Central Africa

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Central Africa
UN Macroregion Central Africa.svg
Central Africa (United Nations Statistics Division sub-region)
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This video over Central Africa and the Middle East was taken by the crew of Expedition 29 onboard the International Space Station in October 2011

Central Africa is a subregion of the African continent comprising various countries according to different definitions. Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Rwanda, and São Tomé and Príncipe are members of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS). [1] Six of those states (Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, the Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, and Gabon) are also members of the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC) and share a common currency, the Central African CFA franc. [2]


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ECCAS/CEMAC state, part of Middle Africa
ECCAS state, part of Middle Africa
ECCAS state only Central Africa.png
   ECCAS/CEMAC state, part of Middle Africa
  ECCAS state, part of Middle Africa
  ECCAS state only

The African Development Bank defines Central Africa as Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, and Gabon. [3] Middle Africa is an analogous term used by the United Nations in its geoscheme for Africa. It includes the same countries as the African Development Bank's definition, along with Angola and São Tomé and Príncipe. [4]

List of Central African countries

Central AfricaFlag of Angola.svg  Angola
Flag of Cameroon.svg  Cameroon
Flag of the Central African Republic.svg  Central African Republic
Flag of Chad.svg  Chad
Flag of the Republic of the Congo.svg  Republic of the Congo
Flag of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.svg  DR Congo
Flag of Zambia.svg  Zambia
Flag of Equatorial Guinea.svg  Equatorial Guinea
Flag of Gabon.svg  Gabon
Flag of Sao Tome and Principe.svg  São Tomé and Príncipe
Flag of Rwanda.svg  Rwanda
Flag of Burundi.svg  Burundi


Membership of ECCAS Mapa CEEAC.PNG
Membership of ECCAS

The Central African Federation (1953–1963), also called the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, was made up of what are now the nations of Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Similarly, the Anglican Church of the Province of Central Africa covers dioceses in Botswana, Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, while the Church of Central Africa, Presbyterian has synods in Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. These states are now typically considered part of East or Southern Africa. [5]


Congo Basin Rainforest - Ituri (20874628148).jpg
Congo Basin

The basin of Lake Chad has historically been ecologically significant to the populations of Central Africa, especially with the Lake Chad Basin Commission serving as an important supra-regional organization in Central Africa.



Archeological finds in Central Africa have been discovered dating back, over 100,000 years. [6] According to Zagato and Holl, there is evidence of iron-smelting in the Central African Republic and Cameroon that may date back to 3000 to 2500 BCE. [7] Extensive walled settlements have recently been found in Northeast Nigeria, approximately 60 km (37 mi) southwest of Lake Chad dating to the first millennium BCE. [8]

Trade and improved agricultural techniques supported more sophisticated societies, leading to the early civilizations of Sao, Kanem, Bornu, Shilluk, Baguirmi, and Wadai. [9]

Around 2500 BCE, Bantu migrants had reached the Great Lakes Region in Central Africa. Halfway through the first millennium BCE, the Bantu had also settled as far south as what is now Angola.

Ancient history

Sao civilization

The Sao civilization flourished from ca. the 6th century BCE to as late as the 16th century CE in northern Central Africa. The Sao lived by the Chari River south of Lake Chad in territory that later became part of Cameroon and Chad. They are the earliest people to have left clear traces of their presence in the territory of modern Cameroon. Today, several ethnic groups of northern Cameroon and southern Chad but particularly the Sara people claim descent from the civilization of the Sao. Sao artifacts show that they were skilled workers in bronze, copper, and iron. [10] Finds include bronze sculptures and terra cotta statues of human and animal figures, coins, funerary urns, household utensils, jewelry, highly decorated pottery, and spears. [11] The largest Sao archaeological finds have been made south of Lake Chad.

