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Sub-Saharan Africa

Tsauchab River and Sossusvlei Lakebed, Namibia

Namib Desert, Sossusvlei, Namibia

Porto-Novo, Benin

flamingos on Lake Bogoria, Kenya

The Great Migration, Kenya

Daasanach Village (primarily agropastoral people) along the Omo River, Ethiopia

 

Mauritius is an island nation in the Indian Ocean about 1,200 miles off the southeast coast of the African continent.  Mauritius became an important base on the trade routes from Europe to the East before the opening of the Suez Canal. Mauritius is known for its varied flora and fauna and was the only known home of the dodo, which, along with several other avian species, was made extinct by human activities relatively shortly after the island's settlement.

Nairobi, Kenya

Kibera is the largest slum in Nairobi, and the largest urban slum in Africa. Most Kibera slum residents live in extreme poverty, earning less than $1.00 per day. Unemployment rates are high. Persons living with HIV in the slum are many, as are AIDS cases. Cases of assault and rape are common. There are few schools, and most people cannot afford an education for their children. Clean water is scarce and therefore diseases caused by related poor hygiene are prevalent. A great majority of people living in the slum lack access to basic services, including electricity, running water and medical care.

The handsome, long-haired Gelada Baboon found in the Ethiopian Highlands, is the only grass-grazing monkey in the world. Dexterous fingers enable Geladas to deftly pick blades of grass and herbs to eat and dig up tubers. Over 90% of their diet is grass blades. Geladas live in matriarchal societies; family units join to form large foraging bands of 30 to 350 animals. They are the most terrestrial primate, besides humans. The gelada’s most striking feature is the hairless, hourglass-shaped pink or red area of skin located on the chest. In females, pearl-like knobs of skin surround this skin patch. Males have a long cape of hair on the back. Geladas live in one-male reproductive units that contain one breeding male and 3 to 5 females and their offspring. Though females are about one-third smaller than the males, they run the show and decide when an aging male should be replaced by a younger rival (though he will fight to defend his status). Females remain in their natal group; males migrate out at maturity and try to take over a breeding unit of their own. If he succeeds, females can choose to support or oppose him. Instead of using his brawn, the new male will groom the females to charm them into favoring him.

Burundi is a landlocked country in the Great Rift Valley at the junction between the African Great Lakes region and east Africa.

sunset over Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro from a viewpoint in Amboseli, Kenya.

 

Pansy Island, Bazaruto Archipelago, Mozambique

Dakar Senegal

Djibouti  City, Djibouti  countryside

Hombori Tondo is the highest mountain in Mali and a significant archaeological site, with caves inhabited more than 2,000 years ago. Nearby is an ancient Dogon village (Its exact age is unknown.) of the same name, known for its rock-built houses with narrow alleyways and tunnels.

Following the rainy season each year, the Okavango Delta in Botswana becomes a massive inland sea attracting hordes of wildlife that come in search of food and water.

Koutammakou, the Land of the Batammariba in north-eastern Togo, is listed as a World Heritage Site.

 

An old plantation preserves the past in Africa's smallest nation, São Tomé and Principe

Green hills give way to a wide river valley in landlocked Swaziland.

Circular huts are the traditional houses of the Sotho people of Lesotho.

Bandiagara Escarpment, Mali: Sandstone cliffs in the Dogon country of Mali rise almost 1,640 ft into the air and are dotted with ancient cave dwellings of the Tellem people. These people carved their caves into the cliffs of the escarpment so that their dead could be buried high above the flash floods that are common in the area. In the 14th century, the Dogon people drove out the Tellem and they've stayed there ever since.

Mogadishu Somalia: The Italian lighthouse on the edge of Old Harbor was built more than a century ago but is now abandoned.

Timbuktu, Mali: Throughout the 15th and 16th centuries, Timbuktu was an intellectual and spiritual capital. A center for the propagation of Islam, it also houses three great mosques that reflect the city's golden age. Today, its monuments are under threat from desertification due to armed conflict in the region as well as the looting and smuggling of cultural objects, notably ancient manuscripts.

 

Elephants in the Okavango Delta, Botswana: The Okavango Delta is the world's largest inland delta, flooding seasonally, and is populated by five ethnic groups of people, sharing it with hundreds of species of animals.

Sardine Run, South Africa: During the sardines' migration along the coast of South Africa, all marine predators are looking for sardines.

The Democratic Republic of Congo

Madagascar

Seychelles

A new Chinese-built 293-mile railway in Kenya, linking Nairobi with the port city of Mombasa, is the nation's biggest infrastructure project since independence. Trying to position itself as the gateway to east Africa, the new railway has battled corruption accusations and environmental concerns. The World Bank warned that building a new railway, instead of refurbishing the old one, was by far the most expensive option and the new line cuts through a key wildlife migration route.

 

Tin Flats City, Cape Flats, South Africa 2011, photo by Marcus Lyon

Bo-Kaap, Cape Town, South Africa

Khayelitsha is a partially informal township in Western Cape, located on the Cape Flats in the City of Cape Town, South Africa, photo by Marcus Lyon (2012)

Rwanda

The Congo is the second-largest rainforest in the world, but unsustainable hunting and extraction of resources like diamonds and petroleum, are threatening the region.

Laisamis, Kenya, February 2020: Kenya battled its worst desert locust outbreak in 70 years, threatening the food security of millions.

 

A family celebrating the 2021 new year in Dakar, Senegal

Namaqua National Park in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa

This prominent circular feature in the Sahara desert of Mauritania has attracted attention since the earliest space missions because it forms a conspicuous bull's-eye in the otherwise rather featureless expanse of the desert. Described by some as looking like an outsized fossil in the desert, the structure, which has a diameter of almost 30 miles, has become a landmark for shuttle crews. Initially interpreted as a meteorite impact structure because of its high degree of circularity, it is now thought to be merely a symmetrical uplift that has been laid bare by erosion. Paleozoic quartzites form the resistant beds outlining the structure.

