Africa is a vibrant and incredibly vast continent, home to many different ethnic groups and very diverse economies. But many of its countries face crises of various sorts. Here are six facts and counter-facts you may not have known, and that may change your perception of the continent.

  • Africa is home to several thousand ethnic groups who speak around 2,000 different languages. They find a home in over 50 countries with over 1.1 billion inhabitants, spread over 30 million square kilometres – making Africa the second largest continent by land mass, after Asia.
  • Last year the continent’s GDP grew at 5%, almost double the global average of 2.6%. It is no surprise then that six of the 10 fastest growing countries in the past decade came from Africa.
  • On the flip side, about over three quarters of African countries are still ranked in the bottom half for the per capita GDP ranking worldwide. In all, over 20 African countries, including Uganda, Ethiopia and Congo, have a power purchasing parity GDP of less than $2,000 per capita. Another 10 countries, such as Kenya and Senegal, have a GDP per capita PPP between $2,000 and $3,000.
  • Going forward, GDP growth in Africa is projected to slow slightly to 4.5% in 2015, before rebounding to 5% in 2016 and beyond. That puts Africa on track to double its economic output every 15 years.
  • On the flip side, even with a doubling income many countries will remain well below the standard. The poorest African countries are Malawi, Central African Republic and Burundi, with PPP GDP per capita less than $800, and even a quadrupling of that amount would still put them in the bottom half of countries.
  • But there are exceptions: the continent’s richest country, on a pro capita basis, is Equatorial Guinea, with over $33,000 of GDP per capita – in PPP terms comparable to Spain.
  • Africa is the continent with the largest excepted “demographic dividend”. In 20 years, the number of sub-Saharans reaching working age (15-64) will exceed that of the rest of the world combined. And by 2040, 25 years from now, half of the world’s youth will be African.
  • On the flip side, according to the ILO, Almost 80% of working people in sub-Saharan Africa end up in vulnerable jobs, meaning their work is in the informal sector, where poverty is concentrated.
  • Africa has 40% of the world’s biodiversity, 60% of its uncultivated arable land and bodies of water that are three times its land mass.
  • On the flip side, over 358 million people in Africa live without access to water, while climate change is exacerbating the crisis. And despite the vast swaths of arable land, Africa since the 1970s is a food importer.
  • The International Energy Association expects electricity generation to quadruple by 2040, and that almost half the growth will come from renewables.
  • On the flip side, that’s also necessary, as over 620 million Africans live without access to electricity, and many others face high prices and unreliable supply.

Africa is a continent of contrasts and changes. Many of these will be discussed at our World Economic Forum Meeting on Africa 2015, which starts on Wednesday June 3 in South Africa, and runs until June 5.

Author: Peter Vanham is Senior Media Manager at World Economic Forum. 

Image: Children play in the water in the Mediterranean Sea REUTERS/Esam Al-Fetori