Africa - History of a continent





Africa is often called the cradle of civilization. The first human beings roamed the continent about 2 million years ago. Old civilizations grew along the banks of the Nile River. Thousands of years ago ancient Egypt became a powerful empire, to the south Nubia emerged in today’s Sudan.

In the early centuries after the birth of Christ Christianity started to spread to northern Africa. In the Middle Ages Islam became the major religion. It spread across northern Africa very quickly and later on expanded to regions south of the Sahara desert. Christianity experienced a comeback in the 19th century when missionaries from Europe began to spread it to  western and central Africa.

After 1000 AD, great empires emerged in Ghana and other areas in western African. City-states, including Mogadishu and Zanzibar, grew into powerful trading centres in East Africa.

Towards the end of the Middle Ages the first Europeans came to Africa.  From the early 1500s on, they made money by bringing slaves to North America. The British, Dutch and Portuguese set up trading posts along the western African coast where they searched for gold and ivory. In the 17th century, the Dutch set up a trading post at the Cape of Good Hope. It grew into a Dutch colony until the 19th century, when the British took over.

At the end of the 19th century, Europeans ruled most of Africa.  They saw the continent as a major source of raw materials that they could bring back to Europe for their emerging industries. As a result, the Industrial Revolution did not take place in Africa.  Throughout the colonial period, European countries fought for influence and control in Africa. In the “Scramble for Africa”, they divided the continent into spheres of interest.  Native Africans often resisted colonial governments and in many areas, they were killed in uprisings.

The main colonial powers were:

  • Great Britain (Egypt, Sudan, Eastern Africa, Rhodesia and South Africa)
  • France (Algeria, French West Africa, Equatorial Africa)
  • Belgium (Congo)
  • Portugal(Angola, Mozambique)
  • Germany (Southwest Africa - Namibia)
  • Spain (Spanish Sahara)
  • Italy (Ethiopia, Libya, Somaliland)



Africa colonialism


Africa Colonialism legend

European powers in Africa


In the early 1900s, nationalism grew in many areas of Africa. People wanted colonialism to end and be free. After World War II most European countries ended  their involvement in Africa, either out of their own free will or because they were forced out.

In the 1950s, Algerians started to revolt against France. In a bloody colonial war that cost a million lives the Algerians became independent in 1962. In Angola and Mozambique, the Portuguese fought wars before they gave up their territories.
One of the last countries to gain independence was Rhodesia, today’s Zimbabwe, where blacks fought for over a decade against the British. In South Africa, white Europeans gave up control of the country after Apartheid ended in the 1990s.

Many African countries did not know how to cope with their newly gained independence, largely because they had no experience in administrating and governing a nation. As a result, civil wars, tribal conflicts and power struggles broke out. They resulted in dozens of wars in Africa since the 1960s.  In the most gruesome conflict of the 1990s, a civil war in Ruanda led to the massacre of hundreds of thousands of people. However, Africa has had to cope with other problems as well.  Virus outbreaks, for example Ebola, and other tropical diseases have killed thousands in the past years.


Africa - Exercises



Related Topics



  • AD =anno Domini = after the birth of Christ
  • administrate = govern, rule a country
  • ancient = old
  • Apartheid = political and social system in South Africa up to the beginning of the 1990s;  white people controlled the government and economy; blacks and Asians had to go to separate schools and live in separate areas
  • as a result = that is why
  • bank = side of a river
  • century = a hundred years
  • Christianity = religion based on the life of Jesus Christ
  • city-state = a free state that consists of a city and the land around it
  • civil war = war between two groups of people who live in the same country
  • coast = where land meets the sea
  • colonial war = conflict between a European country and the people in the country it controls
  • colony = area that a more powerful country controls
  • cope = deal with
  • cradle = here: the beginning
  • disease = illness
  • divide = split up
  • dozen = twelve
  • emerge = come up, develop, grow
  • empire = group of countries that are controlled by a single ruler
  • expand = grow, move to
  • experience = practice, knowledge
  • force = drive
  • free will = to do something because you want to, not because someone has made you do it
  • gain independence = become free
  • gruesome = brutal
  • however = but
  • human being = person
  • including = also
  • independent = free
  • influence = power
  • involvement =  here: control of a country
  • largely = mainly
  • major = most important
  • massacre = when many people are killed in a violent way
  • missionary = someone who goes to another country to teach people about the life of Jesus Christ and tries turn them into Christians
  • nationalism = when a group of people wants to become free and form an independent country
  • raw material = things that exist in nature and which we need for our industries
  • resist = fight, to be against something
  • revolt = rebel
  • roam = wander
  • rule = govern; to be in control of
  • source = where something comes from
  • sphere =field
  • spread = here: move to other places
  • struggle = fight
  • throughout = in all of
  • trade = buy and sell things
  • trading post = place where people come to buy and sell their products
  • tribal = about a group of people who are of the same race, language and have a single ruler
  • uprising = rebellion, revolution
  • virus = a small living thing that can cause an illness