This is the first write-up leading to a two part essay on terror in Sahel. The first part is mostly the historical background of the current situation. *This has been written as an awareness and prayer call for believers*.
Taking a break from the Covid nightmare, more like pushing my mind to distraction, yours truly surfs into the beautiful and haunting desert region of Saharaˢ, Northern Africa. If you are not good at geography, time to get the Atlas out !! The Sahara covers about 10 million sq. kilometres. My focus is on a smaller section to the South of the Sahara, called Sahel. It borders the Sahara desert in the North and the lush tropical forests in its South. Sahel was always at the centre of battle lines between the nomadic tribes in the North and the agriculturalists in the South. That doesn’t take away from it’s breathtaking beauty. You get both the desert and the green patches all tumbled into one.
Trading and slave caravans regularly traversed caravan routes from the North of Africa through Sahel and then to the African kingdoms in the tropical South. There was money to be made in trading of gold, salt, ivory and slaves. The slave tradeˢˡ in my view was quite lucrative, but it extended mainly to the North Africa and Arabia. The first instances of trans-Sahara slave trading were recorded by the Greek historian Herodotus in 5th century BC. The introduction of camels spurred this trade later on.
The Sahel region was part of various kingdomsˢᵃ in the past, the most notable being the Ghana kingdom, the kingdom of Mali and the Songhay kingdom. Islamic conquest of North Africa was nearly complete by 700 AD. Islamic jihadis then proceeded to attack and capture the Iberian peninsula, ( current day Spain and Portugal ), and continued raids right into France where they were successfully stopped in the Battle of Toulouse, 721 AD. The conquests were stopped but Islamic raiding partiesᴳ continued to pillage and ravage right up to Lyon and Autun in France. This started the clash of civilisations. The Arabic pan-Islamic ideology clashed with European-Christian belief system. The Islamic conquest of Iberia was brutal.
The Iberian peninsulaᴵᵇ continued under Islamic rule. Notably, the Sahel Berber Almoravid Kingdom had, in 11th century AD, cut a swathe starting from Audaghost in Sahel up into N. Africa and then into Europe, to re-capture the Iberian peninsula, called al-andalus, in Arabic. This was a purely a jihad started by the Sunni Maliki zealot Abdallah Bin Yasin. Islam had also made inroads into Sahelᴵˢ with the first Islamic king of Mali in 1300 AD, who made Islam the state religion. The city of Timbuktu emerged as the religious and commercial hub of Sahel by 1300 AD. Islamic jihad emerged as the creator of kingdoms later on, like the Fulani Sokoto Caliphateᶠ. If this was not all the Turkic Ottomanᴼᵗ Islamic empire in the East also started its rampage in Europe by 14th century AD and was at the gates of Vienna by 16th century AD. The Ottomans were known to indulge in slave trading of non-Islamic people, including Europeans. Slave trade picked up under Arab/Ottoman Islamic rule reaching it’s height between 16th and 19th century AD, fuelled by Barbaryᴮ pirate raids into Europe, reaching as far up as Iceland. Estimates of European slaves traded during this period range from .8 million to 1.2 million.
The Portugueseᴾ egged on by the crumbling situation in Europe and relentless Islamic (read Ottoman ) aggression, struck out seawards to find more resources. They were the European pioneers, striking out as far as Americas in the West and India via the Cape of Good Hope to the East. Their search for gold led them to West Africa and to present day Ghana, in 1471 AD. They were soon followedᶜᵒ by other European colonial powers like the Dutch, Spaniards, French and the British. The French garnered the lion’s share of the colonies in the Sahara — Sahel and West Africa. Indeed most of the countries in the Sahara today are French speaking. Slave trading also exploded with African slaves being shipped from the West Coast of Africa all the way to the new territories in the Americas, kicking off the infamous Trans-Atlantic slave tradeᵀˢ. The Portuguese kicked off the Atlantic slave trade in 16th century AD, followed by other European nations.
Arabs were replaced by European colonialists in the Sahara by the 20th century AD, when the whole of Africa effectively became a European colony. It is my view that if the Europeans had not discovered Africa and milked off its resources, they would have been subjugated by the Islamic Ottoman empire or various other Islamic kingdoms flourishing in the Sahara and Sahel. Current Jihadi chatter on the internet indicates that the Islamic re-conquest of Al-Andulus and larger Europe remains a major theme. There is history at work here.
After having their share of the African pie to the full, Europeans went into a reform mode, with various abolition lawsᴸ passed to ban slavery altogether. This did not mean that they relinquished their colonies or stopped sucking them dry of resources, just that they didn’t want to go into their former full destructive mode. Former colonies ( read USA and Canada ) in the Americas followed later. On the other hand Islamic kingdoms like the Ottomansᴼˢ and some of the North African/Arabic kingdoms were quite interested in keeping slavery going, often quoting sharia laws to back their claim.
It is interesting to note that both European Christians and Arabic/Ottoman Muslims extensively used religious scripture to justify the slave trade. Again, it was a conflict between two ideologies with Sahara being the battleground. The Europeans were never interested in spreading faith based Christianity, but a superficial sort of cultural Christianity. For example the king of Kongo accepted Christianity when the Portuguese arrived at his kingdom’s shores in 1483, but the Portuguese and then the Belgians kept subjecting the people of Kongo to inhuman treatment. Slave trading was rampant and Kongo slaves were shipped abroad to Europe and the Americasᴷᵒ. Slave trading effectively broke the back of the African civilisation and economy. Bit by bit, Europeans imposed their version cultural Christianity throughout the continent of Africa, but never could make inroads into the Islamic strongholds. Cultural Christianity was a hollow edifice and the the artificial ideology was steadily being replaced by Islam and communismᴿ, moving into the 21st century.
Move over to Part II of this essay, to catch the rest !
Cover Image — Acacia trees fill the plains near Wadi Archei in the Ennedi Mountains, Chad, Central Africa. Image attribute info — Image Atrribute
ᴿCommunists/socialists wield considerable influence ranging from DRC, to Angola and Zimbabwe, and also in the largest economy in Africa — South Africa. The socialist model was presented cleverly as an alternate to ‘apartheid capitalism’ in the 21st century. Soviet Russia and Cuba were the prime movers of communism in the 1960’s-70’s, currently CCP aka Chinese Communist Party, calls the shots throughout Africa with it’s Belt and Road Initiative. CCP cleverly masks communism under a layer of ‘international business’ policy, with easy loans being granted to greedy and corrupt African leaders. Once in the debt pincer, countries quickly realise that they will be unable to pay back and then CCP moves in for the kill, by demanding land and other concessions; usually leading to full-fledged military bases and communist influence.