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Africa (ăfˈrĭkə), second largest continent (2015 est. pop. 1,194,370,000), c.11,677,240 sq mi (30,244,050 sq km) including adjacent islands. Broad to the north (c.4,600 mi/7,400 km wide), Africa straddles the equator and stretches c.5,000 mi (8,050 km) from Cape Blanc (Tunisia) in the north to Cape Agulhas (South Africa) in the south. It is connected with Asia by the Sinai Peninsula (from which it is separated by the Suez Canal) and is bounded on the N by the Mediterranean Sea, on the W and S by the Atlantic Ocean, and on the E and S by the Indian Ocean. The largest offshore island is Madagascar; other islands include St. Helena and Ascension in the S Atlantic Ocean; São Tomé, Príncipe, Annobón, and Bioko in the Gulf of Guinea; the Cape Verde, Canary, and Madeira islands in the N Atlantic Ocean; and Mauritius, Réunion, Zanzibar, Pemba, and the Comoros and Seychelles in the Indian Ocean.

Geology and Geography

Most of Africa is a series of stable, ancient plateau surfaces, low in the north and west and higher (rising to more than 6,000 ft/1,830 m) in the south and east. The plateau is composed mainly of metamorphic rock that has been overlaid in places by sedimentary rock. The escarpment of the plateau is often in close proximity to the coast, thus leaving the continent with a generally narrow coastal plain; in addition, the escarpment forms barriers of falls and rapids in the lower courses of rivers that impede their use as transportation routes into the interior. Northern Africa is underlain by folded sedimentary rock and is, geologically, more closely related to Europe than to the rest of the continent of Africa; the Atlas Mts., which occupy most of the region, are a part of the Alpine mountain system of southern Europe. The entire African continent is surrounded by a narrow continental shelf. The lowest point on the continent is 509 ft (155 m) below sea level in Lake Assal in Djibouti; the highest point is Mt. Uhuru (Kibo; 19,340 ft/5,895 m), a peak of Kilimanjaro in NE Tanzania. From north to south the principal mountain ranges of Africa are the Atlas Mts. (rising to more than 13,000 ft/3,960 m), the Ethiopian Highlands (rising to more than 15,000 ft/4,570 m), the Ruwenzori Mts. (rising to more than 16,000 ft/4,880 m), and the Drakensberg Range (rising to more than 11,000 ft/3,350 m).

The continent's largest rivers are the Nile (the world's longest river), the Congo, the Niger, the Zambezi, the Orange, the Limpopo, and the Senegal. The largest lakes are Victoria (the world's second largest freshwater lake), Tanganyika, Albert, Turkana, and Nyasa (or Malawi), all in E Africa; shallow Lake Chad, the largest in W Africa, shrinks considerably during dry periods. The lakes and major rivers (most of which are navigable in stretches above the escarpment of the plateau) form an important inland transportation system.

Geologically, recent major earth disturbances have been confined to areas of NW and E Africa. Geologists have long noted the excellent fit (in shape and geology) between the coast of Africa at the Gulf of Guinea and the Brazilian coast of South America, and they have evidence that Africa formed the center of a large ancestral supercontinent known as Pangaea. Pangaea began to break apart in the Jurassic period to form Gondwanaland, which included Africa, the other southern continents, and India. South America was separated from Africa c.76 million years ago, when the floor of the S Atlantic Ocean was opened up by seafloor spreading; Madagascar was separated from it c.65 million years ago; and Arabia was separated from it c.20 million years ago, when the Red Sea was formed. There is also evidence of one-time connections between NW Africa and E North America, N Africa and Europe, Madagascar and India, and SE Africa and Antarctica.

Similar large-scale earth movements (see plate tectonics) are also believed responsible for the formation of the Great Rift Valley of E Africa, which is the continent's most spectacular land feature. From c.40 to c.60 mi (60–100 km) wide, it extends in Africa c.1,800 mi (2,900 km), from the northern end of the Jordan Rift Valley in SW Asia to near the mouth of the Zambezi River; the eastern branch of the rift valley is occupied in sections by Lakes Nyasa and Turkana, and the western branch, curving N from Lake Nyasa, is occupied by Lakes Tanganyika, Kivu, Edward, and Albert. The lava flows of the recent and subrecent epochs in the Ethiopian Highlands, and volcanoes farther south, are associated with the rift; among the principal volcanoes are Kilimanjaro, Kenya, Elgon, Meru, and the Virunga range with Mt. Karisimbi, Nyiragongo, and Nyamuragira (Nyamulagira). A less spectacular rift, the Cameroon Rift, is associated with volcanic activity in W Africa and trends NE from St. Helena Island to São Tomé, Príncipe, and Bioko to near the Tibesti Massif in the Sahara.


Africa's climatic zones are largely controlled by the continent's location astride the equator and its almost symmetrical extensions into the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. Thus, except where altitude exerts a moderating influence on temperature or precipitation (permanently snowcapped peaks are found near the equator), Africa may be divided into six general climatic regions. Areas near the equator and on the windward shores of SE Madagascar have a tropical rain forest climate, with heavy rain and high temperatures throughout the year. North and south of the rain forest are belts of tropical savanna climate, with high temperatures all year and a seasonal distribution of rain during the summer season. The savanna grades poleward in both hemispheres into a region of semiarid steppe (with limited summer rain) and then into the arid conditions of the extensive Sahara (north) and the Kalahari (south). Belts of semiarid steppe with limited winter rain occur on the poleward sides of the desert regions. At the northern and southern extremities of the continent are narrow belts of Mediterranean-type climate with subtropical temperatures and a concentration of rainfall mostly in the autumn and winter months.

African Peoples

African peoples, who account for over 12% of the world's population, are distributed among 55 countries and are further distinguishable in terms of linguistic (see African languages) and cultural groups, which number around 1,000. The Sahara forms a great ethnic divide. North of it, mostly Arabs predominate along the coast and Berbers (including the Tuareg) and Tibbu in the interior regions. Sub-Saharan Africa is occupied by a diverse variety of peoples including, among others, the Amhara, Mossi, Fulani, Yoruba, Igbo, Kongo (see Kongo, kingdom of), Zulu (see Zululand), Akan, Oromo, Masai, and Hausa. Europeans are concentrated in areas with subtropical climates or tropical climates modified by altitude; in the south are persons of Dutch and British descent, and in the northwest are persons of French, Italian, and Spanish descent. Lebanese make up an important minority community throughout W Africa, as do Indians in many coastal towns of S and E Africa. There are also significant Arab populations both in E Africa and more recently in W Africa. As a whole, Africa is sparsely populated; the highest densities are found in Nigeria, the Ethiopian highlands, the Nile valley, and around the Great Lakes (which include Victoria and Tanganyika). The principal cities of Africa are usually the national capitals and the major ports, and they usually contain a disproportionately large percentage of the national populations; Cairo, Lagos (Nigeria), Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of the Congo), Alexandria (Egypt), and Casablanca (Morocco) are the largest cities of Africa.


Most of Africa's population is rural, but, except for cash crops, such as cacao and peanuts, agricultural production is low by world standards; Africa produces three quarters of the world's cocoa beans and about one third of its peanuts. Rare and precious minerals (including much of the world's diamonds) are abundant in the continent's ancient crystalline rocks, which are found mostly to the south and east of a line from the Gulf of Guinea to the Sinai Peninsula; extensive oil, gas, and phosphate deposits occur in sedimentary rocks to the north and west of this general line. Manufacturing is concentrated in the Republic of South Africa and in N Africa (especially Egypt and Algeria). Despite Africa's enormous potential for hydroelectric power production, only a small percentage of it has been developed. Africa's fairly regular coastline affords few natural harbors, and the shallowness of coastal waters makes it difficult for large ships to approach the shore; deepwater ports, protected by breakwaters, have been built offshore to facilitate commerce and trade. Major fishing grounds are found over the wider sections of the continental shelf as off NW, SW, and S Africa and NW Madagascar.

Outline of History

Early History to 1500

Africa has the longest human history of any continent. African hominins date from at least 4 million years ago; agriculture, brought from SW Asia, appears to date from the 6th or 5th millennium B.C. Africa's first great civilization began in Egypt in 3400 B.C.; other ancient centers were Kush and Aksum. Phoenicians established Carthage in the 9th cent. B.C. and probably explored the northwestern coast as far as the Canary Islands by the 1st cent. B.C. Romans conquered Carthage in 146 B.C. and controlled N Africa until the 4th cent. A.D. Arabs began their conquest in the 7th cent. and, except in Ethiopia, Muslim traders extended the religion of Islam across N Africa and S across the Sahara into the great medieval kingdoms of the W Sudan. The earliest of these kingdoms, which drew their wealth and power from the control of a lucrative trans-Saharan trade in gold, salt, and slaves, was ancient Ghana, already thriving when first recorded by Arabs in the 8th cent. In the 13th cent. Ghana was conquered and incorporated into the kingdom of ancient Mali, famous for its gold and its wealthy capital of Timbuktu. In the late 15th cent. Mali was eclipsed by the Songhai empire and lost many provinces but remained an autonomous kingdom.

There are few written accounts of the southern half of the continent before 1500, but it appears from linguistic and archaeological evidence that the older inhabitants were gradually absorbed or displaced by agricultural, iron-working peoples speaking related Bantu languages who originated from near the modern Nigeria-Cameroon border. Between the 1st cent. B.C. and 1500, Bantu-speaking peoples became dominant over most of the continent S of the equator, establishing small farming villages and in places powerful kingdoms, such as Kongo, Luba, and Mwememutapa. Prior to and after 1500, pastoralists moved south until they encountered the various Bantu groups and founded the kingdom of Kitara in the 16th cent. They subsequently founded the kingdoms of Bunyoro, Buganda, Rwanda, and Ankole, all of which had elaborate social structures based on a cattle-owning aristocracy.

European Domination

The period of European domination of Africa began in the 15th cent. with Portuguese exploration of the coasts of Africa in an attempt to establish a safe route to India and to tap the lucrative gold trade of Sudan and the east coast trade in gold, slaves, and ivory conducted for centuries by Arabs and Swahili. In 1488 Bartolomeu Dias rounded the Cape of Good Hope; in 1498 Vasco da Gama reached the east coast and, the following year, India. In the centuries that followed, coastal trading stations were established by Portugal and later by the Dutch, English, French, and other European maritime powers; under them the slave trade rapidly expanded. At the same time Ottoman Turks extended their control over N Africa and the shores of the Red Sea, and the Omani Arabs established suzerainty over the east coast as far south as Cape Delgado.

Explorations in the 18th and 19th cent. reported the great natural wealth of the continent while capturing the imagination of Europeans, who viewed Africa as the “Dark Continent.” These were key factors in the ensuing wave of European imperialism; between 1880 and 1912 all of Africa except Liberia and Ethiopia fell under control of European powers, with the boundaries of the new colonies often bearing no relationship to the realities of geography or to the political and social organization of the indigenous population. In the northwest and west, France ultimately acquired regions that came to be known as French West Africa, French Equatorial Africa, and the French Cameroons, and established protectorates in Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia. Other French territories were French Somaliland, French Togoland, Madagascar, and Réunion. The main group of British possessions was in E and S Africa; it included the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, British Somaliland, Uganda, Kenya, Tanganyika (after World War I), Zanzibar, Nyasaland, Northern and Southern Rhodesia, Bechuanaland, Basutoland, and Swaziland. Following Britain's victory in the South African War (1899–1902), its South African possessions (Transvaal, Orange Free State, Cape Colony, and Natal) became a dominion within the British Empire. Gambia, Sierra Leone, the Gold Coast, and Nigeria were British possessions on the west coast. Portugal's African empire was made up of Portuguese Guinea, Angola, and Mozambique, in addition to various enclaves and islands on the west coast. Belgium held the Belgian Congo and, after World War I, Ruanda-Urundi. The Spanish possessions in Africa were the smallest, being composed of Spanish Guinea, Spanish Sahara, Ifni, and the protectorate of Spanish Morocco. The extensive German holdings—Togoland, the Cameroons, German South-West Africa, and German East Africa—were lost after World War I and redistributed among the Allies; Italy's empire included Libya, Eritrea, and Italian Somaliland.

Movement toward Independence

The Union of South Africa was formed and became virtually self-governing in 1910, Egypt achieved a measure of sovereignty in 1922, and in 1925 Tangier, previously attached to Morocco, was made an international zone. At the end of World War II a rise in international trade spurred renewed exploitation of Africa's resources. France and Britain began campaigns to improve conditions in their African holdings, including access to education and investment in infrastructure. Africans were also able to pressure France and Britain into a degree of self-administration. Belgium and Portugal did little in the way of colonial development and sought greater control over their colonies during this period.

In the 1950s and 1960s, in the face of rising nationalism, most of the European powers granted independence to their territories. The sequence of change included independence for Libya in 1951; independence for Eritrea in federation with Ethiopia in 1952 (later absorbed by Ethiopia, Eritrea became fully independent in 1993); in 1956 independence for Morocco, Sudan, and Tunisia and the return of Tangier to Morocco; in 1957 independence for Ghana; in 1958 independence for Guinea and the return of Spanish Morocco to Morocco. In 1960 France granted independence to Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Congo (Brazzaville), Côte d'Ivoire, Dahomey (now Benin), Gabon, the Malagasy Republic (now Madagascar), Mali (briefly merged in 1959–60 with Senegal as the Sudanese Republic), Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, and Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso); also newly independent in 1960 were Congo (Kinshasa)—the former Belgian Congo—and Nigeria, Somalia, and Togo. In 1961 Sierra Leone and Tanganyika (now part of Tanzania) became independent, the Portuguese enclave of São João Baptista de Ajudá was seized by Dahomey, the British Cameroons were divided between Nigeria and Cameroon, and South Africa became a republic. In 1962 Algeria, Burundi, Rwanda, and Uganda became independent nations. Remaining British possessions after 1962 were Zanzibar, which gained independence in 1963 and joined with Tanganyika to form Tanzania in 1964; Gambia and Kenya, which became independent in 1963; Malawi (formerly Nyasaland) and Zambia (formerly Northern Rhodesia), independent in 1964; Botswana (formerly Bechuanaland) and Lesotho (formerly Basutoland), independent in 1966; and Mauritius and Swaziland (now Eswatini), independent in 1968. In 1968 Spain granted independence to Equatorial Guinea, and in 1969 Spain returned Ifni to Morocco.

In 1974 Portuguese Guinea became independent as Guinea-Bissau, and the former Portuguese territories of Angola, Cape Verde, Mozambique, and São Tomé and Principe became independent in 1975. After Spain relinquished the Spanish Sahara (Western Sahara) to joint Moroccan-Mauritanian control in 1976, a guerrilla force undertook a struggle for independence there. Under rebel pressure, Mauritania yielded its sector of Western Sahara to Morocco in 1979; Morocco, for its part, built fortifications in the territory and resisted pressures for its independence. A cease-fire (1991) ended the fighting but did not lead to a final resolution. The Seychelles and the Comoros became independent in 1976 from Great Britain and France, respectively, and in 1977 the former French Territory of the Afars and the Issas became independent as Djibouti. When Rhodesia (formerly Southern Rhodesia) unilaterally declared itself independent in 1965, Great Britain termed the act illegal and imposed trade sanctions against the country; after a protracted civil war, however, Rhodesia gained recognized independence in 1980 as Zimbabwe. South West Africa, which had been administered by South Africa since 1922 under an old League of Nations mandate (South Africa's continued administration of the territory was declared illegal by the International Court of Justice in 1971), won its independence in 1990 as Namibia. Great Britain retains control of the islands of St. Helena and Ascension, and Mayotte and Réunion remain French. Spain retains the Canary Islands and Ceuta and Melilla, two small exclaves on Morocco's coast.

The Postcolonial Period

In the early postcolonial period the most pressing problems facing new African states were the need for aid to develop natural resources, provide education, and improve living standards; threats of secession and military coups; and shifting alliances among the states and with outside powers. Recognizing that unity and cooperation were needed, African nations established the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1963 in Addis Ababa. African nations were also forced to form alliances based on the cold war politics of the USSR, the United States, Cuba, and other countries in order to receive badly needed aid. This period saw the overthrow of democratic forms of government and numerous coups resulting in the installation of military regimes and single-party governments.

Beginning in the late 1960s and continuing through the mid-1970s, a severe drought desiccated the Sahel region S of the Sahara. The resulting famine, disease, and environmental destruction caused the death of thousands of people and forced the southward migration of additional hundreds of thousands to less affected areas.

From 1975 into the 21st cent., 10/11Africa continued to experience political, social, and economic upheaval. The postindependence era has also been marked by a rise in nationalist struggles. Wars in Sudan, Ethiopia, and Somalia continued, and political instability in these nations continued. Civil war in Ethiopia resulted in the birth (1993) of a new country, Eritrea; in 1998–2000 the two nations fought a bloody border war. Beginning in the 1970s, Chad fought Libyan expansionist activity with help of the French military. Relations between Chad and Libya were finally normalized in 1989. Chad remained beset, however, by regional and ethnic fighting, with rebels receiving support from Sudan in the early 21st cent. while Chad supported Sudanese rebels. The conflict between N and S Sudan largely ended with a peace agreement in 2005, and in 2011 South Sudan voted to become an independent nation. Other conflicts within Sudan, most notably in Darfur but also elsewhere, continued to fester.

In the late 1980s, there was a decline of Marxist influence in Angola, from where Cuban troops began to withdraw in 1989, as well as from civil war–torn Mozambique. A UN-aided peace process in Mozambique culminated in peaceful elections there in 1994, but civil conflict continued until 2002 in Angola, as numerous peace agreements between rebels and the government were broken.

South African blacks led an enduring struggle against white domination, with frequent confrontations (such as the Soweto uprising in 1976) leading to government repression and escalating violence. Throughout the 1980s the international community applied pressure in the form of economic sanctions in order to induce the South African government to negotiate with the African National Congress (ANC). In 1989 newly elected Prime Minister F. W. de Klerk promised democratic reforms that would phase out white minority rule, and in 1992 the legal underpinnings of apartheid were largely dismantled. Consequently, South Africa's black majority participated in the country's first fully democratic elections in 1994, which brought Nelson Mandela and the ANC to power.

Other African nations began to introduce democratic reforms in the late 1980s and early 1990s that included multiparty elections; transitions to democratically elected leadership have taken place in countries such as Mali, Zambia, Benin, and Malawi. Political instability and civil strife continued to plague several regions of the continent into the late 1990s, most notably Liberia and Sierra Leone in W Africa and Congo, Rwanda, and Burundi in the Great Lakes region. Peace treaties signed in Liberia (1997) and Sierra Leone (1999) between those countries' governments and insurgents promised some hope of stability.

In Rwanda in 1994 a Hutu-led government that provoked ethnic tensions leading to the genocide of nearly one million persons was overthrown by Tutsi-led forces; by 1997 there was a growing war between the Rwandan army and Hutu guerrilla bands. Also in 1997, 30 years of dictatorical rule in Zaïre were brought to an end, and the country's name was changed to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The new government was soon threatened, however, by mutinous troops who assumed control of large areas of the country; a cease-fire was signed in 1999, but unrest continued in parts of Congo in subsequent years. Nigeria ushered in a new government in 1999 with the first democratically elected president since 1983. Several African countries made positive strides in managing market-oriented economic reform in the 1990s, most notably Ghana, Uganda, and Malawi.

In 1992–93, the worst African drought of the 20th cent. and numerous civil wars were the primary causes of a famine that spread across portions of sub-Saharan Africa and most severely affected the nations of Somalia and Mozambique. The scourge of AIDS has continued to pose a major health threat to many African nations, as a lack of economic resources often has prevented an effective response. Warfare, poverty, and hunger continue to present significant challenges in Africa, where ethnic tensions and political instability, along with the resulting economic disruption, still afflict many countries.

Mindful of the OAU's relative ineffectiveness in dealing with these issues and seeking an organization with greater powers to promote African economic, social, and political integration, African leaders established the African Union (AU), which superseded the OAU in 2002. The AU has proved somewhat more effective than OAU, but has had difficulty in successively confronting and resolving serious political crises (and sometimes civil war) in Somalia, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, and other nations.


See P. Curtin, Precolonial African History (1974); R. Hallet, Africa since 1875 (1974); W. A. Hance, The Geography of Modern Africa (rev. ed. 1975); J. D. Fage and R. Oliver, ed., The Cambridge History of Africa (8 vol., 1975–85); A. E. Afigb et al., The Making of Modern Africa (1986); UNESCO staff, The UNESCO General History of Africa (8 vol., 1988); T. Pakenham, The Scramble for Africa (1991); H. L. Wesseling, Divide and Rule: The Partition of Africa, 1880–1914 (1991, tr. 1996); R. Oliver, The African Experience (1992); J. Reader, Africa: A Biography of the Continent (1998); K. A. Appiah and H. L. Gates, Jr., ed., The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience (2000).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



There is great disagreement among scholars as to the origin of the word “Africa.” Two hypotheses are worthy of attention: one of them explains the word’s origin from the Phoenician root f-r-k, which, with the insertion of certain vowels, means “that which has broken away”—that is, indicating the breaking away of a new city (Carthage is the city in question) from the parent state (the French historian P. Avezac, the French ethnographer H. Duveyrier, and others hold this view); the second hypothesis derives the word “Africa” from the name of one of the ancient Berber tribes—the Avrig or the Afarik (this view is held by the French historian P. Gaffarel and others).

Next to Eurasia, Africa is the largest continent. Its area is 29.2 million sq km (with its islands, 30.3 million sq km—about one-fifth of the land area of the earth). Its population is 328 million people (1967). Africa is nearly bisected by the equator; its outlying areas reach subtropical latitudes. The extreme northern cape, Ben Sekka, lies at 37°20’N lat., the extreme southern cape, Agulhas, lies at 34°52’S lat. Africa is nearly 8,000 km from north to south. Its width is 7,500 km in the north (Cape Almadies to Ras Hafun) and about 3,100 km in the south.

Africa is washed by the Mediterranean and Red seas and the Indian and Atlantic oceans. The narrow (120 km) Suez Isthmus, cut by the canal of the same name, joins Africa to Asia. Africa is separated from Europe by the Strait of Gibraltar (minimum width 13 km).

The coasts of Africa are weakly incised and frequently mountainous. The coastline is about 30,500 km long; over one-fifth of the area of the continent is 1,000 to 1,500 km away from the oceans and seas. The large bays are the Gulf of Guinea and the Gulf of Sidra (Syrtis Major). There are few convenient inlets. The largest peninsula is Somaliland.

The following islands belong to Africa: in the east, Madagascar, the Comoro Islands, Mascarene Islands, the Ami-rantes, the Seychelles, Pemba, Mafia, Zanzibar, and Socotra; in the west, Madeira, the Canary Islands, Cape Verde, Anno-bón, Sāo Tomé, Principe, Fernando Póo, and the remote islands of Ascension, St. Helena, and Tristan da Cunha.

Basic features of orography. The African topography is dominated by plains, plateaus, and highlands lying at elevations of 200 to 500 m above sea level (39 percent of total area) and 500 to 1,000 m above sea level (28.1 percent of total area). Lowlands account for only 9.8 percent of the total area, principally along littoral margins of the continent. Africa yields only to the Antarctic continent and Eurasia in average height above sea level (750 m).

Almost all of Africa north of the equator is occupied by the plains and plateaus of the Sahara and the Sudan, among which tower, in the center of the Sahara, the Ahaggar and Tibesti highlands (Mount Emi Koussi, elevation 3,415 m), and, in the Sudan, the Darfur plateau (Mount Marrah, 3,088 m). The Atlas Mountains (Mount Toubkal, 4,165 m) rise above the Sahara plains in the northwest, and the Etbai Range (Mount Oda, 2,259 m) extends along the Red Sea on the east. The plains of the Sudan are bordered on the south by the northern Guiñean elevation (Mount Bintimani, 1,948 m) and by the Zande highlands; the Sudan plains are overshadowed on the east by the Ethiopian highlands (Mount Ras Dashan, 4,620 m). These highlands terminate abruptly in the Danakil (in Russian, Afar) depression, which is Africa’s deepest depression (Lake Assal, 150 m). Beyond the Zande highlands lies the Congo Basin, bordered on the west by the southern Guiñean elevation, on the south by the Lunda-Katanga highlands, and on the east by the East African highlands dominated by Africa’s highest peaks, Mount Kilimanjaro (5,895 m) and Mount Ruwen-zori (5,109 m).

Southern Africa contains the high Kalahari plains, rimmed on the west by the Namaqualand, Damaraland, and Kaoko highlands, and on the east by the Drakensberg Mountains (Mount Thabantshonyana, 3,482 m). The Cape Mountains, of medium elevation, stretch along the southern margin of the continent.

The prevalence of mountainous topography on the continent is due to the continent’s platform structure. Elevations lower than 1,000 m (Low Africa) predominate in the northwestern portion of Africa, with a deep-seated basement and a broadly developed sedimentary mantle; in southwestern Africa, where an ancient basement rises in outcroppings at many sites, typical elevations range above 1,000 m (High Africa). The big depressions (Kalahari, Congo, Chad, and other depressions and basins) and the elevations separating them or bordering them correspond to downwarps and protrusions of the African platform. The eastern limits of Africa are the most elevated and fragmented; within the confines of the activated portion of the platform (Ethiopian highlands, East African highlands) extends a complicated system of East African faults.

Much of the elevated regions of High Africa is occupied by foundation plains and foundation block mountains enclosing troughs of the grabens of East Africa (including Ruwenzori) and Katanga. In Low Africa, foundation ridges and massifs extend along the shoreline of the Gulf of Guinea and emerge in the Sahara (in the Ahaggar and Tibesti mountainous areas and on the Etbai range). Lava plateaus and lava cones are widely disseminated on the Ethiopian mountains and in East Africa (Kilimanjaro, Mount Kenya, and elsewhere), crown the peaks of the Ahaggar and Tibesti, and are found in the Sudan (Mount Marrah), Cameroon (Mount Cameroun, Adamawa mountains), and cover the Drakensberg Mountains in Lesotho. Bedded denudation plains and plateaus occupy the greater part of the area in Low Africa (Sahara, Sudan); in High Africa, those features are confined to the deposits of the Karroo syneclise, and form the Drakensberg Mountains and the Veld plateau adjacent to it on the west and the Northern Karroo lying to the south of the Orange River. Accumulation plains are encountered primarily in Low Africa: in the middle course of the Niger River, in the Lake Chad basin and in the White Nile basin, and in the drainage basin of the Congo; in High Africa, accumulation plains occupy the Kalahari depression. Folded block mountains include the Cape Mountains and the inner districts of the Atlas Mountains. The northern ridges of the Atlas range are Africa’s only young folded mountains; they are from the Neocene-Paleogene age.

Surfaces belonging to the Neocenic cycle of denudation and accumulation, disjointed by the present-day Congo cycle, predominate in the African topographical relief. Above these tower outliers of earlier surfaces exposed to the action of more ancient cycles (going as far back as the Gondwana cycle).


Geological structure and mineral resources. Almost all of the African continent, with the exception of the Atlas Mountains in the northwest and the Cape Mountains in the extreme south, forms an ancient platform that also includes the Arabian peninsula, the island of Madagascar, and the Seychelles Islands. The basement of this African-Arabian platform, made up of mostly folded and metamorphosed pre-Cambrian rocks, protrudes to the surface in many parts of the African continent, from the Anti-Atlas Mountains in the northwest and western Arabia in the northeast to the Transvaal in the south. Rocks belonging to all age subdivisions of the pre-Cambrian period, from the lower Archean period (of over 3 billion years ago) to the recent Proterozoic, have been identified in the composition of the platform basement. The consolidation of most of the African continent was completed by the middle of the Proterozoic period ( 1.9 to 1.7 billion years ago); only peripheral (Mauretania-Senegal, Arabia) and some internal (Ugarta-Atakora, west Congolese, Namaqualand-Kibara) geosynclinal systems developed in the late Proterozoic. By the beginning of the Paleozoic period the entire area of the present platform had already been stabilized (according to recent data, the sediments appearing on geological maps south of the Sahara as Cambrian are actually late Proterozoic). On areas of early consolidation, the deposits dating from the late Proterozoic, and in some sites even the early or middle Proterozoic (massifs of Transvaal, Zimbabwe, and elsewhere), are already assigned to the platform mantle. Rocks of the early pre-Cambrian basement are represented by various crystalline schists, gneisses, and metamorphosed igneous formations and by substituted granites over significant areas. Subordinate to them are iron ore deposits of sedimentary-metamorphic origin, gold (in association with granites), and chromites (in ultrabasic rock species). Major accumulations of gold and uraniferous ores are found in coarsely fragmented rocks of the basement of the sedimentary mantle in southern Africa. Younger and weakly metamorphosed rocks of the upper Proterozoic in intraplat-form folded belts (Katanga, Zambia, South West Africa, and elsewhere) enclose deposited strata of tin, tungsten (in or near granites), copper, lead, zinc, and uranium-bearing ores.

The Phanerozoic sedimentary mantle is developed above the pre-Cambrian basement primarily in the western and central portions of North Africa (Sahara platform), the large basins and troughs of Equatorial Africa and South Africa (Congo, Okavango, Kalahari, Karroo), the Mozambique trough on the eastern shoreline and between the continent proper and the island of Madagascar, and also the strip of Atlantic coastline extending from Mauretania to Angola. The marine early and middle Paleozoic deposits which collected in folds are disseminated mainly in the region of the Sahara platform, where they contain major deposits of petroleum and natural gas (Algeria, Libya), and also in the Atlas and Cape geosynclines. Formations belonging to the upper Paleozoic and Triassic are almost everywhere of the continental type; in Equatorial Africa and South Africa these formations begin with glacial deposits (strata belonging to the upper Carboniferous and the lower Permian), which are outliers of the cover glaciation of a large portion of the continent, and extend farther as lower Permian coal-bearing deposits with which are associated the principal coal resources of Africa (Republic of South Africa, Southern Rhodesia, and elsewhere). The coal-bearing strata in North Africa are the middle Carboniferous, above which are disseminated continental and lagoonal sediments of red coloration (dating to the Triassic with large strata of salts and gypsums).

Dating to the start of the Jurassic are some major volcanic eruptions and lava flows and intrusions of basic (basaltic) magma; these are most widely disseminated in southern Africa but are also found in northwest Africa. Most of Africa experienced uplifting during the Jurassic and early Cretaceous. Continental deposits built up in the inner basins; at the end of the Jurassic and beginning of the Cretaceous, intrusion of alkaline granites and carbonatites is evident, with occurrences of rare elements (such as niobium and tantalum) and also formation of kimberlite pipes with which diamond deposits are associated—these are indigenous and are redeposited in younger sediments and placers (Republic of South Africa, Angola, Zaïre, countries along the northern shore of the Gulf of Guinea). Dating to the same era (end of the Jurassic and beginning of the Cretaceous) is the shaping of the present contours of Africa, associated with the subsidence of the bottoms of the Indian and Atlantic oceans along faults and also with the formation of a system of perioceanic troughs containing impressive deposits of offshore petroleum and natural gas (Nigeria, Gabon, Angola, and elsewhere). Madagascar separated from the continent at the close of the Paleozoic. The intense subsidence of the contemporary littoral areas of Tunisia, Libya, and the United Arab Republic (the Arab Republic of Egypt since Sept. 11, 1971), accompanied by the formation of petroliferous deposits in Cretaceous and Eocene sediments, occurred at the same time. Extensive transgression affected the Sahara platform in the middle and late Cretaceous era; seawater straits linking the Mediterranean Sea to the Gulf of Guinea, and persisting until well into the Eocene, made their appearance.

From the close of the Eocene and the beginning of the Oligocene, Africa (and primarily the eastern and southern regions of Africa) experienced vigorous and intense uplifting, accompanied by the formation of mountain relief and the appearance of the East African fault zone and the Great Rift Valley, which involves the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, Ethiopia, Lake Rudolf, Lake Albert, Lake Rukwa, Lake Tanganyika, Lake Nyasa, and other features. A flare-up of volcanic activity, continuing into the modern epoch in some isolated areas (Mount Kenya, Mount Kilimanjaro, the voleanos of the Virunga region), stems from the same period. The uplift processes and the volcanic activity were also manifested in the Ahaggar and Tibesti mountainous areas of the Sahara, in Cameroon (the Cameroun volcano), and in some regions on the Atlantic coastline (Cape Verde).

The folded structure of the Atlas mountain range took shape at the close of the Miocene; the central portion receded in the Pliocene along faults to form the Alborán basin of the Mediterranean Sea.

Africa possesses large reserves of iron ore (the total reserves are estimated to be in the neighborhood of 16 to 23 billion tons), manganese ores (about 400 million tons), chromites (500 to 700 million tons), bauxites (3.3 billion tons), copper (proved and probable reserves totaling about 48 million tons), cobalt (500,000 tons), phosphorites (26 billion tons), tin, antimony, lithium, uranium, asbestos, gold (Africa yields about 80 percent of the total amount of gold mined in the capitalist and developing countries), platinum and platinoids (about 60 percent of the amount mined), and diamonds (98 percent mined). Vast reserves of petroleum (total reserves estimated at 5.6 billion tons) and natural gas were discovered on the African continent (mainly in Algeria, Libya, and Nigeria) after World War II.


