Africa is the world's second-largest and second-most-populous continent. At about 30.2 million km2 (11.7 million sq mi) including adjacent islands, it covers six percent of Earth's total surface area and 20.4 percent of its total land area. With 1.1 billion people as of 2013, it accounts for about 15% of the world's human population. The continent is surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, both the Suez Canal and the Red Sea along the Sinai Peninsula to the northeast, the Indian Ocean to the southeast, and theAtlantic Ocean to the west. The continent includes Madagascar and various archipelagos. It has 54 fully recognized sovereign states(or countries), nine territories and two de facto independent states with limited or no recognition.
Africa's population is the youngest among all the continents; 50% of Africans are 19 years old or younger. Algeria is Africa's largest country by area, and Nigeria by population. Africa, particularly central Eastern Africa, is widely accepted as the place of origin ofhumans and the Hominidae clade (great apes), as evidenced by the discovery of the earliest hominids and their ancestors, as well as later ones that have been dated to around seven million years ago, including Sahelanthropus tchadensis, Australopithecus africanus, A. afarensis, Homo erectus, H. habilis and H. ergaster – with the earliest Homo sapiens (modern human) found in Ethiopiabeing dated to circa 200,000 years ago. Africa straddles the equator and encompasses numerous climate areas; it is the only continent to stretch from the northern temperate to southern temperate zones.
Africa host a large diversity of ethnicities, cultures and languages. In the late 19th century European countries colonized most of Africa. Most modern states in Africa originate from a process of decolonization in the 20th century.
There are clear signs of increased networking among African organizations and states. For example, in the civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (former Zaire), rather than rich, non-African countries intervening, neighboring African countries became involved (see also Second Congo War). Since the conflict began in 1998, the estimated death toll has reached 5 million.
The African Union
Map of the African Union with suspended states highlighted in light green.
Main article: African Union
The African Union (AU) is a 54-member federation consisting of all of Africa's states except Morocco. The union was formed, with Addis Ababa,Ethiopia, as its headquarters, on 26 June 2001. The union was officially established on 9 July 2002 as a successor to the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). In July 2004, the African Union's Pan-African Parliament (PAP) was relocated to Midrand, in South Africa, but the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights remained in Addis Ababa. There is a policy in effect to decentralize the African Federation's institutions so that they are shared by all the states.
The African Union, not to be confused with the AU Commission, is formed by the Constitutive Act of the African Union, which aims to transform theAfrican Economic Community, a federated commonwealth, into a state under established international conventions. The African Union has a parliamentary government, known as the African Union Government, consisting of legislative, judicial and executive organs. It is led by the African Union President and Head of State, who is also the President of the Pan-African Parliament. A person becomes AU President by being elected to the PAP, and subsequently gaining majority support in the PAP. The powers and authority of the President of the African Parliament derive from the Constitutive Act and the Protocol of the Pan-African Parliament, as well as the inheritance of presidential authority stipulated by African treaties and by international treaties, including those subordinating the Secretary General of the OAU Secretariat (AU Commission) to the PAP. The government of the AU consists of all-union (federal), regional, state, and municipal authorities, as well as hundreds of institutions, that together manage the day-to-day affairs of the institution.
Political associations such as the African Union offer hope for greater co-operation and peace between the continent's many countries. Extensive human rights abuses still occur in several parts of Africa, often under the oversight of the state. Most of such violations occur for political reasons, often as a side effect of civil war. Countries where major human rights violations have been reported in recent times include the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Sudan, Zimbabwe, and Côte d'Ivoire.
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