By Khalifa Hemed
Published July 1, 2017
Television viewers around the world shall every Saturday and Sunday for two months watch an eight-part series of African history.
The programme, titled The History of Africa with Zeinab Badawi, begins on July 1, 2017 and runs for eight weeks on BBC World News (DStv 400) every Saturday at 02:10 and 15:10 GMT and every Sunday at 09:10 and 21:10 GMT.
It is in order for presenter Zeinab Badawi to introduce the programme and to tell you more about it herself, don’t you think so? Here we go:
Africa is very close to my heart. I was born on the continent, in Sudan. Both of my parents were also born in Sudan, where they were educated in the British colonial system. They came from highly educated backgrounds and were both fluent in English, but neither of my parents could tell me much about Africa’s ancient history. They knew British monarchs and major historical moments about British history, but their knowledge of African history would barely cover an A4 sheet of paper. For me, this was a tragedy.
As an African journalist working for BBC World News, I have a wonderful opportunity to tell not only Africans but the world, about the rich, diverse and colourful history of the continent.
Through the epic BBC World News series The History of Africa with Zeinab Badawi,I take audiences on a journey of African history, which is based on a unique and comprehensive project undertaken by UNESCO, known as The General History of Africa, which began in the 1960s following the decolonisation of many African countries. The aim was to raise awareness and create a better understanding of the continent’s history from an African perspective so, naturally, the project was developed by the best scholars on the continent – from historians to anthropologists and archaeologists to palaeontologists.
The academics involved had compiled written records of Africa’s history from the origins of humankind to the modern era. Their work contains a whole wealth of knowledge – but it does not exist in an accessible form. I wanted to change that. I wanted to present their findings and their work.
The first episode of The History of Africa with Zeinab Badawi begins with rare access to the genuine bones of one of the most iconic discoveries in the field of archaeology: Lucy in Ethiopia, the oldest hominin ever discovered. Going right back and looking at the origins of humankind is the key to unlocking some of the fascinating, and crucial, stories later in the series.
In the second episode, we meet a descendant of one of Zimbabwe’s greatest kings who tells us how the oral tradition of storytelling is an important record of a community’s history. I take this thought with me throughout the making of this series. I hope the programme will be watched by Africans and non-Africans alike, and that my storytelling becomes an important record of the continent’s history. I feel particularly passionate that our African audience should know that they have a very rich history – a history that they can be proud of, whether the programme looks at the region of Africa they’re from or not. After all, this is a pan-African project and something for all Africans to enjoy and to celebrate.
In later episodes we explore how Egyptians ordered their societies and practised civic rights. We look at the continuity of tradition in northern Sudan with the customs practised by the ancient Kushites hundreds of years BC. It is a forgotten kingdom of ancient Africa – a land with a thousand pyramids – where queens could rule in their own right and where, at the zenith of its power, the kingdom was a superpower in Asia.
In what are modern-day Ethiopia and Eritrea the ancient kingdom of Aksum was known as one of the four greatest civilisations of the ancient world. We discover the little visited ancient sites of Eritrea, with their temples and monuments, and find out why the Ethiopians believe their kingdom was founded by the son of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon.
We trace the origins of the Berbers of North Africa and how they lived under Roman rule. And we look at the impact of religion across Africa, in particular the Islamic dynasties of northern Africa that ushered in the Arabisation that has shaped the region to this day.
Bringing this series together required much research and, aside from the volumes of work compiled for the UNESCO project, I also examined other sources such as additional written records, music, dance and customs that can tell us much about history and how people lived. I didn’t just want to speak to experts in the making of this series. I wanted to meet Africans from many walks of life, all of whom would help to tell the story of Africa’s history to ensure we all know more than an A4 sheet of paper’s worth of our history.