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7​ Recent Books on African History for the History Nerd In You

These books by black authors cover a range of historical events, eras and figures that highlight the rich history of the continent.

There are a plethora of books out there proclaiming to truthfully capture the continent's rich history, but they aren't all worthy of our time. In fact, many of the ones we grew up reading in school textbooks fall into this category. These often one-dimensional narratives did little to capture African's multifaceted history and were mostly told from a European frame of reference.

Books like these, however, don't represent the fullness of African historical text that does exist. Throughout the 20th century, scholars like Senegal's Cheikh Anta Diop and Ghana's Kwame Arhin produced works that added perspective to the African historical landscape. In a more contemporary sense, there are historians from Africa and the diaspora who are furthering this work and—though still largely underrepresented—many of these scholars are women.

READ: 13 of Our Favorite Books On Black Resistance and Revolution

In the past decade, black authors have taken to writing history that expands viewpoints, adding layers of nuance and authenticity to the field and offering critical works that experiment with format and examine eras, events, and figures from the continent's historical past. These books which cover a range of topics like the historical role of media in Kenyan politics to the aftermath of the Marikana Massacre in South Africa, explore lesser-known histories and extend beyond typical narratives.

If you're interested in becoming more familiar with these stories, here are seven recent African history books to check out.



A Short History of Chinua Achebe's 'Things Fall Apart' by Dr Terri Ochiagha

"Things Fall Apart" is one of the seminal texts of African literature. It holds a unique place in the collective memory of many young people as it's one of the few books by an African author that is commonly taught as part of a Western curriculum. Sixty years after its debut, it is still being taught—in fact, it is the most read African novel of all time.

Despite its lasting significance and immense critical value, there hasn't been a recent analysis or historical take on the book that goes beyond the typical literary themes to highlight its unique role in the broader culture of African storytelling. This is where A Short History of Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart by London-based scholar and author Terri Ochiagha comes in. The book, which is her second dealing with Achebe's work, offers a refreshing critical lens to reexamine the canonical novel and its role in both shaping and transforming African literature on an international scale—all in one notably straightforward and concise package. The brief survey is part of the Ohio Short Histories Collection, which publishes succinct guides, biographies and more on important topics in African history.

Magema Fuze: The Making of a Kholwa Intellectual by Hlonipha Mokoena

This fascinating micro-history tackles the lasting legacy of cultural imperialism in South Africa and what it meant for Zulu culture and identity. South African author Hlonipha Mokoena introduces unfamiliar readers to the forming of the "Kholwa intellectual" who were the first-generation Christian converts often caught in a bind between being fully assimilated into colonial culture and holding on to Zulu traditions.

She does this through the story of the Kholwa author and historian Magema Fuze who wrote he first book written in the Zulu language by a native speaker, Abantu Abamnyama Lapa Bavela Ngakona (1922) which was translated into English in 1979 (The Black People and Whence They Came). The seminal book was somewhat of a love letter to Zulu identity, which Fuze hoped would resonate deeply with his people.

"Writing as an aspirant historian, Magema Fuze's literary life represents a black intellectual tradition whose potential was not realised," reads part of a summary via Barnes & Noble. "Beyond his work as a printer and scribe it is worth adding another role, namely that Fuze was a popular historian, who attempted to write histories whose intimate resonances would not only appeal to his readers but also rouse their nationalistic sentiments.

The Predicament of Blackness: Postcolonial Ghana and the Implications of Race by Jemima Pierre

Described by the Chicago Press as "the first book to tackle the question of race in West Africa through its postcolonial manifestations," this book examines the implications of the concept of "blackness" on the continent, using Ghana as a cultural backdrop.

Jemima Pierre, a sociocultural anthropologist and associate professor at UCLA, employs a more global understanding of race relations in her assessment and examines what a system of global anti-blackness means for Africa. Her work intentionally challenges the idea of a homogenous black identity existing on the continent that makes issues of race less pronounced than other social matters. Pierre grapples with complex issues around a "racialized" Africa in an attempt to identify what it means to be black on the continent. In The Predicament of Blackness, she uses Ghana as a microcosm for larger phenomenons happening across Africa, covering a range of topics from the prevalence of skin bleaching to concepts of whiteness in the country originating from its colonial past.

