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Views of Africa
SEPTEMBER 2005
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Africa: A Storied Landscape
The Maasai bless the East African grasslands that feed their cattle, saying "stay uninhabited." Yet they know that the human tide has never stood still in Africa. Here in the birthplace of our species, people have shaped the land—and been shaped by it—for millennia.

Stretching 4,900 miles (8,000 kilometers) north to south, Africa's diverse climates and landscapes both enable and stymie human progress. Fertile croplands in Nigeria and volcanic soils in the Great Rift Valley feed hundreds of millions. But deserts, malarial lowlands, poor soils, and unreliable rains limit where people can live, forcing increasing numbers to compete for finite resources.

The strain is palpable, with continuing conflicts and poverty on the rise along with population. Africa is expected to grow from 900 million people to two billion by 2050. How they survive and prosper will hinge on the actions not just of governments but of communities and visionary individuals. "The solutions to our problems lie within us," says Wangari Maathai, whose work to reforest Kenya by planting 30 million trees earned her the Nobel Peace Prize. "No matter what problems we face, we can still protect the environment and think of future generations."

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