Angola is a south-western African nation whose varied terrain encompasses tropical Atlantic beaches, a labyrinthine system of rivers and Sub-Saharan desert that extends across the border into Namibia.

Luanda, Angola

Stability has not translated into prosperity for The Gambia. Despite the presence of the Gambia river, which runs through the middle of the country, only 1/6 of the land is arable, and poor soil quality has led to the predominance of one crop - peanuts. Tourism is an important source of foreign exchange, as is the money sent home by Gambians living abroad. 

 

Victoria Falls, Zambia and Zimbabwe border

Botswana is one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world. It is essentially the nation state of the Tswana, who make up 79% of the population.  Approximately 70% of its territory is part of the Kalahari Desert but it has one of the world's fastest-growing economies.

 Gaborone, Botswana

Burkina Faso is a landlocked country in west Africa. Its largest ethnic group in Burkina Faso is the Mossi people, who settled the area in the 11th and 13th centuries.  Burkina Faso has been severely affected by the rise of Islamist terrorism in the Sahel since the mid-2010s.

Benin, a French-speaking West African nation, is a birthplace of the vodun religion and home to the former Dahomey Kingdom circa 1600–1900.

The Republic of the Congo (often called Congo- Brazzaville) is relatively rich in natural resources, including forests, oil and other mineral resources, and it has the deepest port in Africa. Oil accounts for nearly 90% of the country's exports revenue. Its economy has been in crisis since 2014 when oil prices collapsed. That caused the country’s external debt, much of it owed to private oil traders, to soar to more than 100% of GDP. The COVID pandemic and resulting drop in oil prices made matters worse. The economic crisis has driven to poverty nearly half the population, including retirees, civil servants and students. Women, youth, persons with disabilities and indigenous people are the most vulnerable. Unemployment is rampant in the country, where 75% of the workforce is employed in the informal sector, either self-employed or in low-productivity jobs.

 

Gitega, Burundi

Cabo Verde is an archipelago and island country of west Africa in the central Atlantic Ocean, consisting of 10 volcanic islands with a combined land area of about 1,557 square miles. Its i solation has resulted in the islands having several endemic species, particularly birds and reptiles, many of which are endangered by human development. The arid land and lack of natural resources means famine is within living memory for many Verdeans. But thanks to its landscapes, biodiversity, natural pools and colonial architecture, it has the potential to become a sustainable tourism destination. Unfortunately, increasing numbers of visitors may harm the environmental wonders that draw outsiders to the islands.

Praia , Santiago Island, Cabo Verde: Portuguese explorers discovered and colonized the islands in the 15th century, establishing the first European settlement in the tropics. Cabo Verde declared its independence In 1975 and, unlike most mainland African nations, has avoided civil war and violent coups since then. It is ranked as the most democratic nation in Africa and follows a foreign policy of nonalignment, seeking cooperative relations with all friendly nations.

Cameroon, on the Gulf of Guinea, is a Central African country of varied terrain and wildlife. The number of distinct ethnic and linguistic groups in Cameroon is estimated to be between 230 and 282. Both monogamous and polygamous marriage are practiced and the average Cameroonian family is large and extended.

Cameroon’s inland capital is Yaoundé. The country is often referred to as Africa in miniature because of its geological, linguistic and cultural diversity Although the president is selected by popular vote every seven years, there have been only 2 presidents since Cameroon gained independence in 1960. Human rights organizations allege that the government suppresses the freedoms of opposition groups by preventing demonstrations, disrupting meetings and arresting opposition leaders and journalists.

The Central African Republic (CAR) is a fragile country. The drivers of fragility include a lack of social cohesion, the concentration of political power, social and regional disparities, the capture and mismanagement of natural resources by the elite and persistent insecurity fueled by a regional system of conflicts. CAR is a perennially weak state that sits at the crossroads of ethnic and linguistic groups in the center of the African continent. Since gaining independence from France  in 1960, CAR’s political history has since been marred by a series of coups and armed groups currently control large swaths of the country's territory.

 

The Central African Republic is rich in diamonds, gold, oil, uranium and agricultural potential, but has one of the world's poorest populations.

In 2021, Congo-Brazzaville’s President Denis Sassou Nguesso was sworn in for another five-year term, extending his 36-year rule over the country, first taking the helm in 1979 and then again in 1997 after losing the country’s first multiparty elections in 1992. The country has struggled to restore democratic governance. Journalists are routinely pressured, threatened and incarcerated., as are those associated with the political opposition. In recent elections, media outlets and the internet have been shut down prior to voting.

Since independence from France in 1975, Comoros - composed of the islands of Anjouan, Moheli and Grande Comore - has weathered approximately 20 realized and attempted coups resulting in prolonged political instability and stunted economic development. 

Chad faces widespread poverty, an economy severely weakened by low international oil prices, inadequate infrastructure and rebel and terrorist-led insurgencies in the Lake Chad Basin. Additionally, northern Chad has seen several waves of rebellions since 1998. 

The descendants of Arab traders, Malay immigrants and African peoples contribute to Comoros' complex ethnic mix. Natural resources are in short supply and the chief exports - vanilla, cloves and perfume essence - are prone to price fluctuations. Remittances by Comorans living abroad are an important source of income. Several factors contribute to Comoros’ on-going poverty: rapid population growth, high dropout rates, inadequate health care access, limited economic and trade opportunities, and a lack of natural resources.

