Regional Geography of

[Sub – Saharan Region]


  1. Physical Characteristics
  2. Human Characteristics
  3. Economic Characteristics
  4. References

Physical Characteristics

Relative location

The Sub – Saharan Africa is known to be geographically located in the African continent. It is an area which is occupied by 48 countries and lies south of the Sahara Desert. The region is actually not really densely populated. Its main boundaries are located between Central Africa, West Africa, Southern Africa and East Africa. This region is distinct from North Africa because of different physical, cultural and historical background. When it comes to talk of the strategical location of this region, we must say that the Sahel which is the Eco climatic and biogeographic zone of transition mostly grassy between the Sahara to the north and the Sudanian Savanna to the south identified as wetter climes. In fact, this zone for years now has been really complex because it has presented huge physical obstacles to human habitation. This region is bounded by so many physical features.


Landscape and Physical Environment

Africa is a large continent compared to what many people sometimes think confusing it to be a country. In fact, it is the second largest after Asia and it does not have same mountainous features as other continents. It is known not to have long mountain chains but instead, it has an upland region composed pf several high peaks in the east which are Mount Kenya and Mount Kilimanjaro, and, in the northwest, we find lower upland. There are so many different features characterizing this region. We have talked of the Sahel earlier and now we can add the Great Rift Valley which is primarily in eastern Africa but elongated to the southwest coast of Africa which is a chain composed of valleys that formed from the separation of tectonic plates. As for the environmental conditions of that region, it is said that years before it wasn’t really contributing to the buildup of greenhouse gases in atmosphere but lately with events of deforestation and apparition of more industries does now. And with the degree of poverty, the region faces difficulties to adapt to its climatic conditions. Therefore, the surface of the continent of Africa can be envisioned as a raised platform, or plateau that are bordered by fairly narrow and uniform coastal lowlands. with all those features, Africa with its lengthy uniform coastlines that we mention above are found to provide few natural harbors expect for Capetown in the country of South Africa.


Weather and climate

Due to its vast area and different zones, Sub-Saharan Africa has a wide variety of climate zones or biomes. In fact, the major part of that region has a tropical climate with a temperature estimated at 18-degree Celsius minimum. But the weather season in this region doesn’t vary much about temperatures changing but the amount of rainfall from different areas to other. The intertropical convergence zone is the way for rainfall to occur in the region. The ITCZ is a band of atmospheric currents that circle the globe roughly around the equator and because of Africa proximity to the equator, it is the reason why it has important release of rainfall. So basically, the seasons varies from windy, rainy, wet dry zones. But the presence of high mountain ranges in Africa, it limits the amount of wind that countries receive making it have less impact on the climate of the region that it would have had without high mountains ranges leading us to talk about the horn of Africa which is the triangular Somali peninsula that juts out from northeastern Africa below the Red Sea and wraps around the Arabian Peninsula. In fact, Sub-Saharan Africa with globalization contributes now to Carbon dioxide release in the atmosphere especially through deforestation.

Human Characteristics

Population density Age/Sex characteristics

Population growth in the Sub Saharan Africa is in fact subject of one of the fastest growths compared to all other regions of the word with Nigeria as the most populous country with over 170 million people. Nevertheless, the growth rate is slowing down due to development, globalization and women awareness and getting more educated making them seek for better job and better life conditions therefore seeking smaller families. There are many factors that contributes to the limited understanding of the situation of older people in Africa who constitute a small percentage the population and their proportions are projected to grow fairly slowly. The real issues though seem to be the population growth rate. Known to be a highly populated region, with that population quadrupled in about 50 years between 1960 and 2015 with the population shifting from 200 million to 949 million and now predictions suggest that it will keep growing and get to 2 billion by 2050. There are so many assumptions about Africa that people might not know that there are only 36 people per square kilometer making the region not as much densely populated than most of Asia and Europe, but the fertility rate of the region could really impact that structure depending on how it evolves. In fact, we have noticed that the growth of the region is slowing down with  an annual rate of less than six births per women. The reason why we have seen so much birth is due to the amount of infant mortality rate that many families were subject to. But with social and economical progress, women particularly had access to educational opportunities which is why they started seeking more jobs opportunities and less children. Many would wonder why infant would die. In fact, many believes that with the spread of different disease in the area Malaria, HIV/AIDS and many other could have been the cause as it is the cause of many death in general. As for the matter of gender in the society, there is a high presence of dictatorship when it comes to the role of women who are usually expected to be housewives than anything else and have sometimes no say when it comes to their spouse seeking to marry other women leading to another frequent societal condition in the entire region polygyny as much present in Muslim societies than Christian All of these characteristics have strong attachment to past historical events structure, way of doing.


