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Africa's physical landscape

 

Africa is the second largest continent in the world, accounting for 20.2% of Earth’s landmass. The equator runs through the middle of Africa, and most of its landmass is located within the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. There are 54 countries in Africa.

 

Africa is Earth’s hottest continent. The scorching Sahara, the world’s largest hot desert, and the less extreme but still dry and windy steppe of the Sahel dominate the northern half of the continent, with the Namib and Kalahari deserts in the southwest and the Danakil on the Horn of Africa in the east. The Horn of Africa lies south of the Red Sea and is home to the countries of Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia. Many parts of Africa are vast Savannahs, like those across east and southern Africa. Nearer to the equator, is the Congo River and Earth’s second-largest tropical rainforest, the Congolese Rainforest.

 

On these lands, the world’s largest populations of free-ranging elephants, rhinoceroses, hippopotamuses, antelope, big cats, buffalo, monkeys, and great apes are still to be encountered. However, these animal populations are fall due to poaching, diseases, climate change, and habitat destruction. Together, the lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and buffalo make up what is known as Africa’s Big Five. They get the name ‘Big Five’ because they are considered the most challenging and dangerous animals to hunt.

 

Most of Africa is located on one tectonic plate, the African Plate. The African Plate is colliding with the Eurasian Plate along a destructive plate margin. As tectonic plates do not collide into Africa, there are few mountain belts. The Atlas Mountains stretch from the north of Tunisia to the Atlantic coast of Morocco in the north of the continent. To the east, the continent is splitting in two creating the Great Rift Valley, also known as the East African Rift Valley – the cradle of humanity. Here, the Earth’s crust stretches and thins, causing rocks to melt and magma to rise to the surface. The resultant eruptions form a thread of flat-bottomed, steep sided rift valleys such as the Ethiopian Highlands and the East African Mountains. The largest mountain in Africa is Kilimanjaro in Tanzania at 5895m above sea level. Although it lies only 3°N from the equator, its peak (highest point) is permanently capped with snow. The mountain is a dormant volcano. That means, the volcano has not erupted in over 10,000 years but could become active again.

 

Lake Victoria is Africa’s largest lake, and the second largest freshwater lake in the world. The lake lies on the equator, between Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. Some of the world’s largest and longest rivers are found in Africa. Located in the northeast of Africa, the world’s longest river, the Nile River flows 6695km before emptying into the Mediterranean Sea. The Congo River is Africa’s second longest river, flowing from the dense tropical rainforest of the Congo Basin to the Atlantic Ocean. The River Niger is West Africa’s longest river. Great oil deposits have been found here. In fact, the African Plate hold 10% of the world’s known oil and gas reserves. Many of Africa’s rivers pose a problem for trade given that every few miles you go over a waterfall.

 

Africa is rich in natural resources. The continent exports 16% of the world’s uranium, used to produce nuclear energy. One of the world’s largest uranium mines is in Namibia. Uranium is also mined in Niger and South Africa. The southern countries, especially South Africa also have large reserves of diamonds, gold, and copper. Together, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Botswana produce 69% of Africa’s diamonds. The large copper deposits found in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia are known as the ‘Copper belt’. Zambia holds 69-75% of Africa’s copper.

Africa's diverse climate and biomes

 

Africa is Earth’s hottest continent: temperatures exceeding 50°C have been recorded. Northern and southern Africa are both very hot and dry. The northern coast has a hot, dry climate with scarce rainfall. Consequently, the northern half of the continent is dominated by the scorching Sahara, the world’s largest hot desert, and the less extreme but still dry and windy steppe of the Sahel. Here, the felling of trees for fuel and the overgrazing of sheep, cattle, and goats has turned farmland into a belt of barren and semi-arid land. The word Sahel comes from the Arabic word ‘Sahil’ which means coast. That is how people living in that region think of it – as the coastline of the vast sand sea of the Sahara. Near the equator there is more rainfall, and vast areas of tropical rainforest including the Congolese Rainforest, the world’s second largest. In the south, the climate is hot with little rainfall with the Namib and Kalahari deserts covering raised platforms of rock called plateaus. The word plateau comes from the Old French word ‘platel’ which was used in the 12th century to describe flat pieces of metal, wood, etc.

 

Climate data for Arlit, an industrial town in Niger. It has a latitude of 19°N.

 

 

JAN

FEB

MAR

APR

MAY

JUN

JUL

AUG

SEP

OCT

NOV

DEC

Temperature

23°C

26°C

32°C

36°C

37°C

38°C

35°C

32°C

36°C

34°C

27°C

27°C

Precipitation

0

0

0

0

0

10

42

150

4

3.5

0

0

Climate data for Mbandaka, a city on the Congo River in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It has a latitude of 0°.

