In our ever-expanding quest to provide you with relevant information about the planet we live on, we’re tackling a new region, today. The continent of Africa is the second largest in the world, and it lives up to that reputation in two ways—both in terms of landmass and population. This diverse, amazing region encompasses many different climates, landscapes, biomes, and cultures. It’s famously regarded as the place where we Homo Sapiens first evolved from our ancestors; it’s something that most paleontologists and historians agree upon.
Amidst all of these amazing facts is a maze of woven national boundaries and territories. A history of amazing cultural tales must, however, be juxtaposed with the fact that there is a great deal of atrocity occurring across Africa. The world slave trade wreaked havoc upon the continent’s people, and near-constant wars have kept many regions in perpetual poverty. Mortality rates in many places are dismal, and thus, many efforts are made on part of global relief efforts to improve the quality of life for the many people living in Africa.
But these are the very sorts of topics that we’re going to tackle below. It will be helpful to keep in mind that this is only an overview—a deeper look into any of these topics will require further research, much of which we’ll be providing links for throughout the reading. And as always, our comments section is wide open for anything you’d like to learn about, more specifically! We’re always looking for fresh topics and new angles for material that our readers enjoy!
Africa, the Second-Largest Continent
As you’ll see below, Africa is a massive continent. It’s the second largest both in terms of landmass and population, but even though the continent of Asia is larger, there are still over 1 billion people living within Africa’s various countries. And those 1 billion plus people are speaking more than one thousand languages! On average, if you were to collect all of the languages spoken throughout the world, one in every five of those would be a language that’s only spoken in Africa.
Impressive, right? Far too often, the various cultures, peoples, and countries in Africa are lumped into one national “mass,” without regard for how diverse this continent actually is.
And it’s not just diverse in terms of “people,” either. There are quite a few out there who will merely attribute Africa to its famous savannas. However, this would blatantly disregard an incredibly rich variety of landscapes, all of which house unique ecosystems that can’t be found anywhere else in the world.
We might well assume that all of our readers could easily point to Africa when looking at a map of Earth’s continents, but just in case, we’d like to point out the oceans and landmasses that Africa is connected to.
Because Africa is such a large continent, it’s little surprise that it has so much ocean bordering it! To the west is the Atlantic. To the east-southeast is the Indian Ocean, which encompasses all of the waterways between Asia and Africa. Some assume that the southern cape of Africa—the country of South Africa—also touches the Southern Ocean, but most continental maps have the border of that ocean beginning some while south of the actual African continent.
Additionally, many assume that Asia connects with both Asia and Europe, due to the continent’s proximity to both. However, though the tectonic plates most certainly connect, the actual landmasses don’t follow this assumption. Africa and Asia connect, but in spite of what many who aren’t familiar with this region of a map suspect, Africa and Europe do not.
As we’ve said above, Africa is the second largest continent in the world, overtaken only by Asia in terms of landmass.
Here’s an easy comparison that will help you to see how these sizes relate to one another:
- Asia: 16,920,000 square miles (43,820,000 square kilometers)
- Africa: 11,730,000 square miles (30,370,000 square kilometers)
- North America: 9,460,000 square miles (24,490,000 square kilometers)
- South America: 6,890,000 square miles (17,840,000 square kilometers)
Quite a disparity, right? If you’re one of our readers in North America, take a moment to look at how much larger Africa is than this continent. In spite of that size difference, though, Africa has the shortest coastline!
And it’s also the only continent that’s neatly bisected by the equator, which results in diverse climates in both the northern and southern halves of the continent.
It’s easy to assume that the entirety of the African continent is blazing hot, and for many regions, you wouldn’t be wrong. Tropical climates run prevalent through a great deal of Africa due to the fact that it rests right on the equator.
But if you look to the southernmost and northernmost edges of the continent, you’ll find temperatures that are more akin to Meditteranean climates—plenty hot during the summer seasons, but cooler during certain parts of the year. The potential disparity in the climates of many regions of Africa is represented quite well in one of the continent’s most unique biomes—the savanna.
Environment & Wildlife
As stated above, there’s a widespread association of the African continent with the renowned African savanna. It’s a unique environment that hosts many equally unique wildlife species. Those such as the African elephant, the lion, or the Nile crocodile are especially recognizable; they’re practically inseparable from the environment that they live in. And they’ve adapted to thrive in the wildly differentiating climates of this region. Depending on whether a particular part of the savanna is on the north or south side of the equator, it might see different seasons at different times. Most important, however, is the fact that these seasons alternate between being incredibly dry and incredibly wet, for many months at a time.
This tropical grassland—as well as many of the species that inhabit it—are in need of protection. The encroachment of humans has greatly impacted the numbers of particular species. But it wouldn’t be genuine to say that humans have only had a negative impact on the savanna, and any other part of Africa’s biomes. Much has been done by people to help preserve the species and environments of the savanna, though much of that preservation follows destructive habits that harmed it.
In addition to the African savanna, the continent is also the location of the Sahara desert. This region has its own unique collection of animal and plant life. And beyond that, the tropical regions of Africa nearest the equator are lush with hundreds of miles of forest and jungle! Without any doubt, this continent is home to an incredibly diverse collection of biomes, unique among others found throughout the world. In future articles about the continent of Africa, we’ll delve more deeply into each of them!
As mentioned above, Africa is a continent consisting of many diverse countries, nations, and peoples. Many cultures developed and grew separate from each other, but almost every one of them was disrupted by the colonization of Europeans centuries ago. When slavery was still widely practiced around the world, many African cultures suffered at the hands of slavers, who saw the continent’s people as easily exploitable.
Throughout the 20th century, most of Africa has been “decolonized”—this is to say that colonial presence and control formerly exerted by European countries have been rescinded, allowing the countries and peoples of Africa to govern themselves. As is probably obvious, this has not been a smooth process, by any understanding of the phrase. In spite of ongoing conflicts, though, efforts have been made to bring the various territories and countries of Africa together into a single union. The African Union is a relatively recent effort, only beginning in 2001 but now encompassing more than 50 countries.
And what about the countries of Africa? Which of them is the most heavily populated?
- Nigeria: 181,563,000 people
- Ethiopia: 99,391,000 people
- Egypt: 89,125,000 people
- The Democratic Republic of the Congo: 77,267,000 people
- South Africa: 54,957,000 people
- Tanzania: 51,046,000 people
- Kenya: 45,533,000 people
- Sudan: 40,235,000 people
- Algeria: 39,670,000 people
- Uganda: 37,102,000 people
- Morocco: 34,380,000 people
- Mozambique: 28,013,000 people
- Ghana: 27,414,000 people
These are only the 13 most populous countries of Africa, but it hopefully gives you an idea of just how widespread the population of this continent is. Unlike others, the population isn’t exclusively limited to the coasts. The interior of Africa has several countries that have a significantly large population!
However, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Egypt, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and South Africa are all located on the coasts. Access to shipping and trade have helped these areas, in particular, to expand and grow prolifically, where other parts of the continent’s interior remain more isolated.
We hope that this brief article has given you an informative, surface-level glance into the continent of Africa. Of course, we’ll be diving much deeper into facts about the continent, its countries, its biomes, and its peoples in future articles, but for now, the above should help you to know where the continent rests in relation to the rest of the planet’s landmasses. If there are any further questions that we can answer about this unique part of Earth, let us know in the comments below!