NORTH AND WEST AFRICA

The Sahara desert is vast and covers most of north and west Africa, stretching from the Atlantic Ocean in the west to the Red Sea in the east. Few people live in this desert area, which separates the Arab and Berber peoples of the north coast from the mainly Black African peoples to the south. Most of the 63 million Africans who inhabit this region live on the narrow coastal plain where the climate is milder.

WHAT INFLUENCE HAS ISLAM HAD?

During the 7th century AD, Arabs from the Arabian peninsula swept across north Africa, bringing their new religion of Islam with them. Today, most north and west Africans are Muslims, speak a common Arabic language, and share a culture based on the Islamic faith. Every town has at least one mosque, where the faithful are called to prayer.

WHO LIVES IN THE SAHARA?

Few people live in the Sahara because it regularly has temperatures of over 122°F (50°C) and water is very scarce. People such as the Tuareg have learned how to survive in these extreme conditions, and live by trading salt and other goods across huge distances. Camels are their transportation and also provide milk, meat, and hides. However, long droughts and other hardships have led many to give up desert life.

WHAT IS DESERTIFICATION?

This is the name for the growth of the world’s deserts. It means that good farmland is turning into dry wasteland, which causes famine. It begins when expected rains fail to arrive in areas near the desert. Crops are still grown but the soil becomes infertile, and as the plants die, it turns to dust. With the Sahara spreading south, huge areas are under threat.

WHY DO SO MANY PEOPLE LIVE NEAR THE COAST?

Most of the people of this region live on the land alongside the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean. The climate here is warm and wet in winter and hot and dry in summer, which is better for farming than the desert interior. Many crops can be grown here, from citrus fruits and dates, to olives and tomatoes.

DATES FROM ALGERIA

The giant date palm is found near the oases (watering holes) scattered across the hot, dry Sahara, and its sweet fruit is known as the “bread of the desert.” Highly nutritious, dates provide food for people and animals, while every part of the palm tree itself has some use.

WHAT CAN YOU BUY IN A SOUK?

The colorful and busy souks (markets) of Morocco and Tunisia sell anything from traditional goods and handicrafts such as jewelry, leather, handwoven carpets, and embroidered clothes, to fresh meat, fish, vegetables, and household items. A souk is vital to the economy of a town, and is also a meeting place for workers, farmers, and traders coming in from the countryside.

WHY IS THE NILE SO IMPORTANT?

The Nile, the world’s longest river, is an essential part of Egyptian life. When it floods in the summer, it brings vital water and rich mud from the highlands of Ethiopia and Sudan to its deserts, creating a fertile valley for crops. It also provides drinking water for those who live alongside it, and money from tourists who visit the many ancient sites along its banks.

WHAT IS UNUSUAL ABOUT THE MOROCCAN CITY OF FEZ?

Fez has hardly changed for centuries. Like all medieval Islamic cities, the old town of Fez was built according to rules laid down in the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam. The mosque is in the center, each religious and ethnic group has its own quarter, and the streets are narrow enough to give shade and wide enough for two fully laden camels to pass through.

FACTFILE: NORTH & WEST AFRICA

CAPE VERDE

Capital city: Praia

Population: 446,000

SENEGAL

Capital city: Dakar

Population: 9.9 million

GAMBIA

Capital city: Banjul

Population: 1.4 million

GUINEA-BISSAU

Capital city: Bissau

Population: 1.3 million

GUINEA

Capital city: Conakry

Population: 8.4 million

SIERRA LEONE

Capital city: Freetown

Population: 4.8 million

LIBERIA

Capital city: Monrovia

Population: 3.3 million

IVORY COAST

Capital city: Yamoussoukro

Population: 16.7 million

GHANA

Capital city: Accra

Population: 20.2 million

TOGO

Capital city: Lomé

Population: 4.8 million

BENIN

Capital city: Porto-Novo

Population: 6.6 million

BURKINA FASO

Capital city: Ouagadougou

Population: 12.2 million

MALI

Capital city: Bamako

Population: 12 million

MAURITANIA

Capital city: Nouakchott

Population: 2.8 million

MOROCCO

Capital city: Rabat

Population: 31 million

ALGERIA

Capital city: Algiers

Population: 31.4 million

TUNISIA

Capital city: Tunis

Population: 9.7 million

LIBYA

Capital city: Tripoli

Population: 5.5 million

EGYPT

Capital city: Cairo

Population: 70.3 million

Copyright © 2007 Dorling Kindersley