Sociopolitical organization of Africa - History of the East

16.4. Sociopolitical Organization of Africa

Sub-Saharan Africa is usually seen in many ways as a whole, and there are many reasons for this. First of all, the population of this part of the continent, with all its racial-ethnic diversity, is basically homogeneous. This Negro population, bound by many common features and signs, and largely a common destiny (it is not a question of European settlers of South Africa). In addition, again, for all the diversity of specific forms and modifications of social organization, family-clan traditions, religious rites and cults, and traditional norms of behavior, African ethnic communities are also largely unified. They are united even in the most important stages of progressive development, in the movement from primitive communal social formations to very early needy proto-states, that is, to the most elementary forms of statehood (hereafter, these early forms of Africans, as a rule, did not go).

It is well known that Africa, like some other similarly developed regions of the world, is a reserved field for the work of anthropologists. Specialists in social, cultural, economic and political anthropology search for and find here many steps and characteristic forms of early development of society in all their diversity, but at the same time and with strict monotony in the most basic - in what can be considered inherent in all one or the other of the first stages of the development of mankind. This applies in particular to those laws of sociopolitical evolution in the process of state formation , which are the basis of the concept of this work.

The primary economic cells of the Africans were either local groups of hunters and gatherers, or large families of farmers and pastoralists. In either case, there was no question of private property, not even property in general. The property, with the exception of the individual, belonged to the collective, on whose behalf the collective head of the group, the leader of the group, or the patriarch of the large-family collective acted in the joint possession of the collective. The totality of the larger families was a community, each of which, regardless of their total number and even the density of their location (they lived in Yoruba within large settlements side by side with many dozens), was an autonomous cell. And although the external threat caused the phenomenon of mechanical solidarity of related communities, which rallied them into a single whole, led by their chosen leader (a phenomenon worth recalling, studied exactly with the example of Africans), this did not always lead to the formation supportive political structures.

Here it is important to note a very characteristic phenomenon for Africans. The division into age classes to a much greater extent than property inequality, determined the social stratification of those collectives in which they usually lived. Closed religious associations such as men's unions also played their part, but even more - traditional patrimonial ties. These last clearly dominated and when emerged pro-state formations, and representatives of one or another of the family clans of any community turned out to be at its head. Family ties were immeasurably more important than the personal will of the ruler, whose authority was usually limited to the advice of the noble (the same relatives in the main) or the influence of the elder, including the mother of the ruler.

Occasionally, the situation changed in favor of the ruler, who at the same time sought to rely not on his relatives, but on the servants and officials loyal to him personally, usually from among aliens, including slaves, i.e. people of unrelated origin. In the same way, armies were sometimes created - from mercenaries and slaves. But not every ruler could afford such a thing, because for this, besides his will, there had to be favorable conditions. For example, a guaranteed source of income, not associated with the usual and low-income taxation of its people (referring to revenues from the monopolized by the ruler of trade, primarily from resources such as mines and mines, and finally from the slave trade). In addition, this was also not a very stable and reliable business, since each of the rulers that rose in one or another proto-or early state did not have sufficient social support to strengthen their power. In the eyes of his fellow tribesmen, who continued to live according to the traditional norms of the tribal community, the ruler was only the supreme administrator of the common property, and acted under strict control and in accordance with the traditional rule. The ruler had the right to a small tax from the communities, on the labor obligations of the community members, also not excessive and, most importantly, sanctioned by tradition, finally, on tribute from the vassal leaders. But this did not give him too much.

In principle, the problems of Tropical Africa are the same, and it amounts to the fact that the very extensive economy in it has always, and to a large extent, been compelled, was conducted in such a way that large reserves, and the more so about cumulation of surplus in size, necessary for successful evolution, to many reasons were not taken care of. Extensive agriculture could give very little surplus, and domestic trade almost did not exist. The overwhelming majority of Africans lived, again forcedly, in conditions of subsistence farming. The transit trade and the monopolized fisheries were won, but this was precisely the source of the instability of the authorities, which was forced to rely not so much on the proper organization of their own society, but on factors external, very volatile and vaguely acting. Under the current conditions, there was practically no material basis for the process of internal, intra-state privatization - the very one that played the decisive role of the internal push that determined the transition from the early state to the developed one everywhere in the world.

Yes, and how to form a layer of private owners, if the states in question were not commodity-money relations, or the market, or the corresponding infrastructure, but primitive barter trade, which quite satisfied people and responded to the needs of the local population, could not form the basis of any significant privatization process and lead to the emergence of a layer of non-proprietary owners. Moreover, all those factors that could potentially contribute to the creation of this layer and give impetus to the process of internal privatization in the African environment acted as if outside the society , at the level of transit trade. Of course, there were shopping centers, and significant detachments of merchant owners, sometimes huge in terms of trade, and even quite large cities with very developed infrastructure. However, all this was something external to the traditional African society, which was in the sense of interest only an object, but not a subject that was interested in transit trade in any way . In this kind of trade, the power that was above the society was included, but this was exactly the opposite of what was being said. The rulers who monopolized trade were not and could not be subjects of the process of internal privatization; they also turned out to be outside the socium they controlled.