Cape Town, South Africa

 

Gabon, on the west coast of Africa has had few leaders since its independence from France in 1960, with Omar Bongo ruling as president for more than four decades until his death in 2009. His son was deposed by army officers in 2023.

Chad achieved its independence in 1960 and saw decades of instability, oppressive rule, civil war, and a Libyan invasion.  Chad's post-independence history has been marked by instability and violence, stemming mostly from tension between the mainly Arab-Muslim north and the predominantly Christian and animist south. The army has suffered heavy losses to Islamic terror groups.

Cote d’Ivoire : Yamoussoukro is the legislative capital. Abidjan (shown) is the administrative  and economic capital.

Cote d’Ivoire’s population is likely to continue growing for the foreseeable future because almost 60% of the populace is younger than 25, the total fertility rate is holding steady at about 3.5 children per woman, and contraceptive use is under 30%. The country needs to improve education, health care and gender equality in order to turn its large and growing youth cohort into human capital. Access to education is poor, especially for women. The lack of educational attainment contributes to Cote d’Ivoire’s high rates of unskilled labor, adolescent pregnancy and HIV/AIDS prevalence.

Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) achieved independence from France in 1960 but has maintained close ties with France. The export and production of cocoa and foreign investment drove economic growth that led Cote d’Ivoire to become one of the most prosperous states in west Africa. For more than three decades after its independence, Cote D'Ivoire was known for its religious and ethnic harmony, as well as its well-developed economy. The country was hailed as a model of stability. But an armed rebellion in 2002 split the nation in two. Peace deals alternated with renewed violence as the country slowly edged its way towards a political resolution of the conflict. Despite the instability, Cote D'Ivoire is the world's largest exporter of cocoa beans, and its citizens enjoy a relatively high level of income compared to other countries in the region.

Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso

 

Equatorial Guinea has been cited as a textbook case of the resource curse - or the paradox of plenty (the phenomenon of countries with an abundance of natural resources having less economic growth, less democracy or worse development outcomes than countries with fewer natural resources). It experienced rapid economic growth for several years due to the discovery of large offshore oil reserves in 1995. The country's economic windfall resulted in massive increases in government revenue, a significant portion of which was designated for the development of infrastructure. Systemic corruption, however, hindered socioeconomic development and there have been limited improvements in the population's living standards. Oil production peaked in 2004 and has declined since. Despite its wealth of natural resources and fertile soil, the rate of hunger is high, with 60% of the population struggling to meet its daily needs. Less than half has access to clean drinking water and the child mortality rate remains near 10%.

After independence from Italian colonial control in 1941 and 10 years of British administrative control, the UN established Eritrea as an autonomous region within the Ethiopian federation in 1952. Ethiopia's full annexation of Eritrea as a province 10 years later sparked a violent 30-year conflict for independence that ended in 1991 with Eritrean fighters defeating government forces. Eritreans overwhelmingly approved independence in a 1993 referendum. Isaias Afwerki has been Eritrea's only president since independence. His rule, particularly since 2001, has been characterized as highly autocratic and repressive. His government has created a highly militarized society by instituting an unpopular program of mandatory conscription of indefinite length into national military and civilian service.

Gabon, a sparsely populated country known for its dense rainforests and vast petroleum reserves, is one of the most prosperous countries in central Africa but its oil wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few. A third of its population lives in poverty and nearly 40% of Gabonese aged 15 to 24 are unemployed.

The Gambia is one of Africa's smallest countries. President Yahya Jammeh ruled the country with an iron fist after seizing power in a bloodless coup in 1994. His 22-year rule came to an end in 2016, when he was defeated in a shock election result by Adama Barrow. Mr Jammeh only left office after mediation by neighboring countries and the threat of armed intervention.

Eritrea's hard-won independence promised much for the future, but instead it brought repression, war, secrecy and poverty. Its economy remains agriculture-dependent and it is one of Africa’s poorest nations.

Equatorial Guinea consists of a continental territory (known as Rio Muni) and five inhabited islands . It is one of the smallest countries by area and population in Africa.  In 1968, Equatorial Guinea was granted independence from Spain and elected its first president.  Under his 11-year regime, the country experienced mass suppression, purges and killings. Some estimates indicate that a third of the population either went into exile or was killed. In 1979, he was deposed in a violent coup. Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has ruled since and has been elected in non-competitive contests several times, most recently in 2022. He exerts almost total control over the political system and there is nearly no space for political opposition. Rights organizations have described the two post-independence leaders as among the worst abusers in Africa and the continent's most brutal dictators. Equatorial Guinea’s capital, Malabo on Bioko Island,has been occupied since at least 1000 BCE. A new capital, Ciudad de la Paz, is under construction.

 

Gold, cocoa and more recently oil form the cornerstone of Ghana's economy and have helped fuel an economic boom.

Ghana is considered one of the more stable countries in west Africa since its transition to multi-party democracy in 1992. Formerly known as the Gold Coast, Ghana gained independence from Britain in 1957, becoming the first sub-Saharan nation to break free from colonial rule. The country is named after the great medieval trading empire that was located northwest of the modern-day state until its demise in the 13th century.

Conakry, Guinea

Guinea's mineral wealth makes it potentially one of continent's richest countries, but its people are among the poorest in west Africa. Experiments with socialism and a 2-year rule by junta have taken their toll on prospects for development. The 2010 election ushered in a decade of civilian rule, but led to violent ethnic clashes as well. In 2021, a military coup deposed the elected president. In addition, hundreds of thousands of refugees from Liberia and Sierra Leone have strained Guinea's struggling economy. The instability has generated suspicion and ethnic tension - as well as accusations between neighbors of attempts at destabilization and border attacks.

