How many countries are in Africa? The short answer is 54. From Algeria to South Africa, here’s everything you need to know about African geopolitics.
With a population of 1.4 billion people (and growing!), it’s vital that we begin to better understand the vast continent of Africa. The cradle of humankind should inspire both awe and curiosity, but all too often, the African continent raises questions amongst those, like myself, who are not from here.
The lack of geopolitical knowledge is often telling, even amongst seasoned travellers, and beyond its scenic landscapes and rich wildlife, Africa presents a remarkable geopolitical landscape, characterised by a diverse array of nations each with its own unique identity and history. It’s time to demystify Africa, to move away from Joseph Conrad’s aged ‘Heart of Darkness’ metaphor, and shed light on what is soon to become one of the world’s most powerful, and richest regions.
Keep reading, as I answer the question, ‘How many countries are in Africa?’.
Table of Contents
How many countries are in Africa?
From the lush rainforests of the Congo Basin to the shifting sands of the Sahara Desert, Africa consists of 54 internationally recognised countries. However, the continent’s geopolitical, cultural and historical complexities mean that Africa also includes two notable but disputed countries, and several overseas territories claimed by European nations.
In addition to the 54 sovereign nations which are internationally recognised by the United Nations (UN), Western Sahara and Somaliland are the two disputed countries. Originally a Spanish colony, Western Sahara became the focus of a territorial dispute between Morocco and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) after Spain withdrew in 1975. Morocco controls most of the region and considers it part of its sovereign territory, a claim not widely recognised internationally. The SADR, backed by the Polisario Front, seeks independence and is recognised by some countries and the African Union but lacks United Nations recognition.
Then there’s Somaliland, located in the Horn of Africa. It declared its independence from Somalia in 1991, following the collapse of the Somali central government. Somaliland has since been a relatively stable and democratically governed region in contrast to the tumultuous situation in the rest of Somalia. However, its claim to independence remains unrecognised by the UN and the African Union, keeping it in a state of international ambiguity.
These disputed regions underscore the complexity of African geopolitics and history. They reflect a continent where national boundaries, often drawn during the colonial era, don’t always align with the ethnic and cultural realities on the ground, leading to ongoing debates about sovereignty and self-determination. Despite these complexities, Africa continues to be a continent of immense cultural diversity and historical richness, with its 54 recognised nations each contributing to its distinct character.
List of countries in Africa
For quick reference, the following is a list of all 54 recognised countries in Africa:
- Burkina Faso
- Cabo Verde (Cape Verde)
- Central African Republic
- Congo, Democratic Republic of the
- Congo, Republic of the
- Equatorial Guinea
- Eswatini (formerly Swaziland)
- Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire)
- Sao Tome and Principe
- Sierra Leone
- South Africa
- South Sudan
In addition, Western Sahara and Somaliland, although only partially recognised, would bump the number of African countries up to 56. I let you decide if they should be on the list, or not.
Geographically, where is Africa?
As a continent, Africa is one of the world’s traditional seven main landmasses. Geographically, it is located predominantly in the Eastern Hemisphere, south of Europe and southwest of Asia. It is bounded by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, the Isthmus of Suez and the Red Sea to the northeast, the Indian Ocean to the southeast, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west.
Covering about 30.3 million square kilometres, Africa is the second-largest continent on Earth, both in terms of area and population. It stretches from the northernmost point at Ras ben Sakka in Tunisia to the southernmost point at Cape Agulhas in South Africa. In terms of width, it extends from the most westerly point at Cap Vert in Senegal to the most easterly point at Ras Hafun in Somalia.
The continent’s diverse geography includes the Sahara, the world’s largest hot desert, in the north, while the central and southern areas contain savannas, tropical rainforests, and numerous rivers. The Great Rift Valley, running from the Red Sea down through Eastern Africa, is another significant geographical feature, known for its unique geology and biodiversity.
What is the African Union?
The African Union (AU) is a continental organisation comprising all 54 African states, and Western Sahara, giving a total membership of 55 nations. It was established on July 9, 2002, in Durban, South Africa, as a successor to the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).
The AU’s formation represents a collective effort to accelerate the process of integration in the continent, enabling Africa to play its rightful role in the global economy while attempting to address social, economic, and political problems. Here are some key aspects of the African Union:
- Objectives: The AU aims to promote unity and solidarity among African states, accelerate socio-economic integration, and promote peace, security, and stability on the continent. It also seeks to protect the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of its member states.