As a result, the early political formations that emerged in various parts of sub-Saharan Africa in large numbers under the direct influence of external forces and under their indirect influence (and this applies to the lion's share of African state entities of the Middle Ages) did not have a developed administrative infrastructure and a reliable social support. They either appeared and quickly disappeared, replacing each other within the same or emerging new ethnic substratum, or for a long time existed in a subtle and almost unpredictable primitive form. True, attempts were made occasionally to strengthen the weak administrative structure, to create a system of provinces and districts with appointees usually not from among the relatives of the leader, the stewards. Attempts were made to introduce the system of conditional land ownership of the officials under the Islamic scheme, and during the late European Middle Ages the economy of the treasury was sometimes strengthened through the organization of plantations with the mass use of slave labor. However, these efforts did not bring the necessary effect, because over time they were tied up in the same traditional communal-clan social structure , which practically did not change from apical experiments and changes.

Why did not the traditional community-tribal base change? First of all, because there was no noticeable growth in the level of population development. The nature of his activity, the traditional forms of the same extensive agriculture, did not change. Domestic trade and commodity-money relations did not develop. There was not the very process of privatization, which was already discussed. But why was it so? In part, this should be explained by the general backwardness of the image and standard of living of Africans, the lack of effective incentives to accelerate their development, even after the emergence of proto-and early-state political structures headed by rulers, sometimes all-powerful, capricious and cruel despots, and sometimes prisoners of established rigid religious and political traditions.


It is known that some rulers lived in isolation, were the object of religious worship and were destroyed at the appearance of signs of old age and loss of power. And there was a definite meaning in this: a sacred ruler, almost a god himself, personifying the power of the collective, must be strong.

Rulers cared little about reforms aimed at internal strengthening of states, effective centralization of power. And hardly they could do anything in this direction by any other means, except for the most primitive violence. Of course, violence sometimes paid off. Strong armies were created, especially strong after the acquisition of firearms. But the strength is internally weak - and this applies far not only to Africa - that it is not enough to ensure the effective functioning of a sociopolitical organism for a long time. Violence can be achieved quickly and impressively, but due to force and coercion alone, it is impossible to create what appears only as a result of complex internal processes. And these processes also do not arise and the more they do not accelerate from scratch, without the slow but sure development of production and culture of society.

These axiomatically sounding formulas should be recalled precisely because they sometimes operate automatically, without going into the essence of the real process in the same Africa. Specialists do not always realize that backward agriculture reproduces backward norms and the quality of consumption, and they entail an appropriate way of life and the principles of the existence of the population, the primitive forms of its sociopolitical organization. Such agriculture - and it is typical for the African tropics - as well as extensive cattle breeding in principle, not only in Africa, are not capable of producing developed forms of economy, society, culture and political organization. The imposition of one backward form of farming, nomadism , on another, , can bring to life the effect of statehood with the existence of ethnic superstratification, sometimes reaching the caste inequality of the inhabitants of the early state. But this, perhaps, is the limit of the possible. To achieve a higher level of development, we need a cardinal internal transformation of society, new elements of production, other labor skills, a much more developed culture of work and all the activities of the society.

In Africa, even in the Sudanese belt with its huge role of Islam, there was no developed religious system. Sorcerers and sorcerers, which are hardly worth mentioning in detail, but who still play a colossal role in the spiritual life of the population, even if formally considered to be Christians or Muslims, not only fully comply with the standard on which the bulk remains of the population. One can and should say much more sharply: the really existing religious beliefs and cults did not just correspond and still correspond to this primitive level, but also consolidate it. And within the political formations of the Sudanese belt, where the scientists of the ulama met in the cities, Muslim science developed, it was even something like a university in Timbuktu, all this existed only at the highest level of the needs of cities and shopping centers with a very limited number of the Islamized population, which almost did not come into contact with the bulk (a situation very reminiscent of the Greek settlements in the Middle East Hellenistic times).

Quite naturally, the result was a rather rapid loss of religious Islamic potential as the initial intensity of transit trade weakened. Vacuum with time began to occupy the militant Sufi orders, members of which almost did not carry with them either the elements of science or the desire for education, but very much corresponded to the power-based internal structure of most of the political formations in Africa. In a word, developed religion in Africa - a religion that from top to bottom, though in a diminishing and simplifying volume and form, but still from top to bottom would affect everyone - did not arise. Accordingly, in the early African states, with rare exceptions such as Ethiopia, there was no writing , the bearers of which were usually everywhere and always visited only by clergymen as a social stratum.

The lack of a developed religion and written culture played its role in the general backwardness of African societies and early state formations. After all, without cumulation and selection of useful innovations, any culture is doomed to stagnation and degradation, and pressure from the powerful primitive periphery in such conditions is always not only strong, but also extremely effective. If in Asia the great civilizations absorbed the periphery at the expense of their civilization potentialities, since civilization and a religious tradition closely connected with it preserve and consolidate the achievements of the material and any other culture stimulated by it, in Africa it often happened on the contrary. There, the relatively developed structures, after their fairly rapid weakening, the causes of which we were just talking about, practically disappeared without a trace, absorbed by the backward periphery, easily and without a trace of digesting them.

