Definitely Limericks by Rory Ewins


One of my areas of limerick writing has been a series of country-related limericks about Africa. Rather than bury them in other pages, I thought I’d put them on display here.

It’s a continent full of vast plains
And huge deserts, which clearly explains
Why, in toto, it’s dry
(’cept for jungles), and why,
Down in Africa, I bless the rains.

Afrikaners are people who speak
Afrikaans, full of words like fabriek.
They’re also called Boers;
Britain fought them in wars
(Though in Africa, that’s not unique).

Carthaginian, Roman and Ottoman:
The Berbers got conquered a lot, oh man.
The French, too, were keen
On Algiers and tajine,
And Algerian wine got them blotto, man.

The North African city of Algiers, known to the Romans as Icosium, grew in importance from the tenth century onwards, particularly after the Moors were expelled from Spain. Algeria on the Barbary Coast, named for its original inhabitants the Berbers, became a haven for pirates until the French began their conquest of it in 1830. From 1848 France administered it as various départements equivalent to regions in France, and by the early twentieth century Europeans were almost a fifth of Algeria’s population. Muslim discontent, however, led to the Algerian War of 1954–62, which brought down France’s Fourth Republic and ended with the independence of the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria. One consequence was the decline of the Algerian wine industry, which had been substantial under French rule. Makers of the distinctive earthenware pots called tajines, though, in which casseroles of the same name are prepared, are still going strong.

After Portugal conquered the coast
Of Angola, its people would host
Them for 400 years.
Their legacy here’s
Left it Lusophone—almost the most.

Angola is the second-most populous Lusophone (Portuguese-speaking) country after Brazil. Portugal founded the African colony in 1575, which remained under Portuguese rule until 1975, when it became a Marxist-Leninist one-party republic. Civil war broke out the same year and lasted until 2002, since when the country has been relatively stable. Despite Angola’s vast mineral and petroleum reserves, most of its people remain poor; their life expectancy is low and infant mortality high.

Britain thought, “Rule Barotseland? Easy!
This domain on the upper Zambezi
Goes well with Rhodesia.
It’s protection, not seizure:
No need for its king to get queasy.”

Barotseland, home of the Lozi or Barotse people, was once an empire centred on what is now the western half of Zambia. In the late 19th century its king or Litunga, Lewanika, petitioned for British protection, but Britain instead arranged for the British South Africa Company of Cecil Rhodes to acquire it. Lewanika, realising he had been duped, attempted to reverse the deal, but Barotseland remained under Rhodes’s control, and in 1899 merged with North-Western Rhodesia to become the largest of the three Rhodesian protectorates, Barotziland-North-Western Rhodesia. This in turn merged with North-East Rhodesia to become Northern Rhodesia and eventually Zambia, in which Barotseland continues to maintain a distinct identity; in the 2010s, some Lozi leaders called for its independence.

As Basutoland’s name wasn’t new—too
Colonial (Britain was through, too)—
This enclave decided
A Kingdom provided
A chance to rebrand as Lesotho.

The British territory of Basutoland, home of the Sotho people (also known as the Basuto or Basotho), was briefly ruled by Cape Colony but became a British Crown colony of its own in 1884. The mountainous land, now surrounded by South Africa, became independent in 1966 as the Kingdom of Lesotho.

One part of colonial Bechuana-
land came to be known as Botswana.
Cape Colony took
All the rest, says my book,
The UK: How to Stay Top Banana.

My book must have been published in the 1890s, when Britain was still top banana in this part of Africa. This region was known as “the country of the Tswana” before it became the colony of British Bechuanaland and to its north the Bechuanaland Protectorate. Both were established in 1885 after the British put down two Boer republics, Stellaland and Goshen, which had seceded from the Tswana country. Ten years later, British Bechuanaland was annexed to the Cape Colony, eventually becoming part of the Union of South Africa. The Bechuanaland Protectorate, meanwhile, remained under British rule until 1966, when it became the independent Republic of Botswana.

The kingdom we knew as Benin
Was Nigerian—Edo, I mean—
Not the country next door.
It’s confusing, for sure.
On Dahomey, the French were more keen.

Modern-day Benin isn’t the same place that produced the famous bronzes, which was in southwest Nigeria, centred on Benin City in Edo State. The Republic of Benin was originally the Kingdom of Dahomey from around 1600 (when Europeans called the region the Slave Coast) until the French colonised it in 1904; it became the Republic of Dahomey in 1958 and gained its independence in 1960. After a series of coups and regime changes in the 1960s, its Marxist president renamed it the People’s Republic of Benin in 1975; it took its current name in 1990.

The Edo established Benin—
Not the country you’d nowadays glean
From a map, but a city
And kingdom, whose pretty
Good bronzes demand to be seen.

