Factors influencing population distribution in East Africa


  • Climate: Areas which receive heavy and reliable rainfall which support the growth of crops have attracted people in large numbers e.g. shores of Lake Victoria, Kenya highlands, slopes of Mt. Elgon  and Kigezi highlands while areas which receive low and unreliable rainfall attract very few people e.g. Karamoja, Turkana land and Miombo woodlands.
  • Soils: areas with deep and well drained fertile soils that support agriculture have attracted dense settlements e.g. Mbale, Kabale, shores of Lake Victoria while areas with infertile soils have sparse population e.g. Nyika plains, North Eastern Kenya and Masai land.

  • Altitude/relief: areas with very high altitude e.g. top of Mt. Elgon and Rwenzori, Bundibugyo have sparse population because of the high pressure, difficulty in constructing houses and roads. However low altitude areas have attracted large settlements due to ease in constructing settlements and roads. However, areas in broad valleys occupied by swamps have sparse population due to presence of disease vectors like mosquitoes. Also, lowland areas are subjected to floods and therefore are always avoided.
  • Vegetation: dense forests, bush lands and swamps are unfavorable areas for settlement because it’s hard and expensive to clear the vegetation. They also habour wild animals and disease carrying vectors like tsetse flies which scare away settlements. Areas with savannah vegetation are easy to clear for agriculture and settlement hence attracting dense population e.g. Masaka, Mpigi and Mukono.

  • Natural water resources: The existence of natural water resources can attract dense population e.g. shores of Lake Kyoga and Victoria. Also, in areas of low rainfall many people are attracted near water courses or rivers e.g. along river Athi, Nile because the dense population utilizes the rivers for small scale irrigation, livestock rearing and domestic use. However, areas without surface water bodies have scared away settlements leading to sparse population e.g. in Karamoja and Turkana land.
  • Drainage: Poorly drained areas e.g. coastal margins of Kenya and Tanzania are full of mangrove swamps which are unproductive in terms of agriculture, therefore leading to sparse population while areas which are well drained have high population densities like central Uganda, slopes of Mt. Kenya and Elgon.

  • Economic Activities: Areas that have activities like mining, trading and manufacturing industries especially towns likeDar-es-salaam, Nairobi, Kisumu, Kampala, Jinja attract large population than areas where they are few economic activities e.g. Karamoja. This because people are more attracted to areas that have enough job opportunities than areas with less employment opportunities.
  • Government policy: The government may determine settlement in an area e.g. the creation of national park and game reserves discourages settlement e.g. Kidepo valley game park and on other hand, the setting up of resettlement schemes and refugee camps has attracted settlement in large number e.g. in Kiryandongo and Internally Displaced Peoples’ (I.D.P) camps in Gulu.
  • Political stability: Areas that are unstable and insecure have got low population e.g. Karamoja where there is a lot of cattle rustling compared to areas which are generally politically stable and secure hence attracting dense settlements e.g. towns like Kampala and Mombasa.

  • Culture: some areas have got low population density because of their culture of e.g. Ankole, Karamoja, Masai land areas are sparsely populated because of their practice of nomadic pastoralism which keeps them on the move always. Within central Uganda, dense settlements exist because of the settled ways of life that encourage family development e.g. in Mukono and Wakiso districts.



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