1. Shaka Zulu:
Perhaps the most widely known king of Africa is Shaka Zulu. Born into the Zulu kingdom, he had lived his childhood with his mother, before he was enrolled into an ibutho lempi or a fighting unit. Living in a time of turbulence, he dethroned his half-brother Sigujana from inheriting their father’s Senzangakhona chiefdom over the Zulus. After acquiring the throne with the help of Dingiswayo, Shaka remained a vassal to the Mthethwa Paramountcy until his aunt, the leader of one of the tribes was killed by Zwide, a powerful chieftain of Ndwandwe. Reforming the Zulu, mainly the military and the diplomacy with which he operated, Shaka preferred to rule peacefully, employing diplomacy and political assassinations to get his way, although he was well known to fight in battles himself. Shaka was later assassinated by his other two half-brothers Dingane and Mhlangana, as he was left vulnerable and without security after he had sent most of his forces northward to battle the Ndwandwe yet again.
2. Askia the Great:
Mohammad Ture, most well known as Askia (meaning forceful one) of the Songhai Empire. He had acquired his nickname as well as the throne of the Songhai according to legend, by drowning his uncle and killing his cousin in a duel. He created a program by which he expanded the empire widely and consolidated it. He had not organized the empire according to Islamic teachings, rather improved on the traditional model. This allowed him to make one of the most successful and prosperous bureaucratic governments in Western Africa. Establishing standardized trade measurements alongside regulations and policing of the trade routes, he had created a very powerful taxing system. As he became more dependent on Ali Fulan in his old age, the Hugu-koray-koi or master of the interior palace, Askia was dethroned by one of his sons, Askia Musa.
3. Sonni Ali:
Founder of the Songhai Kingdom, Sonni Ali, born Ali Kolon would be later known as one of the cruelest African kings to ever reign. Under his rule, the infantry and cavalry under his command had managed to expand the territory of the kingdom to overshadow even the Mali Empire. Capturing famous trading hubs and cities of renown the likes of Timbuktu, which he would later fortify greatly to deter invasions. Cruel to all and rejecting full Muslim rule, he would go as far as to expel scholars and tinkerers of the religion from his land, or outright execute them for questioning him. Legend has it that he was dethroned when he was drowned in the Niger river, and usurped by his nephew Askia the Great.
4. Mansa Musa:
Mansa (meaning title akin to a king, sultan or emperor) Musa was perhaps the most-wealthy person in all of human history. Grandnephew to the founder of the Mali Empire, Musa had solidified his page in history through his deeds and exploits in life. Conquering 24 cities alongside their surrounding villages in his youth alone, he had created one of the largest empires of Africa. The area that was under his rule was overflowing with gold, so it was no surprise when he became the biggest producer of gold in the known world at the time. So wealthy was he, that even modern scholars and scientists cant exactly estimate his treasury. As he journeyed to Mecca, he brought with him so much gold, that as he passed he wrecked local economies to the point of destabilizing them for decades to come. Founder of the University of Sankore in Timbuktu that became one of the most influential cites of knowledge and housed more manuscripts and books than the Library of Alexandria. He built the university, his palace and the Djinguereber Mosque that still stands today, transforming Timbuktu to one of the most well-known cities of the medieval world. His death is debated, yet is agreed upon that he had perished peacefully of old age.
5. Queen Mother Nandi:
Known as the “Sweet One” she was the mother of future king Shaka, and was the third wife to his father Senzangakhona. Women were not equal to men in this time of history, and Nandi was displeased with her husband to the point where she was banished from the court. Given shelter by her sister Dingiswayo who was the queen of one of the tribes of the Mthehtwa paramountcy. She who would later assist Shaka in his claim of his father’s throne. Regarded as a benevolent woman know for her wisdom and peaceful teachings, Queen Nandi had left a great mark on Shaka, who would later prefer diplomacy over war in his ruling of the Zulu. As was tradition to maim or kill servants of people that did not grieve the passing of a woman of great renown, Shaka had used this to great and brutal extent, with estimates stating that as much as 7000 people were slaughtered, ridding himself of would be opposition.
