AFRICA THE MOTHER LAND

Discover Eastern Africa

East Africa is a region that begins in Tanzania in the south and extends north through the great grasslands and scrub forest of the savannas of Kenya and Uganda and then across the highlands of Ethiopia, including the Great Rift Valley. The region also comprises the countries of Somalia, Djibouti, and Eritrea, which are located in the African Transition Zone between North Africa and Subsahran Africa. Rwanda and Burundi are physically in East Africa but are covered in the lesson about Central Africa because of their border activities with the Congo.

The world’s second-largest lake by surface area is Lake Victoria, which borders Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya. (Lake Superior, on the border between the United States and Canada, is considered the lake with the largest surface area.) Lake Victoria provides fish and fresh water for millions of people in the surrounding region. The White Nile starts at Lake Victoria and flows north to the city of Khartoum in Sudan, where it converges with the Blue Nile to become the Nile River. The source of the Blue Nile is Lake Tana in the highlands of Ethiopia.

Rainfall in East Africa is influenced by El Niño events, which tend to increase rainfall except in the northern and western parts of the Ethiopian and Eritrean highlands, where they produce drought and poor Nile floods. Temperatures in East Africa, except on the hot and generally humid coastal belt, are moderate, with maxima of around 25 °C (77 °F) and minima of 15 °C (59 °F) at an altitude of 1,500 metres (4,921 ft). At altitudes of above 2,500 metres (8,202 ft), frosts are common during the dry season and maxima typically about 21 °C (70 °F) or less.

 

The unique geography and apparent suitability for farming made East Africa a target for European exploration, exploitation and colonialization in the nineteenth century. Today, tourism is an important part of the economies of Kenya, Tanzania, Seychelles, and Uganda. The easternmost point of the continent, that is Ras Hafun in Somalia, is of archaeological, historical and economical importance

East Africa is the area where anatomically modern humans first appeared. There are differing theories on whether there was a single exodus or several; a multiple dispersal model involves the Southern Dispersal theory. A growing number of researchers suspect that North Africa was instead the original home of the modern humans who first trekked out of the continent. Most multiregionalists view Africa as a major wellspring of human genetic diversity, but allow a much greater role for hybridization.

Some of the earliest hominin skeletal remains have been found in the wider region, including fossils discovered in the Awash Valley of Ethiopia, as well as in the Koobi Fora in Kenya and Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania.
The southern part of East Africa was occupied until recent times by Khoisan hunter-gatherers, whereas in the Ethiopian Highlands the donkey and such crop plants as teff allowed the beginning of agriculture around 7,000 B.C.

Lowland barriers and diseases carried by the tsetse fly, however, prevented the donkey and agriculture from spreading southwards. Only in quite recent times has agriculture spread to the more humid regions south of the equator, through the spread of cattle, sheep and crops such as millet. Language distributions suggest that this most likely occurred from Sudan into the African Great Lakes region, since the Nilotic languages spoken by these pre-Bantu farmers have their closest relatives in the middle Nile basin.

The 8 million square kilometers and 17 countries covered by this atlas encompass a wide range of landscapes from alluvial valleys in Senegal and Ghana, sandy plains and low plateaus across the Sahel, and rolling hills of Togo to rugged mountains with summits reaching over 1,500 m in Guinea and 1,800 m in Niger. Covering approximately one quarter of Africa, West Africa contains a broad range of ecosystems, bioclimatic regions, and habitats from rain forest to desert.

West Africa can be divided internally through its natural features. Geology, relief, climate, vegetation, soils, and the responses of people to the patterns of its biophysical resources through human land uses all tend to be arranged along east-west belts. West Africa is remarkable for its geological variety. Like most of Africa, the region is largely composed of ancient Precambrian rocks (at least 541 million years old; the oldest rocks may be about 3 billion years old), which have been folded and fractured over hundreds of millions of years.

