School in a Book: History of Africa

Ancient History (3000 BCE to 500 CE)

Overview of Africa during ancient times: Ancient Africa is most known for ancient Egypt, the first and one of the greatest civilizations in history. Elsewhere in Africa, the Sahara Desert in the North prevented other African cultures from communicating with the advanced north. Also, due to a lack of mountains, the rainfall was extremely unpredictable in most of Africa. Therefore, most tribes were nomadic and did not have the opportunity for settled towns and civilizations. Still, civilizations began to arise in the coastal areas of Africa such as x, x and x. These included advanced architecture, unique pyramids, and a strong trading market with routes to Asia and across Africa.

The Sahara Desert: The desert located in northern Africa that expands and contracts regularly. In prehistoric times, the desert shrank enough to allow humans to migrate out of Africa. In ancient times, the desert became increasingly dry, preventing communication between Northern and Southern Africans. Egyptians in the North had much more contact with Middle Easterners and Europeans than they did with Africans south of the Sahara.

The Nile River: The deep, gentle river in Egypt with predictable patterns and surrounding deserts. Its independent biosphere causes predictable flood patterns so no irrigation systems were needed. Nile offered transportation and irrigation.

Ancient Egypt: The first civilization in Africa and one of the greatest civilizations in history. It included: farming of wheat and barley for beer and bread, flax for linen and more; advanced medicine, astronomy and engineering; a polytheistic religion; pyramids; hieroglyphics and papyrus paper; cattle for transportation; and more. In the time of Greeks, Egypt was conquered. Then, it became a Roman territory and remained so [how long?]

Egypt’s Upper and Lower Kingdoms:

Pharaoh: The ruler or king of ancient Egypt. He or she was considered a living god.

King Narmer/Menes: 3100 BCE. The first Egyptian king to create a dynasty. He united lower and upper Egypt. Before his reign, Egypt was made up of many separate, small towns dotting the Nile. He made other significant changes as well, including beginning the tradition of having pharaohs instead of kings. With his reign, Egypt began moving through three stages: Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom and New Kingdom. … In Egypt, pharaohs began to rule after King Narmer united the Upper and Lower Kingdoms. The country moved through the Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom and New Kingdom stages. During the Old Kingdom, the Great Pyramid was completed and mummification began.

Egypt’s Old Kingdom: The period in Egyptian history in which the Great Pyramid at Giza was built and the tradition of mummification began.

Egypt’s Middle Kingdom: After a time of decline, Mentuhotep restored Egypt’s greatness. FIne art, literature. Still isolated. Invaded Nubia for gold (and slaves?). Wars with Hyksos ended this period. … 2040 B.C.: Start of Middle Kingdom with Mentuhotep, who restored greatness. Fine art, literature. Not great conquerors. Egypt still isolated from rest of world. Did invade Nubia for gold, though. (insert main egyptian gods) (Another 100-year decline, then new kingdom)

Egypt’s New Kingdom: After another brief decline, NK began. More aggressive Pharaohs. Took Nubian slaves. Start of mummification. Wars with the Hittites and Arameans….1550 B.C.: New Kingdom. Egypt at its largest and wealthiest. Became known abroad. Egypt’s Golden Age. Conquered Palestine. At height during rule of Amenhotep III. This capital at Thebes. (Capital moved regularly.) Farmers still lived simply but nobles were very wealthy, had luxury. By law, men and women were equal. Women owned property. Four professions of women allowed: priestess, midwife, dancer, mourner. Scribes and priests second to nobility in importance.

Mummification: The process of preserving dead bodies into very long-lasting mummies. It involved a great deal of salt and cloth wrapping. Mummies of pharaohs were often buried in pyramids. Took 70 days.

Pyramids: Like social structure: pharaoh and nobles, middle class, merchants/soldiers, peasants/farmers. Pyramids were graves. Sand would blow away from graves and expose bodies so started building mud structures over them. Got bigger and bigger, more elaborate. Replaced mud with stones, got rid of steps. Egypt had a stable social structure and stable religious ideas, possibly due to the predictability of the Nile and the farming way of life.

Great Pyramid at Giza: built (when?) many passageways and chambers. Sought to please gods and make a permanent mark on history. Stones of up to 60 tons each. 2.3 million stones used altogether. Pharaohs. Egypt unified in one kingdom for most of their history. Pharaoh considered a living god. Body mummified when died, buried with treasure for afterlife–even food. Sacred writings on walls for protection. Many cities, all hugging the Nile. Most Egyptians were farmers. Mostly uneducated but all very religious. Then–decline for 100 years. No strong ruler….The Great Pyramid at Giza: 6 million tons of stone. Stone bossibly brought on bamboo sleds/stretchers to the desert. One of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

Valley of the Kings: A large burial site of ancient Egypt with many buried pyramids and housing bodies of pharaohs




Akhenaten: One pharaoh, Akhenaten, tried to change religion to momotheistm (god Aten) but after he died the priests of old gods regained control. Dead king’s name removed from all monuments and records, and his new capital city was abandoned. Many New Kingdom pharaohs were buried in the Valley of the Kings, including King Tutankahamen, whose tomb was rediscovered in 1922.


