Schedule | Teleconference
Participant Resources | Scenario: North-South Conference
Note: Of a total of 53 African countries (i.e., 47 nations on the mainland and 6 island nations off the coast of Africa), this simulation scenario focuses on a dozen sub-Saharan nations. Countries in three of sub-Saharan Africa’s four geographical regions are represented in the simulation: West Africa (Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia), East Africa (Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda), and Central Africa (Angola, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Zambia).
Depending on your team’s area of specialization and your information needs in planning your project (or publications), you may find some or all of the links within this description useful, as they provide additional information on specific topics not covered in detail in this document. For specific information on potential project regions and the countries in which the regions are located, refer to the Resources for Participants page.
Africa is the second largest of Earth’s seven continents, covering 23 percent of the world’s total land area and containing 14 percent of the world’s population. Africa straddles the equator and most of its area lies within the tropics. It is bounded by the Atlantic Ocean on the west, the Indian Ocean and Red Sea on the east, and the Mediterranean Sea on the north. In the northeastern corner of the continent, Africa is connected with Asia by the Sinai Peninsula.Africa is an incredibly diverse continent in human, geological, climatic, and ecological terms. Geologically speaking, while much of the continent consists of vast plains, towering volcanic peaks and the largest rift valley system in the world can also be found here. Similar contrasts are found in Africa’s climate, which ranges from the year-round heat and humidity of equatorial regions to the dryness of the world’s largest desert and to mountaintop conditions cold enough to support glaciers. It contains regions of biological significance due to their biodiversity and huge numbers of species found nowhere else.
Sub-Saharan Africa is also the poorest region in the world, suffering from the effects of economic mismanagement, corruption in local government, and inter-ethnic conflict. The region includes most of the least developed countries in the world and the majority of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries. More than 70 percent of Africans depend on agriculture to live, according to the UN. As the prices of agricultural inputs (seeds, etc.), food and fuel have soared in recent years, people across sub-Saharan Africa have protested and slipped deeper into poverty.
Malaria is a chronic impediment to economic development. The disease slows growth by about 1.3% per year through lost time due to illness and the cost of treatment and prevention measures. According to the World Bank, the region's GDP would have been 32% higher in 2003 had the disease been eradicated in 1960.
Extensive human rights abuses still occur in several parts of Africa, often under the oversight of the state. The majority of such violations occur for “political” reasons, often as a side effect of civil war.
The population of sub-Saharan Africa was 800 million in 2007. The current growth rate is 2.3%. The UN predicts for the region a population of nearly 1.5 billion by 2050.
Sub-Saharan demographics are dramatic. Fertility rates are the highest in the world, but so are the figures for infant mortality (deaths per 1,000 live births), mortality (deaths per 1,000 people), malnutrition, and HIV/AIDS infections. Life expectancy, in contrast, is the lowest in the world.
Although the majority of the eight hundred million people in sub-Saharan Africa live in rural areas, the continent is urbanizing rapidly. Over a third of the population now lives in cities. Many of those who live and work in the major metropolitan areas live in ways similar to most people in the industrialized world. They drive cars, have televisions in their homes and apartments, have computers with access to the Internet, are educated in excellent schools and continue on to higher education. However, because more people move to cities than the pace of urban development can keep up with, many end up living in shanty towns which, like rural areas, lack basic infrastructure, sanitation, utilities, and services.
Those who live in many of the smaller towns dress in western style and do the kind of work - in the manufacturing industry or the services - that people in many urbanized parts of the world do. However, they may not always have all the advantages of those who live in the larger, more modern cities. Their schools may have fewer resources, the opportunities for earning a living may not be as varied, and the services available may not be as technologically advanced.
In contrast, people living in rural Africa’s ethnic communities have lifestyles that have remained virtually unchanged for centuries. They have a rich cultural heritage that has been passed down from generation to generation, often with very little influence from the outside world. Such communities often lack basic sanitation, electricity, reliable supplies of clean water, schools, healthcare, transportation and communication facilities, and adequate sources of income.
The peoples of sub-Saharan Africa belong to several thousand different ethnic groups. Each ethnic group has its own distinct language, traditions, arts and crafts, history, way of life and religion. At the same time, over the centuries the different groups have also influenced one another and contributed to and enriched one another's culture.
African people identify themselves, or have been identified by others, as members of certain ethnic groups. While this identification can be based on a number of different criteria, a person’s mother tongue is often the most common determinant.
While ethnic identity may be determined by their first language, most Africans are multilingual. Few can afford to be otherwise, since daily life often brings people into contact with others who speak different languages. In Tanzania, for example, nearly 100 languages are spoken, including at least one from each of the four language families represented in Africa.
Some experts put the number of distinctive languages spoken in Africa at around 2,000, while others count more than 3,000, virtually all of which originated in Africa. While exact statistics are not available for ethnic groups, it is safe to assume that the number of distinct ethnic groups also lies somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000.
If religion is defined as a set of beliefs and practices related to moral behavior on earth and to life after death, then each African society has developed its own distinctive version. Despite the diversity, several common themes are fairly widespread. One is the belief in a creator, who brings the universe into being and then departs, perhaps to the sky or to some distant place like a mountaintop. Another commonality involves the importance of ancestors.
Death does not end one’s existence; rather, it moves one to a non-earthly realm to congregate with those who have gone before and those who will come after. Various rituals, including sacrifice, are conducted to honor and placate ancestors, to ensure that they help rather than cause trouble for the living. Although this is often referred to as “ancestor worship,” it is actually a way of recognizing the importance of community—past, present, and future.
A third commonality is the presence of religious specialists, including rainmakers, healers, diviners, and priests, represented in various proportions depending on the African society in question.
Yet another common element is the pervasiveness of religion in everyday life. Spirituality is present in sacred places, art, music, dance, storytelling, and ceremonies such as name giving, initiation, and marriage.
Indigenous religions remain widely practiced throughout sub-Saharan Africa. In many countries, adherents of indigenous belief systems make up more than 20 percent of the population, and in some—notably Liberia, Benin, Sierra Leone, Central African Republic, and Mozambique—more than 50 percent.
Migration is a commonplace African phenomenon. Traditionally, migration was largely associated with the search for new and better farm or grazing lands. Some herders migrated seasonally, moving their livestock to available water and forage sites. During colonial times, labor migration to mines and plantations became common. More recently, increasing numbers of people have been migrating to Africa’s cities, which are perceived as places of opportunity not only to meet basic needs but to fulfill higher economic or social aspirations as well. Cyclical migration is also very common, as people move back and forth between cities and their home areas. Most Africans seek to maintain connections with the places where they were born.
Refugees make up another group of migrants. In total, Africa contains about 30 percent of the world’s refugee population, as classified by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. People generally flee turmoil in their home countries and become refugees in adjacent countries. Recent examples include Sudanese in the Darfur region fleeing to Chad, and Rwandans fleeing to Tanzania and the DRC. In some cases, turmoil grows worse in the nation harboring refugees, so the two countries literally exchange refugees. This happened in the late 20th century between Ethiopia and Somalia, and between Liberia and Sierra Leone. Most refugees eventually return to their home countries, although some manage to find new lives in their country of refuge.
Intercontinental migration is much less common. While many people from the former French colonies have moved to France, for the most part their goal has been to earn enough to send money home periodically before returning themselves. An individual may repeat this process several times during his or her adult years. As a result, several African nations have faced a so-called brain drain, as skilled and professional workers find better employment opportunities elsewhere, especially in Europe and North America.
While African expatriots may intend to return to their home countries when conditions permit, in the second half of the 20th century, as more and more colonies gained independence and experienced periods of upheaval, many Europeans and Asians did leave for good. Large numbers of settlers in Algeria returned to France during the Algerian War of Independence (1954-1962). During the 1960s and 1970s political pressures and deteriorating social and economic conditions led many South Asians to flee Uganda, and since 1980, many white South Africans and Zimbabweans have departed.
While Africa remains the least urbanized continent, it is also the most rapidly urbanizing continent. Africa’s major cities, often national capitals, are the primary destinations for the vast majority of migrants, and some experience population growth rates of 8 to 10 percent per year.
Dozens of African cities now have populations of more than 1 million. Lagos and its surrounding suburbs are home to close to 17 million people. By 2015 the population of the Lagos metropolitan area is expected to be more than 23 million.
As cities grow, so too does their ethnic diversity. Although a mixing of ethnic groups occurs more than in the past, different groups tend to segregate themselves in different neighborhoods. This is especially true when groups have a history of political conflict. For example, in Nairobi, Kenya, the Luo and Kikuyu seldom mix; the same holds for the Igbo and Hausa in Nigeria’s largest cities. Immigrants, such as Mozambicans in South Africa, often cluster in particular districts. Many older West African cities feature so-called “stranger quarters” for immigrants.
Africans value education (14 Sub-Saharan African countries spend a greater share of their GDP on education than Germany does), and all governments see improving educational access and quality as essential to national economic and political development. Despite scarce financial resources, many countries have made noteworthy achievements in raising literacy rates in recent decades. Adult literacy rates of 70 percent or more are characteristic of East, Central, and southern Africa, except, notably, in Somalia, Angola, Ethiopia, and Mozambique. Gains have been less impressive in West Africa, where many countries still have literacy rates below 60 percent. Cameroon, Ghana, and Nigeria are notable exceptions, with particularly high literacy rates. Females have significantly lower literacy rates than males across most of Africa.
