Satellite map of Africa, showing areas of forest, grassland and desertThere are 54 countries in Africa. A further two countries have established themselves but are not officially recognized by other countries: Somaliland (part of northern Somalia) and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (Western Sahara). Algeria is the continent's largest country by area, while Nigeria is the largest by population. The African Union is a union of African countries. The only fully recognized African country that is not a member is Morocco: it left in 1984 when the majority of the other members recognized the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, which is partly in territory disputed with Morocco. The key aim of the union is to achieve greater unity between African countries and peoples.
The northern half of Africa stretches down from the fertile coast bordering the Mediterranean Sea, through vast areas of desert and savanna, into the forests of west and central Africa. Apart from the Atlas Mountains, the Ethiopian Highlands and Saharan ranges, much of the region is a level plateau.
Most of the Sahara Desert is not sandy at all, but covered with rock and gravel. At night, it is usually freezing cold.
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