Africa is the third largest continent on Earth, after Asia and America. It has a population of more than one billion residents. It has an incredible cultural and environmental diversity. Historical and natural heritage. Recognized as the birthplace of Homo sapiens. Four-fifths of African territory is between the tropics of Capricorn and Cancer. Ecuador cuts Africa almost in half. It is the warmest of the continents and is home to the Sahara, the largest desert on the planet.
About 15 percent of the world’s population lives in Africa, distributed on slightly more than 20 percent of the world’s land area. In terms of population, Africa is the second largest continent, after Asia. It exhibits many features characteristic of the world’s developing regions. High birth rates combined with declining death rates have led to rapid population growth, and the average age is low (41 percent of Africa’s residents are under 15). Natural population growth in 2019 was 2.5 percent, which is the highest for any continent. However, variations in birth and death rates are large within the continent. The highest birth rates occur in western and central Africa, which also has the highest growth rates.
Africa is a sparsely populated continent, with an average of 40 inhabitants per km2, a figure that should be seen in relation to the continent’s ecological sustainability. However, population density varies widely from country to country and from region to region within one and the same country. The settlement pattern is often closely related to topographical conditions and associated precipitation conditions. The Sahara and Kalahari deserts and the drier savannah areas are virtually uninhabited, while Kilimanjaro’s slopes in Tanzania and the highlands of Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi exhibit high population concentrations.
West and East Africa have the highest population density with 55 and 54 inhabitants per km 2 respectively. Sparsely populated are northern and southern Africa (28 and 23 inhabitants per km 2, respectively), sparsest central Africa (21 inhabitants per km 2). The most densely populated areas are the coastal areas of North Africa between Tunisia and Morocco, around the lower reaches of the Nile and in the Nile Delta in Egypt, the coast of West Africa, the coast of East Africa from Kenya to South Africa, the highlands of Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and the Burundi Islands, as well as the areas Lake Malawi. The population density in these areas exceeds 200 inhabitants per km 2 and can be very high locally; along the Nile it can reach 1,000 inhabitants per km 2.
The urbanization rate amounts to about 43 percent, the lowest value for any continent. However, the growth of the urban sector is rapid and is expected to amount to about 7 percent per year.
To a certain extent, Africa’s cultural areas and traditional livelihood systems coincide with its language areas. Plow farming is found in the area of Afro-Asian languages in North Africa, the Nile Valley and the Ethiopian Highlands. Nomadizing livestock management is the main source of livelihood for the peoples of the dry ecological zones in the same areas as well as for the nilotic peoples. Subtropical chopping, based on African cereals (millet, sorghum), in combination with small-scale livestock management, is found on the savannas north, south and east of Central Africa’s tropical belt. Tropical hacking, based on root vegetables (jams, cassava, taro, sweet potatoes) and vegetables, is found in the forest area around the equator, west of the East African highlands. The tropical hacking, which is managed by women, is combined with the keeping of small livestock (goats, pigs, chickens) and to some extent with fishing, hunting and gathering. Hunting and gathering without food production is the supply system that is still used today by remnant groups of Africa’s oldest populations (pygmies at the equator, san in the Kalahari desert).
All these forms of supply have existed in Africa side by side for 3,500 years, when the first neolithic agricultural cultures of sub-Saharan Africa emerged. One of these was the old Sudanese, which was developed around sowing of the dry-African wild African millet, millet and sorghum. Another was the “West African” agricultural culture that developed when the tropical rainforest collectors began planting the wild jam – later supplemented with Asian jams, taros and bananas, which came via Madagascar, and with cassava and corn from America. After approximately 1,000 years of Stone Age farming, these inhabitants became Iron Age farmers, initially in the Western Savannah area of sub-Saharan Africa (the Nuclear Culture, 500 BC), from where the iron smith and its more effective tools spread in a south-eastern direction.
But cultural influences have also gone in the opposite direction. Cultural plants, merchandise and political and religious ideologies have flowed in from Asia and Egypt for a few thousand years. Among the ideologies, the tradition of the Sacred King has been particularly important. The transformation from the 700s on the rule of government in Africa’s savanna cultures from egalitarian, kinship-controlled village communities to hierarchically constructed states of semi-feudal character. Best known of these are Ghana and Mali in the north and Monomotapa (Zimbabwe) and Congo in the south. Ritually and symbolically, the kingdoms have played an important role throughout our time, although in many cases it has been several centuries since the sacred kings had political power. Parallel to the theocratic systems, secular political systems have also worked, which were based on the clan and the extended family. To this day, kinship on the paternity or maternity serves as a basic principle of organization in most communities in rural Africa. Only in the regions where foreclosure production has transformed the socio-economic system has the relationship-based organization weathered.
In Africa, an estimated 2,000 different languages are spoken, most of which lack written language and are used by less than 10,000 people. As an administrative language, in addition to Arabic in North Africa and Afrikaans in South Africa, the language of the former colonial power is used quite commonly. English, French or Portuguese. As a lingua franca, among other things, Arabic to the north of the Sahara, headwaters in Nigeria and Swahili in central and southeastern Africa.
According to Joseph Greenberg’s now fairly widely accepted subdivision, the African languages belong to four different large families: the Afro-Asian languages with Arabic and Hausa as the largest languages, the Nilo-Saharan languages with a hundred minor languages in the Sudan region, the Niger-Congo languages with about 1,500 languages and 160 million speakers (the group includes the Bantu languages, including Swahili) and the Khoisans, spoken by the indigenous people of southern Africa. In Madagascar, an Austronesian language, Malagasy, is spoken, which was brought there by Southeast Asian immigrants probably a millennium ago.