The African continent is a land of superlatives. Here, you'll find the world's tallest free-standing mountain, the world's longest river, and the largest terrestrial animal on Earth. It's also a place of incredible diversity, not only in terms of its many different habitats but in terms of its people. Human history is thought to have started in Africa, with sites like Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania contributing to our understanding of our earliest ancestors. Today, the continent is home to rural tribes whose customs have remained unchanged for thousands of years; as well as some of the fastest developing cities on the planet. In this article, we look at a few facts and statistics that show just how incredible Africa really is.
Facts About African Geography
Number of Countries
There are 54 internationally recognized countries in Africa, in addition to the disputed territories of Somaliland and Western Sahara. The largest African country in terms of area is Algeria, while the smallest is the island nation of the Seychelles.
The tallest mountain in Africa is Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. With a total height of 19,341 feet/5,895 meters, it's also the highest free-standing mountain in the world. It is capped by a year-round glacier and can be climbed by anyone of reasonable fitness.
The lowest point on the African continent is Lake Assal, located in the Afar Triangle in Djibouti. It lies 509 feet/155 meters below sea level, and is the third-lowest point on Earth (behind the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee).
The Sahara Desert is the largest desert in Africa, and the largest hot desert on the planet. It spreads across a vast area of approximately 3.6 million square miles/9.2 million square kilometers, making it comparable in size to China.
The Nile is the longest river in Africa, and the longest river in the world. It runs for 4,258 miles/6,853 kilometers through 11 countries, including Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Rwanda. It is made up of two major tributaries: the Blue Nile and the White Nile.
Africa's largest lake is Lake Victoria, which borders Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya. It has a surface area of 26,600 square miles/68,800 square kilometers, and is also the world's largest tropical lake and the world's second-largest freshwater lake by surface area.
Also known as The Smoke That Thunders, Africa's largest waterfall is Victoria Falls. Located on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, the waterfall measures 5,604 feet/1,708 meters wide and 354 feet/108 meters tall. It is the largest sheet of falling water in the world.
The tallest waterfall in Africa is Tugela Falls, located in South Africa's Drakensberg Mountains. It is made up of five individual free-leaping falls; and with an official combined height of 3,110 feet/948 meters, it is also the second-tallest waterfall in the world.
The Fish River Canyon in southern Namibia measures approximately 100 miles/160 kilometers in length and up to 17 miles/27 kilometers in width. In places, it is up to 1,805 feet/550 meters deep. It is the second-largest canyon in the world after America's Grand Canyon.
Facts About Africa's People
Number of Ethnic Groups
It is thought that there are more than 3,000 ethnic groups in Africa. The most populous include the Luba and the Mongo in Central Africa; the Berbers in North Africa; the Shona and the Zulu in Southern Africa; and the Yoruba and Igbo in West Africa.
Oldest African Tribe
The San people are the oldest tribe in Africa, and the direct descendants of the first Homo sapiens. They have lived in Southern African countries like Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, and Angola for over 20,000 years.
Number of Languages
The total number of indigenous languages spoken in Africa is estimated to be between 1,500 and 2,000. Nigeria alone has over 520 different languages; although the country with the most official languages is Zimbabwe, with 16.
Most Populated Country
Nigeria is the most populous African country (and the seventh-most populous in the world), providing a home for over 200 million people. Nigerians account for roughly 17% of the continent's entire population. Africa's most populous city, Lagos, is also in Nigeria.
Least Populated Country
The Seychelles has the lowest population of any country in Africa with around 97,800 people, 25% of which live in the capital, Victoria. However, Namibia is the least densely populated African country with large areas of desert making much of the country uninhabitable.
Most Popular Religion
Christianity is the most popular religion in Africa. It is estimated that by 2025, there will be approximately 633 million Christians in Africa. Islam runs a close second: a quarter of the world's Muslims live in Africa, and it is the most prevalent religion north of the Sahara Desert.
Facts About African Animals
The largest mammal in Africa is the African bush elephant. The biggest specimen on record tipped the scales at 11.5 tons and measured 13 feet/4 meters in height. This subspecies is also the largest and heaviest land animal on Earth, beaten in size only by the blue whale.
The Etruscan pygmy shrew is the smallest mammal in Africa, measuring 1.6 inches/4 centimeters in length and weighing in at just 0.06 ounces/1.8 grams. It's also the world's smallest mammal by mass. Etruscan pygmy shrews are found in North Africa.
The common ostrich is the largest bird on the planet. It can reach a maximum height of 8.5 feet/2.6 meters and may weigh up to 297 lbs/135 kilograms. The largest (and heaviest) flying bird in Africa is the kori bustard, with a maximum weight of up to 40 lb/20 kg.
Africa's smallest bird is thought to be the Cape penduline tit, a tiny passerine species with an average weight of 0.2 ounces/7 grams. The Cape penduline tit grows up to 3.1 inches/8 centimeters in length and favors the dry savannah and shrubland habitats of Southern Africa.
The fastest land animal on Earth, the cheetah, can achieve short bursts of up to 112 kilometers per hour/70 miles per hour. It is supremely adapted for speed with a thin, light build. Enlarged heart, lungs, and nasal passages allow its blood to be rapidly replenished with oxygen.
Another world record-holder, the giraffe is the tallest animal both in Africa and worldwide. Males are taller than females, with the tallest giraffe on record reaching 19.3 feet/5.88 meters. Special veins and blood vessels in the neck work against gravity to push blood up to the brain.
The hippo is the deadliest large animal in Africa, although it pales in comparison to man himself. However, the single biggest killer is the mosquito, with malaria alone claiming 435,000 lives worldwide in 2017, 93% of them in Africa.