It is not figurative. Africa is really splitting up but it has little to do with the crack discovered in Kenya. Face 2 Face reports that, "After heavy rains and seismic activities on Monday, the earth has split open at Kenya’s Rift Valley leaving a huge tear that is more than 50 feet deep and more than 50 feet wide weaving through the arable land in Narok County." A piece of East Africa is expected to drift away from the African mainland in tens of millions of years and many have jumped to conclude the process is now manifesting in cracks and splits after observing the Kenyan crack. However, there is more to it than the layman thinks.
A Short Geography Lesson
Most of the African continent is on the Nubian plate but there is a significant portion on the Somali plate, and the two plates converge at the East African Rift Valley. Safe to say, this will be the point of divergence too. Lucia Perez Diaz explains, "These plates are not static, but move relative to each other at varying speeds, “gliding” over a viscous asthenosphere. Exactly what mechanism or mechanisms are behind their movement is still debated, but are likely to include convection currents within the asthenosphere and the forces generated at the boundaries between plates.These forces do not simply move the plates around, they can also cause plates to rupture, forming a rift and potentially leading to the creation of new plate boundaries. The East African Rift system is an example of where this is currently happening."
Rifts are, generally speaking, the initial stage of a continental break-up and no other example is quite like that of South America and Africa some 138 million years ago. As Lucia Diaz again, rightly observes, the two continents' coastlines match like pieces of the same puzzle.
Notwithstanding the evidence of the continental drift about to take place in Africa, the recently observed crack has been dismissed as having little to do with the process. Expert analysis has shown that, "Given the evidence available at present, the best and simplest explanation is that this crack was in fact formed by erosion of soil beneath the surface due to recent heavy rains in Kenya." Similar chasms have been seen in the area.