For decades, the dynamics of tropical deforestation in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) have defied easy explanation. The rates of deforestation have been lower than elsewhere in the tropics, and the driving forces evident in other places, government new land settlement schemes and industrialized agriculture, have largely been absent in SSA. The context and causes for African deforestation become clearer through an analysis of new, national-level data on forest cover change for SSA countries for the 2000-2005 period. The recent dynamic in SSA varies from dry to wet biomes. Deforestation occurred at faster rates in nations with predominantly dry forests. The wetter Congo basin countries had lower rates of deforestation, in part because tax receipts from oil and mineral industries in this region spurred rural to urban migration, declines in agriculture and increased imports of cereals from abroad. In this respect, the Congo basin countries may be experiencing an oil and mineral fuelled forest transition. Small farmers play a more important role in African deforestation than they do in southeast Asia and Latin America, in part because small-scale agriculture remains one of the few livelihoods open to rural peoples.
Keywords: Dutch disease; deforestation; dry forests; sub-Saharan Africa.