Kanem Empire

The Kanem and Bornu Empires in 1810 Borno in 1810.svg
The Kanem and Bornu Empires in 1810

The Kanem–Bornu Empire was centered in the Chad Basin. It was known as the Kanem Empire from the 9th century CE onward and lasted as the independent kingdom of Bornu until 1900. At its height it encompassed an area covering not only much of Chad, but also parts of modern southern Libya, eastern Niger, northeastern Nigeria, northern Cameroon, parts of South Sudan and the Central African Republic. The history of the Empire is mainly known from the Royal Chronicle or Girgam discovered in 1851 by the German traveler Heinrich Barth. [12] Kanem rose in the 8th century in the region to the north and east of Lake Chad. The Kanem empire went into decline, shrank, and in the 14th century was defeated by Bilala invaders from the Lake Fitri region. [13]

Bornu Empire

The Kanuri people led by the Sayfuwa migrated to the west and south of the lake, where they established the Bornu Empire. By the late 16th century the Bornu empire had expanded and recaptured the parts of Kanem that had been conquered by the Bulala. [14] Satellite states of Bornu included the Damagaram in the west and Baguirmi to the southeast of Lake Chad.

Shilluk Kingdom

The Shilluk Kingdom was centered in South Sudan from the 15th century from along a strip of land along the western bank of White Nile, from Lake No to about 12° north latitude. The capital and royal residence were in the town of Fashoda. The kingdom was founded during the mid-fifteenth century CE by its first ruler, Nyikang. During the nineteenth century, the Shilluk Kingdom faced decline following military assaults from the Ottoman Empire and later British and Sudanese colonization in Anglo-Egyptian Sudan.

Baguirmi Kingdom

The Kingdom of Baguirmi existed as an independent state during the 16th and 17th centuries southeast of Lake Chad in what is now the country of Chad. Baguirmi emerged to the southeast of the Kanem–Bornu Empire. The kingdom's first ruler was Mbang Birni Besse. Later in his reign, the Bornu Empire conquered and made the state a tributary.

Wadai Empire

Abeche, capital of Wadai, in 1918 after the French had taken over La ville d'Abeche, vue du poste Francais.jpg
Abéché, capital of Wadai, in 1918 after the French had taken over

The Wadai Empire was centered on Chad and the Central African Republic from the 17th century. The Tunjur people founded the Wadai Kingdom to the east of Bornu in the 16th century. In the 17th century, there was a revolt of the Maba people who established a Muslim dynasty. At first, Wadai paid tribute to Bornu and Durfur, but by the 18th century, Wadai was fully independent and had become an aggressor against its neighbors. [9]

Lunda Empire

Lunda town and dwelling Lunda houses-1854.jpg
Lunda town and dwelling

Following the Bantu Migration from Western Africa, Bantu kingdoms and empires began to develop in southern Central Africa. In the 1450s, a Luba from the royal family Ilunga Tshibinda married Lunda queen Rweej and united all Lunda peoples. Their son Mulopwe Luseeng expanded the kingdom. His son Naweej expanded the empire further and is known as the first Lunda emperor, with the title Mwata Yamvo (mwaant yaav, mwant yav), the "Lord of Vipers". The Luba political system was retained, and conquered peoples were integrated into the system. The mwata yamvo assigned a cilool or kilolo (royal adviser) and tax collector to each state conquered. [15] [16]

Numerous states claimed descent from the Lunda. The Imbangala of inland Angola claimed descent from a founder, Kinguri, brother of Queen Rweej, who could not tolerate the rule of mulopwe Tshibunda. Kinguri became the title of kings of states founded by Queen Rweej's brother. The Luena (Lwena) and Lozi (Luyani) in Zambia also claim descent from Kinguri. During the 17th century, a Lunda chief and warrior called Mwata Kazembe set up an Eastern Lunda kingdom in the valley of the Luapula River. The Lunda's western expansion also saw claims of descent by the Yaka and the Pende. The Lunda linked Central Africa with the western coast trade. The kingdom of Lunda came to an end in the 19th century when it was invaded by the Chokwe, who were armed with guns. [16] [17]

Kongo Kingdom

Kongo in 1711 KingdomKongo1711.png
Kongo in 1711

By the 15th century CE, the farming Bakongo people (ba being the plural prefix) were unified as the Kingdom of Kongo under a ruler called the manikongo , residing in the fertile Pool Malebo area on the lower Congo River. The capital was M'banza-Kongo. With superior organization, they were able to conquer their neighbors and extract tribute. They were experts in metalwork, pottery, and weaving raffia cloth. They stimulated interregional trade via a tribute system controlled by the manikongo. Later, maize (corn) and cassava (manioc) would be introduced to the region via trade with the Portuguese at their ports at Luanda and Benguela. The maize and cassava would result in population growth in the region and other parts of Africa, replacing millet as the main staple.

