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Africa, world's second-largest continent, 11,672,639 sq m (30,232,135 sq km). Africa includes Madagascar and many smaller offshore islands. With the completion of the Suez Canal in the 19th century, Africa was severed from Asia and is completely surrounded by water. Its coastline has few indentations, bays, or inlets, thus, few good harbors. From narrow coastal plains the land rises steeply to form the immense African plateau about 2,000 ft (610 m) above sea level. Apart from the coastal plains, the Congo Basin is the only sizable lowland region. The Atlas Mountains form the continent's major system, including Africa's highest peak, Mt. Kilimanjaro (19,340 ft/5,895 m) in Tanzania. The Great Rift Valley of East Africa is the continent's major geological feature, with its long narrow depressions forming some of the world's largest lakes: Lake Victoria (26,828 sq mi/69,485 sq km), third largest lake in the world; Lake Tanganyika (5,715 ft/1,742 m deep), the largest freshwater lake in the world; and Lake Nyasa (360 mi/579 km long and 50 mi/80 km wide). The great rivers of Africa include the Nile (4,157 mi/6,690 km), the world's longest; the Niger; the Congo; and the Zambesi, which has been dammed at the Kariba Gorge, where it forms a lake 120 mi (193 km) long. The great mass of Africa lies within the tropics, but contains a variety of climates. The equatorial rain forest of the Congo Basin, which receives up to 200 in. (508 cm) of rain per year, and the tropical rain forest along the Gulf of Guinea and in west Central Africa account for 20% of the continent. The humid subtropical regions have up to 43 in (109 cm) of rainfall per year. Temperate grasslands known as savannah or veldt cover 40% of Africa and usually have one dry and one rainy season per year with 20–50 in (51–127 cm) annual rainfall. The deserts cover more than 40% of the continent and include the Sahara, the world's largest, in the north and the Kalahari in the south. Finally, Africa's Mediterranean coast and the area south and southwest of Cape Province enjoy the most moderate climate, with average annual rainfall of 15–30 in (38–76 cm), hot summers, and warm pleasant winters.

Africa's richly varied animal life is largely preserved in national parks. Poaching, the increase in human populations, and economic development have reduced the animal population, leading to the extinction of many species and threatening more.

Africa's population consists of many distinct peoples and cultures. The northern part of the continent, from Morocco in the west to Egypt in the east, is primarily Arab, with minorities of Berbers and Tuaregs. South of the Sahara the population is overwhelmingly black. Excluding European languages introduced by colonizers, there are nearly 1,000 different languages or distinct dialects. Most people in North Africa speak Arabic; major languages in black Africa include Swahili, Hausa, Yoruba, Xhosa, and Amharic. Besides those who practice the native religions of the black African majority, there are more than 100 million African Muslims and about 35 million Christians, 5 million of them belonging to the ancient Coptic church of Egypt and Ethiopia.

The countries of Africa are Algeria, Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Congo Republic, Djibouti, part of Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, São Tomé and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia Republic, Republic of South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, Western Sahara, Zaïre, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

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21st Century Webster's Family Encyclopedia21st Century Webster's Family Encyclopedia - A to Akutagawa, Ryunosuke