Sub-Saharan Africa

Sub-Saharan Africa
Definition of "Sub-Saharan Africa" as used in the statistics of the UN institutions. However, Sudan and South Sudan is classified as North Africa by the United Nations.[1]
Simplified climatic map of Africa: Sub-Saharan Africa consists of the Sahel and the Horn of Africa in the north (yellow), the tropical savannas (light green) and the tropical rainforests (dark green) of Equatorial Africa, and the arid Kalahari Basin (yellow) and the "Mediterranean" south coast (olive) of Southern Africa. The numbers shown correspond to the dates of all Iron Age artifacts associated with the Bantu expansion.

Sub-Saharan Africa as a geographical term refers to the area of the African continent which lies south of the Sahara. A political definition of Sub-Saharan Africa, instead, covers all African countries which are fully or partially located south of the Sahara.[2] It contrasts with North Africa, which is considered a part of the Arab world.[3][4][5][6][7][8]

The Sahel is the transitional zone between the Sahara and the tropical savanna (the Sudan region) and forest-savanna mosaic to the south. The Horn of Africa (excluding Ethiopia), Sudan and Mauritania are geographically part of Sub-Saharan Africa, but also part of the Arab world.[3][4][5][6][7][9][10][11]

The Sub-Saharan region is also known as Black Africa,[12] in reference to its many black populations. Commentators in Arabic in the medieval period used a similar term, bilâd as-sûdân, for the region south of the Sahara, which literally translates as "land of the blacks."[13] However the terminology Black Africa and Sub-Sahara Africa is considered by some as a pejorative term and a vestige of colonialism, which divided Africa into European terms of homogeneity.[14] Some note that Sub-Saharan Africa neither exists linguistically (Afro-Asiatic languages), ethnically (Tuareg), politically (African Union, Arab league), in terms of religion (Islam), nor economically (CEN-SAD). The African Union also prefers to see the Sahara as a bridge, not a barrier.[8][15][16][17][18]

Since probably the 5.9 kiloyear event,[19][20] the Saharan and Sub-Saharan regions of Africa have been separated by the extremely harsh climate of the sparsely populated Sahara, forming an effective barrier interrupted by only the Nile River in Sudan, though the Nile was blocked by the river's cataracts. The Sahara Pump Theory explains how flora and fauna (including Homo sapiens) left Africa to penetrate the Middle East and beyond to Europe and Asia. African pluvial periods are associated with a "wet Sahara" phase during which larger lakes and more rivers exist.[21]


Climate zones and ecoregions

Climate zones of Africa, showing the ecological break between the desert climate of the Sahara and the Horn of Africa (red), the semi-arid Sahel (orange) and the tropical climate of Central and Western Africa (blue). Southern Africa has a transition to semi-tropical or temperate climates (green), and more desert or semi-arid regions, centered on Namibia and Botswana.

Sub-Saharan Africa has a wide variety of climate zones or biomes. South Africa and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in particular are considered Megadiverse countries.


Nubia in present day Sudan and other regions south of Egypt, in Sub-Saharan Africa, was referred to as "Ethiopia" or "Aethiopia" ("land of the burnt face") by the Greeks.[22]


According to paleontology, early hominid skull anatomy was similar to their close cousins, the great African forest apes, gorilla and chimpanzee, but they had adopted a bipedal locomotion and freed hands giving them a crucial advantage enabling them to live in both forested areas and on the open savanna at a time when Africa was drying up, with savanna encroaching on forested areas. This occurred 10 million to 5 million years ago.[23]

By 3 million years ago several australopithecine (southern apes) hominid species had developed throughout southern, eastern and central Africa. They were tool users, not makers of tools. About 2.3 million BCE, the next major evolutionary step occurred when primitive stone tools were used to scavenge kills made by other predators and harvest carrion for their bones and marrow. In hunting, H. habilis was probably not capable of competing with large predators and was more prey than hunter, although H. habilis probably did steal eggs from nests and may have been able to catch small game and weakened larger prey (cubs and older animals). The tools were classed as Oldowan.[24]

Around 1.8 million years ago Homo ergaster first appeared in the fossil record in Africa. From Homo ergaster, Homo erectus (upright man) evolved 1.5 million years ago. Some of the earlier representatives of this species were small brained and used primitive stone tools, much like H. habilis. The brain later grew in size, and H. erectus eventually developed a more complex stone tool technology called the Acheulean. Possibly the first hunters, H. erectus mastered the art of making fire and were the first hominids to leave Africa, colonizing the entire Old World and perhaps later giving rise to Homo floresiensis. Although some recent writers suggest that H. georgicus, a H. habilis descendant, was the first and most primitive hominid to ever live outside Africa, many scientists consider H. georgicus to be an early and primitive member of the H. erectus species.[25][26]

The fossil record shows Homo sapiens living in southern and eastern Africa at least 100,000 and possibly 150,000 years ago. Around 50,000 - 60,000 years ago their expansion out of Africa launched the colonization of our planet by modern human-beings. By 10,000 BCE, Homo sapiens has spread to all corners of the world Their migration is indicated by linguistic, cultural and genetic evidence.[24][27][28]

After the Sahara became a desert, it did not present a totally impenetrable barrier for travelers between north and south because of the application of animal husbandry towards carrying water, food, and supplies across the desert. Prior to the introduction of the camel,[29] the use of oxen, mule, and horses for desert crossing was common, and trade routes followed chains of oases that were strung across the desert. The trans-saharan trade was in full motion by 500 BCE with Carthage being a major economic force for its establishment.[30][31][32] It is thought that the camel was first brought to Egypt after the Persian Empire conquered Egypt in 525 BCE, although large herds did not become common enough in North Africa for camels to be the pack animal of choice for the trans-saharan trade.[33]

East Africa

Historical African states and empires
Sphinx of Nubian Emperor Taharqa

The distribution of the Nilo-Saharan linguistic phylum is evidence of a certain coherence of the central Sahara, the Sahel and East Africa in prehistoric times. Kush and Nubia at her greatest phase is considered Sub-Saharan Africa's oldest urban civilization. Nubia was a major source of gold for the ancient world. Nubians built famous structures like the Deffufa, mud brick temples similar to the ziggurats of Mesopotamia in material and function.[34] They built numerous pyramids. Sudan, the site of ancient Nubia, has more pyramids than anywhere in the world.[35]

The Axumite Empire spanned the southern Sahara and the Sahel along the western shore of the Red Sea. Located in northern Ethiopia and Eritrea, Aksum was deeply involved in the trade network between India and the Mediterranean. Emerging from ca. the 4th century BCE, it rose to prominence by the 1st century AD. It was succeeded by the Zagwe dynasty in the 10th century. Aksumites carved, constructed monolithic stelaes to cover the graves of their kings like King Ezana's Stele and churches out of solid rock, like Church of St. George at Lalibela.