Marikana: A View from the Mountain and a Case to Answer by Peter Alexander, Thapelo Lekgow, Botsang Mmope, Bongani Xezwi


The Marikana Massacre of 2012 is known as the most deadly use of force by South African Police Forces against civilians in the 21st century. The killings were in response to demands from unions and independent miners to have their pay increased to R12,500 a month. The violence led to a total of 34 deaths, while 78 others were injured.

Marikana: A View from the Mountain and a Case to Answer, which was published the same year, offers firsthand knowledge of the event, through ten interviews with surviving strikers. Many of the interviews were conducted at the very mountain where the miners would meet ahead of the protest. It also offers a retelling of the events from the strikers' perspective, giving voice to those directly impacted by the violence, as well as detailed maps and photos of the area and the event that tool place.

The book goes on to discuss the aftermath of the massacre and the grave outcome of state-backed violence against citizens, using it as a vehicle to discuss the intersections of race and class in post-apartheid South Africa. "The book is an attempt to provide a bottom-up account of the Marikana story, to correct an imbalance in many official and media accounts that privilege the viewpoints of governments and business, at the expense of workers," says Jane Duncan the Highway Africa Chair of Media and Information Society at the School of Journalism and Media Studies, Rhodes University of the book.

The Wife's Tale: A Personal History by Aida Edemariam

In this multi-generational account of the life of her 95-year-old grandmother Yetemegnu born in the northern city of Gondar in 1916, journalist Aida Edemariam highlights several shape-shifting moments in modern Ethiopian history and its rapid transformation from feudalism to monarchy to Marxist revolution to democracy, which occurred over the course of just one century, as stated in a synopsis from Harper Collins Publishers.

Edemariam uses this biographical memoir of her grandmother's life to reflect on the social and political shifts that have occurred in the country, and their human toll. Yetemegnu lived though several transformative events in Ethiopian history such as the Fascist Invasion and the rule of Emperor Haile Selassie. This uniquely human story, offers a "panoramic" view of history as well as an intimate look into how such events have impacted not only the growth of the nation but also the personal, everyday lives of Ethiopians. Told from the often overlooked perspective of a woman, the book also tackles the role of gender dynamics on individuals' experiences.

"The Wife's Tale introduces a woman both imperious and vulnerable; a mother, widow, and businesswoman whose deep faith and numerous travails never quashed her love of laughter, mischief and dancing," reads the book's summary. "A fighter whose life was shaped by direct contact with the volatile events that transformed her nation."

Dreams of Africa in Alabama: The Slave Ship Clotilda and the Story of the Last Africans Brought to America by Sylviane A. Diouf

The story of the last slave ship to reach American soil is conveniently overlooked in the history of the transatlantic slave trade, but this book by Senegalese author Sylviane Diouf, brings this dark history to light. Landing in Alabama in the thick of night during the summer of 1860, the Ship Clotilda carried the last recorded group of enslaved Africans, who were trafficked from Benin and Nigeria into the United States completely unnoticed. This occurred nearly 50 years after slavery had supposedly been abolished, and was the result of a bet by a shipyard owner.

This book traces the group of enslaved Africans history, from their capture in West Africa to their lives as enslaved people alongside their American-born counterparts. The book also follows the group post-Emancipation, documenting the strong cultural ties that persisted despite their circumstances, and led many to purchase land and form their own settlement known as Africa Town, in which they spoke their own language and maintained traditional African laws.

This history is also explored in the posthumous New York Times Best Seller novel Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo by Zora Neale Hurston, written in 1927 and sourced from interviews with Cudjo Lewis, who was 86 at the time and was the last person to have survived the slave trade.

Digital Democracy, Analogue Politics: How the Internet Era is Transforming Kenya (African Arguments) by Nanjala Nyabola

This contemporary history book, documents Kenyan society's singular relationship with digital media and online activism. The country is considered one of the most connected and digitally advanced on the continent, with notably high numbers of Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp users.

The digital space has birthed several online social movements, thus allowing for many Kenyans to find political agency online. Many users, particularly those from traditionally marginalized communities, have utilized social media as a valuable tool to challenge the governmental and to fight against censorship. In Digital Democracy Kenyan author Nanjala Nyabola assesses digital media as a form of protest and what it means for the country's political future, examining social media trends like "hashtag activism" and the political consequences of "fake news."

