Africa Is Not a Country and Other Things You Need to Know About the Continent

By Jason Woods

August 22, 2019

Africa Is Not a Country and Other Things You Need to Know About the Continent

In This Article

  • Stereotypes are all too common when it comes to the continent and people of Africa.
  • The truth is that Africa's 54 countries defy generalization.
  • The continent is home to countless unique cultures, languages and landscapes.
  • Defy the misconceptions you hear about this vibrant continent by learning more.

A lot of misconceptions surround Africa, partly because we most often hear about its struggles. But the continent is far more than the sum of its stereotypes. Here’s a basic primer.

  • The most important thing to know — and we know you know this, but it must be said —is that Africa is not a country. It’s a continent of 54 countries that are diverse culturally and geographically. 
  • It’s so diverse because Africa is really, really big — about as big as the combined landmasses of China, the United States, India, Japan and much of Europe.
  • According to studies that screen DNA markers in different populations, the African continent has the highest level of genetic diversity in the world. According to the researchers, this makes sense since it’s the starting point for the human race


Blyde River Canyon in South Africa. Photo by Lina Loos on Unsplash.
  • In rural Ghana, families working with Heifer International are using eggs and education as a cure for what ails them.
  • Africa might be the most multilingual continents.
  • Arabic is the most widely spoken language in Africa, but it’s also home to about 2,000 other languages. 
  • Nigeria and Cameroon are home to an unfathomable amount of languages, with more than 500 spoken in the former and 200 plus in the latter. In Nigeria, English is the official tongue, although Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo are more common as first languages. French, English and German have all been official languages in Cameroon, but if you visit the country, you might be just as likely to hear Fulfulde, Ewondo or Frananglais.
  • South Africa has 11 official languages, including Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans and English.
  • Islam is the dominant religion in Africa; Christianity is second. By 2050, some project that nearly 40 percent of all Christians will live in Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • When people think of Africa, they probably think of its savannas or the Sahara. While those ecosystems do make up three-fourths of the continent, Africa also contains mountain ranges, rainforests, wetlands, shrublands, coasts with coral reefs and barrier islands, and a set of great lakes, which include Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika.
At more than 17 million people, Lagos is the largest city in Nigeria. Photo by Chuks Ugwuh on Unsplash.
  • About 37 percent of Africans live in urban areas — but in the next 30 years, Africa is expected to be the world’s fastest urbanizing region.
  • The United Nations projects that Africa will be home to nearly 40 percent of the world’s population, comparable to Asia. The same report predicts that by 2100, half of the world’s most populous countries will be found in Africa. Right now, only Nigeria makes the list.
  • Although poverty is certainly an issue, many African economies are making rapid progress. African countries account for five or six spots on most “top 10 fastest growing economies” lists, with Ethiopia, Ghana and Ivory Coast leading the way for the continent.

For those of you who are more graphically inclined, we’ve also put together an Africa infographic.