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Describe the factors influencing population distribution in Africa


Describe the factors influencing population distribution in Africa



(A) Natural Factors
(i) Climate (rainfall amount, heat, coldness etc.)
(ii) Soils (fertility, nutrients etc.
(iii) Topography/relief (smoothness, gentle, etc.)
(iv) Mineral locations
(v) Pests(vi) Diseases
(B) Human-related Factors
There are also human-related factors which account for example to various
population distribution and areal density:-
(i) Socio-economic
(ii) Urbanization
(iii) Tribe conflicts
(i) Climate
The key climatic parameters influencing the distribution of population in the
continent of Africa are rainfall and temperature. Areas characterized by high (>1000mm),
reliable and predictable rainfall; and moderate temperatures (15-200
c) are densely
populated. Such places have a high agricultural potential and therefore support large
populations. Areas with moderate to high rainfall (750-1000mm), which are also
characterized by warm to cool temperatures (20-250
c), are moderately populated; while
those receiving less than 700mm with high temperatures (>25 0
c) are sparsely populated.
The latter, which is commonly referred to as arid to semi arid areas or marginal lands
have a low potential and are mainly occupied by pastoralists. However, due to high
population pressure and subsequent land shortage in the high potential zones, the
marginal areas are today recipients of large numbers of migrants from the overcrowded
areas. Unfortunately the rising number of immigrants is contributing immensely to land
degradation problems in these fragile areas.
(ii) Relief/Topography
Mountainous areas, especially at altitudes above 2100 metres have low and sparse
population. At such altitudes, low temperature and inadequate oxygen make life generally
impossible. Moreover, apart from limiting agricultural land, the steep slopes of the
mountains constitute a constraint on the movement of people and the development of a
modern transport network. The mountainous regions of Africa are therefore sparsely
populated. Hilly places with gentle slopes, especially those lying between 1300m and 2100m, and some lowlands are some of the densely populated regions in East Africa.
These places have moderate and comfortable temperatures, receive effective rainfall,
have mature and fertile sols and are easily accessible. As such they have a high
agricultural population.
Unlike in the temperature world, aspect (the compass direction in which sloping
land faces) does not exert any significant influence in the distribution of population in
Africa. This is because in East Africa the sun is almost vertically overhead throughout the
year. However leeward sides of mountains, which normally receive low and unreliable
rainfall (<350mm) and have poor soils and generally a week agricultural base, typically
have low and sparse populations. There is more of livestock farming in these areas than
crop farming.
(iii) Soils
African populations are to a large extent agriculture-based and tend to concentrate
in places with fertile soils. Areas of volcanic, alluvial or loamy soils are more fertile than
regions with sandy or clay soils. The former are not only deep, well and easy to work but
also contain high organic content and as such attract huge populations. They are
considered favourable and conducive environments for diverse agricultural activities. The
reverse is true of areas with sandy soils such as the Arid and Semi-arid areas (ASALs) of
North Eastern, north western and central Africa which are to a largely characterized by
low and sparse population. Sandy soils although well aerated are coarse is true and as
such have a low water retention capacity. They are therefore not conducive for crop
production (with the exception of a few crops such as dates and palm trees). Clay soils
(e.g. Sudan Plains) are also not very attractive to human settlements because they are
poorly drained and are usually water logged most of the time, heavy and hence too
expensive to cultivate.
(iv) Minerals
Africa lack important deposits. However the few that are available play a crucial
part in the distribution of population in the region. Places with mineral deposits have dense and nucleated populations. For instance, the availability of diamond and copper
mining in some parts of Africa, explains the presence of large and dense population in
areas that would otherwise have low populations.
(v) Pests and Diseases
Africa has favourable environment for human settlement and agriculture.
Unfortunately this environment is also conducive to a variety of pests (mainly tsetse fly
and the mosquito) and associated diseases (trypanosomiasis and malaria), which affect a
substantial of Africa. The tsetse fly thrives in places below 1600m and those receiving
over 400mm of rainfall such as the Miombo woodland in east, central Africa mosquitoes
survive in places below 1500m with stagnant water, poor drainage and rainfall of over
400mm. At the moment malaria, which is transmitted by mosquitoes, is a killer disease in
after HI-AIDS. Populations are thus sparse in areas conducive to pests and diseases.
However, man is deterministic in nature and is working hard to eradicate pests and
diseases from the earth’s surface. Through improvements in science and technology,
pesticides, insecticides and medicine to combat pests and diseases have been found. For
instance, the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) and KETRI, among others are
working tirelessly in the search for Malaria and HIV-AIDS cure, like other parts of
In the past malaria was restricted to lowland areas but to-day there were
increasing cases of malaria in highland areas. For instance, there has been a raid increase
in the number of people affected by highland malaria in Kericho and Kisii in Kenya, also
many parts of Africa.
In recent times, certain sites on the earth’s surface have gained socio-economic
advantages over others because of the functions they perform as administrative
headquarters, ports and industrial towns or cities. These areas form some of the most
highly and densely populated areas of the world today. They are less extensive than the
densely populated agricultural or rural areas and are centres of in-migration.
(i) Population Change
Population changes can be as a result of natural change and or migration. The
balance between births and deaths determines natural population change. When the
number of births in a given region exceeds the number of deaths, a natural increase in
population occurs. When the number of deaths exceeds the number of births, a natural
decrease in population results. Thus, the difference between the number of births and
deaths referred to as a natural population change. Natural population change is the key
factor contributing to Africa’s population growth. Before the 1960s population in Africa
grew rather slowly largely because both birth rates and death rates were high. High death
rates resulted from frequent wars, famines and epidemics of such diseases as cholera etc.
However after the 1970s, there was a notable decline in mortality rates resulting from:
- Extensive vaccination campaigns against epidemic diseases like measles, small
pox and polio.
- Expansion of medical facilities and services especially in the rural areas.
- Improved standards of living with regard to food, housing and sanitation.
- Improved primary health care and community based rural health projects, which
receive strong support from the Governments. These aim at reducing infant and
child mortality caused by diarrheal diseases, malaria, preventable and
communicable diseases and malnutrition. Community based traditional birth
attendants are being trained to provide maternal and child health services and
nutritional education within their respective communities.
The improvements in medical facilities, hygiene and nutrition have resulted in a
significant drop in death rates from 40 persons per every 1,000 in the early 1960s
to less than 20 persons per every 1,000 in 2002. There has also been a major
decline in birth over 50 persons per every 1,000 in the early 1960s to 34, 48 and
40 persons in every 1,000 in Kenya., Uganda and Tanzania respectively in 2002.
Reasons advanced for declining birth rates include: increased use of
contraceptives, general acceptance of family planning, reduction in illiteracy
levels and increased cost of living.
Before the 1960, for example in East Africa, high birth rates were
prevalent; a fact attributed to soaring fertility rates, which resulted from:-
1. Early start and late continuation of reproductive life (18-45 years).
2. Decline in the incidence of childlessness of women between 15 and 49 years
due to improved nutrition and health conditions.
3. Low level of use of contraceptives.
4. Rising level of adolescent fertility.
5. Preference for a boy child to a girl child.
(ii) Population Migration
What do you understand by the term population migration? It is the physical
movement of people from one place to another. This can also occur when people migrate
to look for life-giving as illustrated in Fig. VII). It takes many forms and can be classified
in at least three different ways including the following:-
- Voluntary and involuntary movements
- Temporary and permanent movements.
- External and internal movements.
Let us now examine the difference between these different types of migration.
Internal Migration: These are movements confined within a single country and do not
affect national population sine of the countries in which they occur. They however can
have a significant impact on spatial distribution of populations especially in the cases
where too many people migrate form one area to another. Throughout Africa, ASALs,
which have been known to support low populations, are today recipients of large numbers
of immigrants from the overcrowded high potential areas. Internal migration, which
could be of a long-term or short-term nature, includes the following:-
- Rural-urban migration
- Rural-rural migration
- Urban-rural migration
- Urban-urban migration
Rural-Urban Migration: Although Africa like the rest of the world is the least
urbanized, present rates of urban growth are among the highest in the world. Rural-urban
migration ha contributed immensely to the process of urbanization in the region. It is a
process representing an important demographic response to a new economic and spatial
order. It is also a process by which the rural and urban areas interact.

-Rural-urban migration is a function of availability of economic opportunities in
urban areas and lack of the same in the rural. Lack of agricultural land, food insecurity,
underemployment or unemployment, low wages and dislike of hard rural conditions are
some of the underlying factors (push factors) enhancing rural-urban migration. The
attractions of urban life, the hope for better employment opportunities, better education
facilities and better standards of living are on the other hand, pull factors that attract
rural population to urban areas. The introduction and penetration of the capitalist mode of
production based on a high degree of product specialization and quite a sophisticated
division of labour has required wage workers to concentrate in fixed locations (urban
centres). Among the many external stimuli to social and economic change in the rural
areas, the selective movement of household members from the rural to urban areas, which
are the centres of cash income, is among the most potent. Unemployment and
underemployment and the low wages offered in the rural areas are important factors
explaining the movement of rural population to urban areas. Migrants hope to find
employment and better wages in urban areas. The increasing cases of rural-urban
migration have aggravated the unemployment problem in the urban sector. A large
number of migrants have not been able to find employment.

-Urban-Rural Migration: This type of migration consists of people who have
failed to find employment in the urban areas or those who have retired, been
retrenched or sacked. It also includes people who are dissatisfied with the noisy,
congested, dirty and dangerous urban urban areas.

-Urban-Urban Migration: In some cases people migrate from one urban centre to
another. These are usually people on transfer or those who want to try their lack

-Rural-rural Migration: Migrants falling under this category include mainly
agriculturalists who migrate in search of agricultural land or land for settlement.
Usually the movement is from the densely populated ad high potential areas
towards the sparsely populated areas. For example, in Kenya many migrants of
this migrate from the densely settled Central provinces to the less populated areas
of the country External migration also known as international migration concerns the physical
movement of people from one country to another. These movements stem from economic
and social push and pull factors including: employment opportunities; marriage, tourism,
refugees and pilgrims. International migrations are of prime demographic significance as
they affect the rate of population change in both the country of origin and that of
destination. They influence the age structure, sex structures and economic composition at
both ends.
Due to its diversity in physical, social and cultural conditions, East Africa has
become the destination of large numbers of immigrants from the rest f the world. Large
numbers of immigrants comprise of tourists and expatriates whose visits are short tem
and voluntary. Also, a large number of refugees are flocking Kenya, Uganda and
Tanzania countries from the countries neighboring. For instance, Kenya I currently
hosting thousands of refugees from Somalia, Uganda, Ethiopia and Sudan while war
victims from Burundi and Rwanda have south refuge in Tanzania. Refugees are usually
an economic burden on the recipient countries. Providing them with basic socioeconomic amenities is a considerable strain on economies that are already performing
extremely poorly.

Titany answered the question on January 17, 2022 at 13:52

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