For most of West Africa, continental conditions have existed since the Eocene or Oligocene, that is, since the last 23 to 34 million years. Most of West Africa’s mountain massifs and highlands, such as the Aïr Mountains, the Tibesti Mountains, the Adrar des Ifoghas, and the Fouta Djallon, originated as Precambrian folds (Church, 1966). Much later, volcanic activity in many of these highlands deposited additional layers of igneous rock. Volcanic outpourings have occurred throughout West Africa’s geologic history, with major activity as recent as the Pliocene (2.5 to 3.6 million years ago), and even more recent activity in the Aïr and Tibesti Mountains.

Relief on its own is not the source of great regional diversity in West Africa. For the most part, West Africa is relatively flat and low, which sets it apart from the other major regions of Africa. Several major rivers, including the Niger, West Africa’s longest river originate in the Guinea Highlands, where rainfall is heavy. Other major rivers rise from Guinea’s Fouta Djallon, including the Gambia and Senegal. The Senegal River drains a major basin, the third largest in West Africa after the Niger Basin and the Lake Chad Basin.

Many separate basins are defined by smaller rivers that drain the land between the Atlantic Ocean and the basins of the Senegal and Niger Rivers. Ghana constructed the Akosombo Dam (completed in 1965) in a gorge where the Volta cuts through the Akwapim–Togo Range, creating the world’s largest artificial lake, Lake Volta.

Most of West Africa, from the southern Sahara to the humid coastal countries, has only one rainy season, which lasts from one to six months. The area of two rainy seasons, a long one and a shorter one, is limited to the southern portions of the coastal countries from Liberia to Nigeria. In the summer the high pressure area is replaced by a depression, bringing warm, moist winds in from the Atlantic in the southwest.

Generally, the dry season lengthens and annual rainfall decreases with increasing latitude. Conversely, in the southern latitudes, rainfall increases and the dry season shortens, often to just four months (December to March). Maximum temperatures and temperature ranges also increase with latitude. In the humid south, temperatures vary little, whereas in the arid north one temperatures range from 0˚C to more than 45˚C .

Geographically, South Africa is defined through a series of plateaus that stretch across the nations of South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, and the central portion of Angola. Within the plateaus, a wide variety of notable ecoregions exist, ranging from the grasslands in southern Zimbabwe to the vast Kalahari Desert. The Kalahari desert is featured in the South African plateau, and eventually rises to become the Great Escarpment. The area is defined by the sharp line of the Great Escarpment, which continues almost unbroken from the Zambezi River to Angola. Another notable mountain range in the region is the Drakensberg Range. This range boasts the highest point in Southern Africa, found at Mount Ntlenyana in Lesotho.

Southern Africa was the home to Homo erectus, an early hominid species with upright posture and hands and teeth resembling modern humans, according to the archaeological teams that have canvassed the region looking for evidence of early life. While many people believe that Homo erectus was a vital link in the evolution of humankind, the connection between H. erectus and modern–day humans is still disputed by a minority of scientists. While followers of the theory of evolution point to the find as a huge step in discovering the human past, there are some creationists who do not choose to believe that humans underwent a process of evolution.

Southern Africa hosts a wide variety of wildlife, although the animal population varies depending on the location within the region. In the semiarid plateaus which cover most of the region, Southern Africa exhibits much of the big game wildlife seen in the northeastern portions of the African continent, in particular antelopes, gazelles, zebras, elephants, and the big cats. Coastal areas of Southern Africa do not host the same varieties of big game that can survive on the plateaus.

The interior of Southern Africa consists of a series of undulating plateaus that cover most of South Africa, Namibia, and Botswana and extend into central Angola. Contiguous with this are uplands in Zambia and Zimbabwe. Coastal mountains and escarpments, flanking the high ground, are found in northern Mozambique, South Africa, Namibia, Angola, and along the Mozambique-Zimbabwe border. Coastal plains abut the Indian Ocean in Mozambique and the Atlantic in Angola and Namibia.

