Somali pirates hijack Maersk Alabama ship

Year
2009
Month Day
April 08

Pirates had not captured a ship sailing under the American flag since the 1820s until April 8, 2009, when the MV Maersk Alabama was hijacked off the coast of Somalia. The high-profile incident drew worldwide attention to the problem of piracy, commonly believed to be a thing of the past, in the waters off the Horn of Africa.

Decades of instability in Somalia and the accompanying lack of policing in its territorial waters led to a resurgence of piracy in the region that peaked in the late 2000s. Just a day before the attack, the Maersk Alabama received warning from the United States government to stay at least 600 miles off the coast of Somalia, but Captain Richard Phillips kept the ship about 240 miles from the coast, a decision which was later criticized by members of his crew. On April 8, the crew saw a skiff carrying four armed pirates approaching the ship and initiated the protocol for such an event. Chief Engineer Mike Perry got most of the crew to a safe room and managed to swamp the pirates’ craft by swinging his ship’s rudder, but the pirates were nonetheless able to board and take Phillips hostage. After one of their number was injured fighting with the ship’s crew, the other three pirates fled in a lifeboat, taking Phillips with them in the hopes of using him as a bargaining chip.

Early the next morning, the destroyer USS Bainbridge and another U.S. Navy vessel arrived on the scene. What followed was a three-day standoff, with the pirates holding Phillips in the lifeboat. Attempts to negotiate failed, and at one point the pirates fired (harmlessly) at the destroyer. Finally, on April 12, with authorization from recently inaugurated President Barack Obama, Navy SEAL snipers opened fire on the lifeboat. In a stunning display of accuracy, the SEALS firing from a ship’s deck through the windows of the tiny boat hit all three pirates in the head, killing them, while leaving Phillips unharmed.

The surviving pirate, Abduwali Muse, was taken into custody and later sentenced to over 33 years in U.S. prison—though he was tried as an adult, he and the other hijackers were reportedly all teenagers at the time of the attack. The incident received international attention, bringing the problem of modern-day piracy to many people’s attention for the first time. Phillips’ story was made into a movie starring Tom Hanks. Piracy remained an issue in the region—the Maersk Alabama herself was the target of four more pirate attacks between 2009 and 2011, each of which was repelled by armed security teams.

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President Dwight D. Eisenhower apologizes to African diplomat

Year
1957
Month Day
October 10

In the conclusion to an extremely embarrassing situation, President Dwight D. Eisenhower offers his apologies to Ghanian Finance Minister, Komla Agbeli Gbedemah, who had been refused service at a restaurant in Dover, Delaware. It was one of the first of many such incidents in which African diplomats were confronted with racial segregation in the United States. While the matter might appear rather small relative to other events in the Cold War, the continued racial slights to African (and Asian) diplomats during the 1950s and 1960s were of utmost concern to U.S. officials. During those decades the United States and the Soviet Union were competing for the “hearts and minds” of hundreds of millions of people of color in Asia and Africa.

Racial discrimination in America–particularly when it was directed at representatives from those regions–was, as one U.S. official put it, the nation’s “Achilles’ heel.” Matters continued to deteriorate during the early 1960s, when dozens of diplomats from new nations in Africa and Asia faced housing discrimination in Washington, D.C., as well as a series of confrontations in restaurants, barbershops, and other places of business in and around the area. It was clear that American civil rights had become an international issue.

READ MORE: Segregation in America 

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Kenya declares independence from Britain


Updated:
Original:
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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Former Liberian president Charles Taylor found guilty of war crimes

Year
2012
Month Day
April 26

On April 26, 2012, former Liberian president Charles Taylor is found guilty of abetting horrific war crimes, including rape and mutilation in Sierra Leone.

His conviction was the first for war crimes by a former head of state in an international court since the Nuremberg trials of Nazi leaders after World War II. Taylor was found guilty of aiding and abetting a notoriously brutal rebel force who murdered, raped, forced sexual slavery, built a child army and mined diamonds to pay for guns.

