Regions of Africa

January 9, 2024

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Globe showing the region of Africa

Home to over 1.47 billion people and covering 11.5 million miles, Africa is the world’s second-largest continent in both size and population.

It consists of 54 countries, and the United Nations’ geoscheme divides it into five regions: Northern Africa, Eastern Africa, Central Africa, Southern Africa, and Western Africa.

In this article, we’ll reveal which countries fall into which region. We’ll also give an overview of each region and conclude with some interesting facts about the African continent.

Map of the five regions of Africa based on the United Nations Geoscheme
The five regions of Africa based on the United Nations geoscheme classification

Northern Africa

Map of Africa and the countries highlighted that belong to Northern Africa
Countries of Northern Africa based on the United Nations geoscheme classification

Northern Africa is made up of six countries: Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Sudan and Tunisia, and the territory of Western Sahara. Around 266 million people live in this region, with Egypt by far the most populous country, with 113 million residents, and Western Sahara the least, with just 593,000 residents.

While the Berbers are indigenous to the region, Arabic is the most widely-spoken language, and, as a result of Muslim conquests in the seventh century, Islam is the dominant religion. Other religions in Northern Africa include Christianity and Judaism.

Northern Africa shares much of its ethnic, genetic, cultural, and linguistic identity with Western Asia due to its proximity to countries like Turkey, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan.

Some of North Africa’s most notable geographic features include the Sahara Desert in the south, the Nile River in the east, and the Atlas Mountains in the west. Because the Sahara Desert makes up most of the land mass of Northern Africa, the majority of the region’s population lives on the Mediterranean or Atlantic coastlines.

Countries of Northern Africa

  • Algeria
  • Egypt
  • Libya
  • Morocco
  • Sudan
  • Tunisia

Eastern Africa

Map of Africa and the countries highlighted that belong to Eastern Africa
Countries of Eastern Africa based on the United Nations geoscheme classification

The most populous of all African regions, Eastern Africa, includes 18 countries and has a total population of around 491 million. Interestingly, almost a quarter of Eastern Africa’s entire population lives in the country of Ethiopia, which has an estimated 128 million people living there.

Experts generally agree that the first modern humans evolved in Eastern Africa 200,000 years ago, and today the region is as ethnically and linguistically diverse as the rest of the continent.

The two dominant religions in Eastern Africa are Islam, which is prevalent in Djibouti, Somalia, and parts of Ethiopia, and Christianity, which is prevalent in the remaining countries. Many others, though, practice indigenous African religions instead.

Eastern Africa’s geography is incredibly scenic, featuring Africa’s tallest peaks, Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya, the second-largest freshwater lake in the world, Lake Victoria, and the second-deepest lake in the world, Lake Tanganyika. The East African countries of Burundi, Kenya,  Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda are part of the African Great Lakes region, while Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia are known collectively as the “Horn of Africa”.

Eastern Africa is also known for its concentration of wild animals, including the “Big Five” (black rhino, buffalo, elephant, leopard, and lion), although populations of these creatures are sadly declining.

Countries of Eastern Africa

  • Burundi
  • Comoros
  • Djibouti
  • Eritrea
  • Ethiopia
  • Kenya
  • Madagascar
  • Malawi
  • Mauritius
  • Mozambique
  • Rwanda
  • Seychelles
  • Somalia
  • South Sudan
  • Uganda
  • United Republic of Tanzania
  • Zambia
  • Zimbabwe

Central Africa (Middle Africa)

Map of Africa and the countries highlighted that belong to Central Africa
Countries of Central Africa based on the United Nations geoscheme classification

Nine countries make up the Central Africa region, including the island nation of Sao Tome and Principe. Also referred to as “Middle Africa”, the region has a total population of 205 million. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is the largest and most populous, with 103 million people living there, and Sao Tome and Principe is the least, with only 234,000 residents.

Again, this African region is diverse in terms of its ethnic and linguistic groups, although some of the biggest are the Kongo, Luba, Hutu, Ovimbundu, and Mbundu, which reside in the Congos and Angola, the Zande in the Central African Republic, the Sara and Arabs in Chad and the Fang in Gabon, Cameroon, and Equatorial Guinea.

As well as indigenous languages, the European languages of French, English, Portuguese, and Spanish are spoken in Central Africa.