"Incisive, deft, and innovative," says Brenda N. Sanya professor at Colgate University in a review of the book. "This book describes viral trends and critically expands the scholarship on Kenyan politics while bringing the social histories of marginalized Kenyans into sharper focus,"

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Photo (c) John Liebenberg

'Stolen Moments' Uncovers the Namibian Music That Apartheid Tried to Erase

The photo exhibition, showing at the Brunei Gallery in London, highlights artists from Namibia's underground scene between 1950-1980, a time of immense musical suppression prior to its independence.

Before its independence in 1990, a whole generation of Namibians were made to believe that their county had no real musical legacy. Popular productions by Namibian artists from previous eras were systematically concealed from the masses for nearly 30 years, under the apartheid regime—which extended to the country from South Africa following German colonization—depriving many Namibians of the opportunity to connect with their own musical heritage.

"Stolen Moments: Namibian Music Untold," a new exhibit currently showing at London's Brunei Museum at SOAS University of London, seeks to revive the musical Namibian musical traditions that the apartheid regime attempted to erase.

"Imagine you had never known about the musical riches of your country," said the exhibit's curator Aino Moongo in a statement of purpose on SOAS' site. "Your ears had been used to nothing but the dull sounds of country's former occupants and the blaring church and propaganda songs that were sold to you as your country's musical legacy. Until all at once, a magnitude of unknown sounds, melodies and songs appear. This sound, that roots your culture to the musical influences of jazz, blues and pop from around the world, is unique, yet familiar. It revives memories of bygone days, recites the history of your homeland and enables you for the first time to experience the emotions, joys and pains of your ancestors."

Photo (c) Dieter Hinrichs

The 'Stolen Moments" project began in 2010 in an effort to champion Namibia's unsung musical innovators. For the collection, Moongo and Assistant Curator, Siegrun Salmanian—along with a group of international scholars, artists, photographers and filmmakers—curated a large-scale photo exhibit that also features a 120-minute video projection, focusing on the dance styles of the era, along with listening stations, a sound installation that features "100-hours of interviews with musicians and contemporary witnesses," and displays of record covers and memorabilia from the period between 1950-1980.

The musicians highlighted, produced work that spanned a number of genres—a marker of the country's vast and eclectic underground scene. Artists like the saxophonist Leyden Naftali who led a band inspired by the sounds of ragtime, and the psychedelic rock and funk of the Ugly Creatures are explored through the exhibition, which also centers bands and artists such as The Dead Wood, The Rocking Kwela Boys, Children of Pluto and more.

"There are many reasons why you've never heard this music before," Moongo continues. "It was censored, suppressed, prohibited and made almost impossible to listen to. Its creators are either long gone or have given up on music making, by reasons of adversity, death and despair. And yet this beautiful music exists with a liveliness, as if it had never stopped playing. It is still in the minds of the few who can remember, with the ones who played it, and on those rare recordings that have survived in archives and record collections scattered around the globe. Allow me to share these stolen moments with you."

Photo (c) Dieter Hinrichs


Photo (c) John Liebenberg

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"Stolen Moments" is now showing at the Brunei Gallery in London and runs through Sept 21.

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Foul Language and Depictions of Rape Spur a Book Recall Campaign in Kenya

Kenya's Top Book seller pulls a South African book for youth due to foul language.

A main book supplier in Kenya, Text Book Centre, has announced that they would not stock a book due to its "vulgar and foul language." The book, Blood Ties, was written by South African author Zimkhitha Mlanzeli. The banning comes just after a video went viral in Kenya of a school child having a verbal outburst peppered with strong language. As reported by BBC, the removal was sparked by parents showing outrage after excerpts from the book were shared on twitter. These excerpts contained use of the f-word as well as a description of a rape scene.

As per their statement, the Text Book Centre claims they believe in "upholding high moral standards and raising generations of responsible citizens who are not only educated but ethical." The Kenyan publisher, StoryMoja, has defended the book in a statement of their own. They argue that the book is part of a new series showcasing books that deal with "contemporary societal issues" and that this particular book is a fictional story that grapples with the negative repercussions of peer pressure. "In actual fact, the book guides readers on the steps to take should they find themselves in a similar situation and underscores the sensitivity with which victims of sexual abuse should be treated." The statement also highlights the fact that the publishers had listed Blood Ties for readers in high school or above.


