• Series of maps showing linguistic diversity of Africa

As of the 2013 census, 1.1 billion people live in Africa; 36.2 per cent of them, or over 360 million, live on less than one US dollar per day. The major regions of Africa are Northern Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, whose cultures and economies were historically separated by the Sahara Desert. North Africa is predominantly Muslim, and each of the countries in the region has Arabic as their official (or one of their official) languages. Sub-Saharan Africa has a tremendous amount of linguistic and religious diversity; the predominant languages include Zulu, Fula, Oromo, Igbo, and Yoruba. The largest economy (by nominal GDP) in Northern Africa is Egypt, and the largest economy in sub-Saharan Africa is Nigeria. The countries in North Africa have generally lower percentages of population living in poverty (Tunisia has .7% living with under $1.25 a day; Egypt has 1.69%); the country on the continent with the highest level of people living with under $1.25 a day is Liberia, with 83.76%.

Economic development across the continent vary greatly, and depend on a variety of factors including the colonial history of the country, the natural resources in the country (such as oil, natural gas, and mineral resources), and the position of the country relative to shipping routes. However, certain related problems recur throughout the countries on the continent: misuse of natural wealth, poorly designed and managed infrastructure, health crises, and political conflict and violence. The CIA World Factbook notes that even countries with tremendous oil wealth, such as Equatorial Guinea and Gabon (two of the richest countries in Africa, per GDP PPP) are beset by severe economic inequality, poor infrastructure, and political corruption. The starkness of this inequality – a situation in which Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, the president of Equatorial Guinea, has a net worth of $600 million while less than half of the population has access to potable water – is a theme that recurs throughout the Factbook’s accounts of the economies of African countries. These problems are exacerbated by a number of colonial legacies, such as the way in which countries themselves have been defined (their borders were often drawn to suit the aesthetic or administrative needs of the departing colonists, rather than the historical or ethnic realities of the colonial subjects). This in turn reflects the particular linguistic situation in Africa – even within countries, there can be as little as a ten percent chance that two people chosen at random will speak the same language. The main vehicular languages are the languages of the colonizing powers – notably French, English, Dutch and Portuguese.

Widespread decolonization did not occur in sub-Saharan Africa until the 1960s, after which its film industries began to develop. Sembene Ousmane, a Senegalese man whom the Los Angeles Times called “the father of African film,” studied in Moscow and sought to remedy the portrayal of Africa as a place of total mystery – “enough of feathers and tomtoms,” he said. The major debate in the history of sub-Saharan African film has involved a discussion regarding the possibility of film to effect political change, and what kind of representations of African life are responsible ones. In Ousmane’s films, among others, the early impetus was toward social realist representations and engagement with nationalist politics; since then, there has been a movement in most film industries toward a more entertainment-oriented cinema, with political films being screened more often in art house cinemas.

Currently, the two largest film production centers in Africa are in South Africa and Nigeria (whose film industry is nicknamed “Nollywood”), which employ 35,000 and over a million people respectively. Nollywood has a briefer history than many of the film industries in other African countries – it went from having virtually no industry to the second largest in the world in thirty-five years. Most of the Nollywood productions are distributed direct-to-video. According to the website for the documentary This is Nollywood, the films “depict situations that people understand and confront daily: romance, comedy, the occult, crooked cops, prostitution, and HIV/AIDS.” South Africa’s film industry has been growing since the end of apartheid in the mid-1990s, with government involvement in the form of tax incentives and subsidies.

Egypt, with the largest film industry in Northern Africa, has a long history of indigenous film production, experiencing a “golden age” in the 1940s and 1950s, and a decline when the industry was socialized under Gamal Abdel Nasser in the 1960s. Today, Egypt produces many of the world’s Arabic-language films and also hosts two yearly international film festivals, in Cairo and in Alexandria. The largest African film festival is the Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ougadougou, which screens only films produced by African filmmakers and is held in Ougadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso.

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