These are the ten largest countries in Africa by population:
10 Sudan (35 million people)
Prior to July 2011 Sudan used to be the largest country in Africa (and 10th largest in the world) but it was divided unevenly into Sudan and South Sudan on that date. After the split, the northernmost section, known as Sudan, is the third largest country in Africa area-wise, and has a great deal of desert terrain within its borders. The name Sudan derives from the Arabic bilad al-sudan which means, rather politically incorrectly ‘land of the blacks’. Sudan, and more specifically the capital Khartoum, is where the Blue and White Niles merge before flowing on into Egypt. The country was part of the ancient Egyptian empire and features a wealth of Egyptian ruins and pyramids (some even larger than those found in Egypt!) Sudanese women enjoy a dukhan or smoke bath, starting some 40 days before their wedding and then weekly during their married life. The process infuses their skin with a delicate scent of the wood that is burned, usually a type of acacia. Sudan has a wealth of oil and other mineral reserves but due to warfare, tribalism and the harsh desert climate, the people are usually quite poor and the life expectancy is in the low sixties.
9 Uganda (35 million people)
If you like the idea of a country where the average temperature is a pleasantly warm 28°C and the people are known for their warmth and friendly hospitality, then Uganda is a country that you should consider visiting! However, while much of the food is tasty to Western palates, with bananas forming the staple food or basis of many meals (dating back to the days before wheat or maize were introduced to the continent) one of the favourite dishes is a panful of grasshoppers! Tropical fruit such as the above-mentioned bananas, mangoes, avocadoes and pineapples grow very well in the country, and the plentiful sunshine ensures that the fruit is sweet and tasty – making it easy to get your five-a-day! Uganda is a great place to see the wonderful African wildlife, being one of three countries that are home to the rare and extremely endangered mountain gorilla. Uganda also boasts over 1,000 species of bird as well as a huge range of other creatures both large and small. Kampala, the capital, is a surprisingly cosmopolitan city boasting a huge range of multicultural eateries with local delicacies on offer alongside cappuccinos and lattes, and Chinese and Indian food!
8 Algeria (38 million people)
Being a former French colony, it will come as no surprise that much of the population speaks the language, with up to 80 per cent of the population speaking Arabic too. Algeria is, by land area, the largest country in Africa (after Sudan’s split) but the population is restricted by the vast swathes of desert that comprise much of that area. Only 12 per cent of the land area is inhabited. The hottest temperature ever recorded in Algeria was a mind-bogglingly and potentially lethal 57.1°C! This was in July 1936, but many readings of close to this temperature (that is to say over 50°C) have been reported over the years. Despite the generally poor treatment of women in Islamic countries, Algeria is something of an exception, with more women than men in law practise, on the bench and studying at tertiary institutions. Women also tend to earn more than men in Algeria and are often considered the breadwinner for the family. Sadly, the capital, Algiers, has the highest cost of living in Africa and alcohol is hard to find as it is forbidden under Islam. Albert Camus, the famous French writer and Nobel Prize winner, was born in Algeria and his family were known as pied-noir (black foot), a term that described French nationals living in Africa.
7 Kenya (43 million people)
Kenya is ideally situated on the equator and has plenty of fertile soil for growing crops of tea, coffee, flowers, fruit, vegetables and grains, while her wildlife is world famous. People come from all over the world to go on a safari in Kenya to see the big five (rhinoceros, buffalo, lion, elephant and leopard) as well as immense pods of hippos, graceful and otherworldly giraffe, herds of stocky and feisty zebra and leaping crowds of antelope. Kenya is one of three countries (the other two being Uganda and Tanzania) that shares the world’s largest fresh water lake, Lake Victoria. Despite the countries fertility, many of the people live in poverty. Kenya is known for producing fleet athletes who tend to dominate in the globe’s long-distance running contests.
6 Tanzania (45 million people)
Tanzania is blessed for several reasons: firstly, it is home to the only mountain in Africa that always has snow on its peaks: Mt Kilimanjaro! The mountain alone attracts thousands of tourists every year, all looking to scale her slopes. Despite being a relatively easy climb, with no tricky chimneys or sheer faces to attempt, the mountains sheer height above sea-level means that the climb is a lengthy one, and that climbers can easily succumb to altitude sickness. Secondly, Tanzania has long been known as the ‘cradle of mankind’ as Olduvai Gorge is the place where the oldest human remains (some two millions years old) have been found. Tanzania is also blessed with an immense array of wildlife, including the only pride of lions known to willingly and happily climb trees! (Lions will climb trees if they have to, but their preference is generally to flop in the shade under a tree!) The tree climbing pride can be found at Lake Manyara National Park. Other features of Tanzania are the nearly intact crater of the now-extinct Ngorongoro volcano and the world’s second deepest lake, Lake Tanganyika.
5 South Africa (52 million people)
Africa’s jewel, the rainbow nation of South Africa, is probably the best known and most visited of all the African countries. Table Mountain in Cape Town is an instantly recognisable feature and boasts, just on the mountain itself, more plants than the entire United Kingdom! South African game rangers are working with their colleagues in neighbouring Zimbabwe and Mozambique to create the world’s largest game reserve which will allow many animals to re-establish their traditional migratory routes. The game reserve, once complete will be bigger than the entire country of Belgium. South Africa produces fruit that is exported world-wide, and also has some excellent vineyards – South African wine is exclusively served at Disney World’s Animal Kingdom in Florida. South Africa has an extensive mining history and features some of the largest mineral workings in the world, as well as having the world’s largest man-made hole and the world’s deepest mine shaft. It is also home to the only street in the world where two Nobel Peace Prize winners have lived: Vilikazi Street in Soweto was home to both Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Anyone, even the most cynical and world weary traveller, preparing to visit South Africa should prepare themselves to be impressed! Apart from all the natural bounty and man-made wonders, South Africa also boasts the site of the world’s oldest meteor strike, the Vredefort Dome, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site!
