African Roots

DEUTSCHE WELLE  |  Podcast , ±3 min episodes every 1 hour  | 
DW's history project "African Roots" addresses young Africans

DW's new series "African Roots" uses online comics and radio broadcasts to highlight 25 important African personalities. The project, funded by the Gerda Henkel Foundation, is aimed at young audiences.
The portraits cover a long period of time, ranging from Dinknesh, the "Mother of Mankind" in present-day Ethiopia, to legendary rulers of the Middle Ages such as Mali's King Sunjata Keita to key figures from the African independence movement such as Patrice Lumumba.

These animated online stories by the successful Nigerian graphic design team "Comic Republic," will primarily be shared on Facebook once a week. DW’s Facebook platforms for Africa have more than four million subscribers. There will also be broadcasts of supporting content on radio, reaching nearly 40 million African listeners per week. Most of the content is available in six languages (English, Amharic, Hausa, Kiswahili, French, Portuguese).

DW users have raised concerns saying that public discourse on African history is often based solely on the perspective of the continent's former colonial powers. One commented on Facebook that "young Africans don't have easy access to historical documentation." "African Roots" hopes to help close this gap. The project, spearheaded by DW's Africa service, employs African sources, and was developed in collaboration with African historians, cultural scientists and writers. It targets Africa's young generation, which makes up the vast majority of the population on the continent.

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Louis Rwagasore, the unifying prince

Prince Louis Rwagasore was supposed to lead Burundi into independence. He was named prime minister but was killed shortly before independence.

"A peaceful, happy and prosperous Burundi." This was the dream of Prince Louis Rwagasore, who was passionate about economics and convinced that independence could be achieved peacefully.

When did Louis Rwagasore live? Louis Rwagasore was born in January 1932 to Mwami Mwambutsa IV, one of the last Burundian kings. After studying in Belgium, he quickly took the lead in Burundi's anticolonial movement. In the run-up to independence, Rwagasore was declared prime minister. Just weeks later, on 13 October 1961, he was assassinated. The independence he had been striving for was formally proclaimed on 1 July 1962.

Was Rwagasore popular because of his royal blood? It is true that Louis Rwagasore grew up with the privileges of a prince. He was the eldest son of Mwami Mwambutsa Bangicirenge, King of the Barundi and he received a good education in one of the most prestigious high schools of Rwanda under Belgian trusteeship. After studies in administration and agronomy in Brussels, where he met students from all over the African continent, Rwagasore returned to his country in 1956 and became a political animal. He became popular through his charisma and his abilities as a strategist.

How did Rwagasore manage to unify Burundians? Louis Rwagasore was a skilled diplomat and a great unifier. He impressed Burundians firstly by his spirit of initiative, with the creation of agricultural cooperatives
that were supposed to give Burundians back the control over production and by putting an end to the monoculture of coffee. He also had strong relationships with great figures of African independence – Prince Louis Rwagasore met Congo's Patrice Lumumba several times, he exchanged letters with Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser and he developed his political project thanks to his friend Julius Nyerere.

Kwame Nkrumah: Fighting for a united Africa

After an academic career in the US and England, Kwame Nkrumah returned home to lead Ghana into independence and become its first president. His vision of a US-style union could however not be achieved.

When did Kwame Nkrumah live? 21. September 1909 (Nkroful, Ghana) – 27. April 1972 (Bukarest, Rumania)

What was Kwame Nkrumah renowned for? Pan-Africanist, leading Ghana into independence (in 1957) and acting as its first Prime Minister and President (replaced by a coup in 1966), played key role in creating the Organisation of African Unity (later to become the African Union).

What was Kwame Nkrumah criticized for? Sympathizing with socialist ideology, calling himself Marxist. This brought him enemies within and outside his country. Some believe US intelligence is responsible for his downfall.

Who inspired Kwame Nkrumah or was inspired by him? He got immersed into the African-American liberation struggle, met Martin Luther King Jr. while in the US, read (and later discussed with) sociologist, pan-Africanist and human rights activist W.E.B. Dubois. While studying in Great Britain, he crossed paths with many fellow Africans struggling for independence, the likes of Kenya's Jomo Kenyatta, Ethiopia's Haile Selassie and Malawi's Hastings Kamuzu Banda.