In ancient Somalia, city-states flourished such as Opone, Mosyllon and Malao that competed with the Sabaeans, Parthians and Axumites for the wealthy Indo-Greco-Roman trade.[36]

Stone city of Gondershe, Somalia.

In the Middle Ages, several powerful Somali empires dominated the regional trade including the Ajuuraan State, which excelled in hydraulic engineering and fortress building,[37] the Sultanate of Adal, whose General Ahmed Gurey was the first African commander in history to use cannon warfare on the continent during Adal's conquest of the Ethiopian Empire,[38] and the Gobroon Dynasty, whose military dominance forced governors of the Omani empire north of the city of Lamu to pay tribute to the Somali Sultan Ahmed Yusuf.[39] In the late 19th century after the Berlin conference had ended, European empires sailed with their armies to the Horn of Africa. The imperial armies in Somalia alarmed the Dervish leader Muhammad Abdullah Hassan, who gathered Somali soldiers from across the Horn of Africa and began one of the longest colonial resistance wars ever.

Further south in East Africa, during the first millennium AD, Nilotic and Bantu-speaking peoples moved into the region, and the latter now comprise three-quarters of Kenya's population. Increased trade (namely with Arab merchants) and the development of ports helped birth of Swahili culture. Developed from an outgrowth of indigenous Bantu settlements,[40] the Swahili Coast of Kenya, Tanzania and northern Mozambique was part of the east African region which traded with Persia, China, the Arab world, and India especially for ivory and slaves.

In 1498, Vasco da Gama became the first European to reach the East African coast, and by 1525 the Portuguese had subdued the entire coast. Portuguese control lasted until the early 18th century when Arabs from Oman established a foothold in the region. Assisted by Omani Arabs, the indigenous coastal dwellers succeeded in driving the Portuguese from the area north of the Ruvuma River by the early 18th century.

West Africa

Nok sculpture, terracotta, Louvre

The Bantu expansion is a major migration movement originating in West Africa around 2500 BCE, reaching East and Central Africa by 1000 BCE and Southern Africa by the early centuries AD.

The Nok culture is known from a type of terracotta figure found in Nigeria, dating to between 500 BCE and AD 200.

There were a number of medieval empires of the southern Sahara and the Sahel, based on trans-Saharan trade, including the Ghana Empire and the Mali Empire, Songhai Empire, the Kanem Empire and the subsequent Bornu Empire.[41] They built stone structures like in Tichit but mainly built in adobe. The Great Mosque of Djenne is most reflective of Sahelian Architecture and is the largest adobe building in the world.

In the forest zone, several states and empires emerged. The Ashante Empire arose in the 16th century in modern day Ghana and Ivory Coast. The oldest kingdom in Nigeria, the Kingdom of Nri, was established by the Igbo in the 11th century. Nri was famous for having a priest-king who wielded no military power. Nri was a rare African state as it never dealt in the trade of slaves. All slaves and outcasts who sought refuge in their territory were freed. Other major states included the kingdoms of Ifẹ and Oyo in the western block of Nigeria which became prominent about 700–900 and 1400 respectively, and center of Yoruba culture. The Yoruba's built massive mud walls around their cities, the most famous being Sungbo's Eredo. Another prominent kingdom in southwestern Nigeria was the Kingdom of Benin whose power lasted between the 15th and 19th century. Their dominance reached as far as the well known city of Eko which was named Lagos by the Portuguese traders and other early European settlers. The Edo speaking people of Benin are known for the Walls of Benin, which is the largest man-made structure in the world.

Fortifications were significant in West Africa, the Walls of Benin is the largest man made structure in the world [42][43]

In the 18th century, the Oyo and the Aro confederacy were responsible for most of the slaves exported from Nigeria, with Great Britain, France and Portugal shipping the majority of the slaves.[44] Following the Napoleonic Wars, the British expanded trade with the Nigerian interior. In 1885, British claims to a West African sphere of influence received international recognition, and in the following year the Royal Niger Company was chartered under the leadership of Sir George Taubman Goldie. In 1900, the company's territory came under the control of the British Government, which moved to consolidate its hold over the area of modern Nigeria. On January 1, 1901, Nigeria became a British protectorate, part of the British Empire, the foremost world power at the time.

By 1960, most of the region received independence from colonial rule.

Central Africa

Nzinga Mbande, queen of the Ndongo and Matamba.

During the 14th century, the Luba Kingdom in southeast Congo came about under a king whose political authority came from religious spiritual legitimacy. The kingdom controlled agriculture and trade in the region of salt and iron from the north and copper from the Zambian/Congo copper belt.[45] Rival kingship factions which split from the Luba Kingdom later moved among the Lunda people, marrying into its elite and laying the foundation of the Lunda Empire in the 16th century. The ruling dynasty centralised authority among the Lunda under the Mwata Yamyo or Mwaant Yaav. The Mwata Yamyo's legitimacy, like the Luba king, came from being viewed as a spiritual religious guardian. This system of religious spiritual kings was spread to most of central Africa by rivals in kingship migrating and forming new states. Many new states received legitimacy by claiming descent from the Lunda dynasties.[45]

The Kingdom of Kongo existed from the Atlantic west to the Kwango river to the east. During the 15th century, the Bakongo farming community was united with the capital at Mbanza Kongo, under the king title, Manikongo.[45] Other significant states and peoples included the Kuba Kingdom, producers of the famous raffia cloth, the Eastern Lunda, Bemba, Burundi, Rwanda, and the Kingdom of Ndongo.