Umaro Sissoco Embaló won Guinea-Bissau’s 2019 presidential election, but faced a last-minute stand-off with parliament before taking office. This reflected the continuing instability of state institutions in a country that has seen nine coups or attempted coups since 1980, and the resistance of the long-governing PAIGC party to the victory of an opposition candidate. A former prime minister, Mr Embaló is the first president to be elected without the backing of the PAIGC. His predecessor, Jose Mario Vaz, was the first elected leader since the army mutinied in 2012 and plunged the country - already plagued by corruption and cocaine trafficking - into chaos, and the first to complete his term without being overthrown.

West Africa's Guinea-Bissau was part of the Portuguese Empire for centuries. Once hailed as a potential model for African development, it is now one of the poorest in the world. The cashew nut crop provides a modest living for most of Guinea-Bissau's farmers, and is the main source of foreign exchange but the nation has a massive foreign debt, an economy that relies heavily on foreign aid and it has become a shipment point for Latin American drugs.

 

Maseru, Lesotho

Liberia is Africa's oldest republic, but it became known in the 1990s for its long-running, ruinous civil wars and its role in a rebellion in neighboring Sierra Leone. Around 250,000 people were killed in its civil wars, and many thousands more fled the fighting as the economy collapsed. A newly elected president took office in 2024, promising to restore hope in Liberia and prevent the country "from falling over the cliff.” Although founded by freed American and Caribbean slaves, Liberia is mostly inhabited by indigenous Africans, with the slaves' descendants comprising only 5% of the population.

Liberia has the longest continuously operated rubber plantation in the world.

Situated off the southeast coast of Africa, Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world. Having developed in isolation, the island nation is famed for its unique wildlife. Traditionally, the economy has been based on the cultivation of paddy rice, coffee, vanilla and cloves. Yet despite a wealth of natural resources and a tourism industry driven by its unique environment, it remains one of the world's poorest and is heavily dependent on foreign aid. It has also faced devastating cyclones that have further added to economic hardships.

Lilongwe , Malawi

Malawi, a largely agricultural country, is making efforts to overcome decades of underdevelopment. For the first 30 years of independence Malawi was run by an authoritarian president but democratic institutions have taken hold since he relinquished power in the mid-1990s. Most Malawians rely on subsistence farming, but the food supply situation is precarious because of the climate. In recent years the country has achieved significant economic growth.

 

Nouakchott, Mauritania

Mamoudzou, Grande-Terre, Mayotte

Mulanje Massif Mountain range in Malawi

One of Africa's newest oil producers, the Islamic Republic of Mauritania bridges the Arab Maghreb and western sub-Saharan Africa. The largely-desert country presents a cultural contrast, with an Arab-Berber population to the north and black Africans to the south. Many of its people are nomads. In the Middle Ages Mauritania was the cradle of the Almoravid movement, which spread Islam throughout the region and for a while controlled the Islamic part of Spain. Mauritania is rich in mineral resources, especially iron and ore. It is seen by the West as a valuable ally in the fight against Islamist militancy in the Sahel region.

Mauritania is slavery’s last stronghold. In 1981, it became the last country in the world to abolish slavery.  It didn't make slavery a crime until 2007. Currently, 10% to 20% of the population are enslaved. Slave masters exercise full ownership over their slaves. They can send them away at will, and it’s common for a master to give away a young slave as a wedding present. Most slaves consist of dark-skinned people whose ancestors were captured by lighter-skinned Arab Berbers centuries ago. Slaves typically are not bought and sold - only given as gifts and bound for life. Their children automatically become slaves, too. Journalists who attempt to report on such topics are jailed or ejected from the country. Anti-slavery activists are arrested and tortured. Some masters who no longer need a slave’s help send them away to slave-only villages in the countryside. They check on them occasionally or employ informants who make sure the slaves tend to the land and don’t leave it.

Mauritania is slavery’s last stronghold.

Mayotte is an archipelago in the Indian Ocean between Madagascar and the coast of Mozambique. Mayotte consists of a main island, Grande-Terre (or Maore), a smaller island, Petite-Terre (or Pamanzi), as well as several islets. It’s a department and region of France, though traditional Mayotte culture is most closely related to that of the neighboring Comoros islands. Mayotte chose to remain with France after Comoros declared its independence in 1975. The Mayotte archipelago is surrounded by a coral barrier reef, which shelters one of the largest closed lagoons in the world, with incredibly rich biodiversity. Although poor by French standards, Mayotte is the most prosperous territory in the Mozambique Channel, making it a major destination for immigration … 48% of the population are foreign nationals.

 

Agricultural landscape of Mayotte, containing most of the typical crops: coconut trees, bananas, breadfruit, papaya trees, mango trees, and manioc. The main cash crops - vanilla, ylang-ylang (used to make perfume), coffee and coconuts - provide the island's chief exports. Manioc, bananas, corn and rice are grown to feed the people of the island.

Maputo, Mozambique, located along the south Indian Ocean coast

Niamey, Niger

A vast, arid state on the edge of the Sahara desert, Niger has seen a series of coups and political instability in the decades following independence from France in 1960. Currently, the country struggles with frequent droughts and poverty. Niger is hoping that increased oil exploration and gold mining will help modernize its economy. It is a significant producer of uranium.

Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, is a multinational state inhabited by more than 250 ethnic groups speaking over 500 distinct languages. The three largest ethnic groups are the Hausa in the north, Yoruba in the west, and Igbo in the east. The federal government faces the challenge of preventing the country from dividing along ethnic and religious lines. Separatist aspirations have also been growing, and the imposition of Islamic law in several northern states has created divisions. Nigeria faces multiple security challenges: the jihadist insurgency in the north, clashes between animal herders and farmers over water and grazing rights, widespread banditry and kidnappings, a separatist insurgency in the southeast as well as militants in the Niger delta demanding a greater share of oil profits.

