North africa

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Map of North Africa. Dark green: UN sub-region. Light green: States also geographically belonging to North Africa.

North Africa , like the other multinational geographic areas of Africa , cannot be clearly delimited. Numerous states can be assigned to North Africa, but also to West Africa and the area of Sub-Saharan Africa .

Their main determining factor is the Sahara desert, which extends in the west to the Atlantic coast . Since the Arabian Plate or the Arabian Peninsula belongs geologically to Africa, it can also be geographically included in North Africa. North Africa is religiously shaped mainly by Islam , ethnically by Berbers , Moors and Arabs , in the southernmost area also Nubians , Amhars and black Africans . The core states of North Africa include Morocco with the Western Sahara , Algeria , Tunisia (small Maghreb), Libya (large Maghreb ), Egypt and Sudan . Mauritania , Niger , Mali , Chad , Ethiopia , Eritrea and South Sudan , on the other hand, are marginal zones and only relevant in the necessary contexts (e.g. geology, climate, ecology, Sahel zone ).

Geography and topography

Topography of western and central North Africa.
Course of the Sahel zone, which borders North Africa to the south.

North Africa in the broader geographical sense is the area of ​​the continent Africa, which includes the Sahara and the coastal strip to the north, west and east of it to the Mediterranean , the Atlantic and the Red Sea or the Suez Canal between the 19th and 38th centuries. Latitude and 13th degree west and 25th degree east longitude (definition of the Encyclopedia Britannica ). It has an area of ​​4.75 million square kilometers. Four fifths of them are currently desert . North Africa is bounded to the west, north and east by the edges of the African plate , which at the same time form the coastlines to the central Atlantic, the southern Mediterranean and the Red Sea. In the south, the west-east running Sahel is the border. In contrast to the others, the southern border of North Africa is not a geological-geographical border, but a landscape-ecological border and therefore less precisely definable.

There are very large sandy deserts ( erg ), the extent of which increases from east to west. The largest are in the west, the eastern and western great erg , both in Algeria, in the east it is the Libyan Desert , which extends from western Egypt to Libya, where it is also called Calancio Desert . In between are the Rebianah and Murzuk deserts in Libya and the Selima Sandsheet in the north of Sudan . The semi-deserts and dry savannas of the Sahel zone border the desert area of ​​the Sahara in the south as a transition zone.

Several large high plateaus and mountains are located in the southern area of ​​the Sahara, in the north a large, strongly folded coastal mountain range, the Atlas Mountains at the extreme western end of the Mediterranean coast, extends over more than 2000 km from southwest Morocco to northeastern Tunisia parallel to the Coast and is the reason for the lack of natural harbors there. There is also the Toubkal, the highest mountain in North Africa (4165 m). The Rif Mountains in the north-western tip of Morocco are geologically part of the Cordilleras on the Iberian Peninsula . The most important mountain and highland formations of North Africa are (from east to west) : the east Nilotic mountainous country to Ethiopia, Gilf el-Kebir , Uwaynat , Ennedi massif , Tibesti , Fessan , Tadrart Acacus , Ténéré , Tassili , Hoggar , Aïr , Ahaggar , Adrar des Iforas , Tademaït Plateau , Atlas Mountains.

In addition to the rivers that drain the Atlas Mountains , the largest of them being the Sebou , in the northwest is the Nile , which with its valley and delta forms its own topographical-geographical region, the only year-round water-bearing river in the entire region, and from the Algerian Ounianga Serir apart is lake Chad in addition to some smaller ones like the lake Qarun in Fayum and some artesian -fed smaller lakes such as the Wadi Rajan in Egypt the only major, but highly verlandende inland waters. The relatively densely populated coastal strip is usually only a few kilometers wide, and the desert often extends right to the sea. The drainage zones of the Niger and Benue , to which Lake Chad was previously connected, and of Senegal are no longer included in North Africa.

The coast to the Mediterranean runs almost exactly to the east-west between Gibraltar and Tunis approximately between the 35th and 37th parallel, from where it forms the Small Syrte in the area of ​​Tunisia and the Great Syrte in the area of ​​Libya, which swings far south to to the 30th parallel to the Gulf and southernmost point of the Mediterranean Sea. At the easternmost point of the Syrte, the Cyrenaica peninsula rises again to around the 33rd degree of latitude, from where the coast then gently slopes down to about the 32nd degree of latitude and reaches the Nile Delta and Suez Canal.

