Back to Africa Check

How many countries in Africa? How hard can the question be?

This article is more than 7 years old

Update, October 2022: This article was first written in 2012. Morocco has since rejoined the African Union. A list of current AU members – which number 55 – can be found here.

“How many countries does the continent have in its entirety?” asked a message sent to us by a group of information security advocates.

The sender, @Infosecafrica, noted that the African Union, Africa’s regional political organisation, had 54 members. But they had seen a report claiming the continent was home to 57 countries.

So how many countries does Africa have? The AU claims to represent all African countries. So are there 54 or 57? How hard – we thought – can the question be?

The AU does have 54 members

Working out how many members there are of the African Union is indeed quite easy.

As set out on this list, it has 54 members. 

So is that the answer? Africa comprises 54 countries, all members of the AU.

Well no, because not all Africa's countries are in fact AU members.

Morocco is not a member

Morocco, to start with is clearly a country, clearly part of Africa, and is a member of the United Nations’ Africa group. But it is not a member of the AU.

Morocco withdrew from the AU’s predecessor, the Organisation of African Union, in 1984 after the OAU approved the membership of the Saharan Arab Democratic Republic – aka the Western Sahara – a country (or Morocco would say a territory) that Morocco refuses to recognise.

So is the answer to the question – Moroccan objections aside – fifty-five? This would comprise all the AU members, including the Saharan Republic, plus Morocco.

And what about Somaliland?

Well it seems the most reliable figure, unless of course you consider Somaliland a country.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a country is “a nation with its own government, occupying a particular territory” - which "Somaliland" does, having declared independence from Somalia in 1991, set up a government and controlled its territory from its capital Hargeisa ever since.

More than two decades on from its declaration, it is treated by many nations and organisations as a country in all but name, but it is not recognised as such by its neighbours.

And the same is true for other territories with less de facto claim to nationhood.

Not just an African phenomenon

While it might seem a quirk not to be able to say, for sure, how many countries there are on the continent, the disagreement over numbers is not limited to Africa.

In Asia, there is disagreement about whether Taiwan, which split off from China in 1949, is an independent nation, or not. Worried by threats of retaliation from Beijing if it were to declare formal independence, it has not done so. But from its capital, Taipei, it maintains its own, democratically-elected, government and currency and runs itself independently of China; a country in all but name.

And in Europe, while most powers recognise Kosovo as an independent state, Serbia, its neighbour, does not. So in Europe too, there is uncertainty about how many countries there are.

Conclusion: 55 recognised states

The best answer to @Infosecafrica's question that we have come up with is to say there are 55 states that are internationally recognised and members of either the AU or the UN or both. Fifty-three of these belong to both the AU and UN lists. Morocco is not part of the AU but is a member of the UN. The Saharan Arab Democratic Republic is part of the AU.

In addition, while there are various other territories that claim independence, there is also one de facto state, as described under the normal definitions of what makes a country, which is Somaliland. It is not, however, a recognised state. Any advance on that, let us know.

Edited by Peter Cunliffe-Jones

Republish our content for free

We believe that everyone needs the facts.

You can republish the text of this article free of charge, both online and in print. However, we ask that you pay attention to these simple guidelines. In a nutshell:

1. Do not include images, as in most cases we do not own the copyright.

2. Please do not edit the article.

3. Make sure you credit "Africa Check" in the byline and don't forget to mention that the article was originally published on

Add new comment

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
limit: 600 characters

Want to keep reading our fact-checks?

We will never charge you for verified, reliable information. Help us keep it that way by supporting our work.

Become a newsletter subscriber

Support independent fact-checking in Africa.