Politics and Society in Contemporary Africa

Politics and Society in Contemporary Africa

Politics and Society in Contemporary Africa

Politics and Society in Contemporary Africa

Excerpt

The African continent encompasses a rich mosaic of peoples, cultures, ecological settings, and historical experiences. Africa’s vast expanse of 11,677,240 square miles (30,244,050 square kilometers) stretches from the Mediterranean in the north to the meeting point of the Atlantic and Indian oceans in the south. The 730 million people of Africa (roughly 10 percent of the globe’s population) are as diverse as the terrain they inhabit. The blacks and Arabs who live on the continent (together with small concentrations of Asians and whites) speak more than eight hundred languages, belong to hundreds of ethnic groups, and over the years have embraced many animist belief systems as well as all the great religions (most notably, Christianity and Islam). Although 70 percent of the continent’s people live in the rural areas and make their living as farmers and pastoralists, rapidly growing ancient and new cities are also sprinkled over the map of Africa. Subsistence agriculture is sustained alongside hi-tech industries; the world’s greatest mineral reserves are to be found in regions of the most abject poverty; universities thrive where illiteracy still prevails.

The political map of Africa captures the complexity that is the essence of the continent. Africa’s fifty-four states are the product of conquest and separation, amalgamation and continuity. Ethiopia and Egypt are among the oldest political entities known to human history. But most of Africa consists of new states carved out by the imperial powers. Nigeria, with its population of more than 100 million, contrasts sharply with tiny Comoros or Gambia. Massive Congo is bordered by the small and extremely troubled republics of Rwanda and Burundi. Swaziland is a nation-state (that is, ethnically homogeneous); it is surrounded by some of the most heterogeneous, multiethnic countries in the world today. Africa sustains monarchies and dictatorships, military regimes and civilian governments . . .

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