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The great map myth was incredibly unfair to the 'mother continent': This is the true size of Africa

The way most people see the world is still under the heavy influence of the world's best-known and most widely recognised map, the Mercator Projection, from 1569. The helpful tool that was primarily used for nautical navigation became the world's most globally used map, the one children look at every day on the walls of their respective classrooms.

But this map, however, is incredibly unfair towards Africa. The continent's size on the commonly used map is grossly underestimated due to the Mercator Projection. In reality, the actual size of Africa (its land area) is 30.37 million square kilometres (11.7 million square miles).


For instance, the Mercator map depicts Greenland as roughly the same size as Africa when, in fact, the vast continent is 14 times larger. As a matter of fact, Greenland is smaller in size than the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The projection created by the Flemish geographer and cartographer Gerardus Mercator in 1959 makes some areas appear much more extensive than they are, while others look relatively small in comparison.  

Why is that? 

The Mercator projection conundrum

In short, the creators of the world map used the famous Mercator projection, which constructed the world as a cylinder and not a sphere. The effort to put the planet's spherical shape onto a flat map makes the landmasses closest to the poles stretched. Hence, the further the territory from the Equator, the larger it appears on the map.

Since Africa bestrides the Equator, its size remains almost identical on the Mercator projection, while the areas furthest from it become enlarged. That means Europe and North America appear much bigger in size due to the distortion. Moreover, North America and Europe seem to be much bigger than Central Africa and South America.

In essence, the Mercator projection gave a warped sense of the actual size of our world's countries, especially when it comes to the African Continent. This distortion is visible even with the naked eye merely looking at the map. It is obvious how Mercator's map pumps up Europe and North America's size. Thus, Africa is misrepresented due to Mercator Projection and, as many will argue, European imperialism.

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The unjust world map system

The undeniable truth is it's not a coincidence that Canada, Russia, the United States, and Europe look massive looking at our most widely used maps. This practical but unfair system made it easier for Western cartographers to mark towns, roads, and others in their territories, said Menno-Jan Kraak, the president of the International Cartographic Association and professor of cartography at the University of Twente, Netherlands, for CNN

'The world maps that prevail today have been embedded in Western imaginations since the British empire. They continue to prevail despite many challenges to their fairness and accuracy. They underpin the ongoing Anglo-Euro-American presumption that the world belongs to them and pivots around these geo-cultural axes', added Marianne Franklin, the University London's professor of Global Media and Politics at Goldsmiths.

There were several attempts to solve this unjust system, including using the Robinson projection with curved sides. Finally, a group of scientists developed an entirely new type of world map, claiming it was the most accurate yet. The Equal Earth Map created by Tom Patterson, Bojan Šavrič, and Bernhard Jenny accurately represents the continents without cutting or stretching parts of our curved planet on a flat surface. 

The Equal Earth Map projection made it fair

As explained by the authors, the Equal Earth Map projection is an equal-area pseudocylindrical projection for world maps created to provide a visually pleasing alternative to the Gall-Peters projection, which some schools and groups have been using for fairness. The overall shape is similar to the Robinson projection; the curved sides suggest the spherical Earth shape, while the straight parallels compare how far north or south places are from the Equator. 

The unbeatable fact is that the Mother Continent is more extensive than Europe, the United States, China, India, and Japan combined. To reiterate, the true size of Africa is 30.37 million square kilometres, meaning the vast continent could easily carry several major world nations.

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