The borders of the individual states were once drawn with a ruler by the colonial powers and refer to ethnic aspects or the traditions of the old African states, especially the Sub-Saharan ( Bornu , Kanem , Songhay , Darfur , Tarkur , the Sultanate of Sannar , Kordofan or Nubia ) no consideration, which is now causing conflicts everywhere from Sudan to Western Sahara, especially since the sometimes thousands of kilometers long borders (Algeria five and a half thousand km on land) mostly lead through deserts and their course is imprecise and can hardly be monitored. The Canary Islands offshore to the west, geologically not belonging to the North African crystalline basal shield, but formed volcanically on the African plate, belong geographically to North Africa, but politically to Spain , which also has two exclaves on the Moroccan coast with the port cities of Ceuta and Melilla .

Geology and geomorphology

The Taoudeni Basin, one of the largest within the basin-threshold structure of North Africa.

Geologically and geomorphologically , North Africa and in particular the Sahara are relatively simply structured and their formations are primarily the result of marine phases and floods. Basin and threshold alternate on a crystalline base . The basins are filled with marine and continental deposits several thousand meters (up to 7000 m) thick, whereby the marine sediments originate from the multiple floods mainly from the northern and western Sahara, the continental from the erosion and deposition processes of the dry seasons Mountainous material was washed down. The basins were mainly created by the Tethys Sea in the Cretaceous and Tertiary periods , but the formation of the Taoudeni basin dates back to before the Cambrian . The different hydrogeological stratifications of the groundwater sea , characterized by different degrees of salinity , also originate from these phases. The oldest are over 400 million years old. The salt pans and salt deserts, known as Chotts or Sebkhas , are also witnesses of both the marine flooding and the sedimentation from the salty rock material of the surrounding mountains and plateaus, and especially the seepage of water without drainage was also involved in the hydrogeological stratification of the fossil groundwater lakes. The depressions typical of the eastern Libyan Desert , especially in eastern North Africa, are also the result of the erosion of softer rock layers. There are a total of 11 such basins in the Sahara and North Africa, some of which contain water, but also oil and natural gas on the continental shelf : From west to east and north to south:

  • The Tindouf and Taoudeni basins
  • The southern Algerian and Niger basins
  • The Homra Basin (after the northern Libyan stone desert Hamadat al-Hamrah), Syrte, Murzuk and Chad Basins
  • The North Egyptian, Dachla and Kufra Basins

The Niger and Chad basins no longer belong to the Sahara and only partially to North Africa.

Opposite this are several raised thresholds that separate the basins and where the crystalline subsoil comes to the surface. They are:

  • The Eglab Threshold (after the hills of El Eglab in the southwest corner of Algeria)
  • The Nefusa threshold (after the mountainous, up to 968 m high stratiform land Jabal Nafusah south of Tripoli)
  • The Gargaf threshold (after the Gabal Al Qarqaf, which arches the Murzuk Basin north from the Ghadames Basin)
  • The Tibesti Syrte Threshold
The geomorphological variety of forms of the Tassili.

Transitional structures between the basin and thresholds show the variety of shapes of the Tassili Plateau, which contains both the material of the crystalline base shield, i.e. granite , gneiss , crystalline slate and quartzite , as well as old, partly heavily weathered layers of sandstone and areas with volcanic rock, which are complex and severely torn Form relief with Regs , Serir and Hammadas as well as with striking rock towers and island mountains, so-called Gara mountains , which were mainly formed by water (during the semi-arid phases) and wind.

The northern tectonic boundary of this basin-threshold structure runs along the southern edge of the Atlas Mountains. In the central central Sahara, the thresholds are particularly high arched and overlaid by volcanic layers that form the Saharan high mountains of Hoggar, Tibesti and Air, as well as the high plateaus of Adrar des Iforas, Eglab, Djado and Ennedi. The western Sahara, however, is geomorphologically relatively uniform compared to the southern, eastern and central areas. The east Nilotic mountainous region is also a typical formation for tectonic folds at plate edges, but is no longer part of the actual basin-threshold structure.

The northernmost area of ​​North Africa beyond the basin-threshold structure is determined by the characteristics as shown by the edge of a continental plate , here the African plate , i.e. strongly unfolded zones, as they arise when two plates collide. The Atlas Mountains have been unfolded like the Alps and Pyrenees on the other side. The oil deposits in the area of ​​Libyan Cyrenaica as well as on the coasts of Algeria and Tunisia and, to a lesser extent, Egypt are also a consequence of this situation, according to the assumptions of geologists, as here at the shelf edges once more biological material sank and finally to petroleum due to the pressure of the overburden under the exclusion of air and natural gas has been transformed.