What are some famous remarks by Kwame Nkrumah? "We face neither East nor West: We face forward." "Revolutions are brought about by men, by men who think as men of action and act as men of thought." "Freedom is not something that one people can bestow on another as a gift. They claim it as their own and none can keep it from them.

Can you tell me about the most famous controversy surrounding Kwame Nkrumah's legacy? In 2012, a statue of Nkrumah was unveiled at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa.But why Nkrumah? In Ethiopia, many felt former Emperor Haile Selassie would have deserved the honours as being considered the founding father of the AU.

Kinjeketile and the Maji Maji rebellion

Kinjeketile Ngwale claimed to be a spirit medium. He defied the German colonialists in Tanganyika, unleashed an uprising and gave the people with 'sacred water' which they believed would keep them from harm.

When did Kinjeketile live? Little is known about Kinjeketile's childhood and upbringing. Although there is uncertainty about his year of birth, we know that he was born in Ngarambe, Matumbi in Tanganyika, now part of Tanzania. He was hanged for treason in August 1905 by German colonial officials.

What is Kinjeketile famous for? He is said to have been possessed by a spirit known as Hongo. According to the legend, Hongo appeared in the form of a snake which dragged Kinjeketile under water. When he emerged 24 hours later he was not wet at all. From this moment on, he started prophesying.

Kinjeketile's biggest achievement was uniting different ethnic groups in and even beyond the region against a common enemy, the German colonial administration. He thus stirred the first embers of nationalism in Tanganyika.

He is seen as the initiator of the Maji Maji war, even though he himself died shortly after the uprising started. The Maji Maji war lasted from 1905 until 1907 and was one of the biggest wars against colonial powers in Africa.

What is Kinjeketile criticized for? He is blamed for leading the people to their death by telling them that the sacred water, or maji in Kiswahili, he discovered would protect them from the bullets of the Germans, which it didn't. It is estimated that between
180,000 and 300,000 people died during the Maji Maji war as a result of the fighting and hunger, partly caused by the destruction of crops and farmland by the colonialist. The local population was reduced by a third.

Julius Nyerere: Undeterred African leader

A pronounced pan-Africanist, Nyerere led Tanganyika to independence and later unified it with Zanzibar to form Tanzania. Despite shortcomings, his Ujamaa policy is credited for giving Tanzania a national identity.

When was Julius Nyerere born? In 1922, Butiama village in Tanganyika. He studied teaching at Makerere University in Uganda. Later on, Economics and History at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. He died in London in 1999.

What was he renowned for? His title "Mwalimu", which means teacher. Nyerere actually taught Biology and English for three years before leading Tanganyika into independence and going on to become the first president of the United Republic of Tanzania. He had an unrelenting passion of a united Africa. In opposition to Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah, however, he opted for a regional East African union as a first step, while Nkrumah pushed for a direct and complete union. Jointly, they masterminded the Organization of African Union. He took in African freedom fighters. After gaining independence for his country, Nyerere followed his pan-Africanist path by welcoming and supporting the armed rebellions against regimes in Mozambique, South Africa, Namibia and others.

Julius Nyerere's other accomplishments? He translated William Shakespeare into Kiswahili.

How stubborn could Julius Nyerere be? In a Cold War world, Nyerere didn't take sides. When the German Federal Republic asked his country to sever ties with the German Democratic Republic according to its Hallstein Doctrine, Nyerere declined, at the risk of losing German development aid, insisting on Tanzania's sovereignty. He said his country would "not accept aid with strings attached" - and finally got his way. His country upheld diplomatic relations with both German states.

Josina Machel - Mozambique's female freedom fighter

A heroine of Mozambique's freedom struggle, Josina Machel fought for women's rights and encouraged other women to join the war. She died at 25 without seeing her dream of an independent Mozambique become a reality.

Who was Josina Machel? She was born Josina Abiathar Muthemba on August 10, 1945 in the southern province of Inhambane. Unusually for an African woman of the time, her family encouraged her to go to school, and in 1956, she moved the capital, then called Lourenco Marques, to attend a secondary technical school. There, Machel became politically active in clandestine student groups and became a member of an underground cell of the Mozambique Liberation Front, more commonly known by its Portuguese abbreviation, FRELIMO. Currently the dominant political party in Mozambique, FRELIMO was founded in Tanzania in 1962 to fight for Mozambique's independence from Portuguese rule.

How did Josina Machel contribute to the struggle for independence? When she was 18, Josina Machel decided to flee Mozambique to join the liberation war against the Portuguese. On the first attempt, she was captured in what was then Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), sent back home and imprisoned for several months. On the second attempt, she managed to reach Frelimo headquarters in Tanzania's capital, Dar es Salaam - a 3,500 kilometer (2,175 mile) journey. She received military training and rose in FRELIMO ranks, becoming head of the party's Department of Social Affairs in 1969 at the age of 24. The same year, she married Samora Moises Machel, who would go on to become the first president of an
independent Mozambique in 1975. But Josina never lived to see her country liberated from the Portuguese. After a serious illness, she died in Dar es Salaam in 1971.

Hendrik Witbooi, a strategic political fighter

Known by his people as "!Nanseb Gaib Gabemab" (the snake in the grass), Hendrik Witbooi rallied his Nama people to rise up in a guerrilla war against German imperialism in what is today Namibia.

When did Hendrik Witbooi live? Hendrik Witbooi was born around 1830 in Pella, a district which today is part of the Northern Cape of South Africa and borders Namibia. Witbooi came from a long line of chiefs of the Witbooi Nama, a previously nomadic tribe belonging to the Khoikhoi people of southwestern Africa. In 1863, the Witbooi Nama moved to an area that became known as German South West Africa (now Namibia). There, Hendrik Witbooi received formal education by German missionaries. He later resettled to the mountains southwest of Windhoek, establishing and leading a wellordered Nama community. He died on October 29, 1905, in the village of Vaalgras in a battle against German colonizers.

What was Hendrik Witbooi known for? He was known for his sharp mind, his early recognition of the menace of colonialism, and his calls for warring African tribes to unite against the German colonizers. The Nama were few in number and poorly supplied compared to the German troops. But Witbooi's tenacious tactics earned him the title "!Nanseb Gaib Gabemab" or "the snake in the grass." He was respected by the Germans – the colonial administrator of German South West Africa, General Leutwein wrote of Witbooi: "I still see him before me …modest, yet selfpossessed, loyal yet not without political cunning, never deviating from what he considered his duty or his right." Witbooi communicated extensively with other African and European leaders and UNESCO has registered his letters and diary (written in Dutch) as world documentary heritage.

Haile Selassie - Ethiopia's 'Lion of Judah

His Imperial Highness Emperor Haile Selassie represented a dynastic line which stretched back centuries. He was an absolute ruler and yet a modernizer who introduced the very reforms which eventually proved his downfall.

When did Haile Selassie live? Haile Selassie was born Tafari Makonnen on July 23, 1892, near Harar, Ethiopia. His father being a cousin and close ally of Emperor Menelik II, he was summoned to the court in Addis Ababa when his father died in 1906. In 1916 he became Ras Tafari, heir presumptive and regent to Empress Zauditu, daughter of Menelik II, and in 1928 he and his supporters had the Empress crown him King. In 1930, on the death of Empress Zauditu, Tafari was crowned Emperor Haile Selassie — "Might of the Trinity." He was deposed in a coup by the communist Derg regime in 1974 and died less than a year later, on August 26, 1975, in Addis Ababa.

What were the foundations Haile Selassie laid for his country? He introduced Ethiopia's first written constitution in 1931; it provided for a bicameral parliament and a legal code, and proclaimed all Ethiopians equal. However, both this first constitution and the second one promulgated in 1955 were criticized for granting too much power to the emperor himself — he retained the right to overthrow any parliamentary decision — and for making no provision for political parties.

Was Haile Selassie beyond criticism? From his early days, Tafari Makonnen is considered to have been a good strategist. He may have had a hand in the removal from power of designated Emperor Lij Iyasu, Zauditu's predecessor, who ruled only three years. As emperor, Haile Selassie gave thousands of students the chance to study abroad. Those very students later called for his deposition, decrying a lack of reform.
Disenchantment with his monarchy culminated in an attempted coup d'état in 1960, the biggest threat to his rule until he was finally overthrown by the Derg.