Ra: The ancient Egyptian sun god,

Osiris: The ancient Egyptian god of the underworld

Isis: The ancient Egyptian god of fertility

Nubia: Modern-day Sudan in northern Africa. It began as Nubia and later became the Kingdom of Kush. It was a source of iron and gold for the surrounding areas and an important trading partner for Egypt.

King Tutenkahamen/King Tut:

Book of the Dead: A collection of manuscripts and spells from Egypt

Hieroglyphics: 3200-2600 BCE. First deciphered by modern-day people in 1822 after the discovery of the Rosetta Stone which had both hieroglyphics and Greek writing

Rosetta Stone:

Kingdom of Kush: 2000 B.C.: Kingdom of Kush grew out of Nubia (Sudan), whichtook after Egypt. Trading partner for Egypt, source of gold….1500 B.C.: Egypt conquered Kush for 750 years…700 B.C.: Kush transitioned from stone working to iron working (no bronze) and flourished, supplying places in Africa and the Middle East. Ehipia was more self-contained but also important culture of this time.

Nok culture: 600: Growth of Nok culture on Niger River, Nigeria and Meroe, [?], Chad, Bantu. Southern Africa shepherds and hunter-gatherers called Khoisan.

Aksum Empire: “An empire located in the Horn of Africa that ruled from 100 ce to 940 ce. “350 B.C.: Meroi collapsed and was replaced by Aksum, which grew rich. Great cities and monoliths. Adopted Christianity. Thrived until AD 1000! … 1000: Collapse of Aksum in East Africa.

Jenne-jeno: 200: Jenne-jeno, the first African city (in West Africa) established. Partly due to introduction of camel to the Sahara, so trade could happen in West Africa.

Carthage: “A powerful city-state in North Africa on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.” For a time, it rivaled Rome.

Phoenicians: The Phoenicians established a colony at Carthage and controlled the western Mediterranean for nearly 600 years.

The Middle Ages (500 CE to 1500 CE)

Berber: “The native peoples of North Africa.”

Boers: “Dutch and French settlers in South Africa.”

Overview of Africa during the Middle Ages:

Mansa Musa: “Emperor of the Mali Empire who made a famous pilgimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. He was one of the richest people in history.”

Ghana: The first known empire in western Africa was Ghana (5th–11th century CE). AD 700-1240: Ghana, the first true African state. Center of gold trade. Located inland and more4 north than modern-day Ghana. Successors were Mali and Songhai. Became rich due to Arabs using camels to cross Sahara for the gold, mined further south and west. Brought in sald, European goods came there and slaves were traded out. Fell in 1076, restored, then fell again and in 1240 became part of Mali.

Mali: Mali founed by Sundiata Keita. Well-organized state, fertile farmlands beside the Niger River. Gold trade. Powerful. Many wealthy cities. Great Mosque designed by an Egyptian. City called Timbuktu on Niger. Key destination of caravan routes. 100 schools, a university, mosques, market. Ivory, too. Slaves to Muslim world, Venice and Genoa. Imported salt, cloth, ceramics, glass, horses, luxuries. Became Muslim for a time under a sypathetic ruler.

Songhai: muslim. (c. 1400–1591).

Bantu: AD 500: Bantu-speaking people from Nigeria migrated south, “leaving the rain forests to the Pygmies and the Kalahari Desert to the Khoisan bushmen. Bantu speakers in east started trading with Greeks and Romans.

Ethiopia: 1137: Ethiopia (Abyssinia) founded. Christians. Capital moved from Aksum to Lalibela. 1270-1500s: Ethiopia expanded into mountains of East Africa, taking in many once-isolated tribes. Regarded as a mysterious Christian kingdom. Had an emperor. Built 11 cross-shaped churches carved out of solid rock. 1500s: Declined due to internal discord.Not great warriors and never expanded (or even tried to) by military means.

Benin: 900-1480: Kingdom of Benin in modern-day Nigeria. Benin: West Africa. Forest kingdom. Benin City, capital. Had wide streets, large wooden houses, long surrounding walls. Bronze carvings. Traded in cloth, ivory, metals, palm oil, pepper, poottery and brass art like masks and carvings. King had a rich palace. Ruled at height by Oba Eware the Great, who modernized and didn’t enslave prisoners or engage in slave trade, which protected it from European colonization till 1897.

