The area of modern-day Zimbabwe has been home to civilization since the 11th century or earlier, due to its fertile location in southeastern Africa between the Zambezi and Limpopo rivers. Mapungubwe, on the bank of the Limpopo, was the first major trading post in the area. This early society was the first to use the name "Zimbabwe," which in the Bantu dialect Shona means "stone houses."
By the 19th century, the Mapungubwe rule had fallen, two kingdoms replaced it in succession, and the Ndebele kingdom rose to power under chief Mzilikazi. During the mid-19th century, some Portuguese travelers occasionally entered the region, but it was not until 1871 that colonists in the form of the British arrived in Zimbabwe in force. The colonial expansion was led by Cecil Rhodes and grew quickly in size between 1871 and the 1890s. In 1892, the administer of the region at the time, Leander Jameson, waged war on the Ndebele kingdom, bringing it to an end. At this point, Zimbabwe became a settlers' colony.
As in America and other British colonies, the settlers soon felt that governmental control should be in their own hands. In 1923, Rhodesia became a self-governing crown colony. Black opposition to colonial rule grew between the 1930s and 1960s, but the colonists retained control. From 1953 - 1963, Britain created the short-lived Central African Federation, made up of Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), and Nyasaland (now Malawi). During this ten-year span, the political groups that would shape the independence movement began to form. In 1964, Ian Smith became prime minister and, after petitioning Britain for independent status on the basis of white minority rule, he published the Unilateral Declaration of Independence in 1965.
Over the next ten years, a guerrilla civil war over racial representation took place fueled by support from nearby countries. The Patriotic Front, formed from members of the previously warring ZANU and ZAPU parties, continued to pressure Ian Smith until he made the concession that multi-racial elections would be held in 1979, though members of the Patriotic Front could not participate. As a result, Bishop Abel Muzorewa was elected prime minister of Zimbabwe Rhodesia. However, this governmental shift was not recognized internationally and so civil war continued. In December of 1979, the situation was resolved by Rhodesia returning to the status of a British colony, and the British bought up land from the colonists to redistribute.
In 1980, elections were held again and the ZANU party won. Though tensions continued between the ZANU and ZAPU groups, they politically united to form one party, ZANU-PF, in 1987. Mugabe, the leader elected in 1980, continued being re-elected through the 1980s and 1990s. Tensions between whites and blacks grew throughout the 1990s due to the continued appropriation of some farms owned by white Rhodesians for redistribution. In 2000, Mugabe suddenly increased this campaign, calling upon his supporters to occupy 500 white-owned farms. Around the same time, a new opposition party, the MDC (Movement for Democratic Change), began to form and threaten the chances of another sure ZANU-PF victory.
The period leading up to the next election, in 2002, was unfortunately bloody, with Mugabe's supporters killing over 30 supporters of the MDC. The election was close, with ZANU-PF winning 62 seats and MDC 57. Following the election, Mugabe published a list of 800 large, mostly white-owned farms to be taken by the government and redistributed to the lower classes. Though Mugabe retained power in 2002, the election was looked on by other nations as flawed. The period between 2000 and 2008 under Mugabe's leadership was marked by incredible economic crisis and widespread food shortages. In 2008, elections were held again; the MDC, led by Tsvangirai, who from 2002 - 2008 was repeatedly arrested and accused of treason, defeated Mugabe's ZANU-PF party. However, a run-off election was called for and Mugabe's ZANU-PF party was declared the winner. The U.S. responded with sanctions.
Mugabe and Tsvangirai attempted to share power in 2008, and in 2009 Tsvangirai was sworn in as prime minister. Economic and political involvements with the West have fluctuated in the recent period, and violence continues between the MDC and ZANU-PF parties. A referendum to the constitution passed in 2013 stipulating that a prime minister can only serve two five-year terms. Due to continuing economic instability, the Zimbabwean dollar was formally phased out in 2015, in favor of a multi-currency system.