Kenya declares independence from Britain


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Year
1963
Month Day
December 12

On December 12, 1963, Kenya declares its independence from Britain. The East African nation is freed from its colonial oppressors, but its struggle for democracy is far from over.

A decade before, in 1952, a rebellion known the Mau Mau Uprising had shaken the British colony. Not only did the British spend an estimated £55 million suppressing the uprising, they also carried out massacres of civilians, forced several hundred thousand Kenyans into concentration camps, and suspended civil liberties in some cities. The war ended in the imprisonment and execution of many of the rebels, but the British also understood that things had permanently changed. The colonial government introduced reforms making it easier for Kenyans to own land and grow coffee, a major cash crop previously reserved for European settlers. Kenyans were allowed to be elected to the Legislative Council beginning in 1957. With nationalist movements sweeping across the continent and with Britain no longer financially or militarily capable of sustaining its empire, the British government and representatives from the Kenyan independence movement met in 1960 to negotiate independence.

The agreement called for a 66-seat Legislative Council, with 33 seats reserved for black Kenyans and 20 for other ethnic groups. Jomo Kenyatta, a former leader of the Kenya African National Union whom the British had imprisoned on false charges after the Mau Mau Uprising, was sworn in as Kenya’s Prime Minister on June 1, 1963, in preparation for the transition to independence. The new nation’s flag was modeled on that of the Union and featured a Masai shield at its center.

Kenya’s problems did not end with independence. Fighting with ethnic Somali rebels in the north continued from the time of independence until 1969, and Kenyatta instituted one-party rule, leading a corrupt and autocratic government until his death in 1978. Questions about the fairness of its elections continue to plague the country, which instituted a new constitution in 2010. Kenyatta’s son, Uhuru, has been president since 2013.

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King Tut’s sarcophagus uncovered


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Year
1924
Month Day
January 03

Two years after British archaeologist Howard Carter and his workmen discovered the tomb of the Pharaoh Tutankhamen near Luxor, Egypt, they uncover the greatest treasure of the tomb–a stone sarcophagus containing a solid gold coffin that holds the mummy of Tutankhamen.

When Carter first arrived in Egypt in 1891, most of the ancient Egyptian tombs had been discovered, although the little-known Pharaoh Tutankhamen, who had died when he was a teen, was still unaccounted for. After World War I, Carter began an intensive search for “King Tut’s Tomb,” finally finding steps to the burial room hidden in the debris near the entrance of the nearby tomb of King Ramses VI in the Valley of the Kings. On November 26, 1922, Carter and fellow archaeologist Lord Carnarvon entered the tomb, finding it miraculously intact.

Thus began a monumental excavation process in which Carter carefully explored the four-room tomb over four years, uncovering an incredible collection of several thousand objects. The most splendid architectural find was a stone sarcophagus containing three coffins nested within each other. Inside the final coffin, made out of solid gold, was the mummy of the boy-king Tutankhamen, preserved for more than 3,000 years.

READ MORE: See Stunning Photos of King Tut’s Tomb

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Massacre in Sharpeville


Year
1960
Month Day
March 21

In the black township of Sharpeville, near Johannesburg, South Africa, Afrikaner police open fire on a group of unarmed black South African demonstrators, killing 69 people and wounding 180 in a hail of submachine-gun fire. The demonstrators were protesting against the South African government’s restriction of nonwhite travel. In the aftermath of the Sharpeville massacre, protests broke out in Cape Town, and more than 10,000 people were arrested before government troops restored order.

The incident convinced anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela to abandon his nonviolent stance and organize paramilitary groups to fight South Africa’s system of institutionalized racial discrimination. In 1964, after some minor military action, Mandela was convicted of treason and sentenced to life in prison. He was released after 27 years and in 1994 was elected the first black president of South Africa.

READ MORE: Remembering Nelson Mandela

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Freed U.S. slaves depart on journey to Africa


Year
1820
Month Day
February 06

The first organized immigration of freed slaves to Africa from the United States departs New York harbor on a journey to Freetown, Sierra Leone, in West Africa. The immigration was largely the work of the American Colonization Society, a U.S. organization founded in 1816 by Robert Finley to return freed American slaves to Africa. However, the expedition was also partially funded by the U.S. Congress, which in 1819 had appropriated $100,000 to be used in returning displaced Africans, illegally brought to the United States after the abolishment of the slave trade in 1808, to Africa.

The program was modeled after British’s efforts to resettle freed slaves in Africa following England’s abolishment of the slave trade in 1772. In 1787, the British government settled 300 former slaves and 70 white prostitutes on the Sierra Leone peninsula in West Africa. Within two years, most members of this settlement had died from disease or warfare with the local Temne people. However, in 1792, a second attempt was made when 1,100 freed slaves, mostly individuals who had supported Britain during the American Revolution and were unhappy with their postwar resettlement in Canada, established Freetown under the leadership of British abolitionist Thomas Clarkson.