 

 

JAN

FEB

MAR

APR

MAY

JUN

JUL

AUG

SEP

OCT

NOV

DEC

Temperature

29°C

29°C

28°C

27°C

27°C

26°C

25°C

25°C

25°C

25°C

25°C

27°C

Precipitation

42

123.5

211

294

319

149

145

228

228

511.5

480

146

Climate data for Harare, the capital city of Zimbabwe. It has a latitude of 18°S.

 

 

JAN

FEB

MAR

APR

MAY

JUN

JUL

AUG

SEP

OCT

NOV

DEC

Temperature

23°C

22°C

22°C

21°C

20°C

17°C

17°C

21°C

24°C

25°C

26°C

22°C

Precipitation

360

247

20

13

0

5

0

4

0

88.5

120

367.5

There are lots of factors that influence Africa’s climate. First, the continent extends from 35°S to 37°N latitude, placing most of it within the Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn. Second, the equator runs through the middle of Africa, causing an almost symmetrical arrangement of climate zones and biomes.

 

The Sun’s rays hit the equator at a more direct angle than higher latitudes. This makes the heat energy at the equator more intense. Consequently, the Sun heats the surface which heats the air above it. Warm air rises creating low air pressure. The air cools and condenses at the equator to form clouds and convectional rainfall all year round. Therefore, the tropical rainforests are found in equatorial regions. As the air moves further northwards and southwards from the equator it cools creating high air pressure. The cool air sinks at about 30°N and 30°S latitude. As the cool air descends, it warms up and moisture evaporates, so few, if any clouds form. Consequently, there is little rainfall, and the land is left very dry resulting in the formation of hot deserts. Once the descending air reaches the surface, trade winds take it back to the equator. This cycle of air is called named the Hadley Cell.

 

This symmetry isn’t perfect because of a third factor – Africa has more landmass north of the equator than south of the equator. The north of the continent is drier because the influence of easterly trade winds from the Indian Ocean is blocked by the rift valleys in the east, resulting in relief rainfall on the eastern slopes of the highlands and a rain shadow on the western slopes. This has contributed to the Sahara. The influence of the easterly trade winds from the Indian Ocean extends further in land in southern Africa, resulting in more rainfall.

Africa's past - transatlantic slave trade

 

Africa is the birthplace of the human species. It was here, on the Horn of Africa where Ethiopia is today that our ancestors descended from the southern ape some 2.6 million years ago. At the same time, the Earth’s orbit around the Sun had changed and the planet fell into an ice age. However, the icesheets did not reach Africa, so humans continued to evolve. Our species, the homo sapiens appeared around 200,000 years ago. Between 60,000 and 70,000 years ago, homo sapiens started migrating from Africa. Having populated most of India, Asia, and Australasia, they populated Europe around 40,000 years ago. All that was left, was the Americas. As the planet had fallen into an ice age, lots of water was locked up in icesheets and glaciers so sea levels had fallen. Homo sapiens were able to get across an exposed land bridge between Siberia and Alaska to populate the Americas some 15,000 years ago. So, in a way, we are all connected to Africa.

 

The history of Africa dates back to the dawn of civilisation. In 3100 BC, about 5000 years ago, villages were built along the banks of the River Nile in northeast Africa. The Ancient Egyptians were around for over 3000 years. They were experts at farming and construction and built the pyramids and sphinx. In 332 BC, about 2350 years ago, Alexander the Great and his Greek army conquered Ancient Egypt and made himself a pharaoh. In 30 BC, about 2050 years ago, the Romans invaded Ancient Egypt and defeated Pharoah Cleopatra VII. Egypt became part of the Roman Empire. African Empires existed long after the Romans and before Europe began to exploit Africa. For example, the City of Great Zimbabwe was at the centre of a trading empire between the eleventh and fifteenth centuries with people trading gold and ivory. The Empire of Mali emerged in West Africa between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries with the city of Timbuktu at its centre of gold and salt trade. At the start of the fifteenth century, Europe became interested in Africa.

 

In 1420, the Portuguese landed their ships and started setting up trading posts along the west coast. The African Empires had many valuable goods to trade such as dyewood, spices, ivory, gold, and people. By that point, there was already an extensive slave trade in Medieval Europe. Most enslaved people were from what is now Russia and eastern Europe. Although, by 1300, a small number of enslaved people were of African origin. In 1441, the Portuguese captured Africans from what is now Senegal and transported them to Lisbon. By 1470, small vineyards and sugar plantations had emerged in Naples and on the Island of Sicily with enslaved Africans from North Africa providing the main source of labour.

