East Africa Chapter Background • Stretching from the Red Sea to south oft he Equator, East Africa's landscape ranges from volcanic mountains to deep rift valleys, and from fertile lake regions to barren deserts. Its location on the Red Sea and Indian Ocean have long made East Africa appealing for trade and colonization, bringing new cultures to the sub-region. Today, the independent countries of East Africa struggle against internal political conflicts, as well as climate, poverty, and health problems, while trying to unite in efforts to manage resources and raise the standard of living. Physical Geography • Shifting tectonic plates caused great faults in the Earth, forming the Great Rift Valley that extends through East Africa. The diverse landscape also includes plateaus with steep cliffs and waterfalls, grassy plains, and volcanic mountains such as Kilimanjaro. • The Indian Ocean offers a convenient entry point for products, people, and different cultures. The Great Rift Valley features many lakes, which provide transportation, fresh water, abundant fishing, and fertile soils. Physical Geography • A range of latitudes and elevations cover East Africa, resulting in diverse climates. The northeastern desert has limited rainfall, vegetation and wildlife. A semi-arid steppe zone, which includes the pastures of the Sahel, separates the desert from the tropical savanna to the south. • Soil erosion, deforestation, and desertification plague the Sahel, while the savanna receives seasonal rainfall that supports wildlife and a variety of vegetation. The Serengeti Plain, one of the world's largest savanna plains, is home to zebras, gazelles, hyenas, lions, giraffes, and more. Human Systems • Fossils of pre-humans, as well as human footprints dating back 1.5 million years ago, have been found in East Africa. With its location on the Red Sea and Indian Ocean, it became an important trade location in later years, mingling the cultures of Arabian, Asian, and Mediterranean peoples. • Traders from the Arabian Peninsula brought their language and the Islamic religion. Persians and Chinese settled areas, and the Portuguese took control of the Indian Ocean, bringing with them Roman Catholicism. Human Systems • Further European colonization established borders without regard to traditional tribal territories, and cash crops for exports replaced the crops needed locally. As colonies gained independence, conflicts over leadership, discrimination, and economic health arose. • East Africa's landscape and climate influenced how the many different indigenous and immigrant populations settled. The highest population densities are on fertile lands and near ocean coasts or rivers. Human Systems • English and French serve as a common language; however, many other languages are spoken, from Arabic to Persian to indigenous. Most people are Muslim or Christian, though animist beliefs are still practiced. • Literacy rates have improved, though few students enroll in secondary school, and women generally maintain traditional roles, working farms but unable to own the land. Agriculture makes up90 percent of employment, with ecotourism a growing industry. People and Their Environment • Life expectancy, literacy, and living standards in East Africa are among the lowest in the world. Poverty, droughts, and corruption make raising the standards difficult. • Wars are a major cause of hunger, putting a strain on limited food resources and diverting attention from the important tasks of managing both resources and economic growth. People and Their Environment • Logging to meet local demands for wood in areas without electricity, as well as for profitable exports, has led to deforestation. Clearing land for farming has also destroyed numerous forests and animal habitats, which endangers wildlife. • Droughts, poor farming practices, and overgrazing have led to desertification, a problem made worse by the growing population's strain on resources. Also, increased urbanization and industrialization are causing pollution in East Africa's waterways. People and Their Environment • Poaching is another environmental threat. In the past fifty years, the elephant population has dropped from 2 million to 600,000, and rhinoceroses face extinction due to the demand for their horns. • Countries are coming together to better manage the environment through reforestation and the creation of national parks and wildlife reserves. The resulting tourism boosts the economy and increases support for conservation.