Nigeria is one of the world's largest oil producers, but few Nigerians, including those in oil-producing areas, have benefited.

 

The view from Jamestown, Saint Helena to the St Helena Royal Mail ship, the last regular sea service to visit the island.

Kigali, Rwanda

Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha is a British Overseas Territory stretching across a huge distance of the South Atlantic Ocean and consisting of the island of Saint Helena, Ascension Island and the archipelago of Tristan da Cunha. It is the UK's second-oldest overseas territory after Bermuda and among the most remote islands in the world.

Gough Island is the southernmost island in the archipelago of Tristan da Cunha. It is one of the most important seabird colonies in the world.

Edinburgh of the Seven Seas is the only settlement on Tristan da Cunha. Behind it is Queen Mary’s Peak, a shield volcano. Agriculture, livestock and fishing are a major part of the island's economy.

Volcanic terrain and aerials are used for both surveillance and transmissions on Ascension Island. It is a vital staging post for the UK in the South Atlantic.

 

After an ominous, post-independence start which included a coup, an invasion by mercenaries, an abortive army mutiny and several coup attempts, the Seychelles have attained stability and prosperity. The Indian Ocean archipelago enjoys a high per capita income, good health care and education. The former British colony's economy depends heavily on the fishing industry and tourism. Seychelles is home to an array of wildlife, including giant tortoises and sea turtles. Much of the land is protected as part of nature reserves.

São Tomé and Principe, once a leading cocoa producer, consists of two islands of volcanic origin and a number of smaller islets lying off the west coast of Africa. The country hopes to reduce its dependence on cocoa exports by exploiting offshore oil. It has strong links with Angola, which is a major business partner. São Tomé and Principe has a tradition of premiers and presidents from opposing camps governing together peacefully. The president has an arbitrating role in government but no executive powers, leaving the prime minister in the dominant position. Since independence from Portugal in 1975, São Tomé and Príncipe has been one of Africa's most stable and democratic countries.

The kingdom of Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) is one of the world's last remaining absolute monarchies. The king rules by decree over his million subjects, most of whom live in the countryside and follow traditional ways of life. King Mswati III was crowned in 1986 at the age of 18, succeeding his long-serving father King Sobhuza II, who died at the age of 82. The king often appears in public in traditional dress and has many wives. He rules by decree and has been criticized for his heavy-handed treatment of opponents and his demands on public money. Protesters angered by economic decline have become increasingly vocal in demanding political reform. Eswatini has had the highest HIV prevalence rate in the world The virus has killed countless Swazis and left thousands of orphans. By 2022, the country was making considerable progress in epidemic control, but the impact of HIV on the country has been significant.

Created in 1960 from a former British protectorate and an Italian colony, Somalia, on Africa’s east coast, collapsed into anarchy  in 1991 following the overthrow of its military regime. As rival warlords tore the country apart into clan-based fiefdoms, an internationally-backed unity government formed in 2000 struggled to establish control. The seizure of the capital Mogadishu and much of the country's south by a coalition of Islamist Shariah courts in 2006 prompted an intervention by Ethiopian, and later, African Union, forces. Since 2012, when a new internationally-backed government was installed, Somalia has moved towards stability, but the new authorities still face a challenge from al-Qaeda-aligned Al-Shabab insurgents.

Sierra Leone, in west Africa, has a special significance in the history of the transatlantic slave trade as the departure point for thousands of west African captives. The capital, Freetown, was founded as a home for repatriated former slaves in 1787. But the country's modern history has been overshadowed by a brutal civil war that ended in 2002 with the help of Britain, the former colonial power, and a large UN peacekeeping mission.

Sierra Leone has experienced substantial economic growth in recent years, although the ruinous effects of the civil war continue to be felt. It is rich in diamonds and other minerals. The trade in illicit gems, known as blood diamonds for their role in funding conflicts, perpetuated the civil war. The government has sought to crack down on the trade.

 

Landlocked Uganda has transformed itself from a country with a troubled past to one of relative stability and prosperity. Since its independence from Britain in 1962, the east African nation has seen several coups, followed by Idi Amin's brutal military dictatorship in the 1970s and a 5-year war that brought the current president to power in 1986. The country has also had to contend with a brutal 20-year insurgency in the north, led by the Lord's Resistance Army, which has been guilty of numerous crimes against humanity. The conflict in northern Uganda has killed thousands and displaced millions.

Lake Bunyonyi, Uganda

Zambia has managed to avoid the war and upheaval that has marked much of Africa's post-colonial history, earning itself a reputation for political stability. The landlocked country has experienced rapid economic growth over the last decade as Africa's second largest copper producer after the DR Congo. But its over-reliance on copper has made it vulnerable to falling commodity prices. Zambia also has one of the world's fastest growing populations with the UN projecting that its population will triple by 2050. Economic growth and massive Chinese investment have failed to improve the lives of most Zambians, with two-thirds still living in poverty.

Dar es Salaam is Tanzania's commercial hub and the largest city in east Africa.

Tanzania, on the east African coast, is regarded as one of the safest and most politically stable countries on the continent. However, domestic stability has not translated into economic prosperity. Many of its people live below the World Bank poverty line, although the country has had some success in wooing donors and investors. While the country's offshore gas reserves have remained undeveloped for many years, new political leadership since 2021 has raised hopes it may become an exporter of liquid natural gas (LNG) by 2030. Tanzania is home to two renowned tourism destinations - Africa's highest mountain, Kilimanjaro, and wildlife-rich national parks such as the Serengeti - but has become a target for poachers.

The spectacular Victoria Falls are on Zambia's border with Zimbabwe.

