In order to understand later periods in the history of the law of nations in Africa, it is necessary to begin with a brief history of the internal and external relations of the various parts of the continent. Here, this history is traced, beginning with the ancient and pre-medieval period through the era of the indigenous African States, the beginnings of European trade and colonization, up to the period of colonial rule.
Ancient and Pre-medieval Africa
This brief outline of ancient and pre-medieval Africa should serve as an interesting background to the story of how the Sahara may be said to have dominated the hi!; tory of the north no less than it has that of the south. It will also show that the great caravan routes linked Carthaginian and Roman cities in the north with the markets and seats of learning in the south. The Sahara has served to influence the fortunes of Barbary.
For several centuries, the wealth and industry of the Sudanese never ceased to attract Arabs and Berbers, Jews and Christians, from the north. There are some historical accounts of the interrelationships between the East African littoral and the Arabs, the Chinese, and the Europeans which existed for purposes of trade. Exploration and adventure. And although research has yet to reveal such trade routes and cultural contacts as there may have been between West and East Africa in early and medieval times, there is nevertheless some evidence of intermingling of the races, especially in West Africa which suggests large scale migrations of peoples from one part of the continent to another.
The Indigenous African States
The political, commercial, and diplomatic history of the more significant African States and kingdoms during the Middle Ages provides additional background to our understanding of Africa’s place in ~ international law and ~ international relations.
The Mali Empire
Mansa Musa, Syndicate’s grandson, came to the throne in 1307 and the fame of Mali spread to Europe and the Middle East, largely through his pilgrimage to Mecca. The conspicuous display of wealth – he was accompanied by 80 to 100 camel loads of gold, each weighing some 300 pounds caused such a sensation in Cairo and elsewhere that it resulted in a lowering of the local market value of gold. His piety and open-handed generosity also impressed Cairo.
Before his return, one of his generals had captured Ago, capital of, in fact, the first to penetrate the iron curtain of color prejudice which shut off the Negro from the civilized world and to win for the true African a small measure of the respect which, even today, is often grudgingly granted him” (p. 9). According to Ibn Khaldun, trade between Mali and Egypt must have been considerable. Dakoda, a thriving center of the caravan trade, owed its prosperity to its copper mines from which the Maghreb, Egypt, Mali, Hausa, and Bornu drew their supplies of the precious metal.
Mansa Musa once claimed these mines as his most important source of revenue. By the beginning of the 15th century, Mali’s decline had begun; the Mandingoes still held some parts of Songhai and the whole of Timbuktu but had lost Tekrur. The Sanhaja federation of the Tuareg still paid tribute to the king of Mali and supplied troops for the Songhai, an important riverine kingdom extending- the latter’s army. In along the middle Niger for 1000 miles downstream from the frontier of Mali. He visited Gao en route and accepted the personal surrender of the King of Songhai. To ensure the loyalty of his new vassal, he took back with him to Mali the King’s two sons, Ali Kolen and Sulayman Nar, as -+ hostages.
Beginnings of European Trade and Colonization
The British engaged in a crusade to expiate past sins and cut off the supply of African slaves to the trans-Atlantic economy and fulfilled this mission on the west coast by the 1860s; with this, a once prosperous arm of European trade had been lopped off. Hundreds of anti-slave trade treaties had been entered into with minor chiefs and the British had acquired paramount influence along a vast stretch of coast. London was against extending territorial responsibilities in the east as well as the west coast of the continent.
The Egyptian crisis was motivated by the flurry of claim-staking in West Africa in 1883 and 1885. This is evidenced by the relative calm which obtained there during the following decade.