Historical Timeline for Africa

The following historical timeline for Africa is adapted from: The African Experience. From “Lucy” to Mandela. By: Kenneth P. Vickery. Teaching Company, 2007.

  • c. 4–3 million B.C Emergence of Australopithecus, possibly the first in the hominid line of evolution, culminating in modern humans in East/Southern Africa.
  • c. 1.5 million B.C Emergence of Homo erectus in Africa, definitely a human ancestor.
  • c. 100,000 B.C Emergence of Homo sapiens, “wise human,” in Africa.
  • c. 40,000 B.C Emergence of Homo sapiens sapiens, fully modern humans, in Africa.
  • c. 5000 B.C. to A.D. 1000 (depending on region) Closing of Late Stone Age, opening of Iron Age. Also—though not necessarily concomitant with Stone Age/Iron Age transition—closing of hunting/gathering age, onset of agriculture.
  • c. 3100–c. 350 B.C Egypt of the pharaohs.
  • c. 2000–c. 100 B.C Kingdom of Kush in the Nubian region of modern Sudan.
  • c. 750–650 B.C Nubian (or 25th) dynasty rules Egypt.
  • c. 3rd–5th centuries A.D Introduction of camel revolutionizes trans-Saharan trade.
  • Mid-4th century A.D Aksumite (Ethiopian) monarch converts to Christianity.
  • 7th century A.D Rapid Arab/Muslim expansion across North Africa.
  • c. 7th–12th centuries A.D West African savanna kingdom of Ghana. Islam begins to penetrate West African savanna.
  • Late 1st millennium A.D Emergence of trading states in Southern Africa, such as Mapungubwe.
  • c. 11th–15th centuries Swahili city-states emerge on East African coast.
  • c. 12th–15th centuries Kingdom of Great Zimbabwe.
  • Early 13th century Ethiopian Christian monks begin building a series of churches carved out of solid mountain rock.
  • Early 13th century Sundiata founds West African savanna kingdom of Mali.
  • c. 1300 Completion of stone buildings at Great Zimbabwe.
  • 1324–1325 King (Mansa) Musa of Mali makes epic pilgrimage to Mecca.
  • Early 15th century Sonni Ali founds West African savanna kingdom of Songhai.
  • 1492 Columbus’s voyage marks the opening of the Atlantic System linking Africa, Europe, and the Americas.
  • 1498 Portuguese circumnavigation of Africa, around the Cape of Good Hope and into the Indian Ocean.
  • 1505 Portuguese sacking of the Swahili city-state of Kilwa.
  • 16th–19th centuries Atlantic slave trade brings millions of Africans to the New World.
  • 1591 Moroccans—with firearms—invade and defeat Songhai.
  • 1619 First Africans brought to Virginia.
  • 1652 Dutch establish post at Cape Town.
  • 1657 Dutch East India Company releases nine employees, who end up as the first white settlers in what becomes South Africa.
  • 1658 Dutch import the first slaves into Cape Colony.
  • 1779 First conflict between Europeans and Xhosa—part of the southern Bantu peoples—in “South Africa.”
  • 1795–1806 British take over Cape Colony.
  • 1807 Britain outlaws international traffic in slaves; West Africa’s era of “legitimate commerce” soon underway.
  • c. early–mid-19th century Islamic reform movements—many involving jihad, or holy war—emerge in the West African savanna.
  • 1818–1828 Shaka Zulu’s decade in power, when he founds the modern Zulu kingdom.
  • 1820 First British settlers come to Cape.
  • 1836–1845 Afrikaner (or Boer) “Great Trek” out of Cape Colony and into the interior.
  • 1867 Diamonds discovered at Kimberley.
  • 1879 Zulu/British war; Zulu finally conquered.
  • c. 1880–1905 “Scramble for Africa.” Almost all of Africa taken over by European empires; onset of Africa’s colonial period.
  • 1884–1845 Berlin Conference of European powers considers “ground rules” for the scramble for Africa.
  • 1886 Gold discovered near Johannesburg.
  • 1896 Ethiopian Emperor Menelik defeats Italian army at Adwa; Ethiopia avoids colonization.
  • 1899–1902 South African, or Boer, War between British and Afrikaners; Afrikaners finally defeated.
  • 1910 Union of South Africa formed.
  • 1912 African National Congress founded in South Africa.
  • 1913 South African Natives Land Act establishes separate white and black areas.
  • 1914–1918 World War I; the only major non-European theater is in East Africa, where there are both British and German colonies.
