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Useful Notes / Africa

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It's gonna take a lot to drag me away from you
There's nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do
I bless the rains down in Africa
Gonna take some time to do the things we never had
Toto's "Africa", a song about a white man trying to write about Africa but struggling because he's never been there.

The second largest continent in the world after Asia in both geographic size and population, Africa covers one-fifth of the Earth's land surface and contains 54 countriesnote , 8 dependencies, two thousand languages and upwards of a billion people. Its primary cultural divide is between the largely Arabic-speaking Muslim states north of the Sahara plus the country of Sudan (known collectively as North Africa), which have more in common with the Arab World than the rest of the continent, and "Black Africa" or sub-Saharan Africa further south. There are a lot of other divisions, though, including the differences between Southern Africa and the rest of sub-Saharan Africanote  and the transition zones just south of the Sahara: the Sahel and Sudan (which confusingly does not include the country of Sudan, where the people are for the most part culturally Arab but look "African" to outsiders).note  Africa is sometimes also merged with Europe and Asia as Afro-Eurasia.

Africa is much bigger than most people realize, largely because of the distortions formed by creating a flat map of the round Earth, which also has the unfortunate side effect of making Greenland look a lot bigger than it actually is (in reality, Greenland is over 250 sq km (96.53 sq mi) smaller than Africa's second-largest country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo). To get an idea of Africa's scale, it is comparable to the continents of Antarctica, Europe and Oceania combined. Of course, this could also be attributed to the fact that Africa quite possibly constitutes the world's biggest Hufflepuff House despite housing a billion plus people. Out of about 55 countries, only Egypt, Nigeria, Libya, Somalia, Madagascar, and South Africa are really known by the general Western public (and Madagascar has DreamWorks to thank for much of its recognition).

Africa is widely believed by paleoanthropologists to be the place where humans originated; Homo sapiens arose in the Horn of Africa 300,000 years ago, and began to emigrate from the continent possibly as early as 270,000 years ago. Migrations of H. sapiens occurred in waves, with all modern non-Africans descending from a single expansion 50,000 years ago. H. sapiens managed to outdo their archaic precursors Homo erectus (themselves originating from Africa 2 million years ago) by colonizing North Asia, Oceania, and the Americas, places their predecessors never reached.

Before the 4th millennium BCE, Africa was a very lush and green continent, a situation that remains today in parts of Sub-Saharan Africa. In the north, however, there was a gradual desertification caused by an abrupt climate shift, which transformed the area into a sandy wasteland, barring some areas in the far north, where fertile valleys are barricaded from the desert by the Atlas Mountains, well as the banks of the Nile river. The Sahara geographically, culturally, and racially separated Africans since ancient times, with North Africa being primarily inhabited by the olive-skinned Egyptians and Berbers, while black-skinned Sub-Saharan Africans predominate areas to the south of the Great Desert. As a result of continual climate change and environmental neglect, desertification is still a phenomenon that can be observed in Africa today, thus pushing the Sahara further and further south.

Africa entered history at a very early stage, with the Ancient Egyptian civilization arising in the 31st century BCE as an extension of the Neolithic Revolution in the Ancient Middle East. Thanks to the Sahara, for most of the ancient and medieval era, Europeans and Asians were only familiar with North Africa, even though there existed many advanced, flourishing civilizations in the south, like the Aksumites (one of the first civilizations to adopt Christianity as a state religion, but was cut off from the rest of the Christian world after the advent of Islam), the Mali Empire (an immensely wealthy trading power whose capital was the fabled Timbuktu), and Great Zimbabwe. Ignorance of this history has been further enforced by the fact that most pre-colonial African societies did not utilize writing, and so when their societies were disrupted by colonialism, many of their histories, usually maintained via oral transmission, were lost. During the early modern period, European navigators explored the African continent for the first time and brought news of its tremendous natural wealth — and abundance of people — back home. Already in the market for slaves for their plantations in the New World, the European powers saw Sub-Saharan Africa as the ideal place to find them and justified it by claiming that Africans were members of an 'inferior race of savages' and therefore it was morally acceptable to enslave them. Thus was born the Atlantic Slave Trade, which, over the course of roughly 300 years, ferried millions of captured Africans away from their homes and onto slave plantations in the Americas, and had tremendous political, economic, and demographic consequences for both Africa and the New World. Initially, with the noted exception of the Dutch Cape Colony, Europeans were only interested in trade with the existing African powers, and maintaining the slave trade. By the 19th century, however, with the advent of New Imperialism, the focus shifted to obtaining control of the continent's immense resources, and slowly but surely Africa came under the control of the European powers. This so-called Scramble for Africa left Liberia and Ethiopia as the only modern-day African countries never to be colonized by Europeans.note 