Climate, prehistory and early history

In North Africa, the connections between climate and history were and are particularly pronounced, as semi-humid and dry phases alternated again and again, beginning 11,000 years ago. In a distinctly humid period, a savannah landscape formed in the southern Sahara , in the course of which a Neolithic was established regionally (as in Nabta-Playa ). About 6000 years ago an arid climate set in and people gradually withdrew from the increasingly inhospitable Sahara to the oases , to the coasts, but above all to the Nile Valley, and created between 3500 and 3000 BC. The organizational basis for the first high culture in ancient Egypt .

For more details on the North African climatic phases, see Libyan Desert ; for prehistoric and historical references, see History of North Africa .

Current climate

Typical climate diagram for a Mediterranean climate, here Oran, Algeria.
Typical climate diagram for the desert climate of the Sahara. Here in Salah, Central Algeria.
Typical climate diagram of the Sahel zone, here Abéché, Chad.
Typical high mountain steppe climate on the lee side of the High Atlas, here Ouarzazate, Morocco.

Different climatic zones are distinguished:

  • Mediterranean coast and Nile delta with a subtropical Mediterranean climate . This zone is wider on the western Mediterranean coast, but no longer includes the area of ​​the Atlas Mountains.
  • In the Atlas Mountains there is a high mountain steppe climate .
  • The Nile Valley with a semi-arid oasis climate.
  • The Atlantic coast has an Atlantic and sub-Atlantic desert climate.
  • The east coast beyond the Nile Valley to the Red Sea has a fully arid desert climate .
  • In the Sahara itself there is a typical full to hyperarid desert climate, most pronounced in the Libyan desert , where the annual precipitation sometimes sinks to below 5 mm, especially in the Murzuk, Kufra and Kharga basins.
  • On the southern edge of the Sahara there is a tropical, fully arid to arid desert climate.
  • Further south, with the Sahel, begins the zone of the semi-arid and tropical - monsoonal climate with thorn bush and dry savannas.

Definitions according to Monod: (long-term mean values ​​in each case) . However, the values ​​for the degrees of aridity fluctuate greatly in the literature.

  • hyperarid: <70 mm annual precipitation, sometimes less than 5 mm.
  • (Fully) arid: 70–130 mm annual precipitation. Vollarid is a climate when the possible evaporation is greater than the precipitation all year round.
  • semi or semi-arid: 300–130 mm annual precipitation, if arid conditions prevail during the greater part of the year. Dry savanna climate (e.g. Sahel).

North Africa with the tropic Sahara as its hyperarid center is an area of ​​climatic extremes , which extends from the mild and winter-humid, summer-dry zones of the Mediterranean and partly also the Atlantic coast to the dry desert climates of the Sahara to the steppe zones and snow-capped peaks of the High Atlas and the the wet lowlands of Lake Chad . The Azores high and the trade winds exert a particular influence , here especially the continental, very dry, only cool and moist on the Moroccan-Mauritanian Atlantic coast, called Harmattan , which blows 7 to 8 months a year; in addition, there is the influence of the tropical monsoon belt in the south . In the winter half of the year, the northern edge of the Sahara, like the entire Mediterranean region, receives rain from the polar front , which is shifted far to the south, while in the summer half of the year, precipitation falls on the southern edge of the Sahara from the tropical front , which is then shifted far to the north . Accordingly, the seasonal differences are particularly pronounced, with desert-like conditions prevailing in practically all of North Africa in summer with frequent ingress of extremely drying winds, while winters from the north are more humid and milder, but only in the fringes of the Sahara. The line that separates the Mediterranean zone from the steppe zone is the 400 mm isohyete (line of equal precipitation); it is roughly identical to the precipitation line that limits the cultivation of wheat and barley without irrigation. The 100 mm isohyete is the dividing line between steppe and desert.

  • The Mediterranean climate predominates in the north of Morocco to the northern and western slopes of the Atlas to Tunisia and the Cyrenaica. However, because of the different relief in some places, continental, maritime and mountainous climatic zones alternate. Most of the precipitation falls during the three winter months.
  • Steppe climate prevails in two thirds of the Atlas area, especially on the plateau and the plains of eastern Morocco, which are in the rain shadow of the Middle Atlas, in the Algerian Atlas as well as on the Libyan-Tunisian Al-Jifarah plain and in the northeast Libyan Al-Akhdar- Mountains .
  • For the desert and oasis climate of the Sahara s. there as well as under Libyan desert .
  • For the Nile valley climate, see under Egypt .
  • For the climate of the Sahel zone and the climate of the Chad basin, see the respective main articles.