Climate. The African climate is determined by the fact that the larger portion of the continent is located between the two tropics; the climate is characterized by high levels of overall solar radiation (180 to 200 kilocalories per sq cm a year). As a result, most of the continent records high temperatures. The continent is considered the world’s hottest. Average temperatures are in the 25–26°C range on the northern shores of the Gulf of Guinea and in the Congo Basin. Average summer temperatures are highest in the northern Sudan regions, in the Sahara (30–32°C, and as high as 38°C in the western part); the peak temperature recorded on the earth’s surface was 58°C at Azizia (Libya). Summertime temperatures at the subtropical latitudes range from 16° to 22°C. Average winter temperatures are 16°C at latitudes 20°N and 20°S; the average is about 10°C in the subtropics. The warm Mozambique Current and Cape Agulhas Current wash the eastern shores of Africa southward of the equator and raise and smooth out the temperatures of the littoral areas; the cold Canaries Current and Benguela Current lower temperatures and increase the dryness of the western shores of Africa in the tropics. In the northern hemisphere, the continental nature of the climate of Africa is very pronounced because of the vast expanses of dry land and the proximity of Asia. In the southern hemisphere, abundant rainfall occurs on the windward slopes of the Drakensberg range and the island of Madagascar.

The principal circulatory process over the African continent consists of transport of tropical air by trade winds emanating from high-pressure belts in the tropics and heading toward the low-pressure trough at the equator, where westerly winds prevail. The tropical air carried by the trade winds is confronted with equatorial intratropical convergence (ITC) in the northern and southern zones. Large-wavelength disturbances developing into cyclonic depressions, which are in turn associated with thundershowers bringing heavy precipitation, often occur in those zones. Convectional rainfall is precipitated directly in the mass of equatorial air.

Because of the large dimensions of dry land in Africa and consequent drastic seasonal changes in isobaric conditions in the northern and southern hemispheres, the low-pressure equatorial trough shifts very far above Africa either to the north or to the south of the equator. Therefore, trade-wind circulation above the continent is complicated by monsoon circulation flow, which is manifested particularly conspicuously on the northern shoreline of the Gulf of Guinea and above the eastern rim of the continent.

The equatorial belt of westerly winds lies between 5°N and 18°N lat. in the summertime in the northern hemisphere, so that most of the annual rainfall is enjoyed by the northern shore of the Gulf of Guinea, the Sudan, and the western slopes of the Ethiopian highlands. The high-pressure area of the offshoot of the Azores maximum is established above northwestern Africa. From it emanates maritime tropical air that rapidly warms up and does not deliver rain to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea or the Sahara, where the Sahara minimum forms. Winds from the eastern periphery of the Azores maximum blow along the western shoreline. There is almost no rainfall on the Sahara coastline because of cooling of the air carried by those winds over the Canaries Current and also because of the low position of the trade-wind inversion. The basic source of the scanty moisture of that area is provided by the hidden moisture carried by mists and dew.

A southwesterly monsoon wind heading toward India visits northeast Africa north from 5°S lat., along the low-lying coastal areas of the Somali peninsula. Rainfall is enjoyed only by the interior mountainous regions of the peninsula. East Africa southward of the equator also enjoys very little precipitation, since the moisture-laden winds arriving from the western periphery of the maximum of the southern Indian Ocean blow mostly parallel to the coast and yield their precipitation only on the windward slopes of the plateau. The interior regions are arid, since continental tropical air flows to the Sahara minimum from the South African maximum, established in the winter in the southern hemisphere above southern Africa at tropical latitudes. This air mass is carried by southeasterly winds into the subequatorial latitudes of southern Africa, where there is again no precipitation during the winter season. Winds blow from the eastern periphery of the South Atlantic maximum along the western shoreline of the continent in the tropics; the trade-wind inversion lies even lower here than at the western shores of tropical Africa north of the equator, since the Benguela Current is colder than the Canaries Current; and precipitation is infrequent. Cyclonic precipitation on the line of the intratropical front falls along the eastern rim of southern Africa during the winter (heavy snowfall occurs on the peaks of the Drakensberg range).

In the wintertime, polar-front cyclonic rains fall in the northern hemisphere, on the windward slopes of the Atlas range, and on the northern shores of Libya and the United Arab Republic. The pressure rises above the Sahara (Sahara maximum), with arid conditions prevailing; circulation unfavorable for precipitation prevails along the Atlantic coastline. The eastern slopes of the Etbai range and of the Ethiopian highlands receive meager precipitation carried from the Red Sea by northeasterly winds blowing from the winter maximum located above the Arabian peninsula.

The belt of equatorial westerly winds shifts southward. The northern zone of intratropical convergence lies at 5°N lat. The Sudan, the Ethiopian highlands, the Somali peninsula, and the northern part of East Africa become filled with tropical air originating in the high-pressure region above the Sahara, Arabia, and India; because of this, they do not receive precipitation. East Africa southward of 5°S lat. receives its rainfall primarily on the eastern slopes of the plateau and also in the mountainous regions to the west, where monsoon streams from the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet. In southern Africa, trade winds from the Indian Ocean make their way laden with abundant precipitation to the eastern slopes of Madagascar and the Drakensberg range all the way up to subtropical latitudes. The southern zone of intratropical convergence cuts across southern Africa from 6°S lat. on the west to the tropic of Capricorn on the east, and the South African minimum forms over the Kalahari desert. Summer rainfall delivered predominantly by equatorial air masses from the north strikes South Africa and the Kalahari at the subequa-torial latitudes. Anticyclonal circulation forming part of the eastern periphery of the South Atlantic maximum acts along the western rim of southern Africa from 6°S lat. to the sub-tropics, and this circulation is particularly stable at tropical latitudes, where exceptional aridity is maintained.

A persistently humid and hot equatorial type of climate is found on the shores of the Gulf of Guinea and in the Congo Basin on the basis of seasonal features of the circulation, temperature, and rainfall (from 5°-7°N lat. to 2°-3°S lat.). Here we find the most humid site in Africa, De-bundscha (in the foothills of Mount Cameroun, with an annual precipitation of 9,655 mm); annual precipitation in the remainder of the area is never below 1,500 mm. Southward and northward, the equatorial climate gradually converts to the subequatorial mode (equatorial monsoons) with humid summer and dry winter seasons. The duration of the winter dry season increases from two to ten months, with the annual rainfall declining from 1,800 mm to 300 mm. Southward of 18°S lat. and northward of 20°N lat., the climate of Africa is tropical, and very arid and desert-like in the northern hemisphere. Annual precipitation in the Sahara region dwindles to 100 mm or less; the eastern Sahara is the most arid region of Africa (10 to 20 mm annual rainfall). Along the western shores, the climate is combined oceanic and arid, with high relative air humidity. Three sectors are distinguished in the tropical belt in the southern hemisphere: an oceanic arid sector in the west, a continental moderately arid and arid sector in the center, and a maritime trade-wind sector with a summertime precipitation maximum in the east.

The limits of the African continent lie in subtropical climatic belts. In northern Africa the climate is Mediterranean: on the windward slopes of the Atlas Mountains it is typically Mediterranean, but it becomes arid and semiarid in the interior of the Atlas mountainous region and on the shorelines of Libya and the United Arab Republic. In South Africa, a typically Mediterranean climate is observed on the southwestern windward slopes of the Cape Mountains, whereas a monsoon subtropical climate with a summertime rainfall maximum prevails on the southeastern rim of that area; the interior regions are semiarid and arid (see Table 1).

Rivers and lakes. Africa as a whole is characterized by great annual drainage (5,390 cu km); this drainage is exceeded in volume only by that of Asia and South America. The river network is most dense in the equatorial climatic region; in deserts and on the sandy plains of the Kalahari there are almost no rivers. The continental watershed passes along the eastern elevated part of Africa: 36.05 percent of the area of Africa belongs to the basin of the Atlantic Ocean, about 18.48 percent to the basin of the Indian Ocean, and 14.88 percent to the basin of the Mediterranean Sea. Drainage is principally through five main rivers: the Congo, the Nile, the Niger, the Zambezi, and the Orange, the basins of which cover approximately one-third of the area of Africa. Among these rivers the Congo is second only to the Amazon in volume of annual flow (1,230 cu km), while the Nile is the longest river on earth (6,671 km). Undrained basins and regions of internal drainage cover 30.5 percent of the area of Africa.

The contemporary river network was formed at the end of the Neocene period and in the Anthropogenic period from intakes of young rivers of ancient systems of internal flow and from their outlet to the oceans. Traces of intakes are evident in the loop-shaped bends of large rivers (the Congo and the Niger) and in the alternation of flattened out and steep sections of riverbeds with numerous rapids and waterfalls (Livingstone and Stanley on the Congo River, Victoria on the Zambezi River; the highest waterfall in Africa is Tugela on the Tugela River in the Drakensberg Mountains, at an altitude of 853 m). As the aridity of the climate increased, ancient lakes, into which ancient rivers flowed, decreased in size or disappeared. Such lakes existed in the Sahara (the Paleo-Saharan sea to the north of the bend of the Niger and others), in the Chad basin (the Paleo-Chad lake), and other areas.

Most of the rivers are fed primarily by rainfall. Subsurface recharging predominates in semideserts and deserts.

The distribution of surface drainage is extremely uneven. The maximum depth of flow (1,000–1,500 mm per year) is attained in regions of excess moisture and of outlets to the surface of crystalline rocks and lateritic crests (the northwest coast of the Gulf of Guinea, the eastern slopes of Madagascar); in the basin of the Congo the depth of flow is 500–600 mm, while to the north and south of the equator it decreases with the increased aridity of the climate (the northern and eastern part of Sudan, the Sahara, the Kalahari, and Namib). In subtropical latitudes, the flow increases to 200 mm (in the western Atlas Mountains). Almost all the rivers of Africa have considerable seasonal variation in flow. Flow occurs in most rivers primarily in the summer and fall. Winter flow predominates in the outlying areas of the northwest and southwest, in areas with a Mediterranean climate. There is intermittent drainage in 37 percent of the area of Africa.

The following types of rivers are evident in Africa: (1) the equatorial, fed only by rainfall and having an even flow throughout the year; (2) the Sudanese (most common), primarily rain-fed, with summer and fall flow; (3) the Sanaran, which includes temporary or intermittent water courses (in the Sahara these are called wadis); and (4) the Mediterranean, rain-fed and, to some extent, snow-fed, with sharply decreased or altogether curtailed summer flow. All the great rivers of Africa are transit rivers with complex modular flows.

Almost all the large lakes of Africa lie in tectonic hollows on the East African plateau. They are long, narrow, and very deep. Lake Tanganyika is the second deepest lake (1,435 m) in the world after Baikal. The largest lake in Africa is Victoria (area, 68,000 sq km)—the second largest freshwater lake in the world (after Lake Superior in North America). Lake Tana was formed as a lava stream dammed up a valley from below; it is the largest lake on the Ethiopian highlands. Relic lakes of internal drainage predominate in the arid regions of Africa. They are relatively shallow, with flat banks and salty water (the briny Lake Chad is excluded; it has underwater drainage into the Bodélé Depression). In northwestern parts of the Sahara and in the Atlas region, temporary salt lakes are called chotts or sebkhas; as a rule, they are related to foothill and intermontane hollows.

Table 1. basic climatic indicators (upper row, temperature; lower row, rainfall)
ZoneObservation point, coordinatesHeight of the station above sea level(m)Average monthly temperatures (°c) and average total monthly rainfall (mm)Average yearly total rainfall (mm)
Subtropical northern hemisphereAlgiers 36°46’ N. lat.5911.712.513.715.518.321.724.325.023.319.415.713.0 
3°03’ E. long. 1117869523814343280110121712
Alexandria 31°12’N. lat.3214.014.616.218.521.223.925.726.325.323.519.916.1 
29°53’ E. long. 51261241000.20.563459194
subtropical southern hemispherecape town 33°55’ s. lat.1021.221.520.317.515.113.412.613.214.516.318.320.1 
18°27’ e. long. 1614195391102988258392419615
Durban 29°51’s. lat.1524.424.723.822.119.818.017.618.520.020.822.823.5 
31°00’E. long. 1091221307652342838701081211201,008
Tropical northern hemispherePort Etienne 20°56’N. lat.819.620.020.120.621.022.723.324.525.824.222.720.2 
17°03’ W . long. 24310116885443
Tamanrasset 22°42’ N. lat.1,40011.013.416.720.925.328.728.627.826.423.118.014.0 
5°31’ E. long. 3114743101221351
Aswan 24°02’ N. lat.11015.717.321.426.431.133.133.933.531.328.622.917.7 
32°53’ E. long. 0000.1100000.3001.4
Tropical southern hemisphereSwakopmund 22°40’S. lat.1217.218.117.515.715.113.513.012.112.613.714.916.4 
14°30’ E . long. 22221001111215
Tsabong 26°03’ S. lat.96226.626.123.320.015.311.511.013.917.521.623.725.2 
  22°27’E, long. 38414029106117122042247
Beira 19°45’S. lat.927.427.526.725.223.020.820.321. 
34°40’ E. long. 2982132611105937323023331302401,466
Subequatorial northern hemisphereFort-Archambault 9°19’N. lat.36726.828.630.931.630.028.126.325.826.427.626.428.0 
18°24’ E. long. 019371131402313042548330.11,175
Addis Ababa 9°00’ N. lat.2,40015.016.717.217.817.816.715.015.015.615.614.413.9 
38°41’ E. long. 1437708590145285295196211361,257
Mogadishu 2°01’N. lat.1224.228.328.328.927.827. 
45°20’ E. long.
Nairobi 1°16’N. lat.1,66017.818.518.717.816.915.715.015.316.717.817.217.0 
36°45’ E. long. 3757119208146421727295511976932
Subequatorial southern hemisphereLivingstone 17°50’ S. lat.96324.424.223.622.619.416.616.419.424.027.226.324.8 
25°49’ E. long. 17516510224510021920175688
EquatorialDebundscha 4°08’ N. lat.525.726. 
9°00’ E. long. 1852844024466231,4011,4341,3661,5141,1145713159,655
Coquilhatville 0°03’ N. lat.33825.525.525.525.625.825.124.824.925. 
18°18’E. long. 101126134156160125821501852231921521,786

Groundwater and subterranean waters are very important in deserts and semideserts. Groundwater lies not far beneath the channels of temporary water currents; in the Sahara and northern Sudan subterranean waters are contained primarily in continental Lower Cretaceous sandstones, while in southern Africa they accumulate in the flaws of bedrock, in sandstones, and in limestone karsts of the Karroo system. Africa is second only to Asia in its potential resources of hydroelectric energy (700 million kW—about 20 percent of the world total). The greatest supplies are in the basins of the Congo (390 million kW) and the Zambezi (137 million kW), but less than 1 percent is exploited. Africa, which receives an average of about 800 mm of precipitation per year, has the option of exploiting surface, ground, and subterranean waters for irrigation. Irrigated land amounts to no more than 5 percent of all cultivated land; it is concentrated primarily in the valleys of the Nile (the UAR, Sudan), the Niger (Mali), and in the Republic of South Africa. The rivers of Africa do not have great value for transportation, since many sections of the riverbeds have rapids.

Soils. The lateritic process of soil formation is characteristic of all of Africa in the tropical zone. In the equatorial climate, red-yellow lateritic (ferralitic) soils of pseudo sandy structure with good aeration and water permeability underlie humid evergreen forests. Only in the western section of the Congo hollow, where the flow of rivers is strongly retarded, is a large area occupied by lateritic gley and tropical bog soils. To the north and south of the zone of red-yellow soils lie zones of red soils, which develop during dry seasons of up to five months under humid savannas and mixed deciduous-evergreen forests. In many places on the watershed plains, erosion lays bare their lower horizons, which are saturated with ferrous nodules and which form protective lateritic crusts. As the aridity of the climate increases, red-brown and reddish-brown soils with calcareous nodules appear under dry savannas in desert savanna and semideserts. They are very extensively developed in East Africa as a result of the aridity of the climate. In the hollows of Sudan and of East and South Africa, there are considerable areas of black hy-dromorphic and tropical bog soils. In regions made up of native unweathered lavas, soils founded on volcanic rocks are prevalent. In Southeast Africa and in South Africa, large tracts of brownish-red soils with a higher humus content than the soils of the savannas are found under sparse forests.

A desert process of soil formation takes place in subtropical and tropical deserts. Soils of the deserts are primitive, gravelly, or pebbly. Ancient salty crusts, which shield the terrain, are developed, as are young solonchaks in the process of formation. Soils of oases are of meadow-solonchak or solonchak types. In the outlying subtropical areas of Africa with a Mediterranean climate, the soils are brown (in moister areas) and gray-brown (in drier regions), enriched with carbonates and gypsum. In semideserts and deserts there are sierozems. On the southern and southeastern coast, in the monsoonal subtropics, a reddish lower stratum horizon appears in brown soils.