 

In 1492, Christopher Columbus set sail from Spain in search of East Asia. He sailed west across the less explored Atlantic Ocean hoping to reach Japan, but an entire unknown continent lay in between Japan and Europe. After four weeks, a sailor sighted land. It was the small island of Guanahani, known today as the Bahamas. Columbus died thinking he had made it to the far east, but he had in fact discovered the Americas. Many islands including Jamacia and Hispaniola, the location of modern-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic became colonies of Spain. Portugal colonised much of South America including Brazil in 1500. The Spanish started transporting enslaved Africans directly from Africa to colonies from 1518. The Portuguese from 1550. The enslaved Africans worked on plantations growing and harvesting sugarcane, tobacco, and cotton.

 

The British landed in Africa in the 1530s but were not able to take control of Portugal and Africa’s gold trade. Instead, they found another way to make money. Aware that the Portuguese and Spanish were transporting enslaved Africans across the Atlantic to work in the West Indies, John Hawkins tried to copy this idea. He made three journeys to West Africa where, as well trading, he attacked Portuguese ships and took people straight from their homes, burning and raiding local towns. He then sailed across the Atlantic and sold the enslaved Africans to Spanish colonies in the West Indies. It made him very wealthy, and he was even knighted by Queen Elizabeth I. Hawkins last journey was 1568 after he lost three ships in battle with the Spanish. After that, the British gave up on the transatlantic slave trade. It was during the seventeenth century, under the rule of King James I that Britain’s role in the transatlantic slave trade was revived. Britain started to colonise land in the Americas and West Indies, including the Bahamas and Barbados. These colonies would become places where millions of enslaved Africans were taken and forced to work in inhumane conditions. The enslaved Africans plugged a gap in labour, as the native population could not do all the work.

 

In 1660, the British took control of Jamaica, and the Royal African Company was established by England’s new King, Charles II. The Royal African Company put Britain on the path to becoming the biggest slave-trading country in Europe. In all, British traders enslaved 3.1 million people but in total, between the 1600s and 1800s, over 12 million Africans were sold into slavery. Africans were captured in West Africa, transported across the Atlantic (many dying in transit) and forced to grow and harvest raw materials such as sugar, tobacco, and cotton. These raw materials were transported across the Atlantic to the UK where they were turned into something else during the industrial revolution. Cotton grown and produced by enslaved Africans was spun and woven into cloth and silk in Manchester. The cloth and silk were then exported to West Africa in exchange for more enslaved Africans to be sent to the West Indies. Between 1775 and 1800, Manchester’s economy trebled on the back of the transatlantic slave trade. The wealth generated from the transatlantic slave trade was used to develop canals, railways, and grand buildings.

Africa's past - colonialism

 

Despite its role in fuelling the transatlantic slave trade, Manchester played an important part in the abolition of slavery. Towards the end of the eighteenth-century anti-slavery campaigners known as abolitionists, had been lobbying for the end of the trade. In 1787, Thomas Clarkson, a leading campaigner against the transatlantic slave trade in the British Empire gave a speech in what is now Manchester Cathedral. He was later supported by William Wilberforce, an MP from Hull. One in five Mancunians signed a petition to abolish slavery. In 1807, the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act was passed making it illegal to trade enslaved people in the British Empire. The Act did not free people who had already been enslaved within the British Empire. Many Lancashire towns continued to use imported cotton produced by enslaved Africans. Later, in 1833, the Slave Emancipation Act was passed, giving all enslaved persons in British lands their freedom – the reality is that many did not get their freedom until 1838. Slavery continued in many other countries in South America and the south of the USA. The American Civil War between the north and south of the USA in 1861 was fought largely over slavery. President Abraham Lincoln was determined to end slavery in the USA and blocked ports in the south. This prevented cotton produced by enslaved Africans from being exported to the UK. Consequently, with less cotton coming in, thousands of mill workers lost their jobs. Despite the unemployment and poverty, cotton workers met in 1862 and agreed to support Lincoln’s fight against slavery. Slavery was abolished in the USA in 1865.

 

The end of the transatlantic slave trade did not put a stop to Europe’s exploitation of Africa. During the seventeenth and first half of the eighteenth century, much of Africa was unknown to European countries. European countries had confined themselves to trading and naval ports and colonies along the coast. A colony is a country or area that comes under the control of another country and is occupied by settlers from that country. In 1795, the British captured the Cape Town from the Dutch and in 1797, the British waged war against the Xhosa, native people living in South Africa. In 1820, large numbers of British settlers started to arrive in the Cape colony.

 

The British fight against slavery became part of the new phase of the British Empire – Britain claimed that controlling parts of Africa would end slavery there. The British Royal Navy patrolled the coast of West Africa and the Caribbean looking out for illegal slave traders. In 1850, the British bought the Gold Coast, what is now Ghana from Denmark and in 1861, the British established a protectorate at the port of Lagos, the first step in creating the colony of Nigeria. The Royal Navy intercepted 1,500 slave ships and freed 150,000 enslaved people. However, Britain, like other European countries had something else in mind – land and natural resources.