The Kalahari desert forms the central depression of the Southern African plateau. Its elevation rises to the Great Escarpment, which flanks the plateau in an almost unbroken line from the Zambezi River to Angola. Southern Zimbabwe and much of South Africa are within a region of scrublands and grasslands known as the veld. To the southeast of the veld is the Drakensberg range, which includes the region’s highest peak—Lesotho’s Mount Ntlenyana, at 11,424 feet (3,482 metres). In Namibia the coastal margin includes the extremely dry Namib desert, which, in the south, merges eastward into the great sandy expanse of the Kalahari.

Southern African climates are seasonal, ranging from arid to semiarid and from temperate to tropical. The seasonality is an important control on plant growth and a regulator of river flows. Droughts are common in much of the region. Four main types of vegetation are found: savanna woodlands (known as miombo forest) in the north, a series of dry woodlands to the south of these, arid and semiarid grassland, scrubland, and bushland in the Namib and Kalahari deserts and their environs, and Mediterranean vegetation along the southern coast.

In terms of natural resources, the region has the world’s largest sources of platinum and the elements chromium, vanadium, and cobalt. The region also boasts uranium, gold, titanium, iron deposits, and diamonds.

The history of North Africa comes to the fore in both particular ingredients and dishes that are shared by most Maghrebi as well as in regional differentiation between specific dishes and ingredients. Islamization in the seventh century can, of course, be recognized in the prohibition of pork or wine, although flourishing vineyards can be found throughout North Africa. Arab influences that accompanied early Islamization, such as the consumption of rice, native east African vegetables such okra and mlûkhîa Jew’s mellow and the use of fliyu and mint in meat and vegetable dishes, are more pronounced in east Algeria and Tunisia than in regions further removed from the Levant, such as western Algeria and Morocco. All three countries have adopted the Arab preservation technique of drying meat, called gedîd, in which salt and spices are rubbed into the meat, which is then left to dry in the sun.

The distinction between North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa is historically and ecologically significant because of the general barrier created by the Sahara Desert for much of modern history. The Sahara is the dominant feature of the North African landscape, and stretches across the southern part of the region. The Sahara serves as a geographical boundary between North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa and marks a transition zone from the largely Arab identifying population of North Africa to black Africa of the south.

The Sahara desert has therefore played an important role in the history of North Africa. As the seafaring civilizations of the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs and others facilitated communication and migration across the Mediterranean Sea, the cultures of North Africa became much more closely tied to Southwestern Asia and Europe than Sub-Saharan Africa. The Islamic influence in the area is also significant, and North Africa is a major part of the Muslim world.

The mountains have been of the utmost importance in the historical development of the area. They run generally from east to west, parallel to the Mediterranean coast, with their highest elevations in the Atlas ranges. They are not continuous but constitute separate blocks, especially in the coastal areas. Although it was in the mountains that precipitation was highest, the forest there was intractable, and early settlements tended to choose the plains and valleys between or south of the mountains.

The Mediterranean coast—separated from Europe by only 8 miles (13 km) at the Strait of Gibraltar—is extremely inhospitable for much of its length, offering few natural harbours and still fewer natural lines of communication into the interior. Even the major rivers, such as the Majardah (Medjerda) and the Chelif, are unnavigable. Only in northeastern Tunisia is the coastline more favourable, and the main movement of culture and conquest has naturally been from there westward.

North Africa has three main geographic features: the Sahara desert in the south, the Atlas Mountains in the west, and the Nile River and delta in the east. The Atlas Mountains extend across much of northern Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia. These mountains are part of the fold mountain system that also runs through much of Southern Europe. They recede to the south and east, becoming a steppe landscape before meeting the Sahara desert, which covers more than 75 percent of the region. The tallest peaks are in the High Atlas range in south-central Morocco, which has many snowcapped peaks. The coastal strip in the area of Tripoli (Ṭarābulus) in western Libya is an extension of Tunisia’s coastal plain. To the east some 800 miles (1,300 km) of the Surt Desert separates it from Cyrenaica at the eastern end of modern Libya. Settlement there was effectively confined to the Akhḍar Mountains and did not extend more than about 70 miles (110 km) south of the coast.

