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Social Sci LibreTexts

7.1: Introducing the Realm

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  • Learning Objectives

    1. Summarize the basic geography of Subsaharan Africa. Identify the African Transition Zone, including the transitions that are occurring in the zone. Locate the main features on a map.
    2. Understand how early kingdoms flourished in Subsaharan Africa before the colonial era. Identify how selective groups in these kingdoms participated in the supply operations for the slave trade.
    3. Explain how European colonialism divided up Africa and the role the Berlin Conference played in the colonization process in Africa.
    4. Outline how countries have transitioned from colonies to independent nations, including the many issues involved in this transition.

    There is considerable variation with respect to how the regions of Subsaharan Africa are delineated or identified on maps. The debate is not about what regions are in Subsaharan Africa but rather about which countries are to be included within each region. The regions have both similarities and differences. The cultural geography varies widely from country to country and from one ethnic group to another, but at the same time, there are shared cultural patterns across all Subsaharan African regions. For example, colonialism has been a major historical factor in the shaping of the countries. Families are large, and rapid rural-to-urban shift is occurring in all regions. Every region has large urban centers—often port cities that act as central core locations supported by a large peripheral rural hinterland.

    Globalization has entered into the dynamics connecting these once-remote regions with the rest of the world. Advancements in communication and transportation technology have created networks connecting Africa with global markets. Subsaharan Africa has a young population that is on the move, seeking to gain from any opportunities or advantages it can find. The political arena is dynamic: changes in political leadership through coups or military takeovers are common, as is authoritarian rule. Subsaharan Africa is home to some of the poorest countries in the world. Poverty is evident in the countryside and in the urban slums of the largest cities. Bitter civil wars are a part of every region’s history. Violence and conflicts continue in some areas, while other areas exhibit political stability and thriving economies. The diversity in human geography is the most noteworthy dynamic in Subsaharan Africa. The variety of ethnic groups along with the multiplicity of languages and religious affiliations create strong centripetal and centrifugal forces that interact in a thriving sea of cultural diversity.

    Most of the population lives an agrarian lifestyle, but there are people who are developing the skills necessary to adapt to the rapid globalization wave that is importing new technology and new ideas to the continent. The urban core areas of the continent are the main focus of the global trends in technology and communication. These urban core areas exhibit the typical dynamics of the core-periphery spatial relationship. Subsaharan Africa has many core areas and many peripheral areas. The core urban centers have political power thanks to the social elites who have connections to the global economy and often dominate political activities.

    Figure 7.2 Regions of Africa


    To help identify places discussed in this book, Africa has been divided into regions along traditional boundaries.

    Updated from map courtesy of Andreas 06.