It’s the world’s second largest and second most populous continent. It has incredible natural and human resources, yet much of the continent remains in poverty and underdeveloped. It’s also home to some of the most beautiful countries in the world; for us, it’s much more than the ultimate safari destination and a gateway into wildlife tracking and wildlife travel. The African people are kind, gentle and interesting and they all have some great stories to tell.
If you’d like to learn more about this incredible continent, take a look at our 27 surprising facts about Africa…
1. There are 54 Countries in Africa
Africa is a vast continent; it’s in fact the second largest continent in the world and actually has more countries than the first largest continent in the world, Asia. There are 54 countries in total in Africa, 6 more than Asia’s 48. The African countries in alphabetical order are as follows; Algeria, Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo (Kinshasa, formerly Zaire), Djibouti, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Republic of the Congo (Brazzaville), Reunion, Rwanda, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Sao Tome & Principe, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, Western Sahara, Zambia, Zanzibar and Zimbabwe.
2. Africa Covers 30 Million Square Kilometres
As the second largest continent in the world, Africa is pretty big. Divided into North Africa, East Africa, Central Africa, Southern Africa and West Africa and home to a whopping 58 countries, the area of Africa covers nearly 10 million square miles – that’s a huge 30 million square kilometres! It’s the world’s second most populous continent and it makes up around 6% of the entire Earth’s surface and more than 20% of land.
3. The Most Widely Spoken Language is Arabic
There is so much linguistic diversity in Africa. But the most widely spoken language is Arabic (170 million people) followed by English (130 million people) then Swahili followed by French, Berber, Hausa and Portuguese.
4. There are More than 2,000 Recognised Languages
Over 25% of all languages in the world are spoken in Africa and only in their relative regions. There are more than 2,000 recognised languages in Africa and around 200 of these are spoken in Northern Africa including Central Sahara and are known as Afro-Asiatic languages, 140 are spoken in Central and Eastern Africa known as Nilo-Saharan languages and more than 1,000 are Niger-Saharan languages.
5. Illiteracy is as High as 40% Across the Continent
It may not be surprising to know that 40% of adults in Africa are illiterate; the real surprising fact is that two thirds of the illiterate population are all women. The worst affected areas, with shocking illiteracy over 50% are in Ethiopia, Chad, Gambia, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Niger, Benin and Burkina Faso.
6. Africa is the World’s Hottest Continent
When it comes to extremes of the earth, Africa is considered to be the hottest. Around 60% of land is dry and covered by desert, and the Sahara is the world’s biggest hot desert with temperatures often topping 100°F (or exceeding 40°C). But whilst the hottest recorded temperature on Earth was once in Africa in El Azizia, Libya at 136.4°F (58°C), the continent also has the other extreme with the coldest temperate in Africa being as low as −11°F (−23.9 °C) in Ifrane, Morocco.
7. Africa Was Once Made Up of 10,000 States
Long before colonial rule, Africa was made up of 10,000 different states and autonomous groups, each with their own very distinct languages and unique customs. This pre-colonial, disjointed Africa could explain why there are so many languages and so many language isolates today.
8. Zambia had a Space Program in the 1960s
Believe it or not, Africa was once home to a space program, albeit not a successful one. One Zambian citizen in the 1960s was determined to beat America and the Russians in becoming the first nation ever to send a man to the moon. Led by a Zambian teacher Edward Makuka Nkoloso, the program also intended to use a catapult firing system to send 12 astronauts and a cat to Mars. A grant for £7 million was applied for but ultimately denied…
9. Nigeria has the Highest Number of Twins Born in the World
Nigeria has been nicknamed “The Land of Twins” by the BBC because it has the highest rate of twin births in the world. Twin birth rates in West Africa are four times higher than anywhere else and the centre of it all takes place in a sleepy little town in Nigeria called Igbo-Ora where the last recorded figures revealed an average of 50 sets of twins in every 1,000 births.
10. Over 5 Million People Died in the Second Congo War
The Second Congo War, which began in August 1998, happened only one year on after the First Congo War and is the second deadliest worldwide conflict, subsequent only to World War II. What started as political and military tension between Rwanda and Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo) later involved 7 other countries; more than 5 million lives were taken during the Second Congo War. Although a peace agreement was signed in 2002, violence still exists today so the DRC is currently an unsafe place of travel. Not to be confused with Republic of the Congo which is a safe safari destination.
11. Africa Took Part in the Shortest War Ever Recorded in History
In addition to the second deadliest war, Africa was also a part of the world’s shortest ever war to be recorded in human history! The shortest war began in August 1896 between Zanzibar and Great Britain. The British did not accept the succession of Sultan Khalid bin Barghash after the previous pro-British Sultan Hamad bin Thuwaini. War broke out as the British forces descended on the palace grounds. The battle lasted all of 38 minutes before Sultan Khalid bin Barghash raised the white flag of surrender. He later fled to German East Africa whilst the Brits took matters into their own hands and appointed a new Sultan.
