Africanus Horton

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James Africanus Beale Horton (1835-1883) was a Sierra Leanean doctor who played a pivotal role as a forceful advocate of Africans ability in literature, science and government against an array of intellectually dishonest writings by many European travelers about the people of Africa. (1) He also wrote as an advocate of African self reliance and development in governance and commerce. He was a product of his times and sought African development through the utilization of materials and systems used by other civilizations following his thoughts that differences between peoples was a product of the environment.

He was also one of the first individuals from West Africa to establish a bank in the region and one of the first to advocate the establishment of a university.


Early life and education

Horton was born in Sierra Leone to parents of Igbo heritage who were recaptured slaves. His family settled in a small village outside of Freetown and his father worked as a carpenter. Horton attended the C.M.S. School in Freetown and the Fourah Bay Institution where he graduated in 1853. In the 1850s, the British government was alarmed about the high expense and mortality incurred by keeping the medical corps in West Africa. The C.M.S. was then called upon to supply three candidates for education in London. William Davies, Horton and Samuel Campbell were chosen, Campbell later died afterwards. Horton studied medicine at King's College, London and the University of Edinburgh graduating in 1859, his thesis was titled, the Medical Topography of the West Coast of Africa. After completing his studies, he entered the army service corps as a staff assistant surgeon and later went on to have a distinguished career in service mostly in Ghana.


In the mid 1850s, there emerged varied opinions in Britain on the continued interest in maintaining colonies in Africa with British losses in the Ashanti war precipitating a further loss of confidence in incurring territories on the coast of west Africa. In 1865, a special committee in the British House of Commons proposed further limitations on treaties signed that binds British protection of African ethnic groups and instead proposed more transfer of administrative responsibilities to Africans. It was in response to the select committee's report that an outspoken voice came in the person of Horton. He was already a writer of African climate, geography and diseases but his latter written efforts on African politics and socio-economic system were a direct response to the select committee's report. In his book West African Countries and Peoples, British and Native and the Vindication of the African Race published in 1868, Horton touched on how to implement independence for modern African nations and refuting allegations of African inferiority. He proposed commerce, agriculture and education as a gateway for the development of the West African coast.

Horton who was a graduate of the C.M.S. School in Freetown and the Fourah Bay Institution was a product of the missionary's views of developing a virile African middle class in conjunction with growth in legitimate trade as a way to totally eliminate slavery on the West African coast.

Further reading

  • Robert W July. Origins of African political thought. Africa World, 2004.


  • (1)Molefi K. Asante, Abu Shardow Abarry. African Intellectual Heritage: A Book of Sources. p 113.