Necessity is the mother of all invention. Enough with the usual ‘sunrise’ and ‘sunsets’ we are used to seeing and hearing, but some of these inventions did come from Africa and they have helped shape the world.

This article will show you how Africa came up with some of the most amazing inventions.

1. Mathematics

It is believed to have begun and ended in Egypt during the Middle Ages. The Lebombo bone found in Swaziland and the Ishango bone found at the border of Uganda and Zaire are the world’ oldest mathematical marks. The Ishango bone has a series of notches that are thought to be some kind of tally counts. It has numbers adding up to 60, contained the oldest table of prime numbers from 10 to 20, and multiplication method.

It could as well have been a woman keeping track of her cycle. But then again, maybe women were the first mathematicians.

2. Coffee

Whether you prefer it black, with whipped cream or pumpkin, this stimulants origin is thought to have been Ethiopia. Dating back to the 10th century, this undomesticated plant grew wild and by the 16th century, had spread all around the world. The Oromo were the first to have recognized coffee’s rejuvenating effect, after Kaldi, a goat-herder noticed its potency on his goats. Having been frowned upon by a monk who disapproved its use, the roasted beans that had been thrown in the fire produced an enticing aroma. The beans were raked from the embers, and dissolved in hot water. Voila! What do you know about the world’s first cup of coffee!

3. Jazz

This simultaneously happening polyrhythm is a European folk music, though rich in African history. Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and author Gunther Schuller wrote “Every musical element – rhythm, harmony, melody, timbre, and the basic forms of jazz – is essentially African in background and derivation”.

4. Astronomy

The discovery in astronomy was birthed in the West of Africa’s Republic of Mali. The Dogon people amassed such huge amounts of wisdom through relying on astronomical observations, some of which the naked eye could not see. As such, they knew of Saturn’s rings, the moons orbiting Jupiter and the Milky Way’s spiral composition. All this has entered the New Age and ancient astronaut literature that to some point, aliens did visit Mali.

5. Philosophy

Philosophy dates back to the pre-dynastic Egypt and throughout the birth of Christianity and Islam. An example of political philosophy was Maxims of Ptah-Hotep (Egyptian composition based on Vizier Ptahhotep’s experiences and wisdom) taught to their pupils for centuries. Philosophers from ancient Egypt made important contributions to Hellenistic, Christian and Islamic philosophy.

6. Law and Religion

Evidence shows that Ethiopia was one of the Christian countries in the world since the 4th century, and they were keen to worship and observe any religious custom. It was also the first country to have established law during the reign of Emperor Haile Selassie. Ethiopian law began as indigenous customary and traditional laws. This underwent the processes of codification of the laws and modernization of the judicial system.

7. Penis transplant

After the first heart transplant in 1967 surgeons in South Africa took medical practice a notch higher by carrying out the world’s first penis transplant. A nine-hour operation on the male organ not only allowed a 21-year-old recipient to become sexually active, but a father too. Three months after March 2015, head surgeon Andre van der Merwe announced that the young man’s partner was pregnant.

8. Mobile phones

Maybe not the whole gadget, but the innermost part of your daily used device lies bits and pieces of the cobalt mineral, mined from the Democratic Republic of Congo. This mineral is used to make rechargeable batteries. As according to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, the DRC ‘holds almost half of the world’s cobalt reserves’. Notwithstanding, it is among the world’s largest producers of cobalt, tin, copper, tantalum and diamonds.

9. Ubuntu

Ubuntu is a Bantu word popularized by Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, which encapsulates the shared sympathy ‘I am because we all are’. This was during the face of the refugee crisis and the healing of post-apartheid in South-Africa.

‘A person with Ubuntu knows their place in the universe and is able to gracefully interact with other individuals. It implies an appreciation of traditional beliefs and a constant awareness that one’s actions today are a reflection of the past and will have far-reaching consequences for the future,’ is how it is defined by the people of Uganda, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Burundi.

10. International Trade

Though African economic history focuses on explaining poverty, it covers aspects as achievements in the farming and trade sectors, as African’s were not just hunters and gatherers. Evidence shows that Africa had the oldest and longest economic activity and history, and that the international trade between Africa and Asia was in exchange of ideas and cultural practices. This first developed form of international trade laid the ancient world foundation of the earliest civilizations, economic growth and diverse cultures.


Author Megan Wanjiru  

Catford Digital Media