The Edo or Benin people of West Africa established the Kingdom of Benin around its capital of Edo (now Benin City) in the first millennium, when it was known as Igodomigodo; the name Benin dates from the fifteenth century, via the Portuguese. It gave its name to the Bight of Benin, after which the neighbouring country of Dahomey was renamed. The British occupied the kingdom in 1897, looting its famous bronzes in the process; today it is part of Nigeria.

Richie Cunningham isn’t so keen
On the sculptures and plaques of Benin,
But I hear that the Fonz is
A fan of these bronzes.
Happy days! For an art fan, I mean.

Biafra was next to Benin
On old maps, but it later would mean
A secessionist state
In Nigeria: hate
Came to dominate, then, on the screen.

The Biafran War of 1967–70, also known as the Nigerian Civil War or the Nigerian-Biafran War, was one of the first televised famines, after Nigerian troops blockaded the region and hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of Biafrans died of starvation. France and Israel supported Biafra in the conflict, while Britain and the Soviet Union were the main supporters of Nigeria. The defeat of the secessionists led to lasting negative consequences for the Igbo people of Biafra, and in 2021 the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) separatist movement declared that a second Nigerian-Biafran war had begun.

The Ewe would still, so much so, go
With reunification; French Togo-
land’s right over there!
But the British don’t care:
“You’re for Ghana, chaps. Togo’s a no-go.”

The Ewe (AY-way, EH-way or AY-vay) live to the east of the Volta River in Ghana and Togo, with small populations in Benin and Nigeria. Their land was in colonial times called Togoland, a German Empire protectorate from 1884 until World War I, when the territory was divided into separate administrative zones as British Togoland to the west and French Togoland to the east. In the 1950s a plebiscite was held on whether to integrate British Togoland with its Gold Coast neighbours further west. Some instead favoured reunification with the Ewe of French Togoland, but the vote overall went against them, and the following year British Togoland became part of Ghana. French Togoland, meanwhile, became the independent Togolese Republic, or Togo, in 1960.

Ouagadougou, once Upper Voltese,
Is Burkinabè now; after these
People broke free from France,
They—no fuss—took the chance
That Burkina plus Faso would please.

The area around Ouagadougou, the capital for centuries of the Mossi Empire, was colonised by France in the 1890s. First incorporated into French West Africa, it became French Upper Volta after World War I, but in the 1930s was split between Côte d’Ivoire, French Sudan and Niger, until France re-established it after World War II. It achieved independence in 1960 as the Republic of Upper Volta, and changed to its name to Burkina Faso two decades later.

In our home here in Africa, kings
Ruled Burundi for years, but time brings
Many changes. Outsiders
Took charge, and they tied us
To Rwanda next door, silly things.

Burundi is one of the few sub-Saharan countries whose borders reflect pre-colonial times. A kingdom from the 16th century onwards, it was colonised first by Germany and then, after World War I, by Belgium. Germany incorporated the kingdom into its colony of German East Africa, along with Rwanda and Tanganyika, while under Belgium it was part of Ruanda-Urundi, a League of Nations mandate and then UN Trust Territory. Local political institutions were maintained, so when Burundi became independent in 1962, triggered by revolution in Rwanda, it was again as the Kingdom of Burundi, although this was short-lived: in 1966, after a series of coups, it became the Republic of Burundi. Under what was in effect a military dictatorship it suffered civil war and genocide, as its Tutsi and Hutu peoples fought for control. Genocide and civil war returned in 1993, with war persisting until 2005. Violence and unrest continue to plague the country, one of the poorest in the world.

It was German-ruled once, Cameroon,
But a war broke out—great—and then soon
France and Britain both shared it,
Until, ill-prepared, it
United to sing its own tune.

The West African protectorate of Kamerun (established in 1884), one of the many colonial possessions Germany lost in World War I, was succeeded by two League of Nations mandates, French Cameroon and British Cameroon. After five years of civil war, which continued for another four beyond independence, French Cameroon became the Republic of Cameroon in 1960, then was joined in 1961 by the southern part of the British Cameroons (the north becoming part of neighbouring Nigeria) as the Federal Republic of Cameroon, approximately 20% Anglophone and 80% Francophone. The federal system was abolished in 1972, a move viewed by Anglophone Cameroon as annexation by Francophone Cameroon; a secessionist movement arose in the former in the 1990s. The Anglophone region’s unilateral declaration of independence in 2017 as the (as yet unrecognised) Republic of Ambazonia has led to an ongoing guerrilla war.

Its Castilian rulers, I’ve heard,
Were colonial vanguards; absurd
That these cruel pioneers’
Early genocide here’s
Made me think of a small yellow bird.

Various European powers set their sights on the Canaries in the Middle Ages, but none conquered them until the 15th century, when French-Norman explorer Jean de Béthencourt was proclaimed king of the Canaries by the Pope and made the islands a vassal state of Castile. After four decades of this Kingdom of the Canary Islands, which ended after Portuguese intervention, the Castilian crown took over, and today the islands are part of Spain. The conquest of the Canaries was arguably the first example of modern European colonialism in Africa, and the resulting devastation of the indigenous Guanches an early case of genocide.

Romans called it Canaria; that’s
’Cos of dogs, not the birds. And not cats.
If they’d seen Tenerife
Years before, my belief
Is we’d know it as Freakin’ Huge Rats.

(In Latin, of course.) The Canary Islands take their name from the group’s third largest island, today Gran Canaria or Grand Canary. Pliny claimed that its name was because of the dogs of the island, although later visitors didn’t find any. Its larger neighbour of Tenerife was once home to a species of giant rat that grew to over A METRE LONG from tip to tail, Canariomys bravoi, which was wiped out after North African people arrived and brought cats with them. Must have been some tough ol’ moggies... which might also explain the islands’ lack of canaries.

The Cape Colony started out Dutch:
Afrikaans-speaking Boers and such.
But they lost their good hope
When the British said, “Nope,
It is ours,” which they didn’t like much.

The Cape Colony, also known as the Cape of Good Hope (after the famous geographical feature), was established in the 1650s by the Dutch East India Company and ruled by it until 1795, when it was occupied by France and then promptly taken by the British. The British handed it to the Napoleonic vassal state of the Batavian Republic, but seized it again when relations with France deteriorated; it then remained under British rule until the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910. Many Boers, the descendants of Dutch colonists, trekked out of the Cape to establish new colonies inland; two of these, the Transvaal Republic and the Orange Free State, fought the British in the Boer Wars of 1880–81 and 1900–02.

The governor’s voice had turned quavery:
“Cape Verdeans must display bravery.
We’re down on our luck
Since our fortunes were struck
By the global decline in... [cough] slavery.

The uninhabited Cape Verde archipelago west of Senegal was discovered and colonized by the Portuguese in the 15th century. Its location made it a key stopover in the Atlantic slave trade, and a thriving home to merchants and pirates, but it declined after the suppression of slavery in the nineteenth century. Its economy gradually recovered, however, and in 1951 the island group became an overseas department of Portugal, before achieving independence in 1975. Today it is politically stable and relatively successful; it has been considered a middle income country by the World Trade Organization since 2008.

Central African countries, unite!
Let’s cooperate rather than fight.
Now that ECCAS unites us,
And CEMAC invites us
To trade, both are keeping us tight.

The African Development Bank defines Central Africa as Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. All apart from the DRC are also members of the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC, established 1999) and share a common currency, the Central African CFA franc. The United Nations adds Angola, Burundi, Rwanda, and São Tomé & Príncipe to its list of Middle African countries; together, all eleven are members of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), established in 1983 by members of the Customs and Economic Union of Central Africa (UDEAC) and the Economic Community of the Great Lakes States (CEPGL).

Fourteen countries use CFA francs,
As accepted by African banks.
There are two: one is West,
One is Central; it’s best
If you call both F.CFA, thanks.

The CFA franc, Franc of the Financial Community of Africa (originally the Franc of the French Colonies in Africa), is the name of two currencies, the West African CFA franc (currency code XOF) and the Central African CFA franc (XAF). Both have a fixed exchange rate to the euro: 100 CFA francs = 1 French franc, making a euro exactly F.CFA 655.957.

CFA francs are used in twelve countries formerly ruled by France in West and Central Africa (the onetime members of the AEF and AOF apart from Guinea and Mauritania, which withdrew to establish their own currencies), plus the former Spanish and Portuguese colonies of Equatorial Guinea and Guinea-Bissau.

It’s central, and African, and
A republic: this tropical land
Had a better name once
(Ubangi-Shari, you dunce!)—
Why’d it change? CAR is so bland.

The Central African Republic does exactly what it says on the tin. As Ubangi-Shari it was part of French Equatorial Africa before gaining autonomy and its new name in 1958 and independence two years later. The country’s first president, David Dacko, was overthrown in a coup by Colonel Jean-Bédel Bokassa, who declared himself President for Life and then, in 1976, Emperor of the Central African Empire. France overthrew Bokassa three years later and restored Dacko to power; he lasted two years before again being overthrown in a coup. A pro-democracy movement led to the CAR’s first multi-party elections in 1993, which after a decade of relative stability were followed by further coups, rebellion and civil war.