Southern Africa

Great Zimbabwe: Tower in the Great Enclosure.

Settlements of Bantu-speaking peoples, who were iron-using agriculturists and herdsmen, were already present south of the Limpopo River by the 4th or 5th century displacing and absorbing the original Khoi-San speakers. They slowly moved south, and the earliest ironworks in modern-day KwaZulu-Natal Province are believed to date from around 1050. The southernmost group was the Xhosa people, whose language incorporates certain linguistic traits from the earlier Khoi-San people, reaching the Fish River in today's Eastern Cape Province.

Monomotapa was a medieval kingdom (c. 1250–1629) which used to stretch between the Zambezi and Limpopo rivers of Southern Africa in the modern states of Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Famous are the ruins at its old capital of Great Zimbabwe.

In 1487, Bartolomeu Dias became the first European to reach the southernmost tip of Africa. In 1652, a victualling station was established at the Cape of Good Hope by Jan van Riebeeck on behalf of the Dutch East India Company. For most of the 17th and 18th centuries, the slowly-expanding settlement was a Dutch possession.

Great Britain seized the Cape of Good Hope area in 1795, ostensibly to prevent it from falling into the hands of the French but also to use Cape Town in particular as a stop on the route to Australia and India. It was later returned to the Dutch in 1803, but soon afterwards the Dutch East India Company declared bankruptcy, and the British annexed the Cape Colony in 1806.

The Zulu Kingdom (1817–79) was a Southern African tribal state in what is now Kwa-Zulu Natal in southeastern South Africa. The small kingdom gained world fame during and after the Anglo-Zulu War.

During the 1950s and early 1960s, most Sub-Saharan African nations achieved independence from imperialist rule.[46]


Life expectancy has fallen drastically in Southern Africa since the 1990s as a result of HIV.

Sub-Saharan Africa is the poorest region in the world, suffering from the effects of economic mismanagement, corruption in local government, and inter-ethnic conflict.[citation needed] The region contains most of the least developed countries in the world. The Sub-Saharan African countries form the bulk of the ACP countries. Malaria is a chronic impediment to economic development. The disease slows growth by about 1.3% per year through lost time caused by 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.[47]

The population of Sub-Saharan Africa was 800 million in 2007.[48] The current growth rate is 2.3%. The UN predicts for the region a population of nearly 1.5 billion in 2050.[49]

Sub-Saharan African countries top the list of countries and territories by fertility rate with 40 of the highest 50, all with TFR greater than 4 in 2008. All are above the world average except South Africa. Figures for life expectancy, malnourishment, infant mortality and HIV/AIDS infections are also dramatic. More than 40% of the population in sub-Saharan countries is younger than 15 years old, as well as in the Sudan with the exception of South Africa.[50]

Sub-Saharan Africa has a very high child mortality rate. While in 2002, 17% of children died before the age of five,[51] by 2007 this rate had declined to 15%.[52] The leading cause of death was malaria infection.[47]

Foreign direct investment (FDI) in Africa has grown at an average of 146% annually over the last 22 years to reach US$36 billion in 2007, while trade between Africa and the rest of the world (particularly Asia) has been steadily increasing. Bilateral trade between China and Africa jumped 45% in 2008 to reach US$107 billion, the bulk of which went to Sub-Saharan Africa.

Country Population Area Literacy(M/F)[53] GDP per Capita[53] Trans(Rank/Score)[54] Life(Exp.)[53] HDI EODBR/SAB[55] PFI(RANK/MARK)
 Angola 12,799,293 1,246,700 NA 1070 162/1.9 42.4 0.564 169/165 119/36,50
 Burundi 8,988,091 27,830 67.3%/52.2% 101 168/1.8 49 0.394 176/130 103/29,00
 Democratic Republic of the Congo 68,692,542 2,345,410 80.9%/54.1% 91 162/11.9 46.1 0.389 182/152 146/53,50
 Rwanda 10,473,282 26,338 71.4%/59.8% 263 89/3.3 46.8 0.460 67/11 157/64,67
 São Tomé and Príncipe 212,679 1,001 92.2%/77.9% N/A 111/2.8 65.2 0.651 180/140 NA
 Cameroon 18,879,301 475,440 77%/59.8% 687 146/2.2 50.3 0.523 171/174 109/30,50
 Central African Republic 4,511,488 622,984 64.8%/33.5% 22 158/2.8 44.4 0.369 183/159 80/17,75
 Chad 10,329,208 1,284,000 40.8%/12.8% 266 175/1.6 50.6 0.392 178/182 132/44,50
 Republic of the Congo 3,700,000 342,000 90.5%/ 79.0% 1,145 162/1.9 54.8 0.755 N/A 116/34,25
 Equatorial Guinea 633,441 28,051 93.4%/80.3% 7,470 168/1.8 51.1 0.719 170/178 158/65,50
 Gabon 1,514,993 267,667 88.5%/79.7% 4,263 106/2.9 56.7 0.755 158/152 129/43,50
 Kenya 39,002,772 582,650 77.7%/70.2 440 146/2.2 53.4 0.541 95/124 96/25,00
 Tanzania 41,048,532 945,087 77.5%/62.2% 339 126/2.6 51.9 0.530 131/120 NA/15,50
 Uganda 32,369,558 236,040 76.8%/57.7 274 130/2.5 50.7 0.514 112/129 86/21,50
 Sudan 31,894,000 1,886,068 71.1%/51.8% 489 176/1.5 58.1 0.531 154/118 148/54,00
 South Sudan 8,260,490 619,745
 Djibouti 516,055 23,000 N/A 817 111/2.8 54.5 0.520 163/177 110/31,00
 Eritrea 5,647,168 121,320 N/A 160 126/2.6 57.3 0.472 175/181 175/115,50
 Ethiopia 85,237,338 1,127,127 50%/28.8% 161 120/2.7 52.5 0.414 107/93 140/49,00
 Somalia 9,832,017 637,657 N/A N/A 180/1.1 47.7 0.284 N/A 164/77,50
 Botswana 1,990,876 600,370 80.4%/81.8% 4,511 37/5.6 49.8 0.694 45/83 62/15,50
 Comoros 752,438 2,170 N/A 382 143/2.3 63.2 0.576 162/168 82/19,00
 Lesotho 2,130,819 30,355 73.7%/90.3% 528 89/3.3 42.9 0.514 130/131 99/27,50
 Madagascar 19,625,000 587,041 76.5%/65.3% 238 99/3.0 59 0.543 134/12 134/45,83
 Malawi 14,268,711 118,480 N/A 145 89/3.3 47.6 0.493 132/128 62/15,50
 Mauritius 1,284,264 2,040 88.2%/80.5% 4,522 42/5.4 73.2 0.804 17/10 51/14,00
 Mozambique 21,669,278 801,590 N/A 330 130/2.5 42.5 0.402 135/96 82/19,00
 Namibia 2,108,665 825,418 86.8%/83.6% 2166 56/4.5 52.5 0.686 66/123 35/9,00
 Seychelles 87,476 455 91.4%/92.3% 7,005 54/4.8 72.2 0.845 111/81 72/16,00
 South Africa 49,052,489 1,219,912 N/A 3,562 55/4.7 50.7 0.683 34/67 33/8,50
 Swaziland 1,123,913 17,363 80.9%/78.3% 1,297 79/3.6 40.8 0.572 115/158 144/52,50
 Zambia 11,862,740 752,614 N/A 371 99/3.0 41.7 0.481 90/94 97/26,75
 Zimbabwe 11,392,629 390,580 92.7%/86.2% N/A 146/2.2 42.7 0.513 159/155 136/46,50
 Benin 8,791,832 112,620 47.9%/42.3% 323 106/2.9 56.2 0.492 172/155 97/26,75
 Mali 12,666,987 1,240,000 32.7%/15.9% 290 111/2.8 53.8 0.371 156/139 38/8,00

