Africa mapped: the forces that have shaped our continent

The African continent is perhaps the most romantic and mysterious part of the world. Its beauty, size, and people are often misunderstood. Africa is also the birthplace of the human race. Human beings were wandering around Africa for thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands, of years before ever setting foot in Europe of beyond.


And yet Africa appears to be lagging behind the rest of the world economically and politically. How can this be? How can such a continent, one stuffed with diamonds and natural resources, ever find itself ‘catching up’ with the rest of the world?

The answer is both complex and simple. It can be summed up in one word: ‘geography’. 

These maps of Africa, created by Tusk Photo, explain why Africa has had it difficult in the past

Geographical Africa
Africa’s massive size means most of the population is very isolated. Almost all of the continent’s great rivers (except for the Nile) are not navigable. They do not join up with each other. And most of the rivers are plagued with rocky rapids and waterfalls. This has held back the African people a great deal. Africa’s rivers make it very difficult to trade. The situation is the complete opposite in Europe: where big, expansive rivers made trading and shipping between the continent easy.


Africa also has no large mammals such as horses that could be domesticated for farm use. And no cereal crops grow in Africa – the same crops that allowed the Middle East and Europe to move away from hunter-gathering. 

Environmental Africa

The Europeans made inroads into Africa from the bottom-up, the opposite direction from the Arabs. They used South Africa as a stopping off point to trade with India, but quickly fell in love with its gentle European-like climate. They brought horses, cattle, and wheat crops with them. The Europeans were prevented from travelling much further north, beyond South Africa, because they could not last long in the tropical regions.


Religious and cultural Africa

Africa’s religious identity has been almost entirely shaped by those who conquered it. The north is mostly Muslim, reflecting the faith of the Arab armies who settled there. The sub-Saharan is mostly Christian – as the Europeans sent missionaries out to convert Africans to the faith.


Nowadays most Africans practice either Islam or Christianity with some elements of old traditional and cultural practices. Of course, there are still millions of Africans who honour their ancestral religions. They mostly live in areas that escaped colonialism.

Gigantic Africa

Most world maps don’t accurately show just how big the continent is. Many of the biggest countries in the world easily fit into our continent. With its sheer vastness, it is humbling to think of all the beauty, the secretiveness, that it holds – and impossible for it not to hold a romantic place in all of our hearts.

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