The main causes of this enormous climatic differentiation is the size and poor structure of the African continental block in the area of ​​the northern tropic in connection with a regional diversity of the landscape forms and the climatic effects of the seasonally different air mass and front systems, which each lead to regionally different precipitation and temperatures Winter rains in the north and summer rains in the south of North Africa. The highlands and mountains partly fall out of this pattern and form their own climatic small areas. For example, the central Saharan mountains of Hoggar and Tibesti have over 100 mm of precipitation. In addition, if a heat depression forms over the Sahara in summer, continental, dry polar air masses, the so-called Etesia , penetrate especially over eastern North Africa , which also have a drying effect. Overall, there is therefore only a few days of calm in North Africa (8-10). The Central Sahara has relatively few sandstorms, and the hot and dry sandstorms (e.g. the Scirocco ) all come from the northern edge of the Sahara , with their reddish sand load blowing as far as Central and Southern Europe . The Chamsin in northeast Africa and Palestine also originate from this region.
The extent to which global climate change will shift the climate of North Africa, especially that of the Sahara, in the longer term towards a more humid state, as it last prevailed there during the middle Holocene, is the subject of scientific debate.

Historical climate and settlement history

Rock engraving in the Tadrart Acacus , a small mountain range in southwest Libya. Here from around 6000 BC Wild animal or hunter period.

The maximum of glaciation ( pleniglacial ) during the Würm Ice Age 18,000 years ago was characterized by extremely dry conditions in North Africa. It is assumed that the mean temperature was 5–6 ° C lower than today. The Sahara also extended about 1000 km further south. The interior of the desert became uninhabitable, and the hunters and gatherers living there moved to more humid areas, such as the Nile Valley or the coast. At the transition to the Holocene , the monsoon belt moved north again. As a result, the climate in North Africa became significantly more humid again, the lake levels were much higher than at present, and Lake Chad also covered a much larger area than the present Caspian Sea . In addition, the level of the Mediterranean rose between 8000 and 5000 by approx. 40 m (13,000–8000 BC + 30 m, 8000 – approx. 7000 + 20 m, 6700 to this day + 20 m) and covered vast areas that were previously populated Coastal areas (on average about 10 km inland). Around 5000–4500 BC There was a first climatic optimum, from 3700-3400 a second. The environment of that time is documented by numerous rock art across the Sahara, which suggest a savanna-like environment with corresponding game. Then the climate became increasingly drier again. From around 2800 BC The last arid climatic phase finally began, and around 1300 BC. Today's highly arid state was approximately reached. As a result, the population retreated to the coasts and into the now habitable Nile Valley, where they used their skills such as domestication of animals and plants and ceramics , which they had already developed in the Sahara-Sudan Neolithic and the Neolithic centers of Lower Egypt, and eventually even became more climatic under pressure Conditions were forced to regulate the irrigation of their fields. Gradually, irrigation systems and thus cores of state orders emerged, which ultimately also emerged in the mythological battle between the main Egyptian deities Isis , Osiris and Horus on the one hand and Seth on the other hand between desert nomads and Nile valley or oasis farmers of ancient Egypt.

Early history

The history of North Africa is a relative unit. Only here was there the Epipalaeolithic and a Neolithic , corresponding to the European Mesolithic , and in historical times the now highly arid Sahara lay like a huge locking bar between northern Africa and the sub-Saharan area, so that Neolithic techniques ultimately only spread along the coast and the Nile valley could spread. Only there they reached the cultural impulses of Palestine , where the Fertile Crescent is considered the most important Neolithic area of ​​origin, although there were also other centers such as the Sahara-Sudan Neolithic with possibly independent traditions (one of the great and still open questions of North African prehistory) . Metalworking was therefore also adopted as a cultural technique with a long delay in Sub-Saharan Africa, in some cases only with the expansion of the Bantu at the turn of the century, even until the colonial era in the 19th century, so that the peoples there immediately abandoned the Stone Age production methods of hunters and gatherers transferred to the Iron Age , whose eponymous technology was brought by the Bantu, although - another unsolved question in science - it is disputed whether iron extraction originated independently in Africa and, if so, where (the Nok culture in Nigeria , the middle Nile with Meroe and East Africa in the area of ​​the Urewe culture of Lake Victoria are mainly available here). Only the Nile Valley is a certain exception as a north-south connecting route reaching deep into Sudan ( Nubia ). The early East African empires therefore only emerged after this period, especially with the spread of Islam . In the past there were only the Nubian empires Kush and Meroe and the Ethiopian empires, beginning with Aksum , which was founded in the 3rd century BC, but some of them were still in the range of the Egyptian culture. The role of the little-explored Nok culture in northwest Africa in this context is unclear, however.

