Searching for some facts about Africa? I know it sounds cliche, but there is just nothing like Africa. There are so many wonderful countries, animals to see, unique cultures, and a variety of unique activities to partake in that it makes picking one place impossible almost.
We spent a wonderful year traveling Africa and there is simply nothing in this world like it. I do realize Africa is a whole continent and there are many things to know about different parts of Africa. It’s a varied land with many Africa facts, so we wanted to pick out just a few that may pique your interest.
Fun and interesting Africa Facts
1. Africa is HUGE
This is one of the most important facts about Africa to understand. It is very, very big. Yes, Asia’s giant takes the number one spot for the largest and most populous continent on Earth, but Africa comes in second and takes up a lot of space. We spent a whole year checking out some of the best places to visit in Africa and obviously didn’t even scratch the surface!
2. Earth’s surface area is 6% of Africa
Another essential fact about Africa is this one. To give you an idea of how big Africa is, it covers 6% of the entire world’s surface area. Not impressive enough? Well then, how does 11.7 million square miles sound? And 16% of all humans live in Africa, with 1.2 billion people living on the continent as of 2016. Basically, it’s vast.
3. Africa isn’t just continental Africa
Madagascar – a huge island off the southeast coast – and various other archipelagos comprise just a portion of the 54 countries that comprise this massive continent. Aside from those recognized countries, there are nine territories and two largely unrecognized independent states.
4. Africa is also very young
Africa actually boasts the youngest population, on average, in the world. In 2012, for example, the average age was 19 years old – that’s pretty young. In the same year, the worldwide average was 30 years old. This is one of my favorite interesting facts about Africa to tell people!
5. Africa straddles the equator
With countries in the Northern Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere, it’s the only continent to encompass temperate zones in the north and in the south – and with a lot of other climate areas and biospheres in between.
6. Algeria is the biggest player in terms of land, Nigeria for its population
Algeria definitely hogs the land area here, taking up almost a million square miles (919,595, to be exact). Meanwhile, Nigeria boasts 186 million inhabitants, making it easily the top dog in terms of population in Africa; it’s also the 7th most populous country in the world. The smallest country in Africa is Seychelles, an island archipelago in the Indian Ocean.
7. Human Life began in Africa
The evidence suggests that, yes, humans originated in Africa. Specifically in East Africa. And that evidence is…? 200,000-year-old human remains. That’s right; early Homo sapiens (that’s modern humans to you and me) have been unearthed in Ethiopia dating back all those thousands of years.
8. Ancient Egypt is one of the world’s earliest civilizations
Beginning in around 3300 BC, historical records of the pharaohs started. That is a mad fact about Africa. What’s crazier still is just how long this civilization lasted. In all its pyramidal glory, the Egyptian state continued until 343 BC.
That’s almost 3,000 years of Pharaonic influence, with evidence of the civilization as far as Libya and even Crete.
8. There were thousands of states and kingdoms in pre-Colonial Africa
There was the already-Christian Ethiopian Empire (1270-1974). The Wadai Empire was in Chad (before the French took over in 1918, anyway). There was the Kingdom of Kongo, which went on for 500 years or so before Portugal suppressed the monarchy and absorbed it into Angola.
The Empire of Benin was one of the longest-lasting, most developed of any African empire… before the British came along in 1897. The list goes on.
9. There was a colonial scramble for Africa
It was actually referred to as the “Scramble for Africa.” European powers went crazy to control the African continent. From 1881 to 1914, Britain, France, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Germany wanted a slice of the pie. Cue decades of oppression, colonialism, and cruelty.
10. Decolonization hit the African continent hard
Many African countries were “made” independent from the early 1960s to the 1980s. Many of these countries had never existed before, with borders drawn by European powers. This resulted in a lot of craziness.
During this period, there were more than 70 coups and 13 presidential assassinations continent-wide. Border, territorial, ethnic, and political disputes were – and still are – common.
11. The Second Congo War was the deadliest worldwide conflict since World War II
This fact about Africa is sadly very true. Beginning in 1998 and with treaties signed in 2002 (though not actually ending till 2003), this horrific conflict claimed over 5.4 million lives. It has left a legacy of instability ever since.
