Africa is the world’s second-largest and second most-populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² (11.7 million sq mi) including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth’s total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area. With a billion people (as of 2009, see table) in 61 territories, it accounts for about 14.72% of the World’s human population. The continent is surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, both the Suez Canal and the Red Sea along the Sinai Peninsula to the northeast, the Indian Ocean to the southeast, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. The continent has 54 states, including Madagascar, various island groups, and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, a member state of the African Union whose statehood is disputed by Morocco.

Africa, particularly central eastern Africa, is widely regarded within the scientific community to be the origin of humans and the Hominidae clade (great apes), as evidenced by the discovery of the earliest hominids and their ancestors, as well as later ones that have been dated to around seven million years ago – including Sahelanthropus tchadensis, Australopithecus africanus, A. afarensis, Homo erectus, H. habilis and H. ergaster – with the earliest Homo sapiens (modern human) found in Ethiopia being dated to ca. 200,000 years ago.

Africa straddles the equator and encompasses numerous climate areas; it is the only continent to stretch from the northern temperate to southern temperate zones.


Africa is the largest of the three great southward projections from the largest landmass of the Earth. Separated from Europe by the Mediterranean Sea, it is joined to Asia at its northeast extremity by the Isthmus of Suez (transected by the Suez Canal), 163 km (101 miles) wide. (Geopolitically, Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula east of the Suez Canal is often considered part of Africa, as well.) From the most northerly point, Ras ben Sakka in Tunisia, to the most southerly point, Cape Agulhas in South Africa, is a distance of approximately 8,000 km (5,000 miles); from Cape Verde, the westernmost point, to Ras Hafun in Somalia, the most easterly projection, is a distance of approximately 7,400 km (4,600 miles). The coastline is 26,000 km (16,100 miles) long, and the absence of deep indentations of the shore is illustrated by the fact that Europe, which covers only 10,400,000 km² (4,010,000 square miles) – about a third of the surface of Africa – has a coastline of 32,000 km (19,800 miles).

Africa’s largest country is Sudan, and its smallest country is the Seychelles, an archipelago off the east coast. The smallest nation on the continental mainland is The Gambia.

 According to the ancient Romans, Africa lay to the west of Egypt, while “Asia” was used to refer to Anatolia and lands to the east. A definite line was drawn between the two continents by the geographer Ptolemy (85–165 AD), indicating Alexandria along the Prime Meridian and making the isthmus of Suez and the Red Sea the boundary between Asia and Africa. As Europeans came to understand the real extent of the continent, the idea of Africa expanded with their knowledge.

Geologically, Africa includes the Arabian Peninsula; the Zagros Mountains of Iran and the Anatolian Plateau of Turkey mark where the African Plate collided with Eurasia. The Afrotropic ecozone and the Saharo-Arabian desert to its north unite the region biogeographically, and the Afro-Asiatic language family unites the north linguistically.


The climate of Africa ranges from tropical to subarctic on its highest peaks. Its northern half is primarily desert or arid, while its central and southern areas contain both savanna plains and very dense jungle (rainforest) regions. In between, there is a convergence where vegetation patterns such as sahel, and steppe dominate.


The African Union (AU) is a 53 member federation consisting of all of Africa’s states except Morocco. The union was formed, with Addis Ababa as its headquarters, on 26 June 2001. In July 2004, the African Union’s Pan-African Parliament (PAP) was relocated to Midrand, in South Africa, but the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights remained in Addis Ababa. There is a policy in effect to decentralise the African Federation’s institutions so that they are shared by all the states.

The African Union, not to be confused with the AU Commission, is formed by an Act of Union, which aims to transform the African Economic Community, a federated commonwealth, into a state under established international conventions. The African Union has a parliamentary government, known as the African Union Government, consisting of legislative, judicial and executive organs. It is led by the African Union President and Head of State, who is also the President of the Pan African Parliament. A person becomes AU President by being elected to the PAP, and subsequently gaining majority support in the PAP.

The powers and authority of the President of the African Parliament derive from the Union Act, and the Protocol of the Pan African Parliament, as well as the inheritance of presidential authority stipulated by African treaties and by international treaties, including those subordinating the Secretary General of the OAU Secretariat (AU Commission) to the PAP. The government of the AU consists of all-union (federal), regional, state, and municipal authorities, as well as hundreds of institutions, that together manage the day-to-day affairs of the institution.

There are clear signs of increased networking among African organisations and states. In the civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (former Zaire), rather than rich, non-African countries intervening, neighbouring African countries became involved (see also Second Congo War). Since the conflict began in 1998, the estimated death toll has reached 5 million.

Political associations such as the African Union offer hope for greater co-operation and peace between the continent’s many countries. Extensive human rights abuses still occur in several parts of Africa, often under the oversight of the state. Most of such violations occur for political reasons, often as a side effect of civil war. Countries where major human rights violations have been reported in recent times include the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Sudan, Zimbabwe, and Côte d’Ivoire.

Territories and regions

The countries in this table are categorised according to the scheme for geographic subregions used by the United Nations.

