Subsaharan Africa

This area stretches west to east

from the Cape Verde islands on the Atlantic to the Horn of Africa on the Indian Ocean’s shore, and north to south from the Upper Nile and the Sahara desert to the Cape of Good Hope on Africa’s tip, where the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet. The Sahel zone is an arid corridor south of the Sahara that extends to the Nile valley and the highlands of Ethiopia to the east. Beyond is the parched Horn of Africa and the Indian Ocean.

West and Central Africa are wet tropical areas. The Cape area featuresa pleasant, Mediterranean-type climate.

European colonization began in the 17th century on the Cape and certain coastal ports. Arab influence was important in East Africa. In the 19th century, Sub-Saharan Africa, with the exception of Ethiopia, was parceled into colonies by the European powers. Rushed decolonization took place in the 1960s.

Africa is a continent of rich ethnic and religious variety. The boundaries of the present states were drawn by foreign powers and do not reflect indigenous territorial and ethnic structures. Such aspects did not inform the colonization and decolonization process. Later on, the outside powers, the United Nations in particular, cemented the existence of these arbitrarily designed states. This legacy is at the root of the tragedy of the Democratic Republic of Congo, for instance. The western-style governance systems left by the colonial powers also do not help the Africans. Such systems ought to be derived from the local needs instead of forcing them into an alien institutional corset. Africa needs to resolve its governance challenge by itself. 

This legacy is Africa’s tragedy. Even so, the continent has a wealth of natural resources. Not the least is its population. Africa’s high fertility rate is not a curse, as many like to proclaim, but a source of strength in a world whose overall population is about to decline.  

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See our reports on Subsaharan Africa

  • Report
  • Scenarios

Zimbabwe: Dashed hopes for meaningful change

After the 2017 coup d’etat ended the strong-arm rule of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, his successor Emmerson Mnangagwa promised to fundamentally reform the bankrupt country and to open it to the world. A short-lived spurt of economic growth followed, but it turned into a deep contraction in 2019. The new president has ties to the old regime and maintains some of its worst practices.

Teresa Nogueira Pinto
  • Report
  • Scenarios

Leadership Challenges 2020: Why Nigeria’s development remains stunted

Nigeria is a federation by necessity, given its size and very high ethnic and geographic diversity. To keep the country in one piece, the system is centralized and uses a matrix of quotas to try to keep all groups and regions together. This design, however, combined with overall poor leadership, tends to impede the development of the country, which is experiencing demographic growth and economic stagnation.

Teresa Nogueira Pinto
  • Report
  • Scenarios

A fragile alliance in the DRC

President Felix Tshihekedi came to power thanks to an agreement with former president Joseph Kabila, who ruled the DRC for nearly two decades and who still holds sway over much of the country. If their pact holds, President Tshihekedi could implement reforms that will tap into the country’s economic potential, but far-reaching political change is unlikely.

Teresa Nogueira Pinto
  • Report
  • Scenarios

Looking for compromise on Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam

Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan are struggling to strike a deal over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, a $4.8 billion project in the works since 2011. Situated on the Blue Nile, the dam would triple Ethiopia’s electricity production and generate much-needed economic growth. But Egypt has ancient ties to the great river, as well as more recent political and economic interests in shaping how its waters are dispersed through the Nile basin. At stake is also American influence in the region: if the parties can’t reach an agreement in the U.S.-led process, Russia and China may be tempted to step in.

Ambassador Zvi Mazel