Zimbabwe: 900-1450: South: Great Zimbabwe. Large reserves of copper, gold. Walled palace city called Great Zimbabwe. Massive stone structures (granite)–how? by whom? A mystery. (A Zimbabwe is a stone-built enclosure and we call Zimbabwes this because of this famous structure….1450: Zimbabwe overtaken. 1500: Conquered by Songhay (lower down the Niger River).

Early Modern Times (1500 CE to 1900 CE)

Overview of Africa during the Early Modern Times:

African colonization: Portuguese explored the western coast in the 15th century. Before the late 19th century, Europe showed little interest in colonizing Africa, but by 1884 European countries had begun a scramble to partition the continent, and by 1920 much of it was under colonial rule. Anticolonial sentiment developed gradually, becoming widespread after 1950, and one by one the colonies became independent, the last in 1990. Political instability, refugee problems, famine, and AIDS are the chief problems facing the continent in the early 21st century….

Between 1878 and 1898, European states partitioned and conquered most of Africa. For 400 years, European nations had mainly limited their involvement to trading stations on the African coast. Few dared venture inland from the coast; those that did, like the Portuguese, often met defeats and had to retreat to the coast. Several technological innovations helped to overcome this 400-year pattern. One was the development of repeating rifles, which were easier and quicker to load than musketsArtillery was being used increasingly. In 1885, Hiram S. Maxim developed the maxim gun, the model of the modern-day machine gun. European states kept these weapons largely among themselves by refusing to sell these weapons to African leaders.[297]

African germs took numerous European lives and deterred permanent settlements. Diseases such as yellow feversleeping sicknessyaws, and leprosy made Africa a very inhospitable place for Europeans. The deadliest disease was malaria, endemic throughout Tropical Africa. In 1854, the discovery of quinine and other medical innovations helped to make conquest and colonization in Africa possible.[298]

Strong motives for conquest of Africa were at play. Raw materials were needed for European factories. Europe in the early part of the 19th century was undergoing its Industrial Revolution. Nationalist rivalries and prestige were at play. Acquiring African colonies would show rivals that a nation was powerful and significant. These factors culminated in the Scramble for Africa.[299]David Livingstone, early European explorer of the interior of Africa, is attacked by a lion.French explorer Paul Du Chaillu confirmed the existence of Pygmy peoples of central Africa … Knowledge of Africa increased. Numerous European explorers began to explore the continent. explorers included Sir David Livingstone …Missionaries attempting to spread Christianity also increased European knowledge of Africa.

Scramble for Africa:

Partitioning of Africa: Between 1884 and 1885, European nations met at the Berlin West Africa Conference to discuss the partitioning of Africa. It was agreed that European claims to parts of Africa would only be recognised if Europeans provided effective occupation. In a series of treaties in 1890–1891, colonial boundaries were completely drawn. All of Sub-Saharan Africa was claimed by European powers, except for Ethiopia (Abyssinia) and Liberia

The European powers set up a variety of different administrations in Africa, reflecting different ambitions and degrees of power. In some areas, such as parts of British West Africa, colonial control was tenuous and intended for simple economic extraction, strategic power, or as part of a long-term development plan. In other areas, Europeans were encouraged to settle, creating settler states in which a European minority dominated. Settlers only came to a few colonies in sufficient numbers to have a strong impact. British settler colonies included British East Africa (now Kenya), Northern and Southern Rhodesia, (Zambia and Zimbabwe, respectively), and South Africa, which already had a significant population of European settlers, the Boers. France planned to settle Algeria and eventually incorporate it into the French state on an equal basis with the European provinces. Algeria’s proximity across the Mediterranean allowed plans of this scale.[citation needed]

In most areas colonial administrations did not have the manpower or resources to fully administer the territory and had to rely on local power structures to help them. Various factions and groups within the societies exploited this European requirement for their own purposes, attempting to gain positions of power within their own communities by cooperating with Europeans. One aspect of this struggle included what Terence Ranger has termed the “invention of tradition.” In order to legitimize their own claims to power in the eyes of both the colonial administrators and their own people, native elites would essentially manufacture “traditional” claims to power, or ceremonies. As a result, many societies were thrown into disarray by the new order.[citation needed]

Following the Scramble for Africa, an early but secondary focus for most colonial regimes was the suppression of slavery and the slave trade. By the end of the colonial period they were mostly successful in this aim, though slavery is still very active in Africa.

Desmond Tutu:

Portugese in Africa: 1543: Portugese took Ethiopia, set up on coast, drove out raiding Muslims. Increased slave trade.Millions of slaves shipped to the Americas. Many died either during slave wars between African states trying to capture slaves or on voyages across Atlantic (the Middle Passage). A catastrophe for Africa to lose so many people. Tribal security and unity gradually gave way to increased social distrust and control by greedy chiefs.

