African population density

I was recently struck by differences in population density: Northern Nigeria’s Kano state has an official population of ~10 million, whereas the entire country of Zambia has 13.5. Zambia’s land area, meanwhile, is also about 35 times that of Kano.

So I started looking around for a nice map of population density in Africa. The best I found was this one via UNEP:

And here’s a higher resolution version.

Some of the most striking concentrations are along the Mediterranean coast, the Nile basin, the Ethiopian plateau, and around Lake Victoria. (I’d love to track down the data behind this map but haven’t had time.)

A good map can change how you think. If you’re used to seeing maps that have country-level estimates of disease prevalence, for instance, you miss variations at the subnational level. This is often for good reason, as the subnational data is often even spottier than the national estimates. But another thing you miss is a sense of absolute population numbers, because looking at a map it’s much easier to see countries by their areas rather than their populations, which for matters of health and other measures of human well-being is generally what we care about. There are some cool maps that do this but they inevitably lose their geographic accuracy.




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  1. Sam R #

    This is a good compliment to your post:

    Nigeria’s current population is only the beginning of the story:
    ” Nigeria, currently Africa’s most populous country, is poised for one of the world’s most rapid population booms ever. In just 100 years, maybe two or three generations, the population is expected to increase by a mind-boggling factor of eight. The country is already troubled by corruption, poverty and religious conflict. It’s difficult to imagine how a government that can barely serve its population right now will respond when the demand on resources, social services, schools and roads increases by a factor of eight. Still, if they pull it off – the country’s vast oil reserves could certainly help – the rapidly growing workforce could theoretically deliver an African miracle akin to, say, China’s.”

    “Take a look at Tanzania, which is today one of the poorest countries in the world. As of 2000, it had 34 million people; California’s population was the same that year. Today, Tanzania has about 45 million people. By 2100, its population is projected to be 276 million – almost the size of the entire United States today, and by then one of the largest countries in the world.”


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