General History of Africa
The General History of Africa (GHA) is a two-phase project undertaken by UNESCO from 1964 to the present. The 1964 General Conference of UNESCO, during its 13th Session, instructed the Organization to undertake this initiative after the newly independent African Member States expressed a strong desire to reclaim their cultural identity, to rectify widespread ignorance about their Continent’s history, and to break free of discriminatory prejudices. Phase One, which began in 1964 and was completed in 1999, consisted of writing and publishing eight volumes which highlight the shared heritage of the peoples of Africa. Phase Two, which began in 2009, focuses on the elaboration of history curricula and pedagogical materials for primary and secondary schools on the basis of the eight volumes of the GHA. Phase Two also focuses on the promotion of the use and harmonization of the teaching of this collection in higher education institutions throughout the Continent. Phase Two also concerns the implementation of these materials in schools in Africa and the Diaspora. The objective of both Phase One and Phase Two of the project is to re-appropriate the interpretation and writing of African histories and to demonstrate the contribution of African cultures past and present to the history of humanity at large.
An Overview of the General History of Africa
Volume I: Methodology and African Prehistory
Under the direction of J. Ki-Zerbo
Volume II: Ancient Civilizations of Africa
Under the direction of G. Mokhtar
Volume III: Africa from the Seventh to the Eleventh Century
Under the direction of M.M. El Fasi and I. Hrbek
Volume IV: Africa from the Twelfth to the Sixteenth Century
Under the direction of D.T. Niane
Volume V: Africa from the Sixteenth to the Eighteenth Century
Under the direction of B.A. Ogot
Volume VI: Africa in the Nineteenth Century until the 1880s
Under the direction of J.F.A. Ajayi
Volume VII: Africa under the Colonial Domination 1880-1935
Under the direction of A.A. Boahen
Volume VIII: Africa since 1935
Under the direction of A.A. Mazrui and C. Wondji
- "My own background, the experience I gained as a teacher and as chairman... taught me how necessary it was for the education of young people and for the information of the public at large to have a history book produced by scholars with inside knowledge of the problems and hopes of Africa and with the ability to apprehend the Continent in its entirety."
- - Amadou Mahtar M'Bow, former Director General of UNESCO (1974-1987)
The project encompasses two of UNESCO’s key priorities- Africa and Education. Africa, in terms of a response to urgent development needs at the national level and to accompany the regional integration process; and education because this issue is a fundamental human right and the very basis of development and responsible citizenry. African peoples expressed their desire to “decolonize” the history of their Continent in order to deconstruct the traditional prejudices and clarify the truth of the African past. The project also takes into consideration modern teaching tools, such as internet resources and multimedia platforms, to ensure that learning is an interactive discovery process. Africa was never cut off from the rest of the world, and benefitted from mutual exchange and influences with Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and the Americas. The slave trade, slavery, and colonization had a considerable impact on the fragmentation of the Continent. The African Diaspora that resulted contributed in a significant manner to the creation of new cultures and societies. The Pedagogical Use of the General History of Africa aims to develop curriculum that highlights the African contribution to the progress of Humanity, African shared values, interaction with the rest of the world.
In this perspective, the creation of the African Union (AU) and the implementation of the NEPAD philosophy of developing Africa-led solutions to African challenges offered a new and favorable context for a political leadership committed to African regional integration and provided a mechanism for addressing history teaching within the continent as a whole. Furthermore, the Action Plan of the Second Decade for Education in Africa (2006 to 2015), which emphasizes the strengthening of the links between education and culture and improving the quality of pedagogical content, constitutes an ideal framework for the implementation of the project.
Article 7 of the Charter of African Cultural Renaissance adopted in 2006 in Khartoum at the Heads of State Summit stipulates that:
- “African States commit themselves to work for African Renaissance. They agree on the need for reconstruction of the historical memory and conscience of Africa and the African Diaspora. They consider that the general History published by UNESCO constitutes a valid base for teaching the History of Africa and recommend its dissemination, including in African languages, as well as the publication of its abridged and simplified versions for wider audiences.”
(1964–1999) Following their decolonization in the early 1960s, African countries expressed a strong desire to recover their ownership of their past and the production of knowledge regarding their heritage. The African member states of UNESCO were then called upon to re-affirm their cultural identities and reinforce the common aspiration to achieve African unity. Part of these efforts included combating certain preconceptions including the assumption that the lack of written sources made it difficult to engage in serious study or production of African history. The conventional reading of history also needed to be challenged in order to depict a more accurate picture of the African continent, of its cultural diversity, and its contribution to the general progress of humankind. Thus, at its 16th Session (1964), the General Conference of UNESCO invited the Director-General to undertake the elaboration of a General History of Africa. In this framework, the General History of Africa was written and published in eight volumes, with a main edition in English, French and Arabic. Additional publications have been produced in Chinese, Portuguese, Russian, German, Italian, Spanish, and Japanese. Furthermore, twelve studies and documents on related themes as well as an abridged version of the main edition in English, French, Kiswahili, Hausa and Fulfulde were published. This tremendous undertaking represented thirty five years of cooperation between three hundred and fifty experts from Africa and from the rest of the world. This work involved some of the most eminent African scholars such as Cheikh Anta Diop, Joseph Ki-Zerbo, Theophile Obenga, Ali Mazrui, Gamal Mokhtar, Bethwell A. Ogot, etc.
