Sub-Saharan Africa is, geographically, the area of the continent of Africa that lies south of the Sahara Desert. Politically, it consists of all African countries that are fully or partially located south of the Sahara (excluding Sudan). It contrasts with North Africa, which is considered a part of the Arab world. Somalia, Djibouti, Comoros and Mauritania are geographically part of Sub-Saharan Africa, but also part of the Arab world.
The Sahel is the transitional zone between the Sahara and the tropical savanna (the Sudan region) and forest-savanna mosaic to the south.
Since probably 3500 B.C., 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. African pluvial periods are associated with a "wet Sahara" phase during which larger lakes and more rivers exist.
- Climate zones and ecoregions
- Health care
- Languages and ethnic groups
Geographers historically divided the region into several distinct ethnographic sections based on each area's respective inhabitants.
Commentators in Arabic in the medieval period used the general term bilâd as-sûdân ("Land of the Blacks") for the vast Sudan region (an expression denoting West and Middle Africa), or sometimes extending from the coast of West Africa to Western Sudan. Its equivalent in Southeast Africa was Zanj ("Country of the Blacks"), which was situated in the vicinity of the Great Lakes region. Also transliterated as Zenj or Zinj, it was inhabited by Bantu-speaking peoples called the Zanj.
The geographers drew an explicit ethnographic distinction between the Sudan region and its analogue Zanj, with the area to their extreme east on the Red Sea coast in the Horn of Africa. In modern-day Ethiopia was Al-Habash or Abyssinia, which was inhabited by the Habash or Abyssinians, who were the forebears of the Habesha. In northern Somalia was Barbara or the Bilad al-Barbar ("Land of the Berbers"), which was inhabited by the Eastern Baribah or Barbaroi, as the ancestors of the Somalis were referred to by medieval Arab and ancient Greek geographers, respectively.
Climate zones and ecoregions
- The Sahel shoots across all of Africa at a latitude of about 10° to 15° N. Countries that include parts of the Sahara proper in their northern territories and parts of the Sahel in their southern region include Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and Sudan.
- South of the Sahel, there is a belt of savanna, (Guinean forest-savanna mosaic, Northern Congolian forest-savanna mosaic) widening to include most of South Sudan and Ethiopia in the east (East Sudanian savanna).
- The Horn of Africa includes arid semi-desert along its coast, contrasting with savannah and moist broadleaf forests in the interior of Ethiopia.
- Africa's tropical rainforest stretches along the southern coast of West Africa and dominates Central Africa (the Congo) west of the African Great Lakes
- The Eastern Miombo woodlands are an ecoregion of Tanzania, Malawi, and Mozambique.
- The Serengeti ecosystem is located in northwestern Tanzania and extends to southwestern Kenya.
- The Kalahari Basin includes the Kalahari Desert surrounded by a belt of semi-desert.
- The Bushveld is a tropical savanna ecoregion of Southern Africa.
- The Karoo is a semi-desert in western South Africa.
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.
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.
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.
The fossil record shows Homo sapiens living in southern and eastern Africa at least 100,000 and possibly 150,000 years ago. Around 50–60 millennia ago their expansion out of Africa launched the colonisation of our planet by modern humans. By 10,000 BCE, Homo sapiens had spread to all corners of the world. Their migration is indicated by linguistic, cultural and genetic evidence.
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, 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.
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. 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.
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. 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.
Horn of Africa
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. Growing from the proto-Aksumite Iron Age period ca. 4th century BCE, it rose to prominence by the 1st century AD. The Aksumites constructed monolithic stelaes to cover the graves of their kings, such as King Ezana's Stele. The later Zagwe dynasty, established in the 12th century, built churches out of solid rock. These rock-hewn structures include the Church of St. George at Lalibela.
In the Middle Ages, several powerful Somali empires dominated the regional trade including the Ajuuraan State, which excelled in hydraulic engineering and fortress building, 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, 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. 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.
Great Lakes region
Further south in East Africa is the Great Lakes region; which according to the theory of recent African origin of modern humans, the mainstream position held within the scientific community, all humans originate from either Southeast Africa or the Horn of 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, 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 Southeast African coast, and by 1525, the Portuguese had subdued the entire Swahili Coast. Portuguese control lasted until the early 18th century when Arabs from Oman established a foothold in the region. Assisted by Somalis, Ottomans and Omani Arabs, the local coastal dwellers succeeded in driving the Portuguese from the area north of the Ruvuma River by the early 18th century.
During the early 1960s, most Great Lake nations achieved independence from colonial rule.
