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East Africa or Eastern Africa is the easterly region of the African continent, variably defined by geography or geopolitics. In the UN scheme of geographic regions, 19 territories constitute Eastern Africa:

East Africa is often used to specifically refer to the area now comprising the countries of Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, and (in a wider sense) also Rwanda, Burundi, Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Sudan.

Egyptmarker is also in the northeastern portion of the continent, but it is usually included in Northern Africa.

Geography and climate

Some parts of East Africa have been renowned for their concentrations of wild animals, such as the "big five" of elephant, buffalo, lion, leopard and black rhinoceros, though populations have been declining under increased stress in recent times, particularly the rhino and elephant.
The geography of East Africa is often stunning and scenic. Shaped by global plate tectonic forces that have created the Great Rift Valley, East Africa is the site of Mount Kilimanjaromarker and Mount Kenyamarker, which have the two tallest peaks in Africa. It also includes the world's second largest freshwater lake Lake Victoriamarker, and the world's second deepest lake Lake Tanganyikamarker.

The climate of East Africa is rather atypical of equatorial regions. Because of a combination of the region's generally high altitude and the rain shadow of the westerly monsoon winds created by the Rwenzori Mountainsmarker and Ethiopian Highlandsmarker, East Africa is surprisingly cool and dry for its latitude.

The lower-lying lands of northern Kenya and Greater Somalia are indeed extremely dry. In fact, on the coast of Somalilandmarker and Puntlandmarker many years have no rain whatsoever. Elsewhere the annual rainfall generally increases towards the south and with altitude, being around at Mogadishumarker and at Mombasamarker on the coast, whilst inland it increases from around at Garoowemarker to over at Moshimarker near Kilimanjaro. Unusually, most of the rain falls in two distinct wet seasons, one centred around April and the other in October or November. This is usually attributed to the passage of the Intertropical Convergence Zone across the region in those months, but it may also be analogous to the autumn monsoon rains of parts of Sri Lankamarker, Vietnammarker and the Brazilian Nordeste.

West of the Rwenzoris and Ethiopian highlands the rainfall pattern is more typically tropical, with rain throughout the year near the equator and a single wet season in most of the Ethiopian Highlands from June to September - contracting to July and August around Asmaramarker. Annual rainfall here ranges from over on the western slopes to around at Addis Ababamarker and at Asmara. In the high mountains rainfall can be over .

Rainfall in East Africa is influenced by El Niño events, which tend to increase rainfall except in the northern and western parts of the Ethiopian and Eritrean highlands, where they produce drought and poor Nile floods.

Temperatures in East Africa, except on the hot and generally humid coastal belt, are moderate, with maxima of around and minima of at an altitude of . At altitudes of above , frosts are common during the dry season and maxima typically about or less.

The unique geography and apparent suitability for farming made East Africa a target for European exploration, exploitation and colonialization in the nineteenth century. Today, tourism is an important part of the economies of Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda.


Pre history

According to the theory of recent African origin of modern humans, the mainstream position held within the scientific community, all humans originate from East Africa. Some of the earliest fossilized hominid remains have been found in East Africa, including those found in Awash Valley of Ethiopiamarker, Koobi Fora in Kenya and Olduvai Gorgemarker in Tanzania.

The southern part of East Africa was occupied until recent times by Khoisan hunter-gatherers, whilst in the Ethiopian Highlands the donkey and such crop plants as teff allowed the beginning of agriculture around 7,000 B.C. Lowland barriers and diseases carried by the tsetse fly, however, prevented the donkey and agriculture from spreading southwards. Only in quite recent times has agriculture spread to the more humid regions south of the equator, through the spread of cattle, sheep and crops such as millet. Language distributions suggest that this most likely occurred from Sudan into modern Uganda and the African Great Lakes, since the Nilotic languages spoken by these pre-Bantu farmers have their closest relatives in the middle Nile basin.

