The Sahara was not always desert. As its climate grew drier, people moved north or south. Traders linked them, selling salt from the north for ivory, slaves, and gold from the south. Sahel rulers grew rich by taxing the traders. The region had three great empires—Ghana, Mali, and Songhai. (See chart below.) Today, the northern Sahel has five countries—Mauritania, Mali (named for the ancient kingdom), Burkina Faso, Niger, and Chad. Many people are farmers. Because the soil is poor, they use shifting agriculture. They clear a part of the forest to grow crops. Then after the soil is no longer useful, farmers move on and clear another part of the forest. They grow millet and sorghum to eat and peanuts to sell. Others in the Sahel herd camels, cattle, and sheep.
Herding, shifting agriculture, and chop- ping firewood hurt the environment. Land stripped of trees suffers deforestation. When there is a drought, huge areas of the Sahel may lose all vegetation, which is called desertification. The savanna turns to desert.As desertification increases, people leave for the cities. They join camps of refugees, people who flee to escape danger.Aid from other countries has helped Sahel countries survive in their harsh environment. But these countries are also working to develop their natural resources —rivers and minerals—and people’s skills.

1 - What is desertification?
2 - Chart Skills Which empire ruled in the Sahel most recently?


The countries of this region, along the coast of West Africa, have advantages over the Sahel. They have a wetter climate and are located on the sea. They trade more with Europe than across the Sahara.Most coastal countries export raw materials to other nations. Peanuts and cocoa beans are also exported.The economies of the coastal countries suffer because they import more than they export. They have large debts because they borrowed money and now pay billions of dollars in interest.When African countries gained inde- pendence, their economies were weak. Few countries have been able to recover from these economic problems. Most had weak governments, and the army seized power in coups, sudden political takeovers. One-man rule was common. Civil strife and war- fare have often erupted in many West African nations, including Liberia and Sierra Leone. Many West Africans have begun grass-roots efforts to improve the economy. People have taken it upon themselves to improve the economy instead of relying on the government for change. Women in particular have played an important role efforts. In many countries, women grow crops and work together to improve the economic conditions of their villages. They also organize food markets and have begun running small businesses. These efforts help to boost the depressed economy.

3 - What is a coup?
4 - Map Skills On what ocean are the coastal countries located?


Nigeria was once seen as Africa’s hope. Instead, poor leadership and lack of unity have caused problems. Nigeria is not united because it has many regions and ethnic groups. Vegetation includes coastal swamps, rain forests, savanna, and desert scrub. Climate varies from heavy rainfall to little rain. Different groups control each area. The south has the best land. Yoruba took the southwest, and Ibo the southeast. Hausa and Fulani control the most fertile north- ern lands. Nigeria’s middle region has the poorest soil and weakest groups. Nigeria’s people often face problems because of religious or political differences.
Nigeria’s main export is oil. The econo- my was good until oil prices fell in the early 1980s. Then military leaders over- threw the government in a coup. The new leaders asked the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund for help. Both are United Nations agencies that lend money to countries. Nigeria agreed to make the economic changes suggested by these agencies. Nigeria sold government- owned businesses to private companies, fired some government workers, and kept wages and prices down. People protested and called for free elections.
In 1993, the military held an election but threw out the results. The military remained in control, and political oppo- nents were jailed or killed. Free elections were finally held in 1999. As a positive sign for democracy, the Nigerian parlia- ment rejected efforts by the president to amend the constitution to allow him to run for a third term in 2007.

5 - Why did Nigeria have to turn to the World Bank and the Inter- national Monetary Fund for help?
6 - Chart Skills What is the popula- tion of Nigeria?


The countries of Central Africa range from the tiny island nation of Sa ̃o Tomé and Príncipe to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the largest country south of the Sahara.The largest river of the region is the Congo. This river system is a highway providing food, water, and transportation. A thick rain forest in the Congo Basin lim- its movement. Its valuable wood can be cut and exported only near rivers or rail- roads. Both the savanna and rain forest have poor soil. Large numbers of people have moved to Kinshasa, the capital.
Across the Congo River from Kinshasa is Brazzaville, capital of the Congo Republic. Its railroad serves the inland countries of Chad and the Central African Republic. Many countries of West and Central Africa belong to an economic community known as the CFA. They use a form of money called the CFA franc.
Central African countries have many mineral resources. The Democratic Republic of the Congo has copper, cobalt, and diamonds. But the country’s prob- lems have kept them from being mined.
After independence in 1960, the Democratic Republic of the Congo was torn apart by Belgian troops, United Nations forces, rebel armies, and hired soldiers called mercenaries. A general by the name of Mobutu Sese Seko became dictator. The nation fell deeply into debt, and in 1997 Mobutu’s rule was overthrown.

7 - Why is the Congo River important to the region?
8 - Map Skills Which Central African country does not have a seacoast?