Games & Sport

Board games

Africa is home to two of the oldest-known board games, one of which is still played today all across the continent.

The ancient game of Senet was popular in Egypt from around 3,500BC. Senet boards have been discovered in burial chambers and depicted on the walls of Egyptian tombs. Unfortunately, no one wrote down how it was played.

Count and capture

Playing WariMancala/Mankala is played by transfering stones, counters or buttons around a number of 'bins' or dips in the ground. There are more than 200 different versions of this ‘count and capture’ game, which is known by many different names in Africa, including wari/owari, kombe and aweet.

Another board game which dates back to ancient times is Mancala/Mankala, which remains popular in Africa today. Different versions are found in nearly every African country. Played with carved boards of wood/ivory or simply on the ground, the game is enjoyed by leaders and commoners, adults and children alike.

Some board games are popular in particular countries or regions, for example:

  • Morabaraba or Umlabalaba (Southern Africa),
  • Zamma (North Africa),
  • Butterfly (Mozambique).

Children's games

Singing and clapping

Across Africa, children take part in singing and clapping games. Circle games of all sorts are popular and sometimes similar to those played in other parts of the world. See the video of children playing in Namibia - People & Culture.

African children play a large variety of games, some of which are played the world over, such as 'hide and seek' and 'leap frog'.

Unlike in the West, children’s toys in Africa are often home-made rather than shop-bought. For example, boys may play with hoops from the rims of tyres. Girls might skip with ropes or play with home-made wooden dolls.

And of course, African children love ball games such as football, basketball and volleyball.

Sport

  • Children from South Africa playing football
  • Playing football in Africa

Football is the most popular sport throughout Africa. Watch a football match and chances are you'll see an African football star, such as Yaya Touré and Didier Drogba from Ivory Coast, or Michael Essien from Ghana.  Everywhere in Africa youngsters can be found kicking a football, many dreaming of becoming one of the great players.

Africa has its own Olympic Games. The All Africa Games (originally known as the Friendship Games and then the Pan-African Games) were first held in Madagascar in 1960, organised by French-speaking countries. Over the following years, other African nations joined. Official recognition by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) came in 1965, when the Games were held in Brazzaville, Congo. Like the Olympics, the All Africa Games is now staged every four years, each time hosted by a different country.

The first African Olympians

The first Africans to participate in the International Olympics were South African marathon runners Len Tau and Jan Mashiani, who competed in St Louis in 1904 as members of the British Team.

African countries are also represented in the International Olympics. African athletes, such as Haile Gebrselassie from Ethiopia, have been particularly successful in long-distance running events and become household names.

Cricket is another sport played in Africa, particularly in South Africa and Zimbabwe. In wealthier countries such as South Africa, golf is rising in popularity. Among younger generations, capoeira - a martial art with elements of dance, acrobatics and music - is hugely popular in countries such as Mozambique and Angola.

Not all sports played in Africa are as prized elsewhere. For example, wrestling is the number one sport in Senegal, where successful wrestlers become huge stars. Wrestling is also practised by Nubian communities in Sudan and southern Egypt. At over 3,000 years old, Nubian wrestling is one of the oldest martial arts recorded. Participants score by take-downs, using their entire body to bring down their opponents.