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  • Physical Geography of Africa
  • Human Geography of Africa
  • Climate in Africa
  • Biomes and Biodiversity in Africa
  • Measuring and Mapping Development
  • Development Gap
  • Development in Nigeria (employment sector)
  • Conflict in Lagos (Megacities)
  • Ebola in West Africa
  • Poverty in Somalia
  • Tourism in Kenya
  • Ecotourism

What is the physical geography of Africa?


Africa is not a country. Africa is one of the world's seven continents, and it is made up of 54 countries. 

The Equator runs through the middle of Africa. Most of Africa is located within the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. 


  • Africa has very few mountain belts, apart from the Atlas Mountains in the north. 
  • The largest mountain in Africa is Kilimanjaro at 5895m above sea level.
  • North of Africa is home to the Sahara Desert which is the world's largest hot desert.
  • Africa is rich in forests and Savannah Grasslands.
  • Most of the African continent is hot desert or semi-arid, especially in the north and so Africa is prone to extreme variations in rainfall from year to year. 
  • The River Nile is the world's longest river and is located in the north east of Africa.
  • Ghana and South Africa mine 60% of Africa's gold.
  • Botswana and the Democratic Republic of Congo produce 69% of Africa's diamonds. 
  • Africa holds 10% of the world's oil and gas reserves.
  • Nigeria and Libya are the two leading producers of oil in the world.

What is the human geography of Africa?


Researchers believe the first species of human originated around 2 million years ago, in what is known today as Ethiopia. Our species of human (homo sapiens) originated around 200,000 years ago in Africa. Humans began migrating from Africa to Europe between 60,000 and 70,000 years ago. 


Around 600 years ago, Europe became interested in Africa. In 1420, the Portuguese arrived and began exploring the west coast. The British did not arrive until 1820. The European countries found gold and ivory. 


Around 12 million - 15 million Africans were sold into slavery between the 1600s and 1800s. Europeans bought people from West Africa in exchange for cheap goods. Slavery started to become abolished from 1833 and so Europeans found a new way to exploit Africa.


European countries colonised (took control of) Africa's kingdoms and states so that they could take what they wanted such as timber, gold, coffee, cocoa and spices. It became known as the scramble for Africa and many European countries argued and fought over Africa's territories. To stop further conflict, fourteen countries met in Berlin in 1884. The fourteen countries divided Africa up into countries. No African rulers were involved in this and resistance from the Africans was quickly ended by force. 

Eventually, these countries began to get independence. Libya was first in the fight for freedom and gained independence from Italy in 1951. Other countries got their independence in the 1960s, but Zimbabwe (Britain's last African colony) did not get independence until 1980. 


African countries still struggle to develop today.

  • The political country boundaries drawn up in 1884 often lead to ethnic conflict.
  • Much of Africa's natural resources continue to be exploited by European businesses.
  • When Europeans divided Africa up, they created many landlocked counties (land locked in by land) and therefore lots of countries do not have a coastline which makes it difficult to trade by sea. 
  • Agricultural land is still used to grow cash crops (a crop produced to sell rather than to be used by the grower) such as coffee, sugar, cotton, coffee, palm oil and tobacco to sell to the developed countries. This doesn't leave much to feed the growing population of Africa that live in poverty.
  • Poverty means many African countries rely on aid from the developed countries.

How does Africa’s most developed country compare to its least developed country?

Despite many people thinking Africa is poor, there are countries in Africa which are experiencing rapid urbanisation, bringing both opportunities and challenges. Opportunities of urbanisation include economic growth from new businesses, education, healthcare, employment and entertainment which all lead to development. However, there are countries in Africa where poverty, conflict, famine and hunger are very much the norm. Development means making improvements to the standard of living and quality of life of a country.


The HDI is a summary measure of different social and economic development indicators for assessing long-term progress in three areas of human development:

  • A long and healthy life (life expectancy)
  • Access to knowledge (expected and mean years of schooling)
  • A decent standard of living (GNI per capita).

The graph to the right shows each country in Africa by HDI.


According to 2017 HDI values, Seychelles was the most developed country in Africa, with a HDI value of 0.797 whereas Niger was the least developed country in Africa, with a HDI value of 0.345. 


Let's take a look at these two countries in more detail.




GNI per capita: $26,860

Expected years of schooling: 14.8 years

Mean years of schooling: 9.5 years

Life expectancy: 73.7 years

Literacy rate: 94%

Population: 95,843



GNI per capita: $990 

Expected years of schooling: 5.4 years

Mean years of schooling: 2 years

Life expectancy: 60.4 years

Literacy rate: 15.5%

Population: 21.48 million

The above data recognises that there are differences between countries in Africa. However, the gap between the rich and poor countries is the result of many factors which impact economic growth and development such as:

  • Colonialism
  • Landlocked
  • Climate
  • Conflict
  • Poverty
  • Tropical diseases

How is Nigeria's economy changing?


