In the 1960s a host of African nations discovered their independence and, with it, rediscovered the pleasure and the pain of the past. States such as Nigeria and Ghana, Tanzania and Uganda, using both local and expatriate scholars, embarked on the reconstruction of “national histories,” with an enthusiasm which, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, seems enviable. From an academic point of view, this period witnessed the rejection of the colonial distortion of Africa's past—i.e., the idea that basically the continent had none worth talking about—and the historiographical offensive which was thus launched may be seen to have been ultimately successful.
In terms of African politics, history was seen in many new states as a means of nation-building and the fostering of national identity. In Tanzania, for example, precolonial leaders such as Mirambo and Nyungu-ya-Mawe, the relative linguistic unity provided by Swahili, and the anticolonial Maji Maji uprising were used, both consciously and subliminally, to encourage the idea that Tanzanians had shared historical experiences which straddled both the precolonial and the colonial eras.
It must be conceded that history did not always prove as reliable an ally to African politicians as to scholars of Africa. Penetration into the Nigerian past served, indirectly at least, to magnify the regionalism which had already troubled the decolonization process in that territory, and underlined the distinct historical experiences of, for example, the Yoruba in the south and the Hausa-Fulani in the north.