The main preoccupation of Phase 1 was to provide a culturally relevant perspective based on an interdisciplinary approach with a focus on the history of ideas and civilizations, societies and institutions. To that end, it was envisaged to develop an African centered point of view using African sources, such as oral traditions, art forms and linguistics. It was decided as well to adopt a continental perspective of Africa as a whole avoiding the usual dichotomy between North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa. This shift in perspective is reflected by the significant number of renowned African scholars who contributed to this project as members of the International Scientific Committee, editors and authors.
To tackle this task, made all the more complex and difficult by the vast range of sources and the fact that documents were widely scattered, UNESCO had to proceed in stages. The first stages (1965 to 1969) consisted of gathering documentation and planning the work. Several meetings were held and campaigns were conducted in the field to collect oral traditions and establish regional documentation centers. In addition, several activities were undertaken: including the collection of unpublished manuscripts in Arabic and Ajami (manuscripts in African languages written with Arabic alphabet), the compilation of archival inventories and the preparation of a Guide to the Sources of the History of Africa, culled from the archives and libraries of a number of European and Asian countries and later published in nine volumes.
The second stage (1969 to 1971) was devoted to the deliberation of complex substantial and methodological questions raised by the compilation of the GHA. It was decided that the GHA should cover three million years of African history, in eight volumes, published in English, Arabic, French, and in African languages such as Kiswahili, Hausa, and Fulfulde.
The next stage (1971 to 1999) consisted of the drafting and publication. This began with the establishment of the International Scientific Committee to ensure the intellectual and scientific responsibility of the work and oversee the drafting and publication of the volumes. During this period, UNESCO organized scientific colloquia and symposia on topics related to the history of Africa most of which were overlooked by researchers. The results of these meetings were published in a series of books entitled “UNESCO Studies and Documents -The General History of Africa”. Twelve studies were published covering a wide range of subjects including: the Slave trade, relations between Africa and the Arab world, relations between Africa and the Indian Ocean,and the role of youth and women.
Bearing in mind that history teaching is instrumental in shaping peoples’ identities and in understanding the common ties underlying the cultural diversity in any region, and in order to implement one of the goals initially set for the General History of Africa by its initiators, UNESCO, in collaboration with the African Union Commission, launched in March 2009, Phase II of GHA entitled the “Pedagogical Use of the General History of Africa” project.
(2009–present) In 2009 UNESCO launched the second phase of the project focusing on the implementation of the GHA entitled, the “Pedagogical Use of the General History of Africa.” This phase, which constitutes a priority in the cooperation between UNESCO and the African Union, falls within the framework of the Action Plan of the Second Decade for Education in Africa (2006–2015). The Action Plan emphasizes the strengthening of the links between education and culture and improving the quality of pedagogical contents such as internet resources and audiovisual materials. It further corresponds to recommendations made following several meetings organized by UNESCO before and after the completion of the first phase of the GHA.
In order to successfully implement the second phase of the project, UNESCO has had to have the project validated by different African institutional and academic stakeholders including the Ministers of Education and various professional associations including historians, history teachers, pedagogues, et al. At the Ministers of Education of the COMEDAF meeting in November 2009, the African Ministers reaffirmed their support for the project and recalled the political leadership of the African Union on the Project. This continued cooperation between the Commission of the African Union and UNESCO has been necessary to facilitate the appropriation of the project.
“This project gives us a formidable opportunity to develop a pan-African vision that also highlights the contribution of African cultures and civilizations to humankind.” 
- - Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO June 16, 2010
The main objective of Phase Two, entitled "The Pedagogical Use of the General History of Africa" is to contribute to the regenerating of the teaching of African history on the basis of the General History of Africa in African Union member States with the view to promote the African regional integration process. In particular, the project aims to:
- develop common content for use in African primary and secondary schools, for three different age groups (under 12, 13-16 and 17-19) as well as an historical atlas and an educational CD-Rom. The content could, if necessary, be adapted to local circumstances without changing the regional scope;
- improve teacher training in light of the latest findings in historical research and advances made in the methodology and methods of history teaching. A teachers’ guide will be elaborated and guidelines to reinforce initial and in-service training of primary and secondary school teachers will be defined.
- promote the teaching of and harmonize the use of the GHA in higher education institutions across the continent.
