||Africa is the second-largest continent after Asia. It is
approximately four times larger than the United States and is comprised of some 54
countries and states and islands. Africa's population numbered some 720 million in 1995.
The most populous states are Nigeria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Zaire, and South Africa. If
Africa's population continues to increase at its present rate, it will double by the year
Many of the challenges faced by
missionaries working in Africa can be traced to the history of the continent and the
impact of European colonization.
The modern European colonization of Africa was begun by the Portuguese, who
established trading stations on the coast in the 15th and 16th centuries. The interior of
what Europeans called "the Dark Continent" was not explored or colonized until
the 19th century. By the early 20th century nearly all of Africa had been subjected to
European rule. Since World War II, 49 nations have gained their independence, but the
colonial experience left Africa with arbitrarily defined boundaries, a diversity of
political systems and problems, and economies dependent upon the industrialized world.
Africa's peoples remain sharply divided by race,
language, religion, and politics in a complex cultural mosaic. In 1995, Africa contained
about 13 percent of the world's population and was the second most populous continent
after Asia. Few of its states are ethnically homogeneous, and only a few have developed a
strong sense of national unity. For centuries traditional values prevailed. Africans
identified first and foremost with members of their own tribe or nation and avoided or
competed with those who spoke a different language or were of a different culture. The
imposition of colonial boundaries without regard for the indigenous cultural mosaic
exacerbated divisions among the African people.
The number of languages spoken in Africa has been variously estimated at between
800 and 1,700. Five major stocks are generally recognized. Afroasiatic languages, dominant
in North Africa and the Horn, include Berber, Kushitic, Semitic, Chad, and Coptic
languages. Superimposed on this linguistic mosaic are English, French, Italian,
Portuguese, German, and languages of the Indian subcontinent. English is the official
language, or one of the two official languages, in all ex-British colonies, excluding
Tanzania, where Swahili has been adopted. French is the official language of most former
French possessions south of the Sahara. Arabic is the official language of seven Saharan
states. Numerous lingua francas, such as Lingala in Zaire and Mandingo in West Africa, are
used for commerce and in mixed-language areas. The multi-linguistic nature of most states
has hindered nationalism and perpetuates tribal and local identities.
The dominant religion of northern Africa is Islam, which replaced Christianity in
the 7th century and spread west and south across the Sahara and into the equatorial zones.
With an estimated 155 million believers, Islam is the fastest-growing faith in Africa. The
Christian churches claim a membership of some 140 million Africans of whom 55 percent are
Protestants. Many denominations are present, including a number of indigenous churches.
Christianity's earliest hold in Africa was in Egypt and Ethiopia, home of the Coptic
church. European missionaries introduced Christianity into sub-Saharan Africa during the
19th century. Approximately two-fifths of the African population follows traditional
religions and animism.
Educational standards, facilities, and programs vary considerably and reflect differences
in class, ethnicity, sex, and location. In all countries literacy rates for women are
lower than those for men, more males than females attend primary school, and urban
education is superior to rural. The richest countries invest more in education than the
poorest, and in most states, secondary school enrollments are less than half the primary
school enrollments. Only a small fraction of Africa's young people attend universities.
Adult literacy rates range from 11 percent in Niger and 19 percent in Mali to 94 percent
in Tanzania and 84 percent in Seychelles. Due to the lack of prestigious universities in
many African countries, qualified students often attend U.S. and European universities.
There is an urgent need to improve general health and nutritional standards in
Africa. A significant number of persons in every country suffer from chronic malnutrition
due to poverty, ignorance, and poor agricultural practices. On a per-capita basis, food
production declined from the 1970s into the 1990s, and malnutrition rates are the highest
in the world. In several countries of the Sahel, Guinea Coast, and equatorial Africa, as
much as 40 percent of the population are malnourished and suffer from such diseases as
malaria, dysentery, schistosomiasis, and yaws. Most of the doctors and general hospitals
are situated in the capitals and towns, whereas the more populated rural areas have few
health facilities and high incidences of disease, malnutrition, and infant mortality.
Since World War II, national and international efforts to control mosquitoes, locusts,
tsetse flies, and other pests have increased, but AIDS is a growing problem, especially in
Africa is the most rural and least urbanized of the continents. Less than a third
of the population live in cities, although several countries, including South Africa,
Egypt, Nigeria, and Morocco, have large urban-industrial areas. In most countries the
largest city is the capital, which is often also the only city of significant size.
Urban-population growth rates exceed rural growth rates as more and more Africans migrate
to the cities in search of jobs, education, and security. Slums are growing, and urban
living conditions are deteriorating in most countries. Between the 1970s and the mid-1990s
civil strife and political upheaval displaced millions of people in Ethiopia, Somalia,
Sudan, Uganda, Angola, Liberia, Rwanda, Mozambique, and other areas. Few countries have
been willing or able to accommodate the refugees despite United Nations assistance.
Despite Africa's great natural resources and energy potentials, industrialization is in
its infancy. Africa contributes only 1 percent of worldwide industrial production. South
Africa is the only modern industrial state, although manufacturing is becoming
increasingly strong in Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Egypt, and Algeria. Handicaps to rapid
industrialization are weak agricultural economies, inadequate and poorly integrated
transport facilities, insufficient capital technology, political instability, a poorly
trained workforce, a small purchasing power, and economic policies and practices
determined outside of Africa.
-Beckwith, C., and Fisher, A., African Ark (1993)
-Best, A. C. G., and deBlij, H. J., African Survey (1977)
-Europa Publications, Africa South of the Sahara (annual)
-Gordon, A. A. and D. L., eds., Understanding Contemporary Africa (1992)
-Harding, J., The Fate of Africa (1993)
-Martin, P. M., and O'Meara, P., Africa, 2d ed. (1987)