Think you know the history of Africa? Think again. For any member of the African diaspora thinking of investing in Africa, understanding the history of the continent and context of individual countries is critical.
In a recent panel discussion at the School of Oriental and African Arts (SOAS), chaired by the eminent British African historian Gus Casely-Hayford, presenter of the BBC series Lost Kingdoms of Africa, Ugandan author and creative writing lecturer, Jennifer Nansubuga-Makumbi suggested that for many of her generation and the current, African colonialism was a point of detail. It was in the past and modern Africans that she was aware of were now looking to the future.
Many Africans share her positive perspective but there will be many that will disagree that colonialism was simply a point of detail to simply move on from. For many, the legacy is still very much around, whether it is on the streets of London, Kampala or Lagos or in the institutions encountered on a daily basis. But that is another story. The reason for the discussion was the screening of episode 6 of the late Basil Davidson’s ‘Africa: A voyage of discovery’ which traced the major developments of African history from the 1880s to the end of World War II. The episode titled ‘The Magnificent African Cake’ was part of a series of screenings by the Royal African Society.
The ‘Magnificent African Cake’ describes the ‘Scramble for Africa’ the establishment of colonial rule and how for the only time in history one continent owned another. The legacy has had a lasting impact on the continent and the African people. The title of this episode comes from Belgium’s King Leopold, speaking at the 1884 Berlin conference to carve up Africa where he declared his intention to get his “share of this magnificent African Cake.”
It has been 30 years since Basil Davidson presented his acclaimed documentary series Africa, and to this day, it remains the most authoritative televised work on the history of the continent. Andy Harris was 25 years old when the series was being developed in the two years prior to its launch at the United Nations on the 20th Oct 1983. Andy, one of the directors of the programme recalls spending his time scouring the continent looking for “old men” to give their personal accounts of their colonial experience of the Europeans in Africa.
Mick Csaky, Executive Producer of the series in his introduction to the screening gave a summary of Basil Davidson. He was born in 1914, was a decorated soldier, a secret agent and an anti-imperialist journalist. Above all, he was a historian who wrote 20 books on Africa. He believed in African independence and wanted to tell the story of Africa from an African point of view. He was 70 years old when he presented the series.
The series was produced as a collaboration between Channel 4, The Nigerian Television Authority, MBTV and RM Arts. It won many awards, including the International Film & TV Festival of New York Gold Award and has since been distributed, free of charge to many schools and colleges in the UK and Africa.
There can be no doubt that for a generation of Africans in the diaspora that may not be in touch with the detailed facts of African history or even doubt the authenticity or existence of African history before the Europeans, this series is required viewing. Episode 6 of the 8 part series is included below. The full series can be viewed on Vimeo: