In the precolonial period, most of Africa had small kingdoms, most of which had squabbles. Kings were still very powerful and the coming of civilization and mapping of countries didn’t wipe the largest of the kingdoms out. Traditional rulers actually play a nig role in the political system of most African countries as politicians still scratch the backs of the kings to get votes from their kingdoms. Other countries like Eswatini and Morocco are absolute monarchies where the king has the final say and the two kings are some of the richest people on the continent. While most of Africa is now under democratic rule, these 10 traditional monarchies remain the most powerful on the continent.
The Ashanti Kingdom: Ghana
The stand-off between the queen of the Ashanti Kingdom Queen Asentewaa and the British military forces in 1900 is one of the most interesting stories of the Ashanti Kingdom. The Ashanti resisted the British, French and Germans from 1824 to 1900 when Britain finally defeated the kingdom after exiling the stubborn queen to Seychelles. The kingdom is still very powerful in Ghana today with more than 4.7 million people subscribing to the rule of the current king. Known as the second most powerful man in Ghana after the president, the current king of the Ashanti is Otumufuo Osei Tutu II Asantehene.
The Ife Kingdom: Nigeria
The Ife Kingdom is one of the oldest in Africa having been created in 500CE by the Yoruba people of Nigeria. The king is actually called an Ooni with the current one having ruled the kingdom since 1980. The ruler doesn’t have any political powers but their influence stretches far throughout the Yoruba population which is the second largest in Nigeria. The current Ooni is called Oba Sijuwade who is also one of the richest people in Nigeria with a net worth of $75 million.
The Zulu Kingdom: South Africa
The Zulu nation is the largest Ethnic group in South Africa with a taxpayer-funded annual budget of more than $5 million. With a population of more than 10 million, the king’s ceremonial powers have far-reaching effects in the political system. The former king Goodwill Zwelithini died in March of 2021 after which his third wife Mantfombi Dlamini-Zulu, unfortunately, died suddenly a few weeks later. Their son, 46-year-old Misizulu has since been named heir to the throne after a family feud that saw people protest as they didn’t approve of him. The kingdom remains the most powerful government in the province of KwaZulu Natal where the central government has very little trust.
The Kingdom of Morocco
Morocco is of course the only monarchy in North Africa, converted into a constitutional monarchy in 2011. The kingdom draws its history back to the reign of the Almoravids in the 7th century CE. The current king is His Majesty King Mohammed VI who is also the richest monarch in Africa with a net worth of $2 billion. He controls a 48% stake in the powerful investment fund SNI which has seen him make more money for the royal family through business.
The Eswatini Kingdom
This remains the most controversial monarchy on the African continent as the country remains one of the poorest in the world while the monarchy is one of the richest on the continent. There are protests almost every year to abolish the monarchy but the king who marries a new wife almost every year manages to quash all voices of dissent. The 46-year-old king has an estimated net worth of $50 million with lots of his assets hidden under the guise of investment and now has 15 wives. His biggest achievement so far has been changing the country’s name from Swaziland to Eswatini, a project that cost the country an estimated $50 billion in rebranding.
The Garanganze Kingdom: The DRC
This is another Kingdom that claims to rule over a large section of central and Eastern Africa which doesn’t have any absolute power but is still very influential. The former king whose palace was located in the Katanga province of Congo was killed by King Leopold of Belgium. The kingdom spread over parts of Zambia and Tanzania where the Bayeke people of East and Central Africa dwell. The current king is called Godefroid Munongo viii who is also a prominent politician from the Katanga province of Congo serving in the government. While the kingdom has more than one million subjects, the king’s power is largely ceremonial and mostly used to manipulate the politics of the DRC.
The Ugbo Kingdom: Nigeria
This is another kingdom ruled by one of Africa’s richest royal families thanks to the vast wealth of oil found in the region the king rules. Occupying the Southwestern coast of Nigeria, the Ugbo kingdom is one of the largest in the country headed by 16 powerful chiefs and a king. The region is a huge beneficiary of offshore oil drilling operations in the region. The current king Oba Obateru Akinrutan is worth over $300 million making him the richest traditional ruler in the country.
The Kingdom of Lesotho
This is another constitutional monarchy whose royal family has reduced powers. The little monarchy in surrounded by South Africa has had its fair share of political turmoil with most of the political and economic climate of the country is influenced by its larger encircling neighbour. The current king of Lesotho is His Majesty King Letsie III who retook the throne in 1996 after his father passed away. We say retook because his father was forced to abdicate and flee into exile in 1990, during which the current king was crowned for five years until his father returned in 1995.
The Kingdom of Buganda
The power of the Kabaka (the king of Buganda) was once the law that ruled Uganda With Edward Mutesa II who was the last Kabaka became the first president of the country after being elected in 1969. The fall of Mutesa II saw the country fall into political turmoil when Milton Obote took over the presidency. The Kabaka’s power became ceremonial which has left most of the kings with less prominence including the current king Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II.
The Emirate of Kano: Nigeria
Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country with a population of over 200 million people and the Fulani make the largest ethnic group in the country which is why this monarchy is so powerful. The emirate was established in 1805 after the powerful Fulani Emirs deposed a sultanate led by the Hausa people. The emir of the Emirate was by far the most powerful man in Nigeria’s Kano state until 2019 when the government split the emirate into five distinct groups. Most people still recognize only one Emir for the Emirate with the current one being Emir Aminu Ado Bayero.