Was there a lack of an Arms race in early modern East Africa and why?

Jul 2012
So East Africa was connected and of course participated in the key trade routes and was able to keep up with the rest of the world for some time. We have threads on here dedicated to the infrastructure suggesting that the East Africans ( and West ) seemed to make it to medieval period.

However in the modern era, what happened to the connection? There's things like castles, but why can't I find evidence of modern weapons being used in places like Great Zimbabwe or throughout Horn of Africa ( not counting Abyssinia)

I hear of these Eastern Coast nations being great traders and super rich, but with all that money was no one interested in constantly upgrading their military?


Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
The issue might stem from the terrain itself. Thorton noted how the Portuguese explorers and soldiers, who ventured into West African warfare, had gradually adopted their weapons and tactics, seeing how their own, they discovered, were less effective. Terrain couldn't explain the apparent lack of an "arm's race" in every respect. But it does show how it was pretty nuanced.


Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
Africa did keep up militarily relative to other non European or non Asian powers until colonization which for most of Africa was during industrial age where Africa did not have manufacturing base to support modern arms industry. Africa was seen as a source of mostly raw materials which for thousands of years was enough to compete with everyone else but that changed rapidly in under a century and any chance Africa had of catching up was delayed by colonization which top down hierarchy with little true interest in improving Africans ability to compete with European imports.

For east Africa particularly there was wealth but mostly for small part of the population who choose to import modern arms and very limited attempts to build arms in east Africa though there were some. The scale of wealth was simply less as well where traders had enough wealth to pay low cost labor to make some things but without manufacturing base machine tools and specialists with technical knowledge all had to be imported and for most it was cheaper and higher quality to import finished product.
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Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
Well they did begin to compete in the closing periods of colonization. For instance, Benin was manufcaturing their own firearms.

Many states began making their own goods, but for whatever reason, mainly their rulers, they continued importing cheap/knockoff European goods.


Forum Staff
Oct 2011
Italy, Lago Maggiore
The Axumite empire had some possibility to become a center of civilization like the Mediterranean, Islam, India, China ... the main problem was that it wasn't able to expand its sphere of influence beyond the Erythraean Sea. And the absence of a coast on the other side made the geopolitical context of that kingdom quite close.

If we think that the colonial power of reference of the African Horn was Italy ... we can understand the low level that a so promising land reached after centuries and centuries of competition by external powers [overall Islamic] and the influence of the Portuguese with their requests [like to one to submit the Emperor, the "Negus", to the power of the Roman Church ...].

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