Africa: A Continent You Should Explore

March 9, 2019

Paul Kay

Africa is the world’s second largest continent and the second most-populated. (It follows Asia in both categories.) With 11.7 million square miles, including adjacent islands, it covers six percent of Earth’s total surface area and 20 percent of its land area. Of all the continents, it has the most countries within its borders.

Many people come to Africa for tourism but are unaware of how large the continent is. The distance between Casablanca at the northern tip of Africa to Johannesburg, which is not even the southern-most tip, is more than 4700 miles and a plane flight of more than 14 hours with one stop. A nonstop flight from Cairo to Johannesburg is about eight hours.

Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Alexandria, Egypt


Africa is composed of 54 countries. Here they are, ranked by population as of 2017:

Rank Country Population
1 Nigeria 190,632,256
2 Ethiopia 105,350,016
3 Egypt 97,041,072
4 Democratic Republic of the Congo 83,301,152
5 South Africa 54,841,552
6 Tanzania 53,950,936
7 Kenya 47,615,740
8 Algeria 40,969,444
9 Uganda 39,570,124
10 Sudan 37,345,936
11 Morocco 33,986,656
12 Angola 29,310,272
13 Ghana 27,499,924
14 Mozambique 26,573,706
15 Madagascar 25,054,160
16 Cameroon 24,994,884
17 Cote d’Ivoire 24,184,810
18 Burkina Faso 20,107,508
19 Niger 19,245,344
20 Malawi 19,196,246
21 Mali 17,885,244
22 Zambia 15,972,000
23 Senegal 14,668,522
24 Zimbabwe 13,805,084
25 Guinea 12,413,867
26 Chad 12,075,985
27 Rwanda 11,901,484
28 Burundi 11,466,756
29 Tunisia 11,403,800
30 Benin 11,038,805
31 Somalia 11,031,386
32 Togo 7,965,055
33 Libya 6,653,210
34 Sierra Leone 6,163,195
35 Eritrea 5,918,919
36 Central African Republic 5,625,118
37 Congo, Republic of the 4,954,674
38 Liberia 4,689,021
39 Mauritania 3,758,571
40 Namibia 2,484,780
41 Botswana 2,214,858
42 Gambia, The 2,051,363
43 Lesotho 1,958,042
44 Guinea-Bissau 1,792,338
45 Gabon 1,772,255
46 Swaziland 1,467,152
47 Mauritius 1,356,388
48 Djibouti 865,267
49 Comoros 808,080
50 Equatorial Guinea 778,358
51 Western Sahara 603,253
52 Cape Verde 560,899
53 Sao Tome and Principe 201,025
54 Seychelles 93,920

Here are those countries ranked by size:

Rank Country Area (square miles)
1 Algeria 919,595
2 Democratic Republic of the Congo 905,355
3 Sudan 718,723
4 Libya 679,362
5 Chad 495,755
6 Niger 489,191
7 Angola 481,354
8 Mali 478,841
9 South Africa 471,445
10 Ethiopia 426,373
11 Mauritania 397,955
12 Egypt (Excluding Asian section) 386,662
13 Tanzania 364,945
14 Nigeria 356,669
15 Namibia 318,696
16 Mozambique 309,496
17 Zambia 290,586
18 South Sudan 248,777
19 Somalia 246,201
20 Central African Republic 240,535
21 Madagascar 226,658
22 Botswana 224,606
23 Kenya 224,081
24 Cameroon 183,569
25 Morocco 172,414
26 Zimbabwe 150,872
27 Republic of the Congo 132,047
28 Côte d’Ivoire 124,503
29 Burkina Faso 105,792
30 Gabon 103,347
31 Guinea 94,926
32 Ghana 92,098
33 Uganda 91,136
34 Senegal 75,955
35 Tunisia 63,170
36 Malawi 45,747
37 Eritrea 45,406
38 Benin 43,484
39 Liberia 43,000
40 Sierra Leone 27,699
41 Togo 21,925
42 Guinea-Bissau 13,948
43 Lesotho 11,720
44 Equatorial Guinea 10,831
45 Burundi 10,745
46 Rwanda 10,347
47 Djibouti 8,958
48 Swaziland 6,704
49 Gambia 4,008
50 Cape Verde 1,557
51 Comoros 863
52 Mauritius 788
53 São Tomé and Príncipe 372
54 Seychelles 174


Landscape Acacia Trees Wildebeest Zebra Mikumi National Park Tanzania Africa

African history began at least 200,000 years ago. The first creatures to be classed as part of the human species evolved in Africa. They developed a technology based on sharp tools of flint, introducing the Stone Age. Paintings created on stone slabs, found in Namibia, date from nearly 30,000 years ago. Rock and cave paintings have survived in widely disparate areas.

