1. Pretoria has the second largest number of embassies in the world after Washington, D.C. South Africa on the whole has the most embassies of any country, including the US – Pretoria on its own has 134 embassies.
2. Soweto has the third largest hospital in the world. The South African “township” of Soweto is home to the Chris Hani Baragwanath academic hospital. The facility has approximately 3,200 beds and 6,760 staff members and, with an estimated 150 patients per day, has the busiest trauma units. Sudan is home to the only cardiac hospital in Africa that provides completely free care, the Salam Centre for Cardiac Surgery.
3. Avoid setting up a business meeting in Senegal in June or July. Everyone happens to be on holiday, a tradition that seemingly harks back to the Senghor days, reflecting the summer vacation in Europe.
4. The Swaziland court of appeal meets twice a year, only. The Mail & Guardian Africa asked a lawyer why, and he said that there were not that many cases for it to hear. Others begged to differ, pointing to a backlog of appeals. Strange.
5. Nigeria drinks more Guinness than any other country in the world, including Ireland where Guinness originated. The variety sold in Nigeria is different from the original recipe: It is made from sorghum and maize rather than barley, is bitterer, and has a higher alcoholic content. The brand ran the hugely successful “Michael Power” television commercials from 1999-2006, and Michael Power is one of the few advertisement characters to cross over into feature film; the action-adventure Critical Assignment was released in 2003.
Today, the brand runs the “Guinness Greatness” campaign, whose slogans such as “Rich, dark and deeply satisfying” have been linked to sexual potency: One drinker in Nigeria explained his preference, “I like Guinness because it is bitter, it is good for you,” he says, “and it gives you power, especially for sexual intercourse.”
6. Congo DRC waterways are far more reliable than roads; the country has six times more length of navigable waterways than roads. DRC is the world’s eleventh biggest country at over 2.3 million square kilometres, and an estimated 73 million people, but has only 2,250 kilometres of paved road, half of which is actually passable. To put this into perspective, the size of the country from end to end in any direction is at least 2,500 kilometres. The roads are so bad that cars are practically useless, and only the toughest trucks can survive the punishing terrain. In the past two decades, just two people are recorded to have crossed the DRC over land, their journey took 44 harrowing days in 2008. You can read their incredible story here.
7. Seychelles has Africa’s highest prison population rate, with data from the International Centre for Prison Studies showing the island nation has 868 prisoners per 100,000, followed by Rwanda (492), South Africa (294), Swaziland (289) and Cape Verde (286). The lowest incarceration rates are found in Central African Republic (19 per 100,000), Guinea (22), Comoros (28) and three countries tie in fourth-last place: Mali, Burkina Faso and Nigeria. High incarceration rates do not necessarily mean the country is lawless, it could actually be a sign of better policing.
8. The Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia is the largest game park in Africa, and the fourth largest in the world. It encompasses part of the Namib desert, which is widely considered the world’s oldest desert. This hyper-arid desert surprisingly supports a large number of plant and animal life, with moisture coming in as a fog from the Atlantic Ocean which then condenses as early morning dew. Many creatures have specialised ways of collecting this dew, like the Namib Desert Beetle which uses a unique surface on its back.
9. Mauritius is one of the world’s largest suppliers of monkeys for the research industry, exporting up to 10,000 animals every year to research institutions in the USA and the European Union. Conservationists Save our Monkeys is blowing the whistle on the trade, stressing the traumatic separation of monkeys from their social group and natural habitat, and the cruel treatment that the animals are often subjected to during research, including toxicology (poisoning) studies or neurological studies which involve electrotherapy.
10. Eastern Africa leads the continent in people who follow traditional religions, at an estimated 11.6% of the population. Some countries record very high proportions of ethnoreligionists, including Madagascar (38.2%), South Sudan (29.6%) and Mozambique (28.1%). But Southern Africa is where you are likely to find Africa’s agnostics, with over 4.8% of the population describing themselves as agnostic. Agnostics in other regions in Africa make up a negligible fraction, less than 0.5%.
11. Equatorial Guinea, Egypt and Eritrea are the only countries in Africa on target to achieving Millennium Development Goal 5 on maternal health. The key challenges to the goal include reducing maternal deaths due to haemorrhage, infection, obstructed labour, hypertensive disorders in pregnancy, and complications of unsafe abortion.
12. The Walls of Benin, a network of walls, moats and forts in what is now Edo state in Nigeria, is the world’s second longest man-made construction, falling short of only the Great Wall of China. The 10,000 kilometre fortification for the Kingdom of Benin (located in modern-day Nigeria, not neighbouring Benin) was built over a 600-year period, to protect the kingdom against raids from nearby rivals such as the Oyo Kingdom and the Sokoto Caliphate. But today much of it lies in ruins.
13. African women from just three countries – South Africa, Cameroon and Nigeria – reportedly spend about $1.1 billion on hair extensions and hair maintenance in a year.
Africa, though, as those who observe it closely would know, is not a linear continent at all. While it spends billions importing false hair, it was reported that Sweden supposedly reached an agreement with Ghana to import afro hair to satisfy the sudden high demand in the Scandinavian country, as Swedish women become increasingly obsessed with Kenya’s Oscar winning actress Lupita Nyong’o’s natural short-cropped hair style!
14. Africa’s shortest-serving head of state – for about 5 minutes: Sierra Leone might be in the news today for the wrong reasons, Ebola, but take the virus away and it has an interesting record. Siaka Stevens, who was prime minister of the country in the 60s, is thought to hold the record on the continent for the shortest serving African head of state. His name also makes on the list of the world’s 10 shortest-serving heads of state.
In 1967, Stevens was leader of a leftist political party called the All Peoples’ Congress, or APC. Free elections were held that year, and the APC narrowly won a plurality of seats in the parliament. The outgoing prime minister refused to go quietly, however, and ordered the military to prevent Stevens from assuming office.
On March 21, 1967 Stevens was sworn in, but mere minutes after he finished reciting the oath a gang of soldiers burst into the room and arrested the new PM. However, in 1968 Stevens was restored to power.
15. Two African dishes make the list of the world’s stinkiest foods. In West Africa, locust beans are left to rot, forming a substance called iru which is particularly used by the Yoruba-speaking regions as a flavouring condiment when cooking soups. It is as pungent as hell.
Days after it eating, the frowns of those around you if you burp is powerful testimony to its odour.
It is rivaled by bokkoms, popular along South Africa’s west coast . These are small fish cured in salt and left to dry in the wind for days, resulting in an overpowering scent. It is called omena in parts of East Africa or mukene in the Bantu-speaking parts of the region.
Many African mothers swear by bokkoms, claiming that a baby fed on it will not fall ill, and will grow to be a strong, wise, and prosperous. The biggest challenge is getting the baby to eat it.
And just as a closing bonus, there are many natural features in Africa that have a striking resemblance to the the map of the continent. The mouth of the Cave of Hercules, Tangiers, Morocco, looking out to the Atlantic, is one of the most notable.