A Brief History

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Zimbabwe's original inhabitants were semi-nomadic tribes who left behind them impressive stone cities, the 'big stone houses' from which the name Zimbabwe is derived. Beginning in the 9th century, Shona peoples became the dominant tribe in Zimbabwe, successfully defending the nation from Portuguese aggression in later centuries.

Around 1820, the Zulu general Mkulikazi rebelled from King Shaka and founded the Ndebele tribe, which fought its way into Zimbabwe and founded its capital at Bulawayo in the southwestern part of the country, which became known as Matebeleland. The Ndebele tribe conquered the Shona and Matebeleland replaced Mashonaland as the dominant region of Zimbabwe.

Around 1880, the British South Africa Company under the guidance of Cecil Rhodes arrived in Zimbabwe and claimed it for the British Empire, defeating the local people in the First Matebele War. The region, originally called Zambesia by the British after the river that defines its boundaries, became known as Rhodesia in honor of Cecil Rhodes.

The British defeated the local people in several subsequent rebellions, including the Second Matebele War and the Shona Chimurengas. After these wars, European settlement began en masse and most of the land was redistributed to the white minority. Rhodesia became a self-governing British colony in 1923.

Rhodesia, led by Ian Smith, issued a unilateral declaration of independence from Britain on November 11, 1965, ending ostensible British plans to create a multi-racial democracy in the colony. The United Kingdom did not reestablish control by force, but a civil war broke out in Rhodesia between Ian Smith's Rhodesian Front, Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), and Joshua Nkomo's Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU). Smith's apartheid regime continued until 1978, when on the brink of collapse his apartheid regime signed an accord with ZAPU and ZANU and began planning a coalition government. In Zimbabwe's first democratic elections, in February 1980, Robert Mugabe and his ZANU party won a landslide victory. President Robert Mugabe remains in office today.

Rebellions by ZAPU led to widespread violence, known as Gukurahundi or the Matebeleland Massacres, against the Ndebele people throughout the 1980s. The violence ended with the 1988 unity agreement between ZANU and ZAPU, merging the two parties to create ZANU-PF.

For the next two decades, political and economic unrest, as well as land redistribution issues and resulting food insecurity, became Zimbabwe's major challenges. HIV became increasingly common and outbreaks of cholera also threatened Zimbabwe's strained health systems. Since 1990, life expectancy in Zimbabwe has declined from 60 to 44 years, among the lowest in the world.

Allegations of political repression and human rights abuses by the ZANU-PF government resulted in economic sanctions imposed by the United States and European Union against President Mugabe and certain other individuals, private companies, parastatals, and government agencies. The Zimbabwean High and Supreme Courts have regularly challenged the legality of these sanctions.

From 2007-2008, Zimbabwe experienced devastating inflation of up to 60,000,000%, which required the retirement of the Zimbabwean dollar amid crisis level food insecurity and public health issues, including a major cholera outbreak. The US dollar is now the currency used most commonly in Zimbabwe and has helped stabilize the economy.

In March 2008 a runoff election between ZANU-PF's Robert Mugabe and the Movement For Democratic Change's Morgan Tsvangirai instituted a power-sharing government where Mugabe retained the Presidency and Tsvangirai became Prime Minister. The next elections are scheduled for November 2011.