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Africa is the world’s second-largest continent, with a total area of 11,712,434 sq miles (30,335,000 sq km). It has 54 separate countries, including Madagascar, in the Indian Ocean. It straddles the equator and is the only continent to stretch from the northern to southern temperate zones.

Area: 11,633,846 sq miles (30,131,536 sq km).
The highest point is Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, which is 19,341 ft (5,895 m).
The lowest Point is Lac ‘Assal, Djibouti, -512 ft (-156 m) below sea level.
The longest river is the Nile, Egypt/Sudan/Uganda, which is 4,187 miles (6,738 km).
The largest lake is L. Victoria, Tanzania/Uganda/Kenya, which is 26,828 sq miles (69,484 sq km).
The largest island is Madagascar, which is 226,660 sq miles (587,040 sq km).
The highest recorded temperature in Al’Aziziyah, Libya, is 136°F (58 °C).
The lowest recorded temperature is in Ifrane, Morocco, at 11°F (-24 °C).
The wettest place is Cape Debundsha, Cameroon, at 405 in (10,290 mm).
The driest Place is Wadi Halfa, Sudan <0.1 in (<2.5 mm).
Population: approximately 849,000,000 people.
The number of countries: 53.

Countries in Africa

Click on any country for their profile page with Google Maps, driving directions, and dozens of land-specific data.

Algeria, Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Chad, Comoros, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, São Tomé and Príncipe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

Google Maps Africa

THE SECOND LARGEST CONTINENT, Africa, is a land of contrasts. To the north lies the great Sahara, the largest desert globally, yet the central equatorial area is covered by dense tropical rain forests, while farther south, a series of grassy plateaus (areas of flat highland) give way to narrow coastal plains. Major mountain ranges include the Atlas in the north and the Ruwenzori range on the Uganda-Democratic Republic of Congo border. Africa’s highest mountain is Kilimanjaro, a dormant volcano in Tanzania. To the east is the Great Rift Valley, which contains several huge lakes. Some of the world’s longest rivers drain the continent, including the Nile, Niger, Congo, and the Zambezi.

Africa has three huge deserts. The vast Sahara is the world’s largest desert and dominates the northern third of the continent. Thousands of years ago, the Sahara had a moist climate. Today, the path of wet winds blowing in from the sea is blocked by other winds blowing outward from the desert. The Namib and Kalahari deserts cover vast areas of southwestern Africa. Although it lies along the coast, the Namib Desert (shown here) is particularly barren and dry.

After the Amazon, the world’s second-largest rainforest lies in central Africa. The Congo teems contain plant and animal life, including rare creatures like okapis. It was also the home of groups of pygmies, but many now live in settled villages because vast forest areas have been destroyed for logging and farming. One group, the Bambuti, still lives in the northeastern forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Political map of Africa

The political map of modern Africa only emerged following the end of World War II. Over the next half-century, all countries formerly controlled by European powers gained independence from their colonial rulers – only Liberia and Ethiopia were never colonized. The post-colonial era has not been easy for many countries, but there have been moves toward multi-party democracy across much of the continent. In South Africa, democratic elections only replaced the internationally condemned apartheid system in 1994. Other countries still have to find political stability; corruption in government and ethnic tensions are serious problems. National infrastructures are often inappropriate for independent economic development based on the colonial transportation systems built to exploit Africa’s resources.

Transportation in Africa

African railroads were built to aid the exploitation of natural resources. Most offer passage only from the interior to the coastal cities, leaving large parts of the continent untouched – five land-locked countries have no railroads. The Congo, Nile, and Niger river networks offer limited land access within the continental interior but have many waterfalls and cataracts that prevent navigation from the sea. Many roads were developed in the 1960s and 1970s, but economic difficulties made maintenance and expansion difficult for the networks.

East Africa’s location on the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean has made it a major trading center throughout history.

Population in Africa

Africa has a rapidly growing population of over 900 million people, yet over 75% of the continent remains sparsely populated. Most Africans still pursue a traditional rural lifestyle, though urbanization increases as people move to the cities searching for employment. The greatest population densities occur where water is more readily available, such as in the Nile Valley, North, and West Africa, along the Niger, the eastern African highlands, and South Africa.

Languages in Africa

Three major world languages act as lingua francas across Africa: Arabic in North Africa, English in southern and eastern Africa and Nigeria, and French in Central and West Africa and Madagascar. A huge number of African languages are spoken as well – over 2000 have been recorded, with more than 400 in Nigeria alone – reflecting the continuing importance of traditional cultures and values. The extensive use of Arabic reflects Middle Eastern influences in the north of the continent, while Bantu is widely spoken across southern Africa.