12. Africa is the world’s second-driest continent (after Australia)
It’s very, very dry in many parts of Africa. An average of 1,000 millimeters of rain falls annually across the continent. Though the (quite substantial) deserts bring that average down, let’s put that into perspective. Naples, Italy, gets over 1,000 millimeters of rainfall yearly!
13. The African Union (AU) is a 55-member federation consisting of all of Africa’s states
Just like the European Union for Europe, it’s a known fact about Africa that it has its African Union, with its headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Unlike the EU, however, all countries are included.
Interestingly, Africa has “officially” 54 countries, so where does the last one come from? The unrecognized country is Western Sahara (claimed by Morocco), a Spanish colony until 1975.
14. Africa is the most multilingual continent in the world
One of the craziest facts about Africa is that well over one thousand languages are spoken across the continent. UNESCO had a go at estimating and came up with around 2,000 languages. Whatever the actual number, it’s a lot.
15. Arabic is the most widely spoken language in Africa
Can you believe this interesting fact about Africa? One hundred seventy million people speak Arabic. The second-most widely spoken language is English, with 130 million speakers, followed by 115 million French speakers. Swahili is next; with 100 million speakers, it’s the continent’s most widely spoken African language.
16. The continent’s population will more than double by 2050
If you were paying attention to your facts about Africa, you’d know that doubling the continent’s current population will equal around 2.3 billion people.
17. African art and architecture reflect the diversity of African cultures
The oldest known jewelry on the continent is thought to be… beads. These were made of Nassarius shells, which is a pretty cool African culture fact. People were rockin’ these around 72,000 years ago. Then there’s the Great Pyramid at Giza: the tallest structure on Earth for thousands of years.
The ruins of Great Zimbabwe showcase an amazing Iron Age power. The ancient churches of Ethiopia will leave you in awe. Morocco’s medieval mosques are stunning. Africa is ultra diverse.
18. Africa is famous for animals
This is an obvious fact about Africa, but that doesn’t make it any less accurate. It’s one of the most biodiverse places and has large populations of some fantastic creatures. Lions, hyenas, cheetahs, as well as giraffes, elephants, camels, are all safari animals to look out for. Then there are snakes. Mountain gorillas. Crocodiles.
A whole range of insects and amphibians. Don’t forget the million-strong wildebeest migration. We forgot hippos. And rhinos. It’s a truly wild continent.
19. Africa has over 3,000 protected areas
And all that wildlife needs protecting. There are thousands of protected areas scattered across Africa. We’re talking 198 marine protected areas. We’re talking 50 biosphere reserves. We’re talking 80 wetlands reserves. That’s just for starters.
20. Some of the world’s fastest-growing economies are in Africa
The region, especially Sub-Saharan Africa, is developing. Post-colonial democratization and broader access to mobile phones and the internet are resulting in the rapid development of many economies. Ethiopia’s economy is set to grow by 8.5% in 2019, Ghana by 7.6%, Côte d’Ivoire by 7%.
21. Most African migration happens within Africa
Sensationalist news stories would have you thinking otherwise, but this is an interesting fact about Africa: it’s not to Europe or North America that most African migrants go, but to other African countries.
Increasing ease of movement between African nations is making it more and more of a viable option. It’s showing no signs of slowing down. Escaping poverty and looking for work are the most common reasons.
22. China is the African continent’s top trade partner
For real. That trade is pushing (almost) $200 billion per year. The direct investment in Africa by China, we’re talking direct, already is much more than $50 billion.
23. Angola alone has a population of over 350,000 Chinese
There is, however, a threat of neocolonialism. China actually has a long history of investment in Africa, dating back to the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), but only now is it reaching a state that might be called exploitation.
Debts could easily be racked up, which China knows can’t be paid. There are currently one million Chinese citizens on the African continent, too.
24. Rwanda was one of the first countries in the world to ban plastic bags
This wild fact about Rwanda’s African nation comes after the recent Rwandan Genocide (1994). In 2008, the country banned plastic bags. Bangladesh banned them in 2002, but Rwanda has banned everything about them: their use, importation, manufacture, and sale. Even travelers entering the country are searched – no joke – it’s so amazing!
25. Africa is the hottest continent on Earth
This is one of those facts about Africa that probably isn’t surprising. We’ve established that it’s the driest continent, but yes – Africa is the hottest continent, too.