12. Around 90% of All Malaria Cases in the World Are in Africa
3,000 children die of Malaria every single day in Africa and 90% of all Malaria cases across the world occur here. We urge anyone who can to donate to any of the following charities to help save children in need of medical help; Malaria No More, Christian Aid, UNICEF or Against Malaria Foundation.
13. Africa’s Sahara Desert is Bigger than the USA
Africa is the hottest continent on the planet and so much of its land is made up of desert. The Sahara, being the third largest desert and the first largest hot desert in the world, is truly vast. Its expansive size is 9.4 million square kilometres – bigger than the entire US! Another interesting fact is that the Sahara is actually growing in size – it’s been expanding in the southern regions at a rate of half a mile per month – that’s 6 miles per year!
14. There are Less than 9 Miles Separating Africa and Europe
Africa and Europe couldn’t be further apart in terms of culture but did you know that at their closest point, they are less than 9 miles apart? At the Strait of Gibraltar between Morocco and Spain, there are less than 9 miles stretching the distance and now the two countries are in talks about an undersea rail network to make Africa-Europe travel easier and more convenient.
15. It Has One of the Oldest Universities in the World
It may be surprising to know that Africa is home to one of the oldest universities in the world. But by the 12th Century, Timbuktu in Mali had become the centre of all intelligentsia and historians have even branded it as the “Paris of Medieval times”. The University of Timbuktu was built in 982 CE and it’s one of the oldest known educational establishments.
16. Africa is Home to the World’s Biggest Frog Species
The world’s largest frog species, named the Goliath Frog, can grow up to a foot long in size and can weight up to 8lb (heavier than the average human new born baby!). This cute little (or not so little) creature may be big but it’s harmless and is found in Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon.
17. It’s the Biggest Single Source of Gold Throughout Mining History
Almost half of the gold ever mined on Earth has come from Africa, and more specifically, from Witwatersrand in South Africa. And despite the decline in production, gold exports were valued at $3.8 billion USD back in 2005. South Africa is similarly famous for diamonds, although production of that has also decreased in recent years due to the problems with human rights abuse and repression from the blood diamond industry.
18. African Elephants are the Biggest Land Mammals
African elephants are the largest living land animals; they are so big in fact that they can weigh over 6 tonnes and they be up to 7 metres long in size. Although often compared to their Asian relatives, African elephants are distinctively different. You can tell an African elephant apart from an Asia elephant because they are bigger in size, have much larger ears, are much more wrinkly and have more rings on their trunks.
19. Tunisian Buildings are Made with Fish Bones
In Tunisia, fish has a supernatural significance to many people and it is often used to guard against evil. Some families will use images of fish as a form of protection and many buildings have been built with fish bones embedded into the walls – this is said to ward off evil spirits and keep the family safe from harm.
20. 18 Africans Have Been Awarded the Nobel Prize
It’s true that countries in the West have received a disproportionately high number of Nobel Prizes through the decades and countries with the most awards include The United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France and Sweden. But it’s interesting to know that Africa has received 18 Nobel Prizes in total, and the winners are mostly from South Africa with other winners being from Egypt, Zimbabwe, Liberia, Algeria, Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria.
21. Sudan Has More Pyramids than Egypt
Egypt may be famous for its pyramids but many people don’t realise that the country of Sudan has a total of 223 pyramids, which is actually double that of Egypt. These forgotten pyramids of Sudan are the Meroe Pyramids; these once made up the capital of the Kingdom of Kush, ruled by the Nubian kings.
22. More people in New York City have Internet Access than the Whole Continent of Africa
Africa is way behind the “digital divide” and there are more people in the one single city of New York with internet access than the entire continent and the 54 countries of Africa! Astounding figures…
23. There are 280,000 Windmills in South Africa
When you think of windmills, you probably think of the Netherlands. But South Africa is in fact home to 280,000 windmills found on farms across the country. Even at its most abundant, the Netherlands only ever totalled 10,000 windmills in operation at any one time.
24. Mount Kilimanjaro is the Highest Point in Africa
Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania is the highest point in Africa. It is as high as 19,340 feet above sea level and it’s one of the biggest challenges for professional climbers today. It’s one of the most dangerous climbing expeditions and more than 1,000 people are rescued every year, with an annual death rate of around 10 people on average.
25. El Azizia in Libya was Recorded as the Hottest Place in the World
It was recently stripped of its title since old records show a recorded 56.7°C (134°F) in Death Valley, California back in 1913. But a few years back, El Azizia in Libya, North Africa was considered to be the hottest place in the world. Questions were raised about the authenticity and accuracy of the recorded 58°C high and has since been overturned by investigative scientists. Either way, El Azizia is still pretty hot…
26. Deforestation is a Big Problem
Not really something that many of us think about; but Africa’s deforestation rate is twice the average for the rest of the world. Four million hectares of primary forest deplete each year and some countries have less than 1% of primary forest remaining.
27. Lake Malawi Boasts the Largest Number of Fish Species
Lake Malawi is one of the most beautiful safari and beach destinations in Africa and it’s also home of the largest number of fish species. There are 500 different types of fish, more species than in any other lake.