African Empires That Have Been So Easily Forgotten

Ancient African Civilization refers to the pre-advanced state of the African human society, the ancient centralized governance and their models of leadership. These were the strong government and administrative forces that guided and framed the affairs of the people before colonization, and modern civilization. These ancient  civilizations formed the lifestyle of the people and contributed to culture – both past and present. The knowledge of these famous and yet forgotten kingdoms help us to find the roots to core African ancestry.

Glaring historical facts have been recorded and archaeological tactics, traces-arts and excavated pieces of these civilizations, have been preserved till this modern dispensation. These empires came with their own mode of operation, jaw dropping architecture and incredible tales of the alternating conquests and falls of the empires. The African human social development and organization didn’t start with colonization or post-imperialism, it started ages ago, the core African way. There are numerous empires that have existed in the African continent – Dahomey, Mali empire, Egyptian empires, amongst others; but as much as we want to bring all into light again, some never should have been forgotten.

11. Songhai Empire


This was located in West Africa; and was also one of the largest and renowned empires in African (Islamic) history. By the 13th century, Gao, the capital of the city states of the empire was conquered by the Mali empire which was expanding and flourishing at the time. Eventually, Songhai reclaimed its territory and  became a commercial centre attracting merchants from all over the world. Songhai was a strong trading kingdom, known for its production of practical crafts as well as religious metal artifacts. Their culture treasured due respect for the king; elites were Muslims while non elites were traditional religious people. Facts about this kingdom have been recorded in the literary works of the modern day.

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10. The Kanem Empire


The Kanem – Bornu empire was probably founded in the 8th century AD and located in the present countries of Chad, northeast Nigeria, southern Libya, eastern Niger and northern Cameroon. The empire is one of the longest-lasting dynasties in human history. In 1571, Mais (King) Idris Alooma, the ruler embarked on the greatest political expansion and innovation seen in the empire. Kanem-Bornu replaced Songhai as the leading power in Northern Nigeria.

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9. Sao Civilization

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The Sao Civilization thrived from the 6th-16th century AD in the middle part of Africa. There have been traces and concrete evidence of their existence in certain parts of Cameroon. The Sao cultural identity was negatively influenced (declined) by a blend of conquest by the eastern Yemenites and Islamic interferances. While the West of Lake Chad nursed their unfortunate defeat, it is believed that the Sao civilization of the South of Lake Chad lasted for more than a century. Not much was recorded in writing but through carbon dating and oral historical tales, the Sao civilization was proven to have been a reality; more so the artifacts found – sculptures and common basic tools – implies that they were skillful artisans who designed a lot with metals- bronze, iron and copper.

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8. Ajuran Empire 

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A Somalian Muslim empire that ruled the Northeast Africa in the medieval period. This empire thrived in so many attributes – monopoly of marine resources; far-reaching architecture, commercial relations with traders from all over the world. The Ajuran Sultanate fell in the late 17th century as a consequence of bad leadership and imminent revolt.

7. Shilluk Kingdom 

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The Shilluk kingdom existed in the ancient Southern Sudan spot. It has been there, since the 16 century, along the white Nile. Unlike before, the current king is not an independent political leader but a chieftain within the government. The Shilluk kingdom was an egalitarian society  known for the monopoly of economic resources and trade.

6. Kingdom of Mapungubwe 


This was a one time South African kingdom which recently is a UN heritage site; transformed into a park and a tourist site. Mapungubwe kingdom was the first and largest kingdom in southern Africa, believed to have lasted for about 70 years with a population of about 5000 people. It is famously known as a stone citadel and located at the boundaries between Botswana and Zimbabwe. Archaeological findings suggest that the pre-colonial gold-rich empire attracted foreign traders from Arabia, China and India. South Africans of that time cherished farming and respected the concept of family. On the hills, some remains were exhumed alongside gold artifacts, this points to the possible culture of burying royalties in the hills. It also confirms the social classification of people in the Kingdom, hence Mapungubwe is known as the first class-based social system in southern Africa.

5. Baguirmi Kingdom 

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The Baguirmi sultanate was existent during the 16th and 17th centuries, southeast of Lake Chad (now Chad). With the Islamic influence, the empire took up the judicial and administrative procedures. Though defeated by the Kanem-Bornu empire, she bounced back and never failed to exercise her strength and prowess when it was needed – either defending or expanding her borders. Descendants of this kingdom still reside in what is now known as the Baguirmi department with their leaders bearing the same titles that they did centuries ago.

4. Wadai Empire 

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Over shadowed by the kanem-Bornu empire but still significant especially in the relentless fight against the French domination; they also rejected the re-incorporation into Darfur. Strategically located in the Central African Republic, the Wadai empire helped in the patronage of trans-saharan traders en route. The post-reign of Muhammad Sabun (r. 1804 – c. 1815), marked the expansion of the empire. The next ruler took advantage of the location to explore business strategies making his own trading coins and also sourced for fire arms and military advisers from North Africa.

3. Luba Empire 

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Luba people have a history of violence and are the largest ethnic group in the democratic republic of Congo. The pre-colonial empire was found by the Nkolongo dynasty and is known for having skilled farmers, fishermen and hunters; making the best out of their grasslands. They are overly rich with natural resources and also known for trading of pots, oil, copper and masks; they practically ruled the eastern and central African trades. Their mode of administration soon dispersed to Angola and Zambia. With the result of imperialism and their venture into slave trade, the empire fell and split into two factions.

2. Lunda Empire  

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Lunda grew out of  a simple village called a gaand. The founder of the empire was Mulopwe Chibunda Ilunga, originally from Luba Kingdom. His son, the successor expanded the empire to the point that they controlled a large land mass- 300 000 square kilometers in the nineteenth century. The battle of succession caused a tear in the kingdom, giving rise to the indiscriminate creation of other independent kingdoms.

1. Bornu Empire


Bornu Empire used to be prominent in (present day) northeast Nigeria from 1380 to 1893, an extension of the Kanem empire by the Sefuwa Dynasty. An unresolved conflict led to the migration of the Sefuwa dynasty formerly from the present day Chad to the present day Bornu State. The Bornu empire soon became very large encompassing ancient areas of Chad, Niger and Cameroon. The habitats of the empire were nomadic in nature and the empire also thrived well in commerce, irrespective of military interjections and internal conflicts. The office of the sultan still exists till today. Kanuri people are descendants of the Kanem -Bornu people. The Bornu empire is an extension of the Kanem empire.


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