For details, see the main articles History of North Africa , History of Ancient Egypt and the main articles on the individual countries.


For the ecosystem of North Africa, a distinction must be made between several large areas for both climatic and geological-topographical reasons:

The flora and fauna of North Africa are correspondingly different, although they are both strongly determined by the overpowering influences of the Sahara, which relativizes all other factors, so that only their peripheral areas and the Nile valley deviate from the desert situation. However, due to the influences of the dense settlement there and the import of domestications as well as other human interventions, there is no longer an original picture, as is shown by the rock paintings and engravings of the Sahara, on which all sorts of savanna animals such as elephants, lions, Buffalo, antelopes, etc. are to be found in abundance. On the other hand, the course of domestication in North Africa is an interesting chapter in the local cultural history and its climatologically fixable processes.


In addition to the factors mentioned, the type, thickness, moisture and mineral content of the soil and the availability of water play a central role, as do aspects of agricultural usability and use, for example through burning off the plant cover, which is what heat-resistant plants predominate, especially in the savannahs in addition to the occurrence of night frosts, which are not uncommon in winter even in the desert.

The Mediterranean vegetation follows the typical pattern of summer rest and winter rain, with the strongest growth phases in spring and autumn. Forests are rare here and mostly consist of conifers and dry oaks. Holm oaks and cork oaks occur on acidic soils, especially in the more humid regions of the Atlas Mountains; they then give way to Aleppo pine ( Pinus halepensis ), juniper and Atlas cedar in drier areas . The last two can also be found in the higher elevations of Morocco such as the Rif Mountains or the Middle and High Atlas. However, in the course of history there has been massive deforestation in favor of arable land as well as for shipbuilding and for the extraction of charcoal, especially during the Roman Empire and in the colonial phase. As a result, bushland is far more common than forest. The maquis with its typical plants is also common. Often only small bushes and dwarf shrub heaths with a very low biodiversity thrive on poor, rocky soils. Gorse and lavender are typical of these vegetation zones known as garigue .

Steppe vegetation of the High Atlas.
Northern Lake Chad: summer and winter situation of vegetation.

The steppe vegetation , which occurs in different forms in the mountains and highlands of the western, central and eastern Sahara as well as in the Atlas Mountains , is then even more barren. Here, bushes are increasingly replacing trees, except in long wadis, where dwarf palms and the jujube are found especially in Morocco and western Algeria . Further to the east, the wild olive tree , the turpentine-producing Atlantic pine and the wild almond tree and the sweet lotus plum ( Diospyros lotus ) can be seen as useful trees . The regression to the steppe also leads to a predominance of thorn bushes and frugal types of grass such as esparto and half grass , especially on sandy subsoil in the high steppes of Algeria and Tunisia. Artemisia and dwarf sage occur on loam and clay soils , while Opuntia ficus-indica prefers the better soils of the wadis. Usually only salt bushes can be found on salty surfaces .

For the typical desert plants see: Libyan Desert .

The Sahel zone is a semi-arid dry savannah and thorn bush savannah with low, sparse grassland that is grazed (and partly overgrazed ), thorn bushes and relatively tall herbaceous, year-round vegetation. In addition, you can occasionally see different types of acacia , tamarisk and baobab trees , better known as baobab , which can be up to 1000 years old. Some areas are regularly flooded, such as in Chad, Niger or Senegal. Irrigation farming is also possible there. Millet is grown in some areas . Characteristic of the mostly deciduous trees are deep and extensive root systems like those found in desert plants as well as the ability to utilize salty water, as well as thorns and short stature. In places with not too low groundwater there is the baobab and the doum palm as well as the kapok and wild figs in the more humid west of Mali, and shea butter trees ( Vitellaria paradoxa ) grow in the transition to Sudan . Many of these trees are useful trees such as the date palm , which also occurs , as are some types of grass used for building houses or for craft purposes, such as elephant grass or Panicum turgidum , the afezu grass of the Tuareg .

For the flora of Egypt , especially the Egyptian and Sudanese Nile Valley , see there and under Libyan Desert .


