A Vast Continent
Africa is the second largest of Earth’s seven continents, after Asia. It accounts for nearly one-quarter of the world’s land. In the northeast, Africa touches Asia in Egypt. In the northwest, Africa almost touches Europe in Morocco. More than 50 nations are found in Africa. They are home to some 800 million people.
Straddling the Equator
Africa is the only continent that truly straddles the equator, the imaginary line that encircles Earth around its middle. Much of Africa is hot and dry. Only central Africa has a tropical rainy season. Yet few areas of the world are as diverse as Africa.
The Mighty Nile
The longest river in the world, the Nile, empties into the Mediterranean in northeastern Africa. Ancient Egypt, one of the world’s first great civilizations, developed along the mighty Nile more than 5,000 years ago. Today, its magnificent pyramids still tower above the land.
The Sahara, the world’s largest desert, reaches across a vast swath of northern Africa. It stretches from the Atlantic Ocean in the west to the Red Sea in the east. In fact, the Sahara covers one-quarter of the entire continent. The Sahara is mainly hot, dry, and empty. But people have used teams of camels to carry goods across this giant desert since ancient times.
South of the Sahara is equatorial Africa, lying on either side of the equator. Here we find lush tropical rain forests and tropical grasslands called savannas. On Africa’s west coast are the trading ports of West Africa. These ports ship crops such as coffee, cotton, and cacao beans to the world.
The Congo River, Central Africa’s largest waterway, empties into the Atlantic Ocean near the equator. The Congo drains a vast basin in Central Africa that receives more rainfall than any other part of the continent. It carries more water than any river in the world except the Amazon River in South America.
Many Different People
The people of Africa may be the most diverse of all the continents. Africa’s 800 million people speak perhaps 2,000 or more languages. Thousands of distinct ethnic groups are found in Africa.
North of the Sahara, people are mainly of Arab origin. South of the Sahara, the people are mostly black Africans. Throughout Africa are scattered people of European ancestry, descendants of colonial settlers.
Most Africans live in rural communities. Many raise livestock or farm. Relatively few people live in cities. But Africa does have many big cities, and they are growing rapidly. They include Cairo, Egypt; Casablanca, Morocco; Lagos, Nigeria; and Cape Town, South Africa.
From the 1500s to the 1800s, millions of Africans were forcibly removed to North and South America to work as slaves. Their descendants are still prominent among the people of both of those continents.
Today, Africa faces many challenges. The majority of its people remain poor. Droughts are frequent in many areas, leading to terrible starvation. Wars within and between countries have killed millions of people and forced millions of others to leave their homes and live elsewhere as refugees.
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Despite these troubles, Africa remains a magnificent place. Perhaps no other part of Earth is as varied in its geography, wildlife, and people.
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