The African continent is a land of superlatives. Here, you’ll find the world’s tallest free-standing mountain, the world’s longest river, and the largest terrestrial animal on Earth. It’s also a place of incredible diversity, not only in its many different habitats but also in its people. Human history is thought to have started in Africa, with sites like Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania contributing to our understanding of our earliest ancestors. Today, the continent is home to rural tribes whose customs have remained unchanged for thousands of years and some of the fastest developing cities on the planet. In this article, we look at a few facts and statistics that show just how incredible Africa really is.
Facts About African Geography
Number of Countries
There are 54 internationally recognized countries in Africa, in addition to the disputed territories of Somaliland and Western Sahara. The largest African country in terms of area is Algeria, while the smallest is the island nation of the Seychelles.
The tallest mountain in Africa is Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. With a total height of 19,341 feet/5,895 meters, it’s also the highest free-standing mountain in the world. It is capped by a year-round glacier and can be climbed by anyone of reasonable fitness.
The lowest point on the African continent is Lake Assal, located in the Afar Triangle in Djibouti. It lies 509 feet/155 meters below sea level and is the third-lowest point on Earth (behind the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee).
The Sahara Desert is the largest in Africa and the largest hot desert. It spreads across approximately 3.6 million square miles/9.2 million square kilometers, making it comparable in size to China.
The Nile is the longest river in Africa and the longest river globally. It runs for 4,258 miles/6,853 kilometers through 11 countries, including Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Rwanda. It comprises two major tributaries: the Blue Nile and the White Nile.
Africa’s largest lake is Lake Victoria, which borders Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya. It has a surface area of 26,600 square miles/68,800 square kilometers and is also the world’s largest tropical lake and the world’s second-largest freshwater lake by surface area.
Also known as The Smoke That Thunders, Africa’s largest waterfall is Victoria Falls. Located on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, the waterfall measures 5,604 feet/1,708 meters wide and 354 feet/108 meters tall. It is the largest sheet of falling water in the world.
The tallest waterfall in Africa is Tugela Falls, located in South Africa’s Drakensberg Mountains. It is made up of five individual free-leaping falls, and with an official height of 3,110 feet/948 meters, it is also the second-tallest waterfall in the world.
In southern Namibia, the Fish River Canyon measures approximately 100 miles/160 kilometers in length and up to 17 miles/27 kilometers in width. In places, it is up to 1,805 feet/550 meters deep. It is the second-largest canyon in the world after America’s Grand Canyon.
Facts About Africa’s People
Number of Ethnic Groups
It is thought that there are more than 3,000 ethnic groups in Africa. The most populous include the Luba and the Mongo in Central Africa; the Berbers in North Africa; the Shona and the Zulu in Southern Africa; and the Yoruba and Igbo in West Africa.
Oldest African Tribe
The San people are the oldest tribe in Africa and the direct descendants of the first Homo sapiens. They have lived in Southern African countries like Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, and Angola for over 20,000 years.
Number of Languages
The total number of indigenous languages spoken in Africa is estimated to be between 1,500 and 2,000. Nigeria alone has over 520 languages, although the country with the most official languages is Zimbabwe, with 16.
Most Populated Country
Nigeria is the most populous African country (and the seventh-most populous globally), providing a home for over 200 million people. Nigerians account for roughly 17 percent of the continent’s entire population. Africa’s most populous city, Lagos, is also in Nigeria.
Least Populated Country
The Seychelles has the lowest population of any country in Africa, with around 98,000 people, 25 percent of which live in the capital, Victoria. However, Namibia is the least densely populated African country, with large areas of desert making much of the country uninhabitable.
Most Popular Religion
Christianity is the most popular religion in Africa. It is estimated that by 2025, there will be approximately 633 million Christians in Africa. Islam runs a close second: a quarter of the world’s Muslims live in Africa, and it is the most prevalent religion north of the Sahara Desert.
Facts About African Animals
The largest mammal in Africa is the African bush elephant. The biggest specimen tipped the scales at 11.5 tons and measured 13 feet/4 meters in height. This subspecies is also the largest and heaviest land animal on Earth, beaten in size only by the blue whale.
The Etruscan pygmy shrew is the smallest mammal in Africa, measuring 1.6 inches/4 centimeters in length and weighing in at just 0.06 ounces/1.8 grams. It’s also the world’s smallest mammal by mass. Etruscan pygmy shrews are found in North Africa.
The common ostrich is the largest bird on the planet. It can reach a maximum height of 8.5 feet/2.6 meters and may weigh up to 297 lbs/135 kilograms. The largest (and heaviest) flying bird in Africa is the kori bustard, with a maximum weight of up to 40 lb/20 kg.
