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Africa - Continent facts

Intro

Africa is the world's second-largest continent and second most populous after Asia. At about 30,244,050 km² (11,677,240 mi²) including its adjacent islands, it covers 20.3 percent of the total land area on Earth. With over 800 million human inhabitants in 54 countries, it accounts for about one seventh of the world human population.

Etymology

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.

The origin of Afer may either come from:

the Phoenician `afar, dust;
the Afri, a tribe—possibly Berber—who dwelt in North Africa in the Carthage area;
the Greek word aphrike, meaning without cold;
or the Latin word aprica, meaning sunny.
The historian Leo Africanus (1495-1554) attributed the origin to the Greek word phrike (f???e, meaning "cold and horror"), combined with the negating prefix a-, so meaning a land free of cold and horror. But the change of sound from ph to f in Greek is datable to about the first century, so this cannot really be the origin of the name.

Egypt was considered part of Asia by the ancients, and first assigned to Africa by the geographer Ptolemy (85 - 165 AD), who accepted Alexandria as Prime Meridian and made the isthmus of Suez and the Red Sea the boundary between Asia and Africa. As Europeans came to understand the real extent of the continent, the idea of Africa expanded with their knowledge.

Geography

Africa is the largest of the three great southward projections from the main mass of the Earth's surface. It includes within its remarkably regular outline an area, of c. 30,244,050 km2 (11,677,240 mi2), including the islands.

Separated from Europe by the Mediterranean Sea, it is joined to Asia at its northeast extremity by the Isthmus of Suez, 130 km (80 miles) wide. From the most northerly point, Ras ben Sakka in Morocco, a little west of Cape Blanc, in 37°21' N, to the most southerly point, Cape Agulhas in South Africa, 34°51'15? S, is a distance approximately of 8,000 km (5,000 miles); from Cape Verde, 17°33'22? W, the westernmost point, to Ras Hafun in Somalia, 51°27'52? E, the most easterly projection, is a distance (also approximately) of 7,400 km (4,600 miles). The length of coast-line is 26,000 km (16,100 miles) and the absence of deep indentations of the shore is shown by the fact that Europe, which covers only 9,700,000 km2 (3,760,000 square miles), has a coast-line of 32,000 km (19,800 miles).

The main structural lines of the continent show both the east-to-west direction characteristic, at least in the eastern hemisphere, of the more northern parts of the world, and the north-to-south direction seen in the southern peninsulas. Africa is thus composed of two segments at right angles, the northern running from east to west, the southern from north to south, the subordinate lines corresponding in the main to these two directions.

History

Africa is home to the oldest inhabited territory on earth, with the human race originating from this continent. The Ishango Bone, carbon-dated to c. 25,000 years ago, shows tallies in mathematical notation.

Throughout humanity's prehistory, Africa (like all other continents) had no nation states, and was instead inhabited by groups of hunter-gatherers. Later, agriculture was used in Egypt along the Nile river. Egypt was one of the earliest nation states ever formed. Other civilizations include Ethiopia, the Nubian kingdom, and the kingdoms of the Sahel (Ghana, Mali, and Sanghay). In the search for the kingdom of Prester John, 14th century European explorers arrived in Africa.

In the millennia before the nineteenth century, indentured servants and slaves could be had for capture by bargaining with local warlords or tribal leaders. This practice was spread across continents. Arabians and Europeans were able to capture millions of Africans and export them for labour around the world in what became known as the global slave trade, which had ceased by law by the nineteenth century, in most European countries.

But at the same time that serfdom was ending in Europe, in the early 19th century the European imperial powers staged a massive "scramble for Africa" and occupied most of the continent, creating many colonial nation states, and leaving only two independent nations: Liberia, the Black American colony, and Ethiopia. This occupation continued until after the conclusion of the Second World War, when all colonial nation states gradually obtained formal independence.

Today, Africa is home to over 50 independent countries, all but 2 of which still have the borders drawn up during the era of European colonialism.

Politics

Most western countries place limitations on aid to African nations. These limitations are often used to control the governments of these African nations; as a result, these nations are turning to non-traditional sources of financial aid. China has increasingly provided financial aid to Africa in order to secure contracts on natural resources. There usually is no political prescription.

Economy

Africa is by far the world's poorest inhabited continent, and more saliently it is on average poorer than it was 25 years ago.

The United Nations' Human Development Report 2003 (of 175 countries) found that positions 151 (Gambia) to 175 (Sierra Leone) were taken up entirely by African nations.

It has had (and in some ways is still having) a shaky and uncertain transition from colonialism, with the ensuing Cold War and increases in corruption and despotism being major contributing factors to its poor economic situation. While rapid growth in China and now India, and moderate growth in South America, has lifted millions beyond subsistence living, Africa has stagnated, even going backwards in terms of foreign trade, investment, and per capita income. This poverty has widespread effects, including low life expectancy, violence, and instability - factors intertwined with the continent's poverty. Over the decades a number of solutions have been proposed and many attempted, but no improvement scheme has shown much success.

Part of the problem is that foreign aid has generally been used to encourage the cultivation of cash crops such as cotton, cocoa and coffee in place of subsistence farming. However, at the same time, industrialized nations have pursued policies that drive down the prices of those commodities. For example, the real cost of producing cotton in West Africa is far less than half of that of producing it in the United States, thanks to lower labor costs. However, American cotton sells for less than African cotton as the cultivation of cotton is heavily subsidized in the United States. As a result, the prices of these commodities is about the same now as they were in the 1960s.

Africa also suffers from sustained capital flight. Generally, any income coming into African nations goes right out again, either because the assets sold were foreign owned (oil being a good example) and the money coming in is sent to the foreign owners, or the money is used to repay loans.