During the next few decades, thousands of freed slaves came from Canada, the West Indies, and other parts of West Africa to the Sierra Leone Colony, and in 1820 the first freed slaves from the United States arrived at Sierra Leone. In 1821, the American Colonization Society founded the colony of Liberia south of Sierra Leone as a homeland for freed U.S. slaves outside of British jurisdiction.

Most Americans of African descent were not enthusiastic to abandon their homes in the United States for the West African coast. The American Colonization Society also came under attack from American abolitionists, who charged that the removal of freed slaves from the United States strengthened the institution of slavery. However, between 1822 and the American Civil War, some 15,000 African Americans settled in Liberia, which was granted independence by the United States in 1847 under pressure from Great Britain. Liberia was granted official U.S. diplomatic recognition in 1862. It was the first independent democratic republic in African history.

READ MORE: How a Movement to Send Freed Slaves to Africa Created Liberia

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Pyramid mystery unearthed


Year
1984
Month Day
January 12

An international panel overseeing the restoration of the Great Pyramids in Egypt overcomes years of frustration when it abandons modern construction techniques in favor of the method employed by the ancient Egyptians.

Located at Giza outside Cairo, some of the oldest manmade structures on earth were showing severe signs of decay by the early 1980s. Successful repair work began on the 4,600-year-old Sphinx in 1981, but restoration of the pyramids proved destructive when water in modern cement caused adjacent limestone stones to split. On January 12, 1984, restorers stopped using mortar and adopted the system of interlocking blocks practiced by the original pyramid builders. From thereon, the project proceeded smoothly.

The ancient Egyptians built nearly 100 pyramids over a millennium to serve as burial chambers for their royalty. They believed that the pyramids eased the monarchs’ passage into the afterlife, and the sites served as centers of religious activity. During the Old Kingdom, a period of Egyptian history that lasted from the late 26th century B.C. to the mid-22nd century B.C., the Egyptians built their largest and most ambitious pyramids.

READ MORE: How Did Egyptians Build the Pyramids?

The three enormous pyramids situated at Giza outside of Cairo were built by King Khufu, his son, and his grandson in the Fourth Dynasty. The largest, known as the Great Pyramid, was built by Khufu and is the only one of the “Seven Wonders of the World” from antiquity that still survives. The Great Pyramid was built of approximately 2.3 million blocks of stone and stood nearly 50 stories high upon completion. Its base forms a nearly perfect and level square, with sides aligned to the four cardinal points of the compass.

The Great Pyramid is composed primarily of yellowish limestone blocks and was originally covered in an outer casing of smooth light-colored limestone. This finer limestone eroded and was carried away in later centuries, but the material can still be found in the inner passages. The interior burial chamber was built of huge blocks of granite. It is believed that construction of the pyramid took 20 years and involved over 20,000 workers, bakers, carpenters, and water carriers. The exact method in which this architectural masterpiece was built is not definitively known, but the leading theory is that the Egyptians employed an encircling embankment of sand, brick, and earth that was increased in height as the pyramid rose.

In addition to Khufu’s mummy, interior rooms of the pyramid held objects for the deceased to use in the afterlife. Many of these items were valuable, and tomb robbers had long ago robbed the pyramids of their treasures before modern archeologists began studying the structures in the 17th century.

King Khafre, the grandson of Khufu, built the Great Sphinx, which was carved from a single block of limestone left over in a quarry used to build the pyramids. The Sphinx has the body of a recumbent lion and a human face meant to represent Khafre. There are no known inner chambers in the structure.

READ MORE: 10 Awe-Inspiring Photos of the Ancient Pyramids of Egypt

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Qaddafi becomes premier of Libya


Year
1970
Month Day
January 15

Muammar al-Qaddafi, the young Libyan army captain who deposed King Idris in September 1969, is proclaimed premier of Libya by the so-called General People’s Congress.

Born in a tent in the Libyan desert, Qaddafi was the son of a Bedouin farmer. He attended university and the Libyan military academy and steadily rose in the ranks of the Libyan army. An ardent Arab nationalist, he plotted with a group of fellow officers to overthrow the Libyan monarchy, which they accomplished on September 1, 1969.

Blending Islamic orthodoxy, revolutionary socialism, and Arab nationalism, Qaddafi established a fervently anti-Western dictatorship. In 1970, he removed U.S. and British military bases and expelled Italian and Jewish Libyans. In 1973, he nationalized foreign-owned oil fields. He reinstated traditional Islamic laws, such as prohibition of alcoholic beverages and gambling, but liberated women and launched social programs that improved the standard of living in Libya. As part of his stated ambition to unite the Arab world, he sought closer relations with his Arab neighbors, especially Egypt. However, when Egypt and then other Arab nations began a peace process with Israel, Libya was increasingly isolated.

