Military history of Africa
The military history of Africa
is one of the oldest military histories
in the world. Africa
is a continent
of many regions
with diverse populations speaking hundreds of different languages and practicing an array of cultures
. These differences have also been the source of much conflict since a millennia.
Like the history of Africa
, military history
on the continent is often divided by region. North Africa
was part of the Mediterranean
cultures and was integral to the military history of classical antiquity
, and East Africa
has historically had various states which have often warred with some the world's most powerful. The military history of modern Africa may be divided into three broad time periods: pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial.
Ancient Egyptian and Nubian military history
Ancient Aksumite military history
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. (January 2014)
The Kingdom of Axum
had one of the most powerful militaries in the world during its era. It was compared with Rome and other world powers of the time. The Empire ruled vast territories from today's western Yemen
, Djibouti, southwestern Saudi Arabia
, eastern Sudan
, most of Eritrea and the north and central part of present-day Ethiopia.
Military history of modern Africa
exploration began with mapping of the western coasts by the Portuguese
, large-scale intervention did not occur until much later. During the 1529–1543 campaign of Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al-Ghazi
, which brought three-quarters of Christian
Abyssinia (modern day Ethiopia) under the power of the Muslim Sultanate of Adal
(modern day Somalia.
With an army mainly composed of Somalis
which was equipped by the Ottoman
empire with musketeers and troops. However, in the Battle of Wayna Daga
, a combined Ethiopian-Portuguese force (including Portuguese musketeers) was able to kill Imam Ahmad in retaliation of the death of the former Portuguese commander, Cristovão da Gama
and take back Adal territories.
In 1579, the Ottoman Empire attempted to attack Ethiopia again, this time from the north at the coastal base of Massawa. However, it was defeated by the Ethiopian military. In 1652, with Portuguese power in decline, the Dutch East India Company
sent a fleet of three small ships under Jan van Riebeeck
to set up the first permanent colony in Southern Africa at Table Bay
, and began expanding northwards. In 1868, Ethiopia and Egypt went to war at Gura. Ethiopia, led by Emperor Yohannes IV
, defeated the Egyptians decisively.
The Ottomans regularly aided the Ajurans in their struggles with the Portuguese in the Indian Ocean
The European Age of discovery
brought Europe's then superpower
the Portuguese empire
to the coast of East Africa, which at the time enjoyed a flourishing trade with foreign nations. The wealthy southeastern city-states of Kilwa
were all systematically sacked and plundered by the Portuguese. Tristão da Cunha
then set his eyes on Ajuran territory, where the battle of Barawa
was fought. After a long period of engagement, the Portuguese soldiers burned the city and looted it. However, fierce resistance by the local population and soldiers resulted in the failure of the Portuguese to permanently occupy the city, and the inhabitants who had fled to the interior would eventually return and rebuild the city. After Barawa, Tristão would set sail for Mogadishu
, which was the richest city on the East African coast. But word had spread of what had happened in Barawa, and a large troop mobilization had taken place. Many horsemen, soldiers and battleships in defense positions were now guarding the city. Nevertheless, Tristão still opted to storm and attempt to conquer the city, although every officer and soldier in his army opposed this, fearing certain defeat if they were to engage their opponents in battle. Tristão heeded their advice and sailed for Socotra
After the battle the city of Barawa quickly recovered from the attack.
Over the next several decades Somali-Portuguese
tensions would remain high and the increased contact between Somali sailors
and Ottoman corsairs
worried the Portuguese who sent a punitive expedition against Mogadishu under João de Sepúlveda
, which was unsuccessful.
Ottoman-Somali cooperation against the Portuguese in the Indian Ocean
reached a high point in the 1580s when Ajuran clients of the Somali coastal cities began to sympathize with the Arabs
under Portuguese rule and sent an envoy to the Turkish corsair Mir Ali Bey
for a joint expedition against the Portuguese. He agreed and was joined by a Somali fleet
, which began attacking Portuguese colonies in Southeast Africa
The Somali-Ottoman offensive managed to drive out the Portuguese from several important cities such as Pate
. However, the Portuguese governor sent envoys to Portuguese India
requesting a large Portuguese fleet. This request was answered and it reversed the previous offensive of the Muslims into one of defense. The Portuguese armada managed to re-take most of the lost cities and began punishing their leaders, but they refrained from attacking Mogadishu, securing the city's autonomy in the Indian Ocean.
