Africa – The Birthplace of Humankind

Despite being known mainly for its savannas and the Sahara, Africa has rainforests, mountains, wetlands, shrublands, and coastal areas. In addition, it contains a growing number of cities that could hold two out of five of the world’s population by 2100.

These issues will require new leadership and a commitment to building a stronger economy for the continent’s future. Click on the Adjectives for Describing African Landscapes worksheet link for pronunciation practice.


A continent of 54 countries and nine territories, Africa is home to 1.11 billion people. It is the largest of all the world’s landmasses and, as the birthplace of humankind, has a special significance for our entire species. Being African is a core identity for many of the continent’s inhabitants. But where did the word – and the continent — really come from?

The answer is complex. During prehistory, Africa (like all other continents) had no nation states, and most of the population was nomadic hunter-gatherers. These groups roamed from area to area in search of meat, fish, plants and minerals and depended on the north-south diversity of ecosystems for their food.

Later, family clan groupings arose in some parts of Africa and more structured polities arose in others. There were also some coastal trading towns, such as Mogadishu, and a handful of kingdoms centered on the Great Rift Valley and in the Sahel region.

In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Europeans seized much of Africa’s territory as a result of a brutal slave trade, and imposed their rule over its people. This process was accelerated during the Scramble for Africa, when major European powers divided up the continent among themselves in the 1850s and 1860s.

Today, the African continent is a place of incredible natural beauty, with its magnificent mountains and lakes, sweeping deserts, and wide expanses of wilderness. It is also a place of rich cultural traditions that include music, dance and literature. It is a place of great diversity, encompassing hundreds of different native languages and numerous indigenous ethnic groups, many of which blend traditional customs and beliefs with modern societal practices and conveniences.


The African continent is home to an incredible linguistic diversity. More than 1,250 languages are native to the region, with many of them belonging to one of two major language families, Afroasiatic and Niger-Congo. Other languages, including Arabic, Amharic, Somali, Hausa, Tamazight and a few others, belong to the smaller Khoisan family.

Swahili stands out as the lingua franca of Africa, used in Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda. It’s also co-official in some countries, including Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe.

Amharic, meanwhile, is an impressive tonal language that allows shifting pitches in speech to completely alter meanings. It’s a beautiful language to learn, with a literature that includes religious manuscripts and contemporary novels. Its influence stretches across Ethiopia and gives it the weight of a cultural legacy that extends far beyond its borders.

Nilo-Saharan languages are another group to explore. These fully tonal languages allow speakers to create unique inflections for each word and feature an amazing symphony of sound. From the Ge’ez script in Amharic to Tigrinya in Eritrea, they link present-day Africa with traditions that go back thousands of years.

Aside from these two broad language groups, there are some linguistic features that are more common across Africa than in other parts of the world. Examples include implosives, ejectives and the labiodental flap, all of which are found in African languages but are rare or even unheard-of outside of Africa. This may indicate a common origin of these sounds, or they could be the result of language contact with other regions.


The culture of Africa is a diverse collection of customs and traditions. It is often characterized by a rich variety of languages, religions and art. It is also home to many different types of cuisine. Some of the most popular foods include samosas, curry, kool aid and chicken tikka masala. The continent of Africa is also a place of many different religions, including Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

Africans have a long history of responding to derogatory evaluations of their cultural values by outsiders, often rejecting the label \”primitivism.\” In addition, the resurgence of Pan-Africanism since apartheid has resulted in calls for a renewed sense of national identity, especially in North Africa.

In the field of literary arts, a number of African writers have become known internationally for their work. Mongane Wally Serote became a leading black poet in the 1970s with such works as No Baby Must Weep, while Zakes Mda switched from poetry and plays to novels. Afrikaans-language writers like Breyten Breytenbach and Andre Brink became controversial in their work, releasing political satire and fiction that gave voice to the opposition to apartheid.

Religion in Africa is integral to daily life. Most traditional African societies have religions that inform the family, community and public sphere. In the family, the ritual functionaries may include priests, lineage and clan elders, rainmakers, diviners or prophets.

In the community, religious beliefs affect such aspects as political art, marriage, diet, health, dress and economics. In the public sphere, religion is the source of morals and values. Africa’s most prominent religious institutions are Christianity and Islam. It is estimated that there are between 400 million and 500 million Christians and Muslims in the continent of Africa.


A large number of people in Africa practice religions that are considered indigenous to their cultures. The most widespread are Christianity and Islam, with some communities practicing traditional African religions. Although there is considerable variety among these traditions, most share common tenets such as belief in a community of deities and the idea that ancestors communicate with humans. The ancestors also serve as intermediaries in the maintenance of moral order, rewarding right behavior and punishing wrongdoing.

Many indigenous religious beliefs rely on an oral tradition of teachings, stories and myths that are passed from generation to generation and are deeply rooted in the culture. These traditions often form a core of the spiritual identity of the African people.

According to John Mbiti, a leading scholar of African religions, these traditions offer insight into the moral worldview of Africans. He argues that the notion of God in African religious thought is more than just a supernatural being; it consists of all of the dimensions of the universe that have the power to ensure the ordering and continuance of life and the planet.

Mbiti explains that the ancestors are central to these beliefs because they have a direct influence on the lives of their living descendants. They are seen as an indispensable part of the community that guides its members through important events like marriage, birth and death. In most cases, these events are accompanied by rituals that honor and please the ancestors. Ancestors are also consulted in times of great need such as drought or epidemic. Moreover, the ancestors are believed to have a deep interest in morality as they often punish lapsed social responsibilities or taboos that lead to hardship, suffering and illness for individuals and the community.


As the world’s youngest continent with a booming population, African countries have tremendous economic potential, but their people remain trapped in poverty. They face a host of challenges including weak growth, insufficient employment opportunities, inadequate infrastructure and limited access to quality health and education services.

Despite these obstacles, Africa’s private sector has a major role to play in the economy. On average, it employs more than half of the formal workforce in African economies. However, the continent’s firms are hampered by a lack of finance, limited market access and a poorly-developed business environment (see Fig. 4.2).

In addition, a number of factors are undermining Africa’s growth prospects, including COVID-19, higher interest rates, the Russia-Ukraine war and lower global demand. The impact of these shocks will likely slow Africa’s growth recovery and increase the risks of future downturns.

A diversified economy will help Africa cope with current and future crises. However, the continent is among the least diversified in terms of exports, with commodity sales accounting for more than 60% of total merchandise exports in many countries. This makes it vulnerable to fluctuations in commodity prices and other external shocks.

Moreover, African economies are highly dependent on imports, which are used to meet the demand for raw materials, equipment and intermediate goods needed for production. This makes them more sensitive to a contraction in world trade, especially as it will affect their ability to buy the necessary final goods from their main suppliers in Europe and China. It will also affect regional sourcing and endanger cross-border informal trade. To improve its competitiveness, Africa needs to boost private-sector investment and promote flows of foreign capital that generate wealth rather than debt.


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