By the 16th century, the manikongo held authority from the Atlantic in the west to the Kwango River in the east. Each territory was assigned a mani-mpembe (provincial governor) by the manikongo. In 1506, Afonso I (1506–1542), a Christian, took over the throne. Slave trading increased with Afonso's wars of conquest. About 1568 to 1569, the Jaga invaded Kongo, laying waste to the kingdom and forcing the manikongo into exile. In 1574, Manikongo Álvaro I was reinstated with the help of Portuguese mercenaries. During the latter part of the 1660s, the Portuguese tried to gain control of Kongo. Manikongo António I (1661–1665), with a Kongolese army of 5,000, was destroyed by an army of Afro-Portuguese at the Battle of Mbwila. The empire dissolved into petty polities, fighting among each other for war captives to sell into slavery. [18] [19] [20]

Kongo gained captives from the Kingdom of Ndongo in wars of conquest. Ndongo was ruled by the ngola. Ndongo would also engage in slave trading with the Portuguese, with São Tomé being a transit point to Brazil. The kingdom was not as welcoming as Kongo; it viewed the Portuguese with great suspicion and as an enemy. The Portuguese in the latter part of the 16th century tried to gain control of Ndongo but were defeated by the Mbundu. Ndongo experienced depopulation from slave raiding. The leaders established another state at Matamba, affiliated with Queen Nzinga, who put up a strong resistance to the Portuguese until coming to terms with them. The Portuguese settled along the coast as trade dealers, not venturing on conquest of the interior. Slavery wreaked havoc in the interior, with states initiating wars of conquest for captives. The Imbangala formed the slave-raiding state of Kasanje, a major source of slaves during the 17th and 18th centuries. [21] [22]

Modern history

French explorer Paul Du Chaillu confirmed the existence of Pygmy peoples of central Africa A journey to Ashango-Land, and further penetration into equatorial Africa (1874) (14594947249).jpg
French explorer Paul Du Chaillu confirmed the existence of Pygmy peoples of central Africa

During the Conference of Berlin in 1884–85 Africa was divided up between the European colonial powers, defining boundaries that are largely intact with today's post-colonial states. [23] On 5 August 1890 the British and French concluded an agreement to clarify the boundary between French West Africa and what would become Nigeria. A boundary was agreed along a line from Say on the Niger to Barruwa on Lake Chad, but leaving the Sokoto Caliphate in the British sphere. [24] Parfait-Louis Monteil was given charge of an expedition to discover where this line actually ran. [25] On 9 April 1892 he reached Kukawa on the shore of the lake. [26] Over the next twenty years a large part of the Chad Basin was incorporated by treaty or by force into French West Africa. On 2 June 1909, the Wadai capital of Abéché was occupied by the French. [27] The remainder of the basin was divided by the British in Nigeria, who took Kano in 1903, [28] and the Germans in Cameroon. The countries of the basin regained their independence between 1956 and 1962, retaining the colonial administrative boundaries.

In 2011, South Sudan gained its independence from the Republic of Sudan after over 50 years of war. In the 21st century, many jihadist and Islamist groups began to operate in the Central African region, including the Seleka and the Ansaru.

