There is a hidden debate regarding the real size of Africa. Many remain unaware of the distorted world map that we have come to rely on and trust. The world map is seen as an accurate representation of what the world looks like. However, this is not the case. The world map depicts Africa as significantly smaller than it truly is, whilst Europe and the US appear much larger than they are. The debates surrounding why this misrepresentation of Africa is upheld will be discussed.
The world map that we have come to recognise, is known as the Mercator Projection, which was published by Gerardus Mercator in 1569. This map became particularly useful during marine navigation in the 16th century onwards, however the 2D image distorts the true scale of continents and countries. On the Mercator Map, Africa and Greenland appear almost similar in size, but in fact Africa is 14 times larger than Greenland. The US also appears as though it is half the size of Africa, when in fact Africa is more than three times larger than the US. The area of Africa is 30.2 million km₂ whilst the area of the US is 9.1 million km₂.
Kai Krause, a Graphic Designer from Germany, created a map showing the real size of Africa. This has renewed debates regarding the inaccuracies of world maps. In Krause’s map of Africa, he shows that the continent is immensely larger than some initially thought. Africa is the 2nd largest continent after Asia, and can fit China, the US, India, Japan and almost all of Europe within its borders. You would not think that this was possible based on the popular Mercator Map. Krause states that the use of lines instead of curves in maps, leads to continents like Africa appearing much smaller.
There are various reasons which can be used to explain this distortion. One reason being, to indirectly suggest that Africa is “inferior.” European imperialists were notorious for using propaganda material, such as pamphlets and newspapers, to spread false information about Africa and its people. This was most prominent in the late 19th and early 20th century. By reducing the size and scale of Africa on the map, and upholding this inaccuracy, Western Powers aimed to reinforce the idea that the West is large, powerful and important whilst Africa is weak and small.
Contrary to this, the distortion of the Mercator Map could be due to Western cartographers wanting to include cities, towns, and roads to their part of the world map. In order to add more detail to Europe and North America, the enlargement of these areas was therefore necessary. There is not enough space on a 2D map projection to include such detail for all continents and countries, so priority was given to the Western World.
Another reason which can explain the errors in proportion, is simply because the Earth is a sphere, and it is almost impossible to accurately show the true size of any country or continent. All world maps have a degree of distortion, which may favour some countries or continents more than others. Updated world maps have been created to reduce the distortion of the Mercator Map.
The Gall-Peters Projection, attempts to address the distortion of the Mercator Projection. In the map, Africa appears much larger, therefore representing its true size. According to Peters, the Mercator Map represented a “euro-centric bias” and has a negative impact on the world’s perception of developing countries. Other projections such as the Winkel Tripel, also attempt to address the inaccuracies of the Mercator Map. However, these alternative projections are far from perfect.
Despite the alternative projections that have been produced, the Mercator Projection remains the most popular. When the Mercator Map was created, it was the most advanced depiction of the world. It is now over 400 years later, and the map is not exactly advanced. It is unrepresentative, inaccurate and biased. Despite this, the Mercator Projection continues to be used as a template for various search engines, such as Google and Bing. Is it not time that we updated the world map and got rid of the Mercator Projection? This is unlikely to happen in the near future, but it is important that people are made aware of the real size of Africa.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.
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