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Great African Empires, Part 6: The Tattooed Lords of the Desert

Meet the nomad warriors who conquered Egypt, battled Rome, and ruled Spain. If you grew up watching Star Wars (like I did), you probably dreamed of visiting Tatooine, the desert planet where Luke Skywalker gazed up at the twin suns and imagined becoming a Jedi. Like a surprising number of people and places in sci-fi […]

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Great African Empires, Part 5: The Richest Man in History

His spending sprees were legendary. His entourage crashed whole cities’ economies. Meet the flashiest emperor in African history. Imagine a billionaire arriving with his entourage in London, or Las Vegas, or Rome; and completely taking over an entire city block— turning a five-star restaurant into his exclusive kitchen; a skyscraper into his private office; a […]

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Great African Empires, Part 4: Philosopher Kings of the Sahara

They turned a Saharan trade route into a world-class center of Islamic learning. Meet the first medieval empire in West African history. Some empires blossom around central seaports, or on the banks of vital rivers. But the Kingdom of Wagadu’s wealth was born — at least, in the beginning — thanks to a tall, long-legged, bad-tempered animal. […]

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Great African Empires, Part 3: Kingdom of Gold

They traded with Egypt, Israel and Babylon. But when they turned to the Christian God, East Africa would never be the same. In the 200s CE, the Persian prophet Mani referred to the “four great powers” of the world. The first three empires are easy to guess: Rome, Persia, and China. Mani’s fourth choice might […]

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Great African Empires, Part 2: Pharaohs of the Upper Nile

They conquered Egypt, battled Assyria and Rome, and ruled the Upper Nile for thousands of years. Meet the Nubian Kushite pharaohs of Sudan. You know that feeling when your favorite actor or musical artist makes a mass-market hit — and you realize that’s the one thing they’re going to be remembered for? From now on, no one’s […]

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Great African Empires, Part 1: Staggering Timescales

Who ruled Africa while Rome ruled Europe? How did they come to be forgotten? A quick scan of online message boards will tell you that worldwide awareness of African empires — aside from ancient Egypt — is seriously limited, to say the least. A Quora commenter asks, “Why hasn’t a single prominent civilization come out of Africa?” On Reddit, […]

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Gidi's Story: No One Hears You Shouting From the Slums of Mombasa

Gidi’s story: a tale of a man, a city, and a piece of truth. The estate where we live is not in the slums. It’s a nice middle-class neighborhood — about ten acres with a big stone wall around them, and a whole community of small shops and apartments and houses and cow-grazing patches inside, all connected […]

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Alone in Nairobi

Night can make you feel like a stranger, even when you’re home Last night, when the power had been out for twelve hours and the sun finally set and left me in the dark, and someone knocked on my door to hand me candles, and I lit the candles and sat on the bed and listened […]

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