He’s an Emperor now? What’s the plan?
Change the name of his country, first, an’
Murder schoolchildren, then
Torture women and men?
That Bokassa’s a hell of a man.

Jean-Bédel Bokassa (1921–1996) was the military dictator and second president of the Central African Republic from 1966 until 1976, when he became Emperor Bokassa I of the Central African Empire. As Emperor he was treated as an international laughing stock, but taken more seriously once his regime started massacring civilians. After the death of 100 high school students in 1979, dozens of whom were reportedly beaten to death by Bokassa himself with his own cane, international outrage prompted France to overthrow his regime while he was out of the country.

In his absence Bokassa was tried and sentenced to death for the murder of numerous political rivals. He returned to the CAR voluntarily in 1986 and was promptly put on trial for fourteen charges, including treason, murder, cannibalism, illegal use of property, assault and battery, and embezzlement; he was acquitted of cannibalism, but found guilty of all other charges. His successor as president commuted Bokassa’s death sentence to solitary confinement for life, and he remained in prison until 1993, when he was released in a general amnesty for all prisoners declared by the same president. Bokassa died three years later at age 75 of a heart attack, leaving behind seventeen wives and fifty children.

Ancient Bornu, precursor of Chad
And successor to Kanem, once had
Its own empire. The French
Empire managed to wrench
It away from them, leaving Chad sad.

Chad has some of the richest archaeological sites in Africa: Sahelanthropus tchadensis, the oldest hominid skull yet discovered at more than 7 million years old, was found there in 2002. From the 9th century Chad was the centre of the Kanem Empire, which was succeeded by the Bornu Empire in the 14th century. Kanem-Bornu fell in 1893 after the French invaded; France then ruled Chad from 1900 to 1960, for much of that time as part of French Equatorial Africa. After independence, inter-ethnic tensions led to civil war, conflict with Libya, and battles with the Islamist militant group Boko Haram.

The Congo Republic left France
And engaged in a decades-long dance
With the Soviets. War
Split the country, before
An invasion. Now, peace? Little chance.

The Republic of the Congo, also known as Congo-Brazzaville (to distinguish it from neighbouring Congo-Kinshasa), the Congo Republic or simply either Congo or the Congo, was colonised for eighty years by the French from 1880 onwards, for almost half a century as part of French Equatorial Africa. After independence the country became a centre for left-wing exiles from all over Central Africa. In 1979, incoming president Denis Sassou Nguesso signed a 20-year friendship pact with the Soviet Union, but the latter’s collapse brought an end to the Soviet aid bolstering his Marxist-Leninist regime. Five years of multi-party democracy under a new president ended in civil war and invasion by Angola to reinstall Sassou Nguesso, who still rules the country today.

This country was known as Zaire
For a long time, but nowadays we’re
Back to Congo (Kinshasa):
River, rainforest, grass—a
Democratic republic, I hear.

The Congo River, known to the Portuguese as the Zaire (zy-EER), lent its name not only to the Congo Basin and rainforest and to Congo grass (Brachiaria ruziziensis), but to two countries, the larger of which is the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As the Congo Free State it was ruled by Belgium’s infamous Leopold II at the end of the nineteenth century before becoming a Belgian colony. In 1960 it became independent as the Republic of the Congo-Léopoldville, but suffered years of crisis. Its president Joseph Mobutu, who had renamed the country the Republic of Zaire, was forced out after more than thirty years in power, and it became once again the DRC (or Congo-Kinshasa, to distinguish it from neighbouring Congo-Brazzaville). After years of war, Joseph Kabila won the country’s first multi-party elections in 2006, but his decade as president saw further conflict, protest, sexual violence, and an Ebola outbreak.

The DRC is the 11th largest country by area in the world, and the most populous officially Francophone country.

The people of Comoros chose
To become independent, but those
On the island Mayotte
Said, “Jamais, we think not—
Our community’s French. Une bonne chose.

It is indeed a good thing for Mayotte that the Comoros (COM-oh-rose) have been too busy to invade the island, to which they still claim sovereignty. This island group in the Mozambique channel off Madagascar became part of the French empire in the nineteenth century and part of its colony of Madagascar in 1912. In 1974 the Comoros voted in a referendum for independence in three islands but against in Mayotte. The Comorian State declared independence in 1975, since when it has seen more than 20 coups or attempted coups; Mayotte, meanwhile, became the Department of Mayotte, an overseas region of France, in 2011.

What annoys our officials the most
Is when others use names they’re supposed
Not to use. Please instead
Use our French name, we’ve said:
Côte d’Ivoire n’est pas Ivory Coast!

