<Standard A.2 ...................................................................................................................Standard A.4>

Explain how the following five factors have influenced settlement and the economies of major African regions and countries.


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A. absolute and relative locations
B. climate
C. major physical characteristics
D. major natural resources
  • Cocoa Production
  • Diamond Mining
E. population size
  • Women in Africa



Focus Question: How have location, climate, physical characteristics, natural resources, and population influenced settlement and the economies of major African regions?


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Resources for Teachers from the Boston University African Studies Center. Includes sections on history, geography, culture, politics & economy, literature/language/arts, and health & disease.


For a multimedia resource for teachers and students, see Africa Focus: Sights and Sounds of a Continent.

A. Location :

  • Africa's location allowed trade with both Europe and Asia
    • Africa was close to both Europe and Asia and was a stop on trade journeys
  • africa_Climate_Today.png
    Climate Map of Africa
    There was also a large amount of trade within Africa
    • There is evidence that Africans were trading with West Asia and India since about 4000 BC
  • African traders sold ivory from elephant tusks, ostrich eggs, wood, metals, etc...
    • In return, they received wheat, wine, cloth, sugar, glass, and sugar
  • Link here for more info

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1770 Map by French Cartographer Rigobert Bonne. Displays southeastern Africa and Madagasgar, an area popular with Europeans due to the gold


Rotating_globe-small.gif"How Big Is Africa?" curriculum developed by Boston University.

B. Size and climate:

  • Africa is the second largest continent in the world
  • 15% of it is considered desert (hot with little rain)
  • 10 % of it is considered tropical rainforest (tropical wet)
  • 35% of it is considered savanna/ grasslands (steppe)
  • The rest of Africa includes Mediterranean climate, mountain climate, tropical wet and dry, rainy and mild, and wet and mild.

Screen Shot 2016-02-27 at 11.29.04 AM.pngSee Young Adult Literature Page for The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind about the country of Malawi

C. Major Physical Characteristics:

The Great Rift Valley, Tanzania.  Photo by Sachi Gahan on Wikimedia Commons
The Great Rift Valley, Tanzania. Photo by Sachi Gahan on Wikimedia Commons

  • The Great Rift Valley
    • From Ethiopia, through Kenya, into Tanzania
    • Series of faults, caused by movement of tectonic plates
    • Formed about 20 million years ago, when Africa and Europe pulled aport from each other millions of years ago
    • From 6,200 feet above sea level to 1,900 feet below sea level
    • Click here for a detailed look at the Great Rift Valley from geology.com
  • Victoria Falls
    • Located in the Zambezi River
    • On the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe
    • Twice as wide and deep as Niagara Falls
    • Spans over 5,500 feet and drops 355 feet into a chasm
    • Link here for more info
Multimedia.pngClick here for a video of Victoria Falls


__Art Wolfe: Travels to the Edge Series__
  • Art Wolfe is a Seattle based photographer whose series traverses the globe to highlight the cultures and landscapes of some of the world's remotes locations. Each episode starts with a geographical overview of the region including a brief history.
Africa episodes:
1. From the Sahel to the Sahara
2. Ethiopia: Omo Valley (male frontal nudity)
3. Togo and Benin


D. Natural Resources:

MAP.jpgCheck out this map activity which shows what kinds of natural resources can be found in each African country.

The economy of Africa has been both enriched and impoverished by its natural resources.


"Cons" of abundant natural resources
  • I Africa had not been (and still is) so rich in natural resources, would it have been colonized, occupied, and thoroughly abused by outsiders as it was (and still is)?
    • For example, if the Congolese forests had not been so rich in natural rubber, would King Leopold of Belgium taken over the country for his own personal enrichment and glory during the Industrial Revolution, when demand for rubber was high?
      • To use a far-out example: would Europe have divvied up Greenland, Antarctica, and Siberia, if it was ice that was so coveted, and not rubber or diamonds or oil?
  • It is not only Africa that has been affected by the search and hunger for natural resources; in fact, the entire world has been affected by this in one way or another, in particular, North America, South America, the Caribbean, and Africa.
    • Greenland was settled by Scandinavians and its native peoples displaced somewhat, but not nearly on the scale as happened in the Americas and Africa.
      • This is largely due to Greenland’s lack of natural resources—a deficit that, strangely, actually protected its people and land.
Gold specimen, near Johannesburg, South Africa. Rob Lavinsky/iRocks.com
Gold specimen, near Johannesburg, South Africa. Rob Lavinsky/iRocks.com