Approximately one-fifth of the land suitable for cultivation is exploited in Africa. This figure could be expanded with the observance of proper agricultural technological techniques, since the widespread primitive slash-and-burn system of farming leads to rapid exhaustion of fertility and erosion of soils. Most fertile are the black tropical soils, which yield good crops of cotton and cereals, and the soils on volcanic rocks. Red-yellow soils containing up to 10 percent humus and red soils with 2–3 percent humus require regular application of nitrous, potassic, and phosphoric acid fertilizers. Brown soils contain 4–7 percent humus, but their exploitation is made difficult by the fact that they are predominantly located in mountains, where they require irrigation during the dry .season.

Flora. Study of the flora of Africa is far from complete; there are over 40,000 species and 3,700 genera (900 endemic) of flowering plants. The northern part of Africa belongs to the Holarctic floristic region. Africa south of the Sahara belongs to the Palaeotropical region, and the Cape floristic region appears in the southwest of Africa.

The flora of the Atlas and the northern coast of Libya and the UAR belongs to the Mediterranean subregion of the Holarctic and has much in common with the flora of southern Europe (strawberry tree, rock-rose) and southwest Asia (Atlas cedar, Euphrates poplar). The ancient flora of Madeira, the Canary Islands, and Cape Verde (predominantly forest) forms the Macronesian subregion of the Holarctic, with the greatest number of endemics in the Canary Islands (the dragon tree and others). The flora of the Sahara (grassy-scrubby), extremely poor in species (about 1,200), belongs to the North African-Indian subregion of the Holarctic.

The Palaeotropical region includes, in an equatorial climate, the Guiñean subregion of forest hygrothermal flora, which is surrounded by the broad Sudanese-Zambezian sub-region of savanna, thin forest, and scrub flora. Especially notable in it is the Afro-alpine flora of the mountain peaks of East Africa and Cameroon, similar in composition despite being territorially unconnected. The succulent flora of the deserts and semideserts of southern Africa belongs to the South African floristic subregion. The unique ancient Wel-witschia is very typical of it. The flora of Madagascar and neighboring islands constitutes the Madagascar subregion, which is rich in endemics (the Seychelles palm, traveler’s-tree). The evergreen flora of the Cape region is highly endemic and is represented mainly by scrubs; the region is characterized by the absence of grasses.

The boundaries and types of vegetation of Africa were fixed at the end of the Pliocene with the establishment of the present correlation of warmth and moisture. However, centuries of the primitive slash-and-burn system of agriculture, reduction of forests, and pasturing of cattle have resulted in heavy destruction of the vegetative cover. Many formations are secondary. Much African savanna has arisen on the site of reduced forests, sparse forests, and scrub, which represents the natural transition from humid evergreen forests to deserts. Today savannas occupy about 37 percent of the area of Africa, forests about 16 percent, and deserts over 39 percent.

Humid evergreen equatorial forests occupy the greatest area along the coast of the Gulf of Guinea (from 7°N lat. to 12°S lat.) and in the Congo Basin (4°N lat. to 5°S lat.)—in a hot and constantly humid climate. In outlying areas to the north and south, they give way to mixed (deciduous and evergreen) and deciduous forests, which lose their foliage in the dry season (three to four months). Humid tropical forests (primarily of palms) grow on the eastern coast of Africa and in eastern Madagascar, mixed deciduous-coniferous forests in the outlying southeastern monsoon area of Africa, and evergreen stiff-leaved forests (primarily of cork oak) on the windward slopes of the Atlas. Up to altitudes of 3,000 m, the slopes of mountains are covered with mountain forests; in the belts with the greatest amounts of precipitation, they are dwarfish, with an abundance of mosses and lichens.

Savannas frame the forest tracts of Equatorial Africa and extend through Sudan and East and South Africa beyond the southern tropics. High-grass, typical (dry), and desert savannas develop depending on the length of the rainy season and the yearly totals of precipitation. High-grass savannas occupy areas where the annual total of precipitation amounts to 800–1,200 mm and the dry season lasts three to four months; they have thick covers of high grasses (elephant grass up to 5 m high), groves and tracts of mixed or deciduous forests on watersheds, and gallery evergreen forests of ground wetness in valleys. In typical savannas (precipitation 500–800 mm, dry season six months) there is a continuous grass cover no higher than 1 m (species of beard grass, Themeda triandra, and others). Characteristic of the species of trees are palms (fan palms, Hyphaene thebaica), baobabs, and acacia; in the East and South Africa, there is spurge. Most of the humid and typical savannas are of secondary origin. Desert savannas (precipitation 300–500 mm, dry season eight to ten months) have sparse grass covers; thickets of thorny scrub (primarily acacia) are prevalent.

Deserts occupy the greatest area in northern Africa, where the Sahara, the greatest desert in the world, is located. Their vegetation is sclerophyllic (with stiff leaves and well-developed mechanical tissue; it is characterized by drought-resistance) and extremely sparse. In the northern Sahara the vegetation is grassy-scrubby; in the southern Sahara, it is scrubby. It is concentrated mainly along the beds of wadis and on sands. The most important plant in oases is the date palm. In the Namib and Karroo deserts of South Africa, succulents predominate (characteristic species are the mesembryan-temums, aloe, and spurge). There is much acacia in Karroo. In outlying subtropical regions, deserts give way to grassy-scrubby semideserts; typical of these is feather-grass and esparto in the north and numerous bulbous and tuberiferous varieties in the south.

Africa’s plant resources are great and varied. The evergreen forests of Central Africa contain as many as 40 varieties of trees with valuable lumber (ebony, mahogany, and others). Edible oils of high quality are obtained from the fruits of the oil palm, caffeine and other alkaloids from the seeds of the cola tree. Africa is the home of the coffee tree, which grows in the forests of the Ethiopian highlands, Central Africa, and Madagascar. The Ethiopian highland is the home of many cereal grasses (including drought-resistant wheat). African sorghum, millet, Citrullus, castor plant, and sesame are cultivated in many countries. About one-half of the world harvest of the fruits of the date palm is obtained in the oases of the Sahara. The most important plant resources in the Atlas are the Atlas cedar, the cork oak, the olive tree (plantations in eastern Tunisia), fibrous grass, and esparto. Cotton, sisal, the peanut, manioc, cacao, and the rubber plant Hevea have become acclimatized and are cultivated in Africa.

Fauna. The animal life of Africa is rich and varied; it has not been studied fully. North Africa (including the Sahara) is part of the Mediterranean subregion of the Holarctic region. The rest of Africa belongs to the Ethiopian region: the West African, East African, and South African subregions are demarcated according to conditions of inhabitance. Madagascar and other islands of the Indian Ocean make up the Madagascar subregion.

The most ancient fauna of Africa (Gondwanaland) survives in the South African subregion (certain invertebrates, lungfish). From the Cretaceous to the Eocene epoch, the fauna of Africa had much in common with that of Australia and, especially, South America (porcupine-like rodents, aardvarks, lizards, ostriches). With the Oligocene epoch, exchange of fauna between Africa, India, and southern Europe began (elephants, humanoid apes). In the Pliocene, hoofed and carnivorous animals of the savannas entered Africa from Asia, but in the glacial period and postglacial times this fauna was driven from North Africa by migrants from Europe and Southwest Asia.

The Mediterranean subregion of Africa is inhabited by hyenas, civets, apes, hares, bustards (in the Atlas), ad-daxes and Alcelaphini antelopes, gazelles, fennecs, and ostriches (in the Sahara). In the Ethiopian region, typical of the forested West Africa subregion are narrow-nosed apes (including gorillas), elephants, giant forest hogs, okapis, pygmy hippopotamuses, and predominantly climbing birds (gray parrots and others). The savannas of the East and South African subregions are inhabited by the large herbivorous animals most typical of Africa: antelopes, zebras, giraffes, rhinoceroses, hippopotamuses, Cape buffalo, and elephants. In East Africa the biomass of wild hoofed animals is the greatest on earth (30 tons per sq km). Among the predators inhabiting the savannas are lions, leopards, cheetahs, lynxes, and hyenas. Termites are very numerous, and the tsetse fly is widely prevalent.

In the 19th and especially the early 20th centuries, the numbers of many large animals declined sharply, some disappearing entirely, as a result of extermination by Europeans. Only in the 1950’s did the network of preserves (national parks, reservations), in which animals are protected and their numbers controlled, begin to expand. The largest preserves are the Kruger National Park (Republic of South Africa) and Kivu (Zaïre, Rwanda).

The animal resources of Africa have great practical value; in addition to valuable hides and ivory, in recent years the meat of wild hoofed animals—hippopotamuses, elephants, and antelopes inhabiting the preserves—has begun to be used. These animals are not fastidious in their diet; and the bites of the tsetse fly, which make it impossible to raise cattle of European varieties over one-quarter the area of Africa, do not affect them.

Natural regions. The vast dimensions and uniformity of topography result in a clear manifestation of geographical zonation in Africa. Because of the continent’s symmetrical location between the subtropics of the northern and southern hemispheres, geographical zones of subequatorial, tropical, and subtropical belts alternate successively to the north and south of the equatorial belt and zone; in East Africa the equatorial belt is wedged out because of climatic factors and is replaced by the subequatorial belt.

In North Africa, where moisture decreases from subtropical and subequatorial latitudes toward tropical latitudes, the zones stretch out latitudinally. In southern sections zones extend almost latitudinally only in interior regions; in the west and east, influenced by oceanic climates, they stretch meridionally along the coasts.

The equatorial geographic belt and zone take up the coast of the Gulf of Guinea and the depression of the Congo (6°N lat.-4°S lat.). In the equatorial zone, with its constantly hot, humid climate, the mean yearly index of aridity of about 0.5 has almost no seasonal fluctuation, which creates favorable conditions for the growth of humid evergreen forests and the formation of lateritic red-yellow soils. Biochemical weathering and solifluction processes (gravity-influenced slow creeping of soil) proceed actively here. Depth of drainage attains a maximum level: a dense network of constantly full rivers is formed. In the subequatorial belt (to 20°N lat. and 20°S lat.), the index of aridity rises toward the tropics to 2–2.5 and fluctuates appreciably with the seasons. In this belt lie the narrow zone of seasonally humid (deciduous-evergreen) forests and the broad zone of savannas, thin forests, and scrub with three subzones—humid, dry, and desert savannas with increasingly xerophytic formations of deciduous forests, thin forests, and scrub. In the latter zone, the process of laterization of the soil stratum weakens as aridity increases; soils change gradually from red to red-brown and reddish-brown; the depth of drainage decreases, its seasonal fluctuation becoming increasingly significant; and physical weathering becomes the main process in the dry season. The predominance of savannas in the Sudan and thin forests in southeastern and South Africa is a characteristic feature of zonal types of landscapes.

In the northern and southern tropical belts, the structure of geographic zonation is different. In the northern tropical belt, the index of aridity within the aridity range is everywhere over 3–3.5, which results in the exceptional development of the zone of deserts (primarily stony and clayey), which stretch across the entire belt from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea between 16–19°N lat. and 30°N lat. The volume of biomass of plant and animal organisms decreases sharply in the deserts, drainage becomes negligible and occasional, and the process of physical weathering proceeds very actively.

In the southern part of Africa, moisture in the tropics decreases from east-northeast to west-southwest; as a result, sector regularities are well expressed in the tropical belt. The zones of humid tropical forests and savannas stretch out in the eastern sector bordering on the ocean, where the index of aridity does not exceed 1–1.2; in the continental sector, where the index of aridity rises rapidly to 3, landscapes of the sub-zone of desert savannas and semideserts predominate. The zone of tropical deserts of South Africa lies almost entirely in the western sector on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, penetrating the heart of the continent only in the lower course of the Orange River.

In subtropical belts the index of aridity is high in interior regions (in zones of semideserts and deserts) but decreases in the outlying windward sections of the continent. In these sections, under conditions of winter precipitation and summer aridity, zones of Mediterranean landscapes prevail in the northwest and southwest, with forest and scrub landscapes found in the northwest and predominantly scrub landscapes in the southwest. In the outlying southeastern area of Africa, with the summer precipitation maximum, the zone of mon-soonal mixed forests becomes evident.

Large natural areas of Africa are marked by certain combinations of structural types of relief and zonal types of landscapes. These areas include the Atlas Mountains, the Sahara, the Sudan, the northern Guiñean elevation, the Ethiopian highlands, the Congo depression, East Africa, and South Africa. The Atlas Mountains are Hercynian-Alpine ranges framing vast intermontane hollows, with typically Mediterranean climate and landscapes on windward slopes and semideserts in arid interior regions. The Sahara is the greatest tropical desert on earth, primarily stony and clayey, with extremely sparse and primarily scrubby and grassy xerophytic vegetation. The Sudan, an area of flat savannas, has sharp changes in natural appearance depending on the seasons (summer moist and winter dry), resulting from changes in air masses in a climate of equatorial monsoons. The northern Guiñean elevation consists of horst-fault-block mountains and plateaus of the shelf of the African platform, with very moist southern windward slopes covered primarily with evergreen forests and drier northern slopes that manifest mixed and seasonally humid (monsoonal) forests and high-grass savannas. The Ethiopian highlands include the Danakil depression and the Somali peninsula. On the Ethiopian highlands, which are flooded with lava, belts of landscapes can be clearly traced, differing sharply on the moist western and dry eastern slopes; the tectonic Danakil depression is occupied by semideserts, whereas on the Somali peninsula evergreen forests (in the mountains of interior regions) give way to desert savannas and semideserts as a result of decreased moisture toward the Indian Ocean. The Congo depression is an interior syneclise of the platform lying in equatorial and (in the north and south) subequatorial climates, where the dominant landscapes are of humid evergreen and mixed forests turning into moist savannas on the periphery of the depression (in the north, west, and south). East Africa, a plateau broken by faults and ruptures, with areas flooded by lava, has the deepest lakes and the highest peaks. The climate is sub-equatorial (monsoon), even in equatorial latitudes. Landscapes of desert and typical savannas prevail in the northern section and thin forest in the south. South Africa is frequently called Little Africa, because all landscapes proper to the African continent except equatorial landscapes recur here. In addition to the outlying southern areas of the African platform with the Kalahari syneclise, the Hercynian Cape Mountains belong to South Africa. Because of decreased moisture from north to south and from east to west, thin forests and moist and typical savannas in the interior regions of South Africa give way to desert savannas, which occupy much of the Kalahari; semideserts and deserts (the Namib) stretch out in the outlying western area. In the eastern coastal depression and on the slopes of the Drakensberg Mountains there are moist savannas and humid-tropical and mountainous forests. In the Cape Mountains and in the outlying southeastern area of the continent (to 30°S lat.), subtropical evergreen scrub of Cape flora (in the southwest, where the climate is Mediterranean) and evergreen mixed forests (in the southeast, in a subtropical monsoon climate) are found.


The beginning of the study of Africa dates far back into antiquity. The coast of North Africa from the Suez Isthmus in the east to the Gulf of Sidra (Syrtis Major) in the west was known to the ancient Egyptians not later than the second millennium B.C. They traveled the Nile to the fifth cataract, crossed the Arabian and Nubian deserts, and penetrated the Libyan desert. In the sixth century B.C., Phoenicians (in Egyptian service) skirted all of Africa by sea, while in the fifth century B.C. the Carthaginian Hanno circled it on the west to the shores south of Cape Verde. During the period of Roman rule, from the second century B.C., fishermen from Cadiz (Spain) were continually sailing to the Canary Islands. Toward the middle of the first century A.D., Greek or Syrian navigators—subjects of the Roman Empire—sailed along the eastern coast of Africa to the island of Zanzibar. Indonesians were acquainted with the eastern shore of Africa from the first centuries A.D.; they discovered and colonized the island of Madagascar. During the Middle Ages, after the conquest of North Africa (seventh century A.D.), Arabs crossed the Sahara and Libyan deserts repeatedly in all directions, initiating the discovery of the Sénégal (lower reaches) and Niger (middle course) rivers, Lake Chad, and the left tributaries of the White Nile.

The familiarity of Europeans with the coast of Africa expanded as the Portuguese sought sea routes to India around Africa. The Portuguese gradually moved south throughout the 15th century. In 1441, Tristam Nuvo discovered Cape Blanc and in 1443–44 the coast of Mauritania, from which a large group of slaves was taken. A shameful age in history began: the era of the slave trade, which took many millions of human lives.

The mouth of the Sénégal River was reached in the course of the Lanzarote expeditions of 1445–46; at the same time, D. Diaz circled the western extremity of Africa, which he called Cape Verde. In 1471, Fernāo do Po discovered the island which bears his name, Fernando Póo. During 1482–86, D. Cam discovered the mouth of the Congo and the shores of Angola. In 1487, B. Dias was the first to round the Cape of Good Hope, and in 1497–98 Vasco da Gama, completing the discovery of the sea route to India, sailed along the eastern coast to Malindi (3°20’S lat.). In the 16th century the outlines of Africa were established. The Portuguese discovered the lower course of the Zambezi River in the 16th century. In the 17th century they discovered Lake Nyasa, the sources of the Blue Nile, and the Lugenda and Ruvuma rivers; they became acquainted with the lower course of the Congo and the western part of the Kasai Basin, and, further to the south, the Cuanza River. In the 18th century they penetrated to the heart of tropical Africa between Angola and Mozambique. In the 17th century the English investigated the Gambia River and the French, the Sénégal River. The Dutch, who had consolidated themselves in the south, moved north: in the 17—18th centuries they crossed the Cape Mountains, reaching the Great Karroo plateau and discovering the entire Orange River and its tributary, the Vaal; they reached the Kalahari in the north and the Drakensberg Mountains in the east. Interest in Africa increased in the late 18th and 19th centuries as a result of the striving of Western European capitalism to seize territories in order to exploit their natural resources and populations.

England and France engaged in the exploration of the African interior in order to extend their colonial expansion. In 1788 the English formed the Association for Promoting the Discovery of the Interior Parts of Africa, which organized a series of expeditions. Most of these were sent to the west, primarily to clarify the direction of the Niger River and its relation to the Nile, since up to this point it was believed that both rivers had a common source. The Scotsman M. Park (1795–97, 1805–06) reached the Niger from the west by the Gambia River. The English expedition led by W. Oud-ney, D. Denham, and H. Clapperton (1822–23) crossed the Sahara from Tripoli to Lake Chad, where Denham discovered the Shari River and from which the expedition reached the Niger through Sokoto. In 1825–26 Clapperton reached the Niger from the south. In 1830 his companion, the Englishman R. Lander, discovered the lower reaches and mouth of the Niger. West Africa was investigated by the Frenchmen G. Mollien (1818) and R. Caillié (1827–28), the Englishman A. Laing (1822–23), and others. In the first half of the 19th century the following areas in northeast Africa were explored: the basin of the Blue Nile by the French explorer F. Cailliaud and the Russian explorer E. P. Kovalevskii; the basin of the White Nile by the Frenchmen A. Linant de Bellefonds, D’Arnaud, and Sabatier and by the German F. Werne; and Ethiopia by the French brothers Antoine and Arnaud d’Abbadie and the Englishman C. Beke. In East Africa the German missionaries J. L. Krapf and J. Rebmann discovered Kenya and the mountains of Kilimanjaro (1848–49). The Englishmen R. F. Burton and J. Speke reached Lake Tanganyika in 1857–59, and in 1858 Speke discovered Lake Victoria. During 1860–63, Speke, together with J. Grant, continued his exploration and found the place where the Nile left Lake Victoria. In 1864, S. Baker discovered Lake Albert. North Africa, the Sahara, and the Sudan were explored in the second half of the 19th century by the German explorers H. Barth, G. Nachtigal, O. Lenz, and G. Rohlfs, the Frenchman P. Monteil, and the Russian explorer A. V. Eliseev. The Frenchman J. Tilho completed the exploration (1908–17) of the Central Sahara. After his work, the physical-geographical map of the Sahara had attained, on the whole, its present shape. More detailed study of the Sahara has continued up to the present.

Central Africa was explored (1849–73) by the English explorer D. Livingstone, who discovered Lake Ngami and the upper course of the Zambezi River and traveled from there into Angola; he then crossed Africa from west to east, tracing the course of the Zambezi to its mouth. Subsequently he explored Lakes Nyasa and Tanganyika and discovered Lakes Mweru and Bangweulu and also the Lualaba River— the upper reaches of the Congo (taking it for a tributary of the Nile). In 1873–75 the Englishman V. L. Cameron crossed Africa from east to west, discovering the Lukuga River, which flows out of Lake Tanganyika; he investigated vast territories in the southern Congo basin.

The transition of capitalism into its imperialist stage was accompanied by particularly intensive seizures of new colonies. The number of expeditions into Central Africa grew each year. In 1874 an Anglo-American expedition led by H. M. Stanley was organized to complete the exploration of Central Africa. In 1875–77, Stanley completed the exploration of Lakes Victoria and Tanganyika. He discovered the Ruwenzori mountain massif and Lake Edward and went downstream along the Lualaba-Congo rivers to the mouth, proving decisively that the Lualaba was the upper part of the Congo, unconnected with the Nile. He discovered the Kagera River, which is now generally considered the upper reaches of the Nile.

During 1875–80 the Frenchman P. Savorgnan de Brazza explored the basin of the Ogowé River and the right-bank region of the lower Congo. During 1884–86 the German G. Wissman explored the basin of the Kasai River, and during 1884–86 the Englishman G. Grenfell explored most of the navigable tributaries of the Congo in its middle course (including the lower reaches of the Ubangi River). From 1868 to 1871 the German explorer G. Schweinfurth studied the basin of the Bahr el Ghazal River and, crossing the watershed between the Nile and the Congo, discovered the Uele River. Subsequently the basin of the Bahr el Ghazal, the Nile-Congo watershed, and the basin of the Uele were investigated in detail by the Russian explorer W. Junker (1876–78 and 1879–86). His work was supplemented by the Belgian A. van Gèle (1886–90), who established definitively that the Uele is the upper reaches of the Ubangi River. The Portuguese A. A. Serpa Pinto (1877–79), H. de Brito Capelo, and R. Ivens (1877–79 and 1884–85) investigated interior regions of Angola, the basin of the Cubango River, and the Kafue River and crossed Africa from west to east.

The study of South Africa began after the British conquered Cape Land (1795). The first explorer was the Englishman J. Barrow. The German explorer M. H. Lichten-stein described the country of the Karroo and the region of the Kaffirs. In 1835 the Englishman A. Smith visited the Limpopo River, and in 1868 the Englishman S. Erskine sailed down its major tributary, the Olifants; in 1870, J. F. Elton (also English) sailed the entire river and established the direction of its flow.

The four geographical problems connected with the main rivers of Africa—the Niger, Nile, Congo, and Zambezi— were solved in the 19th century, thanks to the work of a number of explorers. The map of Africa was covered by a network of the itineraries of the voyages. Exploration in Africa also revealed rich possibilities for the exploitation of the continent’s natural resources. In the 1870’s, societies for the study of Africa arose in a number of countries and organized many expeditions there. The investigations of Africa by many bourgeois scholars were frequently dictated not so much by scientific as by political-economic and strategic purposes.

Important materials on the results of the investigation of the natural features and economy of most of the countries of Africa were accumulated in the first half of the 20th century. Summary works were published dealing with the general geography and individual aspects of natural features or resources, both for the continent as a whole and for particular areas of Africa.


One-fifth of humanity lived in Africa in the middle of the 17th century, but from that time on the protracted rule of slave traders and European colonizers brought about both a relative and an absolute decline in the number of inhabitants. In 1940, Africa accounted for 8 percent of the world’s population. Following World War II, the population of Africa increased more rapidly than that of the earth as a whole; in 1967, Africa’s population was 40 percent over the 1940 level, mainly because of social transformations, improvements in medical services, and a certain decrease in the mortality rate in those countries that had achieved independence. The African population went from 164 million in 1930 to 191 million in 1940, 222 million in 1950, 278 million in 1960, 311 million in 1965, and 328 million in 1967.

Anthropological composition. The basic population of Africa belongs to several different races. North of the Sahara flourishes the Indo-Mediterranean race (Arabs, Berbers) belonging to the Europoid race. South of the Sahara live representatives of the great Equatorial (Negro-Australoid) race, the peoples of the Negro, Negrito, and Bushman types. The Negro people predominate, characterized by dark skin color, strongly expressed curliness of hair, thick lips, broad nose, appreciable prognathism, and tallness. The Negritos (Pygmies of Central Africa) differ from the former in their lighter skin color, much smaller stature, more highly developed tertiary hair cover, and thinner lips. The Bushman (South African) racial type (Bushmen and Hottentots) is characterized by yellowish-brown skin pigmentation, average height, a narrower nose than that of Negroes, and a flattened nose bridge and sometimes by an epicanthic fold. Ethiopia and the Somali peninsula are inhabited by peoples of the Ethiopic (East African) race, a race occupying an intermediary position between the Equatorial and Europoid races. They are distinguished by a narrow face, quite narrow and protruding nose, slight prognathism, moderately thick lips, slight or medium beard growth, hair less curly than that of Negroes, skin coloration ranging from light brown to dark chocolate, and more than medium stature. The population of the island of Madagascar is made up of southern Asian and Negroid components.


Ethnic composition. The population of Africa is quite complex in its ethnic makeup. Both the ethnic and the linguistic variety was intensified by colonization, which dismembered historical-cultural and linguistic zones of related peoples into a large number of colonial possessions, thereby predetermining the multinational composition of the population of the present-day independent states. There are great differences in the level of social development of the peoples of Africa: ranging from clan-organized groups (Bushmen) to major peoples with fully formed feudal relations (Hausa, Kanuri, Fulbe, and others) and nations of many millions (Algerians, Tunisians, and others). The development of nation-forming processes is intimately bound up with the overall sociopolitical and economic development of society. The anticolonialist and anti-imperialist struggle, furthering the growth of national consciousness, accelerates processes of national consolidation considerably, but most African peoples have yet to constitute themselves as nations. Alongside progressive trends expressed in different peoples coming closer together within the confines of a modern African state, there are countervailing trends toward separation and isolation into distinct ethnic groups. The struggle between these conflicting trends exerts a great influence on the course of the national and socioeconomic development of African countries.

Africa can be divided into four main regions according to the ethnic composition of the population (figures below are given according to 1967 population estimates).

The first major region includes countries of North and to a partial extent Northeast Africa with a more or less homogeneous ethnic composition of the population—Arabs, Berbers, and other peoples speaking related languages belonging to the Hamito-Semitic family. This language family (total number of speakers over 120 million, or 37.4 percent of the population of the continent) encompasses the Semitic (83.7 million speakers), Cushitic (about 12.7 million), and Berber (5.8 million) groups, as well as the Hausa (18 million). The Arabic language is particularly widespread. Arab nations have been formed in a number of countries (United Arab Republic, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco). The Ethiopian nation, the nucleus of which is constituted by the Amhara (about 12 million speakers of Amharic), has formed itself in Ethiopia; this process has also involved neighboring Semitic-speaking peoples (Gurage, Tigrinya, Tigre), as well as the Galla and Sidama, who speak languages belonging to the Cushitic group. Also in the Cushitic group is the language of the Somalis, who inhabit the Somali Republic.

The second major region, the countries of the Western, Central, and Eastern Sudan, is populated predominantly by Negroid peoples, who differ both in degree of social development and culture and in languages, which are divided among several special linguistic families and groups: Hausa (Hausa proper, Bura, Mandara, Bata, and others), about 18 million; the Eastern Bantoid group (Tiv, Bamileke, Tikar, and others), over 5.6 million; the Central Bantoid, or Gur, group (Mossi, Grussi, Senufo, and others), about 9.4 million; the Atlantic, or Western Bantoid, group (Fulbe, Wolof, Serer, and others), 15.6 million; Songhai, over 1 million; Mande (Malinké, Bam-bara, Soninke, Mende, and others), 8.7 million; the Guinea group (Kru Akan, Ewe, Yoruba, Ibo, and others), over 38 million; Kanuri, 3.2 million; the Nilotic group (Dinka, Nuer, Joluo, Masai, Nuba, and others), about 10 million speakers; and others.

The third major region, Equatorial Africa, is a region over which peoples speaking Bantu languages are disseminated (83 million speakers, about 25 percent of the total population of Africa). The Bantu include peoples differing in origin, in anthropological type, and in culture. The largest of these groups are the Banyaruanda, 5.6 million (the republic of Rwanda and adjoining countries), Barundi, 3.8 million (the republic of Burundi and elsewhere); Malawi, 4.8 million (the republic of Malawi and elsewhere); Bakongo, 3.2 million; Baluba, 2.8 million; Mongo (Zaïre); Kikuyu, 3 million; Balu-hya, 2.9 million (Kenya and elsewhere); Swahili (Wa-Swahili), 1.5 million; and others. The affinity between the Bantu languages contributes to a closer mingling of these peoples.

South Africa, the fourth major region, is an area of massive European colonization. Under the influence of the colonization and of the rapid development of capitalist relations, the course of ethnic processes in the Republic of South Africa (and to a partial extent also in Rhodesia) has acquired a special and deformed character; the Bushman and Hottentot tribes were driven into the arid steppes of the Kalahari, while peoples speaking Bantu languages (Xhosa, Zulu, and others) were forced out of the lands they occupied and were partially resettled by force on reserves; the racist policy of apartheid pursued in the Republic of South Africa plays a special role in the deformation of the ethnic process. Speakers of a language belonging to the Indonesian group of the Malayo-Polynesian language family, the Malagasy (6.5 million), live on the island of Madagascar (Malagasy Republic).

The populations of European origin—English, Afrikaners (Boers), French, and others—constitute less than 2.5 percent of the population of Africa. Many emigrants from India and Pakistan and their descendants live in the Republic of South Africa, in Kenya, and on the island of Mauritius.

The peoples of Africa profess various religions (1961–62 numerical data). In Morocco, Algeria, the United Arab Republic, Mauretania, Sudan, and Somali, Islam predominates; it is adhered to by almost 40 percent of the population of Africa (there are also many Muslims in Kenya, Senegal, the Republic of Guinea, Mali, and elsewhere). Local traditional cults and religions, adhered to by about 37 percent of the population, flourish in Equatorial Africa (in Liberia, Upper Volta, the Central African Republic, Ghana, and elsewhere). Over 21 percent of the total population of Africa are Christians. Those in Ethiopia are followers of the Monophysite church. Different Christian missions (Protestant, Catholic, and others) are active in many countries in Africa. A small portion of the population professes Hinduism (0.4 percent) or Judaism (0.2 percent).


Demography. The natural movement of the population in Africa is characterized by a high birthrate and a high death rate (respectively 46 and 23 per 1,000 habitants per year over the period 1960 through 1966) and a short average life span (35 to 45 years).

Because of the specific features of the age structure of the population (persons 15 years or younger constitute about 40 percent of all Africans), unemployment, and the low relative number of women engaged in social production, the fraction of the economically active population in Africa is low. The labor resources are used inefficiently because of the preponderance of archaic small-scale production and low level of skills of most of the workers (over two-thirds of the adult population are illiterate). Over 75 percent of the economically active population is engaged in agriculture and less than 10 percent in industry, reflecting the agrarian nature of the economy.

The mean population density in Africa is 11 persons per sq km, which is 2.5 times lower than the mean density of the world generally. Enormous areas occupied by the Sahara, Namib, and Kalahari deserts and by humid tropical forests are sparsely populated. In contrast to Eurasia, in Africa many of the elevated regions are settled more densely than the lowlands and valleys of the large rivers, where natural conditions are often less favorable for living and for human social and productive activities. One exception is the fertile valley of the Nile—the most thickly populated part of Africa—where population density reaches a level of 400 to 600 persons per sq km. About 40 percent of the population of Africa lives at heights above 500 m above sea level. The relatively high population density (over 25 persons per sq km) on the littoral of the Maghreb countries (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya), on the northern shores of the Gulf of Guinea, and on some islands is accounted for mainly by the concentration of the agricultural population. Even higher density is found in the mining districts of the Republic of South Af-frica, Zambia, and Southern Rhodesia and in southeastern Zaïre.

Over three-fourths of the population of Africa live in village communities. Agricultural settlements in the various countries of Africa are distinguished by great variety in number of inhabitants, in planning of settlements, and in the nature and patterning of the buildings (large villages in the savanna belt, small settlements and isolated dwelling places in the tropical forest belt, and so on). About a million people lead a nomadic or seminomadic life, engaging in cattle raising, in the desert regions in the north and northeast of Africa. Intensive migration of the population from agricultural localities to the cities is under way in Africa. In 1930, Africa had 17 cities with over 100,000 inhabitants each, but in 1965 there were over 100 such cities, accounting for over 10 percent of the entire population. Four cities—Cairo, Alexandria, Casablanca, and Johannesburg—each have over a million inhabitants. In countries with a relatively higher level of economic development (Republic of South Africa, United Arab Republic, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia), the proportion of urban population reaches 35 to 50 percent. Less than 20 percent of the population lives in cities in most of the other African countries. Cities in Africa fulfill trade and administrative functions for the most part; there are few typically industrial centers. Most city dwellers engage in agricultural occupations.


Study of the history of Africa has been very uneven. While the history of the countries of North Africa, and Egypt in particular, has been investigated comparatively fully, the history of the peoples living south of the Sahara is little known. This can be explained primarily by the lack of a written language among these peoples: the written sources of only the Songhai, Hausa, Swahili, and Nuba have survived. In the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries, research on the countries of tropical Africa was conducted primarily by the scholars of England, France, and Germany—that is, chiefly by those countries which held colonies in Africa. In many of these works, the history of Africa is reduced to a description of geographical discoveries of the African continent and colonial seizures of African territories. At the same time, it was insistently claimed that the peoples of Africa did not have their own history. By this method, bourgeois historical science attempted to justify, to some extent, the system of colonialism and colonial oppression. As the liberation movement developed and independent states were created in Africa, there began a revision of the previous notions of the development of the peoples of Africa, especially tropical Africa. The true age-old history of Africa is being reconstructed. The works of African scholars, African specialists of socialist countries, and progressive scholars of Western European states serve this end.

