Traditional African leadership structures underwent drastic changes under colonial rule and continue to evolve today.
Assess the negative impacts of colonialism on traditional African leadership structures.
Pre-colonial Africa had as many as 10,000 different states characterized by different sorts of leadership; these included small family groups of hunter-gatherers, larger, structured clan groups, and autonomous city-states and kingdoms.
While some communities were relatively egalitarian, like the Igbo, others were ruled by a king and were highly stratified.
Many African communities continue to be governed by a council of elders, which is responsible for mediating conflict and making all important decisions within the community.
Leadership was reflected through various artforms, such as masks worn by Elders or sculptures of important leaders.
Colonial rule drastically transformed traditional African leadership structures, drawing arbitrary boundaries between tribes and imposing new structures of leadership.
Today, most African states are republics operating under a presidential system, though the legacy of colonialism has resulted in many cases of instability and political violence.
Characterized by social equality and equal rights for all people.
Traditional leadership structures in Africa are as diverse as the continent itself, making it impossible to describe an "African" style of leadership. Pre-colonial Africa possessed as many as 10,000 different states characterized by many kinds of political organisation and rule. These included small family groups of hunter-gatherers as well as larger, heavily structured clan groups and autonomous city-states and kingdoms.
Some traditional leadership systems were relatively egalitarian. Traditional Igbo society, with the exception of a few towns, was based on a quasi-democratic republican system of government. Unlike a feudalistic system, in which a king rules over subjects, the Igbo leadership system consisted of a consultative assembly of common people.
Other kingdoms were ruled by kings or priest kings: for example the Yoruba city-state of Ife established its government under a priestly oba ("king") called the Ooni of Ife. Still others had kings that were elected in some form. When the Kongo Kingdom was at its political apex in the 16th and 17th centuries, the king was elected from among a noble class of descendants of former kings—usually the holders of important offices. The activities of the court were supported by an extensive system of civil servants, and the court itself usually consisted of numerous relatives or clients of the king. The many provinces were often governed by lesser relatives of the king, and sub-provinces were governed by royal appointees or locally dominant families.
Societies like Great Zimbabwe show a high degree of social stratification, which is common of centralized states. Archaeologists and historians have determined that for many societies, the elite held a great deal of wealth in the form of elaborate pottery, sculptures, beads, jewelry, and pendents made of copper, gold, bronze, ivory, and other revered materials. Common people, on the other hand, would have supported the elite through farming and labor.
Many African communities were governed and administered by a council of elders. The council would be responsible for mediating conflict, governing the town, and making all important decisions within the community. For many tribes, such as the Balanta people, a person would be initiated into the Council through a ceremony. Elders still play an important function in many African communities today . Like most leadership structures around the world, traditional African communities were often patriarchal in power structure. In Igbo culture, for example, law began with the male line of descent, and closely related families were headed by the eldest male member.
Leadership was often reflected in the artwork of a culture. For example, the Yoruba people in present-day Nigeria depicted important leaders in their community as sculptures with large heads because the artists believed that the Ase, or inner power of a person, was held in the head. Their rulers were also often depicted with their mouths covered so that the power of their speech would not be too great. Elders in Dan society often wore masks that served as agents of social control, enforcing the council's rules and orders. The masked figures were believed to be incarnate spiritual beings capable of rendering unbiased judgments .
In the late 19th century, the European imperial powers occupied and colonized most of the continent, leaving Ethiopia and Liberia as the only two fully independent states. (Liberia, in fact, is the only country in Africa rooted in U.S. colonization; beginning in 1820, the region was colonized by African Americans from the United States, most of whom were freed slaves). Colonial rule drastically transformed traditional African leadership structures. In places where traditional rule had been fairly decentralized and egalitarian, such as regions inhabited by the Igbo, the British introduced new centralized leadership systems and incorporated their own "traditional leaders. " In most cases, European colonizers disregarded native political and cultural systems, influencing current systems or imposing new systems upon people under their military control. Arbitrary borders were drawn with little concern for the pre-existing ethnic, cultural, or political groups.
With independence from colonial rule in the mid-20th century came further changes in leadership. Today, Africa contains 54 sovereign countries, several of which have been hampered by instability, violence, and authoritarianism as native populations fought to capture territory and regain what had been lost during colonialism. Great instability was mainly the result of the marginalization of ethnic groups, some of which had been exacerbated, or even created, by colonial rule. Today, the vast majority of African states are republics that operate under some form of the presidential system of rule. However, few of them have been able to sustain democratic governments on a permanent basis, and many have instead cycled through a series of coups, producing military dictatorships. Fortunately, the 21st century has seen the number of armed conflicts in Africa steadily decline.
The African Union (AU) is a 54-member federation consisting of all of Africa's states except Morocco. The African Union has a parliamentary government, known as the African Union Government, consisting of legislative, judicial, and executive organs, which is led by the African Union President and Head of State. The aim of the African Union is to facilitate greater co-operation and peace between the continent's many countries.