By: Yacine Sihaib
From the Suez canal to the canal of Gibraltar, we peer into a more robust understanding of the forgotten land of North Africa.A land that evolves a prestigious heritage of history, cultural diversity and a true African wealth. Gathering seven countries by going from Sudan to Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, this land represents 29% of the total African area, with a population of 192 million. To emphasize the weight of this region and the important impact it has on African development, we are going to explain 7 important things we need to know about North Africa, with a certain approach of reintroducing this inseparable part of Africa, erasing all the imaginary boundaries we have created. Additionally, the aim is to remind ourselves – we North Africans – that we should look back to our true identity, and rethink about rebuilding our home with an optimistic perspective.
- Egypt, Afri, Libya, Numidia, Maghreb… The different names of North Africa throughout history:
It all started from the creation of the Ancient Egypt civilization at the fertile banks of the Nile, in a meantime where the sons of Amazigh, a descendant community from the grandsons of Noah, went to discover the unexplored lands they were seeing from the west of Egypt. Through the passing centuries, the Greeks and Romans used to give many names to this particular region from the west of the Nile. “Libya” or “Afri” a Latin name they used for the inhabitants of the other lands down Europe, or also “Berber” to refer to people who are not Greeks. Until the Berber “Aguellid” (Chief in Berber/Tamazight) Massinissa unified North Africa (from Tunisia to Morocco), and he created the empire of Numidia to face the Roman Empire, while Carthage was destroyed and the fertile plains of the north were under threat. And so, “Africa” became the name of the most precious treasure for the Berbers, Libyans, sons of Amazigh or whatever name we can call them. This is the reason that made them build the union of tribes to protect their lands against the Romans, the Vandals and centuries later… The Arabs, who called North Africa “Maghreb” meaning “The Sunset” as it represents the west of their horizon from the Arabic Peninsula.
- A wealthy land of human and cultural diversity :
North Africa was the land of great nations in a time when the actual powerful nations of the world did not even exist. It is a home for more than dozens of ancient tribe families with different languages and have known the 3 religions of Judaism brought by the Phoenicians in the VIII century BC, Christianism brought by the Romans in the 2nd century and Islam brought by the Arabs in the 7th century.
We can see on this region a beautiful mixture of Berbers, Arabs, Sudanese and all the strong nomads of the Saharan desert. This very special diversity has made an extremely rich cultural heritage, as we can find various music styles, a huge library of books and poetry written in many languages, and a colourful lifestyle in clothing, paintings and even architecture.
3 . Ancient Egypt civilization, Augustine of Hippo, Fibonacci, Ibn Battuta… The enlightened minds of North Africa :
Talking about North Africa automatically leads us to discover how many people have left a great impact for the benefit of humanity, knowledge and wisdom. It is really important to remember all the works done by the Ancient Egypt to establish the basics of medicine, mathematics and architectural structures. Given the fact that modern researchers from many fields are still trying to find the exact technologies they had in their civilisation, this proves the incredible hidden heritage we didn’t unbury yet for the actual world development.
Christianity in North Africa : Yes ! Christianity was the main religion of North Africa from the 2nd to the 7th century. An era which knew the emergence of the so-called “Doctor of Grace” Augustine of Hippo from the city of Hippone (Actual Annaba in Algeria). A wise Church Father who fought for peace and religious tolerance in Numidia and devoted his whole life spiritual writings about Christianity, becoming one of the greatest fathers of the Western Christianity.
Even the famous mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci has grown up in the city of Bejaia (Algeria) during the middle age where he learned the basics of mathematics, and from which he went to share the hindu-arabic numeral system and presented his amazing sequence of numbers that revolutionized the world of mathematics.
At the end, we need to remember one of the greatest travelers of history who travelled from Tanja (Morocco) to the deep southeast of Asia, Muhammad Ibn Battuta. He was also a scholar who earned great wisdom through his 30 years trip from which he wrote his famous book “The Journey”.
4 . The land of the warriors for justice, peace and freedom :
Every land is a treasure, and every treasure attract enemies, and so we have a duty to protect it. As North Africa had a very fertile plains and countless natural resources, many civilizations and modern nations wanted to take control of the very advanced agricultural production established by the Egyptians and Berbers for centuries.
Since the early centuries BC, the wars have created warriors and champions for the protection of their beloved land against the Phoenicians, Romans, Vandals, Arabs, Ottomans, Italians, French. We can mention one of the kings of Numidia “Jugurtha” who is known as one of the bravest enemies of the Roman empire. The Libyan chief of resistance against the Italian occupation “Omar Mukhtar”. The Algerian leader of the war of independence against the French occupation “Larbi Ben M’hidi”. To many other inspiring heroes who devoted their lives for the freedom of North Africa. From all these historic wars for liberty, the North African people have developed a strong will and ideology of the struggle for justice and equality.
5 . A beautiful piece of heaven on Earth :
Ibn Battuta has described the magnificent natural beauty of North Africa on his book “The Journey”. It is also the main destination of modern famous photographers and filmmakers such as “Yann Arthus Bertrand” the producer of the movie “Home”.
It was even mentioned by many historians, knowing that the ancient inhabitants of this region have developed efficient agricultural systems, and so they made the mountains and plains rich of blessed trees, with huge farms that became the source of food for Europe during centuries until the middle ages, and we still can regain this important agricultural advancement to fight hunger and enhance economic growth in Africa. From another perspective, this little piece of heaven on Earth represents a promising potential to develop tourism and bring the developed western world closer to Africa, which will encourage long term investments and successful entrepreneurship opportunities in our continent.
6 . An opened gate to the developed western world :
Another very essential point regarding North Africa is that our region represents an opened gate to another world of developed nations, with a strategic geographical placement near Europe and having more than 3000 kilometres of coast on the Mediterranean sea, it makes the whole African continent ready to reconnect with the western world and aim for long-term exchange of technologies and economic growth planning. We should change our perceptions towards ourselves and also towards the others, because we tend to underestimate our Africanism and our own capacity for development, giving too much attention and overrated admiration for the European and western world. In a time where all the other multinational western companies and organizations cannot survive without cooperating with the African countries, because simply our continent is full of opportunities that we must seize in a smart way. Furthermore, we can eradicate immigration, poverty and hunger simply by keeping our policies and long-term procedures opened to the foreign investors in order to encourage them to contribute for the economic growth through a social economic system, freeing our countries from any threatening lobby of extreme capitalism.
7 . A very strong political and economic asset for Africa :
The last and most essential thing we must remember about the North African region is about its influence on the two sides of economy and politics. The sectors of Gas, Oil and tourism have been the running engines of the North African economy for the last 4 decades. Nevertheless, it was not used through a strategy or a vision of sharing resources or building inclusive programs for the benefit of all the 7 countries. In fact, if the 7 governments reunite together and agree for common and specific goals of sustainable development for North Africa, this will solve the major problems of terrorism, hunger and poverty. From another perspective, we can notice the strong engagement of many socio-political actors, investing massively in the region for the last two decades, such as the European Union and the American government, aiming to strengthen their impacts in the fields of entrepreneurship and socio-economic development. This is to say how heavy is the political and economic weight of North Africa, and how it can contribute to build a long-term strategy of development for the whole continent. To conclude, the challenge now is about capitalizing on all of these factors and assets for development. With Morocco joining back the African Union and the next African summit for business and investments next December in Algiers, we optimistically expect to finish this year with promising moves to reunite the North with the South and draw the lines and textures of the future developed Africa.