Demographics

Black Africans predominate in sub-saharan Africa and Arabic speaking Arab-Berber people predominate in North Africa. There is a wide variety of physical types found amongst the sub-Saharan African peoples (two particular extremes are the Masai who are known for their tall stature, and Pygmies who are among the world's shortest adults). The physical differences of sub-Saharan Africans from their neighbors to the north and the Western countries made, and continue to make, stereotyping easy. The dehumanization required for slavery and apartheid was made easier by racial stereotyping, and physical differences have been offered to explain why much of the world treats the modern troubles of Africa as being alien from their own experience.

Aside from the Nilotic groups of southern Sudan and some Nilotic groups in Ethiopia and a bantu African minority in Somalia, Africans from the North East part of the continent generally have a different appearance from those in other regions of the Continent, West Africa contributed the vast majority of those blacks who were transported to the Americas as slaves. Speakers of Bantu languages predominate in southern, central and east Africa proper] but there are also several Nilotic groups in East Africa and some few remaining indigenous Khoisian ('San' or 'Busmment') or Pygmy people in southern and central Africa respectively. Bantu speaking Africans also predominate in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea and are found in parts of southern Cameroon and southern Somalia. In the Kalahari Desert of Southern Africa, the distinct people known as the Bushmen (also "San", closely related but distinct from "Hottentots") have long been present. The San are physically distinct from other Africans and are the indigenous people of southern Africa. "Pygmies" are the indigenous people of central Africa.

Languages

By most estimates Africa contains well over a thousand languages. There are four major language families native to Africa.

The Afro-Asiatic languages are a language family of about 240 languages and 285 million people widespread throughout North Africa, East Africa, the Sahel, and Southwest Asia.
The Nilo-Saharan language family consists of more than a hundred languages spoken by 30 million people. Nilo-Saharan languages are mainly spoken in Chad, Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, and northern Tanzania.
The Niger-Congo language family covers much of Sub-Saharan Africa and is probably the largest language family in the world in terms of different languages. A substantial number of them are the Bantu languages spoken in much of sub-Saharan Africa.
The Khoisan languages number about 50 and are spoken in Southern Africa by approximately 120 000 people. Many of the Khoisan languages are endangered. The Khoi and San peoples are considered the original inhabitants of this part of Africa.
Languages of Europe have also acquired prominence; English, French,Portuguese, and Spanish, are official languages in several countries as a result of colonization. In South Africa, which was unique in having a significant number of European settlers, English and Afrikaans are the native languages of a significant portion of the population.

Culture

Rather than one culture, Africa has a number of cultures that overlap. The most conventional distinction is that between sub-Saharan Africa and the northern countries from Egypt to Morocco, who largely associate themselves with Arabic culture. In this comparison, the nations to the south of the Sahara are considered to consist of many cultural areas, in particular that of the Bantu linguistic group.

Divisions may also be made between Francophone Africa and the rest of Africa, in particular the former British colonies of southern and East Africa. Another cultural fault-line is that between those Africans living traditional lifestyles and those who are essentially modern. The traditionalists are sometimes subdivided into pastoralists and agriculturalists.

African art reflects the diversity of African cultures. The oldest existing art from Africa are 6000-year old carvings found in Niger, while the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt was the world's tallest architectural accomplishment for four thousand years until the creation of the Eiffel Tower. The Ethiopian complex of monolithic churches at Lalibela, of which the Church of St. George is representative, is regarded as another marvel of engineering.

The music of Africa is one of its most dynamic art forms. Egypt has long been a cultural focus of the Arab world, while remembrance of the rhythms of sub-Saharan Africa, in particular west Africa, was transmitted through the Atlantic slave trade to modern blues, jazz, reggae, rap, and rock and roll. Modern music of the continent includes the highly complex choral singing of southern Africa and the dance rhythms of soukous, dominated by the music of the Democratic Republic of Congo. A recent development of the 21st century is the emergence of African hip hop, in particular a form from Senegal is blended with traditional mbalax. Recently in South Africa, a form of house music known as Kwaito has developed, although it has been home to its own form of South African jazz for some time, while Afrikaans mu

Religion

Africa is home to a wide variety of different religious groups. As with the rest of the world, many early religions revolved around animism and ancestor worship. A common thread in traditional belief systems was the division of the spiritual world into helpful and harmful. Helpful spirits include ancestor spirits that help their descendants and powerful spirits that protected entire communities from natural disaster or attacks from enemies. Harmful spirits include the souls of murdered victims who were buried without the proper funeral rites and spirits used by hostile spirit mediums to cause illness among their enemies. While the effect of these early forms of worship continues to have a profound influence, belief systems evolved as they interacted with other religions.

The formation of the Old Kingdom of Egypt in the third millennium BCE marked the first complex religious system on the continent. Around the ninth century BCE, Carthage (in present-day Tunisia) was founded by the Phoenicians. Carthage went on to become a major cosmopolitan center of the ancient world in which deities from neighboring Egypt, Rome and the Etruscan city-states were worshipped.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church dates from the fourth century CE and was thus one of the first Christian churches. The expansion of Islam in the seventh century was more far-reaching as Muslims conquered the whole of Africa north of the Sahara Desert. Between 640 and 710, the Arabs conquered North Africa. Beginning with Egypt, they established Mogdishu, Melinde, Mombaza, Kilwa, and Sofala. Islam followed the sea trade down the coast of East Africa, while Islam diffused through the Sahara desert into the interior of Africa, following in particular the paths of Muslim traders. Muslims were also among the Asian peoples who settled in British-ruled Africa.The even greater disruption of the European slave trade that accompanied the colonial Scramble for Africa was followed by attempts to convert the colonized populations to Western Christianity.


Adventure Trips visiting:
Central Africa | East Africa | North Africa | Southern Africa | Sub-Saharan Africa | West Africa