Top 10 Obscure Facts about Africa Everybody Needs to Know

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Africa’s 19th richest man, Jim Ovia concluded in a recent interview that a man’s wealth means nothing – it’s what he does with it that is truly important. A walking paradox to many people’s notion of what an African is, Ovia is a sophisticated cosmopolitan, a polished and worldly gentleman. The sadly-surprising subject of African billionaires shines light on how there are a multitude of other misrepresented facts on Africa that needs sharing as well. Some of the most sensitive topics regarding Africa and her history have been unnaturally twisted to suit the propaganda and ramblings of Afrocentrics, shady politicians, and complete racists. The fact of the matter is that …

10. Africa is NOT Poor

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We all know that Africa has her fair share of problems, such as an obvious lack of infrastructure, high amount of refugees, high illiteracy rate, corruption, disease, and horrendous famines. Africa’s issues have led to overall low standards of living, life expectancy, and human development.

The truth however, is that while many African people are indeed poor, the African continent in itself is exceptionally rich. It’s rich in resources, fertile land, fresh water, minerals, oil — you name it. In fact, certain African countries are some of the highest mineral and metal exporters in the world, and a few nations have even formed trade blocks to promote their exports. From cars, electronics and jewelry to electricity and oil, Africa’s natural resources literally make the world go round.

9. The Apartheid Struggle Wasn’t Exclusively Black vs. White

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Apartheid was the racial segregation system enforced through legislation by South Africa’s then-ruling National Party from 1948 to 1990. While many are under the impression that apartheid was only fought by black people, the fact is that there were thousands of white anti-apartheid activists. The era even saw the birth of various peaceful and radical resistance movements, such as the Black SashEnd Conscription Campaign, the National Union of South African Students and the African Resistance Movement – all spearheaded by white people. While some sadly planted bombs to get their message across, most of these movements held protests, vigils, plotted strategy, and ran offices throughout the country where support, advice and direct (illegal) assistance were given to black people.

8. Africa has a Ton of Forgotten History

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Many believe that Africa has no history apart from being colonized, plundered, and pilfered. The reality could not be further from the truth. Apart from the magnificent ancient Egyptian monuments in the north, Africa’s other historic sites are just as spectacular and even mysterious, as the ruins oftentimes only yield clues as to its true splendor.

The Great Zimbabwe Ruins are the largest stone ruins in Sub-Saharan Africa. A designated World Heritage site, its towers and structures were built out of millions of rocks, all perfectly balanced on top of each other. Thriving in the 11th century, the rock dwellings spread over 200 square miles. To the West, you have Timbuktu which, by the 12th century, already had three universities teaching more than 25,000 students, libraries, and an infrastructure that would put modern engineers to shame. Fes, Morocco’s 3rd largest city, has existed since 808 AD, and has been called the “Athens of Africa.” The madrasa Al-Qarawiyyin is, in fact, the world’s oldest running educational facility. And do not forget the outstanding rock-hewn churches of Lalibela in East Africa’s Ethiopia, in use since the 12th century. As you can see, the real Africa is rich with history, diversity and culture.

7. Africa has Some of the Most Impressive Greek and Roman Ruins Out There

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The ancient Greeks and Romans were the first Europeans to explore Africa, with Phoenician traders founding Carthage around 800 BC, and Alexander the Great founding Alexandria in 331 BC. As Rome continued its expansion and occupation of North Africa’s coastline, the whole area was eventually unified into the Roman system.

But among the most impressive ancient Greek and Roman ruins in the world are the ancient cities of Cyrene and Leptis Magna in Libya, Africa, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The great city of Cyrene was founded in 631 BC by Greek colonists. Impressive even by modern standards, it had various temples ( including the Temple of Apollo and the Temple to Zeus,) altars, fountains, theaters, and an extensive necropolis featuring rock-hewn tombs that lined the roads leading out of the city. Meanwhile, the ancient city of Leptis Magna is the epitome of Roman Severan urban planning. At its pinnacle, the city’s buildings and immense wealth made it the third-most important city in Africa. The unspoiled ruins include the city’s marketplace, amphitheater, arches, forum, and the spectacular Severan Basilica.

6. The Blood Diamond Trade Doesn’t Just kill Africans

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Thanks to Leonardo DiCaprio, many people in the world are aware of the blood diamond trade of 2006. For those still unsure of what it means – blood diamonds normally come from war-zones or conflict areas in Africa where they are mined (often through forced labor) and sold to finance terrorism, or to further the objectives of insurgents and warlords. The miners, which include women and children, are essentially used as slaves and suffer every imaginable form of inhuman and degrading cruelty – including bodily mutilations or being hacked to death. When one looks at the horrific statistics, the term becomes painfully clear. Almost 3.8 million deaths can be attributed to diamond-fueled civil wars – eight times more than all the soldiers who died in the US military over the past 70 years.

And if you thought the trade only had African victims, think again. A UN-backed court found that Al Qaeda is spending their terror funds on untraceable illegal diamonds, and have been using the blood diamond trade to finance many of their operations since 1998.

5. Africa Does Not Belong to the “Black” Race

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The complex history of human migration in Africa goes back thousands of years. We know that modern humans started leaving Africa roughly 70,000 years ago. But at least two populations migrated back around 45,000 years ago. These people became the forefathers of the Berber people, an ethnic group indigenous to North Africa. After the Arab invasions, the Islamic influence spread through almost every aspect of Berber society, to the extent that many people nowadays regard the Berbers as Arabian instead of African, despite the persecution and oppression they have had to endure.

