Sample History Paper on Civilizations of Sub-Saharan Africa: Progress and Challenges

Sub-Saharan African (SSA) civilization is a process that began in the medieval African communities, specifically between 1500 BC and A.D. 700. The process of civilization in the SSA was characterized by a shift from hunting and gathering as in the traditional communities to more organized livelihoods such as the practice of agriculture. Various factors have been cited as the probable motivations for the civilization in the SSA including intercultural interactions and skills transfer as a result of migrating communities, centralization of power and authority within various kingdoms such as the Aksum, which became a trading node for Arabian countries and the Indian Ocean, and interactions with the environment and natural resources that led to various economic activities such as iron smelting and production of iron implements. Prior to the pre-colonial period, civilization was progressing at a steady pace within the SSA. It is therefore deduced that the interference of foreign countries such as Western, European, and Arab settlers and colonialists slowed down the progress of civilization significantly.

Civilizations of Sub-Saharan Africa

Early Sub-Saharan African Communities

The history of SSA has been narrated to indicate communities within which civilization was on-course. According to Isern and Fort, civilization refers to intercultural exchanges resulting in advancement in the formation of governments, social stratification, urban development, and attainment of high levels of science and industry.[1] Considering the traditional African communities, it is observable that the process of civilization had been progressive, driven by various factors including discovery of new technologies such as the process of iron smelting and extraction of various other natural resources such as copper ores, which formed the beginning of early industry.[2] Another factor that resulted in the spread of civilization in SSA was the agrarian revolution that begun in Mesopotamia and created an avenue for more organized food production.

The initial indications of civilization in Africa are linked to the practice of farming by indigenous SSA communities from around 1500 BC. Reportedly, farming had started in SSA by the early 6000 BC but the trend in agricultural practice was halted with the drying up of the Sahara in later years, which also drove the farming communities towards the Nile valley to the west.[3] As part of agricultural practice, the communities in the Nile valley of the SSA region began domesticating animals in addition to growing crops.[4] Farming therefore changed the lives of SSA communities significantly, enabling them to build permanent shelters rather than sticking to their past nomadic lifestyle, expanding settlements due to availability of foods for longer periods of time and facilitating the practice of alternative economic activities such as pottery and working metals due to the availability of time.[5] Each of these outcomes is a characteristic of civilized communities.

As agriculture spread across the SSA, it initiated the migration of communities, which facilitated the spread of civilization to other areas of the SSA. The migration, particularly among the Bantu communities was motivated by the desire to find areas in which they could practice agriculture holistically.[6] Thus, migrating communities were able to transfer agricultural skills to other areas, causing the same outcomes as in the Nile Valley area in which active farming had started.

One of the outcomes of the increasingly organized communities that characterized early civilization in SSA was the Aksum Kingdom that began in 500 BC. The Aksum kingdom embodied various characterizations of organized government and the practice of science and technology. The Aksum kingdom rose from the Ethiopian royal dynasty of King Solomon and was the first controller of international trade due to the strategic location of their native homes.[7] Besides trade, the Aksum also practiced exceptional architecture as evidenced by the construction of the tallest towers of the time. They traded in necessities such as salt as well as in luxury products such as rhinoceros horns and imported products such as brass, olive oil and clothes.[8] They also engaged in innovative practices related to science and technology through the practice of terrace farming in adaptation to their hilly topography, the use of minted coins as currency, and the development of a written language.[9] Writing is one of the ultimate indications of civilization and can only indicate the progress towards civilization in SSA prior to the influx of foreign communities.

Interference by Foreigners

From the section above, it is evident that the SSA communities were on a good course of civilization prior to the coming of various foreign communities. One of the clearest indications of foreign interference in the civilization of SSA is seen through the impacts of Islamic invaders into the Aksum community. From AD 632 to AD 700, Islamic invaders conquered most of the areas around Aksum kingdom, initially leaving the Aksum because of the asylum offered to Muhammad’s family by the Aksum.[10] However, the Aksum were isolated from the rest of the communities and locked from trade when the invaders took control of all major harbors. The kingdom eventually collapsed, having first moved the capital to the hilly mountains that are currently part of northern Ethiopia.[11] The kingdom ended after having expanded over only a relatively small area, leaving behind a legacy in architecture, farming and religion.