Archeological finds in Middle Africa have been discovered dating back to over 100,000 years. According to Zangato and Holl, there is evidence of iron-smelting in the Central African Republic and Cameroon that may date back to 3000 to 2500 BCE. Extensive walled sites and settlements have recently been found in Zilum, Chad approximately 60 km southwest of Lake Chad dating to the first millennium BCE.
Trade and improved agricultural techniques supported more sophisticated societies, leading to the early civilizations of Sao, Kanem, Bornu, Shilluk, Baguirmi, and Wadai.
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 Khoisan 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) that used to exist between the Zambezi and Limpopo rivers of Southern Africa, in the territory of modern-day 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 colonial rule.
Kush and Nubia at her greatest phase is considered Sub-Saharan Africa's oldest urban civilisation. Nubia was a major source of gold for the ancient world. Nubians built famous structures and numerous pyramids. Sudan, the site of ancient Nubia, has more pyramids than anywhere in the world.
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.
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. They built stone structures like in Tichit, but mainly constructed 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 Ashanti Empire arose in the 16th century in modern day Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire. 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.
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. 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 1 January 1901, Nigeria became a British protectorate, part of the British Empire, the foremost world power at the time.
By 1960, most of the region achieved independence from colonial rule.
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.
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 in 2050.
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.
Sub-Saharan Africa has a very high child mortality rate. While in 2002, 17% of children died before the age of five, by 2007 this rate had declined to 15%. The leading cause of death was malaria infection.
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$107 billion, the bulk of which went to Sub-Saharan Africa.
|Country||Population||Area||Literacy(M/F)||GDP per Capita||Trans(Rank/Score)||Life(Exp.)||HDI||EODBR/SAB||PFI(RANK/MARK)|
|Democratic Republic of the Congo||68,692,542||2,345,410||80.9%/54.1%||91||162/11.9||46.1||0.286||182/152||146/53,50|
|São Tomé and Príncipe||212,679||1,001||92.2%/77.9%||N/A||111/2.8||65.2||0.509||180/140||NA|
|Central African Republic||4,511,488||622,984||64.8%/33.5%||22||158/2.8||44.4||0.343||183/159||80/17,75|
|Republic of the Congo||3,700,000||342,000||90.5%/ 79.0%||1,145||162/1.9||54.8||0.533||N/A||116/34,25|
GDP Per Capital (2006 in dollars($)), 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 affected by power shortages.
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.
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.
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. Six hundred million people could be served with electricity based on its photovoltaic potential. 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 Chinese science minister Xu Guanhua and African counterparts during premier Wen Jiabao's visit to Ethiopia in December 2003.
The New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) is developing an integrated, continent-wide energy strategy. This has been funded by, amongst others, the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the EU-Africa Infrastructure Trust Fund. These projects must be:
- 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. 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. Access to the internet via cell phones is on the rise.
Television is the second major source of information. 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.
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). 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 industrialised 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. Infrastructure investments and maintenance can be very expensive, especially in such as areas as landlocked, rural and sparsely populated countries in Africa.
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. 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.
In Africa, it is argued that in order to meet the MDGs by 2015 infrastructure investments would need to reach about 15% of GDP (around $93 billion a year). Currently, the source of financing varies significantly across sectors. Some sectors are dominated by state spending, others by overseas development aid (ODA) and yet others by private investors. In sub-Saharan Africa, the state spends around $9.4 billion out of a total of $24.9 billion. 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. Overall, aid, the private sector and non-OECD financiers between them exceed state spending. The private sector spending alone equals state capital expenditure, though the majority is focused on ICT infrastructure investments. External financing increased from $7 billion (2002) to $27 billion (2009). China, in particular, has emerged as an important investor.
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 as well as Chromium. About 42% of world reserves and about 75% of the world reserve base of chromium are located in South Africa. 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. Sub-saharan Africa produces 33% of the world's bauxite with Guinea as the major supplier. Zambia is a major producer of copper. Democratic Republic of Congo is a major source of coltan. Production from Congo is very small but has 80% of proven reserves. 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. 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. 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, China, India, and other emerging economies, even though it holds only 10% of proven oil reserves, less than the Middle East. This race has been referred to as the second Scramble for Africa. All reasons for this global scramble come from the reserves' economic benefits. Transportation cost is low and no pipelines have to be laid as in Central Asia. Almost all reserves are offshore, so political turmoil within the host country will not directly interfere with operations. Sub-Saharan oil is viscous, with a very low sulfur content. This quickens the refining process and effectively reduces costs. 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.
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.
Numerous crops have been domesticated in the region and spread to other parts of the world. These crops included sorghum, castor beans, coffee, cotton 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.
