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Resistance and Uprisings in the African Sahel

This map is part of a series of 19 animated maps showing the history of Europe's colonial expansion, 1820-1939.

Resistance and uprisings in the African Sahel

Until the early 1880s, there were few European colonies in Africa. 

As a result, African states, some quite ancient, others more recent creations, were able to establish or reinforce their existence during the 19th century. In the Sahel region, some ten states owed their existence to religious faith, military or administrative structures or trading networks. They had the capacity to offer real resistance to European penetration during the scramble for Africa.

Of these nations, the most important were:

The Mandinka Empire under Samori Ture. Based on Islam, this was a centralized and very prosperous state. Its capacity for trade facilitated the purchase of modern weapons for Ture’s army. This prosperity was based, in part, on the slave trade, as was the Bornu Empire ruled by the Sultan Rabah

-    The Toucouleur nation led by Sultan El-Hadj Umar and the Fula empires of Sokoto     and Macina, in all of which Islam was the cohesive factor.

-    In East Africa, the Mahdi Mohammed ibn Abdallah built up a nation by launching a    holy war against the Egyptians because of their submission to the British infidels.

Finally, Ethiopia. Modernized by Emperor Menelik II, Ethiopia expanded its territory. Its inhabitants practised a very ancient form of Christianity and this, together with the country’s historical links with Biblical sources and the early centuries of Christianity, allowed the Ethiopians to challenge European domination.

In 1896, Ethiopia pushed the Italian invader back as far as Adwa, but the fate of other African resistance movements was sealed by the material superiority of the European conquerors:

Samori was defeated by the French in 1898 and deported to Gabon, while the Sultan Rabah was killed in combat in 1900.

The Anglo-Egyptians destroyed the Mahdi’s army at Omdurman in 1898.

All the same, these resistance movements did not disappear altogether with the crushing of these African nations, as could be seen by the various uprisings : the “Mad Mullah” in Somalia up until the 1920s or in Niger, the Aïr mountains Tuareg, against the French in 1916.

Ethiopia was at peace for forty years but, after a very tough conflict, was finally defeated and the country was invaded and occupied by Mussolini’s troops early in 1941.