Sub-Saharan Africa

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A satellite composite image of Africa showing the ecological break between North and Sub-Saharan regions
A satellite composite image of Africa showing the ecological break between North and Sub-Saharan regions

Sub-Saharan Africa, Africa south of the Sahara, is the term used to describe those countries of Africa that are not part of North Africa or some areas of West Africa. In 19th Century Europe and the Americas, sub-Saharan Africa was commonly known as Black Africa or as Dark Africa, partly due to the race of its indigenous inhabitants and partly because much of it had not been fully mapped or explored by Westerners (Africa as a whole was sometimes labelled "the dark continent"). These terms are now obsolete and often considered to be offensive. The neutral phrase African Uplands was preferred by Hegel and some other writers of the time; however, this was primarily intended to refer to the African interior as opposed to coastal regions.

Since the end of the last Ice Age, the North and sub-Saharan Africa have been separated by the extremely harsh climate of the sparsely populated Sahara, forming an effective barrier interrupted by only the Nile River. The modern term sub-Saharan corresponds with the standard representation of North as above and South as below. Tropical Africa is an alternative modern label, related to the word Afrotropic, used for the distinctive ecology of the region. However, if strictly applied, this term would exclude South Africa, most of which lies outside the Tropics.

The division of Africa into two, broad regions also has arisen from historical and geopolitical considerations, resulting in profound differences with regard to perceptions of North and sub-Saharan Africa. It is these same considerations which essentially have caused Egypt to be taken out of Africa, conceptually speaking, and placed in the Middle East. North Africa's inhabitants generally are perceived and portrayed by the West to be predominantly Caucasoid. Such perceptions have arisen from the centuries-old predominance of Islam in the region and the lumping together of the original, black Berbers who originated in the Northeast, with the fairer-skinned Berbers of the Maghreb.

As in ancient times, however, black peoples comprise significant portions of the populations of many North African nations, including the Tuareg Berbers, who can be found across the breadth of North Africa, and other indigenous Africans— some belonging to other black Berber populations— including the Imraguen, Tebu and Haratin of Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Morocco and Mauritania. Further, the so-called "Caucasoid" and "Arab" populations of North Africa are often swarthy and possess other Africoid physical characteristics due to miscegenation over time with indigenous blacks of the region. As a result, the problematic grouping of African nations into geopolitical regions, and the perceptions associated with such divisions—particularly those based on notions of race and ethnicity—are fraught with inherent paradoxes. Sudan is a case in point. It is considered a North African nation, but its inhabitants are predominantly dark-skinned, black Africans.

In great part because of the spread of Islam across the northernmost regions of the African continent, and the subsequent Arabization of certain indigenous black populations, for several millennia North Africa has been integrated geopolitically, economically, in general public perception -- and, to a great extent, by the religion of Islam -- with the Middle East, and with the Mediterranean as well.

With a few exceptions, such as Mauritius and South Africa, sub-Saharan Africa is, like the rest of Africa, one of the poorest regions in the world, still suffering from the legacies of colonial conquest and occupation, neocolonialism, and internal conflict. The region contains many of the least developed countries in the world. (See Economy of Africa.)


Nations of sub-Saharan Africa

The exact position of the dividing line between the two regions is not clearly defined because of discontinuous and blurred break-points between national boundaries, ecologies and ethnicities. However, according to one classification of the two regions, sub-Saharan Africa includes forty-eight nations. Forty-two of these nations are on the African mainland. In addition, four island nations in the southwest Indian Ocean (Madagascar, The Comoros, Mauritius, and Seychelles) and two island nations in the Atlantic Ocean (Cape Verde and São Tomé and Príncipe) are considered part of sub-Saharan Africa. According to this classification scheme, the countries of sub-Saharan Africa are:

Central Africa

East Africa

North East Africa

Southern Africa

West Africa

African island nations

Territories, possessions, départements

Regions of the World
Africa: Central Africa | East Africa | Great Lakes | Guinea | Horn of Africa | North Africa | Maghreb / Northwest Africa | Sahel | Southern Africa | Sub-Saharan Africa | Sudan | West Africa
Americas: Andean states | Caribbean | Central America | Great Lakes | Great Plains | Guianas | Latin America | North America | Patagonia | South America | Southern Cone
Asia: Central Asia | East Asia | East Indies | Far East | Indian subcontinent | North Asia | Southeast Asia | Southwest Asia (Middle East / Near East, Levant, Anatolia, Arabia)
Europe: Balkans | Baltic region | Benelux | British Isles | Central Europe | Eastern Europe | Northern Europe | Scandinavia | Southern Europe | Western Europe
Eurasia: Caucasus | Mediterranean | Post-Soviet states
Oceania: Australasia | Melanesia | Micronesia | Polynesia | Aleutian Islands | Pacific Rim
Polar: Arctic | Antarctic

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