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 as well. 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 officially 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.
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.
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.
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.
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, providing a home for approximately 181.5 million people.
Least Populated Country:
Most Popular Religion:
Christianity is the most popular religion in Africa, with Islam running a close second. It is estimated that by 2025, there will be approximately 633 million Christians living in Africa.
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 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 oz/ 1.8 grams. It's also the world's smallest mammal by mass.
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 fastest land animal on Earth, the cheetah can achieve short bursts of incredible speed; allegedly as fast as 112 kmph/ 70 mph.
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.
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 438,000 lives worldwide in 2015, 90% of them in Africa.