April 6, 2009
This chapter introduces a complex region riddled with poverty, economic crises,
resource scarcity, and political and ethnic conflict. More than 500 years ago,
Europeans began colonizing sub- Saharan Africa, affecting culture, society,
agriculture, industry, and human well-being. Although colonization has
officially ended, the deep influence of colonization poses many difficult
challenges for the future. Despite all these problems, there is also the promise
of future solutions.
Although the population is distributed unevenly and sparse in relation to
the land area, it is growing rapidly. Population pressures and disease are
obstacles to raising the extremely low standards of living in this region; people’s
basic human needs often are not met. The greatest public health concern is the
HIV-AIDS epidemic, which threatens to affect population growth and life
expectancy across the region.
Economically, sub- Saharan Africa is in crisis. It is still primarily an exporter
of agricultural products and raw materials, both with low and unstable prices –
this role is a legacy of colonization. Political instability has added to this
economic crisis; the region is plagued by decades of dictatorships, ethnic strife,
corruption, and elite dominance.
In addition to profound poverty and economic and political troubles, the
harsh and fragile environment of this region makes it difficult to raise
standards of living. Soils are poorly suited for cultivation and water is scarce, so
agriculture is difficult to sustain. Alternatives have changed ecological
relationships, promoting desertification, reducing forest resources, diminishing
wildlife, and rapidly reducing clean water supplies.
This region is facing many challenges, and the role of Africans themselves is
increasing in defining problems and designing solutions. This is a major step for
a continent that for hundreds of years has been under direct as well as indirect
control by other countries.
THE GEOGRAPHIC SETTING
The African continent continues to break its connection to the Arabian Plate
at the Red Sea.
Africa’s landforms are exceptionally uniform because it has been rather