Africa is so often labelled “the forgotten continent”, simply because people just don’t know much about it, and it is so often ignored in western media, which tends to feeds this cycle. The misconceptions people have about certain African nations are also completely removed from the reality: For example, many people still imagine Ethiopia as being a place of drought, famine and civil war, because of the widely reported famines it suffered in the ‘90s due to the Communist insurgency. But this could not be further from the truth: Indeed, most of the country is actually mainly comprised of a lush, green mountainous topography, and the country has been a role-model throughout Africa for its consistent economic growth throughout the past decade. Hopefully then, these maps will show you just how many surprises the so-called “Forgotten Continent” brings up. And hopefully many misconceptions about this massive, culturally, and geographically diverse continent will be swept away. After all, with the fastest growing population in the world and one of the fastest-growing economies, you can expect Africa to step more and more into the limelight in the next few years. More and more people are finally taking notice of what this magnificent continent and its people have – and will – continue to offer the world into the future. Here are a collection of facts and fascinating maps of Africa that you may find may completely challenge your preconceptions about Africa.
The Mercator map is the map we find in schools, in Atlas’, in media, and even on satellite images from google map. The trouble is that the Mercator map was created in 1596 to help explorers and traders navigate the world, but it does this by distorting sizes of countries so that wealthier countries look much larger than they are in the north. For example, Greenland looks absolutely massive on these standard maps – about the same size of Africa as it happens – but in reality, as we can see in the map below, it is only about the size of the Democratic Republic of Congo. There is no doubt that the Mercator Map has been one major factor that has warped many people’s perceptions of Africa in terms of its size, and indeed its potential influence on the rest of the world too.
As you can see, Africa has by far the largest amount of natural resources, precious gems and minerals in the world, but until fairly recently, it has failed to capitalise on this mineral wealth so all African’s can benefit from it due internal conflicts, the hangover from colonial times and a slowly developing infrastructure. However, now it is finally capitalising on resources such that are in high demand, such as oil used in petroleum products, the continent is finally starting to benefit. Diamonds are of course synonymous with Africa, and recent attempts to regulate the industry due to the ‘blood diamond’ scandals have met with great success, making African diamonds a hot commodity once again due to the industry becoming much more ethical. With the world financial markets still in very uneasy times, gold stocks in lieu of currency has again become a valued commodity, and countries such as South Africa, Tanzania and Sudan have benefited from this. And of course, African coffee is now making a real name for itself on the global scene: Nations like Madagascar and especially Ethiopia are now considered by coffee experts two of the greatest coffee producers in the world.
Much of the Saharan African nation’s flags have one thing in common: The crescent moon of Islam. This is because these nations are predominantly Islamic in religion and much more Arabic in culture than sub-Saharan Africa. The Crescent moon’s origins actually lie more in Central Asia, as symbols representing Babylonian gods and goddesses, but Islam eventually adopted it when the Ottoman Empire conquered Istanbul in 1453 and adopted the city’s existing flag, which just so happened to be this popular crescent moon symbol. Head further south, however, and things become a lot more varied: Ethiopia’s flag was adopted in 1991 to mark the end of a 20-year civil war, with the centre star with a blue background representing peace and prosperity as well as diversity and unity. Angola’s flag – on the other hand – looks a lot more menacing and the red and black background colours represent the bloodshed of the people in their battle for independence, whilst the central machete with a yellow star and a mechanical gear all represent the peasantry, industrial working-class struggle, and socialism: A bit of a throwback to Soviet times! But Mozambique perhaps goes one further: Their flag is only one of two in the world to feature a gun on the national flag! In this case, it is the iconic AK-47, and it represents vigilance and defense, whilst the star behind it also represents Socialism. But for something a little more cultural and definitive, Kenya’s flag is dominated by traditional Maasai shields and spears in the centre, which symbolises the defence of the country’s natural beauty and the people of Kenya.