Wild barbary macaque , the symbol of the Maghreb (and Gibraltar ), here in the Algerian Kabylia
general situation

The same ecological framework conditions apply to the fauna of North Africa as to the flora, but their original composition is even more reduced and distorted by overhunting and extermination on the one hand and the import of domestication on the other. Biogeographically , North Africa is part of the Palearctic Region and resembles that of the Middle East , apart from the bird life, which is more similar to that of the southern Mediterranean. The biodiversity is much less than that of the sub-Saharan area. Here, too, the rock art of the Holocene shows how much human interventions have reduced this diversity, and indeed until recently, because it was not too long ago that there were elephants , lions , leopards , hyenas , ostriches in North Africa , Bears or cheetahs . Wild boars , red deer , jackals , wild sheep , lynx and mane sheep are still found in the mountain forests, while gazelles and oryx still live in the deserts. Reptiles and insects are also rarer in North Africa than in Sub-Saharan Africa, although locusts occasionally attack the flora and especially agricultural areas in huge swarms, causing great damage.

Single occurrences

The Maghreb: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya: In the northern mountains of Morocco, Algeria and also Tunisia, especially mouflons , the tailless Barbary apes (Macaca sylvanus) , deer and wild boars that live in the mountains of Morocco and in the area between Algiers and Constantine . Numerous migratory birds such as storks and flamingos pass through here. In the Sahara you can see fennecs , hyenas and jackals as well as numerous smaller animals such as kaphasen , sand cats , reed cats , Libyan striped weasels and gerbils in often only isolated occurrences. Insects are numerous, the most impressive again are the locusts. The further east you go, the more desert-typical the fauna becomes, especially in Tunisia with scorpions , poisonous snakes like the cobra and the horned viper . In Libya and the west coast of Egypt , this trend intensified. Desert and oasis-typical birds such as rock pigeons , partridges , hen birds , larks , eagles , falcons and vultures can now also be found more frequently . Occasionally, rock hyrax , steppe baboons , bats and desert hedgehogs occur in the southern Sahara, especially in rocky regions .

For Egypt, Sudan and the other desert countries see also: Libyan Desert .

States, economy and culture

The states of North Africa

Historically, the term North Africa was created by the French colonial administration , who wanted to use it to describe their purely geographical area of ​​power, which did not take local traditions into account . The indigenous population of northwest Africa called their area " Maghreb " ( Al Maghrib means: the West). According to today's understanding, North Africa includes the states of the small (Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia) or large (with Libya) Maghreb as well as Egypt and the northern parts of Sudan . Some North African countries, especially Egypt and Libya , are also politically often included in the Middle East . In addition, the Sinai Peninsula (part of Egypt) belongs to the Near East and is part of the Middle East , and the Canary Islands belong to Spain. Since the Sahara is the defining natural element of North Africa, the more southern and western Saharan states Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Chad up to the Sahel also belong to North Africa, geographically, but not UN-politically, but at most the northernmost tip of Ethiopia. Politically, all these states are governed more or less autocratically , partly with a monarch (Morocco), partly in a presidential dictatorship , which define themselves as pseudo-democratic , sometimes religious, often military or through parties .

Structure according to the UN statistics department (as of 2010, see map above)

Exclusively belonging to North Africa:

Geographically part of North Africa, but belonging to other UN sub-regions:

1,4 In Sudan and Ethiopia mostly only the northern parts of the country are geographically included in North Africa.
2 Since South Sudan only gained independence in 2011, it will become clear in future which region it is primarily assigned to.
3 Under Moroccan administration, so de facto not independent.


For the specific economies of the individual countries, see the respective articles.

Map of the medieval caravan routes around 1400 AD with the center Niger (today's area)

The economic potential of the individual states in this region is extremely different. Some like Mali are among the poorest countries in the world, others like Libya and potentially also Sudan are among the richest due to their mineral resources. Population pressure and structural underdevelopment, especially in the central states of the Sahara without access to the coast, are the determining factors in most cases. In many, economic development is also slowed down by internal conflicts, especially since the demarcations from the European-colonial period of occupation often cut through ethnic groups and now block the classic caravan routes and also massively hinder the traditional customs of nomadic peoples such as the Tuareg . The economic centers are also almost exclusively on the coast.

The classic goods of the Trans-Saharan trade were salt, slaves and the products of the sub-Saharan zone, i.e. ivory, precious woods, gold and metal goods, valuable minerals, spices, tea, dates, grain, sugar, etc., things that were worth the long and dangerous journey. The salt caravans from Bilma and Fachi are legendary . There were also central Saharan trading hubs (see map). The roads usually led between the highlands and avoided the large sandy deserts, especially since they were dependent on regular water points. Such a large-scale trade, which was dominated by Arabs for a long time, only became possible at all after the introduction of the single-humped camel (dromedary) around the turn of the century (see domestication in North Africa ).

