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The continent of Africa is the world's second largest continent after Asia, with a total surface area, including several surrounding islands of 30,313,000 square kilometres. It stretches from 40 degrees latitude in the north to 34 35' degrees south and has 54 independent countries - 48 mainland and 6 island states - with an estimated total population of 700 million.

The economic powerhouse of Africa south of the Sahara Desert is South Africa. Through its well developed infrastructure and deepwater ports, South Africa handles much of the trade for the whole southern African region. In 1970 its immediate neighbours, Botswana, Swaziland and Lesotho, and latterly Namibia, signed the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) enabling them to share in the customs revenue from their trade passing through South African ports.

The eastern region of Africa is home to the great wildlife reserves of the Serengeti plains and the Rift Valley lake system which stretch across the countries of Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. These countries signed the Treaty for Enhanced East African Co-operation to allow for the free flow of goods and people.

Further north lie the countries of the Horn of Africa and the source of the longest river in the world, the Nile River, which flows northwards over 6690 kilometres to end in the Mediterranean Sea. Somalia occupies much of the coastline, while Ethiopia and Sudan are large inland countries. On the coast of the Red Sea are the two independent republics of Djibouti and Eritrea.

The small landlocked central African countries of Rwanda and Burundi form part of an economic union of countries in the central African region. Other members of the Economic Community of Central African States are Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, the oil-rich Congo and Gabon and the vast country of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is a solid geographical bloc of 15 states from Nigeria in the east to Mauritania in the west. The countries of Mauritania, Mali and Niger are located in the southern stretch of the Sahara Desert while the remaining countries are splayed out along the coast line. As a result of their respective colonial histories, these countries are divided into French and English-speaking states. The francophone countries include the republics of Benin, Burkina Faso, Togo, the Ivory Coast (Côte d'Ivoire), Guinea and Senegal while the remaining states of Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and the Gambia have English as their official language. The Republic of Guinea Bissau is a Portuguese-speaking state to the south of Senegal.

North of the Sahara Desert lie 5 predominantly Muslim countries all bordering on the southern shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Moving from west to east are the three countries which form the Maghreb region, the Kingdom of Morocco which has laid claim to the state of Western Sahara (Sahrawi Republic), a former Spanish colony on its southern border, and the republics of Algeria, and Tunisia. The remaining countries are Libya and finally Egypt occupying the north-east corner of Africa and having an extension across the Gulf of Suez into the Sinai Peninsula through which runs the Suez Canal physically cutting off the continent of Africa from the Middle East. Both Algeria and Libya have vast oil and gas producing fields and are active members of the Organisation of Oil Exporting Countries (OPEC).

There are 6 independent island states associated with the continent of Africa. Off its west coast are the Cape Verde Islands off the coast of Senegal. In the Gulf Guinea off the coast of Gabon is the small island state of Sao Tomé and Principé. Off the east coast of Africa is the island republic of the Comores, and Madagascar, the world's third largest island with an area of 587,041 square kilometres. Further east in the Indian Ocean are the island republics of Mauritius and the Seychelles. Lying close to Mauritius is the island of Réunion, a dependency of France although its economy is closely linked to that of the east African coast and Indian Ocean islands.

For More Info See Africa Travel Guide

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