World Regional Geography Term Paper

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Regional Geography

Why could Africa be considered on of the richest continents on Earth? Discuss some of sub-Saharan Africa's Assets. Then address why, despite these facts, the majority of African states remain poor. Be sure to include several factors relation to this region's unique physical geography, complex human geography, history.

The spectrum of environments which exist in Africa spans entire moisture and temperature gradients, from perhaps the most arid to among the well-watered places on earth, from the coolness of the Cape to the furnace that is the Sahara. This environmental diversity is mirrored in the proliferation of its fauna and flora, for Africa has seemingly every conceivable combination of climatological, geological, and pedological factors; the plant and animal communities have evolved over time to reflect this heterogeneity. Moreover, it is an ancient continent that has provided a cradle for a wide range of taxonomic groups, from among the very first prokaryotic life-forms which show up in the Precambrian rocks of South Africa, to the first primates, ancestors of humans and, indeed, the first members of our own genus and species. Africa's most typical landforms are plains or low hills, so lowland forests are widespread in both moist and dry areas. Mountains are mainly found in the east of the continent, where fracturing led to rift valley formation and volcanic activity. The overall pattern is complicated by the elevation, depression, and slight folding of the old shield into a series of plains at differing heights up to 2600 m above sea-level. But essentially Africa may be divided into two parts: (a) the north and west, consisting of low plains ranging from 150-600 m; and (b) the south and east with high plains over 1000 m. Tropical rain forest grows both in the lowlands near the coast and on higher plateaux: for example, the Congo Basin, 250-480 m above sea-level, is a broad, shallow depression in the surface of one plateau. In contrast, montane forest has only a limited extent, being found mainly in a band in eastern Africa, running from northern Ethiopia to Malawi, skirting the eastern edge of the Congo Basin (Stephen, 1998).

Africa is rich in lakes, in both qualitative and quantitative terms. There is also an enormous diversity of lakes, including deep tectonic lakes of the East African Rift, such as Lakes Malawi, Tanganyika, Albert, and Turkana, lakes created by volcanic action (e.g. Lake Kivu or Lake Chala in Kenya), shallow floodplain lakes (e.g. those in the Okavango Swamps), soda lakes (notably in the East African Rift), multitudes of deflation basins or pans (as in the Kalahari and the Panlands of South Africa) and even some at high altitude of glacial origin. The quartz- rich rocks are the most widespread parent materials and underlie the major zonal soil types of Africa. They include the granites, gneisses, migmatites, quartzites, sandstones, shale, and sand deposits of alluvial, aeolian, or marine origin. They give rise to soils with a high sand fraction and of relatively poor nutrient status, being deficient in calcium, magnesium, and iron and manganese. In such conditions of low base concentration in the soil solution, kaolinite is the major secondary mineral produced. The soils have little weatherable minerals, but rather, contain a high proportion of inert materials especially residual quartz. The poverty of these soils is further aggravated by the fact that, on the old erosion surfaces that characterize most parts of the continent, the parent materials probably have undergone several cycles of soil formation. The residues of such multiple pedogenesis cover large expanses of Africa and are among the poorest of parent materials.

2. Political boundaries in Sub-Saharan Africa are an important legacy of the colonial period. Discuss the problems that theses divisions have created. Be sure to mention the Berlin Conference and the five general categories of state shapes. Comment up on the negative and positive aspects of each shape and provide specific examples from Africa.

Interest in Africa as a source of slaves and raw materials for the Industrial Revolution in Europe led to competition and conflict between various European nations for territorial control. To help settle all the issues involved, the Berlin Conference was convened in 1884-1885. This partitioned the continent into spheres of influence, and the Colonial period in African history was begun.

Many African countries have failed to negotiate the passage from "quasi-statehood" to "empirical statehood," a passage that would be reflected in "national integration and a set of viable political and economic institutions. Instead, domestic and international actors, whether governmental or nongovernmental, engage in licit or illicit transfers of resources within national territories or across their boundaries, while leaders of monopoly states seek to capture sufficient external resources, including military armaments, to sustain their often predatory rule. Three major consequences of these dynamics have been sharp economic decline in Africa, especially since 1980; the rise of armed insurgencies; and the emergence of large communities of refugees, which is the clearest indicator of state failure.

From the above analysis, we can see that before the Balkanization of the African continent, only the riverine belts of the savanna, the coastal-based city states of East Africa, and a few isolated pockets of the forest zone, such as Yorubaland, had distinct urban nodes within an otherwise rural settlement matrix.

Clearly, the colonial era had certain economic, political, and sociological evils. However, we must concede that it did initiate forces that have altered the socioeconomic landscape of much of the continent. The main characteristics of this era were the institution of centralized administrative systems over heterogeneous ethnic and linguistic groups, the introduction and gradual diffusion of Western medicine and education, of postal service and a monetary system of exchange, of cash crops and mining, and above all, of rails and roads. In various parts of Africa, the propagation of these impulses has been studied under the rubric of modernization, diffusion, and social change.

The Berlin Agreement serves as a benchmark for colonialism. During the periods of coastal and internal exploration, the European political space of Africa remained a set of loosely connected nodes of commercial activity. But the mandated institution of demonstrable effective authority changed all this. The European notion of sovereignty brought with it a total compartmentalization of political space in which there were no empty areas. From the ownership of a landholding through a hierarchy of political administrative areas such as the community, county, state, and nation, all pieces fit together with neither overlap nor extension. The resulting pattern contains homogeneous administrative units and clearly defined boundaries.

3. Discuss the assets, limitations and future prospects of Colombia and two other South American countries of your choosing (the three small Guyanas are not permitted).

Colombia

Nature forged Colombia in youth and vigor, kicking up mountains, clearing the way for rivers, flattening the coasts. The towering Andes enter Colombia to the south from Ecuador and then diverge hydra like into three distinct chains: the Coastal, Central, and Eastern ranges. Colombia is the only Andean country whose rivers flow south to north, paralleling the mountains. The Cauca River cuts between the Coastal and Central ranges: it opens up into a fertile plain near Cali, but narrows into a steep valley as it squeezes between the mountains farther north. Not to be outdone, the Magdalena River clears the way between the Central and Eastern ranges; as it approaches the coast it broadens out into swamplands, and then picks up the Cauca River before reaching the Caribbean. Of Colombia's three ranges, the Eastern is the most insistent; one branch forks east into Venezuela near Cucuta, while the other continues north to a spectacular finish near the Caribbean coast: snowcapped Mr. Colon, at 19,000 feet, Colombia's highest peak.

In Colombia, the government's commitment to community health had both a legal and a financial basis, and it respected the country's regional loyalties. Colombia's approach left room for local initiatives and regional planning in a way Brazil's overly centralized administration discouraged. Nonetheless, for Colombia's poorest families, access to health care still depended on where they lived: it was better in the cities than in the countryside, better in a province like El Valle than in a poor, isolated one like the Choco.

Between 1970 and 1985, Colombia's population increased by 36%, compared to 16% in the United States. Colombia is a young country: in 1985, 36% of its people were under fifteen years of age and only 4% were over sixty-five. In the United States, by contrast, only 22% of the population was under fifteen and 12% was over sixty-five. 19 The

As U.S. private investment is greater in Colombia than in El Salvador and as Colombia is nearer to Venezuelan oil, the Panama Canal, and the sea lanes frequently mentioned by U.S. officials, one might surmise that any serious apocalyptic threat would be met by massive U.S. government intervention. (I might add, although I have never visited Southeast Asia, that Colombia's topography would make Vietnam seem easy.) For these reasons, it is my opinion that a successful leftist…[continue]

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