To all those adventurous types that always have dreamt of a cross continental African road trip, Jeff Desjardins from Visual Capitalist explores the true size of the African continent and compares it to other continents around the world. Find out just how big Africa really is.
Africa is considered the world’s second-largest and second-most-populous continent, after Asia. It accounts for 30.37 million km² including adjacent islands, and covers 6% of Earth’s total surface area as well as 20% of its land area. As of 2018, it was recorded to have 1.3 billion people, which accounts for about 16% of the world’s human population.
Anybody can tell that the African continent is big just by looking at any map, but studies have shown that despite the common perception of the continent’s massive size, it is still vastly underestimated by most casual map viewers.
Editor-in-Chief of Visual Capitalist, Jeff Desjardins, attributes this to the familiar Mercator map projection, which tends to distort our geographical view of the world in a crucial way. This often leads to misconceptions about the relative sizes of both countries and continents, according to Desjardins.
Using Kai Krause’s infographic about the true size of Africa, viewers can see that the 30.37 million km² of Africa’s land area is enough to fit U.S.A, China, India, Japan, Mexico, and many European nations, combined.
In Krause’s infographic, he mentions the concept of immappancy, which means “insufficient geographical knowledge”.
“A survey with random American schoolkids let them guess the population and a land area of their country. Not entirely unexpected, but still rather unsettling, the majority chose “1-2 billion” and “largest in the world”, respectively. Even with Asian and European college students, geographical estimates were often off by factors of 2-3. This is partly due to the highly distorted nature of the predominantly used mapping projections (such as Mercator),” says Krause.
A particularly extreme example is the worldwide misjudgement of the true size of Africa. This single image tries to embody the massive scale, which is larger than the USA, China, India, Japan and all of Europe – combined.
Interestingly, Desjardins says that the problem with maps is not that Africa is sized incorrectly. In fact, the animation below shows Africa to be the most accurately sized continent using the common Mercator map projection.
Other countries furthest from the equator become inflated from their true sizes in these types of maps compared to Africa, which straddles the Equator and barely changes in size.
“This means that the sizes of European and North American countries are distorted, giving us an inaccurate mental “measuring stick” for judging the relative sizes of other countries,” says Desjardins.
This does not only affect Africa but the whole southern hemisphere where continents like South America, Asia, the Middle East, and even Australia are “bigger” than how they appear on a map.
Living in Africa, we all have reason to be proud of our vast and beautiful continent. We should get out there more often and actively explore it. To quote the Dalai Lama, “Once a year go some place you’ve never been before.”