Coins used by African nations before colonialism and post-independence

Stephen Nartey September 09, 2022
South Africa 1874 One Pond depicting Thomas François Burgers, 4th State President of the Republic of South Africa. Image via Wikimedia Commons

The Aksumite of Northern Ethiopian are the early tribes of Africa to introduce coins in the 2nd to the 9th century as a means of trading. These coins were made of gold, a little bronze and a minute quantity of silver. 

The Aksumite kings initially decreed the coins should bear Greek inscriptions, but, was later amended and Amharic text was embossed on the coins, according to Britannica. 

The traditional coins which were used by the Ethiopians temporarily went into extinction as a result of foreign alliances and allegiance. 

King Menelick, emperor of Ethiopia between 1889 and 1913, restored the coins but rather as silvers with an embossment of the Lion of Judah. He believed he was the direct descendant of King Solomon and Queen Sheba. 

The Ethiopians were not the only African nations to have started using coins as means of transaction before the arrival of the Europeans.

The Ottoman Empire of Egypt in 1914 used coins with Arabic inscriptions. The coins were made of gold and silver. Under the reign of Fu Ad I and Farouk I, the Arabic inscriptions were replaced with the royal portrait. The currency was known as the piastre.

The gold and silver coins were later changed to aluminum-bronze alloy accompanied with rare silver and gold.

Libya is also another African country that adopted the piastre as its currency after a period as an Italian colony. Until the takeover of power by Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi, the coins had fine portraits under the kingdom of Idris from 1951 to 1969.

The piastre was also the means of exchange for transactions among Tunisia until 1891 when the colony adopted the francs and centimes after they gained independence from France in 1956.

Sudan also relied on the piastre as its coinage in 1956 while Morocco used the Arabic silver dirham in the early 20th century as a protectorate of France.

The silver dirham was later replaced with silver rial in 1902. This currency was later phased out with the franc in 1921.  

The West African nation of Ghana used gold as its coinage after the declaration of the country as a republic in 1960. The British colony prior to its independence however used shilling and penny traditionally.

Northern and Southern Rhodesia presently Zimbabwe, Nyasaland later Malawi, and Nigeria also used shilling and penny. Liberia, however, used mainly copper and bronze as its currency with an elephant displacing the head of the liberty.

In South Africa, the currency was assimilated into that of Great Britain after the Southern African nation became a member of the Commonwealth.

French colonies like Cameroons French West Africa, Madagascar and French Togoland used the cockerel as their coinage.

Macutus, centavos and silver escudos were the currencies used by Angola and Mozambique. In the Belgian Congo which is presently the Democratic Republic of Congo, the people used silver francs and copper centimes.

The objective of using metals for currency is that they can be reused and reshaped in the manufacturing process.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: September 9, 2022


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