What is the African’s most dangerous weapon?

A journalist wrote in Lagos in the 1890s, “The Maxim-gun inspires the most profound respect.” The invention of this dreaded weapon hastened the fall of a lot of African kingdoms during the pre-colonial days that were prelude to the sovereignty of most African states.

Another European poet wrote of the power wielded by this machine-gun, “Whatever happens we have got the Maxim-gun and they have not.” Thus it was easy for Europeans armies of 2000 or less defeating African armies of 20,000 or more. However, it was not all easy sail to European armies despite this gun.

When the British government declared war on the Zulus, the plan was usual. Send in a force armed with machine guns and rifles and destroy the native army. Knowing the Zulu army had no cavalry and mostly armed with spears  and a few guns gave the British army confidence of defeating the natives.

Colonel Durnford was placed in charge of an army of 1800 men and stationed in Isandlwana. However, despite the declaration of war, the Zulu army was somewhat elusive and seemed to be avoiding battle. Except for British scouts spotting cattle herders and few men, there was no Zulu army out to face the Brits.

The British saw nothing on the plains until suddenly, a scout saw a few Zulus herding cattle then decided to give chase. But the Zulus again disappeared. The scout rode his horse to the point where the Zulus had vanished and saw a ravine hidden from the surface. And then he saw crowded in the ravine were Zulu warriors in full war regalia. The scout fled back to the rest of his men and the Zulus began to clamber out of the ravine to the surface.

The Brit army saw a long line of Zulus charging at them – about twenty thousand strong. From the British position it was clear the Zulus were moving in a formation like a horn. The boulders and tall grasses provided cover for the advancing warriors as they charged in bands and then disappear, charge and then disappear, all the while approaching despite the British guns roaring at them.

What Colonel Durnford and his men did not see as they were busy with the charging Zulu line, was that, the edges of the Zulu line was like the curved tips of a buffalo’s horn, and gradually circling them as the tip closed in with the men using grasses and rocks as cover.

The colonel did not understand the Zulu’s fighting strategy of the ‘O’, which can be broken down into the horn, the chest and the loins. The chest was the central part of the fighting line, which would keep the enemy busy by facing it; the horns at either side of the line would move into the sides and rear of the enemy to encircle it, even though one of the tip would stay hidden while only one worked the enemy force into the unseen ‘O’, the sudden onslaught of the hidden tip would catch the enemy totally unaware to complete the encirclement. While the loin was the reserved force, whereby the men often stood with their backs to the battle to prevent them excitedly rushing into battle the wrong moment.

Colonel Durnford and his men were late in seeing the trap. They had been shooting the Zulus like it was target practice and not noticed the circle. By the time the horn closed in on them, they began to fight desperately to break out of the circle. Colonel Durnford with 1500 of his men were killed. It was such a devastating blow to the Brit that they completely pulled out of Zululand and for several months did not attempt to relaunch the war.

In Ancient Egypt, Medjay-Nubians were the main force of the Egypt army and very skilled in archery. Models of this elite force were found in the tomb of a governor of the 11th dynasty, armed with arrows and bows to escort the governor to the great beyond (as the Egyptians believed in life after death). There are also relief pictures of Nubian warriors with axes and arrows on the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut.

When King Cambyses of Persia invaded Lower Egypt (modern north Egypt), he was warned by the Negus of Ethiopia not to advance southwards into Upper Egypt. He refused the warning and was badly defeated making him restrict Persian occupation of Egypt to the Lower parts. Alexander the Great did not bother extending Greek occupation southwards after receiving the same warning as Cambyses. When the Arabs came and had conquered Byzantine Egypt in March 641, they tried to extend southwards too, but the Nubian kingdom of Makuria (north of modern Khartoum in North Sudan) gave them bloody noses in two bloody battles. The Arabs then settled for a systematic spreading of their religion into the Sudan.

The United States would not easily forget Somalia in the early nineties when Mohammed Farrah turned the city against the US army, resulting to America’s subsequent hesitation in occupying warring countries without adequate resources. The Nigerian army in the nineties brought in another side to peacekeeping through peace enforcement by successfully quelling fierce civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone . International observers learned from those missions that sometimes rather than watch another Rwanda, peace enforcement could be a better option.

Africans embody the warrior spirit. Given the same material resources like their western counterparts, the Nigeria army – at least – have the reputation of exceptional abilities in combat or professionalism. St. Paul’s Bridge blown apart by Taylor’s rebels during the battle for Monrovia was repaired by the Nigerian Army Engineering corps and the bridge is still in use even after the war. The blood runs in us like the Nile, Limpopo and Zambezi run in the veins of the continent. However, that warrior spirit today should be transformed… transformed into resourcefulness.

Education is the weapon and our human resources the army. Hightime our universities became attractive. More Philip Emegwalis, more Charles Soludo, more Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and more Wagai Maathari. Like the warrior’s weapon would be a symbol of warning to the enemy so should we probably wear T-shirts saying… Warning, I can kill you with my brain!

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