Nigeria gained independence from the British Empire in 1960. Nigeria is a business hub for Africa and an important trading nation. Historically, exports of primary products such as cocoa, cotton, palm oil and timber were Nigeria's main source of income. In the 1950s, oil was discovered in the Niger Delta which caused a huge change in Nigeria's economy. The oil industry in Nigeria now accounts for 14% of the country's GDP (gross domestic product) and 98% of its income from exports. 


Oil from Nigeria is more suitable for refining into gasoline (fuel), which makes it more valuable than oil from other places such as the Middle East. Nigeria's reliance on the oil industry has reduced the need for agriculture. 


A country's economy is divided into three sectors: primary, secondary and tertiary. The primary sector involves working the land (agriculture, mining, fishing) whereas the secondary sector involves manufacturing (industry and distribution). The third sector is the tertiary sector which involves providing services (teachers, doctors, nurses, retail and hospitality workers). 

The use of technology (tractors, combine harvesters etc..) in farming has caused a decrease in employment in the primary sector. In addition, jobs in the secondary sector tertiary sector promise better pay and working conditions.


Nigeria's stable government has increased employment in the secondary sector through industrialisation. There are more employment opportunities in oil production, manufacturing and pharmaceuticals. This is due to a higher demand for goods from the home market (Nigeria) from the rising middle class and the international market. 


Today, information technology, retail and telecommunications (tertiary sector) is driving the driving the economy forward. Transnational corporations (TNC) are companies that own or control production facilities in more than one country through direct foreign investment. TNCs are attracted to Nigeria because raw materials are cheaper, the workforce is cheaper, good transport links (air and sea transport) and some countries offer incentives for TNCs operating in their country (such as tax reductions). 

What are the opportunities and challenges of urbanisation in Africa?


At current, Africa has the world's highest rate of urbanisation. Less than 50% of Africa is urban. Many other countries such as those in North America and Europe have already created urban areas where the environment has allowed for it. In 1990, Africa had 24 cities with a population over 1 million. Africa now has 48 cities with a population over 1 million. This demonstrates the high rate of urbanisation in Africa as more people live in towns and cities. 


Urbanisation is crucial for development, having producers of goods (businesses) so close to purchasers of goods (residential areas) provides business with labour (employees) and a market. This makes people and businesses more productive which contributes to the economy through tax. There are also other opportunities that arise from urbanisation such as transformation and poverty reduction as more people have access to services such as healthcare and education as well as resources such as food, clean water and reliable energy. 


However, there is a down side to urbanisation. Urbanisation can lead to an increase in traffic congestion, which slows down the economy from wait times and contributes to climate change. Further to this, urbanisation can cause an increase in poverty as people migrate from rural areas in search of a better life but instead find themselves living in slums; illegally built settlements on the outskirts of towns and cities. Slums experience a shortage of clean water, electricity and food as well as having limited access to education and healthcare. 


Ethiopia; a country often associated with conflict and famine, is the second largest country by population in Africa, with over 100 million inhabitants. Although 80% of these inhabitants live in rural areas, and 75% of urban areas count as slums, the government are exploring strategies to develop Ethiopia's capital city Addis Ababa; which is growing by natural increase and migration. It's not easy to develop a landlocked country like Ethiopia but authorities are:

  • Building thousands of new homes in the capital every year
  • Investing in infrastructure such as the Light Rail Transit in 2015. 
  • Offering incentives of cheap labour to TNCs if they open a factory in Ethiopia's capital. 

What caused the development gap?


There is a huge difference in the standard of living and quality of life between the world's most and least developed countries. This is known as the development gap.


You can already explain many reasons for the development gap:

  • Industrial revolution - By 1750, the industrial revolution had started in Britain and spread across Europe. Many people became employed in the secondary sector and Europe began to trade their goods with other countries. Europe became wealthier and more developed than other countries who still relied on the primary sector.
  • Colonialism - In 1884, Africa was divided into countries by Europe. Europe exploited Africa's resources such as timber, gold, copper and diamonds. They used the resources to increase their wealth. When countries gained their independence they were left with few roads, railways, schools, hospitals and skills. Many countries were also left landlocked (without a coastline) when Europe divided Africa. This makes it difficult to trade by sea, which is important for economic growth.
  • Corrupt and unstable governments - Sometimes those in power divert the money from the poor. Every year $1 trillion is paid in bribes and a further estimated $2.6 trillion are stolen annually through corruption – a sum equivalent to more than 5% of the global GDP. This takes money away from improving services such as schools and hospitals. 
  • Climate - In a dry country with poor and infertile soil and little precipitation, it is difficult to develop because not much grows. Therefore, countries cannot improve their economy based on the primary sector. Certain climates also allow tropical diseases such as malaria to spread. This affects the health of the population and their ability to work. It is difficult to develop without a workforce. 
  • Conflict - Some countries experience conflict which damages infrastructure and causes forced migration, which leaves countries with ageing populations and a limited workforce. It also costs billions in damage, which means money can't be spent on education or healthcare. 

