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Geography of Sub-Saharan Africa

Jenkins Macedo
Prof. Osama Abdelgadir
Framingham State University
Geography of Sub-Saharan Africa (GEOG 255 COA)
24 June 2009

Write a short essay (2-3 pages) to compare and contrast cultural value systems in the West with those in Sub-Saharan Africa. Focus on family ties, marriage and polygamy, fertility, and the role of women.

Sub-Saharan Africa is a region that is diversely significant in the world of geography. “Understanding the cultural geography of Sub-Saharan Africa is, thus, fundamental to understanding the geography of the region which include its political situation, its medical geography, its population dilemma, and the current development crisis” (Aryeeteh-Attoh et al, 2003). We cannot fully discuss the cultural value systems which include the family organizational patterns, the institution of marriage and fertility as well as the role of women without briefly discussing the effects of colonialism and western influences in the region.Also, this paper shall seek to address the similarities and differences between cultural value systems in Sub-Saharan Africa as well as cultural values systems in the West precisely Europe and North America. This paper shall also seek to compare and contrast cultures in the West and Sub-Saharan Africa in relations to family ties, marriage and polygamy.

The colonization of countries in Sub-Saharan Africa helped in the process of shaping the region politically, socially, culturally, educationally, economically and religiously. The colonization period disintegrated the social, cultural, political, religious and educational landscape of the region shaping it to what we have today. Poverty, diseases, hunger, ethnic tensions and political upheavals are widespread throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, partly because of the negative influences and ideologies that Western powers instituted in the region. These ideologies were rooted in extreme hatred and evil the fundamental cause of Africa’s problems today. Now, let us compare and contrast cultural value systems in Sub-Saharan Africa to that of the West (Europe and North America).Studying the culture of Sub-Saharan Africa is not only limited to the geographic landscape of the region in which people interact, but it is also “studying the culture of a group of people which involves evaluating their way of life-how they live; what clothes they wear; what food they eat; their customary habits, belief systems, speech patterns, and value systems” (Aryeeteh-Attoh et al, 2003).

The family is an important aspect of the culture in most African countries. In Sub-Saharan Africa, people practice the extended family system in which the family is composed of the father, mother, children plus other relatives. Unlike to western countries, family ties are limited to the nuclear family system in which the immediate family is center on the father, mother and children. There are social reasons why family ties in each of these regions vary. The culture, economy, education, and social value systems of these regions play an important role in shaping how their family is composed. For example, the United States and most West European nations where the nuclear family system is widely practice are more developed economically. As a result, people tend to have smaller families as possible. Generally, children in more developed or industrialized nations are considered as liabilities as oppose to Sub-Saharan Africa where children are consider assets. Even though some Christian denominations do promote polygamy in the United States and elsewhere in Europe (Mormonism), monogamy is widely practiced. Europeans and North Americans tend to have fewer children (2.5 TFR) than those in Sub-Saharan Africa where the Total Fertility Rate is higher (TFR 5+). However, this varies on country to country bases in the region which is highly rooted in culture, belief systems, and economy.

Notwithstanding, in some countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, having more children is a symbolic representation of wealth, power and socioeconomic status. Children assist their parents with farm work and get involved in activities that bring about wealth. Children in Sub-Saharan Africa serves as the labor force in the means of production; whereas, in the US and Europe children are widely considered liability to their parents and the economy until they turn eighteen years old when they can legally live by themselves (18 yrs).In Africa, children tend to take care of their parents when they are older, because that is what their culture requires of them; whereas, in the United States and some Europe countries there is a separation between parents and children. Parents in their old ages tend to rely on the government’s social service programs such as their Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid to replace the protection and care they should have gotten from their children. This can lead to wider gaps in family cohesiveness and love. In Africa, people feel cooperative and together because they always see each other. In the West precisely the United States and other European countries, people are more individualistic and competitive and this account for the high rate of suicide cases and crimes.

Education is also a factor that account for both the role of women in the family as well as at the national levels. Over the past fifty-nine years (59), when most countries in Sub-Saharan Africa became independent the role of women were limited to household work, farming, gathering firewood, fetching water as well as preparing food for the family. Women were not encouraged to seek education as the men were pursuing. As a result, the illiteracy rate amongst women and girls became higher. On the other hand, in the United States and European countries women sought education just as men did and became to work on jobs that men did. The roles of women were not limited to parenting as in the case of women in Africa. This was highly due to their culture, government policies, and active civil rights organizations that protested for gender equality and social justice. Today, Africa and precisely Sub-Saharan Africa is also undergoing drastic transformation on the issue of women role on local, national and global matters.To conclude, Sub-Saharan Africa is doing her best in transitioning from an agrarian economic system to an industrial system; however, this is going to take centuries for most countries in the region to attain. 

The development of international partnerships, effective government policies and programs to meet the needs of the common people, good governance and reduce corruption, widespread education and empowerment initiatives for women and girl and an effective health care programs and policies, the region will experience widespread geographic transformation in its total fertility rate and the role of women.

Work Cited

Aryeeteh-Attoh, S. et al, (2003), “Geography of Sub-Saharan Africa.” 3rd Ed. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2003.


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