 

During the nineteenth century, European explorers and missionaries such as the British David Livingstone, Henry Morton Stanley, and Cecil Rhodes started mapping the interior of Africa. These explorations revealed a wealth of natural resources that could be exploited to fuel the industrial revolution that was developing across Europe and so the land grab began. However, native people already lived in the lands that the Europeans wanted to colonise. The Europeans claimed they would bring civilisation to these so-called savage people. In 1884, European leaders met at the Berlin Conference and settled claims on land in Africa by dividing the continent among themselves. They give little thought to the existing ethnic and linguistic groups and no African leaders were present. The Scramble for Africa was not peaceful, the invention of the machine gun meant that any resistance from African tribes was ended quickly. Henry Stanley Morton explored the Congo River and returned to Britain with tales of the resources in the Congo. The British government ignored him, but King Leopold II of Belgium sent Stanley Morton to claim the land for him. King Leopold II took control of a region of tropical rainforest in the Congo Basin. Leopold II promised to help the people of Congo but instead he exploited them and forced them to collect sap from rubber trees. It is estimated that 10 million Congolese people died under Leopold’s rule.

 

Cecil Rhodes believed that the British were the superior race and should inhabit as much land as possible. His wealth came from diamonds and gold discovered in South Africa. In 1889, Rhodes formed the British South African Company to push British commerce and control further north of the Cape colony. He founded the colonies of Northern and Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe and Zambia. By 1914, 90% of Africa was under European control.

 

After World War Two, many African countries wanted independence and self-determination, the right to their own lands and government. Colonisation was costly as colonies were expensive to keep hold of and the wars of the twentieth century had depleted Britain’s economy. The British were reluctant to give up their colonies because they were a source of wealth and trade that would bring prosperity back to Britain. In 1957, Ghana was the first African nation to get independence from the British Empire. It was during the 1960s that Britain accepted that decolonisation was going to happen. The last British colony to gain independence was Zimbabwe in 1980.

Development in Africa

 

Africa is the world’s second largest continent, accounting for 20.2% of Earth’s landmass. It is one of the world’s greatest wildernesses with its scorching Sahara and Sahel in the north and Namib and Kalahari deserts in the southwest. Many parts of Africa are vast Savannahs, like those across east and southern Africa. Nearer to the equator, is the Congo River and Earth’s second-largest tropical rainforest, the Congolese Rainforest. Some of the world’s largest and longest rivers are found in Africa. Located in the northeast of Africa, the world’s longest river, the Nile River flows 6695km before emptying into the Mediterranean Sea. The Congo River is Africa’s second longest river, flowing from the dense tropical rainforest of the Congo Basin to the Atlantic Ocean. Africa is rich in natural resources. The continent exports 16% of the world’s uranium, used to produce nuclear energy. One of the world’s largest uranium mines is in Namibia. Uranium is also mined in Niger and South Africa. The southern countries, especially South Africa also have large reserves of diamonds, gold, and copper.

 

European countries have exploited Africa in different ways throughout history. During the transatlantic slave trade, Britain and Portugal were responsible for transporting about 70% of all enslaved Africans to the Americas. During the nineteenth century, many European countries took part in a violent ‘land grab’ on the continent, with a complete disregard to the indigenous populations. In 1884, European leaders met in Berlin and divided the continent up among themselves. By 1914, 90% of Africa was under European control. The continent’s natural resources were exploited, and the Africans were a cheap source of labour. Most of Africa was colonised by Britain, Belgium, France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, and Italy. African countries started to get their independence after World War Two. Many African countries still struggle with the legacy of colonialism. The country borders drawn up at the Berlin conference have often led to the re-emergence of ethnic conflict. The abundance of natural resources continues to be over-exploited by European businesses and agricultural land is used to grow cash crops rather than crops to feed the 1.3 billion people living in Africa.

 

Today, there are 54 countries in Africa. There are lots of African stereotypes. Nigerian Novelist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, talks of ‘the danger of a single story’, from her experience of living with her college roommate, when attending university in the USA. “My roommate had a single story of Africa. A single story of catastrophe. In this single story there was no possibility of Africans being similar to her, in any way. No possibility of feelings more complex than pity. No possibility of a connection as human equals… If I had not grown up in Nigeria, and if all I knew about Africa were from popular images, I too would think that Africa was a place of beautiful landscapes, beautiful animals, and incomprehensible people, fighting senseless wars, dying of poverty and AIDS, unable to speak for themselves, and waiting to be saved, by a kind white foreigner… The single story creates stereotypes and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story… The consequence of the single story is this - it robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of an equal humanity difficult. It emphasises how we are different, rather than similar. When we reject the single story, when we realise there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.” It is true that many countries and regions in Africa face multiple challenges, but not every African is in need, nor every African nation in crisis. We must remember that Africa, like Europe, has more than a single story.

