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.
Namibia has been hailed as a success story of democratic transition in Africa, enjoying relative stability and economic growth for years. But after general elections this November, the country may face a turning point. Growth has stagnated, and political polarization has weakened the ruling SWAPO party. Even if he holds on to power, President Hage Geingob must deal with worsening economic and political conditions before they lead to a crisis.
Mozambique seemed to have it all. Its economy took off after a long and bloody civil war ended in 1992, accelerating further after discoveries of vast natural gas and oil reserves in 2010-2012 prompted the government to liberalize the energy sector. Yet the country’s rags-to-riches scenario has yet to materialize, mostly because of its penchant for self-defeating internal conflicts.
The fall of President Omar al-Bashir in Sudan can be seen as the demise of just another African strongman. Yet in a large state divided along complex ethnic, religious and political lines, his personalized tyranny made political stability possible. Now that is gone and an internationally mediated transition agreement is in place. Yet tensions between the civilian opposition, the military and various regional players suggest that the road ahead may not lead to democracy.
The politically explosive land question has been revived in South Africa at an awkward moment. A motion by the Marxist-Leninist opposition to allow farmland to be expropriated without compensation hit the ruling African National Congress (ANC) as it was beset by corruption scandals, a slumping economy, and widespread voter disillusionment with the vision of a “rainbow” society. Racialized land seizures may serve as a brief political diversion, but as the case of Zimbabwe shows, it will only make the underlying problems worse.