For policy purposes, the continent of Africa is conventionally divided between the predominantly Arab states of North Africa, the southern coastline of the Mediterranean Sea, and Sub-Saharan Africa. While the 22 Arab States face very different economic and development challenges, they share many political and social characteristics. The Maghreb countries (Morocco, Tunisia, Libya and Algeria), which are well-advanced along the demographic transition, are dealing with ageing populations.
Sub-Saharan Africa faces serious political, economic and social challenges. Sub-Saharan Africa remains the region most affected by the AIDS epidemic. About half of African countries have declared AIDS as an emergency. Yet, in spite of an unprecedented global response, the rate and scale of implementation of programs remain low. Internet access is more scarce in sub-Saharan Africa than anywhere else in the world. African Internet users account for less than 5 percent of the world’s online population, and many countries’ Internet penetration rates are less than 1 percent. With an annual rate of growth of 2.2 per cent, its population increased from 906 million in 2005 to 1.1 billion in 2010.
Twenty years of an almost 3 per cent annual population growth has outpaced economic gains, leaving Africans, on average, 22 per cent poorer than they were in the mid-1970s. development—Extreme poverty declined in Sub-Saharan Africa from 58 percent in 1990 to 50 percent in 2005. Nevertheless, poverty remains the highest among all regions, and the region experienced the largest increase in the number of people living on less than $1.25 a day, from nearly 300 million in 1990 to 388 million in 2005.
With nearly 50 states, Sub-Saharan Africa plays an important, often decisive, role in international organizations and at multilateral meetings. The region possesses natural resources important to the world economy — oil, copper,iron, bauxite, uranium, cobalt, chromium, platinum, manganese, gold, and diamonds. While developed countries need to buy African raw materials, Africa requires capital investment, new technology, managerial skills, and markets to develop other products.
Continuing regional conflicts and economic instability make Sub-Saharan Africa a potential arena for rivalry and confrontation between external powers. The emerging face of Africa is one of promise and stability. Progress is being made in many areas that offer unparalleled opportunities to consolidate successes and bring about sustainable change. Nonetheless, three out of every four Africans living in poverty and the challenges that must be confronted in many parts of the continent are daunting.
Africa is a most interesting continent. It has the greatest desert in the world, where, across hot sands, caravans of camels wind their way. It has vast and gloomy forests where roam the greatest beasts of the earth, as well as the warlike dwarfs called pygmies. In the same latitude there are snow-capped mountains and banana plantations. Some of the greatest rivers and lakes of the earth are found in Africa. Most of the diamonds of the world are mined there.
For centuries Africa was called the "dark continent" because so little was known of the interior. There are rapids and waterfalls in the rivers. This makes it difficult for boats to go up the streams. In some parts of Africa the climate is very unhealthful. There are many diseases which kill men, horses, and cattle. Because of all these things, traveling in Africa was very difficult. For centuries the desert, the forest, the mountains, the hot and unhealthful climate, and the wild men and wild animals kept the white men from traveling through it. It was quite the middle of the 19th Century before maps showed any explored territory in Central Africa. Even then the so-called Mountains of the Moon were long supposed to extend across the entire continent from east to west.
The equator divides Africa into two parts practically equal in extent from north to south, although greatly differing in area. The Arabs were the first to penetrate the interior. They, with their camels, were able to brave the sand and heat of the desert and to reach the oases and fertile lands. When the Roman Empire fell, the Arab hosts swept through the north of Africa, and the country nearly as far south as the Congo basin came under the Mohammedan rule. So it was the Arabs who first opened up the country and laid the foundation for later developments. At the same time, they introduced that terrible system of slavery which the European countries have not yet succeeded in stamping out.
Africa was little known by the European world before the year 1800. Two years before this date there was formed in England a society for the exploration of Africa. Beginning in 1843, David Livingstone spent thirty years in the heart of the "Dark Continent," and finally died there. Cameron, Stanley, Baker, Burton, Speke and other brave explorers have done much to open up Africa.
Africa as a whole is second only to Asia in size. It is more than three times as large as Europe or the United States. In its greatest east to west dimension Africa measures 4500 miles, while from the southern to the northern extremity it is about 5000 miles. The great area known as the Sahara is about as large as the United States. Africa lies chiefly in the Torrid Zone, and is the hottest of all the continents. The coast-line is not much indented ; and consequently there are very few good harbors. In this respect Africa is like South America.
Most of continental Africa is a plateau, or elevated plain. It is surrounded by a narrow belt of low land along the coast. The principal mountains are the Atlas Mountains on the north, and a high range on the east near the Equator. Large portions of the continent are deserts. The chief rivers are the Nile, the Niger, the Congo and tha Zambesi. The Nile is one of the longest rivers in the world. Africa contains some of the largest lakes in the world. The most important are Victoria and Tanganyika.
Many curious trees are natives of Africa. The date-palm is as valuable to the African as the banana is to the South American Indian. Its fruit is his daily food. The cocoapalm produces the well-known cocoa-nut. The palm-oil tree yields large quantities of yellow oil. Africa has a remarkable shade tree that grows nowhere else. It is called the ba'-o-bab. It is not very high, but it shoots out branches which hang down to the ground, and make for the weary traveller a green shelter like a giant umbrella. Cotton and indigo, sugar-cane, wheat and millot (a kind of grain) are largely cultivated.
Africa is remarkable for its strange and fierce animals. Among the most curious are the gorilla and chimpanzee, huge monkeys which are very like men ; the giraffe, hippopotamus, rhinoceros (ri-nos'-eros) and zebra. The giraffe is the tallest of all living creatures. The hippopotamus, or river horse, lives partly in the water, and partly on land. On the river-banks crocodiles are to be seen basking in the sun. The white ant builds houses from fifteen to thirty feet high. Whole villages of them are sometimes seen. When deserted, the ant-houses are sometimes used by the natives as ovens.
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