Subsaharan Africa

5.8 Summary

Subsaharan Africa has many rapidly expanding core cities and vast rural peripheral regions experiencing a high rural-to-urban shift. Most countries are former European colonies that are growing their economies as developing countries. The hundreds of tribal groups that live there with their languages and cultures often clash with each other or their government.

The informal sector is strong in this realm as people seek opportunities amid civil unrest and conflict. The weak formal sector in many countries does not always receive enough revenue from taxes or fees to operate the public sector and provide services. The realm has a high potential for economic development in the extraction of minerals as well as tourism.

West Africa has many countries with hundreds of separate ethnic groups with their languages. The high diversity makes it difficult for social unity and political cohesiveness. Located on the African Transition Zone, there is often conflict between the Muslim north and the Christian south. Civil wars in recent years have devastated various countries. Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa with a growing diverse population. Despite its diversity and issues, Subsaharan Africa retains a sense of vibrancy in the celebration of family and community.

Central Africa covers a large region of tropical Africa, including the vast Congo River basin. Poor economic conditions have been partly due to the many civil wars and conflicts in the region where the controlling party or military power has received most of the wealth, leaving the majority in need of infrastructure improvements and public services.

The transition from colony to independent country has often resulted in short-lived, unstable governments that were often replaced with leaders who took advantage of their power to place large amounts of public funds in their foreign bank accounts. Such fraud and corruption have often left most people with fewer opportunities and little money left for public services.

The civil war in Rwanda, which was based on ethnicity, led to as many as a million deaths. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the civil war over the control of land and resources resulted in more than five million deaths, the most of any war since World War II. Hundreds of ethnic groups exist in an area that is being exploited for valuable mineral deposits.

Large deposits of gold, diamonds, and rare minerals such as coltan are located in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and surrounding areas. The wealth they can generate has fueled many armed conflicts by various groups that vie for these resources. Women have suffered serious setbacks in their rights and status in Central Africa because of these conflicts.

East Africa is dominated by the Great Rift Valley, with its large lakes, high mountains, and vast savanna plains. The Serengeti and other game preserves are home to immense numbers of big game that are attractive for tourism. Most of the people work in agriculture. Diverse ethnic and religious groups exist here, and there is a high rural-to-urban shift in the population. Somalia is divided, with various significant factions controlling parts of the country.

Southern Africa, located on the Tropic of Capricorn, has moderate climates and extensive mineral deposits. The countries have a positive means to gain wealth from agriculture and minerals. There is a high diversity of tribal groups that have been impacted by colonial activity. South Africa had an apartheid system for years that finally broke down in the past few decades. Zimbabwe is an example of a country that has been devastated by dictatorial rule by one man for many years without democratic reforms.

Madagascar is a large island off the east coast and has different flora and fauna from the mainland because of isolation by tectonic activity. The island of Madagascar was once connected to the African continent but drifted away with the activity of the tectonic plates in that area. The biodiversity in Madagascar is jeopardized by the high deforestation that is destroying the habitat for rare animal species.


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Introduction to World Regional Geography by R. Adam Dastrup, MA, GISP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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