Central Africa

The Equator runs through Central Africa, affecting not only climate but also ways of life. There are ten countries. All were European colonies with a history of a cruel slave trade. Although these countries were all independent by the end of the 1960s, they have experienced mixed fortunes. Cameroon is stable, while Democratic Republic of the Cango and the Central African Republic, have suffered dictatorships. Most Central Africans live by farming.

Physical Features:

The landscape varies according to its distance from the equator. Much of the region is rolling hills and valleys, with craggy mountains in the north and east. The arid Sahara desert and Sahel cover the extreme north. Farther south is the vast equatorial basin of the River Congo, surrounded by some unspoilt tropical rainforest.

Dry woodland Tropical rainforests give way to woodland where the climate is much drier. Acacia and baobab trees grow in this region. The baobabs have very think trunks that can hold water to feed themselves. Some baobabs on Cameroon’s central plateau live for 1,000 years.


The dramatic cliffs of the volcanic Tibesti Mountains dominate the border between Chad and Libya, in the Sahara Desert at 3,415 m (11,204) above sea level. Emi Kouusi is the highest peak.

River Congo:

One of the longest rivers in the world, the Congo, formerly the Congo, formerly the Zaire, flows in a great curve for 4,666 km (2,900 miles), crossing the equator twice. It drains an area of about 3,630,000 sq km (1,400,000 sq miles)

Equatorial Rainforest:

The hot, humid basin of the River Congo is Africa’s largest remaining region of tropical rainforest. Competing for light, a wide variety of trees grow tall, forming a protective canopy that teems with plant and animal life.

Regional Climate:

The north of the region, the Sahara and Sahel area, is a broad band of dry, dusty land that is starved of rain. By contrast, in the steamy equatorial forests more than 38mm (1.5 in) of rain falls every day in places. The Sourth experiences the monsoon season between May and October.

Ethnic Diversity:

There are hundreds of different peoples in Central Africa, each with their own customs and languages. Large groups include the Kongo and Luba and there are several pygmy groups including the Twa, Baka and Mbuti who live in clearings deep in the rainforests. A growing number of people are moving to towns to escape war, drought or famine and because larger centres offer more jobs and food.


The land – locked republic of Chad is one of the world’s poorest countries. Nearly half of the land is desert or lies in the Sahel where rainfall is erratic. More than half of the people work on farmland near the Chari River in the south, but lack of food is still a problem. Chad has some valuable mineral deposits, but they are unexploited.

Chad Facts:

Capital City: N’Djamena
Area: 1, 284, 000 sq km (495, 752 sq miles)
Population: 8, 100, 000
Main Languages: French, Arabic, Sara
Major Religions: Islam, Christianity, Traditional Believes
Currency: CFA Franc

Muslim Nomads:

More than 100,000 Nomadic Muslims live in the desert and northem Sahel regions of Chad. They include in the Kanimbo people who are related to the Arabs and Berbers of North Africa. Every day, Kanimbo women must walk long distances in the heat to fetch water for their families.


One of the only ways to cross the vast Sahara desert is by camel. Camels are used as pack animals to transport forest products and minerals from Lake Chad, as well as for farming, pumping water and carrying people Herders value their milk, meat and hides.


Throughout Africa a nomadic group called the Fulani herd cattle and roam wherever there is grazing land. They drink the cows’ milk and use it to make butter and chese. Bottle shaped gourds, a type of fruit, are dried and decorated for use as wather carriers and bowls.


On Africa’s West coast, Cameroon was once a colony divided between the French and the British. The two parts gained independence and became a united country in 1961. Despite initial troubles, Cameroon now has one of the most successful economies in Africa, exporting oil, bauxite and a range of natural products, including cocoa, coffee and rubber. The country has a diverse culture with more than 230 ethnic groups.

Cameroon Facts:

Capital City: Yaounde
Area: 475, 400 sq km (183, 567 sq miles)
Population: 15, 200, 000
Main Languages: French, English, Fang, Duala, Fulani
Major Religions: Islam, Christianity, Traditional Believes
Currency: CFA Franc


Like many other African countries, Cameroon sells hardwood logs, including mahogany, ebony and teak from its rainforests to earn foreign currency. Although the trade represents one tenth of the country’s total exports, it poses a serious threat to the future of the forests.


One of Cameroon’s leading amateur sports, football is widely enjoyed and people play it whenever they have time. Games draw large crowds of spectatiors. Cameroon’s national forball team was acclaimed as one of the best in Africa, after displaying its skills in the 1990 world cup.