Qaddafi’s government financed a wide variety of terrorist groups worldwide, from Palestinian guerrillas and Philippine Muslim rebels to the Irish Republican Army. During the 1980s, the West blamed him for numerous terrorist attacks in Europe, and in April 1986 U.S. war planes bombed Tripoli in retaliation for a bombing of a West German dance hall. Qaddafi was reportedly injured and his infant daughter killed in the U.S. attack.

In the late 1990s, Qaddafi sought to lead Libya out of its long international isolation by turning over to the West two suspects wanted for the 1988 explosion of an airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland. In response, Europe lifted sanctions against Libya. After years of rejection in the Arab world, Qaddafi also sought to forge stronger relations with non-Islamic African nations such as South Africa, remodeling himself as an elder African statesman.

Qaddafi surprised many around the world when he became one of the first Muslim heads of state to denounce al-Qaida after the attacks of September 11, 2001. The next year, he offered a public apology for the Lockerbie bombing, later agreeing to pay nearly $3 billion in compensation to the victims’ families. In 2003, he gained favor with the administration of George W. Bush when he announced the existence of a program to build weapons of mass destruction in Libya and that he would allow an international agency to inspect and dismantle them. Though some in the U.S. government pointed to this as a direct and positive consequence of the ongoing war in Iraq, others pointed out that Qaddafi had essentially been making the same offer since 1999, but had been ignored. In 2004, U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair visited Libya, one of the first western heads of state to do so in recent memory; he praised Libya during the visit as a strong ally in the international war on terror.

In February 2011, as unrest spread through much of the Arab world, massive political protests against the Qaddafi regime sparked a civil war between revolutionaries and loyalists. In March, an international coalition began conducting airstrikes against Qaddafi strongholds under the auspices of a U.N. Security Council resolution. On October 20, Libya’s interim government announced that Qaddafi had died after being captured near his hometown of Sirte.

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Nelson Mandela released from prison

Year
1990
Month Day
February 11

Nelson Mandela, leader of the movement to end South African apartheid, is released from prison after 27 years on February 11, 1990.

In 1944, Mandela, a lawyer, joined the African National Congress (ANC), the oldest black political organization in South Africa, where he became a leader of Johannesburg’s youth wing of the ANC. In 1952, he became deputy national president of the ANC, advocating nonviolent resistance to apartheid–South Africa’s institutionalized system of white supremacy and racial segregation. However, after the massacre of peaceful black demonstrators at Sharpeville in 1960, Nelson helped organize a paramilitary branch of the ANC to engage in guerrilla warfare against the white minority government.

In 1961, he was arrested for treason, and although acquitted he was arrested again in 1962 for illegally leaving the country. Convicted and sentenced to five years at Robben Island Prison, he was put on trial again in 1964 on charges of sabotage. In June 1964, he was convicted along with several other ANC leaders and sentenced to life in prison.

READ MORE: The Harsh Reality of Life Under Apartheid in South Africa

Mandela spent the first 18 of his 27 years in jail at the brutal Robben Island Prison. Confined to a small cell without a bed or plumbing, he was forced to do hard labor in a quarry. He could write and receive a letter once every six months, and once a year he was allowed to meet with a visitor for 30 minutes. However, Mandela’s resolve remained unbroken, and while remaining the symbolic leader of the anti-apartheid movement, he led a movement of civil disobedience at the prison that coerced South African officials into drastically improving conditions on Robben Island. He was later moved to another location, where he lived under house arrest.

In 1989, F.W. de Klerk became South African president and set about dismantling apartheid. De Klerk lifted the ban on the ANC, suspended executions, and in February 1990 ordered the release of Nelson Mandela.

Mandela subsequently led the ANC in its negotiations with the minority government for an end to apartheid and the establishment of a multiracial government. In 1993, Mandela and de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. One year later, the ANC won an electoral majority in the country’s first free elections, and Mandela was elected South Africa’s president.

Mandela retired from politics in 1999, but remained a global advocate for peace and social justice until his death in December 2013.

READ MORE: Nelson Mandela: His Written Legacy

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Idi Amin takes power in Uganda


Year
1971
Month Day
February 02

One week after toppling the regime of Ugandan leader Milton Obote, Major General Idi Amin declares himself president of Uganda and chief of the armed forces. Amin, head of the Ugandan army and air force since 1966, seized power while Obote was out of the country.