 

Development is the increasing standard of living and quality of life in a place. As a country develops technologically and economically, the standard of living and quality of life improves. Countries are classified according to their level of economic development based on gross national income (GNI). GNI is an economic development indictor that is calculated by adding together the total value of the goods and services produced by its population and the income earned from investments that its people and businesses have made overseas. To compare the level of economic development for different countries the GNI is divided by the total population to produce a per capita (per person) figure. This figure is then converted to US dollars to make comparison easier. The World Bank classify countries with a GNI per capita of $12,696 or above as high-income countries. There are around 80 HICs. Countries with a GNI per capita between $1,046 and $4,095 are classified as lower middle-income countries. Countries with a GNI per capita between $4,096 and $12,695 are classified as upper middle-income countries. There are around 30 countries with a GNI per capita of $1,045 or below. These are known as low-income countries. Most, but not all, LICs are in Africa. It is important to remember that GNI per capita is an average and is influenced by the size of a country’s population. Not everybody will earn the GNI per capita, some will earn more, and others will earn less.

 

GNI per capita is not the only way to measure a country’s level of development. There are several other indicators: birth and death rates, infant mortality rates, life expectancy, people per doctor, literacy rate, access to safe water, Human Development Index (HDI). HDI is a composite measure that combines several development indicators into one easy-to-use formula. It uses GNI per capita, life expectancy and average years of schooling to produce a figure between 0 and 1. The closer to 1, the more developed the country is.

Causes of the development gap

 

According to the World Bank classifications for the 2022 financial year, a country with a GNI per capita of $1,045 or less is a low-income country. By that measurement, Africa has 22 low-income countries. By the same measurement there are no low-income countries in Europe. However, there are a lot of middle-income countries, mainly upper in eastern Europe. Ukraine is an exception with a GNI per capita of $3,540. There is a huge difference in the standard of living and quality of life between the world’s wealthiest (most developed) and poorest (least developed) countries. This is known as the development gap.

 

In 1980, Willy Brandt, the German Chancellor at the time led a committee that produced a report called North-South: A Programme for Survival. The report included a map of the world with a line that divided it into the rich north and the poor south – it became known as the Brandt Line. There were some exceptions, for instance, Australia and New Zealand was considered to be in the rich north. It became a popular way of viewing the world’s most and least developed countries. Today, the Brandt Line is misleading and outdated because many countries below the line are middle-income countries with newly emerging countries (BRIC and MINT). There are many countries in Africa with a GNI per capita equal to or higher than some countries in eastern Europe.

 

Colonialism is a historical factor that has influenced the development gap. During the late nineteenth century, much of Africa was conquered by European countries. The European countries claimed the land for themselves and introduced new country borders. They exploited raw materials and used the indigenous population as a source of cheap labour. The raw materials were exported to the European countries where the industrial revolution was booming. In the mills and factories, the raw materials were turned into goods with higher value and then traded with other countries, including countries in Africa. Africa was limited to the producer of raw materials and so did not industrialise at the same time as the European countries. Consequently, European countries became wealthier and more developed than other countries.

 

When the country borders were drawn up, no African leaders were present. Many countries were left ‘landlocked’. There are 48 landlocked countries in the world and 16 of them are in African. With no access to the seas, a country is cut off from seaborne trade. Landlocked countries depend on neighbours to import and export goods, and this comes at a cost. Countries with access to the seas have developed faster than those without it.

 

Climate is a physical factor that influences the development gap. In tropical climates, pests such as mosquitos can spread malaria. Disease affects the ability of the population to stay healthy enough to work. Furthermore, hot countries such as those in sub-Saharan Africa are prone to drought. The long period without rainfall limits water supplies. The dry land cannot be irrigated which affects food production and can lead to famine. Famine can cause mass emigration or death from undernourishment.

 

Debt is an economic factor that influences the development gap. When a country borrows money from other countries or the World Bank, it must be paid back with interest. Countries may borrow money to make up for the little that they make in trade. Money is also borrowed to support healthcare and education or recovery efforts after natural disasters and epidemics or pandemics. Repaying this debt and the interest takes money away from infrastructure and service investment. Many former colonies borrowed money from their past colonists.

 

Many factors that cause uneven development can be overcome with money. Landlocked countries can trade by plane. People living in tropical climates can be vaccinated to prevent the spread of malaria. Debt can be cleared if a country makes enough in trade. The problem is that some countries simply do not make enough money because of historical, physical, and economic factors.