Countries of Central Africa

  • Angola
  • Cameroon
  • Central African Republic
  • Chad
  • Congo
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Equatorial Guinea
  • Gabon
  • Sao Tome and Principe

Southern Africa

Map of Africa and the countries highlighted that belong to Southern Africa
Countries of Southern Africa based on the United Nations geoscheme classification

The Southern African countries of Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, and South Africa have a population of about 69 million in total, making it the smallest and least populous of Africa’s regions.

The vast majority of people in Southern Africa reside in the country of South Africa, which has a population of 60 million. The Southern African country with the lowest number of residents is Eswatini, with just 1.2 million people living there. The second-least populous Southern African country is Lesotho, with 2.3 million residents. Both these countries have monarchies, but while Eswatini’s is absolute, Lesotho’s is constitutional, and the king has no real political power.

Of all the countries in Southern Africa, South Africa is the most multicultural, but for decades, ethnic differences were largely put aside in order to fight the Apartheid system.

What sets Southern Africa apart from the other regions is its mineral resources. The region’s coal, copper, chromium, diamonds, gold, iron ore, manganese, platinum, silver, and zinc resources make it one of Africa’s wealthiest regions.

Countries of Southern Africa

  • Botswana
  • Eswatini
  • Lesotho
  • Namibia
  • South Africa

Western Africa

Map of Africa and the countries highlighted that belong to Western Africa
Countries of Western Africa based on the United Nations geoscheme classification

West Africa comprises 16 countries. The population of Western Africa is estimated at 445 million, and it is one of the fastest-growing regions in terms of demographics and economics. More than half the population of West Africa resides in Nigeria, which is the seventh-most populous country in the world. Nigeria also boasts Africa’s largest city, Lagos, which is home to around 15.9 million people.

Hausa and Fulani are two of the largest ethnic groups, which live mostly in northwestern Nigeria and southern Niger. Interestingly, the Fulani are the biggest nomadic group in the world. Some of the region’s other large ethnic groups include the Mossi, the Yoruba, the Igbo, and the Arabs. European languages like English, French, and Portuguese are the official languages of most West African countries. However, indigenous languages are the most widely spoken. The two dominant religions in Western Africa are Islam and Christianity.

The region’s climate and ecology are heavily influenced by both the Sahara desert and the Atlantic Ocean, and the combination of dry winds and seasonal monsoons creates a strong biodiversity of tropical forests and drylands that support endangered species like pangolins, rhinos, and elephants.

Countries of Western Africa

  • Benin
  • Burkina Faso
  • Cabo Verde
  • Côte d’Ivoire
  • Gambia
  • Ghana
  • Guinea
  • Guinea-Bissau
  • Liberia
  • Mali
  • Mauritania
  • Niger
  • Nigeria
  • Senegal
  • Sierra Leone
  • Togo

5 facts about Africa

1. Africa has the world’s longest river

Africa’s Nile River is the longest river in the world, running for 6,650 kilometers through 11 countries: 

The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, South Sudan, the Republic of the Sudan, and Egypt.

2. Africa also has the world’s deepest river

With depths of more than 720 feet in some spots, the Congo River is the deepest river in the world. It is also the world’s ninth-longest, running for 4,700 kilometers through Zambia, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, Cameroon, the Republic of Congo, and Angola.

3. The largest hot desert in the world is in Africa

The Sahara desert is the world’s third-largest desert after Antarctica and the Arctic, both of which are cold deserts. The Sahara covers large sections of Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Western Sahara, Sudan, and Tunisia and measures 3.5 million square miles— which is bigger than the whole of the US!

4. The world’s largest and fastest animals can be found in Africa

The largest land animal in the world is the African elephant, which can weigh more than six tons and measure up to seven meters in length, while the world’s tallest animal is the giraffe, with males reaching up to six meters in height and females reaching around 4.6 meters. Africa is also home to the world’s fastest land animal: The cheetah. On average, this cat can reach speeds of around 55 miles per hour.

(Related fact: Africa boasts the world’s largest wildlife migration, with more than a million wildebeest and 750,000 zebras crossing the Serengeti during the months of May through July.)

5. Thousands of languages are spoken in Africa

Arabic may be the most widely-spoken language on the African continent (followed by English, Swahili, and French), but Africa has as many as 2,000 languages, each with its own dialect.

Credit: Map images created with map.chart.net

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