Geographies in Depth

9 surprising things you probably don’t know about Africa

Drummers perform during the annual Osun-Osogbo festival in honour of river goddess Osun in Osogbo, Nigeria.

Image:  REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye

Keith Breene
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Africa

A continent that spans the hemispheres, Africa has been home to some of the world’s oldest civilisations and today has some of the fastest growing nations in the world.

Africa is a place that often appears to confound expectations and defy convention, a place always full of surprises.

Here are 9 facts about the continent that may come as a surprise.

Over 25% of the world’s languages are spoken only in Africa

There are thought to be around 2,000 languages in use on the continent. All are considered official languages of the African Union. Nigeria alone has over 500 living languages.

Africa is the only continent to extend from the northern temperate zone to the southern temperate zone

It is the world’s hottest continent and the second driest after Australia. Despite being nearly four times the size of Europe, its straighter shores mean it has a shorter overall coastline.

The African population is much younger than the rest of the world

Over 50% of Africans are under the age of 20, compared to a global median age of 30. Africa has the world's highest child-dependency ratio - with 73 children under the age of 15 for every 100 people of working age. That's nearly double the global average.

The 10 youngest populations are all in Africa
Image: United Nations

Africa’s population will more than double to 2.3 billion people by 2050

Nigeria's population alone is expected to rise from 174 million to 440 million people. 40% of the global population will be African by the year 2100, up from 9% back in 1950.

Change in working-age population, 1950-2050
Image: Bruegel

More than half of the world’s mobile money accounts are in Africa

12% of African adults have access to one, compared to just 2% worldwide. In Kenya the figure stands at 58%. Across the continent only a third of adults have access to a traditional bank account.

Ethiopia was the world’s fastest growing economy in 2015

The IMF says the country’s real GDP grew by 10.2%. But growth for the sub-Saharan region as a whole fell to 3.5%, the lowest level in 15 years, and is predicted to fall as low as 3% this year.

Projected real GDP growth, 2016.
Image: IMF

Almost 40% of adults in Africa are illiterate

Two-thirds of them are women. Progress in improving literacy on the continent has been slow - in 1990 the proportion of adults who couldn't read and write stood at 48%, according to UNESCO statistics (PDF).

Nollywood is Nigeria’s second biggest employer after agriculture

The country's film industry employs over one million people, and produces around 50 movies each week. Only Bollywood makes more. In 2014 the Nigerian government released data showing Nollywood was a $3.3 billion industry.

Africa has around 30% of the earth’s remaining mineral resources

This includes over 40% of gold reserves and 90% of platinum reserves. Nigeria is the world's fifth largest exporter of oil, ahead of Iraq and Kuwait, according to the CIA World Factbook.

The World Economic Forum on Africa is taking place in Kigali, Rwanda from 11 to 13 May.

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