It's gonna take a lot to drag me away from youuuuuIt's gonna take some time to do the things we never haaaaa-aaad, woo-oo
There's nothing that a hundred men or more could ever dooooo
I guess it rains down in Africaaaaa
—Toto's "Africa", a song about a white man trying to write about Africa but struggling because he's never been there. Appropriate, as that's what you probably are.
Africa covers one-fifth of the Earth's land surface and contains 54 countries, two thousand languages and upwards of a billion people. Its primary cultural divide is between the Muslim states north of the Sahara, which have more in common with the rest of the Arab world than with the rest of the continent, and "Black Africa" or sub-Saharan Africa further south. There are a lot of other divisions, though, including the difference between East Africa and the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, and the transition zones just south of the Sahara: the primarily-Arab Sahel and primarily-African Sudan (which confusingly does not include the country of Sudan, where the people are for the most part physically black but culturally Arab).
- 1 Continental union
- 2 Sovereign states by region
Like Europe and South America, Africa has an institution that represents the continent as a whole—or at least tries to.
The majority of people in this part of Africa speak Arabic and often (but not always) feel closer affinity to other Arabic speakers in Asia than to other people of the African continent, or even to certain parts of southern Europe, with which they share the history and culture of the Mediterranean. Nevertheless, all these countries participate in various pan-African institutions, and all but Morocco are part of the African Union.
We can subdivide this region further into the aforementioned Sahara/Sahel/Sudan states (mostly Muslim, containing much of the Sahara Desert and bordering dry plains, typically with large populations of Arabs and Berbers) and the Niger River and Coastal states (typically religiously mixed and geographically varied).
Can also be divided into sub-regions: the Horn of Africa, the East African Community, and the Indian Ocean islands. South Sudan is a new country and a special case, with both the Horn of Africa and the EAC having an influence.
All of these countries were at one point in time part of the ancient and medieval Ethiopian empires (the best-known of which is the Kingdom of Axum), and share in the heritage of ancient Ethiopian civilization. All also speak languages of the Afro-Asiatic family, primarily of the South Semitic and Cushitic branches.
The East African Community is an attempt to develop regional integration at a smaller level than Africa. As all of these countries have certain cultural elements and political interests in common—rather than the huge and unwieldy thing that is the African continent—their leaders felt there was a better chance of real integration, particularly economically. This is eased by the inland countries' gradual adoption of Swahili as a commercial lingua franca, and Burundi and Rwanda's moves away from French and towards English as the foreign language of choice.
Except for Mozambique and Namibia, all were once British colonies; Namibia, for its part, was administered as part of South Africa for the better part of a century. South Africa has a powerful influence on the region, acting as a regional bully during The Apartheid Era, and as a sort of friendly-if-slightly-overbearing regional hegemon since 1994.
- That Dry Patch of Land Unrecognized (Western Sahara)
- 56 if you include the separatist states of Western Sahara and Somaliland, from Morocco and Somalia respectively. While 81 nations recognize Western Sahara, the arguably more legitimate Somaliland has absolutely no recognition from anybody at all.