In the 1980s, Willy Brandt came up with an imaginary line that separated the world's wealthiest and poorest countries. This became known as the Brandt line and can be seen on the map to the right. It depicts that most of the world's rich countries are in the north (with the exception of Australia and New Zealand) whilst the world's poorest countries are in the south. 

Can we close the development gap?


To close the development gap, poor countries need to catch up with the wealthier countries. Due to European countries racing ahead from the industrial revolution, as well as historical colonialism, political corruption and instability, climate and conflict, closing the development gap is not easy or quick. Developing countries need help. There are several strategies to close the development gap:

  • Direct foreign investment - developing countries offer incentives such as cheap labour and tax reductions to TNCs that open factories in their country. This is because TNCs invest money and skills in low income countries and newly emerging economies in order to increase their profits. Africa has the worst transport network of all global regions. This investment from countries such as China can involve new railways, roads, airports and ports to increase trade links with other countries. TNCs may also improve electricity provisions to ensure industry has reliable power.
  • Industry - factories (such as those opened by TNCs) creates jobs and provides opportunities to invest in housing and infrastructure through direct foreign investment. Employees pay tax to the government which can be used to improve education and healthcare; therefore creating a more skilled workforce and improving the productivity of the workforce (as illnesses are treated) and life expectancy.
  • Tourism - countries with tropical climates and beaches, beautiful landscapes and diverse wildlife have become popular holiday destinations for tourists from North America and Europe. This create jobs in tourist industries such as hotels, tour companies, spas and retail centres. Just like with industry, employees pay tax which can be used to improve housing, education and healthcare provisions. 
  • Fairtrade - the Fairtrade Foundation aims to ensure that wealthier countries buying primary products such as coffee, cocoa, cotton, wheat and fruit do not exploit poor countries by paying them an unfair price. Fairtrade ensure that farmers are paid a guaranteed price for their crops. 

What caused the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa?


Ebola is an example of a Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD). It is carried by fruit bats and was first discovered in 1976 near the Ebola River in what is now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo. Transmission of the disease by humans is caused by contact with bodily fluids (saliva, blood, vomit, urine, faeces) of a person who is sick with the virus or has died from it. The largest outbreak of Ebola was in 2014-2016 and it affected Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone (West Africa).


  1. 28th December 2013 – 18 month old boy from Meliandou, Guinea died after being ill with a fever, black stools and vomiting.

  2. Health Officials assumed it was Cholera and so no precautionary measures such as isolating the patient and medics wearing personal protective equipment (over-suits, gloves, face masks) were taken.

  3. By mid January 2014, the boys immediate family had contracted it and died. It was still suspected to be Cholera.

  4. During the following week, members of the boys extended family, who attended funerals or took care of ill relatives, also fell sick and died. 

  5. The same had happened to several midwives, traditional healers and staff at the hospital in the city of Gueckedou who treated them.

  6. By then, the virus had spread to four sub-districts via additional transmission chains. A pattern of unprotected exposure, more cases and deaths, more funerals, and further spread had been established.

What were the responses to the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa?

There are a number of reasons Ebola spread so quickly, such as:

  • Old disease in a new location.
  • Public health infrastructure such as community health clinics and hospitals was damaged.
  • Many people would not attend treatment centres or allow medics to test them for the disease due to cultural beliefs and practices. People in rural villages though Ebola was witchcraft. WHO sent clinical psychologists to convince those resisting treatment. 
  • There was a severe shortage of healthcare professionals in West Africa. 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) responded to the outbreak in order to bring the transmission of Ebola to an end. The WHO responded with the following:

  • Sent 4000 technical experts that were spread across 70 treatment sites in the worst affected countries.
  • Sent 950 epidemiologists (health professionals who investigated the causes and patterns of diseases). 
  • Sent 1.48 million sets of personal protective equipment (over-suits, Wellington boots, face masks, aprons and gloves).  
  • Set up over 220 safe burial sites.
  • Set up 800 treatment centres.
  • Sent 600 motorbikes and trucks so that medics could reach and test members of rural communities.
  • Trained over 8600 medical staff in safer practice surrounding Ebola.

Weekly cases had fallen from 950 in September 2014 to 5 in July 2015. By December 2016, the first ever vaccine against Ebola was created. This vaccine is not given to everyone. The outbreak concluded with 28,600 reported cases of Ebola and 11,325 deaths. 

