Africa is the third continent in the world by geographical extension. It is bordered to the north by the Mediterranean Sea, to the west by the Atlantic Ocean and to the east by the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean and Asia through the Suez Canal. Although it has a total surface of 30,272,922 square kilometers (621,600 in insular mass), which represents 22% of the terrestrial total, the population is 910,844,133 inhabitants, less than 16%. The continent is organized into 53 countries, all of which are members of the African Union, with the exception of Morocco.
It is believed that southern or eastern Africa is the cradle of humanity and that is where the successive species of Hominids and Anthropoids that gave rise to humans came from and have spread to the rest of the continents, including Homo Sapiens about 190,000 years ago. According to the latest paleontological and archaeological explorations, hominids already existed in Africa at least 5 million years ago. The anatomy of their skull was similar to that of their close relatives, the great African apes, but they had adopted a bipedal form of locomotion, which gave them a crucial advantage, since it allowed them to live both in forested areas and in the savannah in an era when Africa was becoming arid, with the savannahs overlapping the forests and jungles. About 3 million years ago, several species of hominids in the genus Australopithecus had emerged throughout southern, eastern, and central Africa. The next major evolutionary step occurred about 2 million years ago with the arrival of Homo habilis, which is believed to have been the first hominid species capable of making tools. 1.8 million years ago, Homo erectus first appeared in Africa and almost simultaneously in the Caucasus (Eastern Europe). The fossil record shows that Homo sapiens may have lived in southern and eastern Africa at least 100,000 and possibly 150,000 years ago. The colonization of our planet by modern humans began about 40,000 years ago with its expansion out of Africa.
By the end of the Ice Age (around 10,500 BC), the Sahara had once again become a fertile valley, and its African population returned from the interior of the continent and from the coastal mountains in sub-Saharan Africa. However, the increasingly dry and hot climate meant that by 5000 BC the Sahara region was becoming increasingly arid. The population moved out of the area towards the Nile Valley, where they created permanent or semi-permanent settlements. A major climatic recession occurred, diminishing the heavy and persistent rains in central and eastern Africa; since then dry conditions have prevailed in eastern Africa. According to the Greek historian Herodotus (484 BC), a Phoenician expedition sponsored by Pharaoh Necho (616 BC) circumnavigated the African continent for the first time. The origins of commercial traffic between West and Central Africa and the Mediterranean basin are lost in prehistoric times. The first historical accounts date back to antiquity and tell of the nomads who organized trade between Leptis Magna and Chad. This trade experienced its first boom in the first century BC with the rise of the Roman Empire. Especially gold, slaves, ivory and exotic animals were traded for the circus games in Rome in exchange for luxury goods from Rome. In fact, it is in this period that the very name of Africa was born. After the defeat of Carthage by Rome in the third Punic War, the Roman province of Africa was established, which would cover approximately the present day Tunisia. It was a territorial generalization of the province that gave name to the whole continent. A crucial importance was also the greater use of the camel from the first century in North Africa. From the 7th century onwards, the Arabs invaded North Africa. The caravan trade and the Islamic expansion fed the establishment of new relations between the "two Africas". The Kanem-Bornu Empire existed in Africa between the 13th century and the 1840s. At its height it covered the area of what is now southern Libya, Chad, northeast Nigeria, eastern Niger and northern Cameroon. The Kingdom of Congo was a state located in what is now the northern part of Angola, the enclave of Cabinda, the Republic of Congo and the western part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Its sphere of influence also included neighbouring states. Slavery With the arrival and conquest of America by the Europeans, expansion plans were drawn up that demanded cheap labor. At first the Native American peoples were enslaved but the diseases carried by the colonizers, the abuse they were subjected to and the massacres during colonization, soon reduced the number of natives. Between 1400 and 1900, the African continent experienced four simultaneous slave trade routes. The largest and best known was the transatlantic route, through which slaves from West, Central and East Africa were shipped to European colonies in the New World in the early 15th century. The other three were the trans-Saharan, Red Sea and Indian Ocean routes. On the first, slaves were taken from the southern Sahara desert to North Africa. In the second one, slaves were taken from inland to the Red Sea and transported in ships to the Middle East and India. In the third, slaves were taken from East Africa to the coasts of the Indian Ocean and from there embarked to the Middle East, to India or to work in plantations of islands in the Indian Ocean. According to the British historian Eric Hobsbawm, the number of African slaves transported to America would be one million in the 16th century, three million in the 17th century and during the 18th century it would reach 7 million, allowing an enormous accumulation of capital in view of the development of European capitalism during the Industrial Revolution. According to historical evidence, the slave trade is responsible for the alarming underdevelopment of Africa today. Recent research reflected by Nathan Nunn, assistant professor of economics at the Canadian University of British Columbia, until July 2007, and by the American University of Harvard since then, in his recently published book "Long-term Effects of the African Slave Trade", suggests that, if the slave trade had not existed, the gap that exists today between the average economic development of the countries currently called developing countries and those of Africa would practically not exist. Weighing on the world's conscience are 600 years of suffering left by the hunting and trade in human beings that generated the considerable wealth appropriated by the colonial powers of the time, leaving only underdevelopment and extreme misery to a martyred continent.
