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10 Facts About Africa

Ten Important Facts About the Continent of Africa

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Sahara Desert

The sands of the Sahara Desert are shown in this photo from Algeria.

Digital Vision/Getty Images
Africa is an amazing continent. From its start as the hearth of humanity, it is now home to more than a billion people. It has jungles and desert and even a glacier. It covers all four hemispheres. It is a place of superlatives. Learn about the continent of Africa below from these ten amazing and essential facts about Africa:

1) The East African Rift zone, which divides the Somalian and Nubian tectonic plates, is the location of several important discoveries of human ancestors by anthropologists. The active spreading rift valley is thought to be the heartland of humanity, where much human evolution likely took place millions of years ago. The discovery of the partial skeleton of "Lucy" in 1974 in Ethiopia sparked major research in the region.

2) If one divides the planet into seven continents, then Africa is the world's second largest continent covering about 11,677,239 square miles (30,244,049 square km).

3) Africa is located to the south of Europe and southwest of Asia. It is connected to Asia via the Sinai Peninsula in northeastern Egypt. The peninsula itself is usually considered part of Asia with the Suez Canal and the Gulf of Suez as the dividing line between Asia and Africa. African countries are usually divided into two world regions. The countries of northern Africa, bordering the Mediterranean Sea, are usually considered part of region called "North Africa and the Middle East" while countries south of the northernmost countries of Africa are usually considered part of the region called "Sub-Saharan Africa." In the Gulf of Guinea off the coast of western Africa lies the intersection of the equator and the Prime Meridian. As the Prime Meridian is an artificial line, this point has no true significance. Nonetheless, Africa lies both all four hemispheres of the Earth.

4) Africa is also the second most populous continent on Earth, with about 1.1 billion people. Africa's population is growing faster than Asia's population but Africa will not catch up to Asia's population in the foreseeable future. For example of Africa's growth, Nigeria, currently the world's seventh most populous country on Earth, is expected to become the fourth most populous country by 2050. Africa is expected to grow to 2.3 billion people by 2050. Nine of the ten highest total fertility rates on Earth are African countries, with Niger topping the list (7.1 births per woman as of 2012.) 5) In addition to its high population growth rate, Africa also has the world's lowest life expectancies. According to the World Population Data Sheet, the average life expectancy for citizens of Africa is 58 (59 years for males and 59 years for females.) Africa is home to the world's highest rates of HIV/AIDS - 4.7% of females and 3.0% of males are infected.

6) With the possible exceptions of Ethiopia and Liberia, all of Africa was colonized by non-African countries. The United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Germany, and Portugal all claimed to rule parts of Africa without the consent of the local population. In 1884-1885 the Berlin Conference was held among these powers to divide up the continent among the non-African powers. Over the following decades, and especially after World War II, African countries gradually regained their independence with the borders as established by the colonial powers. These borders, established without regard to local cultures, have caused numerous problems in Africa. Today, only a few islands and a very small territory on the Moroccan coast (which belongs to Spain) remain as territories of non-African countries.

7) With 196 independent countries on Earth, Africa is home to more than a quarter of these countries. As of 2012, there are 54 fully independent countries on mainland Africa and its surrounding islands. All 54 countries are members of the United Nations. Every country except Morocco, which is suspended for its lack of a solution to the issue of Western Sahara, is a member of the African Union.

8) Africa is fairly non-urbanized. Only 39% of Africa's population lives in urban areas. Africa is home to only two megacities with a population greater than ten million: Cairo, Egypt and Lagos, Nigeria. The Cairo urban area is home to somewhere between 11 and 15 million people and Lagos is home to about 10 to 12 million people. The third largest urban area in Africa is likely Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with about eight to nine million residents.

9) Mt. Kilimanjaro is the highest point in Africa. Located in Tanzania near the Kenyan border, this dormant volcano rises to an elevation of 19,341 feet (5,895 meters). Mt. Kilimanjaro is the location of Africa's only glacier although scientists predict that the ice on the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro will disappear by the 2030s due to global warming.

10) While the Sahara Desert is not the largest nor the driest desert on Earth, it is the most notable. The desert covers about one tenth of the land of Africa. The world's record high temperature of nearly 136°F (58°C) was recorded in Aziziyah, Libya in the Sahara Desert in the year 1922.

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