AFRICA IN BRIEF
Africa is the world’s second-largest and second-most-populous continent.
At about 30.3 million km2 (11.7 million square miles) including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of Earth’s total surface area and 20.4% of its total land area. With 1.2 billion people as of 2016, it accounts for about 16% of the world’s human population. The continent is surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, both the Suez Canal and the Red Sea along Sinai Peninsula to the northeast, the Indian Ocean to the southeast, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. The continent includes Madagascar and various archipelagos. It contains 54 fully recognized sovereign states (countries), nine territories and two de facto independent states with limited or no recognition.
A frica’s population is the youngest amongst all the continents; the median age in 2012 was 19.7, when the worldwide median age was 30.4. Algeria is Africa’s largest country by area, and Nigeria by population.
Africa straddles the equator and encompasses numerous climate areas; it is the only continent to stretch from the northern temperate to southern temperate zones.
A frica hosts a large diversity of ethnicities, cultures and languages. In the late 19th century European countries colonized most of Africa. Africa also varies greatly with regard to environments. Economics, historical ties and government systems. However, most present states in Africa originate from a process of decolonization in the 20th century.
Africa was a Latin name to refer to the inhabitants of Africa, which in its widest sense referred to all lands south of the Mediterranean (Ancient Libya). This name seems to have originally referred to a native Libyan tribe. The name is usually connected with Hebrew or Phoenician ‘afar ‘dust’, but a 1981 hypothesis has asserted that it stems from the Berber ifri (plural ifran) “cave”, in reference to cave dwellers. The same word may be found in the name of the Banu Ifran from Algeria and Tripolitania, a Berber tribe originally from Yafran (also known as Ifrane) in north-western Libya.
Under Roman rule, Carthage became the capital of the province of Africa Proconsularies, which also included the coastal part of modern Libya. The Latin suffix – ica can sometimes be used to denote a land (e.g., in Celtica from Celtae, as used by Julius Caesar).
The later Muslim kingdom of Ifriqiya, modern-day Tunisia, also preserved a form of the name. According to the Romans, Africa lay to the west of Egypt, while “Asia” was used to refer to Anatolia and lands to the east. A definite line was drawn between the two continents by the geographer Ptolemy (85-165 AD), indicating Alexandria along the Prime Meridian and making the istmus of Suez and the Red Sea the boundary between Asia and Africa. As Europeans came to understand the real extent of the continent, the idea of “Africa” expanded with their knowledge.
Africa is considered by most paleoanthropologists to be the oldest inhabited territory on Earth, with the human species originating from the continent. During the mid-20th century, anthropologists discovered many fossils and evidence of human occupation perhaps as early 7 million years ago (BP = before present).
Other etymological hypotheses have been postulated for the ancient name “Africa”.
After the evolution of Homo sapiens approximately 150,000 to 100,000 years BP in Africa, the continent was mainly populated by groups of hunter-gatherers. These first modern humans left Africa and populated the rest of the globe during the Out of Africa II migration dated to approximately 50,000 years BP, exiting the continent either across Bab-el-Mandeb over the Red Sea, the Strait of Gibraltar in Morocco, or the Isthmus of Suez in Egypt.
O ther migrations of modern humans within the African continent have been dated to that time, with evidence of early human settlement found in Southern Africa, Southeast Africa, North Africa, and the Sahara. The domestication of cattle in Africa preceded agriculture and seems to have existed alongside hunter-gatherer cultures. It is speculated that by 6000 BC, cattle were 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.
A round 4000 BC, the Saharan climate started to become drier at an exceedingly fast pace. This climate change caused lakes and rivers to shrink significantly and caused increasing desertification. This, in turn, decreased the amount of land conducive to settlements and helped to cause migrations of farming communities to the more tropical climate of West Africa. By the first millennium BC, ironworking had been introduced in Northern Africa and quickly spread across the Sahara into the northern parts of sub-Saharan Africa, and by 500 BC, metalworking began to become commonplace in West Africa. Ironworking was fully established by roughly other regions didn’t begin ironworking until the early centuries AD. Copper objects from Egypt, North Africa, Nubia, and Ethiopia dating from around 500BC have been excavated in West Africa, suggesting that Trans-Saharan trade networks had been established by this date.
I t about 3300 BC, the historical record opens in Northern African with the rise of literacy in the Pharaonic civilization of Ancient Egypt. One of the world’s earliest and longest-lasting civilizations, the Egyptian state continued, with varying levels of influence over other areas, until 343 BC. Egyptian influence reached deep into modern-day Libya and Nubia, and according to Martin Bernal, as far north as Crete. An independent centre of civilization with trading links to Phoenicia was established by Phoenicians from Tyre on the north-west African coast at Carthage. 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.
F ollowing the conquest of North Africa’s Mediterranean coastline by the Roman Empire, the area was integrated economically and culturally in modern Tunisia and elsewhere along the coast. The first Roman emperor native to North Africa was Septimius Severus, born in Leptis Magna in present-day Libya- his mother was Italian Roman and his father was Punic. Christianity spread across these areas at an early date, from Judaea via Egypt and beyond the borders of the Roman world into Nubia; by AD 340 at the latest, it had become the state religion of the Aksumite Empire. Syro-Greek missionaries, who arrived by way of the Red Sea, were responsible for this theological development.