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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
• 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