We explain what Africa is, when its civilization was born and its characteristics. Also, its main regions, economy and more.
What is Africa?
Africa is the second largest continent on the planet with an area of 30,370,000 km 2 , which is equivalent to 20% of the earth’s surface. It is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the northwest, the Mediterranean Sea to the north, the Indian Ocean to the southeast, and the Red Sea to the east.
The African continent is inhabited by a large number of different societies or ethnic groups that identify themselves according to their culture , language , religion and customs. However, some communities intersect with each other and it is difficult to tell them apart.
Most Africans speak more than one language, due to the diversity of ethnic groups and frequent migrations. It is estimated that there are more than a thousand types of languages, although many share the official languages which are French and English . Portuguese, Arabic and Swahili also predominate.
In order to understand such a large and heterogeneous continent, scholars have divided the different cultures according to certain geographical areas, such as North Africa, West Africa, West-Central Africa, East Africa, Central Africa, and South Africa.
Cradle of Civilization
The African continent is considered the cradle of human civilization because archaeological evidence shows traces of hominids , the first primates that walked upright and demonstrated an advanced development of intelligence .
Hominids are estimated to have lived four million years ago. Modern humans inhabited 200,000 years ago in the eastern region of sub-Saharan Africa. They then spread to the north and east, finally advancing to the rest of the world.
According to archaeological evidence, the oldest African population that lived before the arrival of Europeans was located in the current region of Ghana. The Arabs were the first to arrive in North and West Africa through several waves of migrations. They managed to establish part of their culture in African customs, such as their religion, Islam , and their Arabic language.
The vast majority of European settlers arrived on the African continent after 1885, a time of strong struggle between settlers, especially French and Italians. Between the 16th and 19th centuries, the largest movement of African inhabitants took place by force to the New World as slaves.
The slave trade, which is estimated to have reached ten million Africans , added to the devastating wars and diseases brought by colonizers from other parts of the world, were the main causes of the weakness and decline of African societies.
Characteristics of Africa
Among the main characteristics of the African continent are:
- It has a population of almost 1,225 million inhabitants.
- It is made up of fifty-four countries.
- Its climate is hot and very desert in the northern regions.
- It has the greatest diversity of large animals in the world.
- Its climate is the most tropical of all the continents.
- It has the greatest genetic diversity of the human race, which reinforces the theory of its role in the evolution of civilization.
- It has two official languages, French and English, in addition to the multiplicity of languages that are practiced throughout the continent.
Main regions of Africa
Africa has eight main points of interest that stand out for their particular geography :
- Victoria Falls. They are found in southern Africa along the Zambezi River and reach both sides of the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. They are considered one of the largest waterfalls in the world.
- The Namib desert. It spans three countries in southern Africa: Angola, Namibia and South Africa. Its name means “area where there is nothing”, despite the fact that the areas near the coast are full of succulent bushes and vast expanses of rock formations.
- Rift crack system. It extends through East Africa with a length of 6,500 kilometers and about 20 meters deep. It consists of a set of huge cracks that generate exceptional landscapes and that arise at the limit of tectonic plates . Due to the collision of the plates, smaller microplates have been generated that move with greater periodicity and that increase the size of the cracks each year.
- Congo River. It stretches through the heart of Africa with 4,700 kilometers and is the second longest river on the continent after the Nile. The Congo River is home to a wide variety of endemic fish and aquatic mammals are scarce , although crocodiles , semi-aquatic turtles and snakes can be found .
- The Sahara desert. It extends over almost all of North Africa, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea , with an area of 8.6 million km 2 . It is made up of sand, rocky plateaus and steep mountains . In the rainy seasons you can see some oases that attract resident and migratory birds, jackals, lobsters, frogs, lizards and cobras.
- Lake Victoria. It extends through the countries of Tanzania, Uganda and part of Kenya, in East Africa, with an area of 70,000 km 2 . It is considered one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world. The lake has more than 3,200 kilometers of shoreline and contains several groups of islands.
- Ituri Forest. It extends through central Africa, especially in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with an area of 63,000 km 2 . Its name comes from the Ituri river that runs through the forest . It is characterized by being dark and humid due to the tall trees over 50 meters high and for being inhabited by the greatest diversity of primates.
- The Nile River . It stretches from the north, in the Mediterranean Sea, to its southern headwaters in the Kagera River in the highlands of Burundi, with 6,650 kilometers. Lake Victoria is one of the main sources of the Nile, apart from numerous other sources that it has.
Economy in Africa
Most African countries are former colonies of the European Union , so their economic status is underdeveloped or developing . Close to 50% of its inhabitants are below the poverty line since they live on less than a dollar a day.
Africa pays around 20,000 million dollars a year in debt, most of which was contracted in the 1990s.
Climate of Africa
In desert climate zones rainfall does not exceed 250 mm per year.
The climate of Africa is tropical, because it is crossed by the southern line. In addition, the following climates stand out:
- Mediterranean . Temperate type with dry and hot summers. Rainfall is scarce.
- desert. Arid type with occasional rainfall that does not exceed 250 mm per year.
- Subtropical. Humid and desert type, very hot. Especially in the northern and southern parts of the continent. It presents a varied thermal amplitude.
- Tropical . Of humid type with precipitations, between 1500 and 200 annual mm. It has little thermal amplitude, between 25 and 27 °C.
African flora and fauna
Exotic and wild animals are found in sub-Saharan Africa.
The African flora is characterized by:
- Shrubs, trees, palms and mosses. Within the area near the mountains of Cameroon and Angola there is lush vegetation.
- An exotic flower called African hydnora, native to Africa. It has no chlorophyll and looks like a carnivorous flower. It usually grows on roots or in the ground, and is capable of secreting a strange putrid odor that attracts insects .
The African fauna is characterized by:
- Predominance of goats, sheep, camels and domestic animals, especially in the northern region.
- Predominance of exotic and wild animals, such as elephants , cheetahs, buffalo, lions , hyenas, ostriches, among others, and more than 1,300 species of mammals, birds and reptiles.
Religion in Africa
The main African religions are Islam and Christianity.
The main religion in North Africa is Islam and in South Africa is Christianity , although they are distributed heterogeneously. There are many adherents of Roman Catholicism , especially in the coastal regions of sub-Saharan Africa.
In the rest of the continent, people practice a wide variety of traditional religions that have certain common characteristics, such as:
- The idea of a creator or elevated God who is not human.
- The most important spiritual powers are usually associated with elements, such as air, earth, rivers, among others.
- Rituals are performed by select authorities, such as priests, lineage elders, and clans.
- The notions of cosmology that support tribal origins, death and nature.
- Witchcraft and sorcery remain important, especially in rural areas .
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