Humans have inhabited Zimbabwe for at least 100,000 years. Beginning in the 10th century, Shona people started to trade with Arab merchants and expanded their civilization into a series of sophisticated kingdoms that persisted until Portuguese colonizers arrived in the 1600s.
Portugal, intent on monopolizing trade with the Shona, started a war which left the kingdom in collapse. In response, a new Shona state emerged, known as the Rozwi Empire (1684–1834). The Rozwi Empire successfully expelled the Portuguese, only to be conquered by Zulu warriors of the Ndebele clan, who eventually settled in what is now southwestern Zimbabwe.
Cecil Rhodes‘ British South Africa Company obtained permission to mine from the Ndebele people. Rhodes leveraged his connection between the Ndebele clan and the British empire to encourage militarized settlement from the UK, and establish control over the region. In 1895, the territory was named Rhodesia. Shona and Ndebele groups initiated insurrections even as the Rhodes administration organized the territory with strong preference for the minority of white immigrants.
The Late 20th and Early 21st Centuries.
The ruling white minority declared Rhodesia’s independence from Great Britain in 1965, and then faced a 15-year guerrilla war led by black nationalists. A 1980 peace agreement established Zimbabwe’s de jure sovereignty, meaning it was recognized as an independent nation on paper, if not in fact. Robert Mugabe became prime minister of Zimbabwe in 1980, and president in 1989, establishing a brutal dictatorship that lasted until 2017. He was placed under house arrest after a military coup, and the country held deeply contested elections in July 2018.
The opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), staged protests throughout 2018 and into 2019, despite recent threats that participants would “rot in jail.” The country currently faces economic turmoil, including inflation and a shortage of essential goods. Amnesty International criticized crackdowns on protestors and opposition members, including the violent torture of at least two people.