To implement the project, UNESCO established a ten-member Scientific Committee (SC) representing the five sub regions of the Continent, entrusted with the intellectual and scientific responsibility of the project. The committee members were designated by the Director General of UNESCO in February 2009 after a series of consultations held with different partners and stakeholders including: the African Union, the Africa Group of UNESCO, the donor country, the African Historian Association, the International Association of Historians, and members of the former International Scientific Committee established for the first phase of the Project. These members are: Professor Alaa El-din Shaheen (Egypt), Professor Taieb El Bahloul (Libyan Arab Jamahiriya), Professor Sifiso Ndlovu (South Africa), Professor Amakobe Florida Karani (Kenya), Professor Adame Ba Konaré (Mali), Professor Jean Michel Mabeko-Tali (Congo), Professor Lily Mafela (Botswana), Professor Elikia M’bokolo (D.R. Congo), Professor Mamadou N’doye (Senegal), Professor Bahru Zewde (Ethiopia).
The aforementioned members were installed on February 24, 2009 in the framework of the Forum for African Regional and Sub-Regional Organizations to Support Cooperation between UNESCO and NEPAD (FORASUN) that took place in Tripoli (Libya) from February 20–24, 2009, UNESCO organized an Expert Meeting on March 16–17, 2009  to discuss the proposed methodology for the implementation of the project. This meeting was immediately followed by the first meeting of the Scientific Committee (SC), which took place from March 18–20, 2009.
Major Developments Since the Launch of Phase Two:
1. Organization of an Expert Meeting:
UNESCO organized on March 16–17, 2009 an Expert Meeting which gathered 35 experts from the different African sub regions, including members of the former International Scientific Committee for the first Phase of the GHA, editors and authors of the GHA volumes, representatives of African sub regional organizations et al. During the meeting, the experts discussed the proposed methodology for the implementation of the project and made concrete recommendations to the SC.
2. Organization of the 1st Meeting of the SC:
The SC for the Pedagogical Use of the General History of Africa held its First Meeting from March 18–20, 2009 at UNESCO HQ. The Committee:
- Elected its Bureau (Prof. Mbokolo, Chairman; Prof. N’doye, 1st Vice-Chairman; Prof. El Bahloul, 2nd Vice-Chairman; Prof. Mafela, Rapporteur)
- Determined the functioning of the Committee
- Discussed the methodology and activities proposed for the implementation of the project
- Examined the recommendations formulated to that end by the Experts Meeting
- Stressed the need to make the most of any relevant political and cultural events to present the Project and to advocate for it
3. Endorsement by the Executive Council of the African Union (AU)
- During its Sixth Ordinary Session held in Khartoum, on 24–25 January 2006, the African Union Heads of States took a decision regarding the strengthening of the links between education and culture (Assembly/AU/dec.96 (VI)), as one of the main focus areas of the Plan of Action for the Second Decade of Education for Africa (2006-2015)
- During its Fifteenth Ordinary Session held in Syrte (Libya) from 24 to 30 June 2009, the Council adopted a decision in which it expressed its support for the project and urged the African Union Member States to contribute to its implementation (Decision EX.CL/Dec. 492 (XV) Rev.1).
4. Endorsement by the Conference of Ministers of Education of the African Union (COMEDAF)
- During their Second Extraordinary Session (COMEDAF II+), which took place from 4 to 8 September 2006 in Maputo (Mozambique), the African Ministers of Education pointed out in their Declaration the teaching of African history as one of the issues critical to successfully eradicate deficiencies in Africa’s Education systems and to ensure that education plays its role in the vision of the African Union and this, within the Second Decade of Education for Africa.
- During their Fourth Ordinary Session (COMEDAF IV) held in Mombasa (Kenya), 23–26 November 2009, the African Ministers, in their communiqué, reaffirmed their support for the project and recalled the political leadership of the African Union on the project.
5. Designation of Focal Points within the African Ministers of Education (MoE):
46 African Ministers of Education out of 51 have designated focal points within their ministries to participate in and follow up the implementation of the project.
6. Designation of the drafting Committees for the elaboration pedagogical tools on the basis of the GHA:
The SC for the project met from 24 to28 October 2010 to designate members of the drafting committees for the common pedagogical content and teachers guides. The Committee selected 30 experts who will compose the above mentioned committees taking into account competency, gender, and geographical balance.
- "Address by Ms Irina Bokova Director-General of UNESCO on the occasion of the Regional Conference on the "Pedagogical Use of the General history of Africa"". Address by Ms Irina Bokova Director-General of UNESCO on the occasion of the Regional Conference on the “Pedagogical Use of the General history of Africa”. UNESCO. 16 June 2010. Retrieved 11 January 2011.
- "Report by the Director-General on the execution of the programme (34 C/5) (01 January 2008 - 30 June 2009) Coordination and monitoring of action to benefit Africa". Report by the Director-General on the execution of the programme (34 C/5) (01 January 2008 - 30 June 2009) Coordination and monitoring of action to benefit Africa. UNESCO. 24 February 2009. Retrieved 11 January 2011.
- "Pedagogical Use of the General History of Africa Expert Meeting". Pedagogical Use of the General History of Africa. UNESCO. 16–17 March 2009. Retrieved 11 January 2011.