Frequently referred to as the “cradle of civilization”, Africa is the world’s oldest landmass. About 97% of the continent’s land has been virtually the same for the past 300 million years. Between five and ten million years ago, a type of African ape called the Australopithecines started to walk upright. This set along an evolutionary path towards what became approximately 200,000 years ago the modern Homo Sapien.
Around 150,000 years ago, a woman was born in an area close to what is known as modern-day Ethiopia. Scientists refer to this woman as “Eve” because humans are said to have descended from her. Flash forward another 50,000 years down the timeline and a group of Homo Sapiens started to move out of North Africa and into the Middle East. While it is estimated that this group may have only contained several dozen people, it was from them that the other continents would come to be populated.
Africa has been home to some of the greatest civilizations in human history. One of the most important of these was the Kingdom of Sheba. The kingdom was located in what is known as modern-day Yemen. The foundation of the Kingdom of Sheba lay in an ideal location along a key trade route. In the period around 1000 B.C., caravans of traders would undertake journeys from the area around modern-day Oman to the Mediterranean. As they did so they passed through Marib, which at that time was an abundant oasis. It was also one of the only two sources of frankincense (aromatic resin). The city of Marib was known throughout the Arab world for its great fortunes.
The people of the Kingdom were known as the Sabeans. They ruled the region between the tenth to the sixth century B.C. The Sabean society collapsed after the spice route was changed.
From the 7th century A.D. Onwards, the area around Mozambique to Tanzania was home to a number of highly successful city states. The rulers of these city states were the Swahili Sultans. The people in these city states lived in stone houses and were robed in silk.
The Swahili Sultans eventually fell victim to infighting. Ambitious viziers and emirs sought to take power from the ruling family. In a weakened state the Swahili Sultans were vulnerable when in the 16th century they came in contact with the Portuguese. Through force and guile the Portuguese were able to turn the region into vassal states.
The 19th to 20th century was the period known as the “Scramble for Africa”. During this period, the European countries sought to colonize the continent. The involvement of multiple European countries in Africa inevitably lead to conflict.
The French sought to create a continuous region under their rule from the West to the East coast of Africa. This put them in direct opposition to the English who wished to build their own empire along the North and South Axis. In 1898, this lead to what is known as the Fashoda Incident. French forces arrived in the Southern Sudan to claim the area. They were confronted by a much larger force of British troops. The French were eventually forced to withdraw. Eventually, an agreement was reached which gave Britain control of Africa and France the power over Morocco.
Until the 1950s, Africa was largely divided and ruled by European powers. In 1951, the decolonization of Africa began with Libya gaining its freedom. This move toward decolonization peaked in 1960 when 17 African nations declared their independence. This is now known as the year of Africa.