The earliest period of the history of Africa. Thanks to the research on the African continent by archaeologists and paleoanthropologists in the 1950’s and 1960’s, many new and unexpected discoveries were made. Thus, in the Olduvai Gorge, not far from Lake Eyasi in Tanzania, East Africa, the English scholar L. Leakey discovered bone remains of humanoid beings (Zinjanthropus and Prezinjanthropus) along with very primitive work implements. According to Leakey’s data, these beings lived about 2 million years ago. Remains of apelike ancestors of man were also found in Kenya, in certain regions of North Africa, and in the Sahara. These discoveries are the basis for the opinion of many specialists that Africa was the cradle of humanity. In any case, the assertion of the French anthropologist C. Arambourg is an accurate one: “Africa is the only region of the world where there is evidence of all stages of the development of man—Australopithecus, Pithecanthropus, Neanderthal, and contemporary man— consecutively and without interruption, and where they were found with implements from earliest times down to the Neolithic.” Implements of the early Paleolithic were found in many regions of Africa. Later, as a consequence of the change in climate and the formation of the Sahara desert, differences developed between the countries of North Africa and all the rest of the African continent. Cultures of all stages of development of the Stone Age have been found in North Africa.

Archaeological cultures in the tropical forest region have special features and are distinguished from the cultures of the savannas of East and South Africa. The chronological sequence and dissemination of stone implements which characterize the different cultures have not yet been established definitively.

By the end of the 15th century A.D., almost all the peoples of Africa were familiar with the working of iron, the only exception being the Bushmen in South Africa, the Pygmy tribes in the tropical forests of the basins of the Congo and Ogooue rivers, and the people of the island of Fernando Póo—all of whom still used stone implements. The question of the appearance of the techniques of metalworking in Africa has not yet been fully resolved. In the early 20th century, the German ethnographer and anthropologist F. Luschan expressed the opinion that the peoples of Africa discovered iron metallurgy independently. His theory was supported by a number of scholars. However, the French historian R. Moni, the English archaeologist A. Arkell, and others believe that the peoples of Africa borrowed the method of ironwork-ing from Southwest Asia (either through Carthage or through Meroe).

Rock drawings are a remarkable source for ferreting out the earliest history of Africa. The earliest of these date to the sixth, and perhaps the eighth, millennium B.C. Paintings and petroglyphs have been discovered in different sections of the Sahara, in mountain regions of Ethiopia, in Tanzania, in Rhodesia, in South Africa, in the Drakensberg Mountains, and also in South West Africa. The study of the rock drawings found in the Sahara demonstrated that it was already inhabited by this period: tribes of hunters, and later cattle raisers, lived here. Drawings of horses harnessed to chariots date to the middle of the second millennium B.C. Gradually, as the Sahara dried up, the connection between North Africa and the countries of the Western Sudan and tropical Africa was broken.

In the most ancient period of the history of the peoples of Africa, the separation which exists now between the cultures of the peoples of North Africa and the peoples inhabiting Africa south of the Sahara was not evident. Apparently the earliest population of the Sahara was Negroid; however, with the appearance of cattle raising, peoples of the Mediterranean and Ethiopian races penetrated the Sahara. According to the testimony of the Greek historian Herodotus (fifth century B.C.), tribes of “white and dark Ethiopians” lived in Libya, that is, within the boundaries of what is now the northern part of the Sahara.

Ancient history of Africa. The ancient Egyptian state took shape in the valley of the Nile in the fourth millennium B.C. The foundations of its culture were African, but in its subsequent development the culture of ancient Egypt became increasingly separate from that of the rest of Africa, and its history became ever more closely interwoven with that of Southwest Asia and the Mediterranean Sea. The countries west of Egypt were settled by Libyan tribes: light-haired, called by the Egyptians Temehu, and those with dark hair and complexions, the Tehenu. Mention of the Rebu (or Lebu) tribes appeared later; this was the origin of the Greek name of the population of North Africa, the Libyans. Apparently, tribal unions developed as early as the 13th century B.C. among the Libyans. They participated in the campaigns of the “peoples of the sea” against Egypt in the 13th and 12th centuries B.C. It is probable that the state of the Garamantes, with its capital at Garama, now the oasis of Djerma (Libya), arose at this time. The Phoenicians first made their appearance on the shores of North Africa in the 12th century B.C. One of the colonies they founded—Carthage—became a powerful state. A mixed Libyan-Phoenician population gradually formed here. Nomadic tribes of cattle raisers roamed outside the boundaries of Carthage’s possessions, and farmers lived in the mountains of the Tell. Greek colonies (Cyrene, Naukratis, and others) were founded in coastal regions of North Africa in the seventh century B.C.. In the third century B.C. the states of Numidia and Mauritania took shape. After the destruction of Carthage (146 B.C.) Rome annexed North Africa. In the fifth century A.D. North Africa was invaded by the Vandals; subsequently it was conquered by Byzantium.

South of the ancient Egyptian state and within the boundaries of Nubia, the valley of the Nile was settled in the third millennium B.C. by peoples whom the Egyptians called Nekhsi—tribes apparently of the Ethiopian race. In the second millennium B.C. the Cush state took shape on the territory of what is today the Democratic Republic of Sudan. The rulers of Cush conquered Egypt in the eighth century B.C.: their reign is known as the 25th (Ethiopian) Dynasty. Driven out of Egypt in the seventh century B.C. by the Assyrians, they transferred their capital to Napata, and then to the south, to Meroe. The state with its center at Meroe survived for about 1,000 years and was destroyed in the fourth century B.C. by the troops of Ezana, the ruler of the state of Aksum, which probably arose as early as the middle of the first millennium B.C. on what are now the northern provinces of Ethiopia. Study of the ethnography of the peoples of Ethiopia testifies to the local, African origin of the culture of the Aksum state. Hence, the previous opinion that the Aksum state and its entire culture were created only by Saudi Arabian conquerors, the Sabaean tribes, has become controversial.

The history of Africa in the Middle Ages. During the seventh and eighth centuries, Egypt and all of North Africa were conquered by the Arabs and brought into the Arabic Caliphate. Feudal relations were dominant in the Caliphate: requisitions and taxes were imposed on the peasantry. The Arabic language, which became the language of religion (Islam), record-keeping, and trade, gradually drove out local languages, although the process was quite slow, lasting until the 14th century. The tax oppression and the requisitions demanded by the administration of the Caliphate evoked protest from the local population, taking the form of numerous uprisings. In the middle of the eighth century, a powerful uprising developed among peasants and nomads, putting an end to the rule of the Omayyad caliphs in the central Maghreb and leading to the creation of local Kharijite state-communes in Northwest Africa (Tahert, Sijilmassa, and others). However, after the formation of the Abbasid Caliphate, much of the Maghreb remained under the power of the caliphs. In the eighth century, Morocco, where the Idrisid Arabic dynasty was enthroned, and Tunisia, in which the vicegerents of the Baghdad caliphs, the Aghlabids, founded an independent dynasty, were set apart from the Caliphate. In the tenth century the Aghlabids were overthrown and the Fatimid state was established as a result of an uprising by nomads and the poor in Tunisia. Suppressing an uprising in the Maghreb, the Fatimids conquered Egypt in 969.

In the 11th century the countries of the Maghreb were subjected to invasion by the Arabic bedouin tribes, the Beni-Sulaim and Beni-Hilal. On the one hand the invasions were accompanied by great destruction and economic decline, and on the other hand by mass settlements of Arab nomads and the acceleration of Arabization of the local population. In the middle of the 11th century, the western part of the Maghreb was conquered by Berber nomads, who founded the Al-moravid states on what is today Morocco and the western part of Algeria. Insurgent settled Berber tribes overthrew the Al-moravids in the 12th century. Their leaders founded the state of the Almohads, which disintegrated into three feudal states in the 13th century (the Ziyanids in Algeria, the Marinids in Morocco, and the Hafsids in Tunisia). In Egypt, the Ayyubids seized power after the fall of the Fatimids; the Mameluke state was founded in Egypt in the 13th century. In the early 16th century Egypt was conquered by the Ottoman Empire, which somewhat later came to include Libya, Algeria, and Tunisia.

The conquest of Egypt by the Arabs separated Nubia from the Mediterranean Sea. The Christian states of Dongola, Mukurra, and Alwa existed on the territory of Nubia from the seventh to the 16th centuries. During the 13th and 14th centuries, Islam gradually began to spread among the population of these states as a result of Arabic colonization. The feudal state of Sennar, whose main agricultural population was gradually Arabized, formed in the valley of the Nile in the 16th century. After the Arabic conquest, Aksum found itself cut off from the Mediterranean. Subsequently, the small feudal principalities of Tigré, Amhara, and others, which fought among themselves, arose on the basis of the Aksum state. The Kaffa state (whose history has been little studied) existed in southern Ethiopia.

The history of the countries of western Sudan up to the seventh century is known only by local legends and by historical chronicles compiled in Timbuktu in the 15th century. Greek and Roman geographers and historians report only about the inhabitants of the northern part of the Sahara. The first reliable information about the countries of the Sudan starting with the seventh century comes from Arab travelers. Around this time, the regions of the Sudan adjacent to the Sahara (the Arabs called them Sahel, that is, “the coast”) were the site of continuous trade between the nomads of the Sahara and the agricultural population of the Sudan. The nomadic Tuaregs and Berber and Arabic tribes came to the Sudan for grain, fabrics, and other goods, bringing for exchange salt, hides, and cattle. This trade in goods was the basis for the flowering of the trade centers of the ancient Sudan; they were located in the strip of the Sahel and the savannas on the trade routes which led south. One of the best-known medieval states of Africa, Aukar (Ghana, from the fourth century), arose here in the first centuries A.D. The possessions of Ghana stretched from Senegal to the middle course of the Niger and included countries rich in gold. Until the discovery of America, gold going to Europe came from Africa, primarily from western Sudan, the regions of Bambuk and Wangara, and certain areas of the basin of the Upper Volta. The Arabic written language began to spread in the Sudan in the eighth century, and the states of the Sudan began to gain access to Arabic culture. The rulers of Ghana adopted Islam in the 11th century. Another center of culture in western Sudan was the state of Kanem-Bornu (which arose about the ninth century on the northeastern shore of Lake Chad). After the disintegration of the state of Ghana, the state of Mali formed in its southern regions. During the 15th and 16th centuries, the entire middle area of the course of the Niger River from Bussa in the east to Djenné in the west was united by the rulers of the Songhai state. Around this time, the large trading cities of Walata, Djenné, Mopti, Timbuktu, and others arose in the area of the Sahel. Agriculture, crafts, and trade flourished in the Sudan, and a distinctive architecture developed. The Hausa city-states, the main ones being Kano, Katsina, Zaria, Gobir, and Daura, played a large role in the history of the Sudan. The development of the culture of the peoples of western Sudan was interrupted by the Moroccan conquest. The army of the Moroccan sultan Ahmad al-Mansur al-Zahabi (1578–1603) crossed the Sahara, reached the Niger, and in 1591 routed the Songhai army in the battle at Tondibi. Anarchy set in, leading to the disintegration of the Songhai state. Later, the states of the Bambara (Ségou and others), Fulani (Fouta Toro, Fouta Dallon, Macina, Sokoto) and other peoples arose in the Sudan.

The history of the countries of the Guiñean coast is known primarily from local historical traditions and, from the 15th century, from the reports of European explorers. Apparently, the earliest center of culture in this part of Africa was the central region of what is today Nigeria, where archaeologists have discovered the Nok culture (first millennium B.C.) which had earliest traces of the use of iron.

The city-states of Ile-Ife, llorin, Ibadan, and others arose on the territory settled by the Yoruba. The Benin state formed at the mouth of the Niger (the southern part of present-day Nigeria). Numerous small states existed on the upper Guiñean coast.

The tribal structure survived in greater measure among the peoples of Central Africa than in the Sudan. Matrilineal calculation of kinship norms predominated among many peoples of West Africa, while patrilineal calculation predominated in East and South Africa.

In many respects the history of Central Africa in the Middle Ages is not yet clear. It is known that there were migrations of peoples in the basin of the Congo River in the 15th and 16th centuries. By the time of the appearance of the Portuguese, there were states and tribal unions here—Congo, Lunda, Ndonga, and others, as well as the Bushongo, whose history can be traced to the 12th century. In the Zambezi-Limpopo interfluvial area, the Monomotapa state formation existed earlier (the exact date of its establishment has not been determined; it existed until 1693). The walls of large fortress structures and terraces which have been found and the traces of smelting furnaces and mines testify to the comparatively high level of cultural development of the population of this region. Copper, tin, and gold were extracted here. The rulers of Monomotapa conducted trade with Arabia, India, and China. All over the coast of East Africa there were cities which participated in the sea trade on the Indian Ocean. The most important ones were Sofala, Kilwa, Lamu, Mombasa, and Zanzibar. Local African traditions lay at the base of the cultures of this part of Africa, but these cultures experienced influence as well from Arabic, Persian, and Indian cultures.

Traces of large settlements (Engaruka) and also remains of terraces which stretch for dozens of kilometers have been found on the territory of the present-day republics of Tanzania and Kenya. The origin and dating of these structures have not yet been clarified.

The history of the states of the Interlacustrine area— Buganda, Bunyoro (Unyoro), Ruanda, Burundi, Nkole, and others—is known for the most part from local legends. Their origin is tied to the name of the legendary hero Kitara, the founder of the state of the same name; it is possible that it is bound up with the invasion of the regions of the Great Lakes of Africa by Nilotic tribes. Study of the history of the states of the Interlacustrine region shows that they all had some feudal features. The Imerina state took shape in the central regions of the island of Madagascar around the 14th century. Feudal relations developed here toward the beginning of modern times, combining features characteristic of feudalism in the Orient with elements characteristic of feudal relations in Western Europe.

The enslavement of the African states by the European powers, the beginning of which is tied to the development of the capitalist mode of production in Europe, was the main reason for the lag in development of the African peoples. The slave trade brought incalculable misery to the peoples of Africa. Africa was turned into a “warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins” (see K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 23, p. 760). The profits drawn from the exploitation of the mineral and human resources of Africa were one of the fundamental sources for the primary accumulation of capital in European countries.

Portugal was the first European state to engage in the slave trade (15th century). In the second half of the 16th century, England and then Holland, France, and Denmark joined in; later the USA participated. The consequences of the slave trade were the degradation of the economy and desolation of vast regions of Africa, the decline in culture, and the physical annihilation or exportation to the plantations of the East and West Indies of an enormous number of Africans.

The history of Africa in modern times. The middle of the 17th century was a notable boundary in the history of Africa. The dimensions of the slave trade expanded; trading companies engaged in supplying America with slaves from Africa grew stronger. By some calculations (for example, those of W. Du Bois), the slave trade took away about 100 million people from Africa—abducted, killed during the hunts for slaves, and perished in transit. Over the course of several centuries, the slave trade drained the blood of Africa and hastened the decline of the states existing in West Africa—the main region of the slave trade; it subsequently facilitated the partitioning of Africa by European powers.

The gradual decline in the military and political power of the Ottoman Empire led to the formation, at the turn of the 18th century, of a number of semi-independent Arabic states in northern Africa. Power in these states was held by local feudal lords, such as the deys in Algeria, the Husainites in Tunisia, and the Karamanli in Tripoli. A local sharif dynasty ruled in Morocco from the 15th century.

In the 19th century, regular armies were established, factories built, and schools opened in the Arabic countries of Africa, especially in Egypt. Under Muhammad Ali the Egyptians conquered eastern Sudan. Their trading and military expeditions moved upstream along the White Nile and Blue Nile. Tunisia and Tripoli sent trade caravans to the central Sudan. However, the Arabic countries of Africa themselves became the object of European expansion. From 1798 to 1801 Egypt was subjected to the invasion of Napoleon’s troops. The French landed in Algiers in 1830, and by the middle of the 19th century, after suppressing the stubborn resistance of the Algerian tribes (such as Abd al-Kadir’s uprising), they conquered the country.

Ethiopia, which in the early 17th century with the aid of Portuguese troops repulsed the attacks of the Ottoman Turks and then drove out the Portuguese as well, was isolated from the outside world for several centuries. By the early 19th century, it had in effect disintegrated into individual principalities. The country was reunited only in the middle of the 19th century by the emperor Theodore II (who ruled from 1855 to 1868).

