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Updated on May 29, 2013

Africa map

Unlike other continents, Africa has no high-, and long range mountains. In fact, montains with significant hight are in the far northwest, called the the Atlas Mountains. The interior of the continent is mostly made up of plateaus. The average altitude of the continent is higher in eastern Africa than in the western part of the the continent. In South Africa there is a sharp decrease in altitude from high plateau towards the eastern coast. This mountainous part of Africa is called Drakensberg Range. Further up north, another high rising plateau can be found.

Most costal plains are narrow, bordered by eroded edge of the plateaus. Navigation on rivers from the coast towards inland is very difficult, if not impossible. None of Africa's major riverways can be used to reach inland in an uninterrupted manner.

Africa was once an integral part of the supposed ancient continent; Pangaea. Pressures causing Pangaea to break to pieces is believed to be the driving force behind major changes in East Africa. Long valleys streching from north to south were formed. These valley are called rift valleys, and are about sixty miles in width. They are bordered by high cliffs. Some of the rift valley have such long-, and deep lakes as Lake Tanganyika, Lake Nyasa, and Lake Rudolf. The largest African lake is Lake Viktoria, a source of the Nile River. The lake is shallow, and rounded. Lake Viktoria is also in a rift valley, like the other lakes mentioned above.


East African bands extend across nearly all of the continent. This climate pattern, however, is interrupted in East Africa. The plateaus at this areas are high enough to moderate the heat.

Equatorial lowlands have a rainforest climate, with lush rainforest greenery. At these lowlands it rains throughout the year. The River Basin forests are very thick. They are difficult to access through the river’s bank. The forests have many insects and birds.

On the north and the south of the rainforest area are grasslands, also known as savannas. There is a part of the year when savannas have vast raining, however, mostly throughout the annum rain is quite scarce.


Africa was labeled as the “Dark continent” for a long time. This name was given to the continent due to the fact that it was largely unexplored.

On the savannas during some parts of the year, strong winds blow which dry up the land, followed by the lack of rain. This is an area with tall grasses. The few that can be found on savannas grow far apart. This is a safari country, or the part of Africa that has such animals as elaphants, zebras, and lions.

Farther away from the savanna climate area, the above mentioned winds play an even bigger role; they are prevailent for most parts of the year. Here grass becomes more and more scarce. Bushes are thorny, small-leaved, and widely spaced.

On the north and south of the steppes are deserts. The northern desert is the Sahara, the southern is named the Kalahari-, and the Namib deserts. The Kalahari does not have such extremities as the Sahara has. It has some thorn-bush vegetation; it receives a little rain. On the southwest coast, the Namib desert, however is as barren, and arid as the Sahara.

The northern and the southern coastal strips of land are the only areas of Africa with a middle latitude climate.

Northwest Africa has a Mediterranean climate. In the summer it is dry, in the winter it is cool an rainy.

The southwestern tip of the continent also has a Mediterranean climate. The southeastern

coastlands have a humid, subtropical climate. Inland, the plateau are high enough for a mild climate.

The cooler climates of the uplands are a distinct feature ot eastern Africa, from South Africa northward to Ethiopia.

The earliest Africans were hunters and gatherers. As more and more people became farmers, the hunters and gatherers were forced into remote areas. Today, a few primitive hunters and gatherer tribes still live in the rainforests of the Zaire (now called the Democratic Republic of Congo) Basin and in the Kalahari Desert. About 7,000 years ago, farming and herding developed. The original farming areas became the birthplaces of early African cultures and civilisations.

North Africa: People who settled in the Nile River Valley were originally wanderers

from Southwest Asia. The rich Nile Valley, however, tempted others. As a result, the Assyrians, Poenicians, Greeks, and Romans all invaded and ruled Egypt. The three latter groups also extended their influence over much of Africa’s Mediterranean coast. After the fall of Rome, tribes from Europe wandered into the western part of North Africa.

In the 7th and 8th centuries A.D. Arabs moved to the west from Arabia and conquered and dominated the region. As a result, Muslim cities in what are now Morocco and Algeria became centers of learning, science, and culture. As many before them, Arab traders crossed the Sahara desert. They carried salt toward south. They exchanged it for gold, hides, and slaves.

Much later, in the 19th century, France colonised, and ruled North Africa. The only exception from this was Egypt, which was under the power of Great Britain. North Africa’s trade links of the time were then almost entirely with Europe. Together the British and the French built the Suez Canal, linking the Mediterranean Sea with the Red Sea. The Suez Canal is in wide use to this day.

Western-, and Eastern Africa: About the same time when the Nile Valley was first cultivated, people in the savanna lands at the south of the Sahara also learned to become farmers. The savanna farmers depended on the very unpredictable, seasonal rainfalls. These farmer were subsistence farmers.

Eventually, camel caravans from north Africa arrived in West Africa, carrying salt to trade it for gold, ivory, animal hides, and slaves. Based on this trade, cities and kingdoms developed and grew in the West African savannas. A few example of such kingdoms were Ghana, and Mali.

More than 2,000 years ago, Indonesian traders on Africa’s east cost introduced such rainforest crops as taro yams, bananas, coconuts, and sugar cane. The knowledge of existence and use of these crops gradually spread to other parts of Africa.

Very early, traders from Arabia, India, and China, established ports and outposts on the eastern coast of the continent. They traded for slaves, ivory, and animal hides. Peoples from Arabia crossed the Rerd Sea and became settlers in Somalia, Ethiopia, and Sudan. Shortly after Columbus reached America, the Portuguese established trading posts along the African coastline.

Southern Africa: About 350 years ago, a small group of Dutch farmers arrived at the southern tip of the continent. This marked the begining of the era that was known to become the colonisation of Africa by the major European world powers of the era. Originally the Dutch only established a few settlements in southern Africa. Shortly afterwards many settlers came from the all over Europe, most notably from the Netherlands, Britain, and France. At first, the Europeans found only scattered groups of nomadic hunting, and gathering peoples. As more and more European farmers moved inland, they met groups of African farmers culminating in many battles for the possision of the land. Today, African peoples form the majority in southern Africa. The Europeans, however, have also greatly influenced their cultures.


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