Africa Matters is a blog that follows the news and offers analysis of African affairs. Our aim is to delve deeper into the issues of African politics and development. We don’t presume to be experts, and we don’t presume to have all the answers—we are just trying to ask the right questions.

Monday, December 8


The fun part about Google blog alerts is you're never quite sure what's going to pop up—it can be pretty random. The other day, I got a link to FAO's GeoNetwork, a platform for sharing GIS maps and other geospatial data. For those of us who sort of wish we were scientists, or economists, or maybe water engineers—something useful and quantitative—we can at least find some solace in sites like this, where we get access to the information and we can pretend we understand what we're looking at.

The link sent me to a map of rainfall monitoring for the African continent. This reminded me a bit of another map I saw recently, showing the predicted consequences of climate change on different environments throughout Africa. I thought it might be interesting to overlay the two. This is what I came up with:

The shaded patterns show rainfall variation in October, 2008, from the 30-year average (green is extremely higher, brown extremely lower), beneath the symbols and comments of the climate vulnerabilities diagram. This map seems to be neither particularly meaningful nor novel, but at least making it felt productive.

I also checked out the site where the climate change map came from—UNEP/GRID-Arendal. This one is pretty interesting as well. UNEP links to a tool called Globalis, an interactive map showing the impact of human societies on the world's ecosystems. On top of the impact data, you can also show things like mineral resources and mined resources. And, as well, in lieu of the impact data, you can throw on top all kinds of other visual representations of indicators in a range of areas, like economics, health, and human development. I took a map showing HDI indices in all African countries, with the available mineral resources on top. This doesn't really make a case for the 'resource curse,' but it is interesting to see, so clearly, 1) how much natural wealth so many very poor countries have, and 2) how many hotspots do seem to be centered on mineral caches. I've cherry-picked a few to make my case.

In this map, the darker the shading of the country, the less developed it is (measured according to three factors: a long and healthy life, knowledge, and a decent standard of living).  The colored dots represent mineral deposits—yellow are gemstones, blue is fuel, gray are metals, brown are non-metals, and pink are radioactive elements.

Anyway, I lack the skills and creativity to make much use of tools like these, but for anyone out there better placed than I to do something really cool and groundbreaking and hopefully beneficial with this kind of stuff, there's good news for you:'s Geo Challenge is offering small grants to nonprofits with ideas for how to use mapping tools like Google Earth and Google Maps to help foster global development, combat climate change, or improve public health. Seems like a great opportunity.