Africa Digest

The Spread of Islam in West Africa: Containment, Mixing, and Reform from the Eighth to the Twentieth Century

The history of Islam in West Africa can be explained in three stages, containment, mixing, and reform.  In the first stage, African kings contained Muslim influence by segregating Muslim communities, in the second stage African rulers blended Islam with local traditions as the population selectively appropriated Islamic practices, and finally in the third stage, African Muslims pressed for reforms in an effort to rid their societies of mixed practices and implement Shariah. This three-phase framework helps sheds light on the historical development of the medieval empires of Ghana, Mali, and Songhay and the 19th century jihads that led to the establishment of the Sokoto Caliphate in Hausaland and the Umarian state in Senegambia.

Diseases of Poverty: Neglected Tropical Infections in Sub-Saharan Africa

In 1967, U.S. Surgeon General William H. Stewart declared that it was finally time “to close the book on infectious disease,” because the vast majority can be easily prevented and treated with simple, existing interventions.  Malaria is effectively and easily prevented using insecticide-sprayed mosquito nets that cost only five U.S. dollars each; despite this, more than 1 million deaths and over 500 million cases of malaria continue to occur each year.  In some countries, treatment of malaria cases accounts for nearly half of all government health spending.  The hard truth is that even in our era of vaccines and new drugs, millions of people around the world continue to suffer and die from infections like malaria that are largely forgotten by those living in the richest nations. 

Social Conflict and Political Violence in Africa

A growing fraction of the world's civil wars seem to be breaking out on the African continent, and in the last few decades it has acquired a reputation as a hotbed of violence and warfare.  Social conflict and political violence in Africa is a complex subject, and it will be useful to note a few trends in African civil violence, discuss a common (but misleading) explanations for civil wars in Africa, and then suggest two alternative framing for the patterns observed.