The world’s second largest continent and second most populous, with over 1.2 billion people, is probably still the most misunderstood and least known about place on the planet.
When asking non-Africans, what they know about the continent they will rattle off a list which may look something like this, assuming a positive outlook:
- Nelson Mandela – always top of any list
- Egypt, the Nile River and the pyramids
- Kofi Annan, SG for the United Nations
- David Livingston and the Victoria Falls
- Cape Town
- Gold and diamonds
- Wild life
If in a negative frame of mind, the list would probably include:
- Rwandan genocide
- Poverty and illiteracy
But there is much more to this massive continent and here are some other interesting facts about Africa.
The name Africa came into Western use through the Romans, who used the name Africa terra — “land of the Afri” (plural, or “Afer” singular) — for the northern part of the continent, as the province of Africa with its capital Carthage, corresponding to modern-day Tunisia.
Africa is made up of 54 countries one “non-self-governing territory”, the Western Sahara, and supports between 1 500 and 3 000 languages.
The Pharaonic civilisation of ancient Egypt is one of the world’s oldest and longest-lasting civilisations.
Arabic is spoken by 170 million people on the continent, followed in popularity by English (130 million), Swahili (100), French (115), Berber (50), Hausa (50), Portuguese (20) and Spanish (10). Over 25% of all languages are spoken only in Africa with over 2,000 recognised languages spoken on the continent. (source National Geographic).
The Sahara is the largest desert in the world and is almost as big as the continental USA.
Africa is the world’s hottest continent with deserts and dry lands covering 60% of the land surface area (e.g. Kalahari, Sahara and Namib).
Africa is the world’s second driest continent (after Australia).
Africa has approximately 30% of the earth’s remaining mineral resources. Nigeria, Angola and Tunisia are the largest oil producers in Africa.
The continent has some of the largest reserves of precious metals with over 40% of the gold reserves, over 60% of the cobalt, and 90% of the platinum reserves. (Source: National Geographic)
Africa produces 71% of the world’s tantalum – used in various electronic devices and is a key component of smart phones. Unfortunately, this metal is now being flagged as a “conflict metal” as proceeds from sales are purported to be used to support rebel groups, particularly in the Central Region.
Graca Machel is the only women to have ever been First Lady of two different countries, first married to Samora Machel, President of Mozambique who died in an aircraft accident in 1986. She married Nelson Mandela, President of South Africa in 2013.
Sudan has more than 200 pyramids, double the number found in Egypt. The Meroe pyramids were part of the Nubian Kingdom of Kush and are up to 4,600 years old.
Some not so great facts
Africa is the world’s poorest and most underdeveloped continent with a continental GDP that accounts for just over 2% of global GDP.
According to Unesco (2015), the illiteracy rate for sub-Saharan Africa is at 38% with women representing almost two-thirds of all illiterate adults.
It is estimated that over 25 million people are HIV-positive in sub-Saharan Africa, about 71% of the world number. Swaziland has the highest HIV prevalence of any country worldwide (27.4%) while South Africa has the largest epidemic of any country – 5.9 million people are living with HIV.
The Second Congo War claimed over 5.4 million lives and is the deadliest worldwide conflict since World War II
All of Africa was colonised by foreign powers during the “scramble for Africa”, except Ethiopia and Liberia.
Italy under Mussolini invaded Ethiopia in 1935 and from 1936 to 1941 attempted to colonise the country until the Allies ejected the Italians and restored Emperor Haile Selassie to the crown.
Liberia is the only African republic to have self-proclaimed independence without gaining independence through revolt from any other nation. Liberia is a country in West Africa which was founded, established, colonised, and controlled by citizens of the United States and ex-Caribbean slaves as a colony for former African American slaves and their free black descendants. (Wikipedia). It became an independent state in 1847 but was only recognised by the US in 1862.
Before colonial rule, Africa comprised up to 10,000 different states and autonomous groups with distinct languages and customs.
