10 Notable Facts About Africa

Dunes in the Namib Desert, Namibia.
Dunes in the Namib Desert, Namibia.

How much do you know about Africa, one of the continents of the world? 

The Name "Africa" Has Several Possible Origins

Originally, the people who lived in the region that is located to the west of the River Nile in northern Africa were the ones that were referred to as “Afri,” which is a Latin word. In a wider sense, the name also referred to Ancient Libya, which is located to the southern side of the Mediterranean. The name “Africa” may also have come from the word “afar,” which is a Phoenician word that means “dust.” However, a hypothesis from 1981 states that it is more likely that the name of the African continent stemmed from the word “ifri” or “ifran” in plural. This word is from the language of the Berber tribe and it means “cave,” which is a possible reference to the former cave dwellers of earlier times. However, the word “ifran” also exists in the name of a tribe from Tripolitania and Algeria known as Banu Ifran, which was indigenous to northwestern Libya in an area that was known as Yafran or Ifrane.

There are a number of other hypotheses about the origin of the word “Africa.” For example, one theory suggested in 1881 states that the name originates from the Egyptian word “af-rui-ka,” which ultimately means “the birthplace.”

Africa is Home to 16% of the World's Population

As of 2016, the continent had a population of about 1.2 billion people, which was equal to about 16% of the total human population in the world. This population equated to a density of 94 people per every square mile. The population is relatively younger than the populations in other continents. For example, more than 50% of the population in some of the countries in the continent is below 25 years old. Africa overtook Europe in terms of the population in the 1990s while it surpassed the Americas in the early 2000s. At the current rate, it is expected that the population will surpass that of China and India (each of these two countries has 1.4 billion people) around 2022. These two nations are the only individual nations with populations larger than that of Africa. 

There Are Thousands of Languages Spoken in Africa 

Most estimates agree that the number of languages spoken in Africa is more than 1,000. Other estimates, such as that of UNESCO, place the estimate at around 2,000 while others place the figure closer to 3,000. On a global scale, these estimates show that the languages spoken in Africa represent about a quarter of the total languages spoken in the world. The majority of these languages are of African origin although the movement of people among different continents and countries has seen to it that European, Asian, and Arabic languages are also spoken. In fact, the continent has the highest number of multilingual people in the world. The four major language families are Afroasiatic languages, Nilo-Saharan languages, Niger-Congo languages, and Khoisan languages. After colonization, most African countries adopted the languages of their colonizers, for example, Namibia adopted German.

Africa is Home to Massive Landforms

The Sahara Desert has an area of a whopping 3.5 million square miles. This massive area makes the desert the largest desert that is not located around the Polar Regions. Including the deserts in the Polar Regions, then it is the third largest after the Arctic and Antarctica. The continent is also home to the world’s longest river, that is, the Nile River, which has a length of about 4,160 miles. The river flows in a number of countries in Africa including Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Egypt, and Sudan. Even though the river is associated with Egypt, only 22% of the river actually flows in Egypt. Another massive landform is the Lake Victoria with an area of about 26,830 square miles, which makes it the largest lake in Africa.

The Continent is Home to Amazing Flora and Fauna 

The continent is full of a diversity of animals and vegetation that is probably unrivaled by any other continent in the world. The range of animals include the likes of lions, cheetahs, hyenas, cheetahs, buffalo, giraffes, elephants, and many more. The continent is home to the largest elephant species in the world, that is, the African bush elephant or the African savannah elephant. In fact, the African bush elephant is the largest land mammal in the world. Aside from the world’s largest mammal, the continent is also home to other unique animals in the world. For example, the giraffe is the tallest animal in the globe while the cheetah is the fastest land animal in the world.

Africa Has 54 Countries 

There are a total of 54 sovereign states in Africa, nine territories, and two states without formal recognition. Among these countries, the largest country is Algeria with an area of about 919,595 square miles while the smallest nation is Seychelles with an area of only 177 square miles. These nations make up a combined coastline that is about 16,000 miles. Cairo is the largest city in Africa with an area of about 234 square miles. A region in North Ethiopia known as Dallol has the globe’s highest average temperatures of about 93 degrees Fahrenheit. Tunisia has the continent’s northernmost point at Ras ben Sakka while South Africa’s Cape Agulhas has the continent’s southernmost point. The easternmost point is located around Cape Guardafui in the Horn of Africa while Cape Verde has the westernmost point of Africa.

The Two Most Popular Religions are Christianity and Islam 

Some data sources show that Christianity narrowly beats Islam to the top position as the most popular religion in Africa. These sources state that Christians make up around 45% of the population while Islam is a close second with about 40% of the total African population. Other data sources show that Islam has a little bit more following than Christianity. Around 10% of the population practices traditional religions while there are several other minor religions such as Hinduism (the major religion in Mauritius), Judaism, Buddhism, and others. Some people are irreligious especially in South Africa (20% of the population), Botswana (16%), Mozambique (13%), Togo (13%), Ivory Coast (12%), Libya (12%), Angola (10%), Ethiopia (10%), while other countries have smaller populations of the irreligious people. Islam is extremely popular in North Africa in countries like Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, and others.

Only Two States in Africa Were Not Colonized by Colonial Powers

During the Scramble for Africa in the later stages of the 19th century, European powers divided up the continent except for Liberia and Ethiopia, which was then referred to as “Abyssinia" by Europeans. Despite the exclusion of Sudan and Egypt during the scramble, both of them were effectively under British rule. Libya was the first nation to gain independence in 1951 followed by Morocco and Tunisia in 1956. Ghana was next in March 1957 making it the first Sub-Saharan state to gain independence. South Africa gained its independence but remained under foreign rule until 1994 during the oppressive periods of apartheid. For most countries, the period after independence was a tough one as nations struggled to get their affairs in order before beginning progress. Consequently, most African nations were severely affected during that time as most governments were ineffective and corrupt.

The Great Pyramid of Giza is in Africa

This pyramid in Egypt is the largest and the oldest compared to the other pyramids located in the Giza pyramid complex. Other names for the pyramid include the Pyramid of Cheops or the Pyramid of Khufu. Due to its uniqueness, the pyramid is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World alongside the other wonders such as the Colossus of Rhodes. The limestone and granite pyramid has a height of 481 feet while the base has a length of a whopping 756 feet.

Hippos Kill the Largest Number of Humans in Africa 

Contrary to common belief and expectation, carnivorous predators such as lions and crocodiles do not kill that many people in Africa. The hippo is the most dangerous animal in Africa with an estimated 3,000 people killed every year by the vegetarian behemoth that can weigh up to 3,300 pounds and have teeth that are more than 20 inches. This high number of deaths is because of the extreme territorial nature of male hippos towards anything that looks like an intruder. Females are also extremely territorial when it comes to taking care of their offspring.


More in World Facts