In the central Sudan, the Bornu state fell into decline, but in the 18th century the feudal sultanates of Ouaddaï and Baguirmi became stronger. In the early 19th century, the Hausa city-states were unified into the Sokoto sultanate as a result of the uprising of Usman Dan Fodio. A number of Fulani principalities took shape in central Cameroon.

The states of the Guiñean coast began to flourish at the end of the 17th century. The Ashanti state (present-day Ghana) was one of the most powerful of these. The small Abomey principality was transformed into the powerful Dahomey state starting in the early 18th century. The social structure of the states of the Guiñean coast has been little studied; apparently feudal relations formed here. Since the Guiñean coast was one of the main regions for the slave trade, the slave-owning system played an appreciable role in the life of the states of this region. Notable among the Yoruba states was Oyo (the territory of present-day Nigeria).

For the states of the basin of the Congo, the 17th to 19th centuries were a period of profound decline. Certain of the states of the Interlacustrine region—Kitara, Buganda, Ruanda, and Burundi—were flourishing by the 19th century. The social structure of these states had some of the features of feudalism; however, slave-owning developed in Buganda, whereas it was virtually nonexistent in Burundi and Ruanda.

The early-feudal state of the Barotse people existed along the middle and upper courses of the Zambezi River in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Imerina state consolidated in the middle part of Madagascar from the end of the 18th century; by the middle of the 19th century it had subjugated the entire island and transformed it into the centralized feudal Madagascar state.

In extreme southern Africa, the Dutch East India Company founded the Cape Colony as early as 1652; Afrikaners (Boers) began to settle there. It gradually seized the lands of the Bushmen, the Hottentots, and, from the end of the 18th century, the southern Bantu as well. England seized the Cape Colony at the turn of the 19th century. Some of the Boers, abandoning the colony, established the republic of Natal in the 1830’s on territory taken from the Zulus. After the English took Natal as well in 1843, the Boers founded the republics of Transvaal (1856) and the Orange Free State (Orange Republic, 1854) on lands seized from the Bechuana and Basuto peoples. The peoples of South Africa staunchly resisted the colonialists. The Zulus, led by Shaka (born about 1787; died 1828), created a strong army. Led by Dingaan (died 1843), they waged a stubborn struggle against the inroads of the Boers in the 1830’s. The Basuto, led by Moshesh (1790’s-1870), waged a strenuous struggle against the colonialists. In 1868 Moshesh was forced to recognize a British protectorate.

The last quarter of the 19th century—the period of capitalism’s transition into its imperialist stage—saw the beginning of a tremendous “boom in colonial conquests, when the struggle for the territorial division of the world becomes extraordinarily sharp” (V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 27, p. 375). One of the most important objects of colonial expansion was Africa. Whereas one-tenth of the territory of Africa had been seized by 1876, by 1900 some nine-tenths of the territory had been taken.

At the end of the 19th century, England was preparing plans to establish a continuous strip of possessions from Cairo to Cape Town (it succeeded in realizing these plans only after World War I, 1914–18) and to annex the most economically valuable regions of West Africa. Egypt was accorded an important place in these plans. The English imperialists invaded Egypt in July 1882, and in September of that year English troops occupied the Egyptian capital. While remaining formally in the Ottoman Empire, Egypt was in fact transformed into an English colony; in 1914 England proclaimed its transition to a British protectorate.

England’s penetration into eastern Sudan proceeded simultaneously with its expansion into Egypt. A powerful anticolonial uprising erupted in eastern Sudan in 1881, in the course of which an independent Sudanese state was formed. England renewed military actions against the Sudan only in 1896. In 1898, Omdurman, the capital of the Sudanese state, was seized, and the Sudanese army was crushed. In 1899 the new colony was formally declared a condominium (joint possession) of Great Britain and Egypt; in fact, the English held sway there.

England waged predatory wars in West Africa as well (on the territory of present-day Ghana and Nigeria). In East Africa, the English received a “concession” from the sultan of Zanzibar to part of his continental possessions (on the territory of present-day Kenya) in 1887; in 1890 Zanzibar fell into the sphere of English domination. In 1894 a British protectorate was established over Buganda. Later, Buganda and a number of other small states (Nkole, Toro, Bunyoro) became part of the British protectorate of Uganda. In 1888 agents of the British South Africa Company, founded by C. Rhodes, obtained “concessions” from Lobengula, the ruler of the Matabele people, to exploit minerals, and in the early 1890’s the company seized the territories of the Matabele and Mashona, calling them Southern Rhodesia. In the early 1890’s, this company also seized vast regions of the left bank of the Zambezi, including the land of the Barotse; subsequently these regions were called Northern Rhodesia. With the aid of this company, England seized territories west of Lake Nyasa in the 1890’s and established the protectorate of Nyasaland. In 1885, England drove the Boers out of the territory of the Bechuana tribes in South Africa, which the Boers had invaded; the English annexed part of these lands to the Cape Colony and pronounced the rest its protectorate, calling it the protectorate of Bechuanaland.

In the course of the Anglo-Boer War of 1899–1902, England seized the territories of the Boer republics—Transvaal and the Orange Republic. In 1910 these territories were joined with the English Cape Colony and Natal, to form the dominion of the British Empire called the Union of South Africa.

France also established a great colonial empire in Africa. By the 1870’s it held Algeria in North Africa. In 1881 it seized Tunisia. In the early 20th century France invaded Morocco. Much of this country became a French protectorate in 1912; the rest, a protectorate of Spain. France seized vast territories in West and Equatorial Africa. In 1895 it took over the island of Madagascar and in 1896 proclaimed it a French colony. In the 1880’s and 1890’s, France embarked on the expansion of its colonial holdings in West Africa, using as its base the old French colony of Senegal, which had been founded in the 17th century.

Germany, imposing “treaties” on the leaders of certain African tribes, annexed vast territories on the eastern coast of Africa in 1884 (calling them German East Africa). Germany held considerable territory in southwestern Africa (German South West Africa); in the west, Togo and Kame-run became its colonies.

Italy also participated in the partition of Africa: as early as the 1860’s it seized the region of the Bay of Assab. In 1890, Italian holdings were unified in the colony of Eritrea. In 1895, Italy started military actions against Ethiopia without a declaration of war, but after Italian forces were routed at Aduwa on Mar. 1, 1896, Italy was forced to recognize the independence of Ethiopia. Along with England and France, Italy participated in the partition of the Somali peninsula. Italy seized Libya as a result of its war with Turkey in 1911–12.

Portugal and Spain annexed a number of territories in Africa. From 1879 to 1884 the so-called International Association of the Congo, headed by the Belgian king Leopold II, seized territory in the basin of the Congo River. In 1908 the Congo officially became a Belgian colony.

By the start of World War I, only two African states remained juridically independent: Ethiopia, weakened by wars and internecine conflicts of the feudal nobility, and Liberia, which was under the influence of the USA. The remaining countries were colonial possessions of the European powers. The British Empire included the dominion of the Union of South Africa, Northern and Southern Rhodesia, Nyasaland, Basutoland, Bechuanaland, Swaziland, British East Africa, Uganda, the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba, Nigeria, the Gold Coast, Sierra Leone, Gambia, British Somalia, and, to all practical purposes, the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan condominium (Egypt itself was under British domination). Germany held German East Africa, German South West Africa, Togo, and Kamerun. Algeria, most of Morocco, Tunisia, Madagascar, French Somalia, and vast territories in West and Equatorial Africa (the territory of present-day Mauritania, Senegal, the Guiñean Republic, Mali, the Ivory Coast, Dahomey, Upper Volta, the Central African Republic, Chad, Niger, the People’s Republic of the Congo, and Gabon) belonged to France. Italian possessions were Libya, Italian Somalia, and Eritrea. Angola, Mozambique, and Portuguese Guinea belonged to Portugal; the Belgian Congo to Belgium; and Spanish Morocco, Río de Oro, Río Muni, and Spanish Guinea to Spain.

In order to avoid military conflicts with each other in the “fight” for Africa, the colonial powers attempted to arrive at agreements on the partition of spheres of influence in Africa. These ends were served by international conferences (the Berlin Conference of 1884–85, the Brussels conferences of 1889 and 1890, and others). But contradictions proved so sharp, and the intentions of England, France, and Germany, each of which was attempting to girdle Africa with a chain of its own possessions, were so mutually exclusive that conflicts proved inevitable and more than once led to sharp crises in world politics (the Fashoda crisis of 1898, the Transvaal crisis of 1895–96, the Moroccan crises). One of the first imperialist wars, the Boer War of 1899–1902, took place in the struggle for the partition of Africa.

The peoples of Africa resisted the colonialists stubbornly. The most important liberation wars and uprisings were the Mahdist uprising in Sudan during 1881–98, in the course of which the insurgents succeeded in establishing their own state; the uprising under the leadership of Urabi Pasha in Egypt in 1881–82; the Italian-Ethiopian Wars of 1887–88 and 1895–96; the Beni-Snassen uprising of 1859 and the Muqrani uprising of 1871–72 in Algeria; the struggle of the Malinke peoples against French conquest in the basin of the Niger River at the end of the 19th century, led by Samori Touré, and the struggle of the Dahomeyans under the leadership of Be-hanzin; seven Anglo-Ashanti wars which lasted from 1805 to 1896; the uprising of soldiers recruited from the Ba-Tetela people against Belgian domination in the Congo in 1895; the Maji-Maji rebellion of 1905–07 in German East Africa; and the uprising of the Herero and Hottentots of 1904–07 in German South West Africa. Also important were the liberation war of the Matabele people in Southern Rhodesia in 1893 and the uprising of the Matabele and Mashona in 1896–97; the wars and uprisings of the Zulus in 1838, 1879, and 1906, the liberation wars of the Kos people, which lasted 100 years (from the late 1770’s to the late 1870’s), and the wars and uprisings of the Basuto people against English and Boer conquests in the 19th century, all in the territory of the present-day Republic of South Africa; the anti-English uprising in Sierra Leone (the Bai Bureh uprising of 1898); the uprising in British and Italian Somalia led by Muhammad ben Abdullah Said al-Hasan, which lasted about 20 years (1899–1920); and a number of wars and uprisings in Madagascar at the turn of the 20th century (Franco-Malagasy War, 1883—85; uprising of 1904–05). The people of Morocco waged a stubborn struggle against the colonialists.

In the course of the liberation struggle it frequently happened that the forces of African peoples were consolidated, the processes of their social development were accelerated, and talented military commanders and statesmen and leaders came to the fore. However, in general the people of Africa were not able to withstand the forces of the colonialists, and hundreds of thousands of Africans perished in the unequal struggle.

Socioeconomic backwardness and the concomitant military weakness of African countries and the disunity of Africans were the reasons for the defeats which they suffered in the struggle against the European colonialists. The imperialist powers set the African peoples against each other and made use of the internecine struggles of feudal lords by temporarily enlisting some while suppressing the resistance of others. The imperialists exploited the leaders of local tribes to consolidate their own power.

Having partitioned Africa, the European powers set out to “develop” it. The process began of transforming the African colonies into appendages supplying the home country with agricultural goods and raw materials. The population of the colonies became the objects of the harshest exploitation.

The influx of capital into the African colonies increased in the early 20th century. In many countries of Africa, the foundations of agricultural specialization for production of export crops were laid; as a result, the economies of these countries were henceforward chained to the world capitalist market (such specializations as the production of cotton in Egypt, peanuts in Senegal, and cacao and palm oil in Nigeria). Huge investments were made in gold and diamond mining in South Africa.

The imperialist powers drew Africa into the world capitalist market, developed the means of transportation and communication, and created the rudiments of contemporary industry on the basis of predatory exploitation of the natural and human resources of the continent. In the early 20th century, European concessioners seized 78 million hectares (ha) of land in French Equatorial Africa and 6 million ha on Madagascar. The Forminière company in the Belgian Congo obtained 140 million ha of land. In Morocco, by 1913 over 100,000 ha of the best lands belonged to foreign companies. In Tunisia, 443,000 ha of land had passed into the hands of the French by 1892.

The partition of Africa brought in its wake the extreme exacerbation of interimperialist contradictions. The contradictions among the colonial powers in Africa were one of the causes of World War I.

During the war years, military actions were conducted over sizable areas of Africa. In 1915–16, German-Turkish forces organized three unsuccessful campaigns against the Suez Canal, which were repulsed by the British and French armed forces defending the canal. Military actions unfolded along the western border of Egypt. In August 1914, German troops surrendered in Togo, in 1915 in German South West Africa, and in early 1916 in Kamerun. Only the German forces in German East Africa resisted right up to November 1918.

Africa was an important source for the supply of human and material resources to the parent states, primarily England and France, during the war years. During this time, France and England obtained millions of tons of provisions and vegetable and mineral raw goods, some of them strategic, from their possessions in Africa. The French army included over a half million soldiers who were natives of the African colonies. About 300,000 Africans were mobilized in the armed forces of Great Britain. The German forces included about 20,000 African soldiers, and about 200,000 inhabitants of the colonies were mobilized for work in the rear.

Increased colonial oppression by the parent states, who were attempting to shift the burden of the war to the population of the colonies, and mobilizations and requisitions brought a sharpening of the struggle against the imperialists. The national liberation movement in the British and French colonies intensified: in 1915 there was an armed uprising in Dahomey, in 1916 an anti-English uprising in the Sudan, and from 1916 to 1918 anti-English actions in Nigeria. Military actions between the peoples of Libya and the Italian colonialists and between the insurgents and the French troops in Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco did not cease.

The recent history of Africa. The colonial system of imperialism now approached a crisis. The political map of Africa was redrawn as a result of World War I. Germany’s former colonies were torn away by the victors and transferred by the League of Nations as so-called mandated territories (while essentially they were the same colonies) to the administration of England, France, Belgium, and the Union of South Africa. Togo and Kamerun were dismembered and divided between England and France.

After World War I, foreign capital had complete sway in the economy of the countries of Africa. Colonial authorities deliberately strove to maintain old, precapitalist relations; they limited the growth of the national bourgeoisie by administrative measures and applied methods of feudal and prefeudal exploitation. The imperialist monopolies retarded the development of national capital in the colonies by all possible means and hampered the creation of large-scale industry (with the exception of mining and, to some extent, light industry). One-sided agricultural and raw goods specialization in the economies of the colonies was strengthened.

Important changes were taking place in the depths of African society. The process of disintegration of precapitalist relations gained force, or, in the most backward regions of Africa, began. The classes of bourgeois society—the proletariat and the bourgeoisie—began to form. The growth in class consciousness among the toiling people was considerably aided by the mass participation of African soldiers in the war in Europe. Demobilized soldiers were the first Africans to bring to the colonies the news of the victory of the Great October Socialist Revolution in Russia and the revolutionary upsurge in the mother countries.

World War I and the Great October Socialist Revolution initiated the general crisis of capitalism, one part of which was the crisis of the colonial system. The victory of the October Revolution shook the peoples of the colonies in Asia and Africa and stirred them to action. The first sign of the incipient crisis of the colonial system in Africa was the creation of national political parties and organizations, which set as their task the struggle against imperialist enslavement. As a rule, these groups were led by representatives of the national bourgeoisie and intelligentsia. The transition from spontaneous forms of anticolonial struggle to organized political protest constituted an important advance in the social life of the colonies of Africa. National parties and organizations demanded the expansion of the political rights of the native population and the abolition of discriminatory legislation. In equatorial regions of Africa, the first manifestations of protest took the form of political-religious movements (for example, Kimbanguism and the “mission of blacks” in the Belgian Congo; the Tonsi sect in Angola). In the early 1920’s and 1930’s, progressive workers and members of the intelligentsia in relatively developed countries emerged as the initiators in the creation of communist parties. In 1920 communist organizations were set up in Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco, becoming parts of the French Communist Party; subsequently they became independent parties. In 1921 a communist party was founded in the Union of South Africa; in 1922, one was founded in Egypt. The anti-imperialist movement in various forms embraced all of Africa. During this period, the countries of North Africa became the vanguard in the struggle. A broad liberation movement arose in Egypt in 1919–21, forcing the British government to publish a declaration abolishing the protectorate in 1922. In 1924 there was an anti-English uprising in the Sudan. From 1921 to 1926 an uprising of Riff tribes against French and Spanish rule unfolded in Morocco. There were major actions by Africans in the countries of tropical Africa: the peasant uprisings in Nigeria and Gambia in 1918–19, the strike in Sierra Leone in 1919, and demonstrations in Dahomey and riots in Cameroon and Togo in 1922. In 1921 an East African association was established in Kenya. It demanded the return to Africans of lands taken away by the colonialists and the granting of political rights to Africans. The National Congress of British West Africa was founded in 1920 (representatives of the Gold Coast, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Gambia participated in its activities); it called for a struggle to win political rights. In 1922 the National Democratic Party was established in Nigeria. A wave of strikes in which tens of thousands of workers participated swept over the Union of South Africa in the first postwar years. In 1919, the Industrial and Commercial Workers’ Union was organized here, and by the mid-1920’s it had become the largest national organization in Africa. Major trade-union organizations were also established in other countries of South and East Africa.