European explorers divided the west coast of Africa into four coasts named for their main resources: the Pepper or Grain Coast, the Gold Coast, the Slave Coast and, between the first two (and to some extent overlapping them), the Ivory Coast, which was known to the Portuguese as Costa do Marfim and to the French as Côte d’Ivoire. The region became a French colony in 1893; from 1904 to 1958 it was part of French West Africa, and in 1960 it became the independent Republic of Côte d’Ivoire. Its government found the literal translations of the country’s name into other languages increasingly problematic, and in 1986 declared that it would recognise none of them. Bonne chance avec ça.

Darfur, in Sudan, was once not.
For ages, this Sultanate got
Its own way. Then Sudan
Took it over, and ran
The place poorly—insurgents got shot.

The Sultanate of Darfur was independent from 1603 until the First World War, apart from a period of rule by a Sudanese warlord in the late 19th century. In 1916 the British conquered it and made it part of Sudan, which neglected the region after gaining its own independence. Famine in the 1980s led to conflict and, from 2003, the War in Darfur, creating one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters before a peace agreement was finally signed in 2020.

Dji’see that Afar from Djibouti?
Dji’really? She sure was a cutie.
Dji’know, I might date her:
Dji’think I should later
Jam odes on an oud to her beauty?

The Afar are, along with Somalis, one of the two main peoples of Djibouti, a small predominantly Islamic country in the Horn of Africa. The Republic of Djibouti was ruled by the French prior to its independence in 1977; before the French, it was part of various kingdoms, sultanates and the Ottoman empire. The oud, an ancient instrument similar to a lute, is popular there.

Ancient Egypt grew out of the Nile
And developed the region in style:
A few pyramids here,
Mummies there. Today, we’re
Still enthralled by the Sphinx’s slight smile.

Ancient Egypt, one of the greatest civilisations in history, spanned three millennia, from around 3100 BC until its conquest by the Macedonians in 332 BC.

The greatest man Egypt would see
Under Ottoman rule was Ali—
Viz., Muhammad. Not that one
(The knock-people-flat one):
Its Pasha and leader. Yes, he.

Muhammad Ali (1769–1849), Pasha al-Mas’ud ibn Agha, also known as Muhammad Ali of Egypt and the Sudan, is considered the founder of modern Egypt. The Ottoman Albanian governor (Pasha) and de facto ruler of Egypt from 1805–48, he recovered it after its occupation by Napoleon and expanded its rule to encompass Sudan, western Saudi Arabia and the Levant. In 1831 and 1840 he launched attacks on the Ottoman Empire itself, but was repelled from Constantinople both times after other European powers intervened. After a brokered peace in 1842 he withdrew from the Levant in return for being granted hereditary rule over Egypt and Sudan for his dynasty, which persisted through the Khedivate, Sultanate and Kingdom of Egypt.

In Khedivate Egypt, the Brits
Came to stay (they took home a few bits).
With the onset of war,
Was it Ottoman or
With the Allies? Change followed, by fits.

In the last decades of Ottoman Egypt, the country was an autonomous Khedivate ruled by the Muhammad Ali dynasty, until the British invaded to quell a nationalist uprising and establish their influence. Egypt’s now-nominal rule by the Ottoman Empire ended with the onset of World War I, when the British established the protectorate of the Sultanate of Egypt; British influence persisted until, after a coup had overthrown the king, Britain unsuccessfully sought to reestablish control over the Suez Canal.

Modern Egypt has pyramids, sure,
But its story today holds much more:
A large population,
An Arab-world nation,
And headache to countries next door.

The Arab Republic of Egypt, successor to prior republics dating back to the end of the Kingdom of Egypt in 1953 and precursors back to ancient times, fought four wars with neighbouring Israel between the 1940s and the 1970s. In recent years it has been preoccupied with domestic unrest.

Equatoria, southern Sudan,
Was the dream of a trailblazing man,
Sir Samuel Baker:
From mountains to lake, a
Short-lived and utopian plan.

Equatoria was an attempt to create a model state in the African interior, driven by its first governor, Sir Samuel White Baker (1821–1893), an English explorer, officer, naturalist, big game hunter, engineer, writer and abolitionist who also held titles in the Ottoman Empire. Established in 1870 as an outpost of Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, and governed briefly by Major-General Charles George Gordon (“Gordon of Khartoum”), it came to an end in 1889 after a local revolt. Equatoria covered the southern half of what is today South Sudan and part of northern Uganda, ranging from the Imatong Mountains to Lake Albert (Africa’s seventh largest, which Baker was the first European to see). Its name persisted as part of Sudan, and in the second half of the twentieth century the region became a focus for the First and Second Sudanese Civil Wars, eventually resulting in the independence of South Sudan in 2011.

The land we called Swaziland is
Eswatini now. Jeez, what a swizz.
Whazzit possibly solved?
Was some hazard involved?
I suppose it’ll win you a quiz.