Africa’s smallest bird is thought to be the Cape penduline tit, a small passerine species with an average weight of 0.2 ounces/7 grams. The Cape penduline tit grows up to 3.1 inches/8 centimeters in length and favors the dry savannah and shrubland habitats of Southern Africa.
The fastest land animal on Earth, the cheetah, can achieve short bursts of up to 112 kilometers per hour/70 miles per hour. It is supremely adapted for speed with a thin, light build. Enlarged heart, lungs, and nasal passages allow its blood to replenish with oxygen rapidly.
Another world record-holder, the giraffe is the tallest animal in Africa and worldwide. Males are taller than females, with the tallest giraffe on record reaching 19.3 feet/5.88 meters. Special veins and blood vessels in the neck work against gravity to push blood up to the brain.
The hippo is the deadliest large animal in Africa, although it pales compared to man himself. However, the single biggest killer is the mosquito, with malaria alone claiming 435,000 lives worldwide in 2017, 93 percent in Africa.
SURPRISING FACTS ABOUT AFRICA
Africa is the world’s second largest continent and is home to some of the most beautiful countries in the world with some of the most unique landscapes and wildlife which is why it is a top holiday destination. Here are 27 fun facts about Africa and we hope that after reading this you will be even more intrigued about this wonderful continent…
1. THERE ARE 54 COUNTRIES IN AFRICA
Africa is the second largest continent in the world and boasts more countries than Asia the largest continent in the world. In alphabetical order, the countries are as follows: Algeria, Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 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, Reunion, Rwanda, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Sao Tome & Principe, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, Western Sahara, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
2. AFRICA COVERS 30 MILLION SQUARE KILOMETRES
Africa is a huge continent and it is divided up into five sub-sections; North Africa, East Africa, Central Africa, Southern Africa and West Africa. The entirety of Africa covers almost 10 million square miles which makes up more than 20% of the world’s land!
3. THE MOST WIDELY SPOKEN LANGUAGE IS ARABIC
This may be a somewhat surprising fun fact about Africa. Due to the fact that there are 54 countries in Africa, there are many different languages spoken. However, the most widely spoken language here is Arabic (by 170 million people), followed by English (by 130 million people) then Swahili, French, Bereber, Hausa and Portuguese. There are also many different languages that are spoken here which we doubt that you have even heard of…
4. THERE ARE MORE THAN 2,000 RECOGNISED LANGUAGES
Over a quarter of all of the different languages that are spoken in the world are spoken in Africa in their relative regions. There are over 2,000 different recognised languages spoken in Africa, 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
Although Africa holds many different resources it is a continent where many of the countries have vast numbers of their populations living in poverty. This has led to 40% of adults in Africa being illiterate. 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
As you probably already know, Africa has a very warm climate and it is actually considered to be the world’s hottest continent. Around 60% of land is dry and covered by desert, and the Sahara is the world’s biggest 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. This just shows the diversity of the different countries here in Africa and the differences don’t end with the climate!
7. AFRICA WAS ONCE MADE UP OF 10,000 STATES
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 spoken and why many of the languages spoken in regions of Africa are not spoken elsewhere
8. ZAMBIA HAD A SPACE PROGRAM IN THE 1960S
Although it sounds unlikely during the 1960s, Zambia was home to a space program, but it was not a very successful one. It started because a Zambian citizen was intent on beating the Americans and the Russians in being the first to send a man to land on the moon. Asides from the space program, there was also a grant for £7 million that was applied for in order to send 12 astronauts and a cat to Mars but this was denied and the space program failed. This is probably our favourite fun fact about Africa
9. NIGERIA HAS THE HIGHEST NUMBER OF TWINS BORN IN THE WORLD
One of Africa’s largest countries, Nigeria, has been nicknamed “The Land of Twins” by the BBC because it has the highest rate of twin births in the world. Numbers show that twin birth rates in West Africa are actually four times higher here than anywhere else in the world 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. The war started as a political and military tension between Rwanda and Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo) and led later to involve seven other countries; more than 5 million lives were taken during the Second Congo War. In order to keep the peace and stop the death toll from rising, a peace agreement was signed in 2002 but some of the violence still continues today so the DRC is currently considered to be an unsafe to travel. However, do not confuse this with the Republic of Congo which is a very safe safari destination (and a great one at that!)
11. AFRICA TOOK PART IN THE SHORTEST WAR EVER RECORDED IN HISTORY
Not only was Africa the host of the second deadliest war but it was also home to the world’s shortest ever war recorded in history. The war began in August 1896 and it was between Zanzibar and Great Britain. It started because the British did not accept the succession of Sultan Khalid bin Barghash after the previous pro-British Sultan Hamad bin Thuwaini. As British forces attacked the palace grounds, war broke out but the battle only lasted 38 minutes before Sultan Khalid bin Barghash raised the white flag of surrender. He later fled to German East Africa whilst the British took matters into their own hands and appointed a new Sultan.
