Africa’s Islands

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forestsMany non-Africans think Africa is a country with most of the ‘continent’ covered in grasslands. The stereotypical image is white Africans live North of the Sahara, and black Africans live south of the Sahara. This image is mainly due to the content non-Africans consume and how non-Africans get their information: from the television, nature programmes, on-demand video and films.

For instance, the film and children’s TV series Lion King focuses on just a savannah region. Likewise, Madagascar 3 portrays both Madagascar and the mainland of the Continent as purely unpeopled areas. The programme Earth and Earth II by Sir David Attenborough, commissioned by the BBC, covers animal life around the globe but similarly to my previous point, it’s not about people. The real continent is somewhat different from that image. Black Africans are indigenous to both North Africa and South Africa, making the phrase “Sub-Sahara Africans” unenlightened.

In this article, we will look at Africa’s islands and throw more light on all there is to know about some of the beautiful islands unique to the continent, and also islands still under colonial occupation. There are other articles about Africa’s mountains, deserts and forests if you are interested.

How are the Islands formed?

Based on extensive research, islands are formed in three different ways.

Volcanic formation

Islands formed by volcanoes are as a result of volcanic activity occurring on the seabed. When two tectonic plates pull apart, there is an eruption of lava which forms a ridge under the sea. As layers of lava are amassed, the ridge breaks through the water surface to form an island.

Continental plates collision

Another way islands form is when continental plates collide. Such collisions push up a large mass of earth thereby creating an underwater mountain that rises above the sea. Such above water creations are called islands because they are surrounded by water.

Sand deposits caused by erosion

Soil erosion does not only occur on land but at Sea as well. Sand and debris deposits drawn from water current through erosion may gather in a particular area. Over time, these deposits grow in size to become a large mass of earth. Some of the artificial islands found in parts of the world have been created using sand deposits with some of the artificial islands located in Qatar being prime examples of man-made Islands created by replicating the natural process of island formation using erosion techniques.

When discussing special island features and characteristics, two notable examples come to mind: barrier islands and river islands. Barrier islands are long and thin sandy land stretches that run parallel to a coastal mainland. Between the barrier island and the mainland coast is a calm body of protected water such as a bay or a lagoon. River islands, on the other hand, are formed due to the movement of river water currents. These types of islands are simply exposed lands surrounded by river water resulting from changes in river courses and fluvial deposits such as erosion or natural meander and cuts.

Top Ten most beautiful islands in Africa

Africa has her fair share of amazing islands dotting the entire landscape of the Atlantic Ocean to the West and the Indian Ocean to the East. Some of these islands attract thousands of tourists from within and outside the continent each year. Here are some of the most beautiful islands on the African continent.

Mumbo Island – Malawi

Mumbo is one of the smallest islands in Africa but a tourist’s delight due to its picturesque features and unique caves. With a size of only a kilometer in diameter, the island is relatively unpopulated and accommodates just over a dozen guests every night in its private camp tents. The Island can be accessed by crossing a wooden bridge that connects it to the central ridge. Some of the popular outdoor activities common in the area include snorkeling, diving, kayaking, and swimming in Lake Malawi’s crystal clear waters.

Chief’s Island – Botswana

Located in the Okavango Delta, Chief’s Island is a perfect spot for Safari enthusiasts looking for impressive spots to view some of the natural wildlife inhabiting the plains of Southern Africa. It is higher than other islands in the region making it immune to flooding when water levels rise.

Lamu Island – Kenya

One of the best-preserved islands in Africa is Lamu in Kenya. This island is rich in culture and wildlife, and the residents have done a lot to preserve the predominant Swahili culture of the region, with earliest settlement dating back to c. 1370 CE. The island is connected by winding alleys and impressive merchant houses echoing a long history of trade between indigenous inhabitants and traders from Arabia, the Middle East and Far East Asia. Lamu is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and comprises of two major towns. Shela to the north and the Old town to the south.

Bazaruto Archipelago – Mozambique

Mozambique is located in South East Africa and off its coast is the Bazaruto Archipelago. The Island is home to the Bazaruto National Park, and it has a natural underwater life that is home to different species of sea creatures. The island is under the administration of the Mozambican government.


The island of Mauritius is one of the most popular islands in Africa known by many non-Africans who have never visited the continent before. Mauritius is located in the Indian Ocean and was largely uninhabited until the coming of the Dutch in 1598. They occupied the island for close to two centuries until the French arrived. The British added the island to their list of colonies until the island attained its independence. Mauritius has a very rich flora and fauna and is also one of the few places in the world where the now extinct dodo previously existed. Each year the tourists from mainland Africa, Europe, and Asia visit the island for pleasure.


Seychelles is another island worthy of mention without which this list will be incomplete. Located in the Indian Ocean and off the coast of Madagascar, for centuries it served as a landing port for Arab merchants and pirates alike. It is one of the most beautiful places on earth with tourists visiting to enjoy the comfort of its alluring beaches. There are 115 islands in all that form the Seychelles confederacy with the majority of them largely uninhabited and dedicated to natural life preservation. One of the natural reserves on the island is the Valley de Mai Nature Reserve.

Nosy Be, Madagascar

Although a country of its own, Madagascar is also an island located in the Indian Ocean off the East coast of Africa. Surrounding the larger Madagascan island are many smaller collections of islands and one of the most popular and widely visited of them all is the island of Nosy Be. This island is blessed with numerous unique natural features synonymous with other island locations in and around Madagascar. Visitors find its tranquil and lush beaches truly appealing.

Djerba – Tunisia

Moving away from the Southern parts of Africa, to the North of the continent there are several islands worthy of mention, one of which is Djerba. The island of Djerba is one of the most important North African islands due to its strategic location, which serves as a perfect transit point for ships making the short trip to Europe through the Mediterranean Sea or connecting to the North West from the North East of Africa. Djerba is one of the few places in the world where the indigenous population still speak the Berber language. Their Berber tradition and culture have also remained intact despite continuous contact and interaction with foreigners.

Comoros Island

Similar to Malawi’s Mwali island, Comoros is also one of the smallest Islands in Africa situated in the warm waters of the Mozambican channel comprising just three islands. It has remained largely undeveloped with just a few inhabitants and limited infrastructure. Despite its limited development, it has maintained its huge appeal among tourists who make regular visits to Monheli Marine Park. Sea creatures found in Monheli Park are protected from commercial fishing activities.

Cape Verde

Home to one of Africa’ volcanic archipelagos, Cape Verde Island is occupied by Creole-Africans who have lived on the island for centuries. Located in the North West coast of the continent, Cape Verde has transformed itself into a tourist destination for thousands of tourists who visit the area yearly. Its beautiful beaches, and rich clifftop fortresses, are preserved and unsullied by human activity.

Sao Tome & Principe

Of all the Portuguese speaking islandic countries in Africa Sao Tome and Principe is one of the largest of them all. Its capital, Sao Tome, sits in the middle of the Island nation. Rich in agricultural life, agriculture represents a major foreign exchange earner of its local inhabitants. Furthermore, Sao Tome and Principe are also one of the world’s largest net exporter of coffee and cocoa. Its tourism industry is not as developed as that of other islands, but it remains a natural beauty located on the Western coast of Africa.

African Islands still under colonial rule

After the partitioning of Africa by Europe in 1884 Africa remained under their influence until the second half of 1900 was when African nations began to gain independence. By the 1990’s most of Africa had become independent, but some islands remained under colonial rule till date. Here are 15 African Islands still under colonial occupation.

  • France (Mayotte and Reunion)
  • Italy (Lampedusa and Lampione off the northern coast of Tunisia)
  • Portugal (Madeira Islands)
  • Spain (Canary Islands, Chafarianas islands, Alhucemas Islands)
  • UK (Ascension Island, St Helena, Chagos islands and Tristan da Cunha)

Colonized islands in detail

French Territories

Like Spain, the UK, and a few other European nations, France also maintains political control over a few Islands off the coast of Africa two of which are:

Mayotte: Located in the Northern Mozambique channel, Mayotte is a rich collection of islands in the Indian Ocean off the north-eastern coast of Mozambique. Territorially it is part of Comoros Islands, but its inhabitants choose to remain a part of France in a 1975 referendum.

Reunion: Another island under the French overseas department is Reunion located in the Indian Ocean, East of Madagascar and southwest of Mauritius. With a population of almost 900,000 people, Reunion is one of the most populated French territories overseas.

Spanish Territories

Spain has very few dominions in Africa and one of them still under their occupation today is the Canary Islands. Islas Canarias is an archipelago and an autonomous island community located in the Atlantic Ocean, 62 miles west of Morocco. The seven main collections of islands that make up Canary Islands are:

Tenerife: The largest and most populated island of Spain. It holds about 43% of the entire population of the Canary Islands with a population of about a million inhabitants. The capital of the island is Santa Cruz de Tenerife.

Fuerteventura: The second largest island in the Canaries, just like Tenerife, it is part of Spain politically. As at 2018, it had over one hundred thousand inhabitants and was declared a UNESCO Biosphere reserve in 2009. The capital of Fuerteventura is Puerto del Rosario.

Gran Canaria: The Island of Dogs (in English) is one of the Canarian archipelagoes with the third largest population (846,717) and third largest land area.

Lanzorte: Located 78 miles off the northern coast of Africa with its capital at Arrecife, Lanzarote is the fourth largest island among the Canary collections of islands with a 150,000 population. Lanzarote is also home to Timanfaya National Park.

La Palma: La Palma is the fifth largest island in the Canaries with a population of 81,863. The island is rich in mountains and hills such as the El Dorado Hills. The capital of La Palma is Santa Cruz de la Palma.

La Gomera: With a land mass of 369.76 sq kilometers, La Gomera is the second smallest island in the Canary confederacy and also a part of Santa Cruz de Tenerife. It also has the second smallest population of just over 20,000 inhabitants. The capital, San Sebastian de la Gomera is where the Cabildo headquarters are located.

El Hierro: The smallest of the seven majors Canary Islands, El Hierro is also called the Meridian island. It has a land area of 267,71 sq kilometers and a population of 11,000.

Africa is blessed with a rich collection of Islands to the West, the East, the North, and South. Quite a few of them were formed by volcanoes that have become dormant over the years while others were formed by sand deposits caused by erosion. Visiting any of the numerous islands off the coast of Africa will bring you close to nature and also provide you with an opportunity to interact with the indigenous culture of the area.

Also, learning about the diverse geography and ecology of the continent is a way for Africans to dismantle population misconceptions one error at a time.

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Africa’s Islands

by Editorial Team time to read: 9 min