Africa





Libyan Desert, desert, northeastern Africa, northeastern section of the Sahara, in eastern Libya, western Egypt, and northwestern Sudan. In Egypt, it is also known as the Western Desert. The arid region of sand dunes and stony plateaus rises to 1907 m (6256 ft) at the point where the borders of Libya, Egypt, and Sudan meet. Western Sahara, region in northwestern Africa. Formerly known as Spanish Sahara, it was an overseas province of Spain from 1958 until 1976, when it was partitioned  between Mauritania and Morocco. Since 1979, it has been occupied entirely by Morocco. Western Sahara encompasses about 267,000 sq km (about 103,000 sq mi); it is bounded on the north by Morocco, on the northeast by Algeria, on the east and south by Mauritania, and on the west by the Atlantic Ocean.
 With a hot, arid climate, and composed mostly of rocky and sandy soils, the region is not suitable for sedentary agriculture, but some sheep, goats, and camels are raised by nomadic herders. The territory has rich deposits of phosphates, notably at Bu Craa; exploitation of the deposits began in the early 1970s. The population (1993 estimate) of the region is about 206,629, mostly Berbers and Arabs.

The main towns are El Aaiún, or Laayoune, which was formerly the capital of Spanish Sahara, and Ad Dakhla, which was formerly Villa Cisneros.
 Portuguese navigators visited the area near modern El Aaiún in 1434 but did not establish lasting settlements. Spain held the region from 1509 to 1524, when it was taken by Morocco, which thereafter ruled it for more than three centuries. In 1884 Spain established a protectorate over the coast from Cape Bojador to Cape Blanc; Franco-Spanish agreements in 1900, 1904, and 1920 extended the limits of the protectorate. Spain divided its possession into two separately administered districts, Río de Oro in the south and Saguia el Hamra in the north. The two were amalgamated in 1958 when the overseas province of Spanish Sahara was established.
 In the early 1970s nationalists in Spanish Sahara sought independence for the territory, while Algeria, Mauritania, and Morocco laid claims to the area. In late 1975, as Morocco prepared to launch a massive nonviolent invasion of Spanish Sahara, Spain agreed to relinquish the area to Mauritania and Morocco. The Spaniards departed in February 1976; two-thirds of the territory was then occupied by Morocco and the rest by Mauritania. Algeria protested the partition and supported the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el Hamra and Río de Oro (Polisario Front), a nationalist group seeking to transform the former Spanish Sahara into an independent country. The Polisario staged several guerrilla raids into Mauritania and Morocco during 1976-1978. When Mauritania surrendered its portion and made peace with the Polisario in 1979, Morocco laid claim to all of Western Sahara and continued the war alone. The Polisario-backed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic received the recognition of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in February 1982, when it was admitted as a member. Between 1980 and 1987, as the war continued, Morocco constructed a wall of sand and rock 3 m (9 ft) high and almost 3200 km (2000 mi) long around Western Sahara that successfully limited Polisario's capability of attacking from Mauritania and southern Algeria.
 Under a United Nations-sponsored peace plan, a truce took effect in Western Sahara in September 1991, and a referendum on self-determination was planned to follow. However, this referendum has been postponed repeatedly due to disagreements over the number of Western Saharan eligible voters.  
Oases in the desert include Al Kufrah and Al Jaghbűb, in Libya, and Siwa and Baḩrîyah, in Egypt. Major deposits of petroleum and natural gas underlie the northern edge of the desert, in Libya.
Nubian Desert, region in northeastern Sudan, bounded by the Nile River valley on the west and the Red Sea Hills on the east. Primarily a rocky sandstone plateau, the Nubian Desert is a poor, remote part of the Sahara. Although scattered towns and villages exist along the Nile, life in the desert's interior is precarious and generally limited to areas close to the desert's seasonal watercourses, or wadis. The climate is hot and dry with a brief rainy season during July and August. Rainfall is scanty and averages less than 15 mm (less than 0.6 in) annually in the northern town of WâdîḨalfâ’ on Lake Sudan (called Lake Nasser in Egypt) and no more than 40 mm (1.6 in) per year in the south near the town of ‘Aţbarah. The average daily temperature in June, the hottest month, is about 45° C (about 110° F).
 Economic activities in the Nubian Desert are restricted to subsistence agriculture and raising produce for sale at local markets. Farmers grow date palm and fruit trees, grains, and vegetables along the Nile and wherever else the desert's limited surface and groundwater resources will allow. Livestock, particularly goats, are raised as well. The interior of the Nubian Desert along the Wadi al Âllâqî, which drains the Red Sea Hills into the Nile between Aswân and WâdîḨalfâ’, is a major route for herding camels to meat markets in Egypt. The region's low rainfall, thin and poorly developed soils, and rocky plateau topography limit the width of the Nile's floodplain, and thus the extent of fertile land. The agricultural zone along the Nile is therefore unsuitable for large-scale irrigation projects. Instead, farmers are restricted to small, intensively cultivated fields nourished by water raised from the Nile by diesel-powered pumps. Although small deposits of gold, copper, diorite, emeralds, and semiprecious stones were extracted from the Nubian Desert during ancient times, these minerals now occur in insufficient quantities to make exploitation profitable.
 Few formal transportation routes exist in the Nubian Desert. The Nile's great loop in northern Sudan is broken by a series of cataracts, or waterfalls, that make navigation difficult. A railroad line runs from WâdîḨalfâ’ to AbűḨamad, and from there a branch line extends to Kuraymah. The region's one developed, but unpaved, road follows the railroad, while short segments of road parallel the course of the Nile in the agricultural area. The majority of roads in the region are unpaved and poorly maintained. Riverboats, which travel between the Nile's cataracts, are the region's main form of transportation.
 The Nubian Desert is part of the ancient region called Nubia, specifically Upper Nubia, which was occupied successively by Egyptian and Kushite (sometimes called Ethiopian) kingdoms for several thousand years. These kingdoms ruled along the corridor of the Nile and derived importance from their strategic location, which linked sub-Saharan and northern Africa. The area became an important cultural and trade center. Nubia was converted from paganism to Christianity in the 6th century AD. In the 14th century the region was gradually converted to Islam by Arab conquerors, who brought Arabic language and culture to Nubia. Nubian sites from the pre-Christian era are of great interest to archaeologists and historians. Between ‘Abrî in the north and the area of Kuraymah and Marawî in the south, on both banks of the Nile, there is a series of modestly scaled but important and accessible temples, pyramids, and other monuments that attest to the power and prosperity of the Nubian kingdoms. The ruins linked to Napata, one of the ancient capitals of the Kushite kingdoms, which are located in the present-day area of Kuraymah and Marawî, are of particular significance.

 Arabian Desert or Eastern Desert, arid region, eastern Egypt, lying between the Mediterranean Sea on the north, the Red Sea and the Gulf of Suez on the east, the Nubian Desert (along latitude 22° N) on the south, and the Nile River on the west. The western edge of the desert is demarcated by cliffs that rise steeply from the Nile Valley. To the east the terrain, mostly a rugged plateau, slopes upward to a range of jagged volcanic mountains bordering the Red Sea. Elevations in the range, which descends abruptly to the sea, exceed 2135 m (7000 ft). Aridity makes human habitation difficult, but a few small agricultural villages subsist in little basins in the plateau and mountains. Deposits of turquoise, phosphate rock, nitrates, petroleum, salt, and building stone are here, but are of limited economic significance.
 The name Arabian Desert is also applied popularly to the Rub‘ al Khali (Empty Quarter), also called the Great Sandy Desert, of the Arabian Peninsula, one of the hottest and most sparsely inhabited sand dune deserts of the world.
Qattara Depression, desert basin in the northeastern Sahara, northwestern Egypt. A largely sandy region with salt lakes and marshes, it reaches a depth of 133 m (436 ft) below sea level. Its total area is about 18,000 sq km (about 7000 sq mi). Because it is impassable to vehicles, the Qattara Depression was important during World War II (1939-1945) as the southern end of the British defense lines at Al ‘Alamayn (El ‘Alamein).
Ahaggar Mountains, also Hoggar Mountains, plateau region, southern Algeria, in the center of the Sahara. It is an arid, rocky, upland region that rises to a maximum elevation in Mount Tahat (3003 m/9852 ft). On its southwestern edge is the oasis town and Saharan crossroads of Tamanrasset.
Emi Koussi, volcanic mountain in northern Chad. The highest peak in Chad and the Sahara, Emi Koussi dominates the southern quarter of the Tibesti, a mountainous volcanic plateau. Standing at 3415 m (11,204 ft), Emi Koussi towers over the nearby countryside. Although some surrounding volcanoes continue to emit smoke, Emi Koussi has been dormant throughout recorded history. Located in one of the hottest and most remote places on earth, the mountain's sides display a spectacular scenery of sharp cliffs, narrow gorges and rugged foothills.
 The surrounding plateau has significant subterranean water reserves and is dotted with hot springs. To the north, rock paintings dating from 5000 to 2000 BC suggest that the climate and natural life of the area were much more lush than they are today. Around AD 1230, the Kanem-Bornu Empire, centered in the Lake Chad region, expanded into the area. Today several hundred Teda people live on the mountain's slopes. Descended from the original Berber inhabitants of the central Sahara, they are fiercely independent Muslim nomadic herders. The political instability of Chad throughout the 20th century has prevented the mountain from being thoroughly studied.
Tibesti, also Tibesti Mountains, mountainous region of the central Sahara, in northern Chad, extending into northeastern Niger and southern Libya. The mountains are of volcanic formation and rise abruptly above the surrounding plains. The highest peak, Emi Koussi, has an elevation of 3415 m (11,204 ft). The presence here of deep-cut stream beds and ancient rock carvings depicting hippopotamuses and elephants indicate the existence of a more humid climate in the past.
Sahel, region in western Africa, serving as a transition zone between the arid Sahara on the north and the wetter tropical areas to the south. A relatively sparse savanna vegetation of grasses and shrubs predominates. Rainfall averages between 102 and 203 mm (4 and 8 in) and falls mostly from June to September. Nomadic herding and limited cultivation of peanuts and millet are possible in most areas. Desertification of the Sahel has been sped up by an extended drought between the late 1960s and early 1980s, the worst in 150 years, and the stress of increasing human and livestock populations. Desertification, whereby soil loses its ability to retain moisture and allows deserts to encroach on arable land, is shrinking the size of the Sahel and causing famine in much of the region.
Sudan (region), vast geographical region of northern Africa, extending east to west across the continent. It forms a semiarid transition zone between the Sahara on the north and the wet tropical regions on the south. Desert and scrublands predominate in the north, grading into grasslands and savanna to the south. The name Sudan (Arabic, “black”) is a reference to the black peoples who historically have inhabited the region.
Sirocco, hot, dry, dust-laden southerly winds, originating in the Sahara and blowing off the North African coast during the spring and summer. While passing over the Mediterranean Sea, these winds pick up moisture, and when they arrive on the north shore, blowing chiefly across Italy, Sicily, and Malta, they produce humid, oppressive, and rainy conditions.
Tuareg, tribal people of the Sahara. They speak a Berber language, Tamarshak, and have their own alphabet. In ancient times, the Tuareg controlled the trans-Sahara caravan routes, taxing the goods they helped to convey and raiding neighboring tribes. In modern times, their raiding was subdued by the French who ruled Algeria. The political division of Saharan Africa since the 1960s has made it increasingly difficult for the Tuareg to maintain their pastoral traditions.
 Tuareg society distinguishes among nobles, vassals, and serfs. Slave-stealing expeditions have been abolished, but the black descendants of former slaves still perform the menial tasks. Social status is determined through matrilineal descent. Converted by the Arabs to Islam, the Tuareg have retained some of their older rites. Among the Tuareg, for example, men—not women—wear a headdress with a veil.
 Many Tuareg starved in droughts in the 1970s, and others have migrated to cities. Today more than 300,000 Tuareg live in Algeria, Tunisia, Mali, Libya, Burkina Faso, and Niger.
Kabyles, Berbers of coastal Algeria, Tunisia, and some oases in the Sahara, organized into a confederation of tribes. The vernacular of the Kabyles is Hamitic.
 The Kabyles are monogamous and patriarchal. Although they generally follow an agricultural economy, during the French occupation of Algeria they were introduced to such occupations as trading, field labor, industrial work, and military service. The family group lives in a compound composed of rectangular houses. Their pottery, which is made by the women without the use of a potter's wheel, is decorated in geometric patterns; it has been closely studied by archaeologists because of its resemblance to the pottery of ancient Greece. The Kabyles are Muslims of the Sunni sect.

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