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Monday, 08 August 2016 17:31

Book Review: Bethwell Ogot’s epic narrative on African history

Written by Musungu Okatch
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This year, I decided to wade into the murky waters known as the history of Africa. Little did I know that within the Murk was buried the treasure of information that would make me find closure.

The first book on my reading list was by Ivan Van Sertima, African Presence in Early America. It is an easy read, with compelling narrative of the Olmec civilization and a final nail on the head that the Olmec civilization was truly African. This book has received a lot of condemnation in the history world. I will come to that one day.

Meanwhile, it would be Great African Thinkers Volume 1 Cheikh Anta Diop that changed my perception of Africa and made more ‘curious’ juices flow into my brain. The book talks about the work of Cheikh Anta Diop in bringing closure to the question of the origin of man. Anta Diop was among the first Africans from Africa to study up to doctorate level thanks to the French policy of assimilation. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that he studied alongside one of Marie Curie’s relatives. This was when he was pursuing his degree in Physics. However, events would force Diop, to forsake Physics and turn to history.

In history, Diop would study anthropology and specifically Egyptology. He gained skills in translating some sections of hieroglyphics and use his scientific skills to prove that the founders of Egyptian Civilisation were black. Moreover, he did a lot to encourage African scholarship in the ancient African civilization. Diop is long dead.

However, there is one man who has brought this African historical discourse back to life especially to the East Africans, the home of early man. That aside, the man I am referring to is none other than Prof. Bethwell Ogot. In his book, ‘History of African Civilisation in the Nile Valley’, 2016, he opens the curiosities by looking at controversial issues that might shake ‘a little’ the foundations of Christianity.

Eunice Kamaara, an editor of an upcoming young adult novella ‘The High Road’, wrote an interesting review of Ogot’s book in the Kenyan newspaper, Saturday Nation, July 30, you might want to take a peek at it at some point. For those with love of reading historical books, this is the book to watch for. Personally, I believe, Africans have never found the point of departure, the European have the renaissance period to thank for. The Asians have Mesopotamia as their point of departure. Therefore, Africans should look at the Nile Valley civilizations as their point of departure.

It should be noted that, Africans in diaspora have embraced the Nile Valley civilizations and are doing pretty well. The noted Doctor cum historian Charles S. Finch has done rigorous studies of African medicine to a point of realizing that the Baganda were performing Caesarean Delivery before it was well established in Europe. With such knowledge, Africa would stop its overdependence on the West and build its own progress. Suffice it to say however, few have knowledge of these histories.   


Back to Prof. Bethwell Ogot’s book, one of the questions that come to mind is, why should it be a core book of African studies? Well, for starters, it has been written by a man who has spent over half a century studying the history of human beings. Secondly, Ogot has been reputed as one of the great African Thinkers besides J. F. Ade Ajayi, A. Adu Boahen, Cheikh Anta Diop, and Joseph Ki-Zerbo. Moreover, he has written various works in the field of history like ‘A Place to Feel at Home’ with F.B. Welbourn (1966), ‘History of the Southern Luo’ (1967), ‘Zamani: A Survey of East African History’with J.A. Kieran (1968) among others.

Besides the man’s numerous credentials, his book has various merits upon it. Firstly, it unravels the European fantasy to usurp the birthright of man and civilization from Africa. According to Eunice Kamaara, Ogot begins by putting the Egyptian civilization in the African context- which, she believes, ‘provides the necessary background to understanding that the tendency by western scholars to start human history with Pharaonic Egypt only serves to perpetuate the hiding of the African civilizations.’

Secondly, the book unravels the gradual development of human settlements and the evolution of agriculture. Furthermore, it highlights the origin of culture and the relationship between Egyptianan religious and Judaeo-Christian beliefs. In short the book is an extensive summary of the African civilization journey that culminated into the much more publicized Greek Civilisation and hero worship of people like Plato, and Pythagoras- who by the way was a student at the world’s oldest university at Heliopolis in Egypt.  

Therefore, this book should stand on the consciences of African policy makers, educationists, innovators and researchers. They should start from this basic history to help build a strong econo-politico and social development of Africa. I believe embracing such knowledge will help answer the most asked question: when did the rain start beating us?

I am currently reading ‘Blacks in Science- Current and Modern’ and ‘Nile Valley Civilizations’ as I impatiently wait for Bethwell Ogot’s ‘History of African Civilisations in the Nile Valley’. The book can be special ordered at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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