Africa forms the vast southwestern peninsula of the old world, being joined to Asia by the narrow isthmus of Suez. This continent, next to Asia, is the largest of the continents of the earth, and, next to Asia, the home of the earliest civilization, but at the beginning of the twentieth century was the most uncivilized of all the continents of the earth.
In area Africa covers about 11,000,000 square miles, which is three times that of Europe, and one-fifth the land surface of the globe. Its extreme length is 5,000 miles, its extreme width 4,600. No other division of the earth has such a rounded and compact outline as Africa. Access to the interior is rendered difficult by the general absence of gulfs and large inlets, and the total absence of roads. The coast line measures 16,000 miles ; hence, the continent contains 720 square miles of surface to each mile of coast.
No definite figures exist for the larger part of Africa's population. It is estimated to be about 200,000,000 souls, or over one-seventh of the inhabitants of the world.
The interior of the continent is a plateau, almost completely surrounded by mountains. This plateau is lower in the north than in the south and east, its average elevation in the north being about 1,500 feet, and in the south about 4,000 feet above the level of the sea. Nearly one-third of the entire area of the continent is occupied by deserts, the Sahara being the greatest, and this is a desert, not because it has a sandy surface, but from lack of water. Its soil, if it could be irrigated, would, doubtless, be highly productive. This great desert occupies an area about the size of the United States.
Africa has many great rivers, the principal ones being the Nile, the Congo, the Niger, and the Zambeze, but because of cataracts in them, and lack of harbors about their mouths, these great rivers are commercially unimportant. The Nile is the most important of the African rivers. It brings down rich soil from the mountains, and annually overflows its banks, thus transforming its otherwise desert valley into the most fertile region of the world. Contrary to the usual rule, this great river diminishes in size as it ap-' proaches the sea, which is owing to the large amount of water used in irrigation, and which evaporates during its course. For the last several hundred miles before it reaches the sea it has no tributaries.
Throughout a large part of Africa there are but two seasons. Owing to its position in the torrid zone, and to the large number of deserts, it is the hottest of the continents. In Nubia and Upper
Egypt eggs may be roasted in the sand. During the daytime the Soudan is the warmest spot in Africa, but at night it cools off so rapidly that water sometimes freezes. The climate of the highland countries is delightful. In Egypt it is mild and delicious. The clearness of the atmosphere exceeds everything of the kind known in other lands, while the dryness of the air preserves natural objects from decay, and so hastens evaporation that travelers are obliged to oil their faces and hands to prevent the cracking of the skin. Along the coast regions, however, within the tropics, the climate is deadly.
The agricultural products of Africa are tropical or semi-tropical, except upon the highlands. There are no large forests in the south or in the north of the continent, but along the low coasts, the streams and the lakes the forests are dense. In the interior are park-like regions of stately trees, without any undergrowth. Again, there are broad, treeless steppes, covered with grass and flowering plants several feet high.
In mineral products Africa is among the richest of the continents. It is claimed by some historians that the famous gold of Ophir and the rubies and gems sought after and collected by King Solomon came from the mines of Africa. The richest diamond mines of the world are located at Kimberley, South Africa, and the richest gold mines on earth are those of Johannesburg, in the Transvaal country.
Three distinct races now represent the population of Africa, the Caucasian, the Negro, and the Malay. The Negro is found principally in the central part, north and south of the equator. In the Sahara and coast countries, from the Straits of Gibraltar to Cape Guardafui, the same race prevails, the Moors, Arabs, Berbers, and Egyptians belonging to the Caucasian race. Caucasians also dominate South Africa, in Cape Colony, and the Orange Free State and Transvaal countries, though the Negro population in these sections far outnumbers the white.
It was in Central Africa, or the heart of Africa, that the slave trade of the past was conducted. It was carried 794 on mostly by the Arabs, who established encampments in the interior, and kept up communication with wealthy traders on the coast by means of caravans. On slight pretext quarrels were picked with the natives, their huts were burned, and they were carried off and sold as slaves.
The history of Africa, until within very recent times, is confined to the northern part. In ancient times this section was the site of a high civilization, while other portions have always been hid in gross darkness, and until very recently regarded with superstitious awe. It was in Northern Africa that Carthage, the Phoenician colony, became the head of a powerful empire, but was finally conquered by the Romans. In the seventeenth century the Arabs invaded Northern Africa. The Moors, expelled from Spain, came later, settled off the coast, and began a course of piracy against Christian nations. It was in their wars, with the Moors that the French, in trying to protect their vessels, gained possession of Algiers. In 1815 the United States had considerable trouble with the piratical Barbary States.
The development of Africa has recently progressed with wonderful rapidity. Within the past quarter of a century commercial enterprises have moved far up the Congo. Dutch, French, and Belgian companies have established many trading-posts on the upper river, between Stanley Pools and Stanley Falls, a caravan route being established to transport goods past the cataracts. But the most marvelous development of the country must depend, not upon river transportation, but upon railroads. It sounds marvelous to speak of a railroad through Central Africa from Cape Colony on the south to the Mediterranean Sea on the north, But such a gigantic enterprise is now in progress. The road has been built a long part of the way, and it is confidently believed that before the first quarter of the twentieth century shall have passed it will be but a matter of one or two weeks to pass from Cape Town to Cairo, a distance of over 5,000 miles, or from Cape Guardafui on the east to Cape Verde on the west, a distance of 4,600 miles. In fact, the eyes of the commercial world are looking to-day for the startling developments of the next century in Asia and Africa, the oldest and the least civilized of all the continents of the world.
England, almost unmolested, dominates Africa, and Russia, now superior in, is struggling to dominate Asia, with all the other European powers and America watching her actions with jealous eyes, and with no small inclination to divide the spoils with the Muscovite Empire.
The principal states of South Africa are as follows :
Cape Colony, under British control. Executive, the Governor and Executive Council ; legislative, the Legislative Council and House of Assembly of seventy-four members.
Natal, also under British control. Government administered by a Governor, assisted by an Executive Council of thirty members.
The South African Republic, until 1900 independent. Now under British control. Government not yet organized.
The Orange Free State, under British control. Government not yet organized.
The two above-named Dutch Republics, prior to the British conquest of 1900 and 1901, were independent in their internal affairs, but Great Britain claimed a suzerainty in so far as dealing with outside nations was concerned. In the South African Republic the government consisted of the executive, vested iu the President, and the legislative, consisting of the Volksraad of forty-four members, and the suzerain, her Majesty Queen Victoria. In the Orange Free State the same order prevailed, except that the Volksraad had fifty-six members.