Ajuran's Somali forces would eventually militarily defeat the Portuguese. The Ottoman Empire would also remain an economic partner of the Somalis.
Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries successive Somali Sultans defied the Portuguese economic monopoly in the Indian Ocean
by employing a new coinage which followed the Ottoman pattern, thus proclaiming an attitude of economic independence in regard to the Portuguese.
Starting in the 1950s, anti-colonial
movements agitated for independence from the colonial powers. This agitation, coupled with an international system that was increasingly hostile to colonialism, led killed to a process of decolonization
that was often violent.
These national liberation movements were informed by the successful guerrilla warfare
doctrine used in the Indonesian National Revolution
(1945–1949) and the First Indochina War
(1946–1954). The insurgents' goal was thus not to win the war — and no colonial army was ever defeated — but simply not to lose, thus making the conduct of the war unbearable for the colonial power over the long term.
The writings of Frantz Fanon
on the Algerian conflict became hugely influential on later African conflicts. These conflicts benefited from internal ideological and organizational cohesion, sympathetic diplomatic backing in global forums, some financial backing (in particular from the Nordic states) and military training and supplies from the Soviet bloc.
Two national liberation movements that became violent and were unsuccessful in that they did not lead to de facto
capitulation and independence were the Mau Mau Uprising
(1952–1960). Colonial security forces were reinforced by regular troops from the metropolitan power and the insurgent groups were hampered by a lack of military equipment and training, as well as the absence of a friendly adjoining country offering sanctuary.
There have been two liberation movements against an African power over the borders drawn during the colonial period. The Polisario Front
began a struggle in 1973 for the independence of Western Sahara
and then Morocco
, when the North African country invaded.
Africa's wars and conflicts, 1980–96
African states have made great efforts to respect interstate borders as inviolate for a long time. For example, the Organization of African Unity
(OAU), which was established in 1963 and replaced by the African Union
in 2002, set the respect for the territorial integrity of each state as one of its principles in OAU Charter.
Indeed, compared with the formation of European states, there have been fewer interstate conflicts in Africa for changing the borders, which has influenced the state formation there and has enabled some states to survive that might have been defeated and absorbed by others.
Yet interstate conflicts have played out by support for proxy armies or rebel movements. Many states have experienced civil wars: including Rwanda, Sudan, Angola, Sierra Leone, Congo, Liberia, Ethiopia and Somalia.
The boundary marking a civil war is blurred in Africa as many civil wars involved foreign backers if not active belligerents. Libya's actively intervened into Chad with air forces, and France retaliated with support for the other side. Sudan experienced a prolonged civil war, resulting in the separation of South Sudan as an independent state. Similar to South Sudan, Eritrea won independence from Ethiopia. Congo's civil war involved seven states, among them Zimbabwe, Rwanda, and Uganda. Eritrea is under United Sanctions for its alleged support role in the civil conflict in southern Somalia. Sierra Leone's civil war was ended with the restoration of ousted civilian government by British and Nigerian forces. Angola's civil war involved Cuban, American and Chinese backing for differing groups.
Military history of Africa by regions
Military history of Northern Africa North Africa
and Southern Europe
face each other across the Mediterranean Sea
. Most of the southern areas of North Africa are cut off by the vast inhospitable Sahara desert
. Therefore, the coastal areas have many resources to support the needs of large armies and the moderate-to-hot climate makes the movement of forces across vast stretches of land very feasible. North Africa has been the source of both cultural and economic interactions as well as military rivalries that became famous wars in history.
Each century has seen the invasion of North Africa by various peoples, empires, nations and religions, and each in turn yielded its wars and conflicts.
Beginning in the 7th century, the military victories of the Umayyads
, the Abbasids
, the Fatimids
, the Mamluks
and the Ottomans
ensured and consolidated the strength and continuity of Islam
in North Africa over many centuries.