GDP Per Capital (2006 in dollars($)), Life(Exp.) (Life Expectancy 2006), Literacy(Male/Female 2006), Trans (Transparency 2009), HDI (Human Development Index), EODBR (Ease of Doing Business Rank June 2008 through May 2009), SAB (Starting a Business June 2008 through May 2009) , PFI (Press Freedom Index 2009)


Energy and power

Fifty percent of Africa is rural with no access to electricity. Africa generates 47 GW of electricity, less than 0.6% of global market share. Many countries are besieged by power shortages.[56]

Because of rising prices in commodities such as coal and oil, thermal sources of energy are proving to be too expensive for power generation. Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to build additional hydropower generation capacity of at least 20,165 MW by 2014. The region has the potential to generate 1,750 TWh of energy, of which only 7% has been explored. The failure to exploit its full energy potential is largely due to significant underinvestment, as at least 4 times as much (approximately $23 billion a year) and what is currently spent is invested in operating highcost power systems and not on expanding the infrastructure.[57]

African governments are taking advantage of the readily available water resources to broaden their energy mix. Hydro Turbine Markets in Sub-Saharan Africa generated revenues of $120.0 million in 2007 and is estimated to reach $425.0 million. Asian countries, notably China, India and Japan, are playing an active role in power projects across the African continent. The majority of these power projects are hydro-based because of China's vast experience in the construction of hydro-power projects and part of the Energy & Power Growth Partnership Services programme.[58][59]

With electrification numbers, Sub-Saharan Africa with access to the Sahara and being in the tropical zones has massive potential for solar photovoltaic electrical potential.[60] Six hundred million people could be served with electricity based on its photovoltaic potential.[61] China is promising to train 10,000 technicians from Africa and other developing countries in the use of solar energy technologies over the next five years. Training African technicians to use solar power is part of the China-Africa science and technology cooperation agreement signed by the Chinese science minister and African counterparts during premier Wen Jiabao's visit to Ethiopia in December 2003.[62]

The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) is developing an integrated, continent-wide energy strategy.[57] This has been funded by, amongst others, the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the EU-Africa Infrastructure Trust Fund.[57] These projects must be:[57]

  • sustainable
  • involve a cross-border dimension and/or have a regional impact
  • involve public and private capital
  • contribute to poverty alleviation and economic development
  • involve at least one country in sub-Saharan Africa.


Radio is the major source of information in Sub-Saharan Africa.[63] Cell phone usage in Sub-saharan has brought about a revolution. Average coverage stands at more than a third of the population. Countries such as Gabon, Seychelles, and South Africa boast almost 100% penetration. Only five countries—Burundi, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia—still have a penetration of less than 10%. Broadband penetration outside of South Africa has been limited where it is exorbitantly expensive.[64][65] Access to the internet via cell phones is on the rise.[66]

Television is the second major source of information.[63] Because of power shortages, the spread of television viewing has been limited. Eight percent have television, a total of 62 million. But those in the television industry view the region as an untapped green market. Digital television and pay for service are on the rise.[67]


According to researchers at the Overseas Development Institute, the lack of infrastructure in many developing countries represents one of the most significant limitations to economic growth and achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).[57] Less than 40% of rural Africans live within two kilometers of an all-season road, the lowest level of rural accessibility in the developing world. Spending on roads averages just below 2% of GDP with varying degree among countries. This compares with 1% of GDP that is typical in industrialized countries, and 2–3% of GDP found in fast-growing emerging economies. Although the level of effort is high relative to the size of Africa’s economies, it remains little in absolute terms, with low-income countries spending an average of about US$7 per capita per year.[68] Infrastructure investments and maintenance can be very expensive, especially in such as areas as landlocked, rural and sparsely populated countries in Africa.[57]

It has been argued that infrastructure investments contributed to more than half of Africa's improved growth performance between 1990 and 2005 and increased investment is necessary to maintain growth and tackle poverty.[57] The returns to investment in infrastructure are very significant, with on average 30-40% returns for telecommunications (ICT) investments, over 40% for electricity generation and 80% for roads.[57]

