• Unit 6: Sub-Saharan Africa

    Sub-Saharan Africa includes the countries south of the Sahara Desert and many of the countries in the Sahel, or African Transition Zone. This swath of land marks a climatic shift from the desert in the north to the savannas and tropics of the south. The geography and climate of this region play a critical role in the social and political life of its residents.

    Completing this unit should take you approximately 5 hours.

    • 6.1: Maps of Sub-Saharan Africa

      Let's begin our examination of Sub-Saharan Africa by studying the physical features of the region, including the Sahel or intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ).

    • 6.2: Sub-Saharan Africa's Physical Landscape

      In addition to its role as a passage for climatic transition, the Sahel is a land of majestic physical transformation. Although Sub-Saharan Africa has high peaks and volcanoes along the Great Rift Valley in the east, it does not have the long chains of mountains we see in the other regions. Lake Victoria, Lake Tanganyika, and Lake Malawi are in the Great Rift Valley. The Nile, Congo, and Niger rivers are the main waterways. The Namib and Kalahari are the main deserts south of the African Transition Zone.

    • 6.3: Pre-Colonial Sub-Saharan Africa

      As the birthplace of modern humans, the history of this region is far older than the regions we have explored thus far. Remember that we are providing a brief overview of a history that is hundreds of thousands of years old. The information in this unit is derived from several sources and contains some overlap. Identifying the information that repeats and filling in the gaps with the items that differ will help you create an outline of the lengthy and complex human geography of pre-colonial Sub-Saharan Africa.

      This diverse human landscape included thousands of ethnic groups, languages, and dialects. The people formed Kingdoms, built fortresses and monuments, engaged in trade and agriculture, and fostered the arts with rich cultural traditions. The human population faced challenges due to the region's physical geography, but they were destroyed by slave traders and farmers from around the world who capitalized from their free, forced labor. Thousands were kidnapped, treated as if they were subhuman, and sold as chattel during the Atlantic Slave Trade from 1441 until the mid-1800s.

      You should be able to answer these questions after you have completed this section on pre-colonial Sub-Saharan Africa.

      • Why is this region so culturally and linguistically diverse?
      • Why were most of the pre-colonial Empires located in West Africa?
      • What Sub-Saharan African countries retain the names of the pre-colonial Kingdoms?
      • What role do symbols like the Golden Stool and the Nigerian Ife Heads play in the identity of population groups?
      • Why was the location of Great Zimbabwe significant?
      • What was the geographic extent of trade in pre-colonial Sub-Saharan Africa?
      • How did land ownership and accession in this region differ from other regions, such as Europe?
      • Where is Timbuktu, and why was it significant?
      • What interaction was there between Sub-Saharan Africa and Europe prior to colonization?
      • What role did unused land play in the local agricultural system?
      • Name some barriers to development in Sub-Saharan Africa following the early African Empires.
    • 6.4: The Colonization of Sub-Saharan Africa

      The European powers divided the African continent among themselves – only Ethiopia and Liberia remained independent. Their partition began during the Berlin Conference in 1884, which German Chancellor Bismarck hosted because he hoped to increase Germany's influence on the continent. Ironically, the diplomats met in Berlin to avoid war among themselves as they divided their spoils, but the decisions they made had a lasting impact on the indigenous people who were never consulted on the borders of their respective countries.

      Most of Africa's current boundaries still reflect the economic interests of the European powers that controlled each colony in the 19th century. The Europeans essentially forced the population, which included 3,000 ethnic groups and people who spoke more than 2,000 languages, into 35 colonial territories. The European powers did not recognize or respect the physical geography or the ethnic, linguistic, and cultural differences that had developed in the region for hundreds of thousands of years.

      Today, we see the repercussions of their singular focus on resource extraction. Although we see some promising examples, health issues, institutional corruption, and ethnic violence are pervasive in the region. As in Middle and South America, the effects of colonialism continue to be evident in Sub-Saharan Africa.

    • 6.5: The Modern Landscape of Sub-Saharan Africa

      In this section, we analyze the human landscape of Sub-Saharan Africa and consider family size, fertility rates, and urbanization. We explore the region's strained healthcare systems and the prevalence of diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, and the Ebola virus. In what ways did colonialism foster today's challenges to effective governance and ongoing ethnic conflicts?

    • 6.6: Economics and Globalization in Sub-Saharan Africa

      In this section, we discuss the economic conditions of Sub-Saharan Africa, including the role foreign countries and investors have played in its economic development. The theme of core-periphery is relevant according to two scales.

      From a global perspective, Sub-Saharan Africa is peripheral in its supply of resources to the core areas of the world. Regionally, attempts have been made to extend the infrastructure of Sub-Saharan Africa's core areas to its periphery. However, there has been little progress in improving peripheral infrastructure at the regional level.

    • Unit 6 Assessment

      • Receive a grade