Savannas, or grasslands with scattered trees, make up much of the interior. Tropical rain forests cover central Africa's Congo Basin and coastal West Africa.

Africa's population has long been concentrated in the most fertile areas, such as the highlands of East Africa. Like people in other parts of the world, however, millions of Africans are migrating to cities. About 40 percent of Africans live in fast-growing cities.

Africa has rich deposits of minerals such as gold ore, copper ore, and diamonds. However, these resources are distributed unevenly across the continent. Some African nations produce valuable cash crops, including coffee and cacao. Some regions also have large oil reserves. European powers had established colonies in Africa to tap into these natural resources.

Nationalism Leads to Freedom

Most nationalist leaders were Western educated. Many were powerful speakers whose words inspired supporters. Kwame Nkrumah(KWAH may un KROO muh) in Gold Coast, Jomo Kenyatta in Kenya, and Léopold Senghor (sahn GAWR) in Senegal were skilled organizers.

Nationalist leaders organized political parties. In the cities, parties published newspapers, held mass rallies, and mobilized popular support for independence. Colonial powers imprisoned many nationalists, including Nkrumah and Kenyatta. But demonstrations, strikes, and boycotts eventually forced European rulers to negotiate timetables for freedom.

Photo of a group of African men and women panning in a sandy pool in the desert bush, pans filled with silt and dirt.

Some mining operations in Africa employ the most modern technology and machinery, but in poorer nations, older methods are still used. Here, men mine diamonds by hand in Sierra Leone.

Most African nations won independence through largely peaceful efforts. However, colonies with large numbers of white settlers, such as Algeria and Kenya, were unwilling to grant Africans their freedom. Africans in these colonies were forced to go to war against the colonial powers. Later, you will examine five of these nations in detail.

A Variety of New Governments

More than 50 new nations were born in Africa during the great liberation. Throughout the continent, Africans had great hopes for the future. After 70 years of colonial rule, Africans were again in control of their destinies. The new nations took different paths to modernization. Some made progress despite huge obstacles. Many others were plunged into crisis by civil war, military rule, or corrupt dictators. In recent decades, a number of African nations have taken steps toward democracy.

Old Boundaries, New Problems

In Africa, as in other regions such as Eastern Europe, the question of where to draw national borders created challenges. European colonial powers had drawn boundaries around their colonies without regard to the many rival ethnic groups living there. Most newly independent African nations included a patchwork of peoples with different languages, religions, and traditions.

Within these new nations, people often felt their first loyalty was to their own ethnic group, not to a distant national government. As a result, ongoing conflict between rival ethnic groups has plagued many African nations.

The Rise of Dictators

After independence, the new African nations set up governments modeled on those of the departing colonial rulers. But parliamentary systems did not work in Africa as they had in Europe, where they had evolved over centuries. Creating unified nations with stable governments proved to be a hard goal to reach

Many leaders of the new nations were heroes of the liberation struggle. Some chose to build one-party states. They argued that multiparty systems encouraged disunity, which was often true.


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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments