The story of Africa as we know it today goes something like this: Once upon a time, Europeans invaded the continent in a grand colonization of Africa, the result of which led to the ‘Scramble for Africa’ and, hence, the partitioning or splitting up of Africa by the invading powers to secure territories and avoid inter-European conflict. So, native empires and kingdoms disintegrated into sharp colonial borders, tribes regrouped in newly charted demarcations, and clans re-settled on claimed soil.
The fluid continental movement of kingdoms intersecting kingdoms and empires on empires now suffered the broad strokes of territorial mapping by the respective territory claimants, which eventually led to the Eurocentric map of Africa that we all recognize today.
Take the modern-day map of the Republic of Ghana for instance, where you will find the Akan people now locked within country borders. Yet, the pre-colonial Akan empire, ranging from Bonoman (what is now Brong Ahafo) to the Ashanti Empire to various other Akan states, stretched from present-day central Ghana to Togo and the Ivory Coast.
Just as interesting is the fact that long after the colonial era, the demarcating lines enclosing country borders by the audacious pencils and straight-line rulers of the Europeans remain intact and testifies to a history that has, literally, shaped Africa in the image of the western struggle for land, wealth, and power, more so than the deeds of the native inhabitants themselves.
Today, the map of Africa, on the face of it, tells a story of a continent made up of 54 countries; a story which is largely the brainchild of colonization.
But, what if it had been different?
An Alternate Africa
What if the Black Death of Europe, “one of the most devastating pandemics in human history”, had devastated Europe so much so that their recovery was sorely inadequate to spur the subsequent world explorations and, hence, the colonization of other lands never happened? What if the Europeans never colonized Africa? What if Africa was left to its own device?
These were the questions a Swedish artist, Nikolaj Cyon, sought to answer; cartographically speaking, that is.
Which is to say, Nikolaj Cyon sought to provide a cartographic answer to the question: What would the map of Africa have looked like if Europe had never become a colonizing power, let alone colonize Africa?
The glorious result of this thought experiment is the Alternate Africa below.
Nikolaj describes his work as “a map of an Africa that was or could have been if history would have played out a bit differently.” And in the spirit of Alternativeness, he calls this ‘Africa’ Alkebu-Lan which he says “was old Arabic for Land of the Blacks” (or possibly, the Cradle of Life). He is confident that after “a year of artistic research and crafting”, and without being a professional historian himself, the map “is a fairly accurate representation of the most prominent states and cultural groups in pre-colonial Africa though at times [it is] quite an anachronistic model.”
Even if the historian in you is bound to nit-pick on the scholarly exercise of ascertaining an alternate Africa (Alkebu-Lan, if you will) free from colonization and marked by tribes and kingdoms, the artistic effort is undoubtedly alluring as Nikolaj creatively turns our view of Africa upside down. Literally.
WRITER: Richard Yaw Baafi