Name of region and
territory, with flag
Population Density
(per km²)
Eastern Africa: 6,384,904 316,053,651 49.5
Burundi Burundi 27,830 8,988,091 322.9 Bujumbura
Comoros Comoros 2,170 752,438 346.7 Moroni
Djibouti Djibouti 23,000 516,055 22.4 Djibouti
Eritrea Eritrea 121,320 5,647,168 46.5 Asmara
Ethiopia Ethiopia 1,127,127 85,237,338 75.6 Addis Ababa
Kenya Kenya 582,650 39,002,772 66.0 Nairobi
Madagascar Madagascar 587,040 20,653,556 35.1 Antananarivo
Malawi Malawi 118,480 14,268,711 120.4 Lilongwe
Mauritius Mauritius 2,040 1,284,264 629.5 Port Louis
Mayotte Mayotte (France) 374 223,765 489.7 Mamoudzou
Mozambique Mozambique 801,590 21,669,278 27.0 Maputo
Réunion Réunion (France) 2,512 743,981 296.2 Saint-Denis
Rwanda Rwanda 26,338 10,473,282 397.6 Kigali
Seychelles Seychelles 455 87,476 192.2 Victoria
Somalia Somalia 637,657 9,832,017 15.4 Mogadishu
Tanzania Tanzania 945,087 41,048,532 43.3 Dodoma
Uganda Uganda 236,040 32,369,558 137.1 Kampala
Zambia Zambia 752,614 11,862,740 15.7 Lusaka
Middle Africa: 6,613,253 121,585,754 18.4
Angola Angola 1,246,700 12,799,293 10.3 Luanda
Cameroon Cameroon 475,440 18,879,301 39.7 Yaoundé
Central African Republic Central African Republic 622,984 4,511,488 7.2 Bangui
Chad Chad 1,284,000 10,329,208 8.0 N’Djamena
Republic of the Congo Congo 342,000 4,012,809 11.7 Brazzaville
Democratic Republic of the Congo Democratic Republic of the Congo 2,345,410 68,692,542 29.2 Kinshasa
Equatorial Guinea Equatorial Guinea 28,051 633,441 22.6 Malabo
Gabon Gabon 267,667 1,514,993 5.6 Libreville
São Tomé and Príncipe São Tomé and Príncipe 1,001 212,679 212.4 São Tomé
Northern Africa: 8,533,021 211,087,622 24.7
Algeria Algeria 2,381,740 34,178,188 14.3 Algiers
Egypt Egypt 1,001,450 83,082,869 82.9 Cairo
Libya Libya 1,759,540 6,310,434 3.6 Tripoli
Morocco Morocco 446,550 34,859,364 78.0 Rabat
Sudan Sudan 2,505,810 41,087,825 16.4 Khartoum
Tunisia Tunisia 163,610 10,486,339 64.1 Tunis
Western Sahara Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic 266,000 405,210 1.5 El Aaiún
Spanish and Portuguese territories in Northern Africa:
Canary Islands Canary Islands (Spain) 7,492 1,694,477 226.2 Las Palmas de Gran Canaria,
Santa Cruz de Tenerife
Ceuta Ceuta (Spain) 20 71,505 3,575.2
Madeira Madeira Islands (Portugal) 797 245,000 307.4 Funchal
Melilla Melilla (Spain) 12 66,411 5,534.2
Southern Africa: 2,693,418 56,406,762 20.9
Botswana Botswana 600,370 1,990,876 3.3 Gaborone
Lesotho Lesotho 30,355 2,130,819 70.2 Maseru
Zimbabwe Zimbabwe 390,580 11,392,629 29.1 Harare
Namibia Namibia 825,418 2,108,665 2.6 Windhoek
South Africa South Africa 1,219,912 49,052,489 40.2 Bloemfontein, Cape Town, Pretoria
Swaziland Swaziland 17,363 1,123,913 64.7 Mbabane
Western Africa: 6,144,013 296,186,492 48.2
Benin Benin 112,620 8,791,832 78.0 Porto-Novo
Burkina Faso Burkina Faso 274,200 15,746,232 57.4 Ouagadougou
Cape Verde Cape Verde 4,033 429,474 107.3 Praia
Côte d'Ivoire Côte d’Ivoire 322,460 20,617,068 63.9 Abidjan,Yamoussoukro
The Gambia Gambia 11,300 1,782,893 157.7 Banjul
Ghana Ghana 239,460 23,832,495 99.5 Accra
Guinea Guinea 245,857 10,057,975 40.9 Conakry
Guinea-Bissau Guinea-Bissau 36,120 1,533,964 42.5 Bissau
Liberia Liberia 111,370 3,441,790 30.9 Monrovia
Mali Mali 1,240,000 12,666,987 10.2 Bamako
Mauritania Mauritania 1,030,700 3,129,486 3.0 Nouakchott
Niger Niger 1,267,000 15,306,252 12.1 Niamey
Nigeria Nigeria 923,768 149,229,090 161.5 Abuja
Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha (UK) 410 7,637 14.4 Jamestown
Senegal Senegal 196,190 13,711,597 69.9 Dakar
Sierra Leone Sierra Leone 71,740 6,440,053 89.9 Freetown
Togo Togo 56,785 6,019,877 106.0 Lomé
Africa Total 30,368,609 1,001,320,281 33.0

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