- Structure: The AU has several key organs, including the Assembly of the African Union (comprising heads of state or government of member states), the Executive Council (composed of foreign ministers), the Pan-African Parliament, the Court of Justice, the African Union Commission (the AU’s secretariat), and several other bodies.
- Peace and Security: One of the AU’s main focuses is the promotion of peace and security in Africa. The African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) is a framework for conflict prevention, management, and resolution. It includes the African Standby Force, a multi-national force for rapid deployment in crisis areas.
- Economic Integration: The AU plays a significant role in economic integration efforts across the continent. This includes initiatives like the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which aims to create a single market for goods and services across the continent.
- Social and Political Issues: The AU also addresses various social and political issues, including promoting democracy and human rights, sustainable development, and health issues like the control of infectious diseases.
The African Union represents a significant effort towards unifying the African continent in various realms, from political cooperation to economic development and conflict resolution. Its establishment and continued efforts mark a crucial step in the collective self-determination and progress of African nations.
Are there any ‘Overseas Territories’ in Africa?
Several regions within Africa are part of non-African nations, largely resulting from colonial activities centuries prior. These are ‘Overseas Territories’, or regions that are geographically within Africa but are administered by European countries, such as Spain or France.
The main ‘Overseas Territories’ and regions in Africa are the following:
- Spanish Territories: Spain administers two small enclaves in North Africa, Ceuta and Melilla, which are located on the northern coast of Morocco. These enclaves are remnants of Spain’s historical presence in the region and are considered integral parts of Spain, though they are geographically separate from the Iberian Peninsula.
- French Territories: France maintains Mayotte and Réunion, two island regions in the Indian Ocean. Although geographically part of the African continent, they are officially overseas departments of France, making them integral parts of the French Republic and the European Union.
- The Canary Islands: While geographically located near the northwest coast of Africa, the Canary Islands are an autonomous community of Spain.
- Madeira and the Azores: These are Portuguese archipelagos in the North Atlantic Ocean, closer to Europe but having historical and cultural connections with Africa.
- British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT): While not in Africa, the BIOT, which includes the disputed Chagos Archipelago, is geographically close and has been a point of contention. Originally part of Mauritius, it was detached by the UK prior to Mauritian independence.
- Socotra Archipelago: Part of Yemen, Socotra is geographically closer to the Horn of Africa and has unique ecological connections with the continent.
These cases represent the complexities of historical, political, and geographic ties, illustrating how definitions of territory and sovereignty can be nuanced and contested, particularly in regions with a legacy of colonialism.
Is Western Sahara a country?
Western Sahara is a unique and complex case in the context of international recognition and sovereignty within Africa. It is not universally recognised as a sovereign country.
Here’s a brief overview of its status:
- Historical Context: Western Sahara is a territory in North Africa, bordered by Morocco to the north, Algeria to the northeast, Mauritania to the east and south, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. Historically, it was a Spanish colony until the mid-1970s.
- Dispute and Claims: After Spain withdrew, Western Sahara became the subject of a territorial dispute primarily between Morocco and the Polisario Front, a Sahrawi nationalist organisation seeking independence for the Sahrawi people. Morocco claims sovereignty over the entire territory and administers a large portion of it, while the Polisario Front, which proclaimed the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), controls the remainder.
- International Recognition: The SADR is recognised by some countries and is a full member of the African Union. However, it is not universally recognised as a sovereign state, and its claim to Western Sahara is not recognised by the United Nations or by Morocco. The UN considers Western Sahara a ‘non-self-governing territory’ and has been involved in efforts to find a mutually acceptable solution to the conflict.
- Current Status: The situation remains unresolved, with ongoing negotiations and diplomatic efforts under the auspices of the United Nations. The territory’s status is therefore contested, and it is not universally acknowledged as an independent country.
Is Somaliland a country?
Somaliland presents a case that’s even more complex than Western Sahara in terms of international politics and sovereignty. It declared independence from Somalia in 1991 but is not widely recognised as an independent country by the international community.
Here’s an overview of its status:
- Declaration of Independence: Somaliland declared its independence from Somalia following the collapse of the Somali central government in 1991. This declaration came after years of conflict and a struggle for autonomy by the people in the northwestern region of Somalia.
- Lack of International Recognition: Despite its self-declared independence and its functioning internal governance structures, Somaliland is not officially recognised as a sovereign state by the United Nations or the African Union. Its claim to independence is acknowledged by a few countries on a de facto basis, but it has not achieved widespread international recognition.
- Internal Stability and Governance: Somaliland has established its own government, currency, and other state institutions and enjoys a relative degree of stability and democratic governance compared to the broader Somali region. It holds regular elections and has its own police and military forces.
- Efforts for Recognition: Somaliland continues to seek international recognition as a sovereign state. It argues that it meets the criteria for statehood set out in international law, including a defined territory, a permanent population, a government, and the capacity to enter into relations with other states.
- Context of International Law: In international law, statehood is often a complex and politically charged issue. Recognition by other states plays a significant role in achieving the status of a sovereign nation. Somaliland’s situation is further complicated by the African Union’s general policy of maintaining colonial-era borders, to prevent potential secessionist movements across the continent.
Is Africa divided into different regions?
Africa is commonly divided into different regions, both for geographical and socio-political reasons. These regional divisions help in understanding the continent’s diverse cultural, economic, and political landscapes.
The most common regional divisions are:
- North Africa: This region includes countries along the Mediterranean coast and the Sahara Desert. It comprises Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, and Western Sahara. North Africa is culturally distinct, with a significant Arab and Berber influence, and is often linked both to the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa.
- West Africa: This region encompasses countries to the west of the continent, bordering the Atlantic Ocean. It includes Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo. West Africa is known for its diverse cultures, languages, and histories.
- Central Africa: Situated around the equator, this region includes Angola, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, São Tomé and Príncipe, and parts of South Sudan. The region is known for its rainforests, river systems, and rich biodiversity.
- East Africa: This region is known for its landscapes, from mountains to savannas and coastal areas. It includes Burundi, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda. East Africa is notable for its wildlife and is a significant site for anthropological research.
- Southern Africa: This region is in the southernmost part of the continent and includes Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland (Eswatini), Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Southern Africa is known for its diverse ecosystems, mineral resources, and vibrant cultures.
How large is Africa?
Africa is the second-largest continent in the world, both in terms of land area and population. Geographically, it covers approximately 30.3 million square kilometres (11.7 million square miles). This vast land area makes Africa about three times the size of Europe and nearly twice the size of the United States.
Africa’s immense size is often underappreciated, as traditional Mercator projection maps can misrepresent the true scale of continents. Africa’s vastness is evident in its diverse landscapes, which include the Sahara Desert (the largest hot desert in the world), extensive savannahs, dense tropical rainforests, and long rivers like the Nile and Congo.
The continent’s size also contributes to its ecological and cultural diversity, hosting a wide range of wildlife, ecosystems, and human cultures. Africa is home to over 1.3 billion people, representing a significant portion of the world’s population and encompassing thousands of ethnic groups and languages.
So, how many countries are in Africa?
In conclusion, Africa is home to 54 internationally recognised countries. From the desert sands of North Africa to the deltas of Southern Africa, each region, and each country, has its own unique history, culture and landscapes.
But we can also throw the two unrecognised nations of Western Sahara and Somaliland into the mix, as these both have the trappings of nation-states and as South Sudan did in 2011, they could become independent, internationally recognised countries in the future.
FAQ: How many countries are in Africa?
Here’s an FAQ on the topic, ‘How many countries are in Africa?’:
Q1: How many countries are in Africa?
Africa is comprised of 54 internationally recognised sovereign states.
Q2: What are the largest and smallest countries in Africa by area?
Algeria is the largest country in Africa by area, while Seychelles is the smallest.
Q3: Which country in Africa has the largest population?
Nigeria has the largest population of any African country.
Q4: Are there any disputed territories in Africa?
Yes, Western Sahara and Somaliland are among the most notable disputed territories in Africa. Western Sahara is claimed by both Morocco and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, while Somaliland has declared independence from Somalia but is not widely recognised.
Q5: Does Africa have any island nations?
Yes, countries like Madagascar, Seychelles, Mauritius, and Cape Verde are island nations in Africa.
Q6: What are the most widely spoken languages in Africa?
Languages like Arabic, Swahili, Hausa, Amharic, and Yoruba are among the most widely spoken across the continent, alongside colonial languages such as English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish.
Q7: What is the most economically powerful country in Africa?
Nigeria has the largest GDP in Africa, closely followed by South Africa and Egypt.
Q8: Are there any landlocked countries in Africa?
Yes, there are several, including Chad, Mali, Niger, and Zambia.
Q9: Which African country was never colonised?
Ethiopia is often cited as the only African country that was never colonised, although it was briefly occupied by Italy during the Second Italo-Ethiopian War.
Q10: How diverse is Africa culturally and ethnically?
Africa is extremely diverse, with thousands of ethnic groups and over 2,000 spoken languages. Each country has its own unique cultural and ethnic makeup.