Compulsory school attendance, starting at either 6 or 7 years of age and lasting until the ages of 11 to 16, is now universal in Africa. In many instances, education is free. A major obstacle to universal education is the problem of providing enough teachers, schools, and classroom materials to meet children’s needs, especially in remote rural areas. Huge national debts, the economic austerity measures designed to eliminate them, and military expenditures have all limited the funds that most countries have available to devote to education. Another obstacle to ensuring that all children receive education is the fact that they are still an important part of the workforce across Africa. They provide childcare, work on farms, herd livestock, and perform a range of other menial jobs, such as drawing water and collecting firewood. Parents may also lack the financial means to send their children to school, or may be forced to choose which ones can go and which cannot. In such cases, boys are usually given preference over girls in access to education and they typically stay in school much longer. Thus, males frequently have access to more and better-paying jobs than females.
Universities have space for only a tiny fraction of secondary school graduates and competition to secure admittance is intense. Those who are admitted are not guaranteed a good education, however. University libraries are often poorly stocked and, most critically, lack up-to-date scientific journals. Most campuses were built in the 1950s and 1960s and have deteriorated because little money is available for maintenance. The quality of higher education is also affected by frequent student protests over issues ranging from poor living conditions to politics. On many occasions governments have responded with force and closed campuses for considerable periods of time. While faculties are usually of high quality, with many members having been trained in Europe and North America, the conditions severely constrain what they can do. As a result, many look outside Africa for employment, which contributes significantly to Africa’s brain drain.
Until recently, there was widespread consensus among scientists and policymakers that African soils were threatened by ill-advised traditional farming methods that increased soil erosion and desertification (the process in which soil dries out until almost no vegetation grows on it).
Scientific research has demonstrated that indigenous African farming and herding practices (land use and beliefs about ownership) are much less harmful to the soil than was formerly believed, and often less harmful than Western agricultural and conservation practices. Methods such as retaining farmland trees, growing crops on ridges, and interplanting different crops densely in a single field significantly reduce soil erosion. On the other hand, modern cultivation methods—involving the use of mechanical equipment, row cropping (planting two different crops in alternating rows, as opposed to the traditional method of simply mixing the crops in the available space), and herbicides for weed control—greatly increase the risk of soil loss. Similarly, problems of soil erosion and degradation are greater in areas with fenced cattle ranches than in places where traditional livestock practices are followed, with animals grazing less intensively over a very large area.
Little of Africa’s vegetation is natural in the sense of being virtually unaltered by humans. Areas near settlements bear the particular marks of human impact: People plant trees for fruit, shade, and other uses; preserve beneficial wild species; and selectively clear less desired vegetation.
Humans have had a major impact on the loss and degradation of Africa’s tropical forests. Between 1990 and 2000 an estimated 5 million hectares (13 million acres) of forest were lost in Africa. The destruction has been especially significant in Madagascar and in West African countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, and Côte d’Ivoire, where population growth and agricultural development have been rapid and forest area is relatively small. Economic development schemes have harmed forests in many countries. Forests have been cleared for large-scale plantation agriculture, flooded under reservoirs by the construction of dams, and, in the case of the Niger Delta, harmed by development and pollution related to petroleum exploitation.
While agricultural expansion has resulted in forest loss in many areas of Africa, traditional agricultural practices are not necessarily the cause. Recent studies in Guinea have documented significant expansions of forest cover during the 20th century through the deliberate interventions of humans, including the strategic burning of patches of forest. When practiced in moderation, burning helps replenish soil with nutrients from burnt vegetation and provides new seedlings with the space to flourish. Similar results have been found elsewhere in West Africa.
Overfishing, pollution, habitat changes, and the ill-advised introduction of exotic species all pose a significant threat to the biodiversity of Africa’s major lakes and rivers. The human impact has been especially severe in Lake Victoria. Signs of overfishing—declining size and volume of catch—have been evident in the lake since the 1920s. One response was to introduce new species to enhance the fishing industry: Four species of tilapia and the Nile perch were released into Lake Victoria in the 1950s and 1960s. While the fisheries initially benefited, the ecosystem was devastated. The Nile perch displaced the traditional predators, and by the 1990s about 60 percent of Lake Victoria’s cichlid species had become extinct. Many rivers and lakes—particularly Lake Victoria—have also suffered from the introduction of the water hyacinth, a large ornamental water plant native to South America. The water hyacinth spreads rapidly and threatens fish and other water life in the rivers and lakes by depriving them of oxygen and causing significant changes in aquatic habitats.
