The majority of Equatorial Africa is dominated by tropical rainforests. This region receives anywhere from 100 to 500 centimeters of rainfall annually. Temperatures average about 90 degrees each day in the equatorial parts of this region. The Zaire River system (formerly named Congo River) also has a dominant influence upon Equatorial Africa. The Zaire River not only is the fifth longest river in the world, but ranks second only to the Amazon River in the amount of water it carries. Instead of tropical rainforests like the rest of Equatorial Africa, the extreme northern and southern parts consist of savannas or grasslands. These grasslands and the southern plateaus and mountains donít act as dominant characteristics of the region, rather they act as borders.
Equatorial Africa is not densely populated. Most people there exist either by subsistence farming or herding, which does not readily lend itself to supporting large urban concentrations of people. There is a high population cluster that goes around the Congo River. This cluster relates to the extra amount of work that is associated with living near a large river. Another high population cluster is located in the southern part of Democratic Republic of Congo, particularly in the city Lubumbashi. It is here where many copper mines are located. People from other countries also travel to work in these copper mines. Overall the countries of Equatorial Africa have a total population of 75.4 million.
Because the type of agriculture most often practiced, rather than relying upon modern methods, is of the slash and burn type, with crude implements, large tracts of land are needed to support a very few people. The slash and burn tactic is used due to the soil problems that the Equatorial Africa region faces. This region has a serious problem of soil erosion. Cameroon is one country however with favorable agricultural conditions. Agriculture and forestry are also the backbone of Central African Republicís economy.
Many different languages are spoken by a wide variety of ethnic groups, which hinders attempts by the Equatorial African countries to unify its peoples. No single religion acts as a unifying force either, as Christian and Moslem worshipers exist along with those who favor the more traditional African religions. The number of Christians in this region does outnumber the number of Muslim followers however. In most of the Equatorial African countries there is a significantly higher percentage of Christian followers than Muslim. Two countries where it is close is in the Democratic Republic of Congo where 10% of the population is Muslim, and in Cameroon where 40% of the population is Christian and 20% is Muslim.
The one thing that does unify Equatorial African countries is which European Nation it was a former colony of (which seems a rather poor means of unifying a diverse population). While Zaire is a former Belgium colony, and Equatorial Guinea a former Spanish colony, all other Equatorial African nations were once colonies of France. Gabon and Central African Republic received their independence in the same year of 1960. Cameroon was once divided up between France and Britain. In 1961 however, the two parts came together to form present day Cameroon.
Other than armed conflicts between various cultural groups in Equatorial Africa, the only time they are mentioned in our newspapers is when sickness or disease rages thru this area. African sleeping sickness, transmitted by Tsetse flies, malaria and yellow fever from mosquitoes, schistosomiasis from snails, AIDS and Ebola, diseases brought on by poor nutrition or unsanitary conditions (such as cholera) all plague this area. Thousands of people in this region die every year from diseases that have been cured in the United States. The HIV virus and AIDS are a serious problem that affects the Equatorial Africa region. It is estimated that 1 out of every 23 people in this region have the HIV virus. Due to these problems the Equatorial Africa region has the largest facilities operated by the World Health Organization in the world.
Due to the rich and varied mineral deposits in Equatorial Africa many European countries decided to colonize in this region. Even today mineral exports in this region are a huge source of income. Timber exports are also important, though most logging operations are highly destructive to the rainforest ecology. Although most agriculture is of the subsistence type, plantations exist in Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea, which produce a variety of export crops. The main examples of these crops are cocoa, coffee, and palm oil. The main problem encountered by Equatorial African governments seems to be not a lack of resources, but rather the lack of a necessary infrastructure (roads, trained personnel, developmental capital, et.) to effectively utilize those resources they have.
