Africa, the birth place of humankind is the second largest continent in the world. It is also the second most populated continent in the world. Covering about six percent of the earth’s surface, Africa has an area of about 30.2 million square kilometres. This accounts to about 20.4 percent of the total land area in the world. About 15 percent of the world population lives in this continent. This accounts to about 1.1 billion people as of 2013 making Africa the second most populous continent among the seven continents in the world. It is also the continent that has proportionally largest young population. More than 50 percent of African population is 19 years old or younger than that.
Africa has Mediterranean sea to its north, Atlantic ocean to its west, Indian ocean to its south east and both Suez canal and red sea along the Sinai peninsula to its north east. You can see it in the Map of Africa which is given above. The island of Madagascar and various archipelagos are also part of this continent. Africa is home to 54 countries and nine territories. The largest country in Africa by area is Algeria and largest in terms of population is Nigeria. Africa lies across the equator and it is the only continent that stretches from the northern temperate zone to the southern temperate zone. Because of its position, it has areas of different climatic conditions. Central Eastern Africa is widely accepted to be the birth place of humankind, as the earliest fossils of hominids and their ancestors dated to around seven million years ago have been found from this region.
Africa is considered to be the birth place of human species. It is the oldest inhibited territory on earth. Many fossil evidences have been discovered from Africa which shows human occupation perhaps as early as seven million years ago. Early human settlements have been found in southern Africa, south east Africa, North Africa and Sahara. From 6000 BC onwards domestication of cattle and agriculture started to exist in Africa along with the hunter-gatherer cultures. Iron and metal working started in Africa by as early as 500 BC much earlier than any other parts of the world.
One of the world’s earliest and long lasting civilisations in the world, the Egyptian civilisation started from around 3300 BC and continued till 343 BC. Later it was followed by European explorations into Africa by ancient Greeks and Romans. Christianity was introduced in Africa by AD 340.by early 7th century Islam also came into picture by the expansion of Arabian Islamic caliphate. These religions spread mainly through trade routes and migrations.
Before colonisation, Africa had as many as 10000 different states and polities which were characterised by different rules and political organization. These states were often fighting with each other. By late 19th century European imperial powers started colonising most parts of the African continent.
Slavery and slave trade have been taking place in for many centuries. From 7th century to 20th century Arab slave trade has been happening via Trans Saharan and Indian Ocean routes. Atlantic slave trade which took slaves to the new world also happened from 15th century to 19th century.
Out of the three great southward projections from the largest land mass on the earth, Africa is the largest among them. Africa is separated from Europe by the Mediterranean Sea. At the north east side of Africa, it is connected to the continent of Asia by the Isthmus of Suez. The Sinai Peninsula of Egypt which lies in the eastern side of Suez Canal is also geopolitically considered as part of Africa. Stretching over 8000 kilometres from Ras Ben Sakka in Tunisia, which is the northern most point in Africa to Cape Agulhas in South Africa, which is the southernmost pint of the continent, Africa lies across the equator. It is also 7400 kilometres wide with Cape Verda being the westernmost point and Ras Hafun in Somalia being the most extreme point in the eastern side.
Africa has a clear coastline with not many deep indentations of the shore. The second largest continent in the world has a coastline of 26000 kilometres. Algeria is the largest country in Africa and Seychelles, an archipelago off the east coast is the smallest. Gambia is the smallest country on the continental mainland. Africa geologically includes the Arabian Peninsula, the Zagros Mountains of Iran, and the Anatolian plateau of turkey. This region marks the place where the African plate collides with Eurasia.
Africa has varied climatic conditions across the different regions of the continent. Africa is the hottest continents on earth. About 60 percent of the entire land surface of the continent is either dry lands or deserts. Northern half of Africa is primarily desert, or arid. Southern and central areas of the continent have areas which are savannah plains or very dense rainforest regions. The converging areas between these two have vegetation patterns such as Sahel and steppe.
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Ecology and Biodiversity
Africa has the largest and most diverse wild animal population in the world. It is home to large population of carnivorous animals such as lions, hyenas, and cheetahs. Africa is also home to the largest land animal in the world; the African elephant. There are also many herbivores animals such as buffaloes, elephants, camels and giraffes ranging freely in the plains of Africa. Africa is also home to a variety of jungle animals such as snakes, primates and aquatic animals such as crocodiles and amphibians. The density and range of freedom of highly diverse wild animal population in Africa is incomparable with any other continents in the world.
Africa has over 3000 protected areas. This includes 198 marine protected areas, 50 biosphere reserves and 80 wetland reserves. Africa is the continent which is highly affected by deforestation and soil degradation. The rate of deforestation happening in Africa is twice compared to the deforestation happening in the rest of the world. Over four million hectares of forest is lost in Africa every year. About 90 percent of the virgin forests in the West Africa have been destroyed over the years. 90 percent of the forests in Madagascar have also undergone destruction since the arrival of human beings there 2000 years ago. Increase in human population, habitat destruction and poaching is reducing the biological diversity of Africa. Human encroachment, civil unrest, poverty and introduction of non native species are also posing threat to the biodiversity of the continent.
Language and demographics
Africa is the most multilingual continent in the world. There are over thousand different languages being spoken in Africa. Although most of them are of African origin, some of the languages spoken there are from Europe or Asia. Most of the people speak multiple African languages fluently, but also one or more European languages as well. People use mainly four major indigenous African language families. The Afro-Asiatic languages are spoken in places such as North Africa and south west Asia. The nilo Saharan language family is used by ethnic groups in Chad, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania. The Niger Congo language is used in sub Saharan Africa and the Khoisan languages are used in the southern Africa. People also use English, French, Arabic, Portuguese, Spanish and italic in many parts of Africa.
African population has seen a rapid increase during the last fifty years. The population in Africa was only 221 million in 1950. It has reached up to 1.1 billion in 2013. Hence about half of the African population is less than 25 years of age. Most of the people living in sub Saharan Africa are Bantu speaking people who were initially from West Africa. There are several Nilotic groups living in the south Sudan and east Africa. Southern and central Africa is concentrated by indigenous Khoisan and pygmy people. North African people are from three indigenous groups; berbs in the North West, Egyptians in the northeast and nilo Saharan people in the east. Arabs arrived in North Africa in 7th century and introduced Arabic language and Islam.
Prior to decolonisation, Europeans where there in most part of Africa. After decolonisation in 1960s and 1970s most of the white settlers in Africa emigrated back to their native places, and hence now white Africans are minority in the continent. The largest population of white Africans are in South Africa. Many people from the Indian sub continent also are now living in different parts of Africa. They came here along with the British colonies.
Africans also follow a wide variety of religions. About 45 percent of the AFRI now follows Christianity and 40 percent of the population follows Islam. Ten percent of the population now follows traditional religions in Africa. Religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Judaism are also being followed.
Africa is the most poorest and underdeveloped continent in the world. Last 25 ranked nations according to the United Nations’ human development report of 2003 are all from Africa. Corrupt governments, high levels of illiteracy, failed central planning, lack of foreign capital, human rights violations done by many governments and frequent tribal and military conflict have resulted in this bad situation of the continent.
Africa has abundant natural resources. About 90 percent of world’s cobalt, 90 percent of platinum, 50 percent of gold reserves, 30 percent of the diamond reserves and many other minerals such as chromium, manganese, uranium and bauxite are believed to be in Africa. The growth in Africa is now driven mainly by services and not manufacturing and agriculture. Hence it has been a growth without jobs and no reduction in poverty.