Over the course of the 2010s, the internationally unrecognized secessionist state called Ambazonia gained increasing momentum in its home regions. [29]


Fishing in Central Africa Fishing In Maridi.jpg
Fishing in Central Africa

The main economic activities of Central Africa are farming, herding and fishing. At least 40% of the rural population of northern and eastern Central Africa lives in poverty and routinely face chronic food shortages. [30] Crop production based on rain is possible only in the southern belt. Slash-and-burn agriculture is a common practice. [31] Flood recession agriculture is practiced around Lake Chad and in the riverine wetlands. [32] Nomadic herders migrate with their animals into the grasslands of the northern part of the basin for a few weeks during each short rainy season, where they intensively graze the highly nutritious grasses. When the dry season starts they move back south, either to grazing lands around the lakes and floodplains, or to the savannas further to the south. [33]

In the 2000–01 period, fisheries in the Lake Chad basin provided food and income to more than 10 million people, with a harvest of about 70,000 tons. [30] Fisheries have traditionally been managed by a system where each village has recognized rights over a defined part of the river, wetland or lake, and fishers from elsewhere must seek permission and pay a fee to use this area. The governments only enforced rules and regulations to a limited extent. [34] Local governments and traditional authorities are increasingly engaged in rent-seeking, collecting license fees with the help of the police or army. [35]

Oil is also a major export of the countries of northern and eastern Central Africa, notably making up a large proportion of the GDPs of Chad and South Sudan.


UN Macroregion of Central Africa UN Macroregion Central Africa.svg
UN Macroregion of Central Africa

Following the Bantu Migration, Central Africa is primarily inhabited by Bantu peoples and Bantu languages predominate. These include the Mongo, Kongo and Luba peoples. Central Africa also includes many Nilo-Saharan and Niger-Congo Ubangian communities: in north western Central Africa the Nilo-Saharan Kanuri [36] [37] predominate. Most of the Ubangian speakers in Africa (often grouped with Niger-Congo) are also found in Central Africa, such as the Gbaya, [38] Banda [38] and Zande, [39] [38] in northern Central Africa.

Notable Central African supra-regional organizations include the Lake Chad Basin Commission and the Economic Community of Central African States.

The predominant religions of Central Africa are Christianity and traditional faiths. Islam is also practiced in some areas in Chad and the Central African Republic.

NameCapitalCurrencyOfficial languagesArea (km2)Population (2021) [40] [41]
Angola [42] Luanda Kwanza Portuguese 1,246,70034,503,774
Cameroon [43] Yaoundé Central African CFA franc French, English475,44227,198,628
Central African Republic [38] Bangui Central African CFA franc Sango, French622,9845,457,154
Chad [37] N'Djamena Central African CFA franc French, Arabic1,284,00017,179,740
Democratic Republic of the Congo [44] Kinshasa Congolese franc French2,344,85895,894,118
Republic of the Congo [45] Brazzaville Central African CFA franc French342,0005,835,806
Equatorial Guinea [46] Malabo Central African CFA franc Spanish, Portuguese, French28,0511,634,466
Gabon [47] Libreville Central African CFA franc French267,6682,341,179
São Tomé and Príncipe [48] São Tomé São Tomé and Príncipe Dobra Portuguese 964223,107

Due to common historical processes and widespread demographic movements between the countries of Central Africa before the Bantu Migration into much of southern Central Africa, the cultures of the region evidence many similarities and interrelationships. Similar cultural practices stemming from common origins as largely Nilo-Saharan or Bantu peoples are also evident in Central Africa including in music, dance, art, body adornment, initiation, and marriage rituals.

Some major ethnic groups in Central Africa are as follows:

NameFamilyLanguageRegionCountryPopulation (million)Notes
Sara Nilo-Saharan, Central Sudanic Sara Chad BasinChad, [37] Cameroon, [49] Central African Republic [50] 3.5
Gbaya Niger-Congo, Ubangian Gbaya language Chad BasinCentral African Republic [38] 1.5
Zande Niger–Congo, Ubangian Zande Chad BasinSouth Sudan, [39] Central African Republic, [38] Democratic Republic of Congo1–4
Kanuri Nilo-Saharan, Western Saharan Kanuri Chad BasinEastern Nigeria, [36] Niger, [51] Cameroon, [52] Chad [37] 10
Banda Niger-Congo, Ubangian Banda language Chad BasinCentral African Republic [38] 1.5
Luba Niger-Congo, Bantu Luba language Sub-EquatorialDemocratic Republic of Congo10–15
Mongo Niger-Congo, Bantu Mongo language Sub-EquatorialDemocratic Republic of Congo10–15
Kongo Niger-Congo, Bantu Kongo language Sub-EquatorialDemocratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Republic of Congo10


