By 1500 AD, many people in Africa had converted to Islam, and so they had learned at least some Arabic, so they could recite parts of the Koran and say their prayers. Educated people spoke and wrote Arabic in large parts of Africa, and the main language at Africa’s big universities at Timbuktu and Cairo was also Arabic. The libraries at these universities held thousands of hand-written Arabic books, mostly about Islam but also histories, geographies, and poetry.
Starting in the late 1500s, people in Africa began to use the Arabic alphabet to write their own languages too, and books began to appear written in Swahili, Hausa, Mandinka, Fulani, and Yoruba – East African and West African languages; pretty much the main languages everywhere that people were Muslims. These first books were also religious books, that taught people about Islam. But
In the 1800s, as more and more Europeans forced their way into African countries and took them over, many Africans began to learn to speak Portuguese, English, German, French, or Dutch so that they could work for the Europeans in government jobs or as servants. Many Africans learned to read books in those languages, too.