Apparently, a considerable role in the preservation of the backwardness of Africa was played by slavery , and not so much as an institution (in this capacity it was known to the whole world, and in civilized societies of Asia it has been preserved for centuries and in some places has survived almost up to now), but as an important element of the norm of attitude towards man. A stranger in Africa, like, however, everywhere, has never been considered a man. He could be killed, even eaten, and it was believed that the heart or liver of a defeated enemy attached courage to the person who had eaten them. He could be pardoned and included in his community, in the family on the rights of her junior member, a dependent unqualified person. It could be sold for export, which was what the Arab and other merchants in Africa were doing long before the first Europeans appeared there. But it is very important to understand the main thing. Africans have never been anything united and united, on the contrary, they have always been scattered and, as a rule, very hostile to outsiders, and almost everyone who was not from your village was the stranger.

The ethnic dispersal and abundance of linguistic, ethnic and other borders contributed to the fact that there were always many strangers in Africa. Therefore, anyone could become a slave, only he had to go beyond the small zone of his native collective. Hence the amazing ease with which some negros for a bottle of "fiery water" or glass beads sold to slave traders, no matter, Arabs or Europeans, their neighbors, which it was not difficult to seize. Meanwhile, the attitude is not even to an outsider, but to a neighbor as a slave in many respects formed a common attitude to man and human life as such. It cost little and was easy to treat. Moreover, this was characteristic of large political associations, whose leaders killed thousands of opponents and did not stop before providing the absolute obedience of subjects with the same impudence and cruelty. On humaneness and mercy, humanity in the sense, as it is said in the ancient religious or philosophical texts shaping the consciousness of civilized societies, be it the teaching of Confucius, Zoroaster or the search for the authors of the Upanishads, in such conditions one can not speak.

Far from trying to somehow rehabilitate the Portuguese and all European slave trade with its inhumane attitude towards the Negroes, it is worth noting once again that it did not in itself affect the backwardness of Africa. She just used what was already there. Of course, the pious teachings of Catholic patriots who, apparently in the same Portuguese Congo, apparently preached Christian philanthropy, went against practice. Still, the inhabitants of the Congo and other parts of Africa could not help but perceive something of Christianity as a developed religious doctrine that has been propagated for centuries. However, firstly, they inevitably perceived this doctrine differently than the Europeans, combining it with their customary beliefs and perceptions. Secondly, Christianity had little to bring to the habitual way of life and culture of the local African population, as well as Islam in the Sudanese north. Ultimately, the Christianized minority of Africans, and its Islamized minority in the Sudan, did not become more advanced and did not begin to develop at a faster pace. The introduced religions in Africa, unlike what happened in other regions, failed to fill the civilizational vacuum. The development of the continent was followed by an extremely slow pace.

In conclusion, it should be noted that colonialism as a phenomenon, as will be discussed in detail in the second volume of the textbook, has played an immeasurably greater role in the development of Africa than its negative manifestations at an early stage of the penetration of Europeans into African continent, which were associated with slavery, slave trade and slavery. This is particularly noteworthy, because recently there have appeared, especially in the US with their exaggerated political correctness, many pseudoscientific works and frankly political and propaganda publications, the meaning of which is to spread the ideas of the racial superiority of the Negroes. Of course, one can understand why this is so and because of that, clearly, in a piquant to the European authors writing about Africa, this stream of black racism appeared. And it is not at all to refute clumsy and pointless arguments on the topic that if the Europeans did not appear in Africa, the Negroes themselves would have invented everything, down to, presumably, modern computers and other things that humanity today can be proud of . The point is that if we do not ignore the proud aspirations of people with black skin to be equal with all other nations (and this, after the election of the new US president, no longer needs confirmation), pay attention to the fact that if today the descendants of African blacks there is really much that can be achieved and almost inferior to representatives of other races and nations, it was precisely because Europeans came to Africa.

This is an indisputable fact, as the fact that modern achievements of science brought by Europeans, including medicine, thanks to which the African population has rapidly increased in number, should be considered as a fact.

Therefore, the colonial development of this continent, no matter how deplorable the proportion of those who were sold into slavery and lived as a slave, giving birth to slave children, while slavery was not finished, including at the cost of the lives of many tens, if not hundreds of thousands of Europeans who participated, in particular, in the civil war of 1861-1865. in the US, was ultimately a big step forward. A step for both African blacks, and if not all of the sharply increased population of Africa, it is still a significant part of it.

Also We Can Offer!

Other services that we offer

If you don’t see the necessary subject, paper type, or topic in our list of available services and examples, don’t worry! We have a number of other academic disciplines to suit the needs of anyone who visits this website looking for help.

How to ...

We made your life easier with putting together a big number of articles and guidelines on how to plan and write different types of assignments (Essay, Research Paper, Dissertation etc)