Standard of living in Africa

Since the 1960s, most African countries have seen significant improvements in life expectancy, healthcare, and education. However, 28 of the 30 most deprived countries in the world are African, and the continent lies well behind the rest of the world in terms of meeting many basic human needs.

AIDS has become a major health problem in East Africa.

Climate in Africa

Africa lies almost entirely between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. This location gives most of Africa warm, tropical temperatures.

The climates of Africa range from the Mediterranean to arid, dry savannah, and humid equatorial. In East Africa, where snow settles at the summit of volcanoes such as Kilimanjaro, altitude also modifies the climate. The winds of the Sahara export millions of tons of dust a year, both northward and eastward.

The Sahara is the largest desert in the world. Sahara means “desert” in Arabic. It stretches about 3,000 miles across the continent, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea, and runs 1,200 miles from north to south. Temperatures can rise as high as 136.4°F/58°C in the summer, hot enough to fry an egg on the sand. But temperatures can also fall below freezing at night in winter. Only about 20 percent of the Sahara consists of sand.

Africa has a sizeable tropical area – the largest of any continent. Nearly 90 percent of the continent lies within the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. Temperatures run high most of the year. The hottest places are in the parts of the Sahara that lie in the nation of Somalia. July temperatures average between 110°F/43,3°C and 115°F/46,11°C almost every day.

Land use in Africa

The eastern volcanic uplands are Africa’s most productive agricultural land, where fertile soils support various valuable export crops, including vegetables, tea, and coffee. Corn is the most widely grown grain; peanuts (groundnuts) are particularly important in West Africa. Cultivation is impossible in desert regions without intensive irrigation, and unreliable rainfall in other areas limits crop production. Pastoral herding is most commonly found in these marginal lands. Substantial local fishing industries are found along coasts and in vast lakes like Lake Nyasa and Lake Victoria.

Environmental issues in Africa

One of Africa’s most serious environmental problems occurs in marginal areas such as the Sahel, where scrub and forest clearance, often for cooking fuel and overgrazing, are causing desertification.

Desertification has affected many parts of Africa. For example, extensive forests once existed around Khartoum, Sudan. Besides, desertification is slowly destroying a tropical rainforest around Lake Chad on the southern edge of the Sahel. Slowing desertification is difficult. Some African countries have increased tree planting and promoted more efficient use of forests and farmland to slow the process.

Game reserves in southern and eastern Africa have helped preserve many endangered animals. However, growing populations’ needs have led to conflict over land use, and poaching is a severe problem.

The damage caused by oil companies and the Nigerian government has been severe. More than 4,000 oil spills have occurred in the Niger delta over four decades. Cleanup operations have been slow and sometimes non-existent. Fires often resulted, causing acid rain and massive soot deposits, and people in the region contracted respiratory diseases.

Egypt faces environmental challenges caused by another resource – water. Throughout history, the Egyptians have tried to control the floodwaters of the Nile River. Ancient Egyptians built canals and small dams. Despite these efforts, though, the people still experienced cycles of floods and droughts. To solve these problems, Egyptians completed the first Aswan Dam on the Nile in 1902, which quickly became outmoded.

Did you know about Africa?

  • A vast plateau covers most of Africa. It rises inland from narrow lowlands along the coast.
  • Africa possesses an incredible diversity of resources, from rainforests to roaring rivers.
  • Bounded in the east by the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, East Africa includes Burundi, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Seychelles, Somalia, Tanzania, and Uganda. Scientists believe that the world’s first humans lived there.
  • Around 650 million of Africa’s 800 million people live south of the Sahara. They are divided into more than 800 ethnic groups, each with its own language, religion, and culture.
  • Africa contains dry and hot deserts, warm tropics, and permanently snow-capped mountains.
  • Roughly two-thirds of all Africans live in rural areas or small villages and earn a living as farmers.
  • The ancient Romans called the continent Africa, possibly from the Latin aprica, meaning “sunny,” or the Greek aphrike, meaning “without cold.”
  • African nations rely too much on the exportation of natural resources.
  • Many African countries are still suffering from the effects of colonialism.
  • Africa’s political map changed dramatically in the years preceding World War I (1914–1918); European colonial powers had replaced traditional African states and empires. Those European nations wanted to colonize and control parts of Africa to obtain those resources.
  • Africa’s natural resources made it appealing to European colonizers.
  • Libya, Nigeria, and Algeria are among the world’s leading petroleum producers. Other countries, such as Angola and Gabon, have substantial untapped oil reserves. Libya, Nigeria, Algeria, and Angola combine to produce over seven percent of the world’s oil.