In Africa, it is argued that in order to meet the MDGs by 2015 infrastructure investments would need to reach about 15%t of GDP (around $93 billion a year).[57] Currently, the source of financing varies significantly across sectors.[57] Some sectors are dominated by state spending, others by overseas development aid (ODA) and yet others by private investors.[57] In sub-Saharan Africa, the state spends around $9.4 billion out of a total of $24.9 billion.[57] In irrigation, SSA states represent almost all spending; in transport and energy a majority of investment is state spending; in ICT and water supply and sanitation, the private sector represents the majority of capital expenditure.[57] Overall, aid, the private sector and non-OECD financiers between them exceed state spending.[57] The private sector spending alone equals state capital expenditure, though the majority is focused on ICT infrastructure investments.[57] External financing increased from $7 billion (2002) to $27 billion (2009). China, in particular, has emerged as an important investor.[57]

Oil and minerals

The region is a major exporter to the world of gold, uranium, chrome, vanadium, antimony, coltan, bauxite, iron ore, copper and manganese. South Africa is a major exporter of manganese[69] as well as Chromium. About 42% of world reserves and about 75% of the world reserve base of chromium are located in South Africa.[70] South Africa is the largest producer of platinum, with 80% of the total world's annual mine production and 88% of the world's platinum reserve.[71] Sub-saharan Africa produces 33% of the world's bauxite with Guinea as the major supplier.[72] Zambia is a major producer of copper.[73] Democratic Republic of Congo is a major source of coltan. Production from Congo is very small but has 80% of proven reserves.[74] Sub-saharan Africa is a major producer of gold, producing up to 30% of global production. Major suppliers are South Africa, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Guinea, and Mali. South Africa had been first in the world in terms of gold production since 1905, but in 2007 it moved to second place, according to GFMS, the precious metals consultancy.[75] Uranium is major commodity from the region. Significant suppliers are Niger, Namibia, and South Africa. Namibia was the number one supplier from Sub-Saharan Africa in 2008.[76] The region produces 49% of the world's diamonds.

By 2015, it is estimated that 25% of North American oil will be from Sub-Saharan Africa, ahead of the Middle East. Sub-Saharan Africa has been the focus of an intense race for oil by the West and China, India, and other emerging economies, even having only 10% of proven oil reserves, less than the Middle East. This race has been referred to as the second Scramble for Africa. The reasons are all economic. Most Sub-Saharan oil is off the coast of host countries. Transportation cost is low. No pipelines has to be laid as in Central Asia. If political turmoil hits host country, production does not stop since operation is off-shore. Sub-Saharan oil is viscous and has very low sulfur content. This requires less refining and is less costly. New sources of oil are being located in Sub-Saharan Africa more frequently than anywhere else. Of all new sources of oil, 1/3 are in Sub-Saharan Africa.[77]


Sub-Saharan Africa has more variety of grains than anywhere in the world. Between 13,000 and 11,000 BCE wild grains began to be collected as a source of food in the cataract region of the Nile, south of Egypt. The collecting of wild grains as source of food spread to Syria, parts of Turkey and Iran by the eleventh millennium BCE. By the tenth and ninth millennia southwest Asians domesticated their wild grains, wheat and barley after the notion of collecting wild grains was spread from the Nile.[78]

Numerous crops have been domesticated in the region and spread to other parts of the world. These crops included sorghum, castor beans, coffee, cotton[79] okra, black-eyed peas, watermelon, gourd, and pearl millet. Other domesticated crops included teff, enset, African rice, yams, kola nuts, oil palm, and raffia palm.[78][80]

Domesticated animals include the guinea fowl and the donkey.

Agriculture represents 20% to 30% of GDP and 50% of exports. In some cases, 60% to 90% of the labor force are employed in agriculture.[81] Most agricultural activity is subsistence farming. This has made agricultural activity vulnerable to climate change and global warming. Biotechnology has been advocated to create high yield, pest and environmentally resistant crops in the hands of small farmers. The Bill and Malinda Gates foundation is a strong advocate and donor to this cause. Biotechnology and GM crops have met resistance both by natives and environmental groups.[82]

Cash crops include cotton, coffee, tea, cocoa, sugar, and tobacco.[83]

The OECD says Africa has the potential to become an agricultural superbloc if it can unlock the wealth of the savannahs by allowing farmers to use their land as collateral for credit.[84] Recently, there has been a trend to purchase large tracts of land in Sub-Sahara for agricultural use by developing countries. Early in 2009, George Soros highlighted a new farmland buying frenzy caused by growing population, scarce water supplies and climate change. Chinese interests bought up large swathes of Senegal to supply it with sesame. Aggressive moves by China, South Korea and Gulf states to buy vast tracts of agricultural land in Sub-Saharan Africa could soon be limited by a new global international protocol.[85]


Forty percent of African scientists live in OECD countries, predominately in Europe, the United States and Canada.[86] This has been described as an African brain drain. Even with the drain, enrollments in Sub-Saharan African universities tripled between 1991 and 2005, expanding at an annual rate of 8.7%, which is one of the highest regional growth rates in the world. In the last 10 to 15 years interest in pursuing university level degrees abroad has increased. In some OECD countries, like the United States, Sub-Saharan Africans are the most educated immigrant group.[86]

Sub-Saharan African countries spent an average of 0.3% of their GDP on science and technology on in 2007. This represents an increase from US$1.8 billion in 2002 to US$2.8 billion in 2007, a 50% increase in spending.[87][88]

Health care

Map of Africa indicating Human Development Index (2004). All 22 countries ranking below 0.5 in the report on 2005 were in Sub-Saharan Africa. The highest value is that of Gabon at 0.677.