Africa is vast, and there likely were many kingdoms established across the great continent. We know the Kingdom of Kush stood as a regional power in Africa for more than a thousand years. This ancient Nubian empire reached its peak in the second millennium BC, when it ruled a vast swath of territory along the Nile River. We don’t know much about the Kingdom of Kush, except from what the Egyptians recorded. These Egyptian sources indicate that it was an economic center, operating a lucrative market in ivory, incense, iron and especially gold. Kush was both a trading partner and a military rival of Egypt. It even ruled Egypt as the 25th Dynasty and adopted many of its neighbor’s customs.

By 100 AD the kingdom of Axum in Ethiopia was highly civilized. Axum traded with Rome, Arabia and India. Axum became Christian in the fourth century AD. Africa was fought over by many nations in search of riches. The Roman Empire, for example, took over Egypt in 30 BC. Morocco was absorbed in 42 AD. But the Sahara Desert stopped any more conquering by Rome.

The Arabs conquered Egypt in 642. Between 698 and 700 they took Tunis and Carthage. Soon the whole coast of North Africa was under Arab-Muslim rule, except for Ethiopia, which remained Christian.

Arab merchants brought luxury goods and salt to North Africa. In return they purchased gold and slaves from the Africans. One of the earliest African kingdoms was Ghana. Others soon followed including Nigeria, Benin, Mali, Songhai, Kenem-Bornu, Mogadishu, Zanzibar, Ethiopia.

Traditional Wooden Carved Door, Stone Town, Zanzibar, Tanzania

The slave trade was organized and run by the Arabs. Slave trading centers popped up all over Africa. Madeline and I saw one in Zanzibar. In the 16th century, Europeans began to transport African slaves using the Atlantic. The trade dramatically grew as the demand increased. They came to Europe first and then later to the United States.

In the 18th century, ships from Britain took manufactured goods to Africa. They took slaves from there to the West Indies, and then took sugar back to Britain. Most slaves were captured in raids by other Africans. Europeans were not allowed to travel inland to find slaves. Instead Africans brought slaves to the coast. Any slaves who were not sold were either killed or used as slaves by other Africans.

Britain banned the slave trade in 1807. The United States didn’t abolish slavery until 1865, although attempts were made to abolish slave ships from entering American ports. In 1794, the United States enacted the Slave Trade Act to prevent ships from entering its ports, which was typically enforced in northern ports. Slave ships instead sailed to southern ports where the slave trade was welcome and slaves were sold.

By the late 19th century, Europeans had colonized most of Africa. Europeans founded their first colonies in the 16th century, when the Portuguese settled in Angola and Mozambique. The Dutch founded a colony in South Africa in 1652.

Dirt Road Mikumi National Park Tanzania Africa

In 1884, the Germans took Namibia, Togo and Cameroon, and in 1885 they took Tanzania. In 1885 Belgium took over what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. The French took Madagascar in 1896. They also expanded their empire in northern Africa, conquering Morocco in 1912. Italy took Libya the same year. In 1914, the British took control of Egypt. By then all of Africa was in European hands, except Liberia and Ethiopia. The Italians invaded Ethiopia in 1896 but were defeated by the Ethiopians. Further south the British took Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Uganda and Kenya.

Great Britain, France, Spain, Germany and many other countries also were conquering other lands on other continents. But attitudes about imperialism began to change in Europe, who had colonized most of the continents in one way or another. In Africa, independence became a populist movement particularly in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1960 alone, 17 countries gained their independence.

Why You Should Go

There are so many reasons to visit Africa. All African countries are not created equally, as the lists would suggest. If you are into camping, safaris or glamping—or glamorous camping—there are many countries that offer safari treks.

Safari Vehicles Elephants Kruger National Park South Africa

My wife and I have visited Egypt, Morocco, South Africa and Tanzania. Each country and culture is unique. Although we may not visit every African country, we will explore more. Africa has so much to offer.

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