4 Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC for short!) (74 million people)
Given the turmoil currently plaguing the DRC it is highly unlikely that many people are visiting the nation for purely pleasurable pursuits, but one piece of advice to anyone visiting: do not snap photographs of villagers and natives without asking permission. There is a superstition amongst some tribes that to be photographed is to lose a piece of the soul or spirit – and given the vapid and inane stream of ‘selfies’ that is currently plaguing the Internet, who is to say that they are completely wrong? All joking aside, always ask permission to take photographs and accept a negative response as final. Other superstitions abound in the country, with a firm belief in witchcraft being the norm for most rural people – and even some urban ones! The DRC is home to two species of great ape that are not found anywhere else in the world, namely bonobos and eastern lowland gorillas. (Eastern lowland gorillas look very similar to their mountain cousins). Because of the corruption and poverty that is rife across the country (the former leader Mobuto Sese Seko took his entire family on shopping jaunts to Paris, chartering a concord and building an immense runway to do so, while the poorest people in his country starved) ATMs only appeared in the DRC in 2010! A final point about this beautiful, war-torn and contradictory country: the DRC has a space program! Supported by the government and privately financed, the DRC expects to be able to send cargo into space in the near future!
3 Egypt (84 million people)
In a nod to the wonders of the new phenomena of social media, Egyptians adore Facebook, with over five millions users in the country – more than any other Middle Eastern country. A proud father made headlines all over the world when he celebrated both the birth of a baby daughter and the part that social media played in the 2011 revolution: he named his daughter Facebook Jamal Ibrahim! The longest reign of any monarch was held by an Egyptian pharaoh, Pepi II, who ascended to the throne when he was only six and ruled for 94 years. He was not a particularly loveable man though, allegedly smearing the bodies of slaves with honey so as to attract flies away from him! Much is known about ancient Egypt, thanks to their philosophy of preserving material goods, pets and the bodies of important citizens. The Pyramids, Valley of the Kings and the Sphinx are major attractions in Egypt, along with many other important sites, like Karnak and Abu Simbel. Tourists come to Egypt, not only to glory in the wonders of ancient Egypt, but to enjoy the modern facilities and amenities that have seen the growth and development of the Red Sea Riviera, a series of exquisite, world-class beach resorts. Any trip to Egypt will demand an intricately detailed and carefully thought-out itinerary to take in as many different and fascinating facets of this lovely country as possible.
2 Ethiopia (86 million people)
A little known fact about Ethiopia is that it is believed to be the place where coffee was discovered. A goatherd noticed that his charges would become restless after chewing the leaves of a particular plant and brought this fact to general attention. This happened in the Kaffa area of the country and the name coffee is believed to have arisen from the word. Ethiopia has an old tradition of Christianity, with some of the oldest churches in existence in the country, some of which are concealed on mountainsides, with a lengthy and tortuous walk to get there! Documentaries, novels and even movies have included this history in the plot line, with Ethiopia having been claimed to be the resting place of the Holy Grail, the Ark of the Covenant and even the home to the tablets given to Moses by God himself, bearing the Ten Commandments! Christianity is not the only religion to mention the ancient and venerable land: Ethiopia is mentioned in the Quran, and was a place of refuge for Mohammed and his followers when they were persecuted after the birth of Islam. With such a fascinating and important history, it is a shame that Ethiopia is best known for the immense famine that swept the country to world-wide fame in 1986, inspiring events such as ‘Band Aid’ and an international flood of aid to alleviate the problems faced by the people. If you are planning a visit to the capital city, Addis Ababa, do be aware that the city is so high above sea-level that it is often cool, rather than hot!
1 Nigeria (177 million people)
Many Westerners will have received at least one email purporting to be from a Nigerian prince who has funds locked up in some bank or institution or other and needs access to a foreign bank account in order to free up the cash – lending your bank details will be richly rewarded, of course! This scam is known as a 419 scam, which refers to the part of the Nigerian penal code that deals with such offenses and they have become so prolific thanks in part to the high level of education and computer literacy that Nigerian youth receives, only to leave education and be unable to find work – something of a double-edged sword. However, one cannot entirely blame opportunistic youth for their lack of conscience: the country has been plagued by a series of corrupt administrations, each of which has plundered ever more from the nations coffers. The total sum removed from the government treasury is thought to run into the multi-millions over time… However, Nigeria is not all bad and the people tend to be friendly, generous and welcoming, with no apparent xenophobia. The country has abundant mineral wealth and is blessed with stable geography (as is most of Africa, with earthquakes, landslides and similar natural disasters being all but unheard of!) Nigerians as a whole tend to be snappy dressers, proud of their appearance and confident when meeting strangers – disconcertingly so to more reticent nationalities! Yorubans (a common tribe in Nigeria) are genetically more predisposed to have twins than any other tribe or people worldwide. There is something of a national joke about how the fastest runners train by jogging alongside vehicles in an attempt to sell their wares: a nod to both the excellence of Nigerian long-distance runners and the tenacity and determination of her small-scale businessmen!