Ruling directly, Amin soon revealed himself as an extreme nationalist and tyrant. In 1972, he launched a genocidal program to purge Uganda of its Lango and Acholi ethnic groups. Later that year, he ordered all Asians to leave the country, and some 60,000 Indians and Pakistanis fled, thrusting Uganda into economic collapse. A Muslim, he reversed Uganda’s friendly relations with Israel and sought closer ties with Libya and the Palestinians. In 1976, he made himself president for life and stepped up his suppression of various ethnic groups and political opponents in the military and elsewhere.

In 1978, Amin invaded Tanzania in an attempt to annex the Kagera region and divert attention from Uganda’s internal problems. In 1979, Tanzania launched a successful counteroffensive with the assistance of the Uganda National Liberation Front, a coalition of various armed Ugandan exiles. Amin and his government fled the country, and Obote returned from exile to reassume the Ugandan presidency. Amin received asylum from Saudi Arabia. He is believed to have been responsible for the murder of as many as 300,000 Ugandans, though he never stood trial for his crimes.

Amin died on August 16, 2003, in Saudi Arabia.

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French-Algerian truce


Year
1962
Month Day
March 18

On March 18, 1962, France and the leaders of the Front de Liberation Nationale (FLN) sign a peace agreement to end the seven-year Algerian War, signaling the end of 130 years of colonial French rule in Algeria.

In late October 1954, a faction of young Algerian Muslims established the Front de Liberation Nationale (FLN) as a guerrilla organization dedicated to winning independence from France. They staged several bloody uprisings during the next year, and by 1956 the FLN was threatening to overrun the colonial cities, home to Algeria’s sizable European settler population. In France, a new administration, led by Guy Mollet, promised to quell the Muslim rebellion and sent 500,000 French troops to Algeria to crush the FLN.

To isolate the rebels and their area of operations, France granted Tunisia and Morocco independence, and their borders with Algeria were militarized with barbed wire and electric fencing. When FLN leaders attempted to travel to Tunisia in October 1956 to discuss the Algerian War, French forces diverted their plane and jailed the men. In response, the FLN launched a new campaign of terrorism in the colonial capital of Algiers. General Jacques Massu, head of France’s crack parachute unit, was given extraordinary powers to act in the city, and through torture and assassination the FLN presence in Algiers was destroyed. By the end of 1957, the rebels had been pushed back into rural areas, and it seemed the tide had turned in the Algerian War.

However, in May 1958, a new crisis began when European Algerians launched massive demonstrations calling for the integration of Algeria with France and for the return of Charles de Gaulle to power. In France, the Algerian War had seriously polarized public opinion, and many feared the country was on the brink of army revolt or civil war. On June 1, de Gaulle, who had served as leader of France after World War II, was appointed prime minister by the National Assembly and authorized to write a new national constitution.

Days after returning to power, de Gaulle visited Algiers, and though he was warmly welcomed by the European Algerians he did not share their enthusiasm for Algerian integration. Instead, he granted Muslims the full rights of French citizenship and in 1959 declared publicly that Algerians had the right to determine their own future. During the next two years, the worst violence in Algeria was perpetrated by European Algerians rather than the FLN, but scattered revolts and terrorism did not prevent the opening of peace negotiations between France and the FLN-led provisional government of the Algerian Republic in 1961.

On March 16, 1962, a peace agreement was signed at Evian-les-Bains, France, promising independence for Algeria pending a national referendum on the issue. French aid would continue, and Europeans could return to their native countries, remain as foreigners in Algeria, or take Algerian citizenship. On July 1, 1962, Algerians overwhelmingly approved the agreement, and most of the one million Europeans in Algeria poured out of the country. More than 100,000 Muslim and 10,000 French soldiers were killed in the seven-year Algerian War, along with thousands of Muslim civilians and hundreds of European colonists.

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Egypt opens the Suez Canal


Year
1957
Month Day
March 08

Following Israel’s withdrawal from occupied Egyptian territory, the Suez Canal is reopened to international traffic. However, the canal was so littered with wreckage from the Suez Crisis that it took weeks of cleanup by Egyptian and United Nations workers before larger ships could navigate the waterway.

The Suez Canal, which connects the Mediterranean and Red Seas across Egypt, was completed by French engineers in 1869. For the next 88 years, it remained largely under British and French control, and Europe depended on it as an inexpensive shipping route for oil from the Middle East.

In July 1956, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the canal, hoping to charge tolls that would pay for construction of a massive dam on the Nile River. In response, Israel invaded in late October, and British and French troops landed in early November, occupying the canal and other Suez territory. Under pressure from the United Nations, Britain and France withdrew in December, and Israeli forces departed in March 1957. That month, Egypt took over control of the canal and reopened it to commercial shipping. Ten years later, Egypt shut down the canal again following the Six Day War and Israel’s occupation of the Sinai peninsula. It remained closed for eight years, ending when Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat reopened it in 1975 after peace talks with Israel.

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