The landlocked Kingdom of eSwatini or Kingdom of Eswatini, bordered by Mozambique and South Africa, was established by the Swazi people in the 18th century. From 1903 to 1968 it was the British territory of Swaziland. Although the independent country’s name change in 2018 better reflects its name in Swazi, some of its people were unhappy with how the change was imposed by their king Mswati III, Africa’s last absolute monarch.

Ethiopia said, “Eritrea,
Please stay! If you go, there’s no way a
Secessionist movement
Can lead to improvement—
We won’t be a maritime player.”

Eritrea was part of various ancient kingdoms until its annexation by Ethiopia in 1580. Italy colonized it in the late 19th century and integrated it into Italian East Africa under Mussolini, but lost the region in World War II. After the war, Eritrea was first under British supervision and then became part of the Ethiopian–Eritrean Federation. Ethiopia annexed Eritrea (again) in 1962, leading to years of war, which ended with Eritrea’s independence in 1993—leaving Ethiopia landlocked.

Ethiopia didn’t quite miss
Out on colonization, as this
Was its fate after war:
It was six years before
It escaped from the Fascist abyss.

Ethiopia, known for centuries to Europeans as Abyssinia, has far too much history to fit into one verse. In 1895 Italy attempted to colonise it, but was defeated. A second attempt under Mussolini led to years of Fascist rule as part of Italian East Africa, during which Italy massacred civilians and used chemical weapons on Ethiopian forces. Since then Ethiopia has endured civil war, famine, over a decade of Marxist-Leninist military rule and terror, invasion by Somalia, Eritrea’s war of independence, and the Tigray War of 2020–22.

Addis Ababa, mid-Ethiopia:
Rastafarian smokers’ utopia.
(Such a highly salacious
Pursuit—goodness gracious!
What opened this dope cornucopia?)

Fernando Po, once Portuguese,
Became Spanish (and British, ish); these
Days it’s part of the mini
Equatorial Guinea,
As Bioko. Drum roll, if you please.

Can you hear the drums? Fernando Po, an island in the Gulf of Guinea now known as Bioko, was transferred in the 18th century from Portugal to Spain, who for three decades administered it from Buenos Aires across the Atlantic. The Spanish leased a base on the island to the British in the 1820s, but resumed control two decades later. In the 1920s it was united with the mainland territory of Río Muni to its south as the colony of Spanish Guinea. Anti-colonial movements in the 1960s, however, led to its independence as the Republic of Equatorial Guinea, one of the smaller African countries. There was something in the air that night...

French Gabon, the French Congo, French Chad,
Ubangi-Shari: now one. Aren’t you glad?
You can seamlessly plunder
Resources here, under
One rule: AEF’s. Wait, that’s bad...

French Equatorial Africa, or Afrique-équatoriale française, known in French and in English by its French initialism AEF, was established in 1910 as a federation of French colonies in Africa (the modern-day Central African Republic, Gabon, Chad and Congo-Brazzaville, plus at times part of what is now Cameroon) with a federal capital in Brazzaville, the base of its Governor-General. In 1934 it became a unitary entity with a single budget.

The AEF operated a similar concession system to Leopold II’s privately run Congo Free State, and like there its people experienced terrible atrocities at the hands of concession companies, especially in Ubangi-Shari. André Gide wrote in Travels to Congo (1927) of mutilations, dismemberments, executions, the burning of children, and villagers being bound to large beams and forced to walk until they dropped.

In World War II, after the defeat of the Vichy French in Gabon, the AEF became a centre for the Free French in Africa. During the Fourth Republic of 1946–58 it was represented in France’s parliament, until its territories voted in 1958 to become autonomous and then, in 1960, fully independent.

At the centre of Africa’s west
Were eight colonies Frenchmen loved best.
They collected them all,
Whether massive or small,
In this federal sprawl, donc j’atteste.

Most of West Africa (by area, at least) was part of the French colonial empire, and in 1895 its territories of Senegal, French Sudan (now Mali), French Guinea (now Guinea) and Ivory Coast were gathered—so I attest—into the federation of French West Africa (Afrique-Occidentale française or AOF). By its end in 1958 they had been joined by Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso), Dahomey (now Benin), Mauritania and Niger. The AOF adjoined the AEF to its east and Algeria to the north; its capital for most of its existence was Dakar.

Timbuktu is all ours! Très bien!
Now, let’s call our new prize French Sudan.
Oui, it’s quite a way west
Of Sudan, but we’d best
Avoid Mali, d’accord, if we can.