Central Africa, located along the equator, consists primarily of wide plateaus that are smooth in the central areas and more rough along the exterior of the region. The plateaus in the region exhibit a huge range in altitude, reaching up to 16,795 feet at Margherita Peak (the highest point in Central Africa) and descending into the ground in deep and narrow gorges near the Kouilou and Congo. Most of the terrain in Central Africa was shaped by climactic forces prior to human occupation. Ancient Glaciers also played a role in shaping the Central African geography, and cut the the Rift Valley into terrain on the border of the Congo.

Climatically the region is marked by hot and wet temperatures on both sides of the equator. Almost 400,000 square feet of forest line the equator, and three different types of forest are found in Central Africa. The forests are bordered by a band of semi-arid savannah terrain that is speculated to have been created by slash and burn farming techniques.

One of Central Africa’s most famous national parks, Virunga National Park, exists within the borders of Congo. It is home to an unique assortment of native wildlife, including elephants, lions, hippopotamuses, warthogs, forest hogs, okapis, and mountain gorillas on the volcano slopes of the reserve. The Virunga National Park, however, is only one of many of the reserves found in Central Africa. Another notable national park is the Kahuzi-Biega National Park, which is famous for its mountain gorillas.

The landscapes of Central Africa are most often wide plateaus, which are smooth in the central part and etched at the periphery. The interior basin of the Congo River is joined to the Atlantic Ocean by a narrow neck traversing ridges parallel to the coast. The basin contains some marshlands in the region where the Congo, Ubangi, Likouala, and Sangha rivers converge and where Lakes Mai-Ndombe and Tumba are found. Its major part, however, consists of drier surfaces.

Higher plateaus, which extend through older sedimentary strata around the centre of the Congo basin, reach an elevation of 2,600 to 3,000 feet north of Brazzaville and exceed 3,000 feet near the Angolan border to the south. The landscape beyond the divide descends by steps toward Lake Chad. Southwest and south of the Chaillu Massif (3,000–3,300 feet in Gabon and Congo (Brazzaville) are ridges, traversed through deep and narrow gorges by the Kouilou and Congo.

The most rugged terrain lies on the eastern fringe of the Congo basin. North of Lake Kivu and of Rwanda, the Virunga volcanoes form an east-west–trending range. The highest point in Central Africa, Margherita Peak (16,795 feet), whose summit bears residual features of glaciation, is located on the eastern fringe of the Rift Valley on the border of Congo (Kinshasa) and Uganda.

The Congo River basin is second only to that of the Amazon in rate of flow. In the central part of the basin, the fan of quiet rivers constitutes one of the most attractive networks of navigable waters in the world, but this network is cut off from the Atlantic by a succession of rapids in western Congo (Kinshasa) between Kinshasa and Matadi. Downstream from Matadi the river becomes navigable again before entering its estuary. The rivers of the western region are navigable for only a few miles from their estuaries, though the Ogooué, in Gabon, which lies in a wider sedimentary coastal basin, is navigable for more than 100 miles.

Equatorial Central Africa is covered by an evergreen forest with an area of almost 400,000 square miles. This rainforest—an exuberant world of high trees, rich in epiphytes and lianas—takes three main forms: permanently wet marshy forests at the confluence of the Ubangi and Congo rivers; gallery forests, which are subject to periodic flooding, along banks and river floodplains; and, most extensive, forests of dry land, either featuring a single dominant species or, more often, harbouring a variety of species.

East Africa

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West Africa

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South Africa

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North Africa

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Centeral Africa

Ethiopia

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