 

The struggle for independence, land and power runs throughout Zimbabwe's modern history. President Robert Mugabe dominated the country's political scene for almost four decades after independence from Britain in 1980. The fall of Mugabe in 2017 freed up politics and the media, but the country remains cash-strapped and impoverished.

Once the bread basket of the region, since 2000 Zimbabwe has struggled to feed its own people due to severe droughts and the effects of a land reform program that saw white-owned farms redistributed to landless Zimbabweans, with sharp falls in production. Farming still plays a key role in Zimbabwe's economy but it is struggling with high inflation and unemployment remains rife.

Green sea turtles swim hundreds of miles to nest on this west African archipelago, off the coast of Guinea-Bissau.      

North Africa and Southwest Asia

The Wailing Wall, Jerusalem

Dubai, UAE, from above

Sahara Desert, Libya

Sahara Desert, Libya

Asilah, Morocco

Petra is an historical and archaeological city in southern Jordan, established possibly as early as 312 BC as the capital city of the Arab Nabataeans. Petra is famous for its rock-cut architecture such as the Royal Tomb shown here. According to Arab tradition, Petra is the spot where Moses struck a rock with his staff and water came forth.

 

El Jadida is a port city on the Atlantic coast of Morocco.

Jerusalem, Israel

Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi UAE

Tehran, Iran

Khartoum, Sudan's capital city

the kasbah of Aït Benhaddou in Morocco

 

The port of Leptis Magna in Libya was one of the crown jewels of the Roman Empire. The 1,000-year-old city is one of the best-preserved archaeological sites in the world and houses the remnants of several civilizations, from the Berbers to Byzantium.

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

Nile River Delta

Sprawling over parts of Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman and the UAE, the Empty Quarter—or Rub’ al Khali—is the world’s largest sand sea. Roughly the size of France, the Empty Quarter holds about half as much sand as the entire Sahara Desert.

Palm Islands UAE

World Islands UAE

 

The Pearl Qatar: The multi-billion dollar man-made island is being built on one of Qatar’s previous major pearl diving sites.

Countries in the Middle East have the highest number of migrants as a proportion of their population.

Satellite image of Syrian asylum seeker encampment, Rukban, Jordan. Image taken on 12/5/2015.

Al-Hajjarah, Yemen: In Yemen's Haraz Mountains, situated west of the city of Manakhah, Al-Hajjarah was built into the mountains with quarried stone from the mountainside nearby in the 12th century.

Wadi Dawan, Yemen: Wadi Dawan is a town and desert valley in central Yemen. Located in the Hadhramaut Governorate, it is known for its mud-brick buildings.

Sümela, or the Monastery of the Virgin Mary, in Trabzon, Turkey, has had some sort of Christian structure on its grounds from nearly the moment the religion came to what is now northeastern Turkey. The basic outline of the Byzantine monastery that can be seen today dates from the 4th century, though even that’s been destroyed and rebuilt at various times throughout the ages.

 

Ourika Valley, Morocco: silvery-green olive groves that give way to the dramatic reddish ridges of the Atlas Mountains

Salt caravans pass each other in the Sahara. The caravan in the foreground is on its way out of the desert, each camel loaded with 440 pounds of salt, while the one in the background is on its way to Fachi, with loads of fodder and foodstuffs for the return trip.

Tight clusters of traditional mud-brick-and-palm houses have stood for centuries in Ghadames, Libya, a pre-Roman oasis town in the Sahara. Rooftop walkways allow women to move freely, concealed from men’s view.

Socotra Island, Yemen: This island is teeming with more than 700 extremely rare species of plants and animals, a full 1/3 of which are found nowhere else on Earth ... for example, the Dragon Blood trees shown here.

ancient city of Damascus, Syria

Iraqi tank graveyard in the desert near Al Jahrah, Kuwait: This graveyard of tanks will bear witness for many years to the damage that war causes both to the environment and to human health. In 1991, during the first Gulf War, a million depleted uranium shells were fired at Iraqi forces, spreading toxic, radioactive dust for miles around. Such dust is known to have lasting effects on the environment and to cause various forms of cancer and other serious illnesses among humans.

 

Road interrupted by a sand dune, Nile Valley, Egypt: Dunes cover nearly one-third of the Sahara, and the highest, in linear form, can attain a height of almost 1,000 feet. Barchans are mobile, crescent-shaped dunes that move in the direction of the prevailing wind at rates as high as 33 feet per year, sometimes even covering infrastructures such as this road in the Nile Valley.

An explosion rocks the Syrian city of Kobani on October 20, 2015 during a reported suicide car bomb attack by ISIS.

The region of Cappadocia in Turkey is home to more than 200 underground cities. The city of Derinkuyu, first built in the 7th century BCE, is the largest of them. With its 13 levels and a depth of 279 feet, it has the capacity to shelter at least 20,000 people.

Two elderly men enjoy a jovial conversation in a mosque courtyard in Turkey.

 Sky-colored alleyways, vibrantly-painted buildings and cobblestone streets make up the old city in Chefchaouen, Morocco, which was originally built to represent God and heaven.

Smoke billowed from the former rebel-held district of Bustan al-Qasr in Aleppo during a December 2016 operation by Syrian government forces to retake the embattled city. The crucial battle for Aleppo entered its final phase after Syrian rebels retreated into a small pocket of their former bastion in the face of new army advances. The retreat left opposition fighters confined to just a handful of neighborhoods in southeast Aleppo, the largest of them Sukkari and Mashhad.

 

Cappadocia, Turkey: This region  is known for its history and interesting geography such as the rock formations called fairy chimneys.

Iran

Iraqi Kurdistan

Libya

The Baatara Gorge Waterfall is a sinkhole located in the village of Balaa, Lebanon. It drops 837 feet into a spectacular cave.