Dinknesh - a peek into the history of humankind

The discovery of Dinknesh, also known as Lucy, changed the way we understand evolution. Her 3.2 million-year-old fossilized skeleton was discovered in 1974 in Ethiopia.

Where was Dinknesh found? She was discovered near the Ethiopian village of Hadar in the Afar Triangle, a geographical depression that is part of the Great Rift Valley.

Why is Dinknesh famous? Dinknesh probably lived 3.2 million years ago. When her fossilized bones were excavated in 1974, she was hailed as the oldest early human — or hominin — ever found. Scientists also found 40 percent of her bones, making her the most complete skeleton of an early human species. Dinknesh belonged to a new species, which was given the scientific name Australopithecus afarensis ('southern ape from afar' in Latin). By studying Dinknesh, scientists learned much about human evolution, such as how these hominins moved.

But Dinknesh was an ape, wasn't she? Dinknesh was not an ape. She is more closely related to modern humans than to modern apes. And she already had some humanlike features. The study of her bones showed she was already capable of walking upright — although she probably felt more comfortable on trees than the ground.

How old was Dinknesh? By looking at her teeth, bone development and vertebrae, scientists believe Dinknesh was a young, but fully mature adult when she died.

How did Dinknesh get her names? Donald Johanson and Tom Gray, the American scientists who found Dinknesh, celebrated their discovery at their camp by listening to
the Beatles song "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds." This is how the unique fossil got its first name, Lucy. Her other, more recent name is Dinknesh, which means "you are marvelous" in Amharic, Ethiopia's official language. Alas, her first name is so popular that "Dinknesh" is not commonly known outside her home country.

Cheikh Anta Diop: Visionary scholar

Anthropologist, historian, specialist in nuclear physics and passionate about linguistics, the Senegalese scholar Cheikh Anta Diop laid the foundation for finally writing the history of Africa without racist prejudices.

When did Cheikh Anta Diop live? Cheikh Anta Diop was born in 1923 in the village of Thieytou, about a hundred kilometers east of Dakar, in Senegal, in a Wolof family of aristocratic origin. He was granted a scholarship to study in France in 1946 and he first chose physics and chemistry before turning to philosophy and history, with a thesis addressing "precolonial Black Africa" and the "cultural unity of Black Africa”. Cheikh Anta Diop was a nationalist and an advocate for African federalism. He returned to Senegal following independence in 1960 and dedicated himself to teaching, research and politics until his death in 1986.

What was Cheikh Anta Diop renowned for? Cheikh Anta Diop was a prolific writer: he is the author of many scientific works and books about the history of the Africa, but also about its future. Basing his theory on the kinship between African languages like Wolof — his mother tongue — and ancient Egyptian, Cheikh Anta Diop revealed the cultural influence of earlier African peoples on the Egyptian civilization and he demonstrated that "ancient Egypt was Negro-African." Cheikh Anta Diop had degrees in chemistry and in nuclear physics. In 1966 he created the first African laboratory for radiocarbon dating with the university now named after him. During his student years he was an advocate for the independence of African countries. Later on he became a major figure of the federalist African movement and presented his
ideas in his book Black Africa: The Economic and Cultural Foundations of a Federated State.

Charlotte Maxeke, ‘Mother of Black Freedom

In segregated South Africa, Charlotte Mannya Maxeke dedicated her life to the struggle for women's rights and education for all. Her pioneering role is only now being rediscovered and more widely reported once again.

When did Charlotte Maxeke live? She was born April 7, 1871, or possibly 1874, and given the names Mannya Makgomo. Not just the year but also her birthplace is a bone of contention, being recorded as either Fort Beaufort in the Eastern Cape, or Ramokgopa in the Polokwane district in Limpopo Province. Charlotte Maxeke died on October 16, 1939, and her eulogy reportedly ended with the words, "she was everyone's friend and no-one's enemy".

What was Charlotte Maxeke renowned for? She was renowned for many things: her singing voice, her work for the church and her devotion to women's rights, her magnificent oratory style. Also, she was the first black African woman to go to university and gain a degree. She made it her personal mission to share her knowledge and enable children to learn, building a school in Evaton, south of Johannesburg.