The French weren’t about to name their new colony after the Mali Empire, which at its peak in 1300 was twice the size of France and the wealthiest country in Africa. After conquering the region from their base in Senegal they governed it as Upper River, then as French Sudan. In 1899 parts of the colony were split off into others, and it went by a few different names until returning to French Sudan after the First World War. In 1958 it became the Sudanese Republic before proclaiming itself the independent Republic of Mali two years later.

For forty-two years, quite a long go
At being in charge, Omar Bongo
Ruled over the folk
Of Gabon; the old joke
Is to rhyme him with neighbouring Congo.

Gabon, a centre of the Atlantic slave trade for three centuries, became a French protectorate in 1838 and was officially claimed by France in 1885. From 1910 to 1958 it was part of French Equatorial Africa, eventually gaining its independence in 1960 as the Gabonese Republic. For over four decades it was ruled by one man, Omar Bongo (1935–2009); born Albert-Bernard Bongo, he took the name Omar in 1973 and added the second surname of Ondimba in 2003. Bongo became Gabon’s second president in 1967, and presided over an oil boom, which funded his family’s extravagant lifestyle and provided sufficient largesse to ensure his continuation in power; at the time of his death he was the world’s longest-serving head of government. He was succeeded as president by his son, Ali Bongo Ondimba, who was deposed in a coup in 2023.

Here’s the deal, folks. I won’t namby-pamby ya:
The name of this country’s The Gambia,
With a capital The.
They retained it, you see,
To avoid any mix-up with Zambia.

Yes, they really did. The small West African colony of The Gambia, part of the British Empire for centuries and a protectorate from 1894, was named for the Gambia River, and the definite article was retained in its name when it became independent in 1965 (and later became the Republic of The Gambia), even though the Gambia Colony and Protectorate was styled Gambia on some old stamps. Part of the rationale was to reduce confusion with Zambia in Southern Africa, which had also recently become independent.

Apart from its Atlantic coast, The Gambia is entirely surrounded by Senegal, and like the latter is predominantly Muslim; it was briefly (around 2016) styled the Islamic Republic of The Gambia.

As they searched for more land, what was left?
An East African chunk with some heft:
Deutsch-Ostafrika, seen
Until 1916,
Whose surrender left Deutschland bereft.

A colony of the German Empire from 1885 until the end of the First World War, German East Africa incorporated modern-day Burundi, Rwanda, most of Tanzania and a small region of modern Mozambique. It was established over the protests of the Sultan of Zanzibar, who claimed the region, after Chancellor Otto von Bismarck sent five warships to aim their guns at his palace. The colony became a focus of the East African campaign in World War I until allied forces drove the Germans out in 1916. At the end of the war it was officially awarded to Britain, although after negotiation Rwanda and Burundi went to Belgium and a small triangle of land to the Portuguese. The rest became the British colony of Tanganyika, which became independent in 1961. A few years later it merged with Zanzibar to become the United Republic of Tanzania.

Though we now call it Ghana, for most
Of two centuries, this stretch of coast
Was the Gold Coast, so called
As its metal enthralled
Early traders. “All shiny!” they’d boast.

The Gold Coast was a British colony on the Gulf of Guinea in West Africa from 1821 to 1957. As well as trade in the noble metal, ignoble Europeans were attracted to the area by the Atlantic slave trade. Britain administered four territories under the broad banner of the Gold Coast: the Gold Coast itself, Ashanti, the Northern Territories Protectorate and the British Togoland trust territory. Together these became the independent country of Ghana in 1957.

The grain of the Grain Coast was pepper.
A spicy cognomen, eh? Yep, a
Plum job, pre-Liberia
(Still but a theory): a
Pepper Coast pepper-sack schlepper.

Before this stretch of West African coast was settled by free-born and formerly enslaved African-Americans from 1820 onwards to become the colony and then the independent Republic of Liberia, it was known to European traders as the Pepper Coast or later the Grain Coast, after the melegueta pepper (Aframomum melegueta) native to the area. Also known as grains of paradise or Guinea grains, this close relative of cardamom was a popular substitute for black pepper in Europe in the 14th and 15th centuries. It has a black-pepper-like flavour with hints of citrus.

Two ex-colonies soon laid to rest
By the Cape prompt this trivia test:
Where was Griqualand East?
Failing that, please at least
Answer this: where was Griqualand West?

No? Anybody? Well, the Griqua were Afrikaans-speaking people of mixed European and African descent who in the 1860s founded a few short-lived states in southern Africa, two of which were the ones named here. Griqualand East, also known as New Griqualand, was located on the east coast of what today is South Africa near Lesotho, while Griqualand West was located in South Africa’s central north. Both were colonised by the British in the 1870s, but neither colony lasted more than a decade before they were annexed by Cape Colony.

I’ll give you three Guineas right now:
Equatorial, Guinea, -Bissau.
Not the old sort of guinea
You’d pay for a whinny-
ing filly, or African cow.