By the birth of Christ, Bantu-speaking peoples have spread agriculture from their homeland in modern Cameroonmarker and Nigeriamarker across the Rwenzori Mountains into those parts of East Africa either not reached previously by Nilo-Saharan farmers or too wet for millet. During the following fifteen centuries, they slowly intensified farming and grazing over all suitable regions of East Africa, in the process making contact with Austronesian- and Arabic-speaking sailors on the southern coastal areas. The latter also spread Islam to the coastal belt, but most Bantu never had contact with the new religion and remained animists.

Arab and Portuguese eras

The Portuguesemarker were the first Europeans to explore the region of current-day Kenyamarker, Tanzania, and Mozambiquemarker by sea, Vasco da Gama having visited Mombasamarker in 1498. Gama's voyage was successful in reaching Indiamarker and this permitted the Portuguese to trade with the Far East directly by sea, thus challenging older trading networks of mixed land and sea routes, such as the spice trade routes that utilized the Persian Gulfmarker, Red Seamarker and camel caravans to reach the eastern Mediterranean.

The Republic of Venicemarker had gained control over much of the trade routes between Europe and Asia. After traditional land routes to India had been closed by the Ottoman Turks, Portugal hoped to use the sea route pioneered by Gama to break the once Venetian trading monopoly. Portuguese rule in East Africa focused mainly on a coastal strip centred in Mombasa. The Portuguese presence in East Africa officially began after 1505, when flagships under the command of Don Francisco de Almeida conquered Kilwa, an island located in what is now southern Tanzania.

In March 1505, having received from Manuel I of Portugal the appointment of viceroy of the newly conquered territory in Indiamarker, he set sail from Lisbonmarker in command of a large and powerful fleet, and arrived in July at Quiloa (Kilwa), which yielded to him almost without a struggle. A much more vigorous resistance was offered by the Moors of Mombasa, but the town was taken and destroyed, and its large treasures went to strengthen the resources of Almeida. Attacks followed on Hoja (now known as Ungwana, located at the mouth of the Tana Rivermarker), Barawa, Angoche, Patemarker and other coastal towns until the western Indian Oceanmarker was a safe haven for Portuguese commercial interests. At other places on his way, such as the island of Angediva, near Goamarker, and Cannanoremarker, the Portuguese built forts, and adopted measures to secure the Portuguese supremacy.

Portugal's main goal in the east coast of Africa was take control of the spice trade from the Arabs. At this stage, the Portuguese presence in East Africa served the purposes of controlling trade within the Indian Ocean and securing the sea routes linking Europe to Asia. Portuguese naval vessels were very disruptive to the commerce of Portugal's enemies within the western Indian Ocean and were able to demand high tariffs on items transported through the sea due to their strategic control of ports and shipping lanes. The construction of Fort Jesusmarker in Mombasa in 1593 was meant to solidify Portuguese hegemony in the region, but their influence was clipped by the Britishmarker, Dutch and Omanimarker Arab incursions into the region during the 17th century.

The Omani Arabs posed the most direct challenge to Portuguese influence in East Africa and besieged Portuguese fortresses, openly attacked naval vessels and expelled the Portuguese from the Kenyan and Tanzanian coasts by 1730. By this time the Portuguese Empire had already lost its interest on the spice trade sea route due to the decreasing profitability of that business. The Arabs reclaimed much of the Indian Ocean trade, forcing the Portuguese to retreat south where they remained in Portuguese East Africamarker (Mozambique) as sole rulers until the 1975 independence of Mozambique.

Omani Arab colonization of the Kenyan and Tanzanian coasts brought the once independent city-states under closer foreign scrutiny and domination than was experienced during the Portuguese period. Like their predecessors, the Omani Arabs were primarily able only to control the coastal areas, not the interior. However, the creation of clove plantations, intensification of the slave trade and relocation of the Omani capital to Zanzibarmarker in 1839 by Seyyid Said had the effect of consolidating the Omani power in the region.

Arab governance of all the major ports along the East African coast continued until British interests aimed particularly at ending the slave trade and creation of a wage-labour system began to put pressure on Omani rule. By the late nineteenth century, the slave trade on the open seas had been completely outlawed by the British and the Omani Arabs had little ability to resist the British navy's ability to enforce the directive. The Omani presence continued in Zanzibar and Pembamarker until the 1964 revolution, but the official Omani Arab presence in Kenya was checked by German and British seizure of key ports and creation of crucial trade alliances with influential local leaders in the 1880s.

Period of European Imperialism

Between the 19th and 20th century, East Africa became a theatre of competition between the major imperialistic European nations of the time.During the period of the Scramble for Africa, almost every country comprising present day East Africa to varying degrees became part of a European colonial empire.

Portugalmarker had first established a strong presence in southern Mozambiquemarker and the Indian Ocean since the 15th century, while during this period their possessions increasingly grew including parts from the present northern Mozambique country, up to Mombasamarker in present day Kenya. At Lake Malawimarker, they finally met the recently created British Protectorate of Nyasaland (nowadays Malawimarker), which surrounded the homonymous lake on three sides, leaving the Portuguese the control of lake's eastern coast.The British Empire set foot in the region's most exploitable and promising lands acquiring what is today Uganda, and Kenyamarker. The Protectorate of Uganda and the Colony of Kenyamarker were located in a rich farmland area mostly appropriate for the cultivation of cash crops like coffee and tea, as well as for animal husbandry with products produced from cattle and goats, such as goat meat, beef and milk. Moreover this area had the potential for a significant residential expansion, being suitable for the relocation of a large number of British nationals to the region. Prevailing climatic conditions and the regions' geomorphology allowed the establishment of flourishing European style settlements like Nairobimarker, Vila Perymarker, Vila Junqueiromarker, Porto Améliamarker, Lourenço Marquesmarker and Entebbemarker.

The Frenchmarker settled the largest island of the Indian Ocean (and the fourth-largest globally), Madagascarmarker along with a group of smaller islands nearby, namely Réunionmarker and the Comorosmarker. Madagascar – until then under British control – became part of the French colonial empire being ceded in exchange for the island of Zanzibarmarker an important hub of spices trade, off the coast of Tanganyika. The British as well held a number of island colonies in the region. The Seychellesmarker an extended archipelago and the rich farmland island of Mauritiusmarker, previously under the French sovereignty, were as such.

The German Empiremarker gained control of a large area named German East Africa, comprising present-day Rwandamarker, Burundimarker and the mainland part of Tanzania named Tanganyika. In 1922, the British gained a League of Nations mandate over Tanganyika which it administered until Independence was granted to Tanganyika in 1961. Following the Zanzibar Revolution of 1965, the independent state of Tanganyika formed the United Republic of Tanzania by creating a union between the mainland, and the island chain of Zanzibar. Zanzibar is now a semi-autonomous state in a union with the mainland which is collectively and commonly referred to as Tanzania. German East Africa, though very extensive, was not of such strategic importance as the British Crown's colonies to the north: the inhabitation of these lands was difficult and thus limited, mainly due to climatic conditions and the local geomorphology.

Map of British East Africa in 1911.

Italy gained control of various parts of Somaliamarker in the 1880s. The southern three-fourths of Somalia became an Italian protectorate (Italian Somaliland).

Meanwhile, in 1884, a narrow coastal strip of northern Somalia came under British control (British Somaliland). This northern protectorate was just opposite the British colony of Adenmarker on the Arabian Peninsula. With these territories secured, Britain was able to serve as gatekeeper of the sea lane leading to British India.

In 1890, beginning with the purchase of the small port town of (Assebmarker) from a local sultan in Eritreamarker, the Italians colonized all of Eritrea.

In 1895, from bases in Somalia and Eritrea, the Italians launched the First Italo–Ethiopian War against the Orthodox Empire of Ethiopiamarker. By 1896, the war had become a total disaster for the Italians and Ethiopia was able to retain its independence. Ethiopia remained independent until 1936 when, after the Second Italo-Abyssinian War, it became part of Italian East Africa. The Italian occupation of Ethiopia ended in 1941 during World War II as part of the East African Campaign.

The French also staked out an East African outpost on the route to French Indochina. Starting in the 1850s, the small protectorate of Djiboutimarker became French Somalilandmarker in 1897.


Until recently most governments were illiberal and corrupt, and several countries were riven with political coups, ethnic violence and oppressive dictators. Since the end of colonialism, the region has endured the following conflicts:

Kenya and Tanzania have enjoyed relatively stable governments. However politics has been turbulent at times, including the attempted coup d’état in 1982 and the 2007 election riots in Kenya.

Djiboutimarker and the Puntland and Somaliland regions of Somalia have also seen relative stability.

Tanzania has known stable government since independence although there are significant political and religious tensions resulting from the political union between Tanganyika and Zanzibar in 1964. Zanzibar is now a semi-autonomous state in the United Republic of Tanzania. Tanzania and Uganda fought the Uganda-Tanzania War in 1978–1979, which led to the removal of Uganda's despotic leader Idi Amin.

See also


  1. United Nations Statistics Division - Standard Country and Area Codes Classifications
  2. Robert Stock, Africa South of the Sahara, Second Edition: A Geographical Interpretation, (The Guilford Press: 2004), p. 26
  3. IRIN Africa
  4. Michael Hodd, East Africa Handbook, 7th Edition, (Passport Books: 2002), p. 21: "To the north are the countries of the Horn of Africa comprising Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia."
  5. Encyclopaedia Britannica, inc, Jacob E. Safra, The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, (Encyclopaedia Britannica: 2002), p.61: "The northern mountainous area, known as the Horn of Africa, comprises Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia."
  6. Sandra Fullerton Joireman, Institutional Change in the Horn of Africa, (Universal-Publishers: 1997), p.1: "The Horn of Africa encompasses the countries of Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia. These countries share similar peoples, languages, and geographical endowments."
  7. "East Africa". The New Oxford Dictionary of English, Judy Pearsall, ed. 2001. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press; p. 582. "The eastern part of the African continent, especially the countries of Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania."
  8. Robert M. Maxon, East Africa: An Introductory History, 2 Revised edition, (West Virginia University: 1994), p. 1
  9. Mary Fitzpatrick and Tom Parkinson, Lonely Planet East Africa, 7th edition, (Lonely Planet Publications: 2006), p. 13
  10. Stock, Africa South of the Sahara, Second Ed., p. 24
  11. "East Africa". Merriam-Webster's Geographical Dictionary, 3rd ed. 2001. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc.; p. 339. "A term often used of the area now comprising the countries of Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and Somalia; sometimes used to include also other neighboring countries of E Africa."
  12. " East Africa". Encarta World English Dictionary [North American Edition] 2007. Microsoft Corporation. "[R]egion in east central Africa, usually taken to comprise Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, Tanzania, and Uganda". Archived 2009-10-31.
  13. Encyclopaedia Britannica, inc, Jacob E. Safra, The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, (Encyclopaedia Britannica: 2002), p.61
  14. "East Africa". Encyclopedia of Food and Culture. 2003. The Gage Group Inc. "East Africa comprises ten countries: Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, and Kenya."
  15. FAO - East Africa: "With eight countries (Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, the Sudan, Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania),[31] East Africa covers a land area of 5.9 million square kilometres."
  16. Sandra Fullerton Joireman, Institutional Change in the Horn of Africa, (Universal-Publishers: 1997), p.1
  17. Egyptian Presidency - Egypt Profile: Geography. "[Egypt is s]ituated in the Northeastern corner of Africa, bounded by the Mediterranean Sea from the North and the Red Sea from the East, with the Sinai Peninsula constituting a link to Southwest Asia..."
  19. Dewar, Robert E. and Wallis, James R; "Geographical patterning in interannual rainfall variability in the tropics and near tropics: An L-moments approach"; in Journal of Climate, 12; pp. 3457-3466
  20. Davis, Mike; Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World; p. 263-266. ISBN 1859847390
  21. Hua Liu, et al. A Geographically Explicit Genetic Model of Worldwide Human-Settlement History. The American Journal of Human Genetics, volume 79 (2006), pages 230–237,
  22. Diamond, Jared; Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fate of Human Societies; p. 103; ISBN 0393038912
  23. Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steel; p. 394

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