Africa : size matters!

I have recently read that the size of the African continent is not what it should really be. So I googled the surface area of the dark continent and was startled to read about this whole mass manipulation. We have all been taught wrong and most of our maps of the world are inaccurate. Africa‘s size has always been underestimated.

After all, Africa’s surface area is massive as it is more than 30 million square kilometers. Which is not reflected in Mercator inspired maps. Only Asia (43,807,785 sq. km) is larger than Africa. You could squeeze into Africa, the United States, China, India, Eastern Europe and most Western Europe countries! The whole world surface area is roughly 510 million sq. km, so this means that Africa represents actually 6% of the world total surface area. There is more. Earth land area is roughly 149 million sq. km, so Africa takes up more than one fifth of the land.

As I searched for world maps images, it appeared to me that all the maps looked different. Proportions seem to never be the same or am I mislead? On most of them, Africa did not look as 6% of the entire globe. The Northern hemisphere had always seemed so huge compared to the Southern one. And it looked that way ever since I was a grade-schooler. A large scale wall map was hanging in the classroom and the kids never pondered about the size of the countries. We assumed things were like we were being taught.

Mercator world map

Mercator world map

The question is why Africa was being underestimated. Historically, it all goes back to Mercator in the 16th century. The sizes of the continents were twisted, probably because our Western view of the world was distorted. We always thought we were the center of the Earth, even the center of the universe. And then came colonization. And we thought we were so smart, so patronizing. This was the era of white supremacy. They were weak and small. We believed it so hard that the curves of the dark continent were slimmed down. The whole thing is talking about our perception. Africa was plundered for centuries, Africans were enslaved and slaughtered. We were just bringing civilization and Christianity, weren’t we? We were the good guys, they were the bad ones. Our mission was to educate those people and restrain their natural instincts. We were the dominant ones, we were towering the world, we were big.

Maybe this explains the ridiculous size of Africa on most maps. We are up North, they are down South. Why is North up and South down anyway? Why would it make more sense to have North up and South down? How about trying to rotate a map and consider the view?  An Australian came up with that bold idea because he could not bear anymore being from “the bottom of the world”. So he published in 1979 the McArthur’s Universal Corrective Map of the World. Suddenly, the North hemisphere seems smaller, like if it was crushed by Africa and South America. Australia even looks bigger from that perspective. It obviously is an offbeat vision of the world but awareness often pops in through humor. Casting doubt on our certainties is healthy. And that is why sometimes – and in the specific case of Africa – size matters!


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