Africa is the second largest of the earth's seven continents, covering about twenty-two percent of the world's total land area. From its northern most point, to its southern most tip is the distance of nearly five thousand miles. Africa is both north and south of the equator. The Atlantic Ocean is located west of the continent, and the Indian Ocean is on the east. Width of the continent is also nearly five thousand miles. Although Africa is so large, much of it is inhabitable. Desert soils, which have little organic content, cover large areas. The Sahara Desert, in the northern part, covers more than one fourth of Africa, and the Kalahari Desert is in the southern part of the continent. These two deserts are a natural detriment to the African continent because they make it difficult to reach the inland where most of the people live. Although Africa is relatively close to Europe, travel by land over the Sahara desert is very prohibitive. Another topographical feature that also isolates the central region of Africa is the coastline.
Africa has a regular coastline characterized by few indentations. Because of the smooth coastline, natural harbors were non-existent. Today, however, there are important coastal cities, such as Lagos and Dakar. With the exception of the Mediterranean coast, most of the coastline is low-lying , generally narrow and rising sharply to high elevations. The African climate and topography varies greatly. Although temperatures are usually high, due to being so close to the equator, rainfall, soil quality and elevations are of various degrees. Because most of the African continent has not been covered by water for millions of years, soils have developed according to their weathering elements. A few areas have benefited from soils transported by rivers or ocean currents. African soils, for the most part, have irregular drainage and no definite water tables. Most are relatively infertile due to mineral leaching from heavy rainfall and high temperatures.
Achieving effective control of the water supply is a major problem. Many areas suffer low rainfall and must store water as insurance against delayed rains. Other areas have an overabundance of water, causing swamps to exist. Large areas suffer from periodic flooding. In recent years, progress has been made in the area of dams and reservoirs. With the continent's large rivers and waterways, Africa has probably the most potential for hydroelectric power in the world. However, the economic and the political standing of the region are not in a position to take advantage of this natural asset.
Africa's people are divided not only by country, but also by religion, race, and class. The Sahara also serves as a vast barrier between the people of northern Africa and those of sub-Saharan Africa. South of the Sahara, Negroid peoples, which constitute about seventy percent of the population, predominate. Primarily concentrated in southern Africa, are some...