Beirut, Lebanon

 

Gaza City (Palestine) beach at sunset

Emirati men walk with their camels across the Liwa desert, some 155 miles west of the Gulf emirate of Abu Dhabi.

Kurdish men march to the top of Kele Mountain above the city of Akre, Kurdistan Regional Government (Iraq), as part of the Newroz festival. March 21st every year, Kurdish people around the globe celebrate Newroz, the first day of the Kurdish calendar. Newroz is also the vernal equinox and the first day of spring. In Iraqi Kurdistan the celebrations begin the evening of the 20th.

Akre, Kurdistan Regional Government (Iraq), has been climbing its mountainside since it was first settled near some mineral springs around 700 BCE.

Damascus, Syria 2009, photo by Marcus Lyon

Legzira Beach, Morocco

 

The Dead Sea - between Israel, Jordan and Palestine - is so dense with salt and other minerals, humans can float on its surface. But, the sea is shrinking and sinkholes are cropping up along its coast due to poor management of water resources in the area.

Old City of Sana’a, Yemen: distinctive multi-story buildings decorated with geometric patterns, a history dating back thousands of years, significance in Islam

Tripoli, Libya

Tripoli’s Citadel of Raymond de Saint-Gilles

Old Town of Ghadamès, Libya: The Berber town, which stands in an oasis, is one of the world’s oldest pre-Saharan cities.

Antakya (Antioch), Turkey

 

Beirut, Lebanon

Phoenician city of Baalbek, Lebanon: sprawling Roman ruins, with its impressive complex of temples and well-preserved architecture

Sinai, Egypt’s St Catherine’s Monastery: Founded in the 6th century, the monastery is located at the foot of Mount Horeb where, according to the Old Testament, Moses received the Ten Commandments.

Syria’s capital Damascus is one of the oldest cities in the Middle East, and one of the oldest continually-inhabited cities in the world, Damascus has 125 monuments from different historical periods. Pictured is the 8th-century Great Mosque of the Umayyads.

The Dubai skyline - home to some of the world's tallest buildings - can disappear under blankets of fog and clouds.

Benghazi, Libya, January 2020: After years of conflict, Libyan factions edged briefly toward a cease-fire, but this street in Benghazi best told the story of life in the exhausted country.

 

Beirut, Lebanon, August 2020: Two explosions, one very powerful, killed over 190 people and injured more than 6,000. No one had taken action to secure 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate stored in a hangar in the city’s port.

Algeria, a gateway between Africa and Europe, has been battered by violence over the past half-century. Algeria is the continent's biggest country, and is the world's 10th largest but the Sahara desert covers more than four-fifths of the land. Most Algerians live along the northern coast. Oil and gas reserves were discovered in the 1950s.

Hoggar Mountains,  Sahara Desert, Algeria

Bahrain was one of the first states in the Gulf to discover oil and to build a refinery. It never reached the levels of production enjoyed by Kuwait or Saudi Arabia, and so has had to diversify its economy. The country is ruled by a Sunni king, whose family holds the main political and military posts. The divide between the Shia majority and the Sunni rulers has led to long-running tension, which has sporadically boiled over into civil disobedience. Bahrain was once viewed as a promising model for political reform and democratic transition, but since crushing a popular prodemocracy protest movement in 2011, the monarchy has systematically eliminated a broad range of political rights and civil liberties.

Bahrain was originally made up of 33 islands but intensive land reclamation has increased this figure to 84 islands. Land reclamation also increased the country’s land area by 38 square miles.

Egypt is the largest Arab country, and has played a central role in Middle Eastern politics. Egypt's great cities - and almost all agricultural activity - are concentrated along the banks of the Nile and its delta. The economy depends heavily on agriculture, tourism and cash remittances from Egyptians working abroad - mainly in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries. However, rapid population growth and the limited amount of arable land are straining the country's resources and economy, and political unrest has often paralyzed government efforts to address the problems.

 

Amman, Jordan

Oil-rich Kuwait is a tiny country at the top of the Gulf. Its strategic location and massive oil reserves make it one of the world's richest countries per capita. A conservative state with a Sunni Muslim majority, Kuwait stands out from the other Gulf monarchies for having the most open political system. The emirate's parliament has the most powers of any elected body in the Gulf and opposition MPs openly criticize the ruling Al-Sabah family. The ruling family retains full control over key government and executive posts and the emir has the last say in political matters. He also has the power to override or dissolve parliament, and call elections. But the government is facing increasing calls for radical political reform from the opposition.

An interior view of the Kuwait Grand Mosque, Kuwait City

Oman is the oldest independent state in the Arab world. It is strategically placed at the mouth of the Gulf at the south-east corner of the Arabian Peninsula. From the 17th Century onwards, the Omani Sultanate was an empire and competed with the Portuguese and British empires for influence in the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean. Oil reserves in Dhofar were discovered in 1964. Oman has not been immune from the groundswell of political dissent in the region, responding to a rare outbreak of discontent in 2011 by promising more jobs and benefits. Oman undertook a policy of modernization and economic reforms, with increased spending on health, education and welfare. However, the center of political power, combining both executive and legislative powers, remained the sultan’s personal prerogative, closed off from any debate. Sultan Haitham (shown) succeeded to the throne on the death of his cousin in 2020. Policies favoring Omanis in employment for the last 20 years have had limited results, with continuing social inequalities, unemployment and poverty.

A Nakhl fort in northern Oman dates from the 7th century.

The Sultan Qaboos mosque in Muscat, which was completed in 2000, is the largest mosque in Oman.

