National Geographic : 1966 Aug
Mosaic of New Nations Changes the Face of Northwestern Africa O LD AFRICA HANDS call it "the dec ade of difference." To some former colonies the ten-year era now ending in Africa has meant bloody ferment; to others, peaceable transition. But to almost all, the difference is spelled simply "Freedom." Nowhere is the epochal difference more ap parent than in the region between the Medi terranean's glistening shores and the steam ing coast of the Gulf of Guinea-depicted on Northwestern Africa, the National Geo graphic Atlas Map distributed as a supple ment to this issue of the magazine.* Gone is the colonial chessboard of 1950 (opposite), when only two countries in the mapped area-Egypt and Liberia-enjoyed sovereign status. Now 23 former possessions -all except Portuguese Guinea, Spanish Sa hara, and a sprinkling of other Spanish hold ings around the bulge of Africa-have gained independence. (See "Freedom Speaks French in Ouagadougou," by John Scofield, page 153.) Unfold the map and you see how the vast Sahara, a barren expanse of sand and stone almost as big as the United States, still pre sents a formidable barrier between Arab and Negro nations. But progress is no longer alien to parts of this wasteland. Oil derricks dot scorched dunes of Libya and Algeria, bring ing unprecedented prosperity to the desert. Business booms in once-sleepy seaport towns like Bougie, now called Bejaia, where oil tankers fill with liquid gold pumped some 850 miles through Algeria's longest series of pipelines, duly shown on the map. Another startling result of the search for oil has been the discovery of an immense fresh water sea the size of France underlying the parched Sahara. Scientists believe it can be tapped for irrigation, to make the desert bloom even more than it did in ancient times. The Romans-and earlier Phoenicians and Greeks-left their ghostly imprint in North Africa: at Carthage in Tunisia and at Libya's Leptis Magna and Cyrene. Today, from Cairo to Casablanca, it's an Arab world. With in 204 dependence from France, name changes for one-time French Army posts and even for some coastal cities reflect this new national ism. In Algeria, Fort Charlet becomes Djanet; Fort Laperrine has changed to Tamanrasset. To avoid confusion, the map gives both names. One unsettling result: the Tripoli saluted by United States Marines in their official hymn has reverted to Arabic as Tarabulus. At opposite ends of Arab Africa lie the lowest point on the entire continent and the highest point in its northwest sector. Qattara Depression west of Cairo sinks 436 feet below sea level; Jebel Toubkal, south of Marrakech, Morocco, towers to 13,665 feet. The Atlas Mountains, including Toubkal, rank as the region's most majestic, with peaks soaring above 10,000 feet. Someofthesecatch and hold enough snow to make skiing popular in such improbable places as Ifrane, a resort town 100 miles east of Rabat, Morocco. Portuguese Launched Great Land Rush Overland travel between northern and southern extremes of the Sahara is faster and more certain than it used to be. Roads traced on the map as solid red lines now link Algeria with neighboring states to the south, though a few segments continue to be little better than marked tracks. Nations large and small splinter much of Africa's bulge. But the boundaries of these new countries vary little from those of the colonies that preceded them. Europe's interest in the Gulf of Guinea be gan before Columbus, with Portuguese ex plorers; by 1500 they had established flour ishing trading posts all the way to the mouth of the Congo River. Other nations joined the race for the region's riches: ivory, gold, slaves, and "grains of paradise" (pepper)-words that still identify parts of the coast. The land-grab lasted for 400 years, ending *Additional copies of the Atlas Map Northwestern Africa may be obtained for 50 cents each from Dept. 337, National Geographic Society, Washington, D. C. 20036.