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Unit Two: Studying Africa through the Social Studies

Module Nine: African Economies

Teacher's Edition

Activity Five
Transportation in Colonial Era: Movement of Goods and People: Explain

Roads, railroads, and river transportation are essential components of economic growth through the movement of goods, services, and people. Modern economic systems are dependent on the efficient movement of goods, services, and people. You can learn about an economic system by studying its transportation system.

Take a look at the map of the colonially developed rail system in Africa. Railways were an important method of transporting goods and people in Africa.

Although Africa has many great rivers, rapids and waterfalls make many of these rivers unsuitable for long-distance transportation. Consequently, colonial governments and commercial companies sponsored the development of railroads as a primary method of transporting agricultural and mineral resources.

Study the map of Africa's Railroads. While studying this map look at the previous map on Africa's exports during the colonial era. Using the information provided in these two maps and what you have learned in this and previous lessons, try to answer the following questions. Write your answers on a piece of paper, and after you have shared your answers with your teacher, place your answers in your Exploring Africa Web Journal.

  1. Looking at the railroad map, what can you conclude about railroad development in Africa?

  2. What region(s) has the most developed rail system? Why do you think this region has the most developed rail system?

  3. What region(s) have the least developed rail system? Why do you think these regions lacked rail development?

  4. What products needed rail-roads for movement?

  5. If you were a transportation planner, in what other areas in Africa would you build railroads? Are there alternatives to rail transport that might be more economical? Give reasons for your answer.

Answer Key:

Teachers should note that there are not "correct" answers to these questions. These questions are meant to stimulate student critical and analytical thinking.

  1. The students, we hope, will note that almost all of the railroads in Africa run from the interior to the coast. There are few "inland" railroad connections. This reflects the fact that railroads were expensive to build. They were purposefully built to take raw materials from the interior of Africa to the coast where they could be exported to Europe.

  2. Clearly Southern, Central, and Eastern Africa have the most extensive rail systems. This reflects several factors, such as the need to get minerals from Southern and Central Africa (Congo, Northern Rhodesia/Zambia) to the coast for shipment to Europe. The rail systems in Southern and Eastern Africa also reflect the importance of European settler agriculture in these areas. In East and Southern Africa, commercial trading companies partnered with colonial regimes to build railroads to stimulate European settlement and agriculture.

  3. The Sahel regions of North and West Africa and part of the interior of West Africa have the least developed rail systems. These areas were resource "poor" in terms of exports. Colonial powers were unable and unwilling to expend the money necessary to build rail systems into areas where there would be little financial pay-off for the investment. Moreover, it would have been very expensive to construct railroads into these areas.

  4. Minerals and export cash crops such as coffee.

  5. Students may be tempted to suggest North Africa and the interior of West and Central Africa. However, you should encourage students to think about environmental concerns and economic realities (what goods would the rails move). Ask students to think about alternatives to rail development-maybe expansion of road systems that would be much cheaper and would be more accessible to small scale farmers and business people.

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