Taylor’s road to war crimes started after he escaped a U.S. jail, where he was waiting to be extradited for embezzlement. Taylor made it from his jail cell to Libya, where he started the militia group National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL). With his newly formed militia, he overthrew the regime of Samuel Doe in 1989. The upheaval plunged the country into a 14-year bloody civil war. By the end, 200,000 were killed in the fighting and more than half of the population became refugees.

After a peace deal was made to end the civil war, Taylor was elected Liberia’s president until he was forced out in 2003. During his reign, Taylor is said to have meddled in another civil war raging in Sierra Leone. Witnesses said he sold guns to, and arranged attacks for, rebel groups in exchange for blood diamonds. However, Taylor wasn’t just aiding a rebellion. He was also perpetuating horrific brutality. Over 50,000 were killed, and thousands more were mutilated in the more than a decade long civil war. The rebels were known to amputate limbs, rape women, enslave survivors of their attacks and force boys into child armies.

Taylor denied the accusations, but once put on trial in 2006, 115 witnesses, including victims of rape and mutilation, testified against him. Radio and telephone intercepts used in the case also revealed direct communication between him and the rebels.

Taylor is serving out his 50-year sentence in a prison in the United Kingdom.

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King Tut’s sarcophagus uncovered


Updated:
Original:
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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EgyptAir flight 804 disappears over the Mediterranean Sea

Year
2016
Month Day
May 19

On May 19, 2016, 66 passengers and crew flying from Cairo to Paris on EgyptAir flight 804 disappeared over the Mediterranean Sea.

It took a month to find the wreckage.

At first the flight was thought to be a casualty of terrorism, but the true cause was revealed the next year. After debate and investigation, French authorities discredited the Egyptian claim that explosive materials were found in the remains, and that a fire had caused the plane to go down.

According to records from the black box, the flight was about 40 minutes from its destination when smoke was detected by onboard fire alarms. Just a minute later, more smoke was reportedly observed in the electronics and computers below the cockpit. The plane then made a 90-degree turn, circled and plummeted, breaking up in midair before crashing into the ocean below.

After the flight went down, investigation teams from several countries searched for the remains. While some of the belongings of passengers and pieces of the plane washed up days later, it wasn’t until June that the full plane was found underwater. While the Egyptian investigation team claimed that explosive materials were found in the wreckage, French investigators countered that there were signs of a fire and a midair break up, not an explosion.

The flight’s disappearance, along with an incident involving a Russian passenger plane being brought down over the Sinai Peninsula just a few months earlier, renewed security concerns and fears of terrorism.

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Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi is killed

Year
2011
Month Day
October 20

On October 20, 2011, Muammar al-Qaddafi, the longest-serving leader in Africa and the Arab world, is captured and killed by rebel forces near his hometown of Sirte. The eccentric 69-year-old dictator, who came to power in a 1969 coup, headed a government that was accused of numerous human rights violations against its own people and was linked to terrorist attacks, including the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am jet over Lockerbie, Scotland.

Qaddafi, who was born into a Bedouin family in June 1942, attended the Royal Military Academy in Benghazi as a young man and briefly received additional military training in Great Britain. On September 1, 1969, he led a bloodless coup that overthrew Libya’s pro-Western monarch, King Idris, who was out of the country at the time. Qaddafi  emerged as the head of the new revolutionary government, which soon forced the closing of American and British military bases in Libya, took control of much of the nation’s oil industry, and tortured and killed political dissenters. It also made unsuccessful attempts to merge Libya with other Arab nations. Qaddafi began funding terrorist and guerilla groups around the globe, including the Irish Republican Army and the Red Army Faction in West Germany. Additionally, in the mid-1970s, Qaddafi, whose followers referred to him by such titles as “Brother Leader” and “Guide of the Revolution,” published his political philosophy, which combined socialist and Islamic theories. Known as the Green Book, the manifesto became required reading in Libyan schools.

