and establsihed the Mali Kingdom, once and for all.”

Source: Balancing Written History with Oral Traditions: The Legacy of the Songhoy People By Hassimi Oumarou Maiga