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.
Africa is composed of 54 countries. Here they are, ranked by population as of 2017:
|4||Democratic Republic of the Congo||83,301,152|
|36||Central African Republic||5,625,118|
|37||Congo, Republic of the||4,954,674|
|53||Sao Tome and Principe||201,025|
Here are those countries ranked by size:
|Rank||Country||Area (square miles)|
|2||Democratic Republic of the Congo||905,355|
|12||Egypt (Excluding Asian section)||386,662|
|20||Central African Republic||240,535|
|27||Republic of the Congo||132,047|
|53||São Tomé and Príncipe||372|
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.
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.
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.
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.