By Dr. Kristy Taylor Around the first or second grade, we learn that there are seven continents: North America, South America, Asia, Europe, Antarctica, and Australia. Oh yes, and then there is Africa! Yes, Africa is a continent, and it is not a country, contrary to popular belief. This is particularly true in Western culture because individuals may possess little knowledge about the continent due to limited exposure in our education systems, a simple lack of interest, and based how Africa is portrayed in the media. Since Africa is often referred to in the media and our education systems as a conglomerate of generalities, that is the perception that many us base our assumptions on. The list below is in no particular order of importance, and much more information can be added, but it corrects some of these assumptions:
- Africa is not a country; it is a continent. Africa has 54 sovereign countries, 9 territories, and 2 de-facto independent states; those who recognize the de-facto states consider Africa as having 56 countries.
- Africa is not one large jungle; only about 10% of African topography is tropical, while other major environmental landscapes include deserts and savannas.
- Africa is sparsely populated. As of 2013, Africa had an estimated population of over 1 billion people; it is the second largest and second most populated continent.
- There are third world countries in Africa, but there is no such thing as a third world continent. There are many thriving countries and successful people from Africa.
- Africa is not a barren land; there are number of countries with numerous amounts of natural resources that can be used to build their economies.
- Everyone in Africa does not have HIV/AIDS; there are countries in Africa with a disproportionately high HIV/AIDS rates due to health disparities that are associated with high risk behaviors, socio-economic status, and limited access to care. While the numbers pertaining to the continent of Africa are very high, there are many people in the United States that suffer from a variety of illnesses due to these same factors.
- In 2014, Africa experienced its largest Ebola outbreak in recent history, but it was not the entire continent of Africa. The Ebola epidemic primarily took place in the West African region.
- The African slave trade was not focused on the entire continent of Africa, it primarily took place in the West African region.
- The Apartheid and Nelson Mandela's campaign for freedom did not take place across the entire continent; it was based in South Africa, where racial segregation was embedded into governmental and societal policies.
Africa is often called the "Lost Continent," but it is not lost, it is simply not acknowledged for its many contributions to history. Africa is the cradle of human civilization; it is proven to be where life began based on DNA testing and mapping along with archaeological findings. Some historical and religious texts consider human existence as beginning only about 6,000 years ago, but archaeological findings in Africa such as those of "Lucy" in the 1970s demonstrate that life, culture, and societies have existed for much longer than this. The "Lucy" skeleton, for example, was estimated to be over 3.2 million years old. Also, based on evolutionary theory, modern humans or homo-sapiens begin to appear around 40,000 years ago on the continent.
Even before being recognized as a continent, Africa already had a rich history that was based on geographical and cultural affiliations. There were various kingdoms throughout Africa that have played significant roles in history such as Egypt, Kush, Ethiopia, Ghana, and Mali. Many individuals are familiar with Egyptian hieroglyphs and papyrus, for example, but Egypt was also very technologically, scientifically, astronomically, and mathematically advanced. There are many historians and researchers today that are still trying to figure out how the pyramids were built! Whether one is referring to the various kingdoms in historical Africa or the smaller tribal units, African culture has played a major role on modern society to include customs, traditions, and religious beliefs and practices. The historical significance of the continent cannot be summed up in one or two paragraphs. As Dr. Henry Louis Gates stated: Let's face it- think of Africa, and the first images that come to mind are war, poverty, famines, and flies. How many of us really know anything at all about the truly great ancient African civilizations, which in their day, were just as splendid as any on the face of the earth?"