How Diverse is Africa?

How Diverse is Africa?


If you grew up in really most non-African
parts of the world, you’ve probably been at the very least exposed to the mindset that
Africa is an entirely homogeneous continent, assuming there’s much civilization there
at all. Now, I’d imagine you probably know that
that’s not remotely true, which is a good thing because this massive continent is home
to a huge variety of different cultures that I think could use some time in the spotlight. First of course, let’s get some scale with
this thing. Something we all probably already know but
that we don’t think about much is just how big Africa is. Africa has a surface area of 30 million square
kilometers, making them the second largest continent on Earth behind of course Asia,
and way larger than North America and almost twice as large as South America. Normally at this point I suppose I’d compare
Africa to countries, but it’s big enough to fit Europe and Oceania with almost enough
room to squeeze in Antarctica. In fact, Africa is just 8 million km2 short
of equaling the Moon, forget Russia and their whole being-bigger-than-Pluto thing, Africa’s
playing the real game here. So yeah Africa’s pretty damn big, so you
could imagine that it has a pretty diverse collection of cultures, especially with their
massive population. Africa is home to a rapidly increasing population
of 1.2 billion, which although smaller than India and China, is still bigger than all
of Luxembourg, Tuvalu, Brunei, Liechtenstein, and the Americas combined. Of course, the best way for us to tackle a
subject like this would be to first divide Africa into more bite-sized pieces. There are numerous ways to divide Africa (including
poorly) but for the sake of this video I’m going to go with the regions assigned by the
African Union to better categorize its member nations: North, East, Central, West, and Southern. So first we start in North Africa and the
countries of Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco, and possibly also Mauritania
and Sudan, depending on who you ask (also no comment on the whole Western Sahara thing). These nations all occupy various parts of
the mighty Sahara Desert, and have strong Arabic influences, with all of them at least
partially speaking Arabic and all but Sudan having Islam as the official state religion,
in contrast to the more Christian and native-focused regions south of the Sahel (and hence why
South Sudan didn’t feel it belonged inside of Sudan). These countries have had extensive contact
with Europe and Western Asia for thousands of years, being part of European and Middle
Eastern empires before colonialism was in fashion. Most of these countries, aside from Egypt
and Sudan, are also part of a region known as the Maghreb, essentially the “western
part” of the Arab world, though they also have long histories with the native Berber
(or Amazigh) peoples. Check out my friend Cogito’s video if you
want to learn more about them, they’re actually very interesting, but they’re far from the
only interesting culture in Africa of course. Next we head to East Africa, most likely where
the human race first evolved, and now home to South Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti,
Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and Madagascar, possibly also including
Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, again depending on who you ask. This region notably includes the Horn of Africa
and the African Great Lakes, including Lakes Turkana, Victoria, Tanganyika, and Malawi. In the north of this region, people generally
speak Afro-Asiatic languages like Somali, Amharic, and Tigrinya, as well as a minority
of those who speak their distant linguistic relative Arabic. Many in this region also speak various Nilo-Saharan
languages, and Madagascar’s Malagasy language is actually an Austronesian language, more
closely related to Malay and Hawaiian. The south however is much more dominated by
Niger-Congo Bantu languages, with by far the most prevalent (at 80 million speakers) being
of course Swahili, spoken as an official language in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. This area was also dominated by the Swahili
city-states, who had lucrative trading relations all across the Indian Ocean. Also I’d keep an eye on this region in the
coming decades, especially with the East African Federation now on the rise (check out this
Atlas Pro video for more information). In Central Africa we have Angola, Cameroon,
the Central African Republic, Chad, Dr. Congo, the Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea,
Gabon, and São Tomé and Príncipe, all members of the Economic Community of Central African
States (ECCAS), plus Rwanda and Burundi. Perhaps not too surprisingly, this region
is primarily home to Niger-Congo language speakers; you know, as in between the Niger
and Congo rivers? Speaking of said rivers, this region is also
home to the Congo Basin, itself home to one of the largest rainforests in the world. Oh and check out this Chad (it means lake)
let‘s establish some sick empires here and down in Congo. Onto West Africa and we see a lot of smaller
nations, namely Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana,
Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo,
all members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). This region was home to many large empires,
including those of the Songhai, Ghana, Oyo, and the Mali Empires, at one point ruled by
the richest man in the world, Mansa Musa. With a population of nearly 400 million, this
region is crazily diverse in terms of languages and cultures, and could honestly probably
get a video in its own right, with over 500 languages spoken in Nigeria alone. West Africa is also ecologically diverse,
straddling the end of the Sahara Desert to the north and the beginning of the rainforests
to the south, separated by a region known as the Sahel. Finally we reach Southern Africa, whose boundaries
are somewhat vague, but includes South Africa (obviously), Lesotho, eSwatini, Botswana,
and Namibia, possibly also Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Malawi. These nations are part of the South African
Development Community (SADC) alongside Dr. Congo, Tanzania, Comoros, Mauritius, and Seychelles,
but we’re not going to include those here. The first five nations however are in the
South African Customs Union (SACU) and they all have very diverse cultural and linguistic
backgrounds. Bantu languages are again widespread throughout
this region, but Khoisan languages are also widespread the Kalahari Desert, though it
should be noted that the “Khoisan” language family actually refers to multiple different
language families. Nonetheless these groups, including mainly
the Khoekhoe and the San, speak languages such as Zulu, Sandawe, Hadza, and Xhosa, yes,
XHosa. These are in fact the famous clicking languages
of Southern Africa, and the only of their kind in the world. So this was kind of a brief overview of how
diverse Africa really is, so basically I took 7 minutes to say that saying Africa is all
the same would be like saying Europe is all the same, but times 3. Remember, South Africa alone has 11 official
languages, as well as numerous others that are spoken but not official, and even that
only makes up a small fraction of the 2,000 languages spoken across the continent. Of course there’s really no true way to
measure diversity, and the only reason I stick so closely to linguistics is because I personally
honestly find languages easier to keep track of and neatly categorize for a short educational
YouTube video, but keep in mind that, you know, art and religion are also things. Also, I intentionally left out European influences
in sub-Saharan Africa since I wanted to talk about the native cultures, but do keep in
mind that whichever empire a given country was once under has likely played a large role
in everything from cuisine to governmental structure to which language you should probably
learn if you want to travel there. Basically, Africa is crazy diverse and lumping
it all together as one homogeneous landmass isn’t really a good way to think about the
place. Thanks as always for watching. If you enjoyed this video, please give it
a like and share it, and do please tell me if you want to see more of this series in
the future. I’ve already done Russia and India a few
months ago, but if this video does well I might extend this series even further for
other countries we don’t assume are very diverse. Let me know which countries I should cover,
and as always be sure to subscribe to learn something new every Sunday.

45 Comments on "How Diverse is Africa?"


  1. You didn't mention hardly any of the major Racial or Ethnic groups. Also the "East African Federation" sounds like a horrible idea and is probably not going to happen due to ethnic conflicts, especially by adding on civil war stricken South Sudan. Africa needs more countries and too redraw it's borders, not join countries together.

    Reply

  2. Good video ! But why not talk about the indo-european languages of southern Africa ? Afrikaans isn't a language of african origin but neither arabic.

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  3. I forget how diverse West Africa is. Most of my African history interests are in the Horn & Egypt (and the later Zulu) so I don't give West Africa as much attention as it deserves. And you're def right about African religions being diverse. They're very, very diverse 😅

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  4. 7:30, compared with Africa Europe is basically homogeneous, just 3 linguistic group (plus a few others) with languages very similar between them, a common history and two religious and philosophical traditions (eastern- mystical and western-rational)

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  5. Thinking Africa is completely homogeneous is a sentiment I, as a European, often associate with Americans.

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  6. Dialects, not languages. If you have no native writing system you aren’t a language. The same thing with culture & civilization. Culture needs a certain level of development before it is a civilization.

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  7. there are many ways to divide Africa.
    Great Britain, France, Portugal, Germany, Italy and Belgium agree

    Reply

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