Photo Courtesy of NASA
Africa is the world's second-largest continent and second most populous after Asia. At about 30,244,050 km² (11,677,240 mi²) including its adjacent islands, it covers 20.3 percent of the total land area on Earth. With over 800 million human inhabitants in 54 countries, it accounts for about one seventh of the world human population.
The name Africa came into Western use through the Romans, who used the name Africa terra — "land of the Afri" (plural, or "Afer" singular) — for the northern part of the continent, as the province of Africa with its capital Carthage, corresponding to modern-day Tunisia.
The Afri were a tribe — possibly Berber — who dwelt in North Africa in the Carthage area. The origin of Afer may be connected with Phoenician `afar, dust (also found in most other Semitic languages); some other etymologies that have been postulated for the ancient name 'Africa' that are much more debatable
Africa is the largest of the three great southward projections from the main mass of the Earth's surface. It includes within its remarkably regular outline an area, of c. 30,244,050 km² (11,677,240 mi²), including the islands.
Separated from Europe by the Mediterranean Sea, it is joined to Asia at its northeast extremity by the Isthmus of Suez, 130 km (80 miles) wide. From the most northerly point, Cape Blanc in Tunisi , to the most southerly point, Cape Agulhas in South Africa, is a distance approximately of 8,000 km (5,000 miles); from Cape Verde, the westernmost point, to Ras Hafun in Somalia, the most easterly projection, is a distance (also approximately) of 7,400 km (4,600 miles). The length of coast-line is 26,000 km (16,100 miles) and the absence of deep indentations of the shore is shown by the fact that Europe, which covers only 9,700,000 km² (3,760,000 square miles), has a coast-line of 32,000 km (19,800 miles).
Around 3300 BC, the historical record opens in Africa with the rise of literacy in Egypt, which continued with varying levels of influence over other areas until 343 BC. Other prominent civilizations include Ethiopia, the Nubian kingdom, the kingdoms of the Sahel (Ghana, Mali, and Songhai) and Great Zimbabwe.
In 1482, the Portuguese established the first of many trading stations along the Guinea coast at Elmina. The chief commodities dealt in were slaves, gold, ivory and spices. The European discovery of America in 1492 was followed by a great development of the slave trade, which, before the Portuguese era, had been an overland trade almost exclusively, and never confined to any one continent.
But at the same time that slavery was ending in Europe, in the early 19th century the European imperial powers staged a massive "scramble for Africa" and occupied most of the continent, creating many colonial nation states, and leaving only two independent nations: Liberia, the Black American colony, and Ethiopia. This occupation continued until after the conclusion of the Second World War, when all colonial states gradually obtained formal independence.
Today, Africa is home to over 50 independent countries, all but 2 of which still have the borders drawn up during the era of European colonialism.
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