6. Behanzin Hossu Bowelle:
Most well known for his surname King Shark, given to him for his strength and courage, Behanzin was the eleventh king of Dahomey. Intelligent, strong, courageous, sly were attributes given to him by his people, foolish and naïve by the French. As he refused the delegacy of Jean Bayol before he inherited the kingdom from his father, citing reasons of conflict in his time schedule, he earned the wrath of Bayol for disrespecting him. Bayol prepared his forces that were stationed in Cotonou to wage war on the young king, but was surprised to find himself attacked by the Dahomeans instead. Due to the advantageous position and superior weaponry and use of tactics, the French prevailed, and for two years an unsteady peace lingered. Broken once more by the French who used psychological warfare like desecrating religious sites and employing propaganda, they were soon in front of the gates of Dahomey. The King Shark surrendered his lands, although never wrote it officially, and lived out his life in exile on the island of Martinique and Algeria.
7. Jaja of Opobo:
Jubo Jubogha, later known as Jaja with his dealings with the British, was the merchant king, and founder of the Opobo city state. Born in the city of Amaigbo in Igboland, he was sold as a slave at the age of twelve in the Kingdom of Bonny. Lucrative, smart and possessing a keen understanding of economy and business, he bought himself out of slavery. Enculturated in Ijaw teachings and rituals, he would ascend as the head of the trading house of Anna Pepple. Under his rule, he managed to expand the house to buy out other trading hubs from the Kingdom of Bonny. As a result he was expelled by the chief Oko Jumbo, who governed over the kingdom as well as the trading house of Manilla Pepple. Establishing the city state of Opobo, and announcing himself king, Jaja would establish the worlds monopoly of palm oil trade. Going as far as trading directly to English cities without the interference of middlemen. In the 1886 Berlin Conference, it was established that Opobo was English territory by the European powers, meaning that Britain was free to claim it. As he refused to stop taxing the British and surrender himself and his merchant empire, he was arrested, met Queen Victoria as her “guest” in the Buckingham Palace, and was exiled to Saint Vincent island. He would die en route of his return to Opobo after being granted permission, being poisoned by tea.
8. Queen Amina:
Her existence, and time of rule is debated, yet is regarded that she was a warrior Queen of Zazzau. According to oral traditions, she is seen holding a dagger in hand as a child by her grandmother Marka, the favorite wife of her grandfather. Unsurprised by the prowess with which she held the dagger, as if a warrior by nature, her grandmother had predicted the future queen to be a well renowned woman. It is believed that she was a contemporary to Muhammad Dauda. She became known to Africa as a queen after she demanded tribute payed to her by city states and smaller kingdoms the likes of Katsina or Kano, or face her wrath for refusing to do so. Never to have married in fear of loosing power, whatever happened to her, or how long she ruled is speculative and subject to debate.
9. Queen Nzinga:
Njinga Mbande, later became Nzinga or Queen Anna Mbande after being baptized and dealing with the Portuguese. Romanticized for her war against the Portuguese who sought to conquer the territories of present day Angola, as well as trying to prevent further slave trade. Nzinga had inherited her rule, after her brother Ngola Mbande had taken his life after failing to negotiate a peace with the Portuguese. Fighting a guerilla war, with skirmishes all around her rightful land, she requested and received the help of the Dutch in her war. Previously known for impressing the Portuguese in her astounding diplomacy and debating skills that lent her the upper hand in dealing with them, Nzinga was able to receive a number of peace treaties and cease fires in her war. Landing a peace treaty that somewhat stopped Portuguese incursion, she spread Catholicism in what would later be known as Angola, and began reforming her kingdom. In her rule she allowed slaves to return home, and for the women to bear children again, and began mending the war-torn land. Despite efforts to assassinate and dethrone her, she managed to reign and peacefully perish of old age at 80 years.
10. King Afonso I of Kongo:
Born Nzinga Mvembe, he was later baptized and given the name Afonso, and ruled over the Kongo as a vassal to the Portuguese. Devout follower of Christianity, with his never-ending zeal to spread it, allowed the religion to spread like wild fire. Immensely grateful for his contribution and religious zeal, the Portuguese established trade routes with the Kongo allowing Afonso to overshadow any previous ruler of the region. Prosperity and infrastructure was his legacy, as Afonso had begun seeing his naivety in dealing with the Portuguese. Afonso requested aid from the King of Portugal to send officials to cease the traders and merchants of their dealings in the slave trade, yet ultimately failed to stop them. Even as he could not prevent them in their business, Afonso paved the way for the future kings of the Kingdom of Kongo.