The three African Guineas are Equatorial Guinea on the Atlantic coast of central Africa (formerly Spanish Guinea, independent in 1968), Guinea-Bissau in West Africa (formerly Portuguese Guinea, independent in 1975, named for its capital Bissau), and the Republic of Guinea, also in West Africa (formerly French Guinea, independent in 1958, several times the population of the others).

The English coin known as a guinea contained approximately a quarter of an ounce of gold, often mined in the Guinea region of West Africa, which lies along the Gulf of Guinea. After it was demonetised in 1816 the term persisted in accountancy, representing 21 shillings (in modern terms, £1.05). Guineas were traditionally used in medical and legal invoices, in horse and greyhound racing, and in the sale of rams, although perhaps not so much for buying Sanga cattle from sub-Saharan Africa.

Madagascar once used to use francs
For its businesses, budgets and banks.
This French-derived cash
Du peuple malgache
Should be shortened to Fmg, thanks.

The Malagasy franc, abbreviated either to Fmg (for franc malgache) or MGF, was the currency of Madagascar for most of the twentieth century. In January 2005 it was replaced by the ariary, a denomination with which it had coexisted for many years, at a conversion rate of five to one. At the time of its replacement, 1 Fmg was worth €0.000087.

Here the gouverneur général comes;
En malgache et français, the man hums
As he munches red fruit,
Till an aide aims a boot
That lands right in the governor’s plums.

L’assistant est un insurgé! After Queen Ranavalona III signed a treaty making Madagascar a French protectorate in 1885, France seized the capital in 1895 and made the island a colony in 1897, ushering in fifteen years of insurgency which left 100,000 dead. The end of French rule was more peaceful, with the République malgache being established within the French Community in 1958 and gaining its full independence in 1960.

Flacourtia indica, known commonly as governor or governor’s plum, Madagascar plum, Indian plum, ramontchi and batoko palm, is a small shrubby tree cultivated in tropical regions as a hedge plant and for its deep red acid fruits resembling small plums. Its fruit are sweet and sour, with a texture and flavour similar to a plum.

The casbah’s a quarter for Moors,
A region more rockin’ than yours;
So for cultural clash,
Pack your cases and dash
To Morocco. Here, punk: some brochures.

Namibia’s Skeleton Coast
Is littered with shipwrecks. Like most
Of the country, it’s dry
And extreme. Death was why
Former colonies gave up the ghost.

The Namib desert along the south-west coast of Africa was a tempting target for an ascendant Germany, which in 1884 colonised it as German South West Africa—then waged genocide against its Herero and Nama people in the lead-up to World War I . After the war, South Africa effectively annexed the territory as South West Africa and later implemented apartheid there. The South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO) launched an armed insurgency in the 1960s, prompting the United Nations General Assembly to declare that South Africa had no further right to the territory and to recognise it as Namibia. Twenty more years of insurgency followed, in which the USSR, Angola and Cuba backed SWAPO, until South Africa withdrew. The Republic of Namibia finally became independent in 1990.

In the south-west of Africa lies
A desert that Germany spies
As a place to take over;
Afrikaners make over
Its name; “Independence!” it cries.

There were Bawol and Beetyo, and then
Denianke, Fuladu, and when
You’ve a little more room,
Khasso, Sine and Saloum,
Cayor, Wuli and Waalo: that’s ten.

But wait, there’s more: other traditional kingdoms that made up the French colony and later Republic of Senegal were the Kaabu Empire, Kasa, and the Imamate of Futa Toro. Many were 16th-century successors to the Jolof Empire, itself a 14th-century successor to the Mali Empire. The French gained a foothold in Senegal in the 17th century, but only established full control of what is now Senegal in the 19th; Cayor and Bawol or Baol lasted until the late 19th century, and the royal dynasties of the sister kingdoms of Sine-Saloum survived until 1969, when both their kings died and both were incorporated into the recently independent republic.

A Dakar driver’s jiving Miss Daisy
For calling his car-driving lazy:
“No Africa car
Driver strives in Dakar.”
All this punning could Senegal crazy.

There were Bophuthatswana and Venda,
Transkei and Ciskei: in the end, a
Quartet of sham nations—
Apartheid’s creations—
That the homeland approach would engender.

One feature of apartheid was the creation of Bantustans (which quickly became a pejorative term) or homelands for black people—ten in South Africa and ten in South West Africa—to concentrate different ethnic groups in separate territories. In the 1970s South Africa began granting some homelands nominal independence: first Transkei, then Bophuthatswana, Venda, and finally Ciskei (the so-called “TBVC states”). They were never recognised internationally, but had their own flags and stamps; all were abolished when apartheid ended.

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