Considered the birthplace of civilization based on the large numbers of human-like fossils found there, some dating 3.5 million years, Africa is a fascinating continent. Among many impressive geographical features, two stand out – the Nile River System and the Sahara Desert. The Nile is a north flowing river considered the world’s longest (6,650 km or 4,130 miles). Its major tributaries are the White Nile and the Blue Nile. The Nile ends in a large delta that flows into the Mediterranean sea.
The world’s hottest desert, the Sahara is the largest desert after Antarctica and the Arctic. Occupying almost one-third of the continent, the Sahara is almost as large as China (9,065,000 sq. km or 3,500,000 sq. miles). It ranges in elevation from 100 ft. below sea level, to peaks in the Ahaggar and the Tibesti Mountains, that exceed 3,350m or 11,000 ft. Regional deserts include the Libyan, Nubian and the Western desert of Egypt, just to the west of the Nile. The Sahara is almost completely without rainfall. A few underground rivers flowing from the Atlas Mountains contribute to irrigate isolated oases. The waters of the Nile help to fertilize small parts of the landscape to the east.
At 30.4 million of square kilometers (11,737,505 square miles), Africa is huge, yet on a world map, it would seem that it is not larger than Greenland (836,300 sq. miles or 2,166,007 sq. kilometers). Actually, Greenland would fit into the map of Africa multiple times. In fact, Africa is large enough to fit China, India, the contiguous U.S. and most of Europe, as you can see is the map to the left created by Scientific American to show how large the continent really is. It turns out that on a computer screen, continents and countries below the Equator appear smaller than they are, while the opposite is true of those above the Equator. This is because, to display a spherical surface on a computer screen, it has to be deformed. The map on the right shows the proper size ratio of Africa to Greenland, which is 14:1.
With 1500 – 2000 languages, Africa is rich in linguistic diversity. Of the ten most spoken languages in Africa, English is the first. It is the primary language of Botswana, Cameroon, It has official status in South Africa, along with 10 other languages.
Arabic – with approximately 100 million speakers is the second. It is the official language of Algeria, Mauritania, Libya, Tunisia and Egypt and the co-official language of Morocco, Eritrea, Somalia, Chad, Sudan, Djibouti and Western Sahara. Arabic is the most widespread official language in the African continent.
Swahili (or Kiswahili) – with more than 100 million speakers is the third. A Bantu language and the mother tongue of the Swahili people, it is the official language of Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. Many communities in Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Mozambique, Burundi and Democratic Republic of Congo speak Swahili.
French is fourth. As the map below shows, France had many colonies in Africa and thus more than 90 million people in Africa speak French. In nations like Morocco, Algeria, Senegal and Rwanda, French is used commonly in society.
Hausa – with more than 50 million speakers in Western, Northern and Central Africa is fifth. Belonging to the West Chadic languages subgroup of the Chadic languages group, Hausa is part of the Afro-Asiatic language family. It has between 23 and 25 consonant phonemes.
Oromo is sixth. Spoken by people in the Horn of Africa, Oromo is a Cushitic language. It is not the official language of any particular nation, but it is spoken by 30 million people in Ethiopia, Somalia, Egypt and Kenya.
Yoruba is seventh, with more than 30 million speakers. A varying tonal language written in mostly Latin characters, Yoruba is widely used in Togo and Benin.
Igbo – with 24 million speakers and 20 dialects is eighth. This tonal language written in Latin characters is the native language of the Igbo people.
Amharic – the second most spoken Semitic language in the world after Arabic is ninth. It is the official working language of Ethiopia and of 2.7 million emigrants. More than 18.7 million people in Africa speak Amharic.
Zulu – with more than 10 million speakers is tenth. It is spoken in the Eastern South Africa and widely used in South African media. Ethnologue ranks Zulu the second most spoken Bantu language after Shoma. It is written in Latin letters and characterized by its tongue clicks.
The countries and languages of Africa
There are 54 countries in the continent of Africa: Algeria, Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Republic of Congo, Rwanda, São Tomé and Príncipe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Please refer to the PDF files below for a list of these countries with their flags and associated languages.African Countries2
A map of Africa