Sahel and the Horn of Africa


  1. Physical Setting Climate change
  2. Human Setting
  3. Demographic Analysis (FROM POPULATION DATA SHEET)
  4. Culture
  5. Countries (put in order of population)
  6. References
  7. Questions

Physical Setting

Sahel Africa is a wide stretch of land running from the Atlantic ocean to the African "Horn", an area that contains the countries of Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, and Somalia. The name Sahel accurately describes where this area is located because it is an Arabic word for "border" or "margin". The southern border of the region is the Sahara Dessert (Sahara being an Arabic word for "desert"). It is a transition zone between the arid Sahara to the north and the wetter more tropical area to the south. The areas primarily affected are: Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, and the "Horn."

The climate of the Sahel area is typically an arid and unstable environment. This is a most problematic environmental zone because it is hard to operate agriculture with very little precipitation. The Sahel area is a predominately sparse savanna vegetation of grasses and shrubs. It only receives between four and eight inches of rainfall a year, which is slowly decreasing. The rainfall that it does receive falls mostly between the months of June and September.


Life on the Sahel is difficult and precarious. A majority of the people in the Sahel area are involved in nomadic herding. The people and their livestock move in herds according to the rain. Unfortunately, the large number of livestock have overgrazed during the rainy season causing excessive desertification of the Sahel. There are, however, a minority of people involved in limited peanut and millet farming. During the 1970's there was a multi-year drought that contributed to the death of over 300,000 people and five million livestock. The countries in the area are large and durable countries, yet the vast desert of the Sarah and unstable climate of the Sahel make it difficult for them to support larger populations. Ethiopia has the largest population with 57.2 million and is the largest in population by far. The next highest population is the country of Sudan with only 28.9 million people. After these two countries, the populations of the Somalia, Mail, and Niger are all nine and a half million, with Chad at the bottom with only 6.5 million. Populations in this area are growing rapidly though, with some of the highest rates of natural increase in the world, many of them above the 3.0 mark.


The Sahel region is considered a cultural hearth for Africa. This area is a wide corridor across which Islam yields to traditional African and Christian religions. However, to make matters simple, many of the ancient rulers and subjects adopted Islam as their religion. The area tends to find Islam religions in the North and non-Islam in the South. Since a majority of this region is religiously divided, there have been many civil wars between the Islamic and non-Islamic people in the countries. The country of Sudan is currently involved in one of these civil wars. In 1993, the United States aided in a civil war in the city of Mogadishu in the country of Somalia.


With the Sahel region becoming slowly more arid, the chronic instability of the environment, and livestock populations rising, it is difficult to develop the area, and a traditional way of living prevails. Many questions are asked about the desertification of the area, and many people have tried to answer, but it still remains a mystery why the rainfall in the region is slowly decreasing.

Countries (by population size)

Ethiopia: Ethiopia is part of the "Horn" of Africa and is centered on the high plateau capital of Addis Ababa. The capital has 3.2 million of the countries total population of 57.2 million. It has long been ruled by the Christian minority of the Amhara. The Sahel becomes spatially narrow along Ethiopia, however it is a deep cultural chasm. Two major events happened in the 1980's: 1) it became the "Balkans" of Africa and; 2) a drought hit. The first event created more than two million refugees in a struggle that put Muslim Eritreans against non-Muslim Ethiopians. The second event was a devastating drought which caused a countless number of deaths but also helped collapse the regime in Addis Ababa. Finally in 1991 the dictatorship collapsed. Then in 1993 the country became landlocked due to Eritrea's granted independence. At this point Ethiopia's future in the 21st century is questionable.

Sudan: Sudan has a total population of 28.9 million people, and 70% of that population is Muslim. In 1956 the country was granted independence and almost immediately war broke out due to a constant strife between the Muslim North and non- Muslim South. The first war was from 1956 to 1972 and cost over half a million lives. After a brief period of peace the war renewed in 1983 and cost more lives than the first.

Somalia: Somalia had rapidly disintegrated in a civil war which was not between cultures, but between Muslim clan and Muslim clan. It has a population of only 9.5 million. About 90% of the population in the country of Somalia is Islamic.

Niger: Niger was originally an administrative division of the French colonial empire that achieved independence with little economic opportunities. It contains too much of the Sarah and Sahel to sustain a population like Nigeria, Ghana, or the Ivory Coast. The population is slightly smaller than Somalia at just 9.5 million.

Chad: Chad has the smallest population of this region at only 6.5 million. Conflicts that occur often in this area are because of the ethnic break-up of the population and Sahel area. The country is 45% Muslim in the North, 35% Christian, and 20% Animist South.

Review Questions

1) The country in the Sahel with the largest population is: A) Niger B) Somalia C) Ethiopia D) Sudan

2) The reason that the Sahel region is receiving less and less rainfall is: A) increasing amounts of pollution B) lack of sunlight C) too much grazing in the area by an increasing amount of cattle D) unknown

3) Which of these countries are not located in the Sahel area? A) Niger B) Ethiopia C) Algeria D) Sudan

Submitted by Christi Schmidt on 4-26-96. Submitted by Michael Smith 5-1-97.