The Geographic Setting
1. Why are Africa’s landforms so exceptionally uniform? What effect has this had on transportation and trade?
Despite their lack of complexity, the landforms of Africa have obstructed transport and hindered
connections to the outside world. Routes from the plateau to the coast must negotiate steep
escarpments (long cliffs) around the rim of the continents, and the long, uniform coastlines have
few natural harbors.
2. What are the general characteristics of Africa’s climates? What effect does the ITCZ have on climate? What
challenges do these climates bring to human beings?
Most of sub-Saharan Africa has a tropical climate because 70 percent of the continent lies between
the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn.
Most rainfall comes to Africa by way of the intertropical convergence zone (ITZC), a band of
atmospheric currents that circles the globe roughly around the equator. At the ITCZ, warm winds
converge from both north and south and push against each other, causing the air to rise, cool, and
release moisture in the form of rain.
The climate of Africa presents a number of challenges to human habitation. Parasites and insects
that breed prolifically in warm, wet climates cause and spread debilitating diseases such as river
blindness, schistosomiasis, and malaria. In drier tropical climates, water for drinking, farming, and
raising animals is often in short supply, and soils are not particularly fertile. Wherever both
temperature and moisture are high, organic matter in soil decays rapidly.
To maintain soil quality, cultivators of the wet tropics over the ages have developed a method of
farming called shifting cultivation. They clear only small patches of land, an acre or two at a time,
and use the cleared vegetation as fertilizer, sometimes burning it to release nutrients. They plant
their gardens with many varied species that over the soil quickly to prevent it baking hard in the
hot sun. The small plots produce well for only 2-3 years and then are allowed to revert back to
forest for several decades.
3. What were some of the causes and negative outcomes of internal and external slavery in Africa?
There was a long standing custom in Africa of enslaving people captured as a result of hostilities
between two or more ethnic groups. The treatment of slave within Africa, governed by local
custom was generally humane, though by no means egalitarian.
The European slave trade severely drained the African interior of human resources and set in
motion a host of damaging social responses within Africa that are not well understood even today.
It made Africans dependent on European goods and technologies, especially the guns used by the
4. Why did European powers establish colonies in this region? What were the effects of colonization on human