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. 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.
Cash crops include cotton, coffee, tea, cocoa, sugar, and tobacco.
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. There is such international interest in Sub-Saharan agriculture, that the World Bank increased its financing of African agricultural programs to $1.3 billion in the 2011 fiscal year. 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.
In 1987, the Bamako Initiative conference organised by the World Health Organization was held in Bamako, the capital of Mali, and helped reshape the health policy of Sub-Saharan Africa. 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.
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.
Languages and ethnic groups
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.
With the exception of extinct Sumerian, the Afro-Asiatic has the longest documented history of any language family in the world. Egyptian was recorded as early as 3200 BCE. The Semitic branch was recorded as early as 2500 BCE. 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. Hausa is a lingua franca in West Africa (Niger, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Cameroon, and Chad). The Semitic branch of the family 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 several families lumped under the term Khoi-San include languages indigenous to Southern Africa and Tanzania, though some, such as the Khoi languages, appear to have moved to their current locations not long before the Bantu expansion. In Southern Africa, their speakers are the Khoi and Bushmen (San), in East Africa, the Sandawe and Hadza.
The Niger–Congo family is the largest in the world in terms of the number of languages (1,436) it contains. The vast majority of languages of this family are tonal such as Yoruba, Fulani 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 Central 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 southeastern Africa. 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 and are also spoken in Sudan among the Fur, Masalit, Nubian and Zaghawa peoples and in West and Middle Africa among the Songhai, Zarma and Kanuri. The Old Nubian language is also a member of this family.
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 Afrikaners and sizeable populations of British diaspora 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.
List of major languages of Sub-Saharan Africa by region, family and total number of native speakers in millions:
- Central Africa
- East Africa
- Horn of Africa
- Great Lakes region
- Swahili: 50
- Chichewa: 9
- Gikuyu (Kenya): 5
- Luhya: 4
- Luo(Kenya): 5-10
- Maasai: 1-2
- Southern Africa
- Afrikaans: 6–7
- Western Africa
- Hausa: 24
- Kanuri: 4
- Middle Africa
- Shilluk: 1-2
- Nubian: 5-10
- Fur: 5-10
- Kanuri: 4
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 Côte d'Ivoire with significant Muslim communities in Ethiopia, Tanzania and Eritrea). 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. Saan religion is non-theistic but a belief in a Spirit or Power of existence which can be tapped in a trance-dance; trance-healers.
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),
- West Africa
- Akan mythology
- Ashanti mythology (Ghana)
- Dahomey (Fon) mythology
- Efik mythology (Nigeria, Cameroon)
- Igbo mythology (Nigeria, Cameroon)
- Isoko mythology (Nigeria)
- Yoruba mythology (Nigeria, Benin)
- Middle Africa
- Dinka mythology (South Sudan)
- Lotuko mythology (South Sudan)
- Central Africa
- Bushongo mythology (Congo)
- Bambuti (Pygmy) mythology (Congo)
- Lugbara mythology (Congo)
- African Great Lakes region
- Akamba mythology (East Kenya)
- Masai mythology (Kenya, Tanzania)
- Southern Africa
- Khoisan religion
- Lozi mythology (Zambia)
- Tumbuka mythology (Malawi)
- Zulu mythology (South Africa)
Sub-Saharan traditional divination systems display great sophistication. For example, the bamana sand divination uses well established symbolic codes that can be reproduced 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.
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 speakers of Niger–Congo and Nilo-Saharan languages, 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, Reggae and Rap music.
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 Saan is extensive use of string instruments with emphasis on footwork.
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 Côte d'Ivoire, 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. 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. Sub-Saharan Africa has some of the oldest and most varied style of rock art in the world.
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 African art is meant to be experienced in three dimensions, not two. A house is meant to be experienced from all angles. Third, art is meant to be performed. Sub-Saharan Africans have specific name for masks. 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 African art is visually abstract, instead of naturalistic. Sub-Saharan African 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.
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.
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.
Southeast African cuisine especially those of the Swahilis reflects its Islamic, geographical Indian Ocean cultural links. Dishes include ugali, 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 . Cornmeal is used to make ugali, a popular dish with different names. Teff is used to make injera or canjeero (Somali) bread. Other important foods include enset, noog, lentils, rice, banana, leafy greens, chiles, peppers, coconut milk and tomatoes. Beverages are coffee (domesticated in Ethiopia), chai tea, fermented beer from banana or millet. Cooking techniques include roasting and marinating.
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 utilised 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).
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 South 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). 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 Côte d'Ivoire, 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 utilised 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.
Sub-Saharan Africa Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.