During the 1980s, tensions increased between Qaddafi and the West. Libya was linked the April 1986 bombing of a West Berlin, Germany, nightclub frequented by American military personnel. Two people, including a U.S. soldier, were killed in the attack, while some 155 others were wounded. The United States swiftly retaliated by bombing targets in Libya, including Qaddafi’s compound in Tripoli, the nation”s capital. President Ronald Reagan called Qaddafi “the mad dog of the Middle East.”

On December 22, 1988, Pan Am Flight 103, traveling from London to New York, was blown up over Lockerbie, killing 259 people on board and 11 people on the ground. The U.S. and Britain indicted two Libyans in the attack, but Qaddafi initially refused to turn over the suspects. He also declined to surrender a group of Libyans suspected in the 1989 bombing of a French passenger jet over Niger that killed 170 people. Subsequently, in 1992, the United Nations imposed economic sanctions on Libya. These sanctions were removed in 2003, after the country formally accepted responsibility for the bombings (but admitted no guilt) and agreed to pay a $2.7 billion settlement to the victims’ families. (Qaddafi’s government had turned over the Lockerbie suspects in 1999; one was eventually acquitted and the other convicted.) Also in 2003, Qaddafi agreed to dismantle his weapons of mass destruction. Diplomatic relations with the West were restored by the following year.

Qaddafi remained a deeply controversial figure, who traveled with a contingent of female bodyguards, wore colorful robes and hats or military uniforms covered with medals, and on trips abroad set up a Bedouin-style tent to receive guests.

After more than 40 years in power, Qaddafi saw his regime begin to unravel in February 2011, when anti-government protests broke out in Libya following the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia earlier that year. Qaddafi vowed to crush the revolt and ordered a violent crackdown against the demonstrators. However, by August, rebel forces, with assistance from NATO, had gained control of Tripoli and established a transitional government. Qaddafi went into hiding, but on October 20, 2011, he was captured and shot by rebel forces.

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Egypt nationalizes the Suez Canal

Year
1956
Month Day
July 26

The Suez Crisis begins when Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalizes the British and French-owned Suez Canal.

The Suez Canal, which connects the Mediterranean and Red Seas across Egypt, was completed by French engineers in 1869. For the next 87 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.

After World War II, Egypt pressed for evacuation of British troops from the Suez Canal Zone, and in July 1956 President 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 zone. Under Soviet, U.S., and U.N. pressure, Britain and France withdrew in December, and Israeli forces departed in March 1957. That month, Egypt took 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. For the next eight years, the Suez Canal, which separates the Sinai from the rest of Egypt, existed as the front line between the Egyptian and Israeli armies. In 1975, Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat reopened the Suez Canal as a gesture of peace after talks with Israel. Today, an average of 50 ships navigate the canal daily, carrying more than 300 million tons of goods a year.

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Liberian independence proclaimed

Year
1847
Month Day
July 26

The Republic of Liberia, formerly a colony of the American Colonization Society, declares its independence. Under pressure from Britain, the United States hesitantly accepted Liberian sovereignty, making the West African nation the first democratic republic in African history. A constitution modeled after the U.S. Constitution was approved, and in 1848 Joseph Jenkins Roberts was elected Liberia’s first president.

The American Colonization Society was founded in 1816 by American Robert Finley to return freed African American slaves to Africa. In 1820, the first former U.S. slaves arrived at the British colony of Sierra Leone from the United States, and in 1821 the American Colonization Society founded the colony of Liberia south of Sierra Leone as a homeland for former slaves outside British jurisdiction.

The American Colonization Society came under attack from U.S. abolitionists, who charged that the removal of freed slaves from the United States strengthened the institution of slavery. In addition, most Americans of African descent were not enthusiastic to abandon their native lands in the United States for the harsh West African coast. Nevertheless, between 1822 and the American Civil War, some 15,000 African Americans settled in Liberia. Independence was granted by the United States in 1847, and Liberia aided Britain in its efforts to end the illegal West African slave trade. Official U.S. diplomatic recognition came in 1862.