Following World War II, calls for the decolonization of imperial colonies echoed throughout the world, and Africa was no exception. It took decades of negotiations, political bickering, and bloody independence wars, but one by one, the colonies gradually achieved de jure independence. Unfortunately, these independence movements were complicated by the fact that many of the colonies were drawn up from arbitrary borders without regard to the people who lived there. Africans, contrary to popular perception, are not a homogeneous people and are just as varied in ethnicity, culture, language, and religion as anyone else in the world, if not more so. But as a result of this misconception, ethnic and religious groups who varied greatly from each other, and in some cases were even outright enemies, were often forced to share a country, which led to inevitable conflict. This is before mentioning the European power's overexploitation of African resources, pervasive neglect of the state of affairs in the colonies thanks to years of racism, and their insistence on maintaining political and economic dominance over the continent even decades after independence, a form of neocolonialism. Thus were created tropes of Africa being a hot, dusty hellhole where people live in straw huts, speak uncouth, dumb-sounding languages, are perpetually in need of assistance from mighty rich whites, are ruled by corrupt dictators, and whose only contribution to the world is a mass of refugees who cross the Mediterranean yearly in search of a better life in utopian, civilized European countries.

If you are curious about African-Americans, they are the American-born descendants of Africans brought over to the United States as slaves in the Atlantic slave trade, particularly West Africans. They are not to be confused with Africans from the continent itself, though African-Americans did establish a country in West Africa, Liberia, with that country having its own unique ethnic group, Americo-Liberians, as a result, and they also founded Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. Most Caribs are also descended from West Africans brought to the islands by Europeans in the same slave trade, with The Caribbean having many aspects of West African culture in general as a result.

For Africa in fiction, see Afrofuturism, Bulungi and Darkest Africa. See also Amoral Afrikaner, Great White Hunter and Mighty Whitey. And despite what you may have heard, Africa is not a country.

Blue: North Africa, red: Southern Africa, green: West Africa, orange: East Africa, pink: Central Africa

North Africa

Capital & Largest City: Algiers
  • Egypt (Transcontinental)
Capital & Largest City: Cairo
Capital & Largest City: Tripoli
Capital: Rabat
Largest City: Casablanca
Capital & Largest City: Khartoum
Capital & Largest City: Tunis

Southern Africa

Capital & Largest City: Gaborone
Capitals: Mbabane (executive), Lobamba (legislative)
Largest City: Mbabane
Capital & Largest City: Maseru
Capital & Largest City: Windhoek
Capitals: Pretoria (executive), Bloemfontein (judicial), Cape Town (legislative)
Largest City: Johannesburg

West Africa

Capital: Porto-Novo
Largest City: Cotonou
Capital & Largest City: Ouagadougou
Capital & Largest City: Praia
Capitals: Yamoussoukro (de jure), Abidjan (de facto)
Largest City: Abidjan
Capital & Largest Metropolitan Area: Banjul
Largest City: Serekunda
Capital & Largest City: Accra
Capital & Largest City: Conakry
Capital & Largest City: Bissau
Capital & Largest City: Monrovia
Capital & Largest City: Bamako
Capital & Largest City: Nouakchott
Capital & Largest City: Niamey
Capital: Abuja
Largest City: Lagos
Capital & Largest City: Dakar
Capital & Largest City: Freetown
Capital & Largest City: Lomé

East Africa

Capital: Gitega
Largest City: Bujumbura
Capital & Largest City: Moroni
Capital & Largest City: Djibouti
Capital & Largest City: Asmara
Capital & Largest City: Addis Ababa
Capital & Largest City: Nairobi
Capital & Largest City: Antananarivo
Capital & Largest City: Lilongwe
Capital & Largest City: Port Louis
Capital & Largest City: Maputo
Capital & Largest City: Kigali
Capital & Largest City: Victoria
Capital & Largest City: Mogadishu
Capital & Largest City: Juba
Capital: Dodoma
Largest City: Dar es Salaam
Capital & Largest City: Kampala
Capital & Largest City: Lusaka
Capital & Largest City: Harare

Central Africa

Capital & Largest City: Luanda
Capital: Yaoundé
Largest City: Douala
Capital & Largest City: Bangui
Capital & Largest City: N'Djamena
Capital & Largest City: Kinshasa
Capitals: Malabo (current), Ciudad de la Paz (under construction)
Largest City: Bata
Capital & Largest City: Libreville
Capital & Largest City: Brazzaville
Capital & Largest City: São Tomé

Unrecognized Countries

North Africa

Capitals: Laayoune (claimed), Tifariti (de facto)
Largest City: Laayoune

East Africa

  • Somaliland (de facto independent country, claimed by Somalia)
Capital & Largest City: Hargeisa


West Africa

Capital: Jamestown
Largest City: Half Tree Hollow

East Africa

Capital: Saint-Pierre (headquarters, not geographically assigned)
Largest Settlement: Port-aux-Français
  • Mayotte (de facto owned by France, claimed by Comoros)
Prefecture & Largest City: Mamoudzou
Prefecture & Largest City: Saint-Denis

Defunct countries, empires, and other entities

Useful Notes and other articles related to Africans and African Culture

Africa in General

North Africa

See Egypt, Libya and Morocco for everything solely related to those countries

Southern Africa

See South Africa for everything solely related to South Africa

West Africa

See Nigeria for everything solely related to Nigeria

East Africa

See Kenya, Madagascar and Somalia for everything solely related to those countries

Central Africa

See Democratic Republic of the Congo for everything solely related to the Democratic Republic of the Congo