Digital History of Africa
WisdomMaps: The Future of the Past
Experience our digital history of Africa with WisdomMaps!
Anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens) emerged in East Africa more than 200,000 years ago. The earliest human history arose in Egypt, and later in Nubia, sub-Saharan Africa, the Maghreb of North Africa, and the Horn of Africa. In the thousand years before the millennium, North African history became intermingled with that of the Middle East and southern Europe, while the Bantu expansion from central Africa created a common linguistic community across much of the central and southern continent.
During the Middle Ages, Islam spread west from Arabia to Egypt, crossing the Maghreb and the Sahel. Numerous kingdoms arose along with the empires of Mali, Ghana, and Songhai. At its peak, prior to European colonialism, Africa had as many as 10,000 different states and tribal groups with distinct languages and customs.
Europeans joined the African slave trade in the late 15th century. The Portuguese at first bought slaves but then captured them themselves to participate in the Atlantic slave trade. Over the next 300 years, slavery sent some 11 million Africans to the New World in chains.
By 1914, Europe’s Scramble for Africa had consumed more than 90% of African territory; only Liberia and Ethiopia remained free. Struggles for independence took hold in Africa after World War II, and a war-weakened Europe was forced to grant more and more African states their independence.
In East Africa, the Mau Mau Uprising took place in Kenya from 1952 until 1956 but was suppressed by Kenya’s British occupiers. Kenya became independent in 1963, and Jomo Kenyatta became its first president. The early 1960s brought major clashes between the Hutus and the Tutsis in Rwanda and Burundi. This culminated in 1994 in the Rwandan genocide, a conflict in which over 800,000 people were murdered.
In North Africa, Moroccan nationalism developed during the 1930s. The Istiqlal Party was formed, pushing for independence. In 1953 Moroccan sultan Mohammed V called for independence, and in 1956 Morocco became independent of France. Algeria formed the National Liberation Front (FLN) in 1954 as it split from France, and brought on the savage Algerian War. Independence was at last won in 1962, but over a million French nationals left the country and returned to France, crippling Algeria’s economy. Tunisia became independent in 1955, when its Ottoman bey was deposed and it elected a constitutional government.
In Egypt, Gamal Abdel Nasser overthrew the monarchy in the Egyptian Revolution of 1952 and came to power as Prime Minister. Muammar Gaddafi led the 1969 Libyan coup d’état that made him an autocrat who instigated and supported terrorist attacks against the West, that including the downing of a Pan American jetliner. He died a gruesome death when the Libyan Civil War sent him fleeing from power in 2011; he was found hiding in a sewer pipe, sodomized with a bayonet, and then shot. Egypt was involved in several wars against Israel. The 1948 Arab–Israeli War erupted just after the founding of the state of Israel. And the Six-Day War of 1967, which caused the loss of the Sinai Peninsula to Israel, was followed by the Yom Kippur War of 1973. In 1979, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin signed the Camp David Accords which returned the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt in return for recognition of Israel. But the agreement cost Sadat his life when he was assassinated by the Egyptian Islamic Jihad who targeted him in revenge for his perceived traitorous signing of the Accords.
In 1948, the enforced separation of blacks and whites of Apartheid was begun in South Africa by the white National Party. These laws mostly continued existing policies, but Apartheid aspired to other racist goals that ranged from “petty apartheid” to the larger scheme of African homelands. Apartheid ended in 1994 with the election of Nelson Mandela of the African National Congress as president of South Africa.
Following World War II, nationalist movements flared in West Africa, particularly in Ghana at the instigation of Kwame Nkrumah. In 1957, Ghana became the first sub-Saharan colony to become independent, and was followed the next year by all of France’s African colonies. By 1974, West African nations were entirely autonomous. But since independence, many West African nations have been plagued by corruption and instability, with deadly civil wars in Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Ivory Coast, and military coups in Ghana and Burkina Faso. Many African states have failed to develop their economies despite considerable natural resources, and political instability and corruption is often accompanied by military and otherwise autocratic government.
That said, here’s our assortment… please enjoy! When you’re done perusing a map, just close it and you’ll be back here.