The predominant religions in Africa are Islam, Christianity, and the traditional indigenous religions of Africa. The traditional indigenous religious practices and beliefs however, are often to be found mixed with Christian and Islamic beliefs, because the traditional beliefs have always been highly adaptable. As you can see from this map, “folk religions” are still far from being dead. In fact, in part due to the slave trade, these African ‘folk’ beliefs adapted and changed into their own religions in their own right: Vodun in Haiti, Santeria in Cuba and Candomble in Brazil. Hinduism is also found across Africa, despite Mauritius being the only African Union nation to be the only nation where it is the largest religion. Large pockets of Hindus can be found in South Africa, where 500,000 are though to be loving (because many labourers were sent during colonial times from India), whilst in more modern times Hinduism is claimed by some to be the fastest-growing religion in Ghana, mainly due to economic migrant expats and their families moving there permanently. Many smaller pockets exist throughout India, including 100,000 in DR Congo, as well as Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya. So although the continent is definitively ‘split’ between the two dominant religions, with Islam tending to dominate Saharan Africa, and Christianity the Sub-Saharan south, things are not as clear cut as this. Traditional beliefs intermingle, and minority religions such as Hinduism still play a massive role in the culture and food of countries across the continent.
There are thought to be from 2-3000 different languages spoken in Africa today. This is likely to be the most out of any continent of the world, or at least on par with Asia’s estimated 2100 different languages. Either way, it is the most multi-lingual continent in the world, by far. The easiest way to break these down is into the four major language trees that are indigenous to Africa, and the one’s that were adopted after the colonial era as official languages by nations. The four major indigenous language trees are widely accepted to be the following:
Afro-Asiatic languages: This has about 240 languages and 285 million speakers.
Nilo-Saharan languages: With more than 100 languages with 30 million speakers.
Niger-Congo languages: Thought to be the largest language tree in the world, and the biggest by far in Africa.
Khosian Languages: Spoken in Southern Africa, with different 50 languages, but by only 120,000 people today.
The other two major trees were bought from outside Africa:
Austronesian: Bought to Madagascar around 100BC by people migrating (via canoes) from the Indonesian/Australian region.
Indo-European Languages: These include the languages bought to Africa but colonial powers, and also ones that morphed into languages such as Afrikaans.
The colonial languages added to this melting pot of languages and became official languages of most nations when they achieved independence from colonial powers. However, more and more indigenous languages are added even today to the official language list of many nations throughout Africa, which has Africa the most multi-lingual continent on Earth, with so many people speaking multiple languages in daily life.
When people think of Africa, they often think of the images they’ve seen on BBC’s Africa, or Micahel Palin’s Sahara TV documentaries: Endless deserts, savannah plains and perhaps the rainforests of the interior, with the endangered mountain gorillas. And for the most part, they’d be right: Africa is indeed dominated by the arid Sahara to the north, and what is often termed Sub-Saharan Africa to the south.
However, not many people seem to realise it snows in some parts of Africa, and in four countries (two being in the Saharan region) you can actually go skiing! Nor would many realise that the mountains scattered across the continent are higher than anything you can find in Europe or even the Caucasus mountains that mark the border between Russia and Georgia. Algeria and Morocco have 5 ski resorts between them, and South Africa and Lesotho both have one a piece too. Mount Kilimanjaro – the highest mountain in Africa – stands at 5895 metres (beating the highest mountain Europe, Mount Elbrus, which is 5,642 metres), while Mount Kenya (5199 metres), Mount Toubkal (4,167 metres) and Mount Cameroon (4095 metres) can compete with any of the largest mountains you can find in the Alps.
Lake Victoria is the third-largest in the world (and largest in Africa), with 68,870km2 of surface water. In terms of depth, Lake Tanganyika is second in the world, at 1,470 metres. It is also the longest freshwater lake in the world (spanning Burundi, Tanzania, Zambia and DR Congo) at 676km, behind only the Caspian Sea, which is often discounted due to it containing an oceanic basin (and therefore not a true freshwater lake). In terms of rivers, the Nile (6,853km) is only just second to the Amazon River (6,9992km) in the world. The Congo river takes the 6th spot at 4,700km, whilst the Niger River comes in at 10th in the world at 4,180km in length. Altogether, Africa has the highest volume of wetlands, large lakes, reservoirs and river systems in the world, with 31,776km3.
At 3.9 millionkm2, the Congo Rainforest is the second-largest rainforest in the world, only behind the Amazon. Sadly, however, much of its rich biodiversity is both under threat and undiscovered due to the continuing internal conflicts in the region and the clearance of the rainforest for mining.