We should prioritise knowledge of Africa’s history among the youth

Tuesday December 01 2020
By Raymond Mugisha

The history of Africa has been a most assaulted inheritance over the years. Early geographers and chroniclers recount well-organized African states and empires.

For example, Ghana was already a centralized state in A.D. 800. The state of Mali, which flourished in the fourteenth century, possessed intellectual centres such as Djenne and Timbuktu, whose colleges could exchange scholars with Spain and other parts of the Muslim world of the time.

 By their own account, some European sailors of the last years of the fifteenth century found that the coast of eastern Africa could have seemed no less civilized than their own coast of Portugal. By the 1300s, Africans driven by the quest for information, trade and political alliances, were already making expeditions to Europe. 

Lovers of African history and its students are aware of such interesting record of the continent’s past, covering the vastness of the entire mainland Africa, well beyond the above bits.

Whereas in the middle ages and the renaissance, interaction between Africa and Europe was a relationship of equals, the commencement of slavery in the new world changed all that, setting in motion the denigration of Africans and the black race. This escalated and by 1878, Henry Stanley was confident to go on record calling Africa the “Dark Continent”.

A few years later, European powers helped themselves to curved out territories of the continent of Africa, for their control and profit. Thereafter, to-date, the African was cast into a position of self-doubt. At the same time, Africa’s history has had little space, even in the continent’s own education curriculum.  


Crowding our own history out of our knowledge banks is very disadvantageous. It has socio-economic consequences as well as socio-political deprivations that work against our progress.

History helps us to understand how societies, technology and governments have evolved. This knowledge is important in shaping the expectations we form of our own societies, socio-political and socio-economic systems, and how they will evolve.

 It helps us to approach the future with ability to avoid past mistakes while reclaiming past strengths and capitalizing on them to lunge forward.

Without knowing our history, we are largely a people groping in the dark, admiring far away societies whose path to advancement we are often incapable of retrace. Without knowing where we are coming from, our admiration of them remains an elusive dream if we are incapable of customizing the footsteps taken by those societies to our own terrain.

A solid understanding of our history will also help us to know who we are as Africans and thereafter to develop a sense of self. It will help us to appreciate our legacy and thus ignite the much needed hope for a better continent.

The ability to aspire for better and actually work towards it draws a lot from the legacies we emerged from as a race. If we do not know our history, we are clueless in this regard.

We then end up being influenced by what others choose for us to believe about ourselves, if we have any legacies to live by at all. We end up unable to know how our societies and countries came to be, and are not properly enabled to make sound judgment of how to develop and sustain them.

Relatedly, studying our history is vital for understanding how our societies have interacted with other societies in the past.

This way, it helps us to understand other people and make us better prepared to take from them what benefits us and to reject their influences that are not beneficial to us. History is thus a key contributor to the wisdom of making decisions and choices within the global context.

Without its benefit, we stand the risk of taking as first-time occurrences, scenarios which have played out in the past and damaged us. We are not prepared to avoid dangers that come from broader human and societal interactions. 

The much needed ability to anticipate and predict change, as well as be able to react positively to it is equally driven by historical knowledge. The replay of world events in economics, politics, technological changes will favor more those equipped with knowledge of related past events. People who treat as new, events which mimic the past, are will lag behind in key affairs of human advancement.

It is thus important that as Africans, our history should be prioritized and promoted especially among the young, as a stepping stone to overcoming our legacy disadvantages and maximizing our unique strengths. Without knowing this history, we are neither fully aware of the said disadvantages nor awake to the strengths we have.

Raymond is a Chartered Risk Analyst and risk management consultant mugisha@afriaccept.com