Attacks by the Barbary pirates
, based in the North African areas of Algeria
, prompted the building of the United States Navy
, including one of America's most famous ships, the USS Philadelphia
, leading to a series of wars along the North African coast, starting in 1801. It was not until 1815 that naval victories ended tribute payments by the U.S., although some European nations continued annual payments until the 1830s. The United States Marine Corps
' actions in these wars led to the line, "to the shores of Tripoli
" in the opening of the Marine Hymn
Military history of the Horn Africa
Ethiopian soldiers decisively defeated the Italians at the Battle of Adwa
, during the First Italo–Ethiopian War
from 1889 to 1896. Italy was victorious against Ethiopia during the Second Italo-Abyssinian War
fought from 1935 to 1936. However, Italy
was not able to colonize Ethiopia; the five years of Italian presence in Ethiopia is considered as an occupation, since full Italian control was only achieved in Addis Ababa and even this was filled with continuous attack from Ethiopian patriots.
Military history of East Africa
Military history of Central Africa
The harsh colonial era of the Belgian Congo
(1908–1960) gave way to the Congo Crisis
(1960–1965) that brought in UN peacekeepers, particularly after the mineral-rich Katanga Province
failed to secede in 1960, even though it had the support of Belgian business interests and over 6000 Belgian troops.
Subsequent conflicts in the Congo were the First Congo War
(1996–1997) to oust President Mobutu, Second Congo War
(1998–2003) between various factions with the intervention of many other African countries, making this an African regional civil war, and the ongoing Ituri Conflict
Bodyguard of Bornu
The colonial powers, particularly Belgium
, were dominant during the 18th and 19th centuries.
Military history of Western Africa
During the colonial era
, the powers of Europe sought to carve new colonies for themselves. This was made possible geographically because West Africa's coast is on the Atlantic Ocean
, making it both open to cultural and trade influences, as well as to conquest by sea. West Africa is rich in many precious metals, minerals and products, which invites the interest and competition of outside powers and influences. There were some bloody conflicts in the 20th century when some of these nations fought against the colonial powers, such as during the Guinea-Bissau War of Independence
Military history of Southern Africa
, like the other main regions of Africa, is a complex region. It has numerous land-locked countries, but it is most notable in that it is surrounded by both the Atlantic Ocean
to the west and the Indian Ocean
to the east.
In addition, from Europe — and also from the east coasts of the United States
and South America (Brazil
), the route around South Africa's Cape is the shortest to Asia
The Suez Canal
did not exist for most of history. It was only completed in 1869, so that all shipping back and forth from Europe to Asia, Arabia, and to most of Africa had and has to be done by the long routes across the seas around South Africa's Cape.
Even after the Suez Canal's completion and modernization, it cannot accommodate larger vessels including many warships, tankers, and cargo vessels. Thus the Cape of Good Hope
route remains one of the most important and highly desirable routes for free shipping when some of the world's other global choke points
are closed off or in a state of war.
Wealthy nations are usually great maritime naval powers, and the use of navies
is tied in with protecting those great nations' trade and their military strength, both of which result in geostrategic
strength. Essentially, the power that has the mightiest navy and prevails on the high seas becomes the world's greatest power, which is something nations have known for a long time, hence their commercial and naval rivalry on the high seas.
The Republique Democratique du Congo
, though more commonly reckoned in Central and Eastern Africa respectively, are occasionally included in Southern Africa. This commonality between these countries has had a great influence on their military history.
The most notable wars and conflicts in Southern Africa were those between the colonial powers of Europe who fought to dominate and control the African people of Southern Africa as well as the wars between the British and the white Boers
, also known as Afrikaners
, who were mostly the descendants of earlier colonists introduced by the Dutch East India Company
During the Great Trek
Dutch farmers, or trekboer
s, migrated inland from the southern coast and confronted the Xhosa
in a series of Xhosa Wars
(1779–1879) that resulted in the final defeat of the Xhosa.
There was also an inter-African conflict during the Ndwandwe-Zulu War
(1817–1819) and the Mfecane
(185–1835) with the triumph of the Zulu. The Boers and Zulus confronted each other at the Battle of Italeni
(1838) and the Battle of Blood River
(1838), resulting in the defeat of the Zulu, although the Zulu state continued to survive until the conclusion of the Anglo-Zulu War
- The South African Army and Air Force were instrumental in defeating Italian forces that had invaded Ethiopia in 1935.