Cradle of Humankind
The Cradle of Humankind was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999. It is about 50 kilometres north west of Johannesburg, South Africa. This site currently occupies 47,000 hectares (180 sq mi) and it contains a complex of limestone caves.
The Sterkfontein Caves contain the discovery of a 2.3-million-year-old fossil Australopithecus africanus (nicknamed “Mrs. Ples”), found in 1947 by Robert Broom and John T. Robinson. The find helped corroborate the 1924 discovery of the juvenile Australopithecus africanus skull, “Taung Child”, by Raymond Dart, at Taung in the North West Province of South Africa, where excavations still continue.
Nearby the site, but not in the site, the Rising Star Cave system contains the Dinaledi Chamber (chamber of stars) in which were discovered fifteen fossil skeletons of an extinct species of hominin, provisionally named Homo naledi.
Sterkfontein alone has produced more than a third of early hominid fossils ever found prior to 2010. The Dinaledi Chamber contains over 1500 H. naledi fossils, the most extensive discovery of a single hominid species ever found in Africa.
The Goliath Frog
The massive goliath frog (Conraua goliath), is the largest frog in the world with individuals weighing over three kilograms. The goliath frog is normally found in and near fast-flowing rivers with sandy bottoms in the Middle African countries of Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea.
Goliath tadpoles (the young) are herbivorous and feed on a single aquatic plant, found only near waterfalls and rapids, which may help explain their restricted range. Adult goliath frogs feed on worms, and insects, such as dragonflies and locusts. They also eat smaller frogs, crabs, baby turtles, and young snakes. There is a report of a bat found in a goliath frog’s stomach.
It has been declared an endangered species.
Ethiopia, officially known as the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is a country located in the Horn of Africa.
With nearly 100 million inhabitants, Ethiopia is the most populous landlocked country in the world, as well as the second-most populous nation on the African continent after Nigeria.
Some of the oldest evidence for anatomically modern humans has been found in Ethiopia, which is widely considered the region from which modern humans first set out for the Middle East and places beyond.
It is the only African country to defeat a European colonial power and retain its sovereignty. Subsequently, many African nations adopted the colours of Ethiopia’s flag (red, green and yellow) following their independence.
It was the first independent African member of the 20th-century League of Nations and the United Nations and its capital city Addis Ababa, serves as the headquarters of the African Union.
The Ethiopian Highlands are Africa’s largest continuous mountain ranges, and Sof Omar Caves contain Africa’s largest cave. Ethiopia has the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Africa.
Ethiopia is the place of origin for the coffee bean which originated from Kefa, one of the 14 provinces in the old Ethiopian administration.
It is also the only country with its own alphabet and clocks are upside down with our 6:00 at their 12:00.
Some famous Ethiopians
- Liya Kebeda – model and spokesperson for Este Lauder
- Marcus Samulesson – world-renowned chef
- Haile Gebrselassie – considered by many to be the greatest long distance runner of all time
- Ruth Negga – actress
The official title of Idi Amin, the Ugandan dictator, was “His Excellency, President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Seas and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular”.
Lake Malawi, also known as Lake Nyasa in Tanzania and Lago Niassa in Mozambique, is an African Great Lake and the southernmost lake in the East African Rift system, located between Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania. It is the ninth largest lake in the world and the third largest and second deepest lake in Africa. It is home to more species of fish than any other lake including about 1000 species of cichlids.
Timbuktu, Mali is home of one of the oldest universities in the world, established in 982 CE. By the 12th century, the city was such an intellectual hub that National Geographic has referred to it as the Paris of the medieval world.
Africa boasts some of the world’s best National Parks, the Kruger National Park in South Africa, Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area, Tanzania, Okavango Delta, Botswana and the Etosha Pan in Namibia, to name just a few.
Although famous for its wild life diversity, it is equally becoming infamous for the poaching of elephant tusks and the horn of the endangered rhino.
A little known fact is the hippopotamus kills more people in Africa than lions and crocodiles.
So when planning your next holiday, think of Africa!