Central African Republic:

Lying in the very heart of Africa, the Central African Republic or CAR has a complicated history. Drought and 13 years of repressive government have made the CAR one of the poorest nations in the world. Only two per cent of the pople live in the semi – arid north and the majority are clustered in villages in the southern rainforests.

Central African Republic Facts:

Capital City: Bangui
Area: 622, 984 sq km (240, 534 sq miles)
Population: 3, 800, 000
Main Languages: French, Sango, Zande, Banda, Sara, Arabic
Major Religions: Islam, Christianity, Traditional Believes
Currency: CFA Franc


Seven major Bantu language groups and many smaller ones make up the population of the CAR. Several thousand hunter-gatherers live in the rainforests in harmony with nature. They survive by eating forest fruits and build their homes from banana leaves.


Coffee and cotton together form about 13 per cent of the country’s exports. Grown on large plantations, all parts of the cotton plant are used. The fibre, known as a bool, is spun into yarn to make fabric. The seed’s oil forms the base of many foods, whilst the plant’s stalks and leaves are ploughed back into the soil to fertlize it.


The people of the CAR grow nearly all their own food by subsistence farming, root crops, such as cassava, yams and vegetables are cultivated alongside grains including millet, maize and sorghum. Fish from the CAR’s rivers, including the Chari and Ubangi is a vital source of protein.


The Republic of Cango was a French territory until 1960. It is a hot, humid land and its densely forested north has few inhabitants. Nearly half the country’s people are member of the Kongo group. The rest include Bateke, M’Bochi, and Sangha. The mineral and timber industries have made Congo wealthy, but many people are still subsistence farmers, growing barely enough food to survive.


About 50 per cent of the work-force famers grow cassava, maize, rice, peanuts and fruit to feed their familes. Much food is imported. The steady export of coffee and cocoa beans has saved Congo from economic problems.


An essential part of African life Drums are used for signaling as well as for music. Most drums are intricately carved out of a solid piece of wood and can be decorated with different woods and hides. Drums are made in all shapes and sizes – this one is almost as tall as the player.


Oil from the Atlantic Ocean accounts for 90 per cent of Congo’s exports contributing largely to the country’s wealth. Fluctuating oil prices have caused some economic problems, but Congo’s crop exports have remained strong. The felling of forests to export tropical timber is a pressing environmental concern. Huge barges on the Congo and other rivers carry timber goods as a far as Brazzaville. From there the Congo ocean railway takes them to pointe Noire, Congo’s only port.

Congo Facts:

Capital City: Brazzaville
Area: 342, 000 sq km (132, 046 sq miles)
Population: 3, 100, 000
Main Languages: French, Kongo
Major Religions: Christianity, Traditional Believes
Currency: CFA Franc


A palm-fringed sandy coastline 800km (500 miles) long and lush tropical vegetation domainate Gabon’s landscape. The country earns 80 per cent of its foreign currency from oil and also sells timber, manganese and uranium ore. Gabon has the potential to be wealthy, but mismanagement by the government has led to continued povery.


The busling port city of Librevile was founded in 1849 by French naval officers meaning free town in French. Librevile was a new name for liberated slaves. It is now a modern, growing city and a centre of culture, industry and government. Many citizens are wealthy, but poverty still exists.


Although Gabon is one of Africa’s most thinly populated countries, it contains more than 40 different ethnic groups. The indigenous Fang people form the largest group. Once fierce warriors, they now dominatge the government. Most Gabonese people are Christians and about 90 per cent of their children attend primary schools. The Gabonese traditions of dance, song, poetry and story-telling remain an important social and cultural part of everyday life.

Trans – Gabon Railway:

Opened in 1986 to transport gold and mangancese, the Trans Gabon railway has caused much controversy because it cut through rainforest, destroying many valuable and rare trees.

Gabon Facts:

Capital City: Librevile
Area: 267, 667 sq km (103, 346 sq miles)
Population: 1, 300, 000
Main Languages: French, Fang
Major Religions: Christianity, Traditional Believes
Currency: CFA Franc

Equatorial Guinea:

Two former Spanish colonies make up the country of Equatorial Guinea, located close to the Equator. Rfo Muni, also called Mbii, is on mainland Africa, and Bioko Island which has fertile, volvanic soil that is ideal for growing cocoa beans is situated to the northwest, off the coast of neightbouring Cameroon.

Traditional Healing:

Like other Africans, Many people in Equatorial Guinea believe that illness is due to the influence of bad spirits. Professional healers use dancing and changts to drive out the evil spirits. They keep a range of animal bones, shells, stricks and other plants parts in their medicine bags for use in group ceremonies.

Extended Families:

Among the people of Equatorial Guinea there is a strong tradition of large, extended families, which stay together and help one another in times of hardship.

Democratic Republic Congo:

Formerly known as Belgian Congo and then as Zaire, this country was renamed Democratic Republic of Congo in 1997 after the overthrow of the corrupt military government. The country consists of a Plateau 1,200 m (3,900) above sea-level, through which the river Congo flows. The land is fertile and rich in minerals, but spendthrift governments and civil war including conflict with Rwanda in 1996 – 97 has kept it poor.


Among the many peoples of Democratic Congo are the Kuba, a small ethic group who have lived there for many years. Their chief wears a hunting mask, known as a Mashamboy mask, made of shells, beads and raffia to symbolize the power of the Great Spirit.


Democratic Republic Congo has much potentially cultivable land. Sixty per cent of the population is subsitence farmers producing palm oil, coffee, tea, rubber, cotton, fruit, vegetables and rice. Here, on the border of volcanic Virunga National park, the land is rich and fertile.


Copper ore, cobalt and diamonds provide 85 per cent of national exports. Democratic Republic Congo rates second in world dimond exports, with most mining activity in the Shaba province.

River Ports:

The river Congo and its tributaries give the country 11,500 km (7,000 miles) of navigable waterways. There are many river ports with boat-building and repair yards, craft shops and lively markets that sell cassava, fruits and fish and delicacies such as monkey and snake meat. Traders take their produce to sell at river markets in dug – out canoes made by local craftsmen.

Democratic Republic Congo Facts:

Capital City: Kinshasa
Area: 2, 345, 410 sq km (905, 563 sq miles)
Population: 52, 500, 000
Main Languages: French, English, Lingala, Kiswahili
Major Religions: Christianity, Traditional Believes
Currency: Congolese Franc

Ethnic Strif:

The present county boundaries in Central Africa date back to European colonialism and cut across logical ethnic grouping. In some places there is actual ethnic warfare, for example that between the Hutus and the Tutsis of Rawnda and Burundi. For hundreds of years, Rawanda was dominated by the Tutsis who ruled Hutus. In 1959, the Hutus rebelled and widespread fighting broke out. In the mid-1990s the violence escalated, resulting in 800,000 mainly Tutsi deaths and a massive refugee exodus into other countries.

Sao Tome and Principe:

This tiny country, formed by the main volcanic islands of Sao Tome and Principe, and four smaller islands, lies 200km (120 miles) off the coast of Gabon. Its mountains are covered with forests and rich soil supports farms that grow cocoa beans and sugar-cane. Sea fishing has potential for development.


The pepper plant’s smaller green barriers redden as they ripen. Havested straight awa, the half – ripe berries are cleaned, dried in the sun, grounds, and sifted to make ground black pepper.

Creole Culture:

Nobody lived on these islands until Portuguese explorers landed in 1470. The Portuguese peopled the islands with slaves from the mainland. Their mixed descendants created a culture called Creole, but the Creoles now number only ten per cent because more than 4, 000 left the country at independence.

Sao Tome and Principe Facts:

Capital City: Sao Tome
Area: 1001 sq km (386 sq miles)
Population: 159, 900
Main Languages: Portugese
Major Religions: Christianity, Traditional Believes
Currency: Dobra


One of Africa’s most densely populated countries Rwanda has been made poor by ethnic strife that forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee to Democratic Republic Congo for safety. Rwanda makes it money by exporting coffee, tea and tin and tungsten ores. Most of its people just manage to feed themselves.

Volcanoes Park:

The Parc des Volcano is a scenic reserve dominated by volcanic mountains, two of which are active. The park is the last refuge of the mountain gorillas which now number around 630.

Rwanda Facts:

Capital City: Kigali
Area: 26, 338 sq km (10, 169 sq miles)
Population: 7, 900, 000
Main Languages: French, Kinyarwanda, Kiswahili
Major Religions: Christianity, Traditional Believes
Currency: Rwanda Franc


Like Rwanda, its neighbor, Burundi has been torn by conflict between the Tutsis and the Hutus which has led to riots and thousands of deaths. Burundi has massive oil and nickel reserves beneath Lake Tanganyika, but lacks the funds to begin extraction. Most people are subsistence farmers.


Most farmers grow cassava and maize to feed their families. Some grow coffee, tea, cotton and bananas for export. Over planting fertile land is of causing soil erosion.

Burundi Facts:

Capital City: Bujumbura
Area: 27, 830 sq km (10, 745 sq miles)
Population: 6, 500, 000
Main Languages: French, Kirundi, Swahili
Major Religions: Christianity, Traditional Believes
Currency: Burundi Franc

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