Firstly, I just want everyone to know that I'm starting this thread for newbies to African history. Those who know nothing about it but want to learn! The goal is for myself and any others who are knowledgeable on the topic to answer questions for these newbies. So this will basically be an "African History for Dummies" thread. If you will. For now I'll just give a general 5 question Q and A to get things started. I'll also be updating the original post with more Q and As over time. So without further due, let's get started:
1.) Were African people still in the stone-age when Europeans and Arabs first made contact with them?
The answer to this question is no. African people possessed iron spears, swords, and even plate armor in some regions such as the warriors of the Kanem-Bornu Empire. Even the hunter-gatherer tribes of southern Africa were known to have been using iron tools that they acquired through trade with neighboring Bantu peoples. Iron smelting began in Africa roughly around the same time as it did in Europe and is believed by some archaeologists to have been discovered independently.
2.) Why were Sub-Saharan African civilizations less advanced than their European and Asian counterparts?
The Sahara desert prevented Sub-Saharan Africans from being directly linked into international trade. Though it was not an impossible barrier, it made trade and exchange of ideas significantly slower and less efficient. Technology spread almost seamlessly between Europe and Asia so inventions such as paper, writing, gunpowder, agriculture, bronze and iron technology appeared from coast to coast at a much quicker rate with shorter gaps in between. The same pattern existed for trade goods, crops and even diseases such as the Black Death which devastated Eurasian peoples in the 14th century.
3.) If Africans had such thriving civilizations, why are modern traditional African peoples largely agrarian farmers and herders?
The answer is simple, they are all that remains of traditional African peoples for two reasons. Reason number one is that they really didn't have anything to offer the large and thriving empires of Europe at the time. They were largely subsistence farmers and herders and lacked the quantities or qualities of goods that Europeans were looking for at that time in history. Secondly, they were not a threat to European powers as they were numerically and technologically inferior. In short, African civilizations that had large populations, powerful armies, wealth, power, influence, and control over resources and trade were looked upon by European colonizers as a massive threat to their influence in the region as well as a potential source of wealth and resources if conquered. This was all the reason they needed to take over these lands. Small tribes in the middle of the deserts and jungles were non-factors which is why they were largely unassimilated into Europe's African colonies. And left to live out their lives as they had been before. On the other hand, those who were part of centralized African states are now integrated into Africa's modern cities and towns.
4.) So why are there no ruins of these great African civilizations?
The majority of African cities and towns were burned down or destroyed during colonization such as the cities of Kumasi and Benin City. Others have simply been replaced by modern buildings. However ruins of some of these kingdoms do in fact still exist all throughout the African continent. Other parts of Africa still retain cites that are entirely composed of traditional African architecture such as the city of Timbuktu, Mali.
5.) Can you really consider Islamic states to be African creations? Weren't they ruled by Arabs?
To classify an Islamic African kingdom as an Arabic creation would be no different than crediting the peoples of Anatolia with European civilization just because they were largely Christian kingdoms. Seeing as Christianity has its origins in Anatolia. Or classifying the Chinese civilization as a creation of Indian people, just because Bhuddism had it's origins in India. The overwhelming majority of Islamic empires in Sub-Saharan Africa were founded and ruled over by indigenous peoples including Songhai, the largest empire in the region's history, founded by the Songhai ethnic group from which it takes its name. Though Arabic Muslims traded and introduced things such as the Arabic writing system and camels to these people, they very rarely exercised any form of authority over any of the states that they traded with nor did they ever really found any states of their own in the region. Arabic merchants and explorers would introduce their religion to traditional states that had already been firmly established and in most cases, willingly converted to Islam. In North Africa on the other hand, Arabic empires regularly carved out large empires directly ruled by Arabic people.