Many people think of Africa is a land of humid jungles, waterless sandy deserts, and sweltering forests. So it is, but it is also a continent of massive peaks snowcapped year round and savannas of cold misty rain and bitter frost nights.
Africa is a huge continent of infinite variety. It is the second largest continent in the world. Africa is so vast that the landmasses of United States, Europe, India, and Japan could fit into it and there would still be plenty of empty space left. It is about 5,000 miles long from north to south and over 4,600 miles from east to west. For such a large area, 1/5 of the earth s entire land surface, there is only about 12% of the world's total population living on the entire continent.
Africa has few densely populated regions. The fertile valley of the Nile River supports a large population, and Africa does have many large cities. Many areas of the continent are uninhabited, mainly because of poor soil unsuitable for cultivation or because of insect pests that carry disease to people and cattle.
Africa contains much mineral wealth. There are diamonds, gold, and uranium mined in South Africa, gold and diamonds in Ghana and Tanzania, and tremendous deposits of copper in the Republic of Zaire and Zambia. There is a lot of oil in the west and the north and large deposits of iron and coal in several regions. But many of the continent's resources have scarcely been developed, and it seems almost certain that more riches still lie under the ground, waiting to be discovered. Africa also produces man agricultural goods, such as cotton, tea, coffee, cacao, rubber, cloves, and tobacco.
Although there are some very wealthy people in Africa, very few Africans have acquired riches from the wealth of their continent, and most Africans are very poor, probably earning an average income of no more than $200. It is hard to calculate living standards in terms of money, because many Africans grow their own food and build their own houses.
Agriculture is the leading economic activity in Africa, but most farmers use outdated tools and methods to farm poor soil. The development of manufacturing has been handicapped by lack of money to build factories, a shortage of skilled workers, and competition from industries on other continents. Many African countries depend on only one or two farm or mineral products for more than half their export earnings. In case of crop failures or drops in world market prices, a country s economy suffers. The majority of African nations rely heavily on aid from countries outside the continent.
Almost 200 million Africans practice local traditional religions. There are hundreds of local religions in Africa because each ethnic group has its own set of beliefs and practices. In general, local religions have many features in common. They explain how the universe was created and teach what is right and wrong. They define relationships between human beings and nature and between the young and the old.