Art from Cameroon Tambour fom-Babanki-Cameroun.jpg
Art from Cameroon





Film industry

Science and technology

Further information in the sections of History of science and technology in Africa:

See also

Related Research Articles

At the crossroads of West Africa and Central Africa, the territory of what is now Cameroon has seen human habitation since some time in the Middle Paleolithic, likely no later than 130,000 years ago. The earliest discovered archaeological evidence of humans dates from around 30,000 years ago at Shum Laka. The Bamenda highlands in western Cameroon near the border with Nigeria are the most likely origin for the Bantu peoples, whose language and culture came to dominate most of central and southern Africa between 1000 BCE and 1000 CE.

History of Africa Historical development of Africa

The history of Africa begins with the emergence of hominids, archaic humans and - around 300–250,000 years ago—anatomically modern humans, in East Africa, and continues unbroken into the present as a patchwork of diverse and politically developing nation states. The earliest known recorded history arose in Ancient Egypt, and later in Nubia, the Sahel, the Maghreb, and the Horn of Africa.

Kanem–Bornu Empire c. 700–1380 empire around Lake Chad, Africa

The Kanem–Bornu Empire existed in areas which are now part of Niger, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad and Nigeria. It was known to the Arabian geographers as the Kanem Empire from the 8th century AD onward and lasted as the independent kingdom of Bornu until 1900.

Sub-Saharan Africa Area of the continent of Africa that is south of the Sahara Desert

Sub-Saharan Africa is, geographically, the area of the continent of Africa that lies south of the Sahara. Geopolitically, in addition to the African countries and territories that are situated fully in that specified region, the term may also include polities that only have part of their territory located in that region, per the definition of the United Nations (UN). While the UN geoscheme for Africa excludes the northern Sudan from its definition of sub-Saharan Africa, the African Union's regional definition includes it while instead excluding Mauritania.

The history of Zambia experienced many stages from colonization to independence from Britain on October 24, 1964. Northern Rhodesia became a British sphere of influence in the present-day region of Zambia in 1888, and was officially proclaimed a British protectorate in 1924. After many years of suggested mergers, Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia, and Nyasaland were merged into the British Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland.

Kanuri people African ethnic group

The Kanuri people are an African ethnic group living largely in the lands of the former Kanem and Bornu Empires in Niger, Nigeria, Sudan, Libya and Cameroon. Those generally termed Kanuri include several subgroups and dialect groups, some of whom identify as distinct from the Kanuri. Most trace their origins to ruling lineages of the medieval Kanem-Bornu Empire, and its client states or provinces. In contrast to the neighboring Toubou or Zaghawa pastoralists, Kanuri groups have traditionally been sedentary, engaging in farming, fishing the Chad Basin, and engaged in trade and salt processing.

Sahelian kingdoms Kingdoms and empires centered in the Sahel

The Sahelian kingdoms were a series of centralized kingdoms or empires that were centered on the Sahel, the area of grasslands south of the Sahara, from the 8th century to the 19th. The wealth of the states came from controlling the trade routes across the desert. Their power came from having large pack animals like camels and horses that were fast enough to keep a large empire under central control and were also useful in such kind of battle. All of these empires were also quite decentralized with member cities having a great deal of autonomy.

The pre-colonial history of the modern-day Democratic Republic of the Congo encompasses the history of the Congo Basin region up to the establishment of European colonial rule in the era of New Imperialism and particularly the creation of the Congo Free State and its expansion into the interior after 1885. As the modern territorial boundaries of the Democratic Republic of the Congo did not exist in this period, it is inseparable from the wider pre-colonial histories of Central Africa, the Great Lakes and Rift Valley as well as the Atlantic World and Swahili coast.