The contradictions between the colonies and the mother countries sharpened greatly as a result of the world economic crisis, when the imperialist monopolies attempted to find a way out of the impasse of the crisis at the expense of increased colonial exploitation. The response in the colonies was an outburst of disturbances (in the Congo, Upper Volta, Dahomey, the Gold Coast, and elsewhere). Despite the fact that these actions were suppressed, the nationalist organizations and movements wrested certain concessions from the colonialists: in many colonies, representatives of the native population were brought into governors’ legislative councils.

The interwar period was marked by a great number of anticolonial actions, which in some places turned into armed uprisings, by strikes and demonstrations in large cities, and by peasant disturbances (Angola, Congo, Italian Somaliland, Chad, and elsewhere).

In the middle of the 1930’s, Africa experienced fascist aggression for the first time: Italy’s attack on Ethiopia. During the Italian-Ethiopian War of 1935–36, action committees in defense of the victims of aggression were established in many African countries; protest demonstrations were held and money collected. The Soviet Union was the only great power to decisively condemn the aggression of fascist Italy and support the peoples of Africa.

All the countries of Africa were drawn, although to various degrees, into World War II. War operations were conducted on the territory of Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Ethiopia, Somaliland, Sudan, and Kenya. Labor mobilizations and requisitions of provisions and livestock took on considerable proportions.

The war gave an impetus to the development of mining and manufacturing industry in the countries of Africa. The production of many kinds of strategic raw materials grew, and new deposits of minerals were prospected. Africa supplied the belligerent capitalist countries with important strategic raw materials and foodstuffs. The population of the African colonies made a considerable military contribution to the victory over Italian and German fascism in Africa. About 3 million Africans were mobilized into military service in the British and French colonies. Hundreds of thousands of them fought in the armies of England and France in the countries of Africa, the Near East, and Western Europe. In the British armed forces, Africans also fought in Asia against Japan. In 1941, British troops with the aid of Ethiopian guerrillas liberated Ethiopia from the Italian occupiers. During 1942–43, Allied troops with the participation of Libyan and Tunisian patriots defeated Italian-German forces in these countries. In November 1942 an Anglo-American army landed in Algeria and Morocco. Military actions concluded in Africa in May 1943. The rout of the Italian-German forces in North Africa was considerably hastened by the successful military actions of the Soviet Army on the Soviet-German front.

World War II brought a further deepening of the general crisis of capitalism. As a result of the victory of the national liberation revolutions in many countries of Asia and the socialist transformations in China, North Vietnam, North Korea, and the People’s Republic of Mongolia, the sphere of imperialistic exploitation of the colonies on the African continent narrowed. The loss of profitable sources of raw materials, spheres for the investment of capital, and important strategic bridgeheads in Asia forced the imperialists to give more attention to the African colonies.

The colonial system of imperialism in Africa began to disintegrate. The utter defeat of the countries of the fascist bloc by the Soviet Army and the armies of allied powers had an enormous influence on the political awakening of Africa. Such factors as the growth of progressive forces in the mother countries and the achievement of independence by many countries of Asia also played their role. From the middle of the 1940’s to the early 1950’s, mass organizations of the native population were created in almost all the countries of Africa, and for the first time they advanced as the immediate task the achievement of political independence (in 1944, the National Council of Nigeria and the Cam-eroons, the Kenya African Association). After the end of World War II, political parties were established in the British colonies of the Gold Coast, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Tanganyika, Nyasaland, Northern Rhodesia, Southern Rhodesia, and elsewhere. In the first postwar years, the national liberation movement in the French colonies was successfully led by the African Democratic Assembly (founded in 1946). As a counterweight to these organizations, pro-colonialist parties and groups were established, not without aid from colonial administrations; these groups defended the privileges primarily of the feudal lords who turned bourgeois as well as those of the aristocratic leaders.

In different African countries, the struggle for independence assumed different forms. In most of the colonies, it took the form of demonstrations, strikes, and campaigns of civil disobedience. In some countries the anticolonial struggle took the form of protracted armed resistance (the large uprising of 1947–48 on the island of Madagascar, the anti-imperialist uprising of 1952–56 in Kenya; guerrilla actions in Cameroon in 1955 and succeeding years). In northern Africa, the national liberation struggle assumed a still broader scope. Violent anti-imperialist actions in Egypt during 1945–48 and 1950–51 shook the rotten monarchical regime, which was maintained by the bayonets of the British army in occupation. On July 23, 1952, there was a coup d’état in Egypt, initiating the anti-imperialist antifeudal revolution. On June 18, 1953, the monarchy was abolished, and on July 26, 1956, the nationalization of the Suez Canal was carried out. The failure of the tripartite Anglo-Franco-Israeli aggression against Egypt strengthened the positions of the anti-imperialist forces of Egypt and other countries still further. In 1956 the English were forced to leave the Sudan, which was proclaimed an independent state on Jan. 1, 1956. The growing strength of anti-imperialist forces in Morocco and Tunisia, strikes, and the armed resistance movement forced the French government to recognize the independence of these countries in 1956. In 1951 the former Italian colony of Libya, which was occupied during World War II by British troops, became independent by a decision of the UN. In 1962 the heroic struggle of the Algerian people for freedom and independence, which had lasted more than seven years and during which 1.5 million people perished, was crowned by victory. The war in Algeria, which tied up an enormous number of French colonialist troops, provided great indirect aid to the peoples of other countries of the Maghreb and tropical Africa.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the Gold Coast was the first country to break the chain of colonialism: on Mar. 6,1957, the independent state of Ghana was proclaimed. In 1958 the Guiñean Republic was proclaimed independent. The birth of the first independent states in tropical Africa had an enormous revolutionizing influence on the peoples of other colonial countries.

The disintegration of the colonial system of imperialism increased especially in 1960 (“The Year of Africa”). During this year, 17 independent states appeared on the map of the continent: the Congo (the former Belgian colony), the Congo (the former French colony), Senegal, Mali, Dahomey, Niger, Upper Volta, the Ivory Coast, Chad, Gabon, the Central African Republic, Mauritania, the Somali Republic, Nigeria, Cameroon, Togo, and the Malagasy Republic. In 1961, Sierra Leone and Tanganyika (which became known as the United Republic of Tanzania after the unification with Zanzibar in 1964) won their political independence. In 1962 the independent states of Rwanda and Burundi (the former Belgian mandated territory Ruanda-Urundi) and Uganda were formed. In succeeding years, Kenya (1963), Gambia (1965), Botswana (1966, the former English protectorate of Bechuanaland), Lesotho (1966, the former English protectorate of Basutoland), Swaziland (1968, a former English protectorate), and Equatorial Guinea (1968, the former Spanish Guinea) achieved independence.

With the growth of the national liberation movement in British Central Africa, the government of Great Britain formed the so-called Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland in 1953 (made up of Southern and Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland) in order to strengthen the colonial regime in this region by using the European settlers of Southern Rhodesia. However, the struggle of the African population of the federation prompted the colonialists to dissolve it (December 1963). In 1964 the independent state of Malawi was proclaimed on the territory of Nyasaland, and the state of Zambia on the territory of Northern Rhodesia. Only in Southern Rhodesia did a racist government of the white minority illegally retain power: in November 1965 it declared this colony “independent,” and in March 1970 it declared the colony the “Republic of Rhodesia.”

By 1970 almost all the countries of Africa had achieved independence. Only a small number of colonies remained in the possession of England, France, and Spain. Portugal still holds considerable territory in Africa, retaining colonies with a population of 13.2 million. A broad armed resistance movement against Portuguese colonialism unfolded in Angola in 1961, Guinea (Bissau) in 1963, and Mozambique in 1964.

The racist regime in the Republic of South Africa is one of the bastions of the colonial system in southern Africa. It enjoys the support of the imperialists of the USA, England, the Federal Republic of Germany, and other capitalist countries.

The achievement of political independence by former colonies does not yet mean the final defeat of colonialism, because imperialism attempts to preserve its position in the states of Africa which have achieved political independence and to impose new forms of colonialism on their peoples: it resorts to neocolonialism, in which economic enslavement is carried out under the guise of “aid,” loans, and the development of trade ties. Drawing certain African states into the Common Market is one of the forms of neocolonialism in Africa. The imperialist powers have known how to exploit the objective difficulties which the governments of young national African states come across (such as economic backwardness, the instability of still-weak political structures, the extreme shortage of trained specialists, and the dominance of tribal ideology in the consciousness of millions of people). Neocolonialism attempts to exploit the weapon of national and tribal discord in its own interests and attempts to split the ranks of the national liberation movements. Evidence of this includes the subversive activity and outright aggression of the imperialist powers against the progressive policies of the government of the Congo led by Patrice Lumumba; the organization of a reactionary coup d’état in Ghana in 1966; the campaign inimical to progressive social reforms unleashed in Algeria, Tanzania, Mali, the Guiñean Republic, and Zambia; the activity aimed at undermining the internal political unity of African states (for example, Nigeria, Sudan, and others); and the imperialists’ support of the Israeli aggression against the Arab countries initiated in 1967.

The socialist states render enormous assistance in strengthening the political and economic independence of the young states of Africa. The very existence of the socialist community means that the capitalist world is no longer in a position to dictate its conditions to African countries. On the initiative of the Soviet Union, the 15th session of the UN General Assembly adopted a declaration on the granting of independence to colonial countries and peoples on Dec. 14, 1960. A powerful factor ensuring the victory of the Egyptian people over the Anglo-Franco-Israeli aggressors in 1956 was the support of the Soviet Union and other socialist countries. Cooperation between the Soviet Union and African countries is constantly expanding. By 1970 the USSR had established diplomatic relations with 34 states of Africa, and it renders diverse kinds of economic, technical, and other aid to many of them. With the aid of the Soviet Union, 320 units (1970), including 125 industrial enterprises, have been or are being built in 17 African countries. The largest of these is the High Aswan Dam in Egypt. More than 5,000 African students are studying in higher and specialized secondary schools in the USSR.

An important factor in the struggle of young African states to consolidate their political independence and achieve economic independence, as well as liquidate for

Table 2. Political division of Africa (by status on Jan. 1, 1970)
StatesArea (in sq km)Population (1967)Capitals or admin, centers
1 Formerly democratic republic of the congo
2 african population only
3 formerly french somali
4 For 1960–61
5 territory of namibia (south west africa) illegally occupied by the republic of south africa
source: Slatistical Yearbook 1968. United Nations, N.Y., 1969
Independent states   
Algeria ..........2,381,70012,540,000Algiers
Arab Republic of Egypt (United Arab Republic)....1,001,40030,907,000Cairo
Botswana ..........600,400593,000Gaborone
Central African Republic..........623,0001,459,000Bangui
Congo (People’s Republic)..........342,000860,000Brazzaville
Equatorial Guinea..........28,000277,000Santa Isabel
Ethiopia..........1,221,90023,667,000Addis Ababa
Gambia, The..........11,300343,000Bathurst
Guinean Republic..........245,9003,702,000Conakry
Ivory Coast..........322,5004,010,000Abidjan
Libya..........1,759,5001,738,000Tripoli, Bengasi
Malagasy Republic..........587,0006,350,000Tananarive
Mauritius ..........2,000795,000Port Louis
Sierra Leone..........71,7002,439,000Freetown
Somali Republic..........637,7002,660,000Mogadishu
South Africa, Republic of..........1,221,00018,733,000Pretoria
Tanzania..........939,70012,173,000Dar es Salaam
Upper Volta..........274,2005,054,000Ougadougou
Possessions of Great Britain   
St. Helena Island..........1205,000Jamestown
Seychelles Islands..........40049,000Victoria
Southern Rhodesia..........389,4004,530,000Salisbury
Possessions of France   
Comoro Islands..........2,200250,000Moroni
French Territory of Afars and Issas3..........22,00081,0004Djibouti
Reunion..........2,500414,000St. Denis
Possessions of Portugal   
Cape Verde Islands..........4,000232,000Praia
Guinea, Portuguese..........36,100528,000Bissau
Mozambique..........783,0007,124,000Lourenço Marques
São Tomé and Principe..........1,00060,000São Tomé
Possessions of Spain   
Possessions in North Africa..........30161,000 
Spanish Sahara..........266,00048,000el-Aiún
Trust Territory of the UN   
Namibia (South West Africa), former mandated territory of the Union of South Africa5..........824,300594,000Windhoek

good the colonial system on the continent, is the development of all-around cooperation and anti-imperialist unity among them.

The national liberation movement in Africa has gone beyond the boundaries of individual colonies and turned into a powerful pan-African movement. Starting in 1958, representatives of African peoples have met at conferences where general problems of the national liberation struggle have been discussed; these include the Conferences of Solidarity of the Peoples of Asia and Africa, Conferences of Independent States of Africa, and Conferences of Peoples of Africa. In 1963 the Organization of African Unity was established; by 1970, it included 41 independent states.

Profound socioeconomic transformations have taken place in many young African states. In the UAR (from 1961–63) and Algeria (from 1963) revolutionary anticapitalist socioeconomic reforms have been implemented: a number of branches of the economy have been nationalized and the public sector in industry and agriculture has been strengthened. The Charter of National Action of the UAR (1962) and the Algerian Charter (1964) rejected the capitalist route of development and proclaimed the construction of socialism to be the fundamental task of the revolutionary movement. Broad programs of progressive socioeconomic reforms have been implemented in certain countries of tropical Africa (the Guiñean Republic, the People’s Republic of the Congo, Tanzania). As a result of revolutionary coups in Sudan (May 25, 1969), Libya (Sept. 1, 1969), and Somalia (Oct. 21, 1969), patriotic national democratic forces have come to power.

In a considerable group of African countries, capitalist tendencies of development predominate. However, despite known economic achievements in these countries, their inability, along the way, to overcome dependence on the imperialist powers is evident.

The question of selecting the path for future developments in African countries intensifies the ideological struggle there.

Africa has ceased to be merely an object of world politics: it has become an active factor in international relations. The states of Africa are full, equal, and active participants in all international organizations of the UN system, the conferences of the UN on trade and development (Geneva, 1964; New Delhi, 1968), and conferences of unaligned countries. Most of the independent African states have refused to join the aggressive imperialist blocs; they adhere to policies of neutrality. The votes of the independent African states ensured the adoption at the 16th session of the UN General Assembly (September 1961 to June 1962) of a resolution which provided for Africa to be made an atom-free zone and of the declaration On the Prohibition of the Use of Nuclear and Thermonuclear Weapons. Most of the countries of Africa signed the Moscow treaty banning nuclear testing in three spheres (1963) and the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Arms (1968).

D. A. OL’DEROGGE (prehistoric, ancient and medieval Africa, except North Africa), V. B. LUTSSKII and N. A. IVANOV (North Africa from the seventh century), A. B. DAVIDSON (Sub-Saharan Africa in modern times), and A. B. LETNEV (contemporary Sub-Saharan Africa)

As a result of the victory of the national liberation revolutions, the political map of Africa has undergone major changes. By 1970 the number of independent African states had reached 41. Colonial regimes remain in territories with a total area of 3.6 million sq km (12 percent of the total area of Africa) and a population of 19.4 million, about 6 percent of the total population of Africa (see Table 2). The overwhelming portion of the area and population of colonial countries is made up of possessions of Portugal (2,070,800 sq km; 13.2 million people), whose reactionary government stubbornly resists the struggle of the peoples of these countries for independence. The racist government in the Republic of South Africa has established a harsh discriminatory regime for Africans and other non-Europeans. Despite the resolutions of the UN, the Republic of South Africa continues its illegal occupation of Namibia (South West Africa). The racist authorities of Southern Rhodesia, ignoring the demands of the native population, have proclaimed the country’s “independence” in order to strengthen the dictatorship of European émigrés over the overwhelming majority of the African population. The peoples of the colonial countries of Africa are waging a persistent struggle against imperialist oppression and for freedom and national independence.


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The second largest continent, with an area of 11,700,000 square miles (30,420,000 square kilometers); bisected midway by the Equator, above and below which it shows symmetry of climate and vegetation zones.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


the second largest of the continents, on the Mediterranean in the north, the Atlantic in the west, and the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, and Indian Ocean in the east. The Sahara desert divides the continent unequally into North Africa (an early centre of civilization, in close contact with Europe and W Asia, now inhabited chiefly by Arabs) and Africa south of the Sahara (relatively isolated from the rest of the world until the 19th century and inhabited chiefly by Negroid peoples). It was colonized mainly in the 18th and 19th centuries by Europeans and now comprises independent nations. The largest lake is Lake Victoria and the chief rivers are the Nile, Niger, Congo, and Zambezi. Pop.: 887 964 000 (2005 est.). Area: about 30 300 000 sq. km (11 700 000 sq. miles)
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