During the 15th century Henry the Navigator, son of King John I of Portugal, planned to acquire African territory for Portugal. Under his inspiration and direction some Portuguese navigators undertook a series of voyages of exploration that resulted in the circumnavigation of Africa and the colonization of a large number of coastal areas. The total colonial division of Africa by the European powers, which began in disorder from the seventeenth century onwards, took place approximately in 1885, with the Berlin Conference and the beginning of the First World War, a time when the colonial empires spread more rapidly in Africa than anywhere else in the world, although two countries, Liberia and Ethiopia, managed to maintain their independence. The protagonists of this first phase of colonization were, in addition to the military, missionaries and traders. A first division was formed in 1914. On the map, the French, English, German, Portuguese and Belgian territories seemed to be the result of a game of strategy. Despite their arbitrariness, a good part of the borders thus drawn were preserved, even at the cost of intense conflict. The colonization of Africa was imposed by blood and fire, through wars, exterminations and deportations. All the local powers that dared to oppose and resist the Portuguese, British, French, German, Dutch or Spanish conquerors were crushed. The colonial powers established in an authoritarian way an economy based on the export of raw materials to the metropolis and on the consumption of manufactured products produced in Europe. This region of the world, so often described by the dominant media of the North as "underdeveloped, violent, chaotic" and "hellish", would not have known such political instability - military coups, insurrections, massacres, genocides, civil wars - if the rich countries of the North had offered it real possibilities of development instead of continuing to exploit them to this day. Growing poverty has become a cause of political disorder, corruption, nepotism, and chronic instability. The decolonization of Africa is a process of independence of African nations that took place mainly after the Second World War. In some countries independence was achieved peacefully, while in others it was achieved through the use of arms. Among the latter, the Algerian War of Independence (1954-62) and the Portuguese colonial war were the most violent.
The predominant relief is a plateau, where the remains of ancient elevations and volcanic mountains stand out. On this great plateau there are large desert extensions, such as the Sahara, the great desert that covers more than a quarter of Africa. On the margins of the southern plateau there are several mountainous regions. To the northwest are the Atlas Mountains, a chain of rugged peaks linked by high plateaus, which extend from Morocco to Tunisia. The most outstanding and interesting feature of the African relief is the existence of the Great Rift Valley or Rift Valley, which consists of a numerous group of long and deep faults with an approximate north-south direction, associated with large tectonic pits. The eastern mountains, the highest part of the continent, are near the eastern coast and extend from the Red Sea to the Zambezi (or Zambezi) river. The region has an average altitude above 1,500 m, although in the Ethiopian massif it increases in a staggered way up to 3,000 m; Ras Dashan (4,620 m), in the north of Ethiopia, is the highest peak of the plateau. To the south of this one several elevated volcanic peaks exist, like the Kilimanjaro (5,895 m) it is the highest peak of the continent and the Kenya.
There is a supranational organization, called the African Union, of which all the countries of the continent except Morocco are members, including the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. Most African countries are underdeveloped or developing. More than 50% of the population or 350 million people live on less than a dollar a day. Africa pays about $20 billion in debt payments each year, despite debt relief in the 1990s. The most striking thing about Africa's economy is its disintegration. It does not meet the needs of its population; it is produced for export to rich countries, so communications between countries are very poor. In Africa, two types of economy coexist: one traditional and subsistence economy, and the other capitalist one, directed at international trade. The most developed enclaves tend to be on the coast, around the large ports and in regions ecologically favourable for plantations, as well as in mining areas.
Africa is very rich in mineral resources. It has most of the known minerals, many of which are found in significant quantities, although their geographical distribution is irregular. There are large deposits of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas and it has some of the world's largest reserves of gold, diamonds, copper, bauxite, manganese, nickel, platinum, cobalt, radium, germanium, lithium, titanium and phosphates. Other important natural resources are iron ore, chrome, tin, zinc, lead, thorium, zirconium, vanadium, antimony and beryllium. There are also exploitable quantities of clays, mica, sulfur, salt, natron, graphite, stone, limestone and gypsum. The current situation in Africa is the result of a long history of external interference in a dynamic and complex internal framework. The main problem, with negative implications for the future, is the deterioration of the resource base, which may become irreversible: deforestation, destruction of ecosystems, overexploitation and contamination of water resources, loss of fertility and soil erosion, and widespread habitat destruction may lead to permanent situations. An important consequence of these processes is the decline in production in many rural areas.