A time of doctrinal strife and self-discovery.

In 1960 Harold Macmillan, then British prime minister, gave his famous “wind of change” message in Cape Town at the end of his tour of Africa. “The wind of change is blowing through this continent,” he said, “and whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact.”

Change! This is the crucial word in understanding the dynamics of African history. In his book Africa’s Search for Identity (1966), V. C. Ferkiss writes: “Africa is a land where people are on the march, imbued with new faiths, especially nationalism, and armed with confidence in their destiny. It is a continent rushing from darkness into vigorous, often violent awakening.”

Within the past two centuries, Africa has experienced three significant epochs. Like the Dark Ages of European history, Africa went through its dark period when little or nothing was known about it in the West. The northern part of the continent was separated from the south by a veritable iron curtain of Sahara desert. Its coasts were impenetrable and its forests, often called jungles, were impassable. Explorers described Africa as “a white man’s grave.”

Then came the period of colonization when, after the abolition of the inhumane slave trade, the tropical lands were sought partly out of curiosity and partly as sources of valuable raw materials. Once the conquest had taken place, the political and economic control was in foreign hands. As Donald M’Timkulu points out, “The goals of African society were set by others, and Africa existed for the benefit of Europe. Naturally, this was a period of cultural dislocation.” The Christianity that had twice before (in the fourth and fifteenth centuries) failed to penetrate into ...

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