A JOURNEY IN AFRICA AND ON THE INDIAN OCEAN
Africa is a vast continent of diverse cultures and landscapes. Surpassed in size and population only by Asia, Africa boasts about 14% of the world’s population and over 20% of the total global land area. Most of this land is dominated by desert and savannah plains, though there are also stretches of rainforest.
Owing to its history of being a colonised land, traditional African culture is infused with Arabic and European influences. Especially the northern parts of Africa, including the Magreb countries and Egypt are more Arabic than really African. Arabic influences are also noticeable along the western coastline and islands off the coast like Zanzibar, Madagascar and Mauritius. The European influences are scattered across the continent but still are best seen and felt in southern Africa, in countries like South Africa and Namibia.
Africa’s geography is as diverse as its culture. Africa is surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, the Northern and Southern Atlantic Ocean to the west and the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea and the Suez Canal to the east. Although the latter, the Suez Canal, only divides Africa from the Middle East geographically, not politically, as the Sinai Peninsula is also part of Egypt. The waters that border Africa are dotted with many islands which officially are part of Africa as well, like the Seychelles, Mauritius and Sao Tome and Principe, although many of these islands have a distinct culture from the mainland.
The northern part of Africa contains the largest non-arctic desert in the world, the Sahara, one of the most famous deserts. Northwest of the Sahara lies one of the highest mountain ranges of Africa, the Atlas Mountains, which run from southern Morocco through Algeria to Tunisia. South of the Sahara is transition zone with savanna scrubby grasslands and semi-desert landscapes. Further to the south and southeast you will find the tropical rainforests. Parts of Central Africa include volcanic mountain ranges, including the Ruwenzori Mountains and Mount Cameroon, one of the highest mountains in Africa after Kilimanjaro. Again, south of the tropical zone you will find semi-desert landscapes and savannah before reaching the deserts of Kalahari and Namibia. Finally, South Africa’s southern parts are like its Mediterranean counterparts in the north, with pleasant climates, enough rain and absence of real deserts.
The Indian Ocean covers about 20% of the water surface on Earth, making it the third largest ocean in the world after the Pacific Ocean and Atlantic Ocean. It is at its widest in the southern area between Africa and Australia and narrows bit by bit before reaching the Arabian Peninsula, Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent.
It could be said that modern Indian Ocean history started in 1497 when Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope in modern day South Africa on his way to India, becoming the first European to reach India by sea. It was the starting point of the trade routes between India, several other Asian countries and both Europe and Africa. Portugal and then the Netherlands, France and the UK all had their periods of power and wealth regarding these trade routes and the domination of strategic areas along the Asian coastline.
This period lasted for almost 400 years before the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, when routes around Africa were replaced by routes through the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden & finally to the big waters of the Indian Ocean.
Nowadays, most of the countries in the Indian Ocean region are autonomous and few colonial relationships exist. Both the UK and the US though have some strategically located naval bases right in the centre of the Indian Ocean at Diego Garcia. There are still several French territories as well.
In general, the western and eastern boundaries are formed by the 20º East Meridian and the 147º East Meridian respectively. The former acts as the unofficial border with the Atlantic Ocean at South Africa’s Cape Agulhas, the latter with the Pacific Ocean.
The northern and southern borders are less easy to define. The 30º North Latitude in the Persian Gulf is usually believed to be the northern edge. Since 2000, there has been a fifth world ocean, the Southern Ocean. The border of this ocean coincides with the 60º South Latitude, coinciding again with the Antarctic Treaty Limit.
Moreover, the southern borders of the Indian Ocean sometimes are still drawn south towards Antarctica. Therefore, also the islands in that region are listed below under ‘islands’.
Generally, also the main bodies of waters of the Gulf of Aden, Andaman Sea, Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal, Great Australian Bight, Laccadive Sea, Gulf of Mannar, Mozambique Channel, Gulf of Oman, Persian Gulf, Red Sea and others are included in the territorial boundaries of the Indian Ocean.
Although of course the coastlines of many countries located on the main continents all form borders of the Indian Ocean, it is sufficient to only name the islands in the Indian Ocean proper. Only just over a handful of these are actually independent countries.