Why is Somalia a nation of poverty and conflict?

An estimated 14.7 million people live in one of Africa's worst-performing economies, Somalia. Somalia is one of four countries located on the 'Horn of Africa'. The eastern region is known as the 'Horn of Africa' because it looks like a Rhino's horn.

  • Due to an absence of quality data, there are limited development indicators available for Somalia but, we do know that the GDP is around $7 billion and the average person earn around $600 a year. The life expectancy is 56.7 years.
  • The temperatures average between 25°C and 30°C . Much of the region is semi-desert and only the highlands in Ethiopia get a good amount of rain.
  • Somalia grows some crops, but it is too dry (extreme drought) and people rear animals such as goats, sheep, cattle and camels instead. During the dry season many people move to find food for their animals. These people are known as nomads.
  • The Horn of Africa is a poor region.

Somalia has the longest coastline in Africa. The Law of the Sea gives a coastal country rights to up to 370km of the sea and sea floor, from its coastline. This is known as an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and can be used for fishing and exploring oil amongst other uses. A country can prevent other countries from using their EEZ.


Coastal countries should benefit considerably from the tourist and fishing industries. This is not the case for Eritrea and Somalia. These two countries have few tourists and their fishing industries are run down due to years of conflict.


In 1991, civil war broke out as a result of a collapsed government. Somalia did not have a Coastguard and many foreign fisher boats from as far away as Korea and Japan seized the opportunity to fish illegally in Somalia's waters. Somalia's fishermen started to fight back and began to patrol the EEZ with weapons. The fishermen surrounded their illegal counterparts and fined them for being in Somalia's waters. However, news of this quick way to make money spread quickly and others including ex-soldiers and people trained to use GPS to track ships joined in.


Soon, all kind of ships (including ships carrying aid) were being hijacked and held to ransom. Between 2005 and 2012, pirates collected an estimated £257 million in ransom money. This money cannot be used to develop Somalia; modern-day piracy is illegal and violent. By 2013, international efforts costing around $5-10 billion had worked to combat Somalia and there were only a couple of hijackings as well as some failed attempts. Nine vessels were hijacked in 2017.

Conflict on land and at sea has made it difficult for humanitarian relief and aid to reach Somalia, making the problem of extreme poverty much worse. Reports show that in the first eight months of 2015, 85 security incidents involving humanitarian aid workers led to the deaths of 10, injury of 17, abduction of eight and arrest and detention of 34 aid workers. 

How can tourism help to close the development gap?


Tourism is a strategy to close the development gap. 

  1. Overseas visitors are attracted to a destination. 
  2. This creates an increase in employment in tourist industries such as hotels, hospitality, restaurants, entertainment and tour guides.
  3. Work increases for businesses which supply the tourist industry. 
  4. Workers spend wages locally which supports other non-tourist business.
  5. Tourist business and employees pay tax to the government.
  6. Tax increases government income to spend on providing services such as housing, education and healthcare.

Tourists provide Kenya with an income. Many tourists go to see the indigenous tribes or the Maasai and experience safaris in the Maasai Mara; a large game reserve. People enjoy observing the annual migration of the wildebeest and zebras as they search for the rain and green pasture.

Mass tourism can cause damage to the environment such as footpath erosion, excessive waste and harmful emissions. These need to be managed carefully to ensure that the natural environment isn't damaged for future generations, this is known as ecotourism. Ecotourism can be important in ensuring there are social and economic advantages resulting from tourism.


  • Tourism is the second biggest foreign investment industry in Kenya after agriculture.
  • The large number of tourists has helped the local farmers in Kenya by creating jobs supplying hotels with food.
  • Tourism helps to educate the local people on the importance of protecting their wildlife, in particular endangered species near extinction.
  • The tourist industry in Kenya has prompted the development of many National Parks around Kenya. These are specially protected areas which conserve plants, animals and the natural landscape.
  • Any new buildings need to be planned carefully so that they fit in with the natural landscape and use locally source materials such as timber. The image to the right is an example of a eco-building.

Standard of living and quality of life in Kenya:

HDI: 0.59

GNI per capita: $3,250

Expected years of schooling: 12.1 years.

Mean years of schooling: 6.5 years.

Life expectancy: 67 years.

Literacy rate: 78.7%

Population: 49.7 million


  • Some jobs may be temporary or seasonal, leaving many unemployed when tourist numbers fall.
  • In Mombasa, hotels have forbidden public access to the beaches. This has stopped the locals using the beaches and causes conflict between tourists and the locals.
  • Off-road driving in the National Parks and game reserves is destroying the habitats of animals.
  • Some of the Maasai tribes have been forced off their land to make way for tourism facilities.


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