The continent of Africa is the world’s second largest continent after Asia, with a total surface area, including several surrounding islands of 30,313,000 square kilometres. It stretches from 40 degrees latitude in the north to 34 35′ degrees south and has 54 independent countries – 48 mainland and 6 island states – with an estimated total population of 700 million.
The economic powerhouse of Africa south of the Sahara Desert is South Africa. Through its well developed infrastructure and deepwater ports, South Africa handles much of the trade for the whole southern African region. In 1970 its immediate neighbours, Botswana, Swaziland and Lesotho, and latterly Namibia, signed the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) enabling them to share in the customs revenue from their trade passing through South African ports.
In order to counter the economic dominance of South Africa in the southern African region, the countries to the north of it organised themselves into the Southern African Development Conference (SADC). Member states include those of the SACU as well as Angola, situated north of Namibia, and it’s oil-rich enclave of Cabinda, and Mozambique on the east coast, and the countries of south-central Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi.
The eastern region of Africa is home to the great wildlife reserves of the Serengeti plains and the Rift Valley lake system which stretch across the countries of Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. These countries signed the Treaty for Enhanced East African Co-operation to allow for the free flow of goods and people.
Further north lie the countries of the Horn of Africa and the source of the longest river in the world, the Nile River, which flows northwards over 6690 kilometres to end in the Mediterranean Sea. Somalia occupies much of the coastline, while Ethiopia and Sudan are large inland countries. On the coast of the Red Sea are the two independent republics of Djibouti and Eritrea.
The small landlocked central African countries of Rwanda and Burundi form part of an economic union of countries in the central African region. Other members of the Economic Community of Central African States are Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, the oil-rich Congo and Gabon and the vast country of the Democratic Republic of Congo.