In 1987, the Bamako Initiative conference organized by the World Health Organization was held in Bamako, the capital of Mali, and helped reshape the health policy of Sub-Saharan Africa.[89] The new strategy dramatically increased accessibility through community-based healthcare reform, resulting in more efficient and equitable provision of services. A comprehensive approach strategy was extended to all areas of health care, with subsequent improvement in the health care indicators and improvement in health care efficiency and cost.[90][91]

As of October 2006, many governments face difficulties in implementing policies aimed at tackling the effects of the AIDS pandemic despite a number of mitigating measures.[92]

Languages and ethnic groups

Linguistically, sub-Saharan Africa is dominated by the Niger–Congo phylum (distribution shown in yellow), with pockets of Khoi-San in Southern Africa, Nilo-Saharan in Central and East Africa, and Afro-Asiatic in the Horn of Africa

Sub-Saharan Africa displays the most linguistic diversity of any region in the world. This is apparent in the number of languages spoken. The region contains over 1,000 languages, which is 1/6 of the world's total.[83]

With the exception of extinct Sumerian, the Afro-Asiatic has the longest documented history of any language phyla in the world. Egyptian was recorded as early as 3200 BCE. The Semitic branch was recorded as early as 2500 BCE.[93] The distribution of the Afro-Asiatic languages within Africa is principally concentrated in North Africa and the Horn of Africa. The Chadic branch is distributed in Central and West Africa.[94] Hausa is a lingua franca in West Africa (Niger, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Cameroon, and Chad).[95] The Semitic branch of the phylum also has a notable presence in Western Asia, making Afro-Asiatic the only language family spoken in Africa that is also attested outside of the continent. In addition to languages now spoken, Afro-Asiatic includes several ancient languages, such as Ancient Egyptian, Biblical Hebrew and Akkadian.

The Khoi-San languages represent the oldest language family in the world.[96] They include languages indigenous to Southern and Eastern Africa, though some, such as the Khoi languages, appear to have moved to their current locations not long before the Bantu expansion.[97] In Southern Africa, their speakers are the Khoi and Bushmen (San), in East Africa, the Sandawe and Hadza.

A San tribesman.

The Niger–Congo phylum is the largest language family in the world in terms of the number of languages (1,436) it contains.[98] The vast majority of languages of this family are tonal such as Yoruba and Igbo. A major branch of Niger–Congo languages is the Bantu family, which covers a greater geographic area than the rest of the family put together. Bantu speakers represent the majority of inhabitants in southern, central and southeastern Africa, though Pygmy, Khoisan (Bushmen), and Nilotic groups, respectively, can also be found in those regions. Bantu-speakers can also be found in parts of West Africa such as the Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and southern Cameroon. Swahili, a Bantu language with many Arabic, Persian and other Middle Eastern and South Asian loan words, developed as a lingua franca for trade between the different peoples. In the Kalahari Desert of Southern Africa, the distinct people known as the Bushmen (also "San", closely related to, but distinct from "Hottentots") have long been present. The San evince unique physical traits, and are the indigenous people of southern Africa. Pygmies are the pre-Bantu indigenous peoples of central Africa.

The Nilo-Saharan languages are concentrated in the upper parts of the Chari and Nile rivers. They are principally spoken by Nilotic peoples. The Old Nubian language is also a member of this phylum.

South Africa has the largest populations of Whites, Indians and Coloureds in Africa. The term "Coloured" is used to describe persons of mixed race in South Africa and Namibia. People of European descent in South Africa include the Afrikaner and a sizeable populations of Anglo-Africans and Portuguese Africans. Madagascar's population is predominantly of mixed Austronesian (Pacific Islander) and African origin. The area of southern Sudan is inhabited by Nilotic people.

The notion of a tribal Sub-Saharan Africa is widespread. This notion was perpetuated during the colonial period. Tribal meant that Africans lived in small homogeneous communities and were isolated from the rest of the world. Bonds were based on basic kinship and affinity. Government institutions were unsophisticated. However, this notion is far from true. The Kuba built sophisticated political systems that could initiate cultural change. Its political institutions altered patterns of marriage and increased agricultural productivity. Via the river system in the dense jungles, they were involve in a wide intra-regional network of trade.[99] All of Africa was connected via trade. West Africa was trading with Great Zimbabwe. Great Zimbabwe was trading with Asia, via the Swahilis with China. Trade routes existed, going through Central Africa from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean. European explorers, during the 19th century made use of these trade routes with assistance from African middlemen.[100]

The terms "tribe" and "tribal" present a value judgement. During the late 1960s the Igbos, a population of 10 million, were referred to as a tribe during the Nigerian civil war whilst, on the other hand, the approximately 400,000 citizens of Malta are referred to as a nation.[101] Sub-saharan art is referred to as "tribal" or "primitive" art but makes use of fractals or non-linear scaling.[102] Fractal geometry was discovered in the latter part of the 20th century.

List of major languages of Sub-Saharan Africa by region, family and total number of native speakers in millions:

East Africa
Tigre women.
Maasai women and children.
West Africa
A Hausa harpist
Southern Africa
Zulus in traditional garment.
  • Khoisan
    • Khoi
Central Africa


A Map showing Religious distribution in Africa.

Sub-Saharan Africa is largely Christian, while North Africa is predominantly Muslim. However, there are Muslim majorities in the Sahel and Sudan regions and along the East African coast (Muslim majorities in The Gambia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Somalia; comparable numbers of Christians and Muslims in Chad, Nigeria, Burkina Faso and significant Muslim communities in Ethiopia, Tanzania and Eritrea).[103] Traditional African religions can be broken into down linguistic cultural groups, with common themes. Among Niger–Congo-speakers is a belief in a creator God; ancestor spirits; territorial spirits; evil caused by human ill will and neglecting ancestor spirits; priest of territorial spirits. New world religions such as Santería, Vodun, and Candomblé, would be derived from this world view. Among Nilo-Saharan speakers is the belief in Divinity; evil is caused by divine judgement and retribution; prophets as middlemen between Divinity and man. Among Afro-Asiatic-speakers is henotheism, the belief in one's own gods but accepting the existence of other gods; evil here is caused by malevolent spirits. The Semitic Abrahamic religion of Judaism is comparable to the latter world view.[104] Khoisan religion is non-theistic but a belief in a Spirit or Power of existence which can be tapped in a trance-dance; trance-healers.[105]

