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The African continent preserves a long geological record that covers almost 75% of Earth's history. The Pan-African orogeny (c. 600–500 Ma) brought together old continental kernels (or cratons such as West African, Congo, Kalahari and Tanzania) forming Gondwana and subsequently the supercontinent Pangea by the late Palaeozoic (Fig. 1).

The break-up of Pangea since the Jurassic and Cretaceous, primarily through the opening of the Central Atlantic (e.g. Torsvik et al. 2008; Labails et al. 2010), Indian (e.g. Gaina et al. 2007; Müller et al. 2008; Cande et al. 2010) and South Atlantic (e.g. Torsvik et al. 2009) oceans and the complicated subduction history to the north gradually shaped the African continent and its surrounding oceanic basins. Many first-order questions of African geology are still unanswered. How many accretion phases do the Proterozoic belts represent? What triggers extension and formation of the East African Rift on a continent that is largely surrounded by spreading centres and, therefore, expected to be mainly in compression? What is the role of shallow mantle and edge-driven convection (King & Ritsema 2000)? What are the sources of the volcanic centres of Northern Africa (e.g. Tibesti, Dafur and Afar) and can they be traced to the lower mantle? Is the elevation of Eastern and Southern Africa caused by mantle processes? What is the formation mechanism of intracratonic sedimentary basins, such as the Taoudeni Basin on the West African Craton and the Congo

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