Some Facts About Africa

Africa is the second-largest continent in the world in both area and population. It is an almost entirely isolated landmass with only a small land bridge in the northeast, connecting the African Mainland with Western Asia.

Area: Africa covers six percent of the world's total surface area, roughly 30,244,000 km² (11,700,000 mi²). Including its adjacent islands, the continent occupies about 20 percent of Earth's total land area. Africa's largest country is Algeria, followed by the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Kinshasa), and Sudan.

Countries of Africa: 48 countries share the area of mainland Africa, plus six island nations are considered to be part of the continent. All in all, there are 54 sovereign African countries and two disputed areas, namely Somaliland and Western Sahara (see the list of African countries below).

Population: An estimated 1.34 billion people live in the second-largest continent, representing about 14 percent of the world's population (as of 2020). By far the most populous country in Africa is Nigeria, with a population of more than 190 million. (Source: UN World Population Prospects)

Fishermen on Lake Victoria. Africa's largest lake is shared by three countries, Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. Image: Khanairobi

North Africa or Northern Africa (as used by the United Nations) refers to the portion of Africa along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea (except for Sudan). In the northwest, the Atlas Mountains dominate the area. South of the Mediterranean coastal strip stretches the Sahara from the Atlantic Ocean in the west to the Red Sea in the east. There are six countries in Northern Africa and one disputed territory, Western Sahara.  According to the United Nations Population Division, approximately 242 million people live in Northern Africa (in 2019).

Assekrem, a high plateau in the Hoggar Mountains, the region is part of the Cultural park of Ahaggar (mountains) near Tamanrasset in S. Algeria. Image: Mohammed Amri

West Africa or Western Africa mostly refers to the countries north of the Gulf of Guinea in the north-western part of the continent. West Africa is located in the southern part of the so-called hump of Africa; it is bounded in the north by the Sahara desert and the Sahel zone. There are sixteen countries in West Africa and one British Overseas Territory, Saint Helena. According to the United Nations Population Division, an estimated 392 million people live in West Africa (in 2019).

Aerial view of Bargny, a coastal fishing town in the Rufisque Département of Senegal. The city is located on the south coast of the Cap-Vert peninsula, about 15 km to the east of Senegal's capital, Dakar. Image: Peter A Harrison

Central Africa or Middle Africa (as used by the United Nations) refers to the tropical central portion of the African continent. There are nine countries in Central Africa, including the island nation of São Tomé and Príncipe. According to the United Nations Population Division, approximately 174 million people live in Central Africa (in 2019).

Kalandula water fall at the Lucala River in the Malanje Province of Angola. Image: L.Willms

East Africa or Eastern Africa, is the eastern portion of the African continent; it includes Madagascar and other, smaller islands. In a narrower sense, the term East Africa may refer to the former British colonial areas of present-day Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. According to the United Nations Population Division, roughly 445 million people live in East Africa (in 2019).

Rothschild's giraffe at the White Nile out of Lake Albert in the Murchison Falls National Park in Uganda. Image: Bernard DUPONT

Southern Africa is the southern portion of the African continent, bounded by the South Atlantic Ocean in the west and the Indian Ocean in the east. The United Nations geoscheme lists five countries in Southern Africa, with a total population of about 67 million people (in 2019).

Gigantic sand dunes in the Namib-Naukluft National Park in Namibia. Image: Yathin S. Krishnappa

More about Africa

Highest Point: Africa's highest mountain is located in Tanzania. The three million year old stratovolcano Mount Kilimanjaro has a height of 5,895 m (19,340 ft). The mountain has three volcanic cones Kibo, Mawenzi, and Shira. Uhuru Peak on Kibo is the mountain's highest point. The Batian peak of Mount Kenya at 3,825 m (12,549 ft)  is Africa's second-highest mountain.

Largest Lake: Lake Victoria or Victoria Nyanza is the largest of the African Great Lakes and the second-largest freshwater lake in the world. The source of the Nile River has a surface area of 68,800 km² (26,600 sq mi); it is shared by Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania.

Longest River: Africa's longest river is the Nile; it is with 6,695 km, also the longest river in the world. The Nile flows from its source south of the equator through eleven countries and empties into the Mediterranean Sea.

Languages of Africa: There are about a thousand languages spoken on the continent, classified in four (or six) major language families:
Afro-Asiatic (e.g., Berber language), Nilo-Saharan, Niger-Congo (Bantu), and Khoi-San. (see also: Languages of Africa)

Physical Regions: Major physical regions in Africa are the Atlas Mountains, the Sahara Desert, the semiarid Sahel, the tropical Sudanian Savanna, also known as the African Savanna, the Nile and the Congo rivers, the Victoria Falls, the Ethiopian Highlands, the Ituri Rainforest in Central Africa, the African Great Lakes, the Great Rift Valley, the Namib, and the Kalahari deserts.