Traditional Sub-Saharan African religion displays very complex ontology, cosmology, and metaphysics. Mythologies, for example, demonstrated the difficulty fathers of creation had in bringing about order from chaos. Order is what is right and natural and any deviation is chaos. Sub-Saharan cosmology and ontology is neither simple or linear. It defines duality, the material and immaterial, male and female, heaven and earth. Common principles of being and becoming are widespread: Among the Dogon, the principle of Amma (being) and Nummo (becoming), among the Bambara Pemba (being) and Faro (becoming),[106]

Ifá divination and its four digit binary code
West Africa
Central Africa
East Africa
Southern Africa

Sub-Saharan traditional divination systems displays great sophistication. For example the bamana sand divinition uses well establish symbolic codes that can be reproduce using four bits or marks. A binary system of one or two marks are combined. Random outcomes are generated using a fractal recursive process. It is analogous to a digital circuit but can be reproduced on any surface with one or two marks. This system is widespread in Sub-Saharan Africa.[107]


Traditional Sub-Saharan African music is as diverse as the region's various populations. The common perception of Sub-Saharan African music is that it is rhythmic music centered around the drums. It is partially true. A large part of Sub-Saharan music, mainly among Niger–Congo linguistic groups is rhythmic and centered around the drum. Sub-Saharan music is polyrhythmic, usually consisting of multiple rhythms in one composition. Dance involves moving multiple body parts. These aspect of Sub-Saharan music has been transferred to the new world by enslaved Sub-Saharan Africans and can be seen in its influence on music forms as Samba, Jazz, Rhythm and Blues, Rock & Roll, Salsa, and Rap music.[108]

But Sub-Saharan music involves a lot of music with strings, horns, and very little poly-rhythms. Music from the eastern sahel and along the nile, among the Nilo-Saharan, made extensive use of strings and horns in ancient times. Among the Afro-Asiatics, we see extensive use of string instruments. Dancing involve swaying body movements and footwork. Among the Khoisans extensive use of string instruments with emphasis on footwork.[109]

Modern Sub-Saharan African music has been influence by music from the New World (Jazz, Salsa, Rhythm and Blues etc.) vice-versa being influenced by enslaved Sub-Saharan Africans. Popular styles are Mbalax in Senegal and Gambia, Highlife in Ghana, Zoblazo in Ivory Coast, Makossa in Cameroon, Soukous in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kizomba in Angola, and Mbaqanga in South Africa. New World styles like Salsa, R&B/Rap, Reggae, and Zouk also have widespread popularity.


The oldest abstract art in the world is a shell necklace dated 82,000 years in the Cave of Pigeons in Taforalt, eastern Morocco.[110] The second oldest abstract form of art and the oldest rock art is found in the Blombos Cave at the Cape in South Africa, dated 77,000 years.[111] The Blombos Cave represent what is man's earliest art form. Sub-saharan Africa has some of the oldest and most varied style of rock art in the world.[112]

Although Sub-saharan African art is very diverse there are some common themes. One is the use of the human figure. Second, there is a preference for sculpture. Sub-saharan art is meant to be experience three dimensionly, not two dimensionly. A house is meant to be experience from all angles. Third, art is meant to be performed. Sub-saharan Africans have specific name for mask. The name incorporates the sculpture, the dance, and the spirit that incorporates the mask. The name denotes all three elements. Fourth, art that serves a practical function, utilitarian. The artist and craftsman are not separate. A sculpture shaped like a hand can be used as a stool. Fifth, the use of fractals or non-linear scaling. The shape of the whole is the shape of the parts at different scales. Before the discovery of fractal geometry, Louis Senghor, Senegal’s first president, referred to this as “dynamic symmetry.” William Fagg, the British art historian, compared it to the logarithmic mapping of natural growth by biologist D’Arcy Thompson. Lastly, Sub-saharan art is visually abstract, instead of naturalistic. Sub-saharan art represents spiritual notions, social norms, ideas, values, etc. An artist might exaggerated the head of a sculpture in relations to the body not because he does not know anatomy but because he wants to illustrate that the head is the seat of knowledge and wisdom. The visual abstraction of African art was very influential in the works of modernist artist like Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and Jacques Lipchitz.[113][114]


Ugali and cabbage

Sub-Saharan African cuisine like everything about Africa is very diverse. A lot of regional overlapping occurs, but there are dominant elements region by region.

A plate of fufu accompanied with peanut soup

West African cuisine can be described as starchy, flavorfully spicey. Dishes include fufu, kenkey, couscous, garri, foutou, and banku. Ingredients are of native starchy tubers, yams, cocoyams, and cassava. Grains include millet, sorghum, and rice, usually in the sahel, are incorporated. Oils include palm oil and shea butter(sahel). One finds recipes that mixes fish and meat. Beverages are palm wine(sweet or sour) and millet beer. Roasting, baking, boiling, frying, mashing, and spicing are all cooking techniques.

East African cuisine reflects its islamic, geographical Indian Ocean cultural links. Dishes include ugali, injera, wat, sukumi wiki, and halva. Spices such as curry, saffron, cloves, cinnamon, pomegranate juice, cardamon, ghee, and sage are used, especially among Muslims. Meat includes cattle, sheep, and goats, but is rarely eaten since its viewed as currency and wealth.

In the Horn of Africa, pork and non-fish seafood is avoided by Christians and Muslims. Dairy products and all meats are avoided during lent by Ethiopians. Maize (corn) is a major staple from Sudan to southern Africa. Cornmeal is used to make ugali, a popular dish with different names from Sudan to southern Africa. Teff is used to make injera or canjeero (Somali) bread. Other important foods include enset, noog, lentils, rice, banana, leafy greens, chiles, peppers, cocconut milk and tomatoes. Beverages are coffee (domesticated in Ethiopia), chai tea, fermented beer from banana or millet. Cooking techniques include roasting and marinating.

This meal, consisting of injera and several kinds of wat (stew), is typical of Ethiopian and Eritrean cuisine.

Central African cuisine connects with all major regions of Sub-Saharan Africa: Its cuisine reflects that. Ugali and fufu are eaten in the region. Central African cuisine is very starchy and spicy hot. Dominant crops include plantains, cassava, peanuts, chillis, and okra. Meats include beef, chicken, and sometimes exotic meats called bush meat (antelope, warthog, crocodile). Widespread spicy hot fish cuisine is one of the differentiating aspects. Mushroom is sometimes used as a meat substitute.