The discrepancy is that some schools have recommended the book as a reader – meaning for younger children aged 12 or 13 – though it has not been approved by the Kenyan Institute of Curricular Development (KICD), the entity in charge of managing texts used in schools. In a tweet, the KICD claimed that the book was not approved and that some teachers may be recommending texts without ensuring they were endorsed by the KICD. The dispute is sparking debate as to what should be taught in Kenyan schools.

As of late this morning, StoryMoja is in the process of recalling all copies of the book from stores and schools across Kenya. In a tweet they claim that it is because they have determined the language used in the book is the issue and not the subject matter.

Censorship is always a contested topic, just last month we reported on Nigerian authorities censoring a music video for "threatening security." Also, Kenya's censorship tactics have been in the global eye since a refusal to screen the film Rafiki for its homosexual heroines despite being lauded at international film festivals.

Here are some reactions from Kenyans on Twitter:





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mage courtesy of TIFF

Senegalese Filmmaker Mati Diop Tells a Haunted Story of Migration

We caught up with the celebrated director at the Toronto International Film Festival to talk about her new film, Atlantics

It's been a good year for French-Senegalese director Mati Diop and her film Atlantics: A Ghost Love Story.

The movie got its North American premier at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) this month after wowing critics and audiences at Cannes, where it won the prestigious Grand Prix. Diop was the first Black woman to successfully submit a film in the Cannes competition, and naturally the first to win any award at the iconic festival.

In Toronto, the Paris-born director was also honored with the inaugural Mary Pickford Award for Outstanding Female Talent, presented at the TIFF Tribute Gala on September 9. The award is named after Mary Pickford, a Toronto native who went on to conquer Hollywood in the early days of the industry as an actor and producer. Co-founder of United Artists, she was the highest paid woman in Hollywood in her day.

Mati Diop, actor and director, was born in Paris into a prominent Senegalese family, the daughter of noted musician Wasis Diop, and niece of well known filmmaker Djibril Diop Mambéty. As a director, she has several short films under her belt, including Atlantiques in 2009. Her short films Big in Vietnam and A Thousand Suns screened at TIFF in 2012 and 2013 respectively. Atlantics: A Ghost Love Story is Diop's first feature, which she directed as well as co-writing the screenplay with Olivier Demangel.

It's in the story of the first Atlantiques – the short – that the new film came to be. "The two films are both connected and not connected," Diop tells OkayAfrica. The short Atlantiques was self produced, and shot on video on a shoestring budget, she explains. Diop was moved by the constant stream of reports, between 2000 and 2010, of young Senegalese taking to small wooden boats and braving the ocean waters in a bid to reach Spain and better opportunities. As she notes, the media tended to treat the phenomenon as largely an abstract issue, one that had to do with economic forces. Diop wanted to tell the story of the real people in that situation.

"I felt that my cinema should be put at the service of their voices," she says. "I wanted to understand." It's part of what motivated Diop to get into film in the first place. While the short was shot documentary-style, she worked the story as fiction. The actor featured in the short had actually made an Atlantic crossing, but was subsequently turned back by Spanish authorities. The way he spoke about the experience connected with Diop; in particular, his determination to try the perilous journey once more. "I am here, but not here," he told her. "Serigne felt it was here [in Senegal] he would lose his life," Diop says. She wanted to understand what drove so many young men to risk their lives. "He felt that his life was vulnerable in Senegal." The actor's words took on even more resonance when he died, while still in Senegal, before he could try again. Diop says he had gone to a hospital after falling ill, but the staff were on strike. After his death, it left her with mixed feelings. "I wondered if I had the right to continue."

TIFF Tribute Gala Mati Diop | TIFF 2019 www.youtube.com

Diop was left with the poignant memory, and a haunting impression. "When you leave, it means you are already dead," she says. After filming the short, she attended Serigne's funeral, and filmed his mother and sister—the women left behind who would become the focus of the feature film treatment. Diop says that the character of Ada, the protagonist of the new movie, is based in large part on the sister, who, in the short film, does not speak any lines.

