GEOG 243: Geography of Africa: Local Resources and Livelihoods in a Global Context
Sub-Saharan Africa has long been depicted in the media as a place of crisis – a region of the world often known for civil strife, disease, corruption, hunger and environmental destruction. This perception is not entirely unfounded, after all, HIV/AIDS in east and southern Africa, civil war in Sierra Leone and Rwanda, or drought in Ethiopia are known problems. Yet Africa is also a place of extraordinarily diverse, vibrant, and dynamic cultures. In the 1990’s no other continent saw more dramatic improvements in human rights, political freedom, and economic development. This ranged from the overthrowing of apartheid in South Africa, to the rise of multi-party democracy in Mali, to the revitalization of economies in countries such as Ghana and Uganda. Although environmental threats are real, African societies have proven their capacity, when given a chance, to use resources sustainably. Recent research suggests that traditional African knowledge regarding the environment is actually quite sound.
This class seeks to go beyond the superficial media interpretations of the vast African continent. As geographers, we will attempt to place contemporary African developments in a historical and global context. Africa has a long history of influencing and being influenced by the outside world. Among other issues, we will explore how colonialism, and even more recent ‘development’ initiatives, have influenced current structures in Africa. Furthermore, we will examine what restrictions, if any, the current world economic system places on development possibilities in Africa.
The course provides a basic background in African history and geography, leading to discussion of advanced topics in contemporary African studies. I take a systematic rather than regional approach in this course, examining sets of issues, rather than regions of Africa. We will cover a broad range of topics in the course, including: African stereotypes; Africa in historical perspective; Physical geography (physical landscapes, climate, vegetation, soils); Human-Environment Interactions (forest degradation, desertification); Population dynamics (population growth, distribution and mobility); African immigrant communities in the United States; Geography and Development (ideology and economic development, Africa in the global economy); Social Geography (African women and development, education); Agricultural Development (traditional farming systems, cash crops, policy); Urban Economies (evolution of the urban structure, industry, housing); and Political Geography (democratization, conflict).