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Geography of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Samuel Aryeetey-Attoh (Ed.), Geography of sub-Saharan Africa (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1997), 379 pp. Cloth.

This is an introductory text that brings together contributions by scholars with vast experience in the geography of Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). The authors adopt a thematic approach in the study of the various aspects of the physical and human geography of the region. Collectively, the authors endeavor to dispel many misconceptions, misrepresentations, and misinterpretations of the geography of SSA. While the book covers an extensive region, arguably the least developed in the world, their delimitation of the SSA appears arbitrary and somewhat confusing. For example, West Africa appears to exclude the island states of Cape Verde and Sao Tome and Principe while what is referred to as East Africa's should actually be known as "Eastern Africa."

The book comprises twelve chapters covering themes ranging from the physical environment to the ever changing political landscapes of the region. Chapter one is devoted to the physical environment and examines the geomorphological, climatological, and biogeographical bases of the region. This chapter discusses briefly the evolution of the Rift Valley, river and drainage systems, and the main factors influencing the climate of the region such as ocean currents and continentality. The broad soil and vegetation zones of the region are also considered.

However, the following shortcomings have been identified. The authors should have provided more information about the African Rift Valley, system specially the "Gregory Rift Valley." Vulcanicity which has often accompanied rifting in Eastern Africa should also have been discussed. Similarly, it would also have been a good idea to revisit L.C. King's theory of erosional surfaces with respect to evolution of plateau surfaces in SSA. The geology of the region has been ignored yet it forms the basis of the mineral resources of Central and Southern Africa. Processes such as downwarping and pediplanation are scantily discussed as is the coverage of the climatic, aspects. For example, the authors should have stressed seasonal distribution and its significance for agriculture in a region which frequently experiences food deficits. Climatological concepts such as evapotranspiration, rainfall effectiveness and water balance ought to have been stressed and elaborated in the text. As far as the biogeographical aspects are concerned, it would have been interesting to read about pests and diseases in the region including the tsetse fly menace and wildlife management.

Chapter two deals with human environmental impacts and stresses the main aspects: deforestation and desertification. This is a very well-researched and well-written chapter. It is enriched with up-to-date statistics and diagrams. The chapter has several case studies which provide additional interesting information. Chapter three examines the historical background of the region. This chapter, too, is quite elaborate. It demonstrates how past events have influenced the spatial organization and human geography of SSA. The potential and constraints to the development of the region are discussed against this historical backdrop. Chapter four discusses the cultural geography of sub-Saharan Africa. This is another very interesting chapter. The specific examples provided such as symbolism are very rich in illustrating certain cultural attributes of different ethnic groups in the region. Chapter five deals with population geography of the region. This chapter is also fairly detailed with up-to-date statistics. Chapter six examines medical geography. This is a very important topic in the book in question. The chapter discusses the epidemic diseases of the region such as malaria, yellow fever and River Blindness, Bilharzia and new killer diseases ravaging the region such as Ebola and HIV/AIDS. More importantly, the effects of Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) on health care services in the region are also considered.

Chapter seven discusses urban geography of SSA. Africa in general and SSA in particular is an area that is becoming rapidly urbanized. The historical development of towns and their internal structure in the region are discussed. Chapter eight deals with Geography and Development. The concept of dualism is well elaborated on and the theoretical explanations of the core-periphery disparities are also examined. This chapter is very much enriched with statistical figures. Chapter nine examines the topical issue of gender and development pointing out women and children form the majority of the population in SSA. Chapter ten reviews the different farming systems in the region and also reviews the main problems hindering agricultural development in the region. Chapter eleven considers industrial geography and examines recent trends in manufacturing industry. It also discusses public and private sector involvement in industrial development raising pertinent issues about the role the state should play in industrial environment as SSA embarks on its path to attain Newly Industrialized Countries (NICs) status. It is often argued that the state should divest in industry and provide an enabling environment for private enterprise.

The last chapter in the book analyzes the class struggle conflicts over time and space in SSA. Sub-Saharan Africa offers a fertile ground to study the manifestations and ramifications of class conflicts. In the words of the authors "the history of the region, in conjunction with its economic poverty, cultural diversity ... in the global community, has created a set of circumstances that manifest themselves in a landscape of political instability." This chapter describes the characteristics of SSA's political landscape, examines the causes of political instability in the region and how political instability manifests itself in the region, and concludes by showing that all is not lost for SSA--these are positive signs of change. This chapter provides very exciting albeit somber reading. However, the political geography of apartheid in South Africa is now an anachronism and, therefore, irrelevant in our modern context (pp. 358-362). Overall, the book explores a wide range of themes that are very relevant for the development of SSA, but, it also excludes or ignores certain key areas including transport and trade. In spite of these omissions the book is one of the most valuable textbooks on the geography of sub-Saharan Africa.

E.M. IRANDU AND M.N. KINYANJUI University of Nairobi Nairobi, Kenya
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Irandu, E.M.; Kinyanjui, M.N.
Publication:Journal of Asian and African Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Nov 1, 1998
Words:989
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