19.1 - east africa

East Africa East Africa

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A look at East Africa, focusing on the colonial period, the Rwanda geneocide and the Aksum civilization.


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East AfricaEast Africa

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East Africa

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This subregion has some of the longest and most continuous records of human habitation.

• Some of the earliest human fossils were found here.

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The Aksum civilization

• Started in the area of modern Ethiopia around AD 100.

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• Aksum became a trading empire, exchanging goods with Arabia, India, and the African coast.

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• Interestingly, the monsoon winds dictated trade.

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• During the winter, the monsoon winds went southwest, so that’s which way the ships went in the winter.

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• In the summer, the monsoon winds went the opposite direction. This meant trading runs could be a year long round trip endeavor.

• These winds not only dictated timing, but also the location of port cities.

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• The Aksum people were also some of the earliest Christians and the first in Africa.

• Aksum’s power waxed and waned. It eventually became Ethiopia.

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Axum obelisk looted from Ethiopia in 1937 by Mussolini and not returned until 2005.

• It’s 78 feet tall and weighs over 100 tons.

• It’s one solid piece of granite (or at least it


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Obelisk in its proper location.

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• As we know, Africa has lots of resources and the Europeans wanted them.

• North Africa along the Mediterranean had interacted with Europe for nearly 2,000 years and coastal Africa for a few hundred, but in the 1800’s the powers started claiming land inland. This was because the interior had been better charted by the late 19th century.

• The Berlin Conference was arranged among the European powers in 1884 to settle competing claims. They didn’t care to fight over the continent.

• Africans didn’t have a say in things.

• For the Europeans, colonization expanded their empires, brought in resources, and had the high-minded goal of “civilizing” the “savages.”

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• By 1914, Africa had been split up thus:

• Note that Ethopia and Liberia remained uncolonized.

• Liberia was a settlement by freed American slaves.

• Ethiopia successfully fought off Italian colonizers.

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• See if you can identify part of the problem with colonization.

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• Yep… the Europeans grouped together different people, ethnicities, tribes, languages, etc. into larger colonies.

• Many of these groups were not only very different from each other, but also didn’t get along well. Some were mortal enemies who were kept from each other’s throats only because of the colonial powers.

• In some cases, conflict among groups was generated by the powers.

• When colonialism ended, these colonies became independent countries, but with those disagreeable groups still in them.

• It was a recipe for conflict and has contributed to some of the problems in the continent.

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• Rwanda is an example of these problems

• There were two tribes there, the Hutus and the Tutsis.

• The Hutus were the majority, but the Tutsis were the dominant tribe and were the rulers.

• The Germans and then the Belgians recognized this and made sure the Tutsis were in charge. This built resentment among the Hutus.

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• When Belgium granted Rwanda independence in 1962, free elections elected a Hutu dominated government – it destroyed the centuries of social and government structure and the fragile chemistry the place had.

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• In 1994, the genocide began. Hutu militias rounded up all the Tutsis they could find. From April 6th to mid-July, up to 1,071,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed.

• Think about that… over a million people murdered in just 3 months.

• Many were killed by neighbors who either hated the Tutsis themselves or were afraid the militias would kill them also if they didn’t.

• Many were hacked to death by machetes. Many were forced into churches or other buildings and massacred.

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• Studies suggest 53.8% of the victims were killed by machete, 16.6% by clubs, and only 14.7% by gunfire.

• This isn’t ancient history. It’s not even WWII. This was just 14 years ago. You were alive when it happened.

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• The world forgets and tried to ignore it when it happened anyway.

• You need to know what happened and remember.

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• Most of the countries rely on cash crops: crops which are grown for sale, not for subsistence.

• In Africa, the crops are mainly coffee, tea, and sugar.

• Good for money, but it means that less land is being used for food for eating.

• Too much reliance on one or a few crops also means the economy can be seriously affected should the price for that crop go down.

• Like many poorer places, people are flocking to the cities.

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• Tourism is big business in East Africa, mainly because of the wildlife and the preserves, such as the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania.

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• One of the primary ethnic groups in the area is the Masai.

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Health issues

• The big problem right now for all of Africa is AIDS where it’s a pandemic. But we’ll talk about this more next chapter.