That’s probably something to do with the fact that 60% of all of Africa’s land area is made up of desert (or just really, really dry land). There’s the Kalahari Desert, the Namib Desert, the Sahara Desert… Hot.
26. Africa is losing over four million hectares of forest per year
Another sad fact about Africa. That’s around twice the international rate of deforestation, on average. For example, 90% of Madagascar’s original forest has disappeared since humans first arrived 2,000 years ago.
27. But Africa is high in minerals
The continent boasts 30% (give or take) of the Earth’s mineral resources. The whole of the Earth’s remaining mineral resources. We’re talking a lot of the remaining gold (40%), cobalt (60%), and platinum (90%) reserves.
28. Music and dance are super important
There are influential genres of music like highlife and afrobeat, more localized styles like the upbeat guitar-based sungura music of Zimbabwe and the soulful African blues of Mali; there’s a whole lot more. North Africa shows Arab influences, and Southern Africa shows Western influences, but all of it shows a love of music that is undeniable.
29. Almost 40% of adults in Africa are illiterate
Not exactly one of those heartwarming facts about Africa, but a fact nonetheless. Literacy is not widespread. Two-thirds of that 40% are women. In some countries – Benin, Guinea, Niger, to name a few – literacy rates sink below 50%.
30. The Sahara is the largest (hot) desert in the world
Sure, much of Africa is dominated by desert or desert-like landscapes, but none quite as massive as the Sahara Desert. At 3,600,000 square miles in area, this vast expanse of sand, camels, and Bedouin tribes takes up 25% of Africa.
It is bigger than the Contiguous United States, which weighs at just under 3 million square miles. The Arctic and Antarctica count as larger deserts, but they’re probably not the warm deserts you are thinking of.
31. And Lake Victoria is the largest lake in Africa
And it’s the second-largest freshwater lake in the world, with an area of 26,590 square miles. The actual largest freshwater lake in the world is Lake Superior (31,700 square miles).
35. Africa boasts one of the oldest universities in the world
No way? Yes, way. It’s in Timbuktu, Mali. In fact, in the 12th century, there were three universities in Mali. One of these had over 25,000 students in attendance. Unlike modern universities, you got to choose your teachers. Though primarily Quran studies, academic stuff was covered, too, thankfully.
36. Mount Kilimanjaro is Africa’s highest point
It soars up from almost nowhere to tower 19,340 feet above sea level. It’s also the 4th most prominent peak in the world, with nothing anywhere near as tall anywhere in the vicinity. Oh, and it’s also a volcano. It has three craters; two are extinct, but one is active. It last erupted 360,000 years ago – who knows when it will happen again.
37. The Nile is the longest river in the world
Our final, and grandest fact about Africa, is obviously about the Nile. It has supported various civilizations throughout the ages; the Ancient Egyptians worshipped the Nile flooding as a god (the androgynous Hapi). It runs 6,670 kilometers from Tanzania, through Uganda, South Sudan, Sudan, and finally Egypt before erupting into the incredible Nile Delta.
I hope you enjoyed these fun and interesting facts about Africa! If you have any other Africa facts leave a comment!
Plan Your Trip to Africa
- Travel Insurance: We don’t travel without travel insurance and neither should you. You never know what can happen while traveling so it’s best to be prepared. HeyMondo provides excellent short-term and long-term travel insurance plans.
- Travel Waterbottle: When we’re uncertain about the water supply we use our Grayl Purifier. It’s come in exceptionally handy around Africa.
- Camera Gear: Chances are you’ll want a camera for your trip to Africa. We love the Sony RX100V for a pocket-size camera and the Fujifilm XT-4 for a professional camera. Check out our favorite cameras for Africa.
- Safari Clothes: Lightweight, beige, and moisture-wicking clothing are great for traveling Africa. See our favorite safari clothing here.
- Safari Hat: A good hat is both stylish and functional.
- Safari Bag: A durable bag is ideal for traveling around Africa.
- Safari Pants: We recommend neutral-colored pants as they’re great at hiding dirt and can match most shirt colors.
- Safari Shirt: Shirts like these are lightweight and keep the bugs away!
- Boots: While you don’t need to wear sturdy shoes every day, at least one pair of safari boots will make your trip nicer!
- Travel Adapter: You’ll need a special travel adapter for traveling Africa. Get one before you get there so you don’t pay a premium on the ground.