Developments in medical education in Sub-Saharan Africa over the past 100 years have been characterized by the continent's unique history. During the first half of the 20th century, the Europeans effectively installed medical education in their African colonies. The years 1950 to 1960 were distinguished by successful movements for independence, with new governments giving priority to medical education. By 1980, there were 51 medical schools in Sub-Saharan Africa. The period from 1975 to 1990 was problematic both politically and economically for Sub-Saharan Africa, and medical schools did not escape the general difficulties. War, corruption, mounting national debts, and political instability were characteristics of this period. In many countries, maintaining medical school assets--faculty members, buildings, laboratories, libraries--became difficult, and emigration became the goal of many health professionals. In contrast, the past 20 years have seen rapid growth in the number of medical schools in Sub-Saharan Africa. Economic growth and political stability in most Sub-Saharan African countries augur well for investment in health systems strengthening and in medical education. There are, nonetheless, major problem areas, including inadequate funding, challenges of sustainability, and the continuing brain drain. The 20th century was a time of colonialism and the struggle for independence during which medical education did not advance as quickly or broadly as it did in other regions of the world. The 21st century promises a different history, one of rapid growth in medical education, leading to better care and better health for the people of Africa.