  • 1935 Italy succeeds (finally) in taking over Ethiopia.
  • 1935–1945 Numerous labor strikes across the breadth of colonial Africa; examples of proto-nationalist urban unrest.
  • 1938 Cocoa “hold-up” in Gold Coast, an example of rural protest.
  • 1939–1945 World War II. Hundreds of thousands of Africans serve overseas on the Allied side; in the aftermath, Britain and France, particularly, adopt more aggressive “developmentalist” colonial policies.
  • 1941 Allied forces expel Italians from Ethiopia.
  • 1944 ANC Youth League formed in South Africa, with Mandela a founder.
  • 1948 “Purified” Afrikaner National Party takes power in South Africa; officially imposes policy of apartheid.
  • c. late 1940s–1964 High tide of “African nationalism”; within a few years either side of 1960, most colonies become independent under African rule—except for the settler colonies concentrated in Southern Africa.
  • c. early 1950s “Defiance campaign” in South Africa by ANC and other organizations.
  • c. early–mid-1950s “Mau Mau” rebellion/emergency in Kenya.
  • 1955 Congress of the People in South Africa; Freedom Charter adopted.
  • 1957 Gold Coast wins independence from Britain, becomes the modern country of Ghana, the first sub-Saharan colony to gain independence.
  • 1960 South African security forces kill 69 unarmed protestors at Sharpeville; African nationalist organizations in the country are banned; they, in turn, adopt armed struggle.
  • 1960–1961 Independence of many countries, including the Belgian Congo; its first premier, Patrice Lumumba, is executed by rebels, and the country is engulfed in civil war.
  • c. early 1960s Armed liberation movements emerge in Portuguese colonies of Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bissau.
  • 1964 Nelson Mandela and others sentenced to life imprisonment for treason in South Africa.
  • 1965 Military coup brings Joseph Mobutu to power in Congo-Kinshasa. He will rule for 32 years. He came to power through the help of the Belgium Government.
  • 1965 White settler regime in Southern Rhodesia proclaims Unilateral Declaration of Independence from Britain.
  • 1966 Coup in Ghana overthrows Kwame Nkrumah, the “Father of African Nationalism.”
  • 1967 Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere issues the Arusha Declaration, a blueprint for “African socialism.”
  • 1967–1970 Nigerian civil war; attempt by Biafra (southeastern Nigeria) to secede ultimately thwarted.
  • 1972 Beginning of sustained guerilla war in Rhodesia (formerly Southern Rhodesia).
  • 1974 Coup in Portugal leads to the end of Portuguese rule in Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea Bissau; in the first two, however, civil war supported by outside powers continues.
  • 1974 Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie overthrown by radical military officers.
  • c. mid-1970s “Oil shocks”—price rises for petroleum—signal decline in terms of trade and deepening crisis in many parts of Africa.
  • 1976 Uprising in Soweto, a huge township outside Johannesburg, signals the arrival of a new, defiant generation in South Africa.
  • c. early 1980s AIDS identified; the disease almost certainly had already been spreading in Africa and will eventually have a significant impact.
  • c. late 1980s and early 1990s  Wave of “democratization” sweeps over Africa, leading to the end of one-party and military regimes.
  • 1990 Mandela released from South African prison; negotiations for a democratic constitution begin.
  • 1994 Rwanda genocide leaves some 700,000 dead.
  • 1994 In South Africa’s first-ever democratic election, Nelson Mandela and the once-outlawed ANC sweep to victory.
  • 2000 Government-sponsored “invasions” of white-owned land begin in Zimbabwe. Crisis continues today.
  • 2004 Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Wangari Mathai, the Kenyan woman who has courageously campaigned for the environment and human rights.
  • 2004 Thabo Mbeki reelected South African president in the third peaceful and open election since the fall of apartheid.

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