 Language and Religion

This region is in fact like a crib where there are numerous almost uncountable languages and very rich but complex when it comes to talk of religious traditions mostly based on indigenous belief systems, Islam and Christianity or else traditions. Starting with religion, we can ay that traditional practice rituals system is present in the whole region all countries. In fact, many might be aware of this, but animism is present in this region mostly associated to those traditional practices we mention above either believing in spirits or ancestors. But as it comes to Islam and Christianity we can notice that Islam takes over more of the southern part of Sahara but the entire region accounts only for 15% of Muslims while Christians accounts for 57% and was brought through Egypt and Ethiopia but was spread all over the continent by westerners missionaries during colonization periods around the 19th century. For over decades there have been so much rivalries between these two religions and even though there is still some today both are supportive of religious freedom. As for language, which is a strong cultural characteristic correlates with ethnicity about over thousand languages are spoken in the region in different and numerous group which are grouped into five major categories. Afro-Asiatic, Niger Congo, the Khoisan and Indo-European for example. Let’s look at the Bantu group considered as the largest one among all diverse one that exist. In every single group there is a language associated and sometimes more than one referred to as native tongue but with colonization and transatlantic slave trade, most groups now speaks at least one lingua Franca like French, English, Portuguese, Spanish for example


Cultural ethnic groups

Sub-Saharan Africa is not only bigger in size but has the largest amount of ethnic group too. Due to its cultural heterogeneity, we notice that several groups are tied together by their common languages, their cultural tradition and political and economical condition, structure. In fact as a mosaic of cultural diversity, each territory of the region is home for a specific ethnic group but in some cases one territory would be home for more than one group who will cohabit well together despite differences in practices but those differences would make the strength of the territory on which they are living in because if one can hunt the other cultivate they will then combine their energy together. In fact, this region is very rich when it comes to diversity in its groups but there is an unbalance in the repartition of groups among the entire region with some areas with more groups and other with less. Cameroon is one country with an imaginable number of ethnic groups accounting for about 250 groups each with its own belief system, values and practices. Nevertheless, most of those groups in this region leave peacefully together on same territories except the case of few.


Economic Characteristics

Major economic activities

When Talking of economic activities of Africa, we think immediately of agriculture which has been basically the only real activity that strongly benefit the region economically. As for the natural resources of the region, it would eventually have benefitted the region if westerners weren’t the ones exploiting it which is one of the strongest reasons why the Sub – Saharan African region is economically struggling to reach development as well. These are reason why I believe Agriculture is so important for this region especially when it comes to employment accounting now for about two thirds of the continent’s working population contributing for each country an average of 30 to 60 percent of gross domestic product. Agriculture then is very important for the region knowing how long they have started cultivating  7000 years ago in the zone of Sahel, Sudan and Ethiopia. But with development these past years the region has seen developed more industries in different sectors which also have contributed to the economy, but the trade network of the region also has been a source of economic progress.

Imports and Exports

In all but 14 Sub – Saharan countries, imports exceed exports. In fact, each country has its domain. Some would export minerals others would export other goods like cocoa coffee tea. For Zambia it would be copper and cobalt for example while for other countries like Cote d’Ivoire, they are rich in cocoa and these are just few examples. But one thing that all developed countries are really after in the region is oil and petroleum because the Sub – Saharan is very rich in that area too. These too resources are real economic booster and unfortunately benefit more other continents leaving the region in bad shape. The level of agricultural imports has highly increased since the past decades estimated at about 13% annually. In fact, based on a USDA report, estimated the total imports to about $48.5 billion in 2014 said to be the second highest in the records.

GNP and GNP per capita

In fact, in the region, the informal economy is very important in terms of employment shifting from one third of all employment shifting from one third to two thirds which then accounts for about 38% of the GDP said to be the highest in the entire world. Although facing some challenges, many African governments have been focusing on regional economic integration, aiming to utilize all possible talents they may have so as consumer demand for African-made products local agencies and public and private donors are pursuing grassroots development designed to faster very basic innovation at the local level and eventually if the project shows if local people using local resources and ingenuity are capable of solving many problems because according to WTO  world trade, less than 20 percent of the total trade of Sub-Saharan Africa in 2011 was conducted between African countries which shows the failure of the region’s countries to work together while they could accomplish so much together.


Mihelic, Lydia., Alex., Johansson, O. World Regional Geography (pages, 295 - 341)


James M. Rubenstein., The cultural Landscape (12th Edition) “Sub-Saharan Africa: People & Culture” (Chapter8/Lesson 24)


United States Department of Agriculture., “A Turning Point for Agricultural Exports to Sub-Saharan Africa”., November 2, 2015

Submitted by (Krystel Audrey Sophie Sidiki Bolanga) on (4/13/2019).