Formerly the British Crown, colony of Southern Rhodesia, Zimbabwe's earliest inhabitants are traced back to the 5th century.
During the 10th century, the Zimbabwean plateau became the center for incoming Shona states, and trade with Arab merchants developed on the Indian coast. Ultimately the Kingdom of Mapungubwe emerged from this activity in the 11th century.
First in a series of sophisticated trade states, the Kingdom of Mapungubwe traded gold, ivory and copper with the first European explorers from Portugal. The Kingdom of Zimbabwe emerged and expanded upon the ruins of the Mapungubwe, and eventually gave way to the Kingdom of Mutapa.
The Mutapa were renowned for their trade routes with the Arabic world and Portugal, but the latter sought to gain control of this influence and waged a series of wars nearly collapsing the Mutapa Kingdom.
As a means of protection, a new Shona state was created known as the Rozwi Empire. The Rozwis (whose name translates to "destroyers") relied on centuries of military and political training, and forcefully removed the Portuguese from the Zimbabwean plateau.
In the late 19th century, European colonists arrived with the British South Africa Company, and acquired rights to mine the area. Mass settlement ultimately occurred, and the region was renamed Rhodesia in honor of Cecil Rhodes.
This takeover of sorts prompted national pride and local guerrilla wars that soon became a major civil war, one that eventually began the change to a black-majority rule and its independence from the United Kingdom in 1980. Once it gained its freedom, it called itself Zimbabwe, a name meaning "house of the chief."
Since Independence Day, Robert Mugabe, the nation's first prime minister, has dominated the country's political system. At the start of his administration he established a one-party socialist institution.
During his long term in office, his reputation as a champion of the anticolonial movement has changed (for the worse) to an authoritarian ruler responsible for ruining the country's economy and for egregious human rights abuses.
In the March 2008 elections, Mugabe was defeated by Morgan Tsvangirai. Mugabe, however, refused to step down, saying the vote count was incomplete. When results were finally released, Tsvangirai had the majority of the votes, but not the required 50%, causing a runoff election.
In the runoff in June, Mugabe was elected to a sixth term. However, the opposition party elected Lovemore Moyo to the post of speaker of Parliament – the first time a member of the opposition held the post since 1980. Due to opposition's win, Mugabe and Tsvangirai have both agreed to a power-sharing deal in which they will share executive authority. Mugabe will continue on as president while Tsvangirai will serve as Zimbabwe's prime minister.
In 2008, a major cholera outbreak killed over 500 and infected over 12,000. The inflation had increased by 7,000% since 2007, unemployment was 80% and the dollar was basically worthless.
However, the platinum mining sector is lucrative along with other mineral exports and tourism is growing, adding to the earning capabilities of Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe is currently the biggest trading partner of South Africa.