 

Qatar, once one of the poorest Gulf states, is one of the richest countries in the region today. Qatar has used income from its large gas reserves to bankroll its regional and global ambitions. Not all of its regional interventions are popular with other Arab leaders, such as its support for the Palestinian Hamas faction in Gaza and Islamist groups in Egypt and Syria. Qatar says any ties with such groups are part of an independent policy of relations with regional actors and strongly denies supporting terrorism. It also faces problems at home. Oil money funds an all-embracing welfare state, with many services free or heavily subsidized, but its treatment of migrant workers is frequently criticized by rights groups.

Al Wakrah Old Souq, in southern Qatar, was originally a small fishing and pearling village. Over the years, it evolved into a small city with a population of more than 80,000 and is currently considered the second most populous city in Qatar.

part of Atatra in  northern Gaza, before (May 2023) and after (Oct 2023) Israeli airstrikes: Israel captured The Gaza Strip (141 square miles) in the Six-Day War in 1967 and transferred to the newly-created Palestinian Authority (PA) the security and civilian responsibility for Palestinian-populated areas of Gaza as well as the West Bank. Israel continued to control Gaza’s  land borders, maritime territorial waters, cyberspace, telecommunications and airspace. Since the Islamic Resistance Movement’s violent seizure of all PA military and governmental institutions in the Gaza Strip in 2007, Gaza has been under the de facto governing authority of Hamas, and has faced years of conflict, poverty and humanitarian crises. Hamas has launched numerous air and ground attacks on Israel since then, most recently in 2023.

The West Bank, which Israel also calls Judea and Samaria, was the heartland of the ancient Jewish state. It’s home to many Jewish holy sites, like the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron (shown).

Bethlehem City, West Bank

The Dead Sea, also called the Salt Sea, is a salt lake bordering Jordan to the east and Israel and the West Bank to the west. The landlocked West Bank, so called due to its relation to the Jordan River, is the larger of the two Palestinian territories (2,180 square miles) and home to some three million Palestinians. It was captured by Israel in the Six-Day War in 1967. Israel transferred to the newly created Palestinian Authority (PA) the security and civilian responsibility for the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

 

Qatar coastline

The Pearl of Qatar in Doha is an artificial island with an area of over 1.5 square miles.

The Al Saud dynasty holds a monopoly of political power. King Salman ascended the throne in 2015 following the death of his half-brother Abdullah. He has been part of the ruling group of princes for decades and has continued the main thrusts of Saudi strategic policy - maintaining the US alliance and working towards energy market stability. He made his son heir-apparent in 2017, and the latter now controls all the major levers of power.

South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011 as the outcome of a 2005 agreement that ended Africa's longest-running civil war. Made up of the 10 southern-most states of Sudan, South Sudan is one of the most diverse countries in Africa. It is home to over 60 different major ethnic groups. Independence did not bring conflict in South Sudan to an end. Civil war broke out in 2013 when the president fell out with his then vice president, leading to a conflict that has displaced some four million people. A power-sharing agreement was signed between the warring parties in 2018 in a bid to bring the five-year civil war to an end, agreeing that they would form a unified national army, create a transitional government by 2019, and prepare for elections in 2022. Elections have been repeatedly delayed, contributing to an uptick in communal violence and the country’s worst food security crisis since independence, with 7 of 11 million South Sudanese citizens in need of humanitarian assistance.

Muslims from all over the world converge on Mecca for the annual Hajj pilgrimage. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is one of the main players in the Arab world. Its stature is built on its prestige as the custodian of the birthplace of Islam, and its status as an one of the world's largest oil producers. It stands out for its espousal of a puritan version of Sunni Islam, including harsh punishments such as public beheadings, and its restrictions on the rights of women. There are no democratic institutions in Saudi Arabia, with the systematic repression of human rights activists, women's rights activists, journalists and political dissidents.

Cattle are a source of wealth - and conflict - in South Sudan.

 

Tunisia was once an important player in the Mediterranean, thanks to its location in the centre of North Africa, close to vital shipping routes. French colonial rule ended in 1956, and Tunisia was led for three decades (1956-1987) by Habib Bourguiba, who advanced secular ideas, foremost of which was the emancipation of women. In 2011, mass protests unseated the president in the first of a series of popular uprisings to sweep the region. The current president has sought to re-impose aspects of authoritarian rule, carrying out a series of measures to enhance the power of the presidency at the expense of parliament and the judiciary, and then shutting parliament and giving himself almost unlimited executive powers. Journalists have faced increasing pressure and intimidation from government officials, including criminal penalties for defamation and other alleged offenses.

Social media played a key role in the 2011 mass protests in Tunisia.

Sahrawis say Morocco extracts and exports phosphate rock illegally.

Western Sahara is a sparsely-populated area of mostly desert situated on the northwest coast of Africa. A former Spanish colony, it was annexed by Morocco in 1975. Since then it has been the subject of a long-running territorial dispute between Morocco and its indigenous Sahrawi people, led by the Polisario Front. A 16-year-long insurgency ended with a UN-brokered truce in 1991 and the promise of a referendum on independence which has yet to take place. The Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), declared by the Polisario Front in 1976, is recognized by many governments and is a full member of the African Union. Home to phosphate reserves and rich fishing grounds off its coast, Western Sahara is also believed to have as yet untapped offshore oil deposits.

A buffer strip, or berm with landmines and fortifications, stretches the length of the disputed Western Sahara territory and separates the Moroccan-administered western portion from the eastern area controlled by the Polisario Front.

Port of Aden, Yemen, with its rugged extinct volcano and large bay. lies near the south end of the Red Sea, at a critical point where major sea lanes converge between Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea, the Persian Gulf and India, and the long shoreline of east Africa.

  Nile River valley and delta Egypt at night 2015 NASA           

 

 


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Last updated:   06/01/2024 0830

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