Traditional Southern African cuisine surrounds meat. Traditional society typically focused on raising, sheep, goats, and especially cattle. Dishes include braai (barbecue meat), sadza, bogobe, pap (fermented cornmeal), milk products (buttermilk, yoghurt). Crops utilized are sorghum, maize (corn), pumpkin beans, leafy greens, and cabbage. Beverages include ting (fermented sorghum or maize), milk, chibuku (milky beer). Influences from the Indian and Malay community can be seen its use of curries, sambals, pickled fish, fish stews, chutney, and samosa. European influences can be seen in cuisines like biltong (dried beef strips), potjies (stews of maize, onions, tomatoes), French wines, and crueler or koeksister (sugar syrup cookie).


A man wearing a Boubou and woman wearing a Kaftan.
The Ashanti Kente cloth patterns

Like most of the world, Sub-Saharan Africans have adopted Western-style clothing. In some country like Zambia, used Western clothing has flooded markets, causing great angst in the retail community. Sub-Saharan Africa boasts its own traditional clothing style. Cotton seems to be the dominant material.

In East Africa, one finds extensive use cotton clothing. Shemma, shama, and kuta are types of Ethiopian clothing. Kanga are Swahili cloth that comes in rectangular shapes, made of pure cotton, and put together to make clothing. Kitenges are similar to kangas and kikoy, but are of a thicker cloth, and have an edging only on a long side. Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and Sudan are some of the African countries where kitenge is worn. In Malawi, Namibia and Zambia, kitenge is known as Chitenge. One of the unique materials, which is not a fiber and is used to make clothing is barkcloth, an innovation of the baganda people of Uganda. It came from the Mutuba tree (Ficus natalensis).[115] On Madagascar a type of draped cloth called lamba is worn.

In West Africa, again cotton is the material of choice. In the Sahel and other parts of West Africa the boubou and kaftan style of clothing are featured. Kente cloth is created by the Akan people of Ghana and Ivory Coast, from silk of the various moth species in West Africa. Kente comes from the The Ashanti twi word kenten which means basket. It is sometimes used to make dashiki and kufi. Adire is a type of Yoruba cloth that is starch resistant. Raffia cloth and barkcloth are also utilized in the region.

In Central Africa, the Kuba people developed raffia cloth from the raffia plant fibers. It was widely used in the region. Barkcloth was also extensively used.

In Southern Africa one finds numerous uses of animal hide and skins for clothing. The Ndau in central Mozambique and the Shona mix hide with barkcloth and cotton cloth. Cotton cloth is referred to as machira. Xhosa, Tswana, Sotho, and Swazi also made extensive use of hides. Hides come from cattle, sheep, goat, and elephant. Leopard skins were coveted and were a symbol of kingship in Zulu society. Skins were tanned to form leather, dyed, and embedded with beads.


Football (soccer) is the most popular sport in Sub-Saharan Africa. Sub-Saharan men are its main patrons. Major leagues are the African Champions League, a gathering of various football clubs. Africa Cup of Nations is a gathering of 16 teams from various African nations held every two years (January 20 - February 10, 2008). The Confederation Cup is a competition for the National Cup winner in each African country. Finals are in November. Cameroon played in the World Cup for the sixth time, a record for a Sub-saharan team. South Africa hosted the 2010 FIFA World Cup, a first for a Sub-Saharan country. In 1996 Nigeria won the gold for football, a momentous achievement for Sub-Saharan African football. Famous Sub-saharan football stars are Emmanuel Adebayor, Obafemi Martins, Michael Essien, Didier Drogba, Kanu Nwankwo Jay-Jay Okocha, Taye Taiwo and Samuel Eto'o Fils. The most talented Sub-saharan African football players find themselves courted and sought after by European leagues. There are currently more than 1000 Africans playing for European clubs. Sub-Saharan Africans have found themselves the target of racism by European fans. FIFA has been trying hard to crack down on racist outburst during games.[116][117][118]

Rugby is also popular in Sub-Saharan Africa. The Confederation of African Rugby governs rugby games in Sub-Saharan Africa and chooses the best team to play in the Rugby World Cup. South Africa is a major force in the game and won the last championship in 2007.

Cricket has a following. The African Cricket Association is an international body which oversees cricket in African countries. South Africa and Zimbabwe have their own governing bodies. In 2003 the Cricket World Cup was held in South Africa, first time it was held in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Over the years, Ethiopia and Kenya have produced many notable long-distance athletes. Each country has federations that identify and cultivate top talent. Athletes from Ethiopia and Kenya hold all the distance records (except the 1500 metres) from 800m to the marathon.[119] Famous runners are Haile Gebrselassie, Kenenisa Bekele, Paul Tergat, and John Cheruiyot Korir.[120]

List of countries and regional organization

Only six African countries are not geographically a part of Sub-Saharan Africa: Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, Western Sahara (claimed by Morocco). Together with the Sudan, they form the UN subregion of Northern Africa. Most international organizations include Sudan as part of sub-Saharan africa. It has a majority Black population in the west (Darfur), south (Dinka, Nuer, etc.) and north (Nubian).[121][122][123][124][125][126][127] Mauritania and Niger only include a band of the Sahel along their southern borders. All other African countries have at least significant portions of their territory within Sub-Saharan Africa.

West Africa

  Western Africa (UN subregion)
ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States)
UEMOA (West African Economic and Monetary Union)

Central Africa

  Central Africa
  Middle Africa (UN subregion)
ECCAS (Economic Community of Central African States)
CEMAC (Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa)

East Africa

  Eastern Africa (UN subregion)
  Geographic East Africa, including the UN subregion and East African Community


East African Community

Horn of Africa

Southern Africa / SADC

  Southern Africa (UN subregion)
  geographic, including above

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Further reading

  • Petringa, Maria: Brazza, A Life for Africa. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, 2006. ISBN 978-1-4259-1198-0
  • Wm. Roger Louis and Jean Stengers: E.D. Morel's History of the Congo Reform Movement, Clarendon Press Oxford, 1968.

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