The other form of interference promoted by foreigners was through slave trade. According to Beck, McDougal and Arts and Entertainment Network, slave trade resulted in significant decline in civilization due to its destructive impacts on Sub Saharan African communities.[12] First, only the young energetic men and women were sold as slaves, reducing the productivity back home. Slave trade was characterized by many ethical issues that resulted in significant decline in the civilization of African communities. The weak and old people were left to peril as the slaves were taken, slave raids and transportation resulted in massive loss of lives among SSA communities, and there were inter-state and inter-kingdom fights that resulted in political and social stability.[13] The progress that had been attained during the formation of kingdoms in early civilization was cancelled through wars and political instability, dragging back SSA to the period in which organized government had been missing. The outcomes of slave trade included massive displacements, destruction/fragmentation of previously attained civilization in areas such as agriculture, technology and architecture, and the decline of sustainable development.

The colonization following the slave trade era also contributed to the decline of SSA civilization. During the colonization period, the colonizers spread the narrative that Africa was backward and savage, characteristics that had been largely caused by the slave trade and in which the same colonizers were active participants.[14] In so doing, there were significant efforts to impose foreign cultures, beliefs and religious practices on the African communities. Colonialism also came with the politics of racial subjugation through the denial of opportunities for self-governance even during the industrial revolution, another factor that hindered the continued civilization of SSA.[15] Several other examples of such interference can be cited both during and after the colonization, and have continued to hamper the growth of sustainable development in African countries in general. Foreign forms of government have been characterized by the seeds of greed, disunity and conflict, which were not prevalent in pre-colonial SSA. Such influences are to be blamed for the continued slow development in the SSA.


The countries in SSA, had exhibited strong potential for civilization through practices such as agriculture, migration and the spread of technology through kingdoms such as the Aksum. The interference of foreigners such as western countries, European countries and Arabian countries resulted in the decline of civilization in the SSA. Specifically, practices such as slave trade and colonization resulted in the reversal of various outcomes of previous civilizations through destabilization of government systems, reduction of societal productivity, interference in trade, and imposition of foreign cultures and ways of government characterized by greed and political conflict.



Reference List

Addis, Amsalu K., and Zuping Zhu. 2018. “The Political Situation, Trends and Geopolitical Implications of Sub-Saharan and North African Countries: Comparative Study.” Open Journal of Political Science 8, 108-117.

Beck, Roger B., Holt McDougal, and Arts and Entertainment Network. 2012. World History: Patterns of Interaction. Orlando, FL.: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publication Co., 2012).

Blatch, Sydella. 2013. “Great Achievements in Science and Technology in Ancient Africa.” ASBMB Today.

Boon, Emmanuel Kwesi, and Charles Takoyoh Eyong. No date. “History and Civilizations: Impacts on Sustainable Development in Africa.” Regional Sustainable Development Review II.

Isern, Neus, and Joaquim Fort. 2019. “Assessing the Importance of Cultural Diffusion in the Bantu Spread into Southeastern Africa.” PLoS One 14, no. 5.

UNESCO, “Aksum” UNESCO World Heritage Site, 1980.



[1] Neus Isern, and Joaquim Fort, 2019, “Assessing the Importance of Cultural Diffusion in the Bantu Spread into Southeastern Africa,” PLoS One 14, no. 5.

[2] Sydella Blatch. 2013. “Great Achievements in Science and Technology in Ancient Africa.” ASBMB Today.

[3] Roger B. Beck, Holt McDougal, Arts and Entertainment Network, World History: Patterns of Interaction (Orlando, FL.: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publication Co., 2012)

[4] Beck et al., 213.

[5] Beck et al., 216.

[6] Isern and Fort, 3.

[7] UNESCO, “Aksum” UNESCO World Heritage Site, 1980.


[9] Beck et al., 227.

[10] Beck et al., 228-229.

[11] UNESCO.

[12] Emmanuel Kwesi Boon, and Charles Takoyoh Eyong, No date, “History and Civilizations: Impacts on Sustainable Development in Africa,” Regional Sustainable Development Review II.

[13] Boon and Eyong, 6.

[14] Boon and Eyong, 6.

[15] Addis, Amsalu K., and Zuping Zhu. 2018. “The Political Situation, Trends and Geopolitical Implications of Sub-Saharan and North African Countries: Comparative Study.” Open Journal of Political Science 8, 108-117.