Today tourism plays an important economic role, especially in politically stable countries such as Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Morocco. Above all, Libya is an exporter of crude oil and also uses its vast reserves of fossil water for agriculture. In some countries like Algeria terrorism is having a braking effect, in others like Morocco the same is happening due to internal conflicts with the Rifabylums and Tuaregs (uprisings in the 90s especially in Mali and Niger) and the disputes over Western Sahara ; The Darfur conflict is having a negative impact in Sudan , as is the extremely Muslim-oriented state system. Countries without access to the sea such as Mali and Niger or Chad are at a disadvantage anyway, especially since they are also not very stable and are therefore avoided by mass tourism due to the lack of infrastructure.

Basics of culture and history

Contacts between Saharan and Sub-Saharan Africa were and are restricted almost exclusively to trade along the north, east and west coasts of the continent and the Nile valley , and earlier to the trans-Saharan caravan trade , because of the difficulties in crossing the desert . Names like Tanezrouft (land of fear) or Ténéré (land out there) show how tricky such routes through the Sahara were .

Although both African and Middle Eastern roots can be found in North African culture as well as in the inhabitants of the Greater Region, most North Africans are either Arabic or Berber speaking Muslims . The Christian Copts are an exception and are increasingly harassed by the Muslim majority surrounding them. Another obstacle to cultural exchange in the region was also of a racist nature, especially as regards the contempt of the Arabs, Moors and Berbers for the dark-skinned, formerly disparagingly "negroid" peoples further south, who for a long time were only objects of the Arab and colonial slave trade were of interest.

In this context, ethnic groups and languages are a particularly interesting phenomenon of the relatively large North African homogeneity in terms of ethnic groups compared to the sub-Saharan situation. Linguistically, the Afro - Asian language group after Joseph Greenberg , which extends as far as Ethiopia and mainly includes Arabic with its variants - ancient Egyptian also belonged to this group - a situation based on the spread of Islam. Only in the area of ​​Niger and Chad is the extremely fragmented Nilo-Saharan language group more strongly represented. In addition to the dynamic processes of Islamization, this situation is primarily due to the homogeneity of the natural spaces, which, due to their desert character, also made ethnic mixes or migrations, such as we can observe again and again in Europe with the migrations of peoples or the incursion of Central Asian steppe peoples, very difficult , yes prevented.

What is important both from a political and historical point of view as well as from an economic and cultural point of view is a completely different view of the value of land on the one hand and the value of man on the other from European concepts . The idea of ​​property, for example, was only introduced by Europeans in Africa. This was due to the relatively thin settlement within huge spaces, but above all to the climatic conditions and the fact that there is very little humus soils in Africa whose value is worth maintaining (through fertilization etc.) and defending. As a result, none of the early African empires had any fixed borders, as in the countries of Europe in the Middle Ages, and there were centers of power, but hardly any permanent capitals, since since ancient times people were used to moving on after the soil was exhausted. On the other hand, the consequence of this view of the worthlessness of land was that the focus was on the value of people and their labor. Ownership therefore meant real estate in Europe, but human ownership in Africa. Trade was thus trade in human labor, politics aimed at gaining this labor through war and submission, with the art of leadership at its center. Only where fertile soils were a fixed and immovable quantity, which were bordered by inhumane regions like the Sahara, could states in our sense emerge at all. It was not for nothing that the first advanced civilization emerged in precisely such an area, the desert-encircled Nile Valley: Egypt.

