The Guardian's new Africa Network will join the debate on the many faces of the continent today – and where it is heading tomorrow.The dark continent. The hopeless continent. A scar on the conscience of the world. The cradle of humankind. African renaissance, Africa rising. Amazing Africa. I am an African. Scramble for Africa. Out of Africa. Ex Africa semper aliquid novi. There have been countless attempts to define the world's second biggest and second most populous continent, often and notoriously from outside. If measuring a nation's essence is like pinning a jelly to a wall, then asserting an entire continent's character is folly. Africa's 54 countries – even this number depends on your point of view – are home to around a billion people manifesting thousands of languages and myriad ethnicities.