  • Currently, many African nations have regained sovereignty over their natural resources, but this is not entirely the case.
    • For example, insurgents and militia in the Democratic Republic of Congo are stealing tin out of mines there by force [Nov. 14, 2008, New York Times article by Lydia Polgreen].
  • Also, there is a war brewing in Niger over who should have control over the uranium buried deep under that nation’s desert sands.
  • A December 14, 2008 New York Times article, also by Lydia Polgreen, says in part: “Uranium could infuse Niger with enough cash to catapult it out of the kind of poverty that causes one in five Niger children to die before turning 5.
    • “Or it could end in a calamitous war that leaves Niger more destitute than ever. Mineral wealth has fueled conflict across Africa for decades, a series of bloody, smash-and-grab rebellions that shattered nations. The misery wrought has left many Africans to conclude that mineral wealth is a curse.”

Cocoa Production


MAP.jpgDue to its fertile soil and early high population density of settlers during colonization, Côte d'Ivoire in West Africa is the world's leading producer of cocoa. See how other countries compare with this map.
Multimedia.pngSee video on Cocoa growing in West Africa

Coca-nomics: Why Chocolate Really Doesn't Grow on Trees from the CNN Freedom Project

Rotating_globe-small.gifChocolate and Slavery: Child Labor in Cote de Ivoire

Diamond Mining


Diamond mining is a major source of revenue for many African countries. Diamond mining has been linked to funding rebel armies in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic. As well, it has a huge impact on the environment, as shown in this picture: alluvialmining.jpg

This site was constructed by a U.K. teacher who used Google Earth to compile lesson plans on diamond mining. The site also links to many useful articles, pictures, and videos regarding diamond mining in Africa.

Click here for a December 2008 New York Times piece on the battle for control of uranium in the desert of Niger; includes maps, and an interactive feature called “The Paradox of Plenty.”

lessonplan.jpgClick here for a lesson plan on diamond mining in Africa
lessonplan.jpgClick here for a lesson plan on blood diamonds from Africa



E. Population Diversity:

  • The population of Africa makes up about 10% of the world's population
  • There are over 800 ethnic groups in Africa
  • This includes Asians, Europeans, and Arabs, who have permanently settled there - for centuries in some cases.
  • In some countries, there is as many as 20 ethnic groups
  • 1000 languages are spoken in Africa (40 of which have more than one million speakers)
  • Over 40% of Africans practice a wide variety of traditional religions.
  • There are also many forms of Christianity and Islam, as well as some Hinduism, practiced in Africa.

map_icon.jpegClick here for an interactive map on religion by region
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  • Click here for a slideshow showing a variety of African people and their culture
    • Click here for photo albums on African ethnic groups
      • Click here for a BBC look at life in Africa
game_icon.svg.pngClick here for the game "Darfur Is Dying" to shed light on the conflict in Darfur

multicultural.pngClick here for a history of Africa from BBC

lessonplan.jpgClick here for lesson plans and resources on Africa from Mr. Donn. See also Lessons from Africa, a site from the United Kingdom that emphasizes issues of sustainability and the environment

rotating gif.gifFor background and information on the AIDS crisis in Africa, see World History WHII.45

Multimedia.pngClick here to see videos, pictures and blog postsby two Dutch citizens recording their travels in Africa. This site includes videos of many native animals.


Women in Africa

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Female_Rose.png30 Indonesian Women (Accidentally) Founded Madagascarfrom Livescience (March 2012).

For more information on the island, see Madagascar's Geography, History and Culture from the Embassy of Madagascar.


womens history.jpgMultimedia.pngClick here for an interactive map of notable women in African history. The women with orange boxes have modules linked to them that contain pictures, lesson plans, music, etc.
womens history.jpgtimeline2_rus.svg.pngClick here for a history of women's rights in South Africa

Ancient Africa

In the ancient world, the Pharaohs of Egypt and kings and queens of Nubia reigned over advanced civilizations in the rich Nile River valley of north-eastern Africa. Later, Somali traders on the Indian Ocean coast did business with China and other Asian and African nations. The African people on the east coast of the continent were well-off and well-educated. Arab peoples in northern and western Africa developed some of the world’s first universities and libraries.

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  • See Grade 7.13 for information on ancient Nubia;
    • See Grade 7.16 for background on the achievement of Egyptian civilization.

Settlement of ancient Africa followed typical patterns of people living near rivers and other water sources. Settlement of modern Africa is concentrated in cities, with the highest density in Cairo. The majority of the continent’s nations expect a population gain between 2004 and 2050, with only Botswana and South Africa anticipating a population decline. Most African nations expect a population rise over 125%. [Source: Oxford Atlas of the World, 2005, p. 24-25]