Wildlife Conservation and Management
Africa’s animal life is under pressure, facing threats that include habitat loss from forest clearance, agriculture, and herding; hunting for food and profit; pollution from agricultural and industrial sources; and disturbance by tourists. As spaces for wildlife shrink and corridors linking areas of habitat are cut, the survival of healthy species populations—especially of larger animals and highly specialized species—is becoming more tenuous. Addressing these problems is a very complex issue, especially because indigenous peoples have diverse needs for, and claims to, these resources. Thus, the need for protected spaces for wildlife often seems at odds with human needs.
Despite being the most agriculture-based continent in the world, Africa no longer produces enough food to feed its people. There are a variety of reasons for this problem, notably Africa’s high rate of population growth, the loss of farm labor due to the widespread movement of workers from rural areas to urban areas, the economic priority given to the production of export crops, and a general lack of adequate investment in modern agricultural technology. Many African countries must import food staples and require food aid.
Africa’s most important export crops are coffee, cotton, cacao beans (cocoa beans), peanuts, oil palms, tobacco, cloves, and sisal. Major food subsistence crops include maize, rice, millet, and cassava. Cattle, sheep, and goats are also important sources of protein.
The continent’s different climatic zones have their own opportunities and limitations for agricultural development.
Wood from trees and shrubs is still the most important source of domestic fuel in Africa. Use of coal and petroleum is limited to urban centers, modern factories, and power plants. In 2006, 81 percent of the electricity generated in Africa was produced by burning coal and other fossil fuels.
One of the most promising sources of energy in Africa is hydroelectric power generation. The continent’s many large rivers give it a vast hydropower potential that has barely been tapped. Several major installations have been constructed since 1960, including the Aswān High Dam on the Nile River, the Akosombo Dam on the Volta River, and the Kariba Dam and Cabora Bassa Dam on the Zambezi River. In 2006 African hydroelectric plants produced 17 percent of the electricity generated in Africa.
A second promising source of clean, renewable energy is solar power, which has the advantage of not requiring an extensive transmission network. Solar power can be used to heat and purify water and to provide electricity for lighting, computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices, allowing 21st century connectivity to be brought to remote areas.
Transportation in most of Africa is rudimentary. Most people walk to markets, schools, and health facilities, often carrying needed items on their heads or shoulders. However, bicycles and animal-drawn carts are increasingly available in rural communities. The use of motorized vehicles is mostly limited to cities and intercity traffic by buses and trucks. Throughout the continent, smallholder farmers are unlikely to be able to afford motor vehicles. Bus and train travel is within the means of most people and they are commonly used for long-distance travel.
The quality and connectivity of African roads and railroads remain poor: Most roads are made of dirt or gravel, and good quality all-weather roads are limited. Few roads and tracks cross international boundaries in Africa. The poor condition and disjointedness of the road and rail networks have hindered African economic development. South Africa, with higher-quality roads and a greater degree of road and rail connectivity, is a notable exception.
Many African countries operate national airlines. South Africa, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, and Ghana have well-developed airline systems for domestic, international, and intercontinental flights.
Although it has abundant natural resources, Africa remains the world's poorest, hungriest and most underdeveloped continent; 34 African countries are counted among the world's "Least Developed Countries." This is due to a variety of causes, including illiteracy, failed central planning, a lack of access to foreign capital, corrupt governments that have often committed serious human rights violations, frequent tribal and military conflict (ranging from guerrilla warfare to genocide), and the spread of deadly diseases and viruses (notably HIV/AIDS and malaria).
Poverty, illiteracy, malnutrition and inadequate water supply and sanitation, as well as poor health, affect a large percentage of the population. The average poor person in sub-Saharan Africa is estimated to live on only 70 cents per day, and was poorer in 2003 than he or she was in 1973.
From 1995 to 2005, Africa's rate of economic growth increased, averaging 5% in 2005. Some countries experienced still higher growth rates, notably Angola, Sudan and Equatorial Guinea, all three of which had recently begun extracting their petroleum reserves or had expanded their oil extraction capacity. In recent years, the People's Republic of China has built increasingly stronger ties with African nations. In 2007, Chinese companies invested a total of US$1 billion in Africa.
For details on the current economic situation in individual countries, refer to the country pages
Articles highlighting problems common throughout Africa:
NGOs Urge Renewed Fight Against Diarrheal Diseases
African Union pushes the envelope on "climate migrants"
Study Finds Shocking Incidence of Rape in South Africa (Although the study was carried out in South Africa, the problem of rape is common throughout sub-Saharan Africa.)
The Future of Africa's Forgotten Crops
Fighting Africa's brain drain
Village access to medicines, fewer maternal death
Voices of landmine survivors
Africa 'loses out on mining cash'
Sources: "Africa," http://encarta.msn.com (accessed 23.09.2009)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sub-Saharan_Africa (accessed 24.09.2009)
http://library.thinkquest.org/16645/the_people/ethnic_groups.shtml (accessed 24.09.2009)
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