12. AROUND 90% OF ALL MALARIA CASES IN THE WORLD ARE IN AFRICA
As you probably know, Malaria is a highly deadly disease, particularly in Africa. Around 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. This is a horrible disease and one that is not easily fought when the country is in so much poverty so any help that the Western world can offer is important.
13. AFRICA’S SAHARA DESERT IS BIGGER THAN THE USA
As previously mentioned, Africa is the hottest continent on the planet and so much of its land is made up of desert. The Sahara, being the largest desert in the world, is truly vast. Its expansive size is 9.4 million square kilometres – bigger than the entire USA! Another interesting fact about the Sahara is that it is actually growing in size as it’s been expanding in the southern regions at a rate of half a mile per month which equates to six miles per year!
14. THERE ARE LESS THAN 9 MILES SEPARATING AFRICA AND EUROPE
There are many differences in culture between Africa and Europe, firstly because they both host so many different countries with many different cultures. However, at their closest point, they are less than nine miles apart. At the Strait of Gibraltar between Morocco and Spain, there are less than nine 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 which would be fantastic for future safari holidays…
15. IT HAS ONE OF THE OLDEST UNIVERSITIES IN THE WORLD
Although many adults are illiterate here, Africa is actually home to one of the oldest universities in the world. Built in 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 is one of the oldest known educational establishments.
16. AFRICA IS HOME TO THE WORLD’S BIGGEST FROG SPECIES
It may actually not be surprising that the world’s largest frog species resides in Africa. It is named the Goliath Frog and 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
As we said earlier, Africa is home to some great resources sought after by the Western world. Almost half of the gold ever mined on Earth has come from Africa, and more specifically, from Witwatersrand in South Africa. Despite the decline in production, gold exports were valued at $3.8 billion USD back in 2005. South Africa is also famous for its diamonds, although Botswana lead the way in terms of production.
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 six tonnes and be up to seven metres long in size. They are often compared to their Asian relatives but they have many distinctive differences, including the fact that they are bigger in size! They also have much larger ears, have more wrinkles and more rings on their trunks than their Asian relatives. These are a fantastic species and one to look out for when you are next on safari…
19. TUNISIAN BUILDINGS ARE MADE WITH FISH BONES
In Tunisia, which is a North African country, fish are considered to have a supernatural significance to many people and they use them to guard against evil spirits. Some families will just use pictures of fish in their homes as protection but there are many houses here that have been built with fish bones embedded into the walls and floors in order to protect the inhabitants from the evil spirits.
20. 23 AFRICANS HAVE BEEN AWARDED THE NOBEL PRIZE
23 Nobel Prizes have been received by Africans. It is a small but prestigious list with notable winners being Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Kofi Annan and the most recent Denis Mukwege
21. SUDAN HAS MORE PYRAMIDS THAN EGYPT
The country of Egypt may be famous for its pyramids but many people don’t realise that the country of Sudan, in Africa, has a total of 223 pyramids. This is twice the amount of pyramids that Egypt has! These forgotten pyramids 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
As you may expect, Africa is very 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!
23. THERE ARE 280,000 WINDMILLS IN SOUTH AFRICA
The Netherlands are most renowned for their windmills but South Africa is actually the home to 280,000 windmills. These can be found on farms across the country and the numbers here are much higher than the Netherlands’ figures which have only ever recorded the total of 10,000 windmills.
24. MOUNT KILIMANJARO IS THE HIGHEST POINT IN AFRICA
Mount Kilimanjaro is a popular destination and one that many people from all over the world take on as a challenge here in Africa. You may not know that 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. However, it is 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 which means that this climb is definitely not for the faint hearted!
25. EL AZIZIAIN LIBYA WAS RECORDED AS THE HOTTEST PLACE IN THE WORLD
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. However, it has recently been stripped of its title as records have shown a recorded temperature of 56.7°C (134°F) in Death Valley, California back in 1913. However, title or no title, El Azizia is still a very hot place…
26. DEFORESTATION IS A BIG PROBLEM
You may hear about it on the news and in the papers but it isn’t something that we really think about. However, Africa’s deforestation rate is twice the average rate for the rest of the world. There are four million hectares of forest destroyed each year and some countries here in Africa 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 which may or may not surprise you! There are around 500 different types of fish, more species than in any other lake in the world so make sure that you keep a look out for some interesting ones when you get the chance to go.