In Atlantics: A Ghost Love Story, Ada is 17 years old, in love with Souleiman, but her parents have already arranged a very practical marriage with another—and much wealthier—man. On the eve of her wedding, odd things begin to happen, and Ada learn that Souleiman and his friends have left Dakar in a boat, hoping to reach Spain. Ada and her BFFs anxiously await any word from them, as the mysterious happenings keep piling up.

"The beauty of women comes through marriage," a cleric tells one mother. Ada's story embodies the life of a young West African woman—torn between traditional forces in both her family and society, and the friends who wear Western dress and don't bother with the old ways. The wealthy family she has married into owns a large construction company, the one that didn't pay its workers for months, leading the young workers to try their luck in Spain. She loves Souleiman, but she also needs to find her own path.

Mama Sané plays Ada, the solid heart of the film, as a tangle of emotions and repressed desires. She veers from defiant when dealing with the police detective sent to investigate the strange occurrences, to a wordless expression of longing with the kind of intensity only a teenager can muster.

Diop's directorial vision turns Dakar into a place of both surreal magic and harsh reality. The film immerses the audience in the city's sounds, from the goats bleating outside a window while Ada and her friends talk, to voices in the next room, with the eternal heaving of waves against the shore as a recurring refrain. The original music by Fatima Al Qadiri adds to the effect.

Cinematographer Claire Mathon has shot the film with a poetic eye. There are many images of the shifting surface of the sea, with the open sky and sun above it, each different from the last. The streets of Dakar at night take on an otherworldly edge, framed in palm trees against the artificial lights. The building the young men have been working on is futuristic in design, all glass and steel, and the company owner's neutral modern mansion contrasts with the broken rubble on the streets, from slick sports cars to horse drawn carts. It adds to the sense of the surreal.

Atlantics: A Ghost Love Story was acquired by Netflix after Cannes, and is intended for worldwide release by the streaming service, (with the exception of China, Russia, Benelux, Switzerland, and France.) As part of its new policy, Netflix, which became an official member of the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America,) earlier this year, will be giving the flick a "theater-first" release, opening in selected theaters on November 15, with streaming available from November 29 in North America.

The film also stars Amadou Mbow, Ibrahima Traoré, Nicole Sougou, Amina Kane, Mariama Gassama, Coumba Dieng, Ibrahima Mbaye, and Diankou Sembene. Dialog in the France-Senegal-Belgium co-production is in Wolof with subtitles.

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(Photo by Francois LOCHON/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images )

Exiled Tunisian President Ben Ali Has Died

The former president had been living in Saudi exile since 2011.

Tunisia's former president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, 83, has been declared dead while in exile in Saudi Arabia. Ben Ali became interim Prime Minister in 1987. He ran unopposed and was elected Prime Minister in 1998 and served for 23 years – from 1988 to 2011. He was known for using autocratic techniques, eradicating presidential term limits and altering age caps in order to stay in power. In the beginning, Ben Ali was considered a "people's head of state" and garnered the nickname "Benavie" which loosely translates to "Ben Ali for life." By the 2000s, however, he had become deeply unpopular and prompted protests and unrest against his oppressive rule.

His reign ended when he fled Tunisia on January 14, 2011 amid protests that ultimately led to a string of revolutions dubbed the Arab Spring. He had been living in exile in Saudi Arabia ever since. As France 24 reports, in 2018 Ben Ali was sentenced in absentia by Tunisian courts to "more than 200 years in prison on charges including murder, corruption and torture."

Though there is no cause of death just yet, Ben Ali had been in intensive hospital care for lung cancer for three months. According to Al Jazeera, lawyer Mounir Ben Salha announced Ben Ali's death to news agencies via phone and the claim was confirmed by Tunisia's foreign minister.

There is footage of a Tunisian lawyer taking to the street at dawn celebrating the news of Ben Ali's death.


This past Sunday, Tunisia held free elections advancing Kas Saied and Nabil Karoui (who is currently jailed) as presidential candidates with neither receiving a majority vote. A run-off election between the two will be held September 29.

Tunisians and others are sharing their reactions to the news across social media. Here are some reactions:





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