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.
A spate of violence against foreigners in South Africa last month highlighted Africa’s struggle to overcome ethnic divisions. In many countries, tribal and religious loyalties supersede national ones, making it difficult to create a united national polity. States that have been forced to unite in conflict have done better in overcoming tribalism. The ones that do so successfully will have a greater chance of achieving stability, and therefore attracting crucial foreign investment.
The launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) has come with high hopes for a boost in economic activity and development. But free trade agreements in themselves are no silver bullet for backward economies. Especially in Africa, institutional reform, infrastructure improvement and the reduction of nontariff barriers will be key for development to really gain momentum. Accomplishing those goals, however, could make many African regimes vulnerable.
Mali and Mauritania are both politically and economically fragile. In these two countries, social divides and the state’s inability to fully control its own territory has led to the rise of radicalized armed groups. These challenges highlight the instability that threatens the entire Sahel region – a state of affairs that could have a ripple effect throughout Africa and lead to another wave of migration toward Europe.
Since the mid-2010s, countries in the Gulf of Guinea have seen an increase in terrorist attacks. Lax border control allows jihadist violence to spread rapidly through preexisting criminal networks. National authorities are taking measures to counter the threat, but the issue will need to be addressed from a regional perspective to eliminate the root causes and check contagion.