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Discuss the origins of towns in Africa


Discuss the origins of towns in Africa



It is estimated that in 1900 about 95% of Africa's inhabitants south of Sahara lived from the primary occupations of farming, hunting & gathering, cattle nomadism, and fishing meaning that less than 5% were urban. In 1950 (the start of the independence period) 14.7% of Africa's inhabitants were urban, in 2000 had it risen to 37.2% and it is expected to rise to 45.3% in 2015, in effect 3.76% ? 3.35% per year. The Nigerian city of Lagos that in 1963 had 665 000 inhabitants (Rakodi, 1997) and 8.7 million in 2000 is expected to become the worlds 11th biggest city by 2015 with 16 million inhabitants (UN, 2002). The urbanization of most of Africa is moving fast forward, especially south of the Sahara.
The earliest known cities of Africa emerged around the Nile Valley. The most famous of these is of course Alexandria in Egypt. The history of the old Egyptian empire has been thoroughly studied and its technology, history and political system is widely known.
There were also many early cities in Africa south of the Sahara. One of the first and notable was Meroe (present Sudan), capital of the Kush kingdom. It prospered between the 14th and the 4th century BC. Meroe and other Kushite cities advanced in stone and iron technology and also building construction and irrigation agriculture.
Axum, capital of the Ethiopian kingdom lasted from the first century AD until about the 10th century AD. It had an extensive trade network with the Roman Mediterranean, south Arabia and India, trading ivory, precious metals, clothing and spices. Axumian stone artwork (monoliths has been preserved, and bear proof of their advances in quarrying, stone carving, terracing, building construction and irrigation.

West Africa
Between AD 700 to 1600, cities in the West African savanna emerged from the trans-Saharan trade. Some of the more prominent were Kumbi Saleh, Timbuktu, Djenné and Gao. Arabic scholars like Ibn Khaldun have been a very important source of historical accounts from this area and period. Gold mining, iron technology, pottery making and textile production were the important technologies. In the commercial and capital center of Ghana Empire (not present Ghana) Kumbi Saleh an elaborate economic system including taxation was developed.
In the West African forest region, cities developed among the Yoruba, Fulani, Hausa people as well as in the Ashanti and Benin kingdom. As well as being commercial and political centers they worked as spiritual centers.

Central Africa
In the central African equatorial region cities could be found in what is today Congo, DR Congo, Angola, Zambia, Rwanda and Burundi.
Important cities: Musumba capital of the Lunda kingdom, Mbanza-Kongo capital of the Kongo Empire, Ryamurari capital of the Ndorwa kingdom (Rwanda, Kiguba capital of the Ganda kingdom

Coastal East Africa
In this region a Swahili Angli Moslemic culture emerged.
Important cities: Malindi (present Kenya), Gedi (present Kenya), Mombasa (present Kenya), Zanzibar (present Tanzania), Kilwa (present Tanzania)
Technological developments included coin minting, copper works, building craftsmanship, boat building, and cotton textile. External trade was very active and important with Asia and Arabia.

Southern Africa
Great Zimbabwe is one of the more famous pre-colonial cities of Africa. Its Great Enclosure is considered the largest single prehistoric structure in Africa.
With the Berlin conference of 1884/85 as a foundation, Africa was apportioned among the European powers almost as if it were a cake. In 1914 only Ethiopia and Liberia were left as independent states, the remainder of the continent was under British, French, Portuguese, German, Belgian, Italian or Spanish control. It was the interest of these powers that governed the borders. The continent had almost no urban population and the colonial powers had not started to invest much in its «pieces» (Hernæs, 2003a). A good example is Northern Nigeria that in 1900 had a budget of £100,000, a military force of 2000 Hausa-soldiers and 120 British officers. With this they were to govern an enormous area with a population of about 10 million people.
The economic and administrative politics had the greatest effect on urbanization. The important export products cash crops (including cotton, maize, tobacco, sugar, coffee, tea, palm oil, and groundnuts) and minerals had to be transported to the harbor towns for export. For this railway transport was needed, and to run the colony administration and personnel was needed. The central administration was often placed in harbor town, but there was not developed any network of small and middle-sized cities (Aase, 2003:3).
New cities were placed in an existing settlement or at a completely new site. Completely new cities were especially developed in the copper zone to house the mine workers. Examples include Johannesburg and Kimberley in South Africa, Ndola and Kitwe in Zambia and Lubumbashi in DR Congo.
A strong centralised political system was also important in the development of early urban centres for example in the ndebele kingdom under Mzilikazi and later on lobengula Some cities were used and some were ignored. Close to the main lines of transportation the cities grew, while towns that were ignored by transportation and administration in effect disappeared, as for example Kukawa and Dahomey.
It was in the cities of transportation and administration that contact with government and commerce was possible. As a consequence it was invested in these cities leading to the need of workforce. The commercial politics of raw inputs exporting to finance the colony and develop Africa governed the way what cities that should grow.
At the same time the colonial powers became aware of the problems that urbanization brought with it. The rural-urban migration pulled labour away from the countryside where the important export products were made. The Africans usually lived in small spaces and under poor sanitary conditions. They were therefore prone to illnesses like malaria. The colonial governments' response was not to improve the Africans conditions, but rather to separate Europeans, Asians and Africans from each other and establish influx control laws. In South Africa this resulted in the official policy of apartheid from 1950. This was also a policy that was especially common in settler cities like Harare, Lusaka and Nairobi.
With the economic depression in the 1930s, prices of African export products dropped. This in turn led to an economic downturn and unemployment. The mining workforce before the depression had been mostly temporary or seasonal, often also forced labour. The workers therefore lived in mining cities away from home and their families in the countryside.
From the 1920s in Belgian Congo and from the 1940s in South Africa and South and North Rhodesia the mining companies started to prefer more permanent workers. The authorities changed their policies to facilitate the change, and after a while also moved the working men's families into the cities. The new policies tried to strengthen the authorities' control over land and city growth, and make life easier for the European administration.
The effect of the apartheid and similar policies can be illustrated by comparing urban growth rate in Southern Africa, with that of the rest of Africa in the 1950s. This also illustrates that the policy was not working or not effective in the other colonies: The urban growth rate of Southern Africa was about 3.3%, compared to about 4.6% for the whole of Africa.
As the economy grew, the cities also grew. The colonial authorities started to strengthen the development policies that had suffered because of the 1930s depression. Social services, especially primary schools, but also secondary schools, and in the end of the colonial period also a few universities were built. Important infrastructure such as harbours, electricity grid and roads was further developed. All this caused growing administration, growing exports and growing cities, that grew even more in the post colonial period.
francis1897 answered the question on January 12, 2023 at 09:25

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