The world’s second-largest continent
The continent of Africa is surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, both the Suez Canal and the Red Sea along the Sinai Peninsula to the northeast, the Indian Ocean to the southeast, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. The continent also includes Madagascar and various archipelagos.
Africa, particularly central Eastern Africa, is widely accepted as the origin of humans and the Hominidae clade (great apes), as evidenced by the discovery of the earliest hominids and their ancestors, as well as later ones that have been dated to around seven million years ago
Africa straddles the equator and encompasses numerous climate areas; it is the only continent to stretch from the northern temperate to southern temperate zones.
The domestication of cattle in Africa preceded agriculture and seems to have existed along with hunter-gatherer cultures. It is speculated that by 6000 BC, cattle were already domesticated in North Africa. In the Sahara-Nile complex, people domesticated many animals, including the donkey and a small screw-horned goat which was common from Algeria to Nubia. As the climate became drier lakes and rivers to shrink significantly. This, in turn, helped to cause migrations of farming communities to the more tropical climate of West Africa.
By the first millennium BC, iron working had been introduced in Northern Africa and quickly spread By 500 BC, metalworking began to become commonplace in West Africa. Copper objects from Egypt, North Africa, Nubia and Ethiopia dating from around 500 BC have been excavated in West Africa, suggesting that trans-Saharan trade networks had been established by this date. At about 3300 BC, the historical record opens in Northern Africa with the rise of literacy in the Pharaonic civilization of Ancient Egypt, one of the world’s earliest and longest-lasting civilizations.
European exploration of Africa began with Ancient Greeks and Romans. In 332 BC, Alexander the Great was welcomed as a liberator in Persian-occupied Egypt. He founded Alexandria in Egypt, which would become the prosperous capital of the Ptolemaic dynasty after his death.
In the early 7th century, the newly formed Arabian Islamic Caliphate expanded into Egypt, and then into North Africa. When the Umayyad capital Damascus fell in the 8th century, the Islamic center of the Mediterranean shifted from Syria to Qayrawan in North Africa.
Pre-colonial Africa possessed perhaps as many as 10,000 different states and polities characterized by several different sorts of political organizations and rule. These included small family groups of hunter-gatherers and larger, more structured groups as well.
By the 9th century, a string of dynastic states, including the earliest Hausa states, stretched across the sub-Saharan savannah from the western regions to central Sudan. In the forested regions of the West African coast, independent kingdoms grew up with little influence from the Muslim north.
The Ife, historically the first of these Yoruba city-states or kingdoms, established government under a priestly oba (‘king’ or ‘ruler’ in the Yoruba language), called the Ooni of Ife. Ife was noted as a major religious and cultural centre in Africa, and for its unique naturalistic tradition of bronze sculpture.
The Almoravids were a Berber dynasty from the Sahara that spread over a wide area of northwestern Africa and the Iberian peninsula during the 11th century. The Banu Hilal and Banu Ma’qil were a collection of Arab Bedouin tribes from the Arabian peninsula who migrated westwards via Egypt between the 11th and 13th centuries.
Following the breakup of Mali, a local leader named Sonni Ali (1464–1492) founded the Songhai Empire in the region of middle Niger and the western Sudan and took control of the trans-Saharan trade. Sonni Ali seized Timbuktu in 1468 and Jenne in 1473, building his regime on trade revenues and the cooperation of Muslim merchants. His successor Askia Mohammad I (1493–1528) made Islam the official religion.
Slavery had long been practiced in Africa. Between the 7th and 20th centuries, Arab slave trade (also known as slavery in the East) took 18 million slaves from Africa via trans-Saharan and Indian Ocean routes. Between the 15th and the 19th centuries (500 years), the Atlantic slave trade took an estimated 7–12 million slaves to the New World.
In West Africa, the decline of the Atlantic slave trade in the 1820s caused dramatic economic shifts in local polities. The gradual decline of slave-trading, prompted by a lack of demand for slaves in the New World, increasing anti-slavery legislation in Europe and America, and the British Royal Navy’s increasing presence off the West African coast, obliged African states to adopt new economies developing “legitimate commerce” in the form of palm oil, cocoa, timber and gold, forming the bedrock of West Africa’s modern export trade. The Oyo Empire, unable to adapt, collapsed into civil wars.
In the late 19th century, the European imperial powers engaged in a major territorial scramble and occupied most of the continent, creating many colonial territories, and leaving only two fully independent states: Ethiopia (known to Europeans as “Abyssinia”), and Liberia. Egypt and Sudan were never formally incorporated into any European colonial empire; however, after the British occupation of 1882, Egypt was effectively under British administration until 1922.
The Berlin Conference held in 1884–85 was an important event in the political future of African ethnic groups. It was convened by King Leopold II of Belgium, and attended by the European powers that laid claim to African territories. It sought to bring an end to the Scramble for Africa by European powers by agreeing on political division and spheres of influence. They set up the political divisions of the continent, by spheres of interest, that exist in Africa today.
Imperial rule by Europeans would continue until after the conclusion of World War II, when almost all remaining colonial territories gradually obtained formal independence. Independence movements in Africa gained momentum following World War II, which left the major European powers weakened.
Portugal’s overseas presence in Sub-Saharan Africa (most notably in Angola, Cape Verde, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau and São Tomé and Príncipe) lasted from the 16th century to 1975, after the Estado Novo regime was overthrown in a military coup in Lisbon. Rhodesia unilaterally declared independence from the United Kingdom in 1965, under the white minority government of Ian Smith, but was not internationally recognised as an independent state (as Zimbabwe) until 1980. Although South Africa was one of the first African countries to gain independence, the state remained under the control of the country’s white minority through a system of racial segregation known as apartheid until 1994.
Today, Africa contains 54 sovereign countries, most of which have borders that were drawn during the era of European colonialism. Since colonialism, African states have frequently been hampered by instability, corruption, violence, and authoritarianism. The vast majority of African states are republics that operate under some form of the presidential system of rule. However, few of them have been able to sustain democratic governments on a permanent basis, and many have instead cycled through a series of coups, producing military dictatorships.
In the 21st century the number of armed conflicts in Africa has steadily declined. This has coincided with many countries abandoning communist style command economies and opening up for market reforms. The improved stability and economic reforms have led to a great increase in foreign investment into many African nations which has spurred quick economic growth in many countries. A significant part of this growth can also be attributed to the facilitated diffusion of information technologies.
Other places and informational links for Africa:
The climate of Africa ranges from primarily desert or arid in the northern half to savanna plains and very dense jungle (rainforest) regions in its central and southern areas. Africa is the hottest continent on earth; dry lands and deserts comprise 60% of the entire land surface.
Regions of Africa:
|West Africa||North Africa||Central Africa||East Africa||Southern Africa||Dependencies|
Central African Republic
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Republic of the Congo
São Tomé and Príncipe
British Indian Ocean Territory (UK)
St. Helena (UK)
Canary Islands (Spain)
Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic