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The Big Five Rivers of Africa

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Africa’s five longest rivers are the Nile, Congo, Niger, Zambezi and Orange. The sheer nature of Africa means that many of parts of these rivers remain untamed and wild. Beautiful examples of nature that we must endeavour to preserve. Between them they boast some amazing statistics as you will discover as you read on.

1. The Nile is Africa’s longest river at 6 600 km, but it is also the longest river in the world and is arguably Africa’s best known waterway. It drains about 10 percent of the whole of Africa, about 3 million square km and has two major tributaries: the first is the White Nile which rises in the great lakes region and has its most distant source in Rwanda, the second tributary is the Blue Nile, with its source in Ethiopia.


They meet near Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. From there the river flows northward through the Sahara desert and finally flowing into the Mediterranean Sea via its large delta. The majority of Egyptians live on or close to the Nile and it is their life blood. Khartoum, Aswan, Luxor and Cairo are the major settlements on the river.


2. Africa’s second longest river Congo flows westwards through central Africa for 4 700 km, almost 2000 km shorter than the Nile, but what it lacks in length it makes up in volume. Being located in Africa’s largest rainfall belt it discharges a massive 34 000 cubic meters of water a second into the Atlantic ocean, second only in terms of water flow to the Amazon River. It has the biggest catchment basin in Africa covering 4.1 million square km, and thanks to some of its canyons, is the deepest river in the world.


The source is considered to be the Chembeshi River in Northern Zambia close to the source of the eastward flowing Zambezi River. The rest of the river lies within the Democratic Republic of Congo or forms part of its border. Major settlements along the way include Mbandaka, Kinshasa, Kisangani and the capital Brazzaville.

3. The Niger River is Africa’s third longest river at 4 180 km and is the primary river in West Africa. Its boomerang shape confused Europeans for centuries, as its source is only 240 km from the Atlantic Ocean, in the Guinea Highlands, but the river flows away from the sea into the Sahara Desert of Mali, turning southeast near the city of Timbuktu and flowing through Niger along the Benin border and finally into Nigeria. Its major tributary is the Benue River which is itself 1400 km long. The Niger discharges into the Atlantic Ocean at an area known as the Gulf of Guinea.


An unusual feature of the river is the Niger Inland Delta. This forms where the river suddenly becomes less steep. This makes a region of connected streams, marshes, and lakes over an amount of land the same size as Belgium. The yearly floods make the delta very good for fishing and farming. It is also an important stopover for migrating birds. The Niger drains an area approximately 2.1 million square km.

4. The Zambezi River at 2700 km it is Africa fourth largest river but is the largest east flowing river in to the Indian ocean. Its catchment basin is 1.4 million square km amore than half the size of the Nile’s. The source of the Zambezi River lies at about 1 500 m above sea level, very close to the border where Zambia, Angola and the Congo meet. From there it flows through Zambia, Angola, Namibia and Botswana, back into Zambia and Zimbabwe then discharging at its delta in Mozambique.


Its best known feature is the Victoria Falls, the largest curtain of water in the world and one of the Seven Natural Wonder of the World. It boasts one of the largest Conservation areas in the world, the Zambezi Transfontier Conservation Area, which covers 280 000 square km. There are two major hydro electrical dams on the Zambezi which provide power to several African countries.

5. Apart from a couple of the Congo’s tributaries the Orange River counts as Africa’s Fifth longest River. Rising in Lesotho it flows for 2 200 km westward through South Africa forming the border between that country and Namibia before it exits at Alexandra Bay into the Atlantic Ocean. Its catchment basin is approximately 973 000 square km and its major tributary is the Vaal River.


More than 29 dams have been constructed in its basin, the largest of which is Gariep. It is a major source hydro electric power and irrigation water. The Orange River also supplies the Eastern Cape with water via the Orange Fish Tunnel, the second longest supply tunnel in the world at 83km long.

As it flows westward it passes through semi arid regions of the Kalahari and Namib deserts which receive less than 50 mm of rainfall per annum therefore contributing little water to its volume.


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