Poverty and conflict in Somalia

 

The Horn of Africa is the most easterly part of the continent and home to the countries of Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia. About 15.4 million people live in Somalia. It has the longest coastline in Africa stretching over 3,000km along the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea, and the Gulf of Aden. Somalia has a long history with cave paintings dating back between 3,000- and 6,000-years BCE. These cave paintings gave us some understanding of how people lived during the Stone Age. Wild animals can be found in every region of Somalia, and not just camels. Somalia is home to cheetahs, lions, giraffe, elephant, baboons, gazelles, antelope, and zebra – ideal for safari tourism.

 

The coastline provides the country with an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) that can be used for fishing and exploring for oil. A country can prevent other countries from using its EEZ. With its long history and cave paintings, variety of wild animals, beautiful beaches and EEZ, Somalia should benefit from tourism and the fishing industry. However, Somalia is one of Africa’s poorest performing economies. In 2019, Somalia’s gross domestic product (GDP) was $4.9 billion. GDP is an economic development indicator and is different to GNI. GDP is calculated by adding together the total value of the goods and services produced within a country during a specified period. Although low, Somalia’s GDP is slowly increasing – in 2015, it was $4 billion. Tourism and fishing do not make up large proportions of Somalia’s economy. Instead, rearing and exporting livestock (camels, sheep, and oxen) as well as dairy and leather is the country’s main economic activity. The GNI per capita in 2019 was $320 (about £230) and nearly 7 in 10 Somalis live in poverty (less than $1,90/£1.37 a day) according to a 2019 World Bank report. So, what has held Somalia back for almost three decades? The answer lies in the legacy of colonialism, political instability, civil war, and modern-day piracy.

 

Somalia’s location and the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 made it an important location for trading posts. Being an intersection between Africa and Asia did not go unnoticed by Europe. In 1884, during the ‘Scramble for Africa’ European countries met in Berlin to divide the continent between them. They divided the area we know today as Somalia into three – French Somaliland, British Somaliland, and Italian Somaliland. However, Ogaden, one of the main Somali regions lay outside of these borders. As a result of the borders drawn by European colonisers, many Somalis were living outside of Somalia. For a long time, Britain ruled the region of Ogaden and planned to merge it with British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland to form Greater Somalia, but after World War Two, Britain signed the region of Ogaden over to Ethiopia.

 

In 1960, British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland got independence and united to form Somalia. French Somaliland voted to stay under French rule (perhaps rigged) but later became independent and formed Djibouti. In 1977, Somalians living in the region of Ogaden, now eastern Ethiopia formed the Western Somali Liberation Front (WSLF) and with the support of the then President, Mohamed Siad Barre and Somalia’s military launched attacks against the Ethiopian government. The WSLF and Somalia wanted the region once known as Ogaden to become part of Somalia, as it once was. However, in 1978, Somalian troops were defeated and retreated from the region. Support for Siad Barre plummeted, and clans started to reject him. In 1988, Siad Barre signed a Peace Accord with Ethiopia’s leader agreeing to end insurgencies against each other. However, this made clans reject Siad Barre’s military leadership even more.

 

In 1991, clans rose up and Siad Barre was overthrown (forcibly removed from power) and northern Somalia, once British Somaliland declared itself an independent state – but it is not recognised as such by other nations. Civil war broke out as different groups competed for power, especially in the capital, Mogadishu. War devastated the area between the Juba River and Shabelle River where land was used for producing grain. Consequently, famine spread across southern Somalia. The absence of a stable government meant there were few schools, no public security services, few health facilities, and no infrastructure being built by the state. When the conflict got worse, many left as economic migrants or fled as refugees. Remittances are sent back to Somalia. Somalis have shown remarkable resilience. Somaliland was built from the bottom-up and functions like a nation state, with its own passport, currency, flag, government, and army, but government ‘clannism’ is still a problem.

 

With Somalia at war with itself, there was no navy or coastguard protecting its EEZ. Foreign fishing vessels from as far away as Korea and Japan started fishing in Somalia’s water. This depleted local fish stocks and some Somalis fishermen responded by boarding small boats and patrolling Somalia’s EEZ. They would surround foreign vessel and hold the crew to ransom. News of this quick way to make money spread quickly and piracy grew into a lucrative trade and soon, all sorts of ships (including those carrying aid) were being hijacked. Between 2005 and 2012, pirates collected an estimated £257 million in ransom money. Large numbers of unemployed young Somalians saw it as a way of supporting their families. By 2013, international efforts had worked to combat modern-day piracy in Somalia, but the foreign fishing vessels have since returned.

 

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. The country continues to struggle from drought, famine, and terrorist group al-Shabab.

