The birthplace of humanity, the home to the largest land animals on Earth, the largest desert and some of the most unique geological features found on the planet. The second largest continent and the second most populated by humans, it stretches for 30.2 million square kilometres and covers two per cent of the world's total surface, and 20 per cent of its land area. Roughly 1.1 billion people live in Africa today, accounting for 15 per cent of the population of our species. It is also the only country on Earth that stretches from the northern temperate climate down to the southern temperate zone. In total, 54 countries, nine territories and two independent states, are found in Africa. Among all the continents, Africa has the youngest population. Roughly 50 per cent of all Africans are 19 years old or younger. The largest country in Africa is Algeria, while Nigeria is the largest based on population. Africa has an important role in the evolution of our species. It is in East Africa that our species first emerged, dating back seven million years. The earliest human species, Homo sapiens, emerged from the area 200,000 years ago. The history of humans in Africa goes back farther than any other place on Earth, as has already been mentioned. As the climate warmed, many began to move out of Africa and colonize other parts of the world. Cattle were domesticated in the continent, before agriculture was developed, around 6000 BC. In 4000, the Sahara Desert began to dry, and the warming climate caused many lakes to slowly disappear. By 500 BC, metal working was common in West Africa. Many great civilizations have called Africa home, most famous being the Ancient Egyptians, one of the earliest and longest lasting civilizations in human history. Other civilizations that have been in Africa at one point or another were the Bantu, Romans, Greeks and Phoenicians. Slavery, with Europeans and other Western powers taking people from the continent, began in 700 AD and continued until the early 20th century. Over the course of 500 years until the 19th century, seven to 12 million slaves were shipped to the New World. After colonization, independence came to most of Africa, but problems still exist and many countries are dealing with starvation, war, pollution and poverty. Despite this, several countries are beginning to emerge as major economies and the number of armed conflicts on the continent has steadily declined. The Civil War in Angola ended in 2002 after 30 years, and improved stability and economic reforms are coming thanks to investments from other countries like China. Several African countries are among the fastest growing economies on the planet. The climate of Africa is the hottest on Earth, and 60 per cent of the continent's surface is made up of drylands and deserts. The highest temperature ever recorded was recorded in Libya in 1922 when the temperature hit 58 degrees but this has been speculated as being an exaggeration. Currently, Africa boasts the largest combination of density and range of freedom wild animals on the planet. There are populations of large carnivores and large herbivores that move over the open plains. There are also several jungle animals and the largest number of megafauna species on the planet. In terms of the ecology of Africa, deforestation on the continent is twice that of the rest of the world. Currently, 31 per cent of the pasture lands and 19 per cent of the forests are considered to be degraded and Africa is losing four million acres of forest on a yearly basis. It is believed that in West Africa, 90 per cent of the original forests have been lost. When humans arrived in Madagascar 2,000 years ago, 90 per cent of the forest was also lost. In total, 65 per cent of the agricultural land of the continent suffers from soil degradation. Despite this, Africa has 3,000 protected areas, 198 marine protected areas, 50 biosphere reserves and 80 wetland reserves. It is important to speak about the African Union. This is a 54 member federation made up of every single country in Africa except Morroco. Formed in 2001, it has the goal to transform the economy of the entire continent, while promoting greater co-operation between the many countries involved. With the abundant natural resources of the country, Africa is still the poorest and most underdeveloped continent on the planet. The African Union hopes to change that by ending corruption, human right violations, increasing literacy and more. China is also helping, investing $1 billion in the continent.

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