- Another important victory that the South Africans participated in was the liberation of Malagasy (now known as Madagascar) from the control of Vichy France. British troops aided by South African soldiers staged their attack from South Africa and occupied the strategic island in 1942 to preclude its seizure by the Japanese.
- The South African 1st Infantry Division took part in several actions in North Africa in 1941 and 1942, including the Battle of El Alamein, before being withdrawn to South Africa.
- The South African 2nd Infantry Division also took part in a number of actions in North Africa during 1942, but on 21 June 1942 two complete infantry brigades of the division, as well as most of the supporting units, were captured at the fall of Tobruk.
- The South African 3rd Infantry Division never took an active part in any battles, but instead organised and trained the South African home defence forces, performed garrison duties, and supplied replacements for the South African 1st Infantry Division and the South African 2nd Infantry Division. However, one of this division's constituent brigades, 7 SA Motorised Brigade, did take part in the invasion of Malagasy.
- The South African 6th Armoured Division, which incorporated many Southern Rhodesian volunteers, fought in numerous actions in Italy from 1944 to 1945.
- South Africa contributed to the war effort against Japan, supplying men and manning ships in naval engagements against the Japanese.
South African paratroops in Angola.
Altogether, 334,000 men volunteered for full-time service in the South African Army during WWII, including some 211,000 whites, 77,000 blacks and 46,000 "coloureds" and Asians), with nearly 9,000 killed in action.
Notes and references
- ^ Saheed A. Adejumobi, The History of Ethiopia, (Greenwood Press: 2006), p.178
- ^ Encyclopædia Britannica, inc, Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 1, (Encyclopædia Britannica: 2005), p.163
- ^ John L. Esposito, editor, The Oxford History of Islam, (Oxford University Press: 2000), p. 501
- ^ Maritime Discovery: A History of Nautical Exploration from the Earliest Times pg 198
- ^ The History of the Portuguese, During the Reign of Emmanuel pg.287
- ^ The book of Duarte Barbosa - Page 30
- ^ Tanzania notes and records: the journal of the Tanzania Society pg 76
- ^ The Portuguese period in East Africa – Page 112
- ^ Welch, Sidney R. (1950). Portuguese rule and Spanish crown in South Africa, 1581-1640. Juta. p. 25. ISBN 9780842615884.
- ^ Stanley, Bruce (2007). "Mogadishu". In Dumper, Michael; Stanley, Bruce E. (eds.). Cities of the Middle East and North Africa: A Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. p. 253. ISBN 978-1-57607-919-5.
- ^ Four centuries of Swahili verse: a literary history and anthology – Page 11
- ^ Shelley, Fred M. (2013). Nation Shapes: The Story behind the World's Borders. ABC-CLIO. p. 358. ISBN 978-1-61069-106-2.
- ^ COINS FROM MOGADISHU, c. 1300 to c. 1700 by G. S. P. Freeman-Grenville pg 36
- ^ a b c Crawford Young, "Contextualizing Congo Conflicts: Order and Disorder in Postcolonial Africa" in John F. Clark, ed., The African Stakes of the Congo War, Palgrave MacMillan: New York, 2002, p. 15
- ^ Kodjo, Tchioffo. "OAU Charter, Addis Ababa, 25 May 1963-African Union - Peace and Security Department". African Union, Peace and Security Department.
- ^ Herbst, Jeffrey (1990). "War and the State in Africa". International Security. 14 (4): 117–139. doi:10.2307/2538753. JSTOR 2538753. S2CID 153804691.
- ^ The Economist, March 28th 2020, page 7, "The forever wars".
- ^ Oliver Ramsbotham, Tom Woodhouse, Encyclopedia of international peacekeeping operations, (ABC-CLIO: 1999), p.222.
- ^ "South Africa and the War against Japan 1941-1945". South African Military History Society (Military History Journal - Vol 10 No 3). November 21, 2006.
Last edited on 10 May 2021, at 09:05
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