What was the pioneering role of Charlotte Maxeke? Maxeke was an early and very active member of the ANC, one of its first female members and – something that history remarkably failed to record – the only woman present at the launch of the ANC in 1912. At a time when the ANC only granted membership to men, Charlotte Maxeke lobbied for their admission to the organization. Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, speaking at the launch of the Maxeke Memory Project in October 2015, said she was such a great orator that one of the ANC's earliest presidents, Reverend Mahabane, joined the ANC after hearing her speak. Maxeke, for her part, in 1918 launched the Bantu Women's League that would later become the ANC Women's League.

Bayajida: The legend of Hausa land

Historians doubt that Bayajida existed, but the legend of Bayajida remains powerful. It refers to him as the man whose lineage founded the Hausa nation. The legend is re-enacted yearly in Daura, Nigeria.

When did Bayajida live? Most of the Bayajida legend was transmitted through oral history. There is no record of Bayajida's date of birth or death, and no certainty of his existence. He is believed to have originally come from Baghdad in modern-day Iraq, and after a brief encounter with the Kanem empire in Bornu, he settled in Daura, in modern-day Katsina.

But what was the origin of the legend? Some sources state that the Bayajida legend appeared somewhere between the 16th and 19th centuries AD. But there is evidence of its existence in Hausa culture as early as the 9th and 10th centuries AD.

What does his name mean? His original name was most probablyAbu Zaid. The name given to him by the Hausas. Bayajida, is actually a phrase: "Ba ya ji da," which means "he couldn't understand before."

I've heard allusions to a snake. What is the story behind this? Bayajida is said to have slayed a snake that lived in a well in Kusugu, a place in modernday Daura. The snake had terrorized the people and deprived them of water. It only allowed water to be drawn from the well on Fridays. In spite of the warnings, Bayajida went to fetch water at the well on a Thursday. When the snake attacked him, he cut off its head with his sword.
Does this story have a happy end? As a reward for killing the snake, the Queen of Daura, Daurama, promised him half of her kingdom. But Bayajida cleverly refused and instead asked for her hand in marriage. This was unheard of, since all previous queens were had practiced celibacy. However, Daurama felt indebted to him and agreed.

What is Bayajida's legacy? Bayajida is known for altering the traditions in Daura: prior to his arrival, the Daura people had been ruled by women.

Amilcar Cabral: The collective liberation

Immersed in the pan-African struggle, Amilcar Cabral led Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde toward independence from the Portuguese colonial authorities, but was assassinated short of achieving this goal.

When did Cabral live? Amilcar Cabral was born in 1924 in Bafata, Guinea-Bissau, to Cape-Verdean parents. He grew up in Sao Vicente, Cape Verde, and studied agronomy in Lisbon before returning to Guinea Bissau. On January 20 1973 he was assassinated in Conakry, Guinea.

What was he renowned for? Co-founding the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) in 1956 and serving as its secretary-general, uniting both countries in their struggle against Portuguese colonial rule. PAIGC led Guinea Bissau to its independence in 1973. Cabral was a pan-Africanist, an agronomist and a poet.

Was there anything Cabral was both criticized and revered for? Probably the most important was not accepting to import foreign models of struggle to apply in Guinea Bissau.

Who was inspired by him? Cabral was an inspiration for other liberation movements in the Portuguese speaking countries in Africa but also around the world. In Lisbon, he helped found the Centro de Estudos Africanos, an association of Lusophone African students, and was in contact with other independence figures of lusophone Africa such as Agostinho Neto, Mário Pinto de Andrade, Marcelino dos Santos
What are some of Cabral's most famous remarks? "The African people know that the snake may change its skin but it is always a snake." "We never confused 'Portuguese colonialism' with the 'Portuguese people'. Our struggle is against the Portuguese colonialism." "If somebody is going to harm me it is going to be one among us. Nobody can harm the PAIGC but ourselves."

Who killed Amilcar Cabral? Cabral was killed in Conakry by a member of his own party who was believed to have acted under Portuguese orders. But there are many theories regarding who was really responsible for Cabral’s death.

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