History of Africa

Brief history of Africa summarized

A brief summary of the exciting history of Africa, the continent where Homo Sapiens emerged.

Ancient Africa

Scientists believe that Africa was the birthplace of humanity and is where our story begins. Around 100,000 BC, modern humans lived by hunting and gathering with stone tools. From Africa they spread to Europe.

By then 5,000 farmers had spread to North Africa. The people were engaged in livestock and agriculture. At that time the Sahara desert was not a desert. It was a green and fertile area. Gradually it dried up and became a desert.

Meanwhile, writing was invented in Egypt around 3,200 BC. The Egyptians made bronze tools and weapons. However, at the time the Egyptian civilization arose, most of Africa was isolated from Egypt and other early civilizations by the Sahara desert. Sub-Saharan Africa is also hampered by a lack of good ports, making shipping by sea difficult.

Farmers in Africa continued to use stone tools and weapons, however, around 600 BC the use of iron spread throughout North Africa. It gradually spread south and by AD 500 iron tools and weapons had reached what is now South Africa.

Around 480 BC the Phoenicians of what is now Lebanon founded the city of Carthage in Tunis. Carthage later fought wars with Rome and in 202 BC the Romans defeated the Carthaginians at the Battle of Zama. In 146 BC Rome destroyed the city of Carthage and made its territory part of her empire.

Meanwhile, Egyptian influence spread along the Nile and the Nubian and Kush kingdoms arose in what is now Sudan. By AD 100 the kingdom of Axum in Ethiopia was highly civilized. Axum traded with Rome, Arabia, and India. Axum converted to Christianity in the 4th century AD

Meanwhile, the Roman Empire continued to expand. In 30 BC Egypt became a province of Rome. Morocco was absorbed in AD 42. However, the rest of Africa was cut off from Rome by the Sahara desert.

Africa in the Middle Ages

The history of Africa in the Middle Ages introduces us to the Arabs who conquered Egypt in the year 642. In 698-700 they took Tunis and Carthage and soon controlled the entire North African coast. The Arabs were Muslim, of course, and soon the entire North African coast was converted to Islam. Ethiopia remained Christian, but the Muslims cut it off from Europe.

After 800 AD organized kingdoms arose in North Africa. They traded with the Arabs further north. (Trade with the Arabs led to the spread of Islam to other parts of Africa.) Arab merchants brought luxury goods and salt. In return they bought gold and slaves from Africans.

One of the earliest African kingdoms was Ghana (which included parts of Mali and Mauritania, as well as the modern country of Ghana). In the 9th century Ghana was called the land of gold. However, Ghana was destroyed in the 11th century by North Africans.

In the 11th century, the city of Ife in southwestern Nigeria was the capital of a great kingdom. Since the 12th century, Ife artisans made terracotta sculptures and bronze heads. However, by the 16th century Ife was in decline.

Another African state was Benin. (The medieval kingdom of Benin was larger than the modern country.) From the 13th century Benin was rich and powerful.

Meanwhile, the kingdom of Mali was founded in the 13th century. In the fourteenth century Mali was rich and powerful. Their cities included Timbuktu, which was a bustling commercial center where salt, horses, gold, and slaves were sold. However, the Mali kingdom was destroyed by the Songhai in the 16th century.

Songhai was an empire located east of Mali on the Niger River from the 14th to the 16th century. Songhai reached its maximum extent around 1500 AD However, in 1591 they were defeated by the Moroccans and their empire disintegrated.

Another large North African state was Kanem-Bornu, located near Lake Chad. Kanem-Bornu became important in the 9th century and remained independent until the 19th century.

Meanwhile, the Arabs were also sailing up the east coast of Africa. Some of them settled there and founded states like Mogadishu. They also settled in Zanzibar.

In the interior, some people from southern Africa formed organized kingdoms. Around 1,430 impressive stone buildings were erected in Great Zimbabwe.

Meanwhile, in the Middle Ages, Ethiopia flourished. The famous church of Saint George was built around the year 1200.

But the history of Africa was to change course when the Portuguese began to explore the coast of Africa. In 1431 they reached the Azores. Then, in 1445, they reached the mouth of the Congo River. Finally in 1488 the Portuguese sailed around the Cape of Good Hope.

XVI-XVIII centuries

In the 16th century, Europeans began transporting African slaves across the Atlantic. However, slavery was nothing new in Africa. For centuries, Africans had sold other Africans to Arabs as slaves. However, the transatlantic slave trade grew until it was enormous.

In the 18th century, British ships carried manufactured goods to Africa. From there slaves were taken to the West Indies and sugar to Great Britain. This was called the Triangular Trade. (Many other European countries were involved in the slave trade.)

Some Africans were sold into slavery because they had committed a crime. However, many slaves were captured in raids by other Africans. Europeans were not allowed to travel inland to find slaves.

Instead, the Africans brought slaves to the coast. Slaves who were not sold were killed or used as slaves by other Africans. The slave trade would have been impossible without the cooperation of Africans, many of whom grew rich from the slave trade.

Meanwhile, between the 16th and 18th centuries, Spanish and Portuguese ships were robbed by Barbary pirates from the North African coast.

In the 16th century a people called the Turks conquered most of the North African coast. In 1517 they captured Egypt and by 1556 most of the coast was in their hands.

Other South Africans continued to build powerful kingdoms. Kanem-Bornu’s empire expanded in the 16th century using weapons purchased from the Turks. However, in the 16th century Ethiopia declined in power and importance, although it survived.

Meanwhile, the Europeans founded their first colonies in Africa. In the 16th century the Portuguese established themselves in Angola and Mozambique, while in 1652 the Dutch founded a colony in South Africa.

Modern Africa

In the 19th century, European states tried to stop the slave trade. Great Britain banned the slave trade in 1807. On the other hand, in the late 19th century, Europeans colonized most of Africa.

In 1814 the British took over the Dutch colony in South Africa. In 1830 the French invaded northern Algeria. However, colonization only became serious in the late 19th century when Europeans carved up Africa. In 1884 the Germans took Namibia, Togo and Cameroon and in 1885 they took Tanzania.

In 1885 Belgium took over what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The French took Madagascar in 1896. They also expanded their empire in North Africa. In 1912 they took Morocco and Italy took Libya.

In 1914 the British took control of Egypt. By this time all of Africa was in European hands except Liberia and Ethiopia. (The Italians invaded Ethiopia in 1896 but were defeated by the Ethiopians.)

Further south, the British took Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Uganda, and Kenya. Angola and Mozambique remained Portuguese.

However, at the beginning of the 20th century, attitudes towards imperialism began to change in Europe. Also, in Africa, churches provided schools and an increasing number of Africans received education. They grew impatient for independence.

The movement for the independence of Africa became unstoppable and in the late 1950s and 1960s most African countries became independent. In 1960 alone, 17 countries gained their independence. However, Mozambique and Angola did not become independent until 1975.

At the beginning of the 21st century, Africa began to grow. Today, the economies of most African countries are growing rapidly. Tourism in Africa is booming and investment is pouring into the continent. Africa is developing rapidly and there is every reason to be optimistic.

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