There are occasions when it appears that the only river in African is the River Nile. While there can be no doubt regarding the importance and the influence of the world’s second longest river, there are other rivers that do flow on this continent and have been an important factor in the development and the history of the region. The second longest river in Africa and the ninth longest in the world is the River Congo which flows 4,700 kilometers from its source in the highlands of the East African Rift until entering the South Atlantic Ocean at Muanda in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Running along the equator, the river and its tributaries drain around 13% of the African Continent, and when it enters the sea it carries enough water to make it the second biggest river in the world in terms of discharge. In places the river is deeper than 220 metres and there is no river in the world with a deeper chanel.
There are more than 40 hydro-electric power stations that use the river and have the potential to supply 13% of the world’s hydro-electric power. The river is a major route-way between Kinshasa and Kisangani, which is the third largest city in the Congo and is the furthest point upstream which is navigable. Kinshasa, with a population of 11 million people is the capital of the Congo and the largest city located on the river. In a country with few transport networks the river is vital for the country’s economic development.
The largest river in West Africa is the river Niger. Starting in the Guinea Highlands in south-eastern Guinea the river flows for 4180 kilometers until it reaches the Atlantic Ocean. To enter the ocean it passes through the Niger Delta which is one of the largest in the world. On its journey the river flows through Guinea, Mali, Niger, Benin and Nigeria and its basin covers an area of 2,117,700 square kilometers. The shape of the river is unusual as it is a boomerang with the source being only 240 kilometers from the Atlantic. It firstly flows inland towards the Sahara Desert before taking the long route that it follows towards to its eventual mouth.
The river supports a population of around 100 million people as it is used to irrigate the land and people also fish the waters. The river flows through the centre of Bamako the capital of Mali and also Niamey the capital of Niger. The most recent problems to have affected the river has been in the delta region where gas and oil exploration has led to damage of the natural ecosystem. With dams and irrigation projects constantly being planned control of the water basin needs to be carefully managed as parts of the catchment area are some of the most arid regions on earth and support the most fragile ecosystems.
The River Zambezi may be only the 4th longest river on the continent but few rivers will have more spectacular courses. The river rises in Zambia and flows for 2,574 kilometers eastwards through Africa before entering into the Indian Ocean in Mozambique. Its watershed is separated from the River Congo’s by a narrow ridge of highland in north-west Zambia. From this point the river cuts through a broken-edged plateau down towards the sea. It is in these upland areas of metamorphic and igneous rock, where the spectacular Victoria waterfalls are located.
The flood plains of the Zambezi has provided the region with rich agricultural plains and the fast flowing waters have produced hydro-electric stations. The building of the Kariba and Cahorra Bassa dams has halved the size of the delta area and has also reduced the amounts of silt that have been deposited on the river’s floodplain. Despite the reduction of flooding there are still times when the region does benefit from it and the area boasts some of the best wildlife surviving on the continent. The river authorities are constantly trying to get the right balance between making use of the river without damaging the natural ecosystem.