top of page


What is sub-Saharan Africa?

NINE THOUSAND years ago the Sahara desert was a grassland, inhabited by hunters who made rock paintings of hippos and giraffes. For a millennium before the 16th century a flourishing trade carried salt, gold and slaves across the dunes, until Moroccan invasions and Atlantic shipping drove it into decline. Yet today the Sahara is more often seen as a barrier, cutting Africa in two. Academics, policymakers and newspapers—including The Economist—routinely refer to part of the continent as “sub-Saharan Africa”. International institutions such as the World Bank and IMF are internally organised along the same lines. It seems Africa is defined by a wall of sand. But what is “sub-Saharan Africa”?

The answer might seem obvious. Anywhere south of the desert is, geographically, “sub-Saharan”. The first problem is that some countries, like Mauritania, are mostly in the desert itself. And the confusion runs deeper. Consider Somalia and Djibouti, both in the Horn of Africa. They are south of the Sahara, but the IMF oversees them from its Middle East and Central Asia department. The World Bank used to include both countries in sub-Saharan Africa, before moving Djibouti to the Middle East and North Africa in 2000. Meanwhile Eritrea, to the north of both of them, is considered sub-Saharan. And whereas the World Bank includes the Arabic-speaking states of Mauritania and Sudan in sub-Saharan Africa, the IMF does not.

Flooding and landslides in East Africa have killed dozens of people and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes. Meanwhile, thousands of miles away in Australia, a period of hot, dry weather has led to a spate of bushfires.


The president of the Rwanda Cycling Federation has resigned after allegations of corruption and sexual abuse were made against the organisation. Aimable Bayingana and his entire executive team have stood down, according to reports.

The Rwanda Investigative Bureau (RIB) said it was investigating the allegations but would not comment further.


Musicians such as Davido, Wizkid and Burna Boy are now established mainstream stars around the world, and global interest in African music has never been higher.

In 2019, Beyoncé hand-picked some of Africa's biggest stars to appear on her Lion King-inspired album, while Mr Eazi and Burna Boy performing at the annual Coachella music festival in California.


John Kieti always made sure that the windows of his apartment were shut tight and all the curtains closed.

It was his way of keeping out the stench and polluted air in Syokimau, a neighbourhood close to Kenya's capital, Nairobi.


bottom of page