The Middle Passage:

Sub-saharan Africa:

Horn of Africa:

The Ivory Coast:

The Gold Coast:

Dutch East India Company: 1637: Dutch drove Portugese from the Gold Coast..
1652: Dutch East India Company founded Cape Town.


Nelson Mandela:

The Boer Wars: 1836: Cape Colony at Southern tip ruled by British. Expanded northward. Fought Zulus and the Boers for control of area. Prime Minister of the Cape Colony, Cecil Rhodes, sought to unite all of Africa under British rule. Boer Wars.

Cecil Rhodes:

Suez Canal:

African National Congress (ANC):

Slave trade: 1700s: Africa relatively peaceful despite European settlemtn. 35,000 slaves each year sent to the Americas….1787: British established Sierra Leone as a refugee for freed slaves….1822: Liberia founded for freed slaves from the U.S….Early 1800s: Most European countries stopped trading in slaves, though Portugese continued till 1882.

Zulu warriors: Early 1800s: Zulu trive in Southern Africa fought constantly with neighbors. Major bloodshed. Zulu warriors! “Time of Troubles.” Islam still going strong. Most of Africa still owned by Africans, but not united against Arabs and Europeans, so very vulnerable.

The Modern Era (1900 to the Present)

Swahili: “An ethnic group in East Africa. Also, the language spoken by many East African nations including Kenya and Uganda.

1902: Peace treaty signed making Boer republics part of British empire, though self-governed.

1910: Union of South Africa founded, unifying several African provinces under the British.

1869: Suez Canal opens to shipping.

1875: Britain took advantage of a local financial crisis and bought 50 percent of shares of Suez Canal.

1871: Stanley, an American journalist, met Dr. David Livingstone at Lake Tansanyika (sp?). Livingstone was seeking the source of the Nile.

1876: Belgium took over the Congo.

1882: British occupy Egypt to protect Suez Canal, which cut their time to India hugely. This caused some fighting.

1884: European nations met in Berlin to divide Africa among themselves. Only Liberia and Ethiopia remained independent.

1893: Frech take Timbuktu, Mali, W. Africa.

1899: British-Egyptian rule of Sudan

1912: African National Congress forms in South Africa.

1880-1912: European nations “scramble for Africa.” Led by Britain, France, plus Germany, Belgium and Italy.

Late 1800s: Britain had modern-day Ghana, Nigeria and controlled Sierra Leone, Egypt and the Gambia. Belgium had the Congo in Central Africa. [see map p362]. French were in West Africa, Britain in w, ne, south; belgium in center and other spred-out colonies. New forms of gov3ernment brought to Africa, but most Africans couldn’t vote and tribes were broken up in the “cake-cutting” process. European colonists often took best farmland for themselves. Profits all went to Europe.(here ins: how african nations gained independence)

1967-2000: Famine in Africa widespread. Drought. Civil war, which made sending aid very dangerous.

1960s: Most states gained independence.

1990-2000: South Africa and Apartheid. S. Af was the last country without self-rule. Still imperialist till Nelson Mandella ended apartheid. Apartheid: separation ofr people according to color or race. Started by the Boers in s. af. in early 1900s. Different laws if you were white, black or “colored” (mixed). Blacks and colored forced to live outside cities and movement restricted. White people in power and resisted opposition from the ANC (African National Congress) in the 60s by harsh laws, including making it illegal to have all-black political parties.

1980s: Colored allowed into government but not blacks. Starting in 1978, several reformers for change, inc President Botha, Desmond Tutu (an Anglican leader), PresidentF.W. de Klerk and Nelson Mandella, who was released from prison by Klerk after 28 years. Mandella became the head of the ANC, then president. Free elections that included all people came in 1994 andled to end of apartheird. Argued for peacefrul settlement. Focus turned to need for schooling, poverty, lack of electricity and clean drinking water, unemployment and street crime.

20th century

With the vast majority of the continent under the colonial control of European governments, the World Wars were significant events in the geopolitical history of Africa. Africa was a theater of war and saw fighting in both wars. More important in most regions, the total war footing of colonial powers impacted the governance of African colonies, through resource allocation, conscription, and taxation. 

The decolonization of Africa started with Libya in 1951, although LiberiaSouth AfricaEgypt and Ethiopia were already independent. Many countries followed in the 1950s and 1960s, with a peak in 1960 with the Year of Africa, which saw 17 African nations declare independence, including a large part of French West Africa. Most of the remaining countries gained independence throughout the 1960s, although some colonizers (Portugal in particular) were reluctant to relinquish sovereignty, resulting in bitter wars of independence which lasted for a decade or more. The last African countries to gain formal independence were Guinea-Bissau (1974), Mozambique (1975) and Angola (1975) from Portugal; Djibouti from France in 1977; Zimbabwe from the United Kingdom in 1980; and Namibia from South Africa in 1990. Eritrea later split off from Ethiopia in 1993.[322]


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