The major differences between North and Sub-Saharan Africa’s linguistic, religious, and cultural development are the result of the barrier created by the Sahara Desert. In South Africa, the indigenous Khoisan or Bushmen are also physically distinct from other African tribes, as are the Pygmies from Central Africa. The vast majority of tribes throughout Sub-Saharan Africa’s ancestors actually migrated from West Africa in what historians call the “Bantu Migrations.”

4. There were Brutal Indigenous African Wars

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There is a widespread Utopian belief that African societies lived in fulfilled and perfect harmony, without wars and oppression and with limited desires, until the European invasions started in the 15th century. This mythical archetype has led to a major socialist ideology on the continent that continues to blind its leaders and cripple its economies to this day.

But truth be told, Africa’s military history is one of the oldest in the world. Each and every region in Africa had their ages of great empires. To the West, the Ghana Empire, Mali Empire, and the Kénédougou Kingdom all rose and fell. To the East, the Axumite Empire, Zagwe Dynasty, and Solomonic Dynasty were all involved in wars that saw them conquer and fall. North Africa saw the Egyptians dominate the land of Kush. In the South, the migrating Bantu-speaking tribes arrived from the Great Lakes area and displaced the Khoisan around the 5th century. The great Kingdom of Mutapa’s capital was established after the local Tavara was annihilated, and the San were brutally uprooted by the multitude of Nguni clans, which were ultimately forcibly united by Shaka Zulu.

3. Decolonization Played a Depressing role in Africa’s Modern Issues

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From the 15th century on, Portugal, Spain, Great Britain, France, Italy, and Germany all laid claim to certain parts of the continent — during the Berlin Conference of 1884, Africa was officially and fully divided between the colonial powers. From the 1950’s to the 1970’s, African countries regained their independence, and African rulers shaped their country’s by either working with or against the European powers.

Unfortunately, the 70 years of official colonization (plus the hundreds of unofficial years beforehand) completely changed the political, economical, and social structures of the African societies. National borders and territorial boundaries, as decided by the European powers, were left in place. This led to various turf-wars and ethnic conflicts. Weak administration of resources, misrule, patrimonialism, and a general lack of education crippled economic development, while Africa’s integration into the global economy saw prices of exports in essence decided by the West. In many instances, foreign aid was only provided once leaders agreed to changes that would benefit those giving aid; even today, the aid oftentimes only serves to fuel civil wars.

2. The African Slave Trade was More Extensive Than We were Taught

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Slavery in Africa has existed for hundreds of years. Historically, slaves were mostly treated as servants, and not as belongings. It also took many forms that do not necessarily fit in with our modern notion of slavery. For example, people could become slaves to repay a debt or pay for a criminal offense.

The well-known Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade flourished from the 15th to the 19th century and took about 12 million slaves from Africa. Surprisingly, according to official records, Great Britain received more than 3 million slaves, whereas the US only got 305,326. However, more than one slave trade blossomed during Africa’s history. The Arab Slave Trade moved over 17 million slaves via the trans-Saharan and Indian Ocean routes to the East, for example.

And yes, it is a fact that quite a few West African empires thrived on the slave trade. The Oyo Empire (Yoruba), Asanti kingdom, and the kingdom of Dahomey were all actively involved in procuring and selling slaves. In fact, their economies became so dependent upon the trade that their kingdoms ultimately collapsed after the abolition.

The true kicker here is that there was also a Barbary Slave Trade, flourishing between the 16th and 19th century. During the Barbary raids, more than 1.25 million Europeans were kidnapped from Italy, France, Spain, England, and even Iceland, and sold as slaves in North Africa. These European slaves had no hope of buying back their freedom like the Africans taken to America, and instead died as slaves, oftentimes from disease, abuse and starvation.

1. We Really ARE All Africans

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When it comes to the origin of modern man, scholars agree to disagree. The two main theories are called the “Out-of-Africa” and “Multiregional” models. According to the Out of Africa Theory, modern humans evolved solely in Africa and migrated to the rest of the world, replacing the Neanderthals and other earlier human species about 70,000 years ago. The Multiregional Theory contends that the pre-modern Homo erectus left Africa almost 2 million years ago, and that all modern humans slowly evolved in separate regions all over the world.

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Apart from the archaeological and anatomical evidence that supports the Out of Africa Theory, the past two decades saw remarkable growth in our abilities to study and analyze DNA. The Genographic Project, launched in 2005, mapped modern man’s migration from Africa by collecting DNA samples from thousands of individuals all over the world. Their findings were remarkable. Apart from confirming that modern man indeed evolved in Africa, they also found that the amount of our genetic variations are so low that all modern humans probably came from as little as 10,000 to 40,000 ancestors. In fact, by studying the Y chromosome and mitochondrial DNA of several individuals (from the Bushmen to the Yakut in Siberia,) scientists now know that we all probably share two common ancestors – a male ancestor from Africa that lived around 140,000 years ago and a female ancestor from Africa that lived about 120,000 years ago.


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4 Comments

    • As a retired History Teacher, your information is factual and unbiased. This is an amazing achievement in these polarized times with not-so-hidden agendas. Truth may be the first casualty of war, but it is becoming apparent that it is also the casualty of those who can scream the loudest. Excellent work.
      Kindly keep it up.

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