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Understanding the True Size of  Africa

It is simply not possible to truly understand African history, politics, economic issues, environmental or cultural development without first getting a clear idea of Africa’s enormous size.  Africa is so large that the United States, India, China, Argentina, New Zealand and all of Europe could easily fit inside the continent. If we took one penny to represent 1,000 square miles, the state of Indiana would be less than $.40  while Africa would be $1,170.00 in pennies.

Nature  has  endowed   the  continent  of  Africa with many  gifts. There  are  vast, fertile  plains, watered  like   clockwork   every   year, that  support  millions upon millions  of people.  Yet  there are other vast plains on which  few people , but  millions of animals, live. There are great  mountain ranges  yielding  earth’s most  precious  treasures - gold, silver, diamonds, uranium, bauxite and every other  conceivable  mineral - in large quantities. There are also tremendous areas of perfect  desolation, wastelands as large as  continents.  There are rainforests as thick and full  of life as is earthly possible; and there are other areas barely able  to support  insects.  Indeed, the continent of Africa bears  witness to nearly every form of environment on earth.

There are people of all races and descriptions as well, ranging from the shortest to the tallest ethnic groups in the world; from people with jet black skin to white skinned desert dwellers and all colors of humanity in between; and from people whose direct ancestors have inhabited Africa -in an unbroken line- from the origins of Mankind over a million years ago, to groups  whose first African settlers arrived on the continent only a few short centuries ago.

    Yet five distinct regions, and Africa’s largest islands, share many common elements. These regions–West Africa, Northeast Africa, Northwest Africa, Equatorial &East Africa, and Southern Africa–are all characterized by millions of square miles and millions of people as well. Each region is important enough to be given its own coverage in the section of called Africa’s Five Regions and Islands.

Africa epitomizes such great physical and cultural diversity in large part due to her incredible size. The way that Africa is projected in Western education, primarily through maps such as the Mercator  projection (see above) causes us to see Africa as a fraction of true size.

The activity below will help you visualize the true size of Africa

    This one black ball represents 1,000 square miles, about the size of Rhode Island. This block represents 100,000 square miles–an area the size of South Korea. It is between the size of New Zealand (104,428 square miles) and Ecuador (98,985 Square miles). In the USA it is bigger than the states of Michigan, Wyoming, or Oregon, but smaller than Colorado. The box below (100,000 square miles) represents an area larger than California or the size of Spain or Thailand. Below that, 300,000 square miles represents an area smaller than Turkey or Pakistan, but larger than Texas.




This map represents the Mercator projection. It is the most commonly used image of the earth in our educational system.

This map represents the Robinson projection. It is being more frequently used in secondary texts and resources.

This map represents the Peters’ projection. It is being used by the United Nations and other international organizations. It is called an equal area projection.

How is it possible to have such vastly different views of the size of Africa

and, most importantly, which one is more accurate?

It would take 11.700 of these 1,000 square mile balls to equal the size of Africa! *The graphic includes Madagascar

* 11,700,000 square miles *