Innovation and tourism in Africa

 

Sub-Saharan Africa is composed mainly of low, lower-middle, and upper-middle income countries, some of which are fragile or affected by conflict. Despite historical, physical, and economic barriers to development, Africa has is a land of opportunity. Innovation, the practical implementation of ideas has helped bring power to homes in Wimbe, a village in Malawi, and Africa’s Great Green Wall is helping to restore land in the Sahel, while tourism in Kenya creates jobs for the locals. These are all ways that contribute to a higher standard of living and quality of life in Africa which helps towards reducing the development gap.

 

Malawian inventor, William Kamkwamba rose to fame in his country in 2001. Malawi is a landlocked country in southern Africa. It is bordered to the north by Tanzania, to the west by Zambia, and to the east and south by Mozambique. Kamkwamba was one of seven children and before rising to fame had never seen a computer or the internet. In his 2009 TEDTalk, he described himself as “a farmer in a country of poor farmers”. In 2001, the harvest did not produce enough maize. This led to serious food shortages, an increase in the price of maize and widespread famine. Kamkwamba’s family could not afford to send him to school. Instead, he frequented the school library and read books about energy. He wanted to build a windmill to generate electricity and pump water for irrigation – providing a defence against hunger. Kamkwamba used materials he found at a scrapyard and succeeded in building a windmill that generated electricity. Since then, he has built a solar powered water pump that provides his village with drinking water. He is now the CEO of the Moving Windmills project. The project teaches people how to drill their own water well, supports a soccer team, and installs solar panels at schools and community centres. Moving Windmills are building an innovation centre that they hope will drive economic prosperity in Malawi by helping people to implement solutions that change lives for better.

 

The Sahel is a semiarid transitional zone between the scorching Sahara to the north and the humid savanna grasslands to the south. The Sahel stretches across the widest part of Africa from the Atlantic Ocean eastwards through northern Senegal, southern Mauritania, Mali, northern Burkina Faso, Niger, northern Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, northern Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Djibouti. People think of the Sahel as the coastline of the vast sand sea of the Sahara. The region was once rich with biodiversity, but the area has experienced land degradation, where natural or human activity has worn down the quality of the land, making it less viable.

 

Climate change is causing temperatures to rise; the Sahel could see an increase in temperature of 3-5°C by 2050. Dry seasons are longer, rainfall is more erratic, and drought is more frequent. There are also strains on the land caused by human activities. As population increases, the felling of trees, farming, and overgrazing of herds has contributed to desertification, the most extreme form of land degradation. Deforestation and overgrazing remove vegetation and exposes the soil to wind and water erosion. If left unchallenged, the Sahara will expand southwards and the Sahel will become desert. There will be less agricultural output, increased risk to food security, widespread famine, and conflict over land use. Without food, children cannot go to school and adults cannot go to work. The overall standard of living will subside leaving people with no choice but to migrate.

 

Yacouba Sawadogo, a farmer from Burkina Faso, a landlocked country in the centre of western Africa is known locally as ‘the man who stopped the desert’. In the 1980s, Yacouba defied the local farming tradition and improved the ancient farming technique Zaï.

His method involved hacking deep planting pits into the hard baked earth and adding manure and compost. The manure attracted termites, whose tunnels broke up the soil and helped to retain rain. At the start of the rainy season, seeds are planted in the pits. It worked and the practice of Zaï spread throughout Burkina Faso. Forty years on, Yacouba has created a 40-hectare forest on his land with more than 60 species of trees and bushes. His improved method of Zaï has spread to other villages and countries.

 

Zaï is one of the land use techniques at the heart of Africa’s Great Green Wall. The project aims to stop soil erosion and hold back the expansion of the desert by bringing life back to Africa’s degraded landscape. The idea started as a wall of trees stretching across Africa. The tree roots hold the soil together, preventing it from blowing away. Shade from the tree canopy means there is less evaporation of moisture out of the soil, preventing it from drying out. In Senegal, 12 million drought resistant trees have been planted. In Burkina Faso, 3 million hectares of land has been rejuvenated. In Niger, 5 million hectares of land has been restored and the yields provide enough grain to feed 2.5 million people.

 

Elsewhere, tourism is boosting Kenya’s economy. Kenya’s landscapes and wildlife attracts visitors from overseas. The Maasai Mara National Reserve is home to lions, cheetahs, leopards, elephants, rhinoceros, giraffe, hippopotamus, buffalo, zebra, and excellent views of Tanzania’s Mt. Kilimanjaro. Many people visit the Maasai Mara to watch the migration of the wildebeest. The tourists need places to stay and things to do while they are there. This creates jobs for the locals in hotels, bars, and restaurants. People can also provide transport and work as tour guides. The locals receive an income. Some of it is taxed and some of it spent locally which means businesses make more money. The government can use the taxes to invest in services and infrastructure. As a result, standard of living and quality of life improves. Between 2015 and 2019, Kenya had one of the fastest growing economies in sub-Saharan Africa. Tourism provides employment for almost 10% of Kenya’s population.

