10 Facts About Africa

Sahara Desert
The sands of the Sahara Desert are shown in this photo from Algeria. Digital Vision/Getty Images

Africa is an amazing continent. From its start as the heart of humanity, it is now home to more than a billion people. It has jungles and desert and even a glacier. It extends into all four hemispheres. It is a place of superlatives. Find out more from these 10 essential facts about the continent:

1) The East African Rift zone, which divides the Somalian and Nubian tectonic plates, is the location of several important discoveries of human ancestors by anthropologists. The active spreading rift valley is thought to be the heartland of humanity, where much human evolution likely took place millions of years ago. The discovery of the partial skeleton of "Lucy" in 1974 in Ethiopia sparked major research in the region.

2) If you divide the planet into seven continents, then Africa is the world's second largest continent, covering about 11,677,239 square miles (30,244,049 square km).

3) Africa is located to the south of Europe and southwest of Asia. It is connected to Asia via the Sinai Peninsula in northeastern Egypt. The peninsula itself is usually considered part of Asia, with the Suez Canal and the Gulf of Suez as the dividing line between Asia and Africa. African countries are usually divided into two world regions. The countries of northern Africa, bordering the Mediterranean Sea, are usually considered part of a region called North Africa and the Middle East, while countries south of the northernmost countries of Africa are usually considered part of the region called Sub-Saharan Africa. In the Gulf of Guinea off the coast of western Africa lies the intersection of the equator and the Prime Meridian. As the Prime Meridian is an artificial line, this point has no true significance.

4) Africa is also the second most populous continent on Earth, with about 1.256 billion people (2017). Africa's population is growing faster than Asia's population (4.5 billion), but Africa will not catch up to Asia's population in the foreseeable future. For an example of Africa's growth, Nigeria, currently, the world's seventh most populous country on Earth, is expected to become the third most populous country by 2050. Africa is expected to grow to 2.5 billion people by 2050. Nine of the 10 highest total fertility rates on Earth are African countries, with Niger topping the list (6.49 births per woman as of 2017).

5) In addition to its high population growth rate, Africa also has the world's lowest life expectancies. The average life expectancy for citizens of Africa is 61 years for males and 64 years for females, though it's a little lower in some regions of Africa and higher in northern Africa (closer to the global average). The continent is home to the world's highest rates of HIV/AIDS; more than two-thirds of all people infected are in Africa. Better treatment for HIV/AIDS is directly related to average life expectancy rising back to 1990 levels in southern Africa by 2020.

6) With the possible exceptions of Ethiopia and Liberia, all of Africa was colonized by non-African countries. The United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Germany, and Portugal all claimed to rule parts of Africa without the consent of the local population. In 1884–1885 the Berlin Conference was held among these powers to divide up the continent among the non-African powers. Over the following decades, and especially after World War II, African countries gradually regained their independence with the borders as established by the colonial powers. These borders, established without regard to local cultures, have caused numerous problems in Africa. Today, only a few islands and a very small territory on the Moroccan coast (which belongs to Spain) remain as territories of non-African countries.

7) With 196 independent countries on Earth, Africa is home to more than a quarter of these countries. There are 54 fully independent countries on mainland Africa and its surrounding islands. All 54 countries are members of the United Nations. Every country is a member of the African Union, including Morocco, which rejoined in 2017.

8) Africa is fairly non-urbanized. Only 43 percent of Africa's population lives in urban areas. Africa is home to only a few megacities with a population greater than 10 million: Cairo, Egypt; Lagos, Nigeria; and Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Cairo and Lagos urban areas are around 20 million, and Kinshasa has about 13 million residents.

9) Mt. Kilimanjaro is the highest point in Africa. Located in Tanzania near the Kenyan border, this dormant volcano rises to an elevation of 19,341 feet (5,895 meters). Mt. Kilimanjaro is the location of Africa's only glacier, although scientists predict that the ice on the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro will disappear by the 2030s due to global warming.

10) While the Sahara Desert is not the largest nor the driest desert on Earth, it is the most notable. The desert covers about 25 percent of the land of Africa.