Inspired by the positive feedback from my instructions for memorizing the geography of Canada, I put together this guide for memorizing the countries of Africa.
In my second year at UC Santa Barbara, I snagged a ride to Sacramento with a couple of people I didn't really know. Alone in the backseat, I pored over a paper map of the continent of Africa, determined to memorize where all the countries were located.
I was moderately successful, later using that knowledge to build a set of stencils to recreate the continent in mural form. Also, for putting together an Africa costume.
Here's the top of the country. Here's the scheme I came up with to hammer it into my memory.
Across the top of the continent, there are four large-ist countries: Morocco, Algeria, Lybia and Egypt. The first letter of these countries spell out M A L E. I'm ignoring a little country stuck at the top, in between Algeria and Lybia: Tunisia. The way I remember Tunisia is to think of the split between M A L and E as the gaps between the tines of a fork, and it is a TUNEisia tuning fork.
Tunisia is the country where the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi set off protests and revolution in late 2010. What a badass. This was the beginning of the Arab Spring.
These five countries are on the Mediterranian Sea, so they have a long history of European trade.
Down the west coast of Africa, We start with Morocco and Western Sahara and Mauritania. We already talked about Morocco. Just below it is Western Sahara. This is the only country in Africa with the descriptor "Western" in its name. Simplifying Morocco, Western Sahara and Mauritania to just the first letters of their names, you can think of them all as starting with an M shape. The W in Western Sahara is like an M, but it is switched. WS is for W Switched and for Western Sahara.
There are a dozen little countries running down the Atlanic coast of Africa. Their orientation suggests three loops of a slithering snake.
The first loop is the country Senegal. This is the head of the snake. Senegal is like a Scene Gal, a hipster girl who is at the forefront of trends. In her mouth she has Gambia. you can think of Gambia as being her victim, like hunter/game, or you can think of Scene Gal as being a fan of social club games, like adult hide and seek: Gambia
The next loop of the snake contains three countries, Guinea Bissau, Guinea and Liberia.
These are the names of three guinea pigs that the snake tried to eat.
First, the snake tried to eat a very fast guinea pig, but that one got away. The snake only succeeded in swallowing a gulp of air, now caught in its intestines. That guinea pig is uneaten, living free, liberated. We will call him Liberia. After that failure, the snake changed tactics and actually caught and ate two guinea pigs, the first, Guinea, the second, recently eaten and closest to the mouth called Guinea B. (Guinea Bissau).
This loop of the snake wraps over Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone is a horrible place for snakes. It is mountainous, which snakes hate because they don't have legs. And it is populated by lions, which are the number one predator of snakes. Sierra Leone is a fancy way to say "Lion Mountain". This snake definitely avoided Sierra Leone.
The third and final loop of the snake contains three more countries, Cote d'ivory, Burkino Faso and Benin.
Cote D'ivory is a place on the snake where she crawled through some remains of a dead elephant and got ivory dust all over its skin. Now it has a coat of ivory on its back third. The tail end of the snake's digestive system also holds some reminants of some of it's first big meals. This hipster snake girl, when it was just a teenager, got into a screaming match and ate her BFF. Well, clearly not BFF, but definitely BF. Burkina Faso.
Finally, at the end of this multi-country reptile, we get everything that has been in the snake: Been in. (Benin)
The tail of the snake hops over two countries, Togo and Ghana. These are countries which represent an airport, which snakes have avoided since the Samuel L. Jackson movie came out. These are the two states of a flight at an airport gate: Ready to go (Togo) or Gone (Ghana).
Next, skip to the east coast of Africa, where Egypt meets the middle east. There is a little peninsula that drops down into the Red Sea like a shark tooth. It's stuck right between Africa and the Middle East, and it has been under control of both Egypt and Israel, so its hard to say which continent it is actually part of.
There is a tidy group of seven African countries here, some of which I learned about because the people in them were starving. Soon after that they became known for having real life pirates.
They start with the letters E and S:
South Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia.
Top to bottom, they kind of form three rows which use the initials in this order: E, S, E, S, E, S. Unfortunately, this symettery is broken by the intrusion of Djibouti butting in. It probably butts in all the time, given its name DjiBOOTY.
Because E, S, E, S, E, D ,S is a somewhat more awkward string of initials to learn, I use this phrase to keep it straight: Every Sailor Eventually Starts Eating Damp Sandwiches. Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Somalia.
Next down the coast we have Kenya.
I couldn't think up anything particular about Kenya. It is known (to me) for its wild animals. Kenya has a slight star shape on the coast. A five pointed star boardering five other nations, with five letters in its name. Let's just leave it at that.
Continuing down the East coast of Africa, take a look at the right side of this bottom half of Africa:
Down the coast past Kenya, we enter 'Z' region, a block of four countries prominently featuring the letter Z. Clockwise they are Tanzania, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Zambia. It is easy to remember them by their shortened names: Tan, Moz, Zim, Zam. This series is memorable if you envision Tan Mozart playing with a Zim Zam (80's backyard tetherball game).
Inside the Z region is a tiny island of non-'Z'-ness. In a way, it is like an island inside of Z land, but it is the opposite of an island, because this country is mostly underwater, hosting a giant lake. This is Malawi. The name can be remembered if you know that "mal" means "bad" in French, and alawi rhymes with Hawaii. It is the counterpoint to the islands of Hawaii: Malawi.
Off the coast of the Z region is Madagascar. Madagascar is MAD it didn't get to be a part of Z region. Madagascar can also be remembered because of the animated movies with that name. If it wasn't an island, the animated animals would get eaten by the real animals on the rest of the continent.
Just inside the borders of South Africa, you can find another 'Z' country: Swaziland. Unfortunately, the other countries in 'Z' region didn't want Swaziland around. The name sounded too much like "Swaztika", which they figured would discourage tourism.
These six nations, with the initials A, N, B, S, L and S might be memorable with the following phrase: Affluent Nugget Brokers Sell Lovely Stones.
Botswana is the landlocked country in this set, which is good, because robots want to try swimming, but the water will fry their circuitry. 'Botswana try swimming.
Lesotho and Swaziland are mostly contained within the borders of South Africa. South Africa is a country known for its capes... points or bodies of land extending into a body of water. The capitol of South Africa is Cape Town.
One way to remember the names of Lesotho and Swaziland is to think of them as size tags on the fabric of South Africa's cape. Lesotho is the "L" tag. Swaziland is the "S" tag. Usually an item of clothing would only have one size tag, but capes are special, they are one-size-fits-all.
Next up the coast are three countries which represent the African version of the Chipmunks. Not the forest animal, the singing rodents. First there is Equatorial Guinea. This is the lowest of the African countries with the word "Guinea" in it, and it is nearest the equator. He is a guinea pig. Next, wrapping around the east coast of E.G. is Gabon. Gabon is a singing chipmunk who loves to sing and talk so much that his friends nicknamed him "Gab on". The third chipmunk in this series is Congo. He plays the congo drums.
Three chipmunk singers, small countries Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Congo.
Together their initials sound like a breakfast combo: E.G./ G/ Congo.
Leaving our musical rodent friends, we examine two more countries on the coast, right at the inside corner of the west coast of Africa: Nigeria and Cameroon.
Nigeria is the african scam capital, famous for bilking thousands of people out of millions of dollars with letters pleading for help from their fake Nigerian princes. This is the 419 con, and it was perfected in Nigeria. Cameroon, on the other hand, was named after the "river of prawns" which became a chief export of the country when the Portuguese were occupying that land. Nigeria and Cameroon: Cons and Prawns.
At Nigeria we have reached the tail of the snake again, which means we have discussed all of the coastal countries of Africa. There are a small number of landlocked contries in Africa which we haven't discussed, and here they are, in order: Mali, Niger, Chad, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda.
You may be able to remember these landlocked names by remembering the first initials of these names: MNCCDU with his phrase: Most Normal Children Can Darken Underwear: Mali, Niger, Chad, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda.
I'm reticent to introduce a memory device concerning the name of Niger, but I don't think I have any choice. Try to remember this: Chad there is looking directly into the eye of the Niger.
That's all I've got! Obviously just reading this article isn't going to be enough to actually etch this onto your braincells. You'll have to study the names and their locations a bit, especially the names that maybe you've never heard of.
Here are the main mnemenic phrases:
The countries on the north east coast: Every Sailor Eventually Samples Eating Damp Sandwiches (For Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia.)
The mineral rich countries on the southwest coast: Affluent Nugget Brokers Sell Lovely Stones (for Angola, Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland.)
And for the larger batch of landlocked countries through the middle of the continient: Most Normal Children Can Darken Underwear (for Mali, Nigeria, Chad, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda.)
If you feel pretty confident, try the Countries of Africa quiz on the purpose games website.
Update! Oh, whoops, I forgot two little countries in the Lake District of Africa. Rwanda and Burundi, stacked on top of one another. Rwanda, I know best from Hotel Rwanda, the movie staring Don Cheadle as a hotel manager who saves 1,268 Tutsi citizens from death in a genocide. It turns out that Rwanda is a tiny nation, next to another tiny nation. Here's the memory device I came up with: This little R and B are stuck between the big teeth of Africa, like a scrap of Roast Beef.
Also, Rwanda has the name Wanda in it, and where better would a fish called Wanda be than the in the lake district of Africa? Burundi starts with a "Bur" sound, which is a bit like "Burn", which happens sometimes when go past "Tan"zania.
Have a great day!