Africa at a Glance: 15 Amazing Facts About the Continent

Did you know Africa had over 10 ancient empires? Or that it was an African man's knowledge that helped save countless people from smallpox? Or that 1 in 4 languages are spoken only in Africa? Read on to see how many of these facts you actually know.

The True Size of Africa. 15 Facts About the Continent
"The True Size of Africa"by Brett Jordan is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Physical Overview

1. Africa is a HUGE continent. Note emphasis on continent. As the world’s second largest continent in terms of landmass, it has a surface area of about 30 million square km. To put this into perspective, the United States, China, India, Japan, and the European Union have a combined surface area of about 27.5 million square km, which means they could all collectively fit into Africa with room to spare. The Sahara Desert alone is bigger than the entire continental U.S. So don’t be fooled when you look at a map of the continent scaled down in size.

2. Africa is comprised of 54 countries; the vast majority of which are presidential republics and a couple of existing monarchies. As the second largest continent also in terms of population, it is home to about 1.4 billion people. There are over 3000 ethnic groups and over 2000 languages on the continent, with the most widely spoken being Arabic, English, Kiswahili, French, and Hausa. In fact, about 25% of the world’s languages are unique to Africa. That’s about 1 in every 4 languages spoken only on our continent.

3. Africa has one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet. It has tropical rainforests, dry savannas, moist savannas, deserts, semi-deserts, temperate grasslands, snow-capped mountains, and temperate woodlands and shrublands. That makes about 8 of the 11 or so major biomes that can be found on the continent. There are also certain animals that are unique to the continent including giraffes, zebras, gorillas, hippopotamuses, chimpanzees, and wildebeest. About 25% of the world’s bird species reside in Africa.

4. *Fun Fact* Africa is literally the center of the world. It is the only continent through which the Equator, the Tropic of Capricorn and Cancer lines, and the Prime meridian run across.

5. Africans have the most genetically diverse DNA of any other group as a result of living in the varied environments of Africa and having had the most time over hundreds of thousands of years to develop genetic variation. This means that if there's any one group you can consider non-homogenous, it's Africans!


6. Africa is the birthplace of humanity and civilization. Scientists concur that humans originated somewhere in the southern/ eastern Africa region. We all have roots that can be traced back over 200,000 years to the first modern humans in Africa, and even further back over 4 million years to the earliest humans in Africa. Studies show that the DNA of humans today is over 90% similar, pointing to a common genetic link traced to an African woman.

7. Africa was home to some of the most incredible ancient black civilizations dating back to 3300 B.C. including Ancient Egypt, The Kingdom of Kush, Great Zimbabwe, the Songhai Empire, Mali Empire, Ghana Kingdom, Benin Empire, Zulu Kingdom, and more. These great African empires constructed cities and colossal monuments that are irreplicable and still baffle historians today. They were the pioneers of writing, astronomy, mathematics, medicine, architecture, the calendar, spirituality, the first tools and weapons, art and sculpture, agriculture, and more.

8. Africa has been the hub of the oldest knowledge and learning centers in the world. Students came from all over the world to study in Timbuktu, Mali, the oldest university in the world. By the 12th century, Timbuktu was already an intellectual hub! Egypt was another significant learning hub in the ancient world; Greek scholars have acknowledged in their early writings that their sources of knowledge came from the Nile Valley where they studied intensively. Hippocrates, often credited as “The Father of Medicine” credited Imhotep, the Egyptian healer and architect, as the original doctor from whom he learned. Similarly, Pythagoras, often credited with the “Pythagoras Theorem,” spent over 20 years studying mathematics in Egypt. The mathematical theorem attributed to Pythagoras was used to build the pyramids in Kemet at least 2000 years before Pythagoras was even born!

9. The inventive and resourceful nature of Africans is evident throughout history. C-sections and autopsies were routinely and safely carried out in pre-colonial Uganda, with the use of banana wine as an antiseptic and anaesthetic and hot irons to cauterize wounds. The Maasai people discovered how to suture blood vessels using ants. The Akan people in west Africa learned how to immunize themselves from smallpox in the 1700s and an enslaved African man shared this knowledge with his captor, who was then lauded for his “innovation.” In the west African city of Djenné, Mali, cataract surgery was a common practise long before it made its way to Europe. The world’s first heart transplant and successful penis transplant were conducted in South Africa. The list goes on…

10. Africans frequently sailed across the Atlantic to the Americas thousands of years before Columbus. Sailors from the Mali Empire made it to America almost 200 years before Columbus.

Assets & Resources

11. Africa has the world’s youngest population, and it is growing. Over 50% of Africans are under the age of 25, and the population is expected to double to 2.4 billion by 2050, which means Africa’s workforce will only be expanding in potential. The continent is also the fastest urbanizing region, with the number of Africans living in cities projected to reach 50% by 2030.

12. Africa is home to some of the world’s most breathtaking beaches, islands, and natural wonders. Turquoise waters and white sands edge along the island paradises and coastlines of the countries bordering the Atlantic and Indian oceans. The Serengeti in Tanzania boasts luxury bush camps and hosts the world’s largest wildlife migration with over a million wildebeest and other animals marching cross the incredible landscape. Africa is also home to countless touristic wonders:

  • the largest waterfall in the world, Victoria Falls, also known as “The Smoke that Thunders” at the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe

  • the highest free-standing mountain in the world, Mount Kilimanjaro

  • the Sphinx and the Pyramid of Giza, the last surviving wonder of the ancient world

  • hundreds of pyramids in Sudan dating back to the Kush Kingdom

  • the Great Mosque of Djenné, Mali, the largest mud built structure in the world

  • the longest river in the world, the Nile River, that flows across 10 countries

  • the second largest freshwater lake in the world, Lake Victoria, bordering three countries

  • the largest land mammals, the African elephant and the giraffe

  • the second largest rainforest, the Congo Rainforest

  • the 160-ft African Renaissance Monument in Senegal, and so much more.

13. Africa has about 30% of the earth’s remaining minerals. Its resources are heavily depended on outside the continent and indeed, many nations wouldn't be what they are today without Africa and African labour. The continent has some of the largest reserves of precious metals including over 40% of gold reserves, over 60% of cobalt, 50% of diamonds, 90% of platinum reserves, over 30% of the world’s tantalite/ coltan used in computer chips and electronic devices, and more.

14. Despite being among the world’s lowest carbon emitters, African countries are some of the worst affected by climate change. The continent has been leading the fight against environmental degradation with various initiatives including a large-scale project to restore the Sahara Desert, a concerted push towards renewable energy, and over 30 African countries banning the use of plastic bags in favour of paper and cloth bags.

15. Africa is the global leader in mobile money transactions. More than half of the world’s mobile money accounts are on the continent, used by over 10% of African adults compared to about 2% of mobile money usage outside the continent. In Kenya, over 90% of the population can conveniently send and receive money without requiring access to a traditional bank account.

So, there you have it. Which fact, if any, surprised you and why? Leave a comment below - I'd love to know. (Let's also have a moment of silence for that EPIC rhyme thank you very much).

Warmest regards,