The World and Its People
Nigeria, which takes its name from the Niger River, is a large West African country with a coastline on the Gulf of Guinea. Its climate moves from tropical rain forest to savanna and then to steppe as you travel from south to north. Although it is one of the world's major oil-producing countries, most of its people work and live on small subsistence farms. About 60 percent of Nigerians live in rural villages, often in compounds, or groups of houses surrounded by walls. Many young men, however, move to the cities to find work. With about 250 ethnic groups, Nigeria has experienced long periods of ethnic conflict, but the government is working to build greater national unity.
Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Chad are located in an area known as the Sahel. From the A.D. 500s to 1500s, three great African empires—Ghana, Mali, and Songhai—arose in this region. Today overgrazing and drought have caused the desertification of many grassland areas in this region. Most of the people live in small towns and are subsistence farmers or livestock herders.
West Africa also includes eleven countries—Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, and Benin—that stretch along the Atlantic coast and the Gulf of Guinea. Sandy beaches, thick mangrove swamps, and rain forests cover the shores of the coastal countries. These countries have a good climate for agriculture, and most people are farmers.