The Region Called East Africa

I. Pre-history: The Origins of Modern Humans

A famous discovery in Ethiopia is the skeleton of a female nicknamed “Lucy,” the earliest modern human known to date, from 3 to 4 million years ago.

II. Early East African Kingdoms and Trade Networks

East Africa has a rich history of kingdoms and trade networks. Arab commerce with the East African coast started in the 2nd century BCE. East African trade with India started five hundred years later. Markets were located in cities along the coast.

The earliest known kingdoms in East Africa include Nubia, Rwanda, and the Swahili coast city-states. Aksum was a large empire located in what is today Ethiopia and Eritrea. It is remembered for its splendid gold coins, stone monuments, and elaborate palaces.

Gold, ivory, and slaves from Africa were traded internationally along the Swahili coast. Slaves were also traded by both Arabs and Europeans, with a devastating impact on Africa overall—depopulating certain regions, causing social disruption, and increasing violence through the gun trade. Ending the slave trade also later became a justification for European colonization of East Africa.

III. European Colonialism

European explorers scouted out the African continent in the 15th century. The Portuguese were the first explorers, including Vasco de Gama in 1498.

Europe became interested in cheap raw materials for its factories. Britain, Italy, and France all had East African colonies that provided precious minerals, agricultural goods, rubber, animal skins, and cotton.

Christian missionaries also arrived in East Africa. They did not respect the rich cultural and religious heritages that existed in Africa. This left much of Africa in the position of being economically exploited so that much of its wealth was drained from the country, while at the same time being told they should imitate European “progress.”

Source: The Region Called East Africa
Copyright © 2020 Exploring Africa.

Back to top