Great Zimbabwe is a ruined city that was once the capital of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe, which existed from 1100 to 1450 AD during the country’s Late Iron Age.
The monument, which first began to be constructed in the 11th century and which continued to be built until the 14th century, spanned an area of 722 hectares (1,784 acres) and at its peak could have housed up to 18,000 people.
Great Zimbabwe acted as a royal palace for the Zimbabwean monarch and would have been used as the seat of their political power. One of its most prominent features were its walls, some of which were over five metres high and which were constructed without mortar.
Eventually, the city was largely abandoned, and fell into ruin, first being encountered by Europeans in the early 16th century.
Investigation of the site first began in the 19th century, when the monument caused great controversy amongst the archaeological world, with political pressure being placed upon archaeologists by the-then white supremacist government of Rhodesia to deny that it could have ever been produced by native Zimbabweans.
Great Zimbabwe has since been adopted as a national monument by the Zimbabwean government, with the modern state being named after it. The word “Great” distinguishes the site from the many hundreds of small ruins, known as Zimbabwes, spread across the Zimbabwe highveld. There are 200 such sites in southern Africa, such as Bumbusi in Zimbabwe and Manekweni inMozambique, with monumental, mortarless walls and Great Zimbabwe is the largest.
Earlier this week, South Sudan became the world’s newest sovereign state (i.e., independent country), as recognized by the United States and the rest of the global community. Along with the 192 current members of the United Nations, Kosovo, and the Holy See (i.e, the Vatican), South Sudan brings the official, recognized count of countries to 195. UN membership for South Sudan appears to be just a formality at this point, while Kosovo’s application is still blocked by Russian veto; indeed, fewer than half of the world’s countries (but significantly including the U.S. and most of the EU states) recognize Kosovo’s independence from Serbia. As for the Holy See, it is a unique historical sovereignty—global headquarters for the Roman Catholic church—and thus not a modern “national” state appropriate for membership in the UN.
All of this is just background, though, to the main purpose of this link: a wonderful new interactive graphic from the Guardian of Africa’s dynamic political geography over the last 100-plus years. It is as good a cartographic primer on Africa’s changing geography of colonialism and nationalism as you’ll find. Below is just a sample: where the story begins.
Nominally, this is a photo of Libyan refugees arriving at the Italian island of Lampedusa, their gateway into the European Union. But the demographics of this boat’s passengers—young, male, and Sub-Saharan African—illustrate that the large flow of humanity across the Mediterranean during the past several months is an outcome of more than just political revolutions within the Arab world. Despite their young age, these men have had lives of profound dislocation, originating in most cases across the Sahara in countries such as Ghana, Nigeria, and Ethiopia.
These men are the lucky ones. While their futures within Europe upon disembarking were anything but certain, such has not been the case for countless others; the UN reckons that more than a thousand have been lost at sea just since the end of March. The photo above comes from a powerful story online today in Der Spiegel about one particularly disastrous and disturbing journey which saw more than 60 people lose their lives while lost adrift in the Mediterranean north of Libyan shores, even though—according to a few survivors—their boat in distress had been spotted by naval forces apparently from NATO or Europe. The Guardian broke the story earlier this month, and the incident is now under UN investigation.
I’m generally one to downplay Malthusian concerns with overpopulation, and as the text accompanying this graphic from The Economist notes, we need to take these demographic forecasts “with a bucketload of salt [because] tiny shifts in today’s birth rate extrapolated over 90 years produce huge changes.” Still, a 750-million-person Nigeria, or a Tanzania populated by 300 million, does give at least a little pause for thought. Then again, if given a time machine, I’m sure my nineteenth-century counterpart would have been no less alarmed by the idea of a billion-person India—not even including the 300+ millions more partitioned into Pakistan and Bangladesh. Click here to view the complete set of updated demographic estimates and forecasts from the UN.
While the global news media are, understandably, focused on the imminent political split of nearby Sudan, it seems the slower moving processes of geology have picked up their tempo. The English-language, online version of Der Spiegel has a prolifically illustrated story on the accelerating rifting of East Africa—the world’s next ocean floor.
Changes in “Human Development” since 1980. A half-century ago, South Asia and south-of-the-Sahara Africa ranked as the two least developed regions on Earth. While countries in both regions still rank near the bottom of the world development table, those in South Asia have seen their fortunes rise dramatically, while those in Africa—with a few exceptions such as Mali and Benin—have stagnated, if not declined. For the full 2010 report, visit the UNDP website.