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, an African hominid called the Australopithecines started to walk upright. This set-in motion a long evolutionary path towards what became approximately 200,000 years ago, the modern Homo Sapiens. Flash forward another 50,000 years, 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, this was the first migration from the continent, and they would come to populate the planet.
Africa has been home to some of the greatest civilizations in human history. One of the most important was the Kingdom of Sheba. The Kingdom was located in modern-day Yemen. The foundation of the Kingdom of Sheba lay in an ideal location along a key trade route. In the period around 1,000 BC, 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 BC. The Sabean society collapse came after the spice route was changed.
From the 7th century AD 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 wore robes made of silk.
The Swahili Sultans eventually fell victim to infighting, and ambitious viziers and emirs sought to take power from the ruling family. In a weakened state, the Swahili Sultans were very vulnerable, when in the 16th century they came in contact with the Portuguese. Through force and persuasion, the Portuguese were able to turn the region into vassal states.
The 19th and 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 East coasts of Africa. This put the French in direct opposition to the English, who wished to build their own empire along a North-South Axis. In 1898, this lead to what is known as the Fashoda Incident. French forces arrived in the Southern Sudan region to claim the area. They were quickly confronted by a much larger force of British troops. The French were forced to withdraw, and 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.’