The Democratic Republic of Congo, with a population of 52.0 million, is one of Africa's largest countries both in terms of population and area. Although Democratic Republic of Congo has access to the Atlantic Ocean via a narrow strip of land adjacent the Congo River, and contains a wide range of exportable resources which in theory give it the greatest potential for economic development of any Equatorial African nation, it has yet to realize much of this potential. Severe internal transportation problems force most exports to be shipped thru neighboring countries. Zaire's non-cohesive population (over 200 distinct cultural groups inhabit DRC) also limits national unity and effective policy implementation. The DRCís Army is an example of what can happen with so many diverse cultural groups. Made up almost entirely of soldiers recruited from DRCís leader's native region to assure allegiance, they have become, thru a combination of unpaid salaries, lack of equipment, and lack of loyalty to the countries outlying regions, a force that actually promotes destabilization and lawlessness in Eastern Zaire. After being defeated by rebel forces aligned with Rwandan Tutsis, they turned to raiding and pillaging the Democratic Republic of Congoís villages during their unorganized retreats that followed these defeats. This country has the extremely low GNP per capita of only $110.
Central African Republic is the only land-locked nation in Equatorial Africa. With a population of 3.5 million it is also one of the regions least developed states. Like Zaire, the Central African Republic has a discontented, unpaid military that staged 3 military mutinies in the first 7 months of 1996. The government was forced to accept military aid from France, the European nation whose former colony it was, to help put down the latest mutiny. With a GNP of only $3oo, it may well be the poorest nation in Equatorial Africa.
Congo, with a population of 2.8 million, lacks much in the way of natural resources, but its location has proven it's greatest asset. Congo's capital, Brazzaville, formerly was French Equatorial Africa's capital. Utilizing the French built transportation system to service Brazzaville, Congo has become the transport hub for the region, bringing it needed capital. Congo has a GNP per capita of $680.
Equatorial Guinea, which includes the island of Bioko, has a population of only 500,000 people. Bioko is a volcanic island whose soil provides Equatorial Guinea with it's main export crop of cocoa. Equatorial Guinea has a descent GNP per capita for this region at $1110.
Cameroon's population numbers 15.4 million. Although its GNP is only $610, it does have a strong agricultural sector, unlike most of it's Equatorial African neighbors. Petroleum revenues, once a major source of income, has in recent years dwindled, but still remains an important part of Cameroon's exports. Cameroon may have the most diversity among Equatorial African nations in terms of topography, with rainforests in the south, open savannah in the north.
Gabon, with a population of 1.2 million, is the only Equatorial African country not classified as having a low-income economy with a GNP of $4170. Oil reserves, mineral wealth, and a booming timber industry have accomplished this for Gabon, an OPEC member whose main problem is it's weak agricultural sector.
Dinar, Ali., (1994-2000). Africa Studies. African Studies Center University of Pennsylvania (Online), Available: www.sas.upenn.edu/African_Studies
Fung, Karen., (1994). African Countries. Africa: South of the Sahara (Online), Available: www-sul.Stanford.edu/depts./ssrg/Africa/guide3.html
Wiley, David. (1984). Africa. Guilford, Conn: Dushkin Pub. Group, Inc.
1. In the colonial period, which were Portugal's largest colonies in Africa? A. Zimbabwe, Malawi; B. Zambia, Nigeria; C. Tanzania, Mozambique; D. Angola, Mozambique; E. Angola, Uganda.
2. Which of the following Equatorial African countries has considerable copper mining activities around its southern city of Lubumbashi? A. Democratic Republic of Congo; B. Burundi; C. Gabon; D. Cameroon; E. Equatorial Guinea
3. Which of the following Equatorial African countries has the highest population? A. DRC B. Congo C. Gabon D. Equatorial Guinea
4. Which of the following countries has the highest GNP per capita in Equatorial Africa? A. DRC B. Gabon C. Cameroon D. Congo
5. Which of the following Equatorial African countries is considered the poorest? A. Democratic Republic of Congo B. Gabon; C. Central African Republic; D. Cameroon
6. What was and still is a major source of income for Cameroon? A. Bananas B. Timber C. Petroleum D. Tourism
7. What European country was the majority of Equatorial African countries a colony of? A. France B. Britain C. Germany D. Portugal
8. What is the ratio of people in Equatorial Africa with the HIV virus. A. ľ B. 1/10 C. 1/23 D. 1/50
9. Population wise, what is the smallest country in this region? A. DRC B. Equatorial Guinea C. Cameroon D. Gabon
10. What is considered to be the greatest asset of the country? Congo A. Tourism B. Its capital Brazzaville; C. Its location; D. Its drinking water
Submitted by Rich Peterson on 12-12-96. Updated by Adam Rosauer on 11/30/00