History of East Africa

As with other areas of Africa, scientists, researchers and anthropologists have named East Africa the Cradle of Humankind, believing it to be the site of human origin. Remains of ancient hominids have been found throughout East Africa. The Awash Valley in Ethiopia, Kenya’s Koobi Fora and the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania are all acclaimed the world over for their abundant fossilised findings. These discoveries are the only remnants of this prehistoric time, during which records consist only of cave paintings, fossils and preserved implements as opposed to written records.

Recorded history of East Africa began during the 15th century, when Vasco da Gama arrived in Mombasa in 1498. His ultimate purpose was to facilitate trade with India and the East by sea, rather than by the alternative routes that were being dominated by the Turks and Venice. Once da Gama pioneered this water route, the Portuguese ruled the East African coastal strip at Mombasa. In 1505, the Portuguese conquered the island of Kilwa, followed by Mombasa, which was completely destroyed. After these two locations were conquered, Hoja, Barawa, Angoche and Pate were among the other towns that were attacked successfully. Portuguese supremacy was the ultimate goal so that the spice trade with the Arab suppliers could be enabled.

The Portuguese ships in these waters had a very negative effect on the enemies that were also trying to make use of this route. This eventually led to active confrontations between the Arabs and the Portuguese, which resulted in the Portuguese being ousted from the coasts of Kenya and Tanzania in the 1700’s. A combination of Portugal’s loss of interest in the spice trade and the Arab’s attacks caused the Arabs to seize most of the trade that was going on in the Indian Ocean at that time. The Portuguese remained as rulers in Mozambique until 1975, when Mozambique won its independence. Kenya and Tanzania suffered under Omani Arab rule. At first, this rule was only exerted on the coastal areas. However, as the Omani Arabs established clove plantations and placed the new capital in Zanzibar, this domination extended inland by the mid 1800’s. It was only when the British determined to abolish the slave trade that they began to put a lot of pressure on the Omani empire. The British military was instrumental in enforcing the ban on slave trades and continued to exert pressure until the 1880’s, when the main ports were seized by Britain and Germany, who then made important alliances with key industrial players.

From this time well into the 1900’s, different European countries fought for East Africa. Nearly all of East Africa’s countries were controlled by some part of Europe. Portugal had control of Lake Malawi’s eastern coast, while Britain controlled Uganda and Kenya. Madagascar was seized by the French, some of Somalia to Italy, and Rwanda, Burundi and the main part of Tanzania went to the Germans. These seizures were a time of war and devastation for East Africa. While the battle for independence and freedom were not won without much persecution, East Africa has advanced in leaps and bounds on a social and political level. However, it is vital that we remember and appreciate its rich prehistorical value in terms of the origin of the human race as we know it today.