Map of AfricaMap of Africa Africa is the second largest continent after Asia. The north of the continent is mostly occupied by the hot, barren Sahara Desert, edged with coastal areas that are cooler and wetter in winter. Farther south, the desert gives way to areas of dry, flat grassland called the Sahel. The Equator runs through the centre of Africa. The lands close to it are dominated by tropical rainforest. Here the climate is hot and wet. In the east and south of Africa are large areas of grassland known as savanna. High mountains rise in East Africa on either side of the Great Rift Valley. A plateau rises in southern Africa, bordered by mountains in the southeast and desert in the southwest. Thousands of different peoples live in Africa, many often sharing the same countries. Islam is the religion of the north, while traditional beliefs and Christianity are followed in the rest of Africa.

A market in Kampala, UgandaA market in Kampala, Uganda

Developing nations

Africa exports its natural resources of metals, minerals and oil, as well as crops such as coffee and cocoa. Some African countries—such as Ghana and Botswana, for example—are developing fast and will soon become prosperous nations. Others are far less developed compared to the rest of the world. In these countries there are few manufacturing industries. Most people still live in the countryside, and rely on producing only enough crops, or raising enough cattle, to support their families.


Wodaabe girl from NigerWodaabe girl from Niger


The population of Africa has more than quadrupled in the last 50 years and is now over 1 billion. Due to this rapid growth and the low life expectancy in many nations, the population is also quite young: in some nations, more than half the population is under the age of 25. There are thousands of different ethnic groups in Africa, most having their own language and culture. In North Africa, major groups are the Berbers and Egyptians. Bantu peoples are the majority in central and southern Africa: these peoples are descended from Bantu farmers who started to spread out from West Africa about 3000 years ago. 

Arab settlers arrived in the 7th century, bringing both their language, Arabic, and religion, Islam, to North Africa. From the 16th century, colonization brought huge numbers of Europeans and, later, Indians, many of whom worked in British colonies. However, from the 1960s, decolonization, when African nations gained independence, dramatically reduced their numbers.  


African language groupsAfrican language groups


Africa is the most multilingual continent, with around 2000 languages. Most of these are of African origin, but others are European or Asian, introduced by former colonists. There are four major language groups of African origin: the Afro-Asiatic languages (spoken in North Africa and the Horn of Africa), the Nilo-Saharan languages (spoken mostly in central Africa), the Niger-Congo languages (spoken in sub-Saharan Africa) and the Khoi-San languages (spoken in southern Africa). The Khoi-San languages have clicking consonants, made with the tongue. 

Facts about Africa

  • Area 29,800,000 sq km (11,506,000 sq miles)
  • Population 1,033,000,000
  • Highest point Kilimanjaro (Tanzania) 5894 m (19,337 ft)
  • Lowest point Qattara Depression (Egypt) 132 m (433 ft) below sea level
  • Longest river Nile 6670 km (4145 miles)
  • Largest lake Victoria 69,500 sq km (26,800 sq miles)
  • Largest country Algeria 2,381,741 sq km (919,595 sq miles)
  • Largest population Nigeria 174,508,000
  • Largest city Cairo (Egypt) 19,439,541 people
The Victoria FallsThe Victoria Falls


Consultant: Lloyd Jenkins

See also in Geography

See also in Culture

Even though Mount Kilimanjaro, in Tanzania, is almost on the Equator, it is so high that glaciers form on its summit. If global warming continues at its current rate, Kilimanjaro will be ice-free within the next 20 years.

Although Africa is the second largest continent (after Asia), it has the shortest coastline of all the continents: 24,000 km (15,000 miles). This is because it has few broad estuaries or jutting promontories.

Central Africa receives the world’s highest number of lightning strikes per year. The Democratic Republic of the Congo records around 70 strikes per 1 sq km (0.4 sq miles) annually.

Both the world’s tallest people (the Dinka of Sudan) and the shortest (the Mbuti pygmies of DR Congo) live in Africa.

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