Cheryl Kahla
Deputy Online News Editor
2 minute read
8 Dec 2021
3:19 pm

Was Zuma right? Africa is much bigger than you thought

Cheryl Kahla

Zuma has previously said Africa is the biggest continent in the world. While his theory is flawed, he wasn't that far from the truth... Here's why.

Picture: iStock

Remember when former president Jacob Zuma said Africa was the biggest continent in the world, and everyone laughed at him?

While Zuma had the science behind it all mixed up – Asia is the biggest continent by landmass – he wasn’t too far from the facts either.

How big is Africa really?

Zuma’s comments

Back in 2015, Zuma said Africa is the biggest continent in the world, adding that “all continents together would fit into Africa”.

He said the continent was “not separated by a river, the rivers that are there flow with the continent; they don’t cut it in half or quarter”.

While Africa isn’t bigger than the six other continents combined, it’s certainly not as small as it may appear on modern maps either.

Africa is bigger than you realise

In fact, Europe, China and the US would fit in Africa, with room to spare. That’s because our continent’s landmass is 30.37 million km2.

Meanwhile, China only accounts for 9.6 million km2, while the US takes up 9.8 million km2 and Europe measures 10.18 million km2.

WATCH: Why all maps are wrong

Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland, Portugal, Spain, France, Germany, Italy, the US, Eastern Europe, India China, the UK, Ireland and Japan would all comfortably fit within Africa’s borders.

So why does the perception exist that Africa is smaller than other continents, while it’s the second-largest only after Asia?

It’s because most modern maps are geographically inaccurate. Buckle up, we’re about to make you question what you thought you knew about the planet.

Africa size 2

Maps are not accurate

According to modern maps, Russia appears twice as large as Africa, even though Russia has a diameter of 6,400 km and Africa has a diameter of 7,200 km.

And while Africa is undersized on modern maps, it is more than three times bigger than the US.

The Nile River flows more than 6,560 kilometres through or along the borders of 10 African countries. It’s approximately 160km “longer” than Russia.

africa size zuma
Picture: Prof Santiago García-Couto

Unfortunately, Africa is slowly splitting in two, due to the East African Rift system which stretches from the Afar region of Ethiopia down to Mozambique.

When that eventually happens – millions years in the future – Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Somalia will break off from the rest of the continent.

africa size zuma
Picture: CNN

Why maps depict Africa smaller than it is

Some say the decision to make Africa appear smaller than it is, is racially motivated, while others say it’s impossible to accurately depict the size of continues on a spherical map.

This is due to the Mercator map projection preserving the shape of countries while distorting the size, especially near the North and the South Pole.

That’s why Greenland (2,166 million km²) near the North Pole appears massive, while it’s actually smaller than India (3,287 million km²).

greenland true size
Picture: The True Size