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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


MOLL, Johan. Colonial names of countries in Africa before and after uhuru. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2009, vol.49, n.2, pp.305-320. ISSN 2224-7912.

This article inevestigates the most important general motives for name changing with toponymical changes being viewed as an ideological act by those invested with power to change a specific status quo in order to assert authority, legitimacy and self-esteem. Various concepts are touched upon: colonialism, imperialism, exploitation, anti-colonialism, decolonization and uhuru, the African word for freedom. During the period of decolonization this call for the shaking off of colonial oppression through the achievement of national independence echoed throughout the Continent. After decolonization and as black governments progressed, more patriotic symbols and ceremonies made their appearance to establish the importance of African heroism and noble deeds. After decolonization words like liberation and democracy, transformation, racism, divisive past became prevalent. The feeling among blacks was one of "centuries of wrong" during which the voice of Africans was silenced and trampled upon while they were treated as nothing more than colonized peoples. The central issue became the repressive colonial heritage and its detrimental effects on African identities. Africa had to be freed from the odour of its colonial past and what better place to start than reclaiming the African names of countries? The traces of colonialism had to be removed and the suppressed Africans healed by rethinking and repossessing the names of their countries. One of the questions that presents itself is the destabilizing effect of the European "scramble for Africa" when the Continent was carved up into political territories during the Berlin Conference in 1884-5. Britain and France acquired the largest possessions, but Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Belgium all took possession of regions in Africa. What becomes clear is that colonialism had a destabilizing influence on many ethnic groups. All this led to the disturbance of the local balances of power and ethnic separations where previously they did not exist and it also resulted in fierce enmity between African ethnic groups such as Ruanda, for example. An important strand is the call for uhuru and the development of an ethos of Afro-centrism which was reflected in the riddance of the so-called "colonial hangovers" and the changing of the names of places, towns and cities, leaders and events in truly national terms. More than hundred decolonized states made their appearance worldwide after 1945 when Western actions and views on the history and culture of subservient peoples were seriously questioned. Black states wished to redeem their self-respect through reinstating the original names given by the inhabitants to African areas and countries. The manifold colonial name changes of geographical areas and countries are discussed such as the present Democratic Republic of the Congo, the name of which was changed no fewer than nine times, and the Kingdom of Benin, which changed names five times. It appears that personal craving for power, ethnic conflict and political faction differences became the driving force for manifold name changes. A full list is given of the countries of which the names were changed after colonial occupation, the year of their independence as well as their present name. In conclusion, the nature and origin of the twenty six African land names re-instituted after Uhuru are discussed in terms of the topography of the particular area especially the presence of water: Zambia (the Zambesi river), Chad (lake "Tsade"), Malawi (lake "Malawi"), Togo (from the Ewe name for water "to" and beach "go"); references to kings and kingdoms (Ethiopia from "Ityopp", the founder of the city of Actum), Mali (from an antique Islamic kingdom), Mozambique (from the name of a sultan Musa Ben Mbiki); ethnicity (Equatorial Guinea from the Berber word "gnawa" for black man), Mauritania (from the Spanish word for Moor), Guinea Bissau (from the Berber equivalent for country of the blacks, "Akal-n-iguinawen"), Botswana (after the country's inhabitants, the Tswana).

Keywords : Motives for changing place names; colonialist names for countries; colonialism; scramble for Africa"; imperialism; racism; exploitation; uhuru; Africanisation; anti-colonialism; decolonization; African land names; national independence; liberation; transformation; African centrism.

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