At the very heart of the geographical establishment, London’s Geographical Society (now the Royal Geographical Society) laughed at the thought of snow in Africa. Rebmann’s sighting of the snows of Mount Kilimanjaro in 1849 was considered complete fantasy for the next decade. Bob Geldof ignored the existence of snow in Africa over 130 years later.
There are actually several places on the continent that see frequent snowfall, the altitude of Africa’s highest points overriding the heat of sea level Africa. At sea level temperatures can rise to over 40°C. Yet landing in Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia, is like landing on the top of a decent sized mountain. Almost the entire country lies on a plateau 7,500 feet up. It has helped to isolate Ethiopia from the rest of Africa historically, and create its own cold-proof fauna like the hairy gelada baboon.
Hairy, scary, gelada baboons, protected from Ethiopia’s cold
The snows of Kilimanjaro (Africa’s highest peak) and nearby Mount Kenya last throughout the year. They are considered eternal. Kilimanjaro’s glaciers make up much of the ‘snows’ and have an average age of 12,000 years old despite being slap-bang on the equator. Snow can also be found on Mount Cameroonin West Africa, South Africa’s Drakenberg mountain range, and Morocco’s Atlas and Anti-atlas Mountains. In other words, to whichever compass point you turn, you can find snow in Africa.
Snow at the summit of Mount Kenya (2001)
But Bob Geldof could soon be right. The past 100 years has seen an 80% fall in the snows of Kilimanjaro. Soon, perhaps as early as 2030, there won’t be snow in Africa at Christmas or at any other time of year.