Africa is the world’s second-largest and second most-populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² (11.7 million sq mi) including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth’s total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area. With 1.0 billion people (as of 2009, see table) in 61 territories, it accounts for about 14.72% of the world’s human population.
The continent is surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, both the Suez Canal and the Red Sea along the Sinai Peninsula to the northeast, the Indian Ocean to the southeast, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. The continent has 54 sovereign states, including Madagascar, various island groups, and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, a member state of the African Union whose statehood is disputed by Morocco.
Africa, particularly central eastern Africa, is widely regarded within the scientific community to be the origin of humans and the Hominidae clade (great apes), as evidenced by the discovery of the earliest hominids and their ancestors, as well as later ones that have been dated to around seven million years ago – including Sahelanthropus tchadensis, Australopithecus africanus, A. afarensis, Homo erectus, H. habilis and H ergaster – with the earliest Homo sapiens (modern human) found in Ethiopia being dated to circa 200,000 years ago.
Africa straddles the equator
and encompasses numerous climate areas; it is the only continent to stretch from the northern temperate to southern temperate zones. The African expected economic growth rate is at about 5.0% for 2010 and 5.5% in 2011.
Afri was the name of several Semitic peoples who dwelt in North Africa near Carthage ( in modern Tunisia). Their name is usually connected with Phoenician afar, “dust”, but a 1981 hypothesis has asserted that it stems from a Berber word ifri or Ifran meaning “cave”, in reference to cave dwellers. Africa or Ifri or Afer is name of Banu Ifran from Algeria and Tripolitania (Berber Tribe of Yafran).
Under Roman rule, Carthage became the capital of Africa Province, which also included the coastal part of modern Libya. The Roman suffix “-ca” denotes “country or land”. The later Muslim kingdom of Ifriqiya, modern-day Tunisia, also preserved a form of the name.
Other etymological hypotheses that have been postulated for the ancient name “Africa”:
- the 1st century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (Ant. 1.15) asserted that it was named for Epher, grandson of Abraham according to Gen. 25:4, whose descendants, he claimed, had invaded Libya.
- Latin word aprica (“sunny”) mentioned by Isidore of Seville in Etymologiae XIV.5.2.
- the Greek word aphrike (Αφρική), meaning “without cold.” This was proposed by historian Leo Africanus (1488–1554), who suggested the Greek word phrike (φρίκη, meaning “cold and horror”), combined with the privative prefix “a-“, thus indicating a land free of cold and horror.
- Massey, in 1881, derived an etymology from the Egyptian af-rui-ka, “to turn toward the opening of the Ka.” The Ka is the energetic double of every person and “opening of the Ka” refers to a womb or birthplace. Africa would be, for the Egyptians, “the birthplace.”
- yet another hypothesis was proposed by Michèle Fruyt in Revue de Philologie 50, 1976: 221–238, linking the Latin word with africus ‘south wind’, which would be of Umbrian origin and mean originally ‘rainy wind’.
The Irish female name Aifric is sometimes anglicised as Africa, but the given name is unrelated to the geonym.