Population of Africa




Africa is often referred to as the cradle of mankind. Scientists agree that the first humans probably appeared in Africa 4 million years ago and from there spread to other continents.

About 1 billion people live in Africa today. By 2050 the population of the continent is expected to double. Africa is the continent with the highest birth-rates and strongest population growth. This is because medical aid is getting better, there are more hospitals and doctors who take care of the population. Compared with other continents the average life expectancy in Africa is still low. In some countries of central Africa people barely reach 50.

Africa’s population is unevenly distributed over the continent. Many parts of the Sahara desert and the tropical rainforest are sparsely inhabited. On the other side the Nile Delta, the Mediterranean coast, Nigeria, the highlands of eastern Africa are densely populated. On average about 65 people live on 1 square mile.

Many people in Africa suffer from a shortage of food, droughts, poor sanitation and a series of tropical diseases. In addition, AIDS is widespread and the biggest single killer of the continent.



Tribal groups

The people in Africa belong to various cultures and have different social backgrounds. Arabs live in the Mediterranean countries of northern Africa. They came to the region at around 600 AD and blended in with the Berbers, the people who had already been living there.

Black Africans are in the majority south of the Sahara desert. These people are made up of thousands of different tribes, who speak over a thousand languages and have different traditions and cultures.  Among the largest groups are the Yoruba of Nigeria and the Zulu of South Africa.

In the 17th and 18th centuries Europeans started to settle in the southern part of AfricaEspecially the Dutch and the British found their way to the coast of the southern Cape and spread inwards. There they met native tribes and fought wars against them.  During the colonial period of the 19th century millions of Europeans made their way to Africa, many of them stayed there.  Asians, above all Indians, settled on the eastern coast and Madagascar.



There are hundreds of local religions spread across the African continent.  Many native tribes pray to gods and other spirits, mostly to get a good harvest and stay in good health. Some religious ceremonies prepare young people for adulthood and marriage.

About 300 million Muslims live in Africa, especially in the Arab countries of the north. But also Nigeria, Somalia and Tanzania have strong Islamic groups. Christianity spread to Africa through the work of missionaries from Europe and North America.  Today Christianity is dominant in the non-Arab countries south of the Sahara desert. Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa also has the largest number of Christians (about 40 million) on the continent. Copts are the native Christians in Egypt. They represent about 10% of the population there.



Life in Traditional African Societies

Before the Europeans came to the continent Africans lived in various traditional societies. Some gathered food and hunted wild animals. Others raised cattle on the grasslands south of the Sahara. In the tropical rainforest people slashed and burned down trees to prepare the area for farming. After a few years of growing crops they moved on and burned down the next patch of land. This method of shifting cultivation is still widespread in central Africa.  On rivers and coasts people made a life by fishing and net making.


Today’s society

Although most Africans still live in rural areas, cities are growing fast, mostly because many people do not have jobs in the countryside and move to the urban areas to find more opportunities and a better life. Today about 40% of the population lives in cities. Lagos, Nigeria (pop. 20 million) and Cairo, Egypt (pop. 15 million) are among the fastest growing cities in the world.




Africa - Exercises



Related Topics



  • AD = after the birth of Christ
  • adulthood = state of becoming an adult
  • agree = say yes, be of the same opinion
  • aid = help
  • although = while
  • appear = show up, emerge
  • average = usual, normal
  • barely = hardly , just
  • billion = a thousand million
  • birth rate = the number of babies born per 1,000 people
  • blend in = when other people become part of the native population and live with them
  • cape = small piece of land that stretches out into the sea
  • cattle = cows
  • century = period of a hundred years
  • ceremony = ritual; important religious or social event
  • Christianity = religion based on the life of Jesus Christ
  • colonial = about a large , powerful country that  ruled other countries in the 18th and 19th centuries
  • compare = in contrast to; to match against each other
  • cradle = here: where something began
  • densely =  very crowded
  • distribute = spread
  • dominant = number one
  • double = to become twice as many
  • drought = long period of dry weather when there is not enough water for animals and plants to live
  • especially = above all
  • expect = guess, suppose, think
  • gather = collect
  • harvest = to bring in crops from the field
  • humans = people
  • in addition = also
  • inhabited = living in a place
  • inwards = away from the coast towards the inner part of the continent
  • life expectancy = the number of years a new-born baby is expected to live
  • local = here: only in a small area
  • majority = most of the people in a country
  • mankind = people, humans
  • marriage = two people who promise to live together and have children
  • Mediterranean = area between Europe and Africa
  • missionary = someone who has been sent to another country to teach people about Jesus Christ and try to convince them to become Christians
  • native = here: people who have always lived in a place
  • opportunity = chance to do something
  • patch = piece
  • populous = full of people
  • pray = say words to god
  • raise = feed animals so that you can sell them or use them as food
  • refer to = call, name
  • rural = about the countryside
  • sanitation =  the protection of people’s health by  removing waste and making dirty water clean again
  • scientist = person who works in a laboratory and is trained ins science
  • series = many
  • settle = start to live in a new place
  • shifting cultivation = farming method where you cut down areas of land and grow crops on them as long as the soil is fertile; then you move on to another area
  • shortage = not enough
  • single = only, one
  • slash = cut down with a knife
  • society = civilization
  • sparsely = thinly; here: not many people live in a certain area
  • spirit = a creature without a body  that may have strange and magical powers
  • spread = move to
  • square mile = a square with a base length of one mile
  • suffer = experience, undergo
  • traditional = old-style, not modern
  • tribe = social group of people of the same race who have the same traditions , religion and speak the same language
  • unevenly =not equally; not the same everywhere
  • urban = in the city
  • various = different
  • widespread = common