Development in Ethiopia

 

Lots of things come from Ethiopia, including humans. Around 3.2 million years ago in the Awash Valley lived a female human-like ape hominin with the ability to stand on two feet and climb trees. Her fossilised skeleton was excavated in 1974 to the sound of the Beatles song ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ and so she was named Lucy. Lucy is one of the oldest, complete skeletons of on ancestors and features heavily as part of Ethiopia’s bid to boost tourist numbers. The National Museum of Ethiopia’s post reads ‘Lucy Welcomes You Home’ while the national tourism slogan is ‘Land of Origins’. Tourism accounts for nearly 10% of Ethiopia’s GDP and one in twelve of all jobs in Ethiopia. Nearly one million people visit every year, exploring the landscape of high mountains, tropical forests, scorching deserts, and spectacular waterfalls.

 

Ethiopia has twelve large lakes and nine major rivers, but the country is landlocked, and without direct access to the Sea. Ethiopia is bordered to the north by Eritrea and Djibouti, to the northeast by Somaliland, to the east by Somalia, to the south by Kenya, to the southwest by South Sudan and to the northwest by Sudan. Due to Ethiopia’s highlands, most of its rivers are not navigable for long distances because of steep gorges and waterfalls. Consequently, most of Ethiopia’s imports and exports travel by road or railway through its neighbours’ territory. Ethiopia’s location without a coastline and with rivers impeded by waterfalls are both factors that have held back development. It has not helped that Ethiopia’s land has been degraded because of drought, overgrazing and deforestation, food security is threatened by locust invasions, or that Ethiopia has been engaged in ethnic conflict, civil wars, and border disputes.  

 

With a population of 112 million, Ethiopia has the second largest population in Africa after Nigeria. Ethiopia has experienced steady economic growth since 2002. However, it is still a low-income country with a GNI per capita of $850. Ethiopia aims to have lower-middle income status by 2025. If the country is to continue to develop, it must have thriving cities and secure trade routes.

 

Ethiopia is one of the world’s least urbanised countries. Most of its population live in rural areas with only 21.6% of the 112 million living in urban areas (2020). However, Ethiopia has one of the highest urban growth rates in Africa. The country recognises that thriving cities attract businesses. The large urban population provides businesses with a good supply of labour to increase productivity and a market for its products to increase sales. This increases the flow of money, and the economy grows. To keep the businesses, governments must invest in infrastructure and services such as healthcare and education. As a result, poverty is reduced, and the standard of living and quality of life improves. So sustainable urbanisation is crucial for development. For urbanisation to be sustainable there needs to be plenty of land, good infrastructure, job creation, and service investment. Sadly, over half of Ethiopia’s urban population live in slums.

 

To prevent people living in slums, Ethiopia launched the Integrated Housing and Development Plan (IHDP) in 2006. The IHDP is entirely funded by Ethiopia’s government and has been implemented in 56 towns across the country, but its impact is greatest in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital. The aim of the IHDP was to construct 400,000 condominium units. Condominium comes from the Latin words ‘con’ which means together, and ‘dominium’ which means ‘right of ownership’. A condominium is a unit or a block of separately owned flats. The IHDP has created jobs in construction for nearly 200,000 men and women. The issue is with the mortgages; they are simply too costly for most people moving to the urban areas.

 

To solve the issue of being landlocked. Ethiopia has signed a Peace Agreement with Eritrea to end border disputes so that Ethiopia can use, tax-free, the Red Sea ports in Eritrea, as well as Djibouti to import and export goods. The country has also benefitted from foreign direct investment (FDI) from China. FDI is when an individual or company invests in another company or funds construction work in another country. As part of China’s ‘Belt and Road’ initiative, a global plan to fund infrastructure developments in other countries, the Export-Import (Exim) Bank of China provided Ethiopia with a loan for 70% of the $475 million (£308 million) needed to construct a fully electrified cross-border railway linking its capital, Addis Ababa to the Red Sea port of Djibouti – the first of its kind in Africa. The Addis Ababa-Djibouti railway opened in 2015 and was built by Chinese firms and staffed by Chinese controllers, technicians, and station masters for the first five years. The railway reduces costs and transport times from three days by pot-holed road to 12 hours by railway. With the capacity for 15,000 passengers per hour in each direction, the railway will not only increase productivity but also the exchange of knowledge and skills. The urban railway has also started to attract businesses close to the lines which will create jobs for the locals. However, in 2018, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister announced that its original 10-year plan to repay the loan from China has been extended by 20 years. This shows that Ethiopia is struggling to repay the debt. Nevertheless, Ethiopia’s economy has continued to grow.