With the backing of the United States, Liberia kept its independence though the turmoil of the 20th century. A costly civil war began in 1989 and lasted until 1997, when Charles Taylor was elected Liberian president in free elections. 

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Jomo Kenyatta, Kenyan independence leader, is freed from prison

Year
1961
Month Day
August 21

Jomo Kenyatta, leader of the Kenyan independence movement, is released by British colonial authorities after nearly nine years of imprisonment and detention. Two years later, Kenya achieved independence and Kenyatta became prime minister. Once portrayed as a menacing symbol of African nationalism, he brought stability to the country and defended Western interests during his 15 years as Kenyan leader.

Kenyatta was born in the East African highlands southwest of Mount Kenya sometime in the late 1890s. He was a member of the Kikuyu ethnic group–Kenya’s largest–and was educated by Presbyterian missionaries. In 1920, Kenya formally became a British colony, and by 1921 Kenyatta was living in the colonial capital of Nairobi. There he became involved in African nationalist movements and by 1928 had risen to the post of general secretary of the Kikuyu Central Association, an organization opposed to the seizure of tribal land by European settlers. In 1929, he first went to London to protest colonial policy, but authorities refused to meet with him.

Kenyatta returned to London several times over the next few years to petition for African rights and then remained in Europe in the 1930s to receive a formal education at various institutions, including Moscow University. In 1938, he published his seminal work, Facing Mount Kenya, which praised traditional Kikuyu society and discussed its plight under colonial rule. During World War II, he lived in England, lecturing and writing.

In 1946, he returned to Kenya and in 1947 became president of the newly formed Kenya African Union (KAU). He pushed for majority rule, recruiting both Kikuyus and non-Kikuyus into the nonviolent movement, but the white settler minority was unyielding in refusing a significant role for blacks in the colonial government.

In 1952, an extremist Kikuyu group called Mau Mau began a guerrilla war against the settlers and colonial government, leading to bloodshed, political turmoil, and the forced internment of tens of thousands of Kikuyus in detainment camps. Kenyatta played little role in the rebellion, but he was vilified by the British and put on trial in 1952 with five other KUA leaders for “managing the Mau Mau terrorist organization.” An advocate of nonviolence and conservatism, he pleaded innocent in the highly politicized trial but was found guilty and sentenced to seven years in prison.

He spent six years in jail and then was sent to an internal exile at Lodwar, where he lived under house arrest. Meanwhile, the British government slowly began steering Kenya to black majority rule. In 1960, the Kenya African National Union (KANU) was organized by black nationalists, and Kenyatta was elected president in absentia. The party announced it would not take part in any government until Kenyatta was freed. Kenyatta pledged the protection of settlers’ rights in an independent Kenya, and on August 14, 1961, he was finally allowed to return to Kikuyuland. After a week of house arrest in the company of his family and supporters, he was formally released on August 21.

In 1962, he went to London to negotiate Kenyan independence, and in May 1963 he led the KANU to victory in pre-independence elections. On December 12, 1963, Kenya celebrated its independence, and Kenyatta formally became prime minister. The next year, a new constitution established Kenya as a republic, and Kenyatta was elected president.

As Kenya’s leader until his death in 1978, Kenyatta encouraged racial cooperation, promoted capitalist economic policies, and adopted a pro-Western foreign policy. He used his authority to suppress political opposition, particularly from radical groups. Under his rule, Kenya became a one-party state, and the stability that resulted attracted foreign investment in Kenya. After he died on August 22, 1978, he was succeeded by Daniel arap Moi, who continued most of his policies. Affectionately known in his later years as mzee, or “old man” in Swahili, Kenyatta is celebrated as the founding father of Kenya. He was also influential throughout Africa.

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