See also


  • Hermann Baumann (ed.): The peoples of Africa and their traditional cultures. 2 volumes Franz Steiner Verlag, Wiesbaden 1975, ISBN 3-515-01968-5 .
  • P. Bertaux: Fischer world history. Volume 32: Africa. From prehistory to the present. Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1993, ISBN 3-596-60032-4 .
  • JD Clark: The Cambridge History of Africa . Vol 1. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1989, ISBN 0-521-22215-X .
  • P. Dittrich et al: Biology of the Sahara. A guide through the fauna and flora of the Sahara with identification tables and 170 figs. 2nd edition. Self-published, Munich 1983, ISBN 3-9800794-0-6 .
  • S. Faath (Ed.): Democracy and Human Rights in North Africa. Hamburg 1992, ISBN 3-924577-09-9 .
  • Geo Special 6/92: Sahara. Water Report - The sea in secret. ISBN 3-570-01089-9 , pp. 92-103.
  • G. Göttler (Ed.): DuMont Landscape Guide: The Sahara. 4th edition. DuMont Buchverlag, Cologne 1992, ISBN 3-7701-1422-1 .
  • B. Heine, Th.C. Schadeberg, E. Wolff: The languages ​​of Africa. Helmut Buske Verlag, Hamburg 1981, ISBN 3-87118-433-0 .
  • Herder Lexicon of Biology. 10 volumes Spectrum Akad. Verlag, Heidelberg 1994, ISBN 3-86025-156-2 .
  • Martin Hofbauer , Thorsten Loch (ed.): North Africa (= guide to history ). On behalf of the Military History Research Office. Schöningh, Paderborn u. a. 2011, ISBN 978-3-506-77326-5 .
  • R. Kuper (Ed.): Research on the environmental history of the Eastern Sahara. With contributions by Katharina Neumann, St. Kröpelin, W. Van Neer and H.-P. Uerpmann. Heinrich Barth Institute, Cologne 1989, ISBN 3-927688-02-9 .
  • HH Lamb: Climate and Cultural History. The influence of the weather on the course of history. Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag, Reinbek 1994, ISBN 3-499-55478-X , p. 125ff.
  • Th. Monod: Désert libyque. Editions Arthaud, Paris 1994, ISBN 2-7003-1023-3 .
  • Th. Monod: Deserts of the World. CJ Bucher, Munich 1992, ISBN 3-7658-0792-3 , pp. 33-46, 55-118, 163-172.
  • Neumann, Katharina: Vegetation history of the Eastern Sahara in the Holocene. Charcoal from prehistoric sites. In: Kuper (Hrsg.): Research on the environmental history of the Eastern Sahara. Heinrich Barth Institute, Cologne 1989, ISBN 3-927688-02-9 , pp. 13-182.
  • R. Schild, F. Wendorf, Angela E. Close: Northern and Eastern Africa Climate Changes Between 140 and 12 Thousand Years Ago. In: Frank Klees, Rudolph Kuper (Ed.): New Light on the Northeast African Past. Heinrich Barth Institute, Cologne 1992, ISBN 3-927688-06-1 , pp. 81-98.
  • M. Schwarzbach: The climate of prehistory. An Introduction to Paleoclimatology. Ferdinand Enke Verlag, Stuttgart 1993, ISBN 3-432-87355-7 , pp. 222-226, 241-255.
  • A. Sheratt (Ed.): The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Archeology. Christian Verlag, Munich 1980, ISBN 3-88472-035-X , pp. 179-184.
  • The New Encyclopedia Britannica: North Africa. Vol. 24, 15th edition. Encyclopedia Britannica, Chicago 1993, ISBN 0-85229-571-5 , pp. 939-996.
  • Roger le Tourneau: Evolution politique de l'Afrique du Nord musulmane 1920–1961. Colin, Paris 1962.
  • H.-G. Wagner: Siedlungsgeographie North Africa: Spatial, genetic and functional differentiation of the settlement structure 1970–1976. Stuttgart 1983, ISBN 3-443-28337-3 , with map 1: 1 million: settlement geography. (= Africa map series, booklet N 9)

Web links

Wiktionary: North Africa  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : North Africa  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Rudolph Kuper, Stefan Kröpelin: Climate-controlled Holocene occupation in the Sahara: Motor of Africa's evolution. In: Science , Volume 313, No. 803, 2006, doi: 10.1126 / science.1130989 .
  2. Monod, Desert Libyque. P. 16.
  3. Monod, Wüsten der Welt, p. 48.
  4. Climate Change Research Center: The Copenhagen Diagnosis 2009 - Updating the World on the Latest Climate Science (PDF; 3.3 MB)
  5. Encyclopedia Britannica , Vol. 16, pp. 490f.
  6. Schwarzbach: Climate of the past. P. 224.
  7. Lamb: Climate and Cultural History. Pp. 129-131.
  8. ^ Neumann: Vegetation history of the Eastern Sahara in the Holocene. Pp. 142-153.
  9. Murray: World Atlas of Ancient Cultures: Africa. P. 47.
  10. Fischer Weltgeschichte, Afrika, pp. 35f.
  11. ^ Clark: Cambridge History of Africa. Vol 1, p. 810ff.
  12. Fischer World History: Africa. Pp. 27-30.