Far North Region, Cameroon Region of Cameroon

The Far North Region, also known as the Extreme North Region, is the northernmost constituent province of the Republic of Cameroon. It borders the North Region to the south, Chad to the east, and Nigeria to the west. The capital is Maroua.

Kanembu people

The Kanembu are an ethnic group of Chad, generally considered the modern descendants of the Kanem-Bornu Empire. The Kanembu number an estimated 890,000 people, located primarily in Chad's Lac Prefecture but also in Chari-Baguirmi and Kanem prefectures. They speak the Kanembu language, which the Kanuri language is derived from, with many speaking Arabic and sometimes nowadays French as a second language.

Wadai Empire

The Wadai Sultanate was an African sultanate located to the east of Lake Chad in present-day Chad and the Central African Republic. It emerged in the seventeenth century under the leadership of the first sultan, Abd al-Karim, who overthrew the ruling Tunjur people of the area. It occupied land previously held by the Sultanate of Darfur to the northeast of the Sultanate of Baguirmi.

The Buduma are an ethnic group of Chad, Cameroon, and Nigeria who inhabit many of the islands of Lake Chad. They are predominantly fishers and cattle-herders. In the past, the Buduma carried out violent raids on the cattle herds of their neighbors. They were feared villains with aggressive reputations; thus, they were respected and left alone for many years, protected by their own habitat of water and reeds.

Sao civilisation Central African civilization

The Sao civilization flourished in Central Africa from ca. the fourth or sixth century BC to as late as the sixteenth century AD. The Sao lived by the Chari River basin in territory that later became part of Cameroon and Chad. They are the earliest civilization to have left clear traces of their presence in the territory of modern Cameroon. Sometime around the 16th century, conversion to Islam changed the cultural identity of the former Sao. Today, several ethnic groups of northern Cameroon and southern Chad, but particularly the Sara, Kotoko, claim descent from the civilization of the Sao.

Lunda people

The Lunda are a Bantu ethnic group that originated in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo along the Kalanyi River and formed the Kingdom of Lunda in the 17th century under their ruler, Mwata Yamvo or Mwaant Yav, with their capital at Musumba. From there they spread widely through Katanga and into Eastern Angola, north-western Zambia and the Luapula valley of Zambia.

The colonial history of Angola is usually considered to run from the appearance of the Portuguese under Diogo Cão in 1482 (Congo) or 1484 until the independence of Angola in November 1975. Settlement did not begin until Novais's establishment of São Paulo de Loanda (Luanda) in 1575, however, and the Portuguese government only formally incorporated Angola as a colony in 1655 or on May 12, 1886.

African empires Umbrella term for some pre-colonial African kingdoms

African empires is an umbrella term used in African studies to refer to a number of pre-colonial African kingdoms in Africa with multinational structures incorporating various populations and polities into a single entity, usually through conquest.

Bantu peoples Family of ethnolinguistic groups in Africa

The Bantu peoples, or Bantu, are several hundred ethnic groups who speak Bantu languages, spread over a vast area from Central Africa to Southeast Africa and into Southern Africa. There are several hundred Bantu languages. Depending on the definition of "language" or "dialect", it is estimated that there are between 440 and 680 distinct languages. The total number of speakers is in the hundreds of millions, ranging at roughly 350 million in the mid-2010s. About 60 million speakers (2015), divided into some 200 ethnic or tribal groups, are found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo alone.

Makary is a town in Logone-et-Chari, Far North Region, Cameroon, West Africa. The town is located on the right (east) bank of a distributary of the Chari River in the delta just before it enters Lake Chad. The people are known as Kotoko, and the local language is Mpade, Fulani (Fulfulde) is the trade language. The primary economic activity was and is fishing.

Chad Basin Largest endorheic basin in Africa

The Chad Basin is the largest endorheic basin in Africa, centered on Lake Chad. It has no outlet to the sea and contains large areas of semi-arid desert and savanna. The drainage basin is roughly coterminous with the sedimentary basin of the same name, but extends further to the northeast and east. The basin spans eight countries, including most of Chad and a large part of Niger. The region has an ethnically diverse population of about 30 million people as of 2011, growing rapidly.


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