Wilfred Otieno

In comparison to the other continents of the world, Africa is the most ambiguous when it comes to identifying a country or a set of countries that are situated at its exact central point. The reasons for this are both geographical and historical. To understand what this is all about, it is best to have insight into the two reasons individually before comparing them in relation to the centrality of the African continent.


Geographically speaking, though the shape of Africa makes it easy to identify the sets of countries which form the northern, the western, the southern and the eastern parts of it, the same makes it difficult to do similarly for Central Africa. More or so if, say, horizontal and vertical measurements of its length and breadth are taken into consideration such that their intersection is declared to be Central Africa as follows.

Though the above horizontal and vertical suggestion might be the correct method for the identification of Central Africa, the fact is that both the narrow southern and the wide northern parts of Africa will make the horizontal measurement to include parts of the Atlantic Ocean in the west so as not to exclude the west end coastline of Senegal, Cape Verde and Canary Islands. Similarly, it will include parts of the Indian Ocean in the east so as not to exclude the east end coastline of the Horn of Africa  along Somali Land, the islands of Madagascar, Reunion, Mauritius, Comoro, Pate, Zanzibar, Pemba and Seychelles as the two oceans become part of the African continent too.

As for the vertical measurement, the extensive northern part of Africa that ends at the city of Tunis will include parts of the Mediterranean Sea making it to belong to Africa. Similarly, the extensive southern part of Africa that ends at Cape Town on the tip of the Cape of Good Hope will include parts of the southern Atlantic Ocean making it to belong to the African continent too thus misconceptions. In other words, the inclusion of the Mediterranean sea, the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian ocean as part of the African land, not to mention national and international water plus the above mentioned islands which are officially part of the African land, analysts will find the whole issue unique if not confusing.

In other words, the intersection of both the horizontal and the vertical lines will, contrary to the expectations of most people, fall towards the western part of Central Africa almost next to this continent’s coastline with the Atlantic Ocean somewhere in the north of Congo Brazzaville. This is contrary to the expectations of most people who may expect the center of Africa to be situated somewhere in the north of Congo Kinshasa. The reason why it has to be located in the north of Congo Brazzaville is because of the inclusion of the above named sea and oceans as parts of Africa.

Back to the shape of Africa in relation to the determination of Central Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo that is better known in Africa as Congo Kinshasa which spreads from the central part of Africa southwards, the Central African Republic which spreads from the central part of Africa northwards as both the Republic of Congo that is better known in Africa as Congo Brazzaville and  Cameroon tend to spread both northwards and westwards while some of their portions remain positioned in the central part of Africa, complicate the matter of the centrality of the African continent.

Otherwise, non central African countries to which the above factor of spreading uniquely towards other directions so as to cover parts of the continent to which they do not belong to are Niger-Mali-Mauritania-Western Sahara. In their case, they are positioned partly to the north and partly to the west of Africa. On the other hand, two countries that belong to the set of central African countries yet tend to belong to the East African group of states too are Rwanda and Burundi.

On the other hand, the most cumbersome are Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. Their positions that are adjacent to both the west and the north west of Congo Brazzaville yet border the Atlantic Ocean along Africa’s coastal left turn to the west where Cameroon also tends to do the same makes them appear to belong to West Africa yet they are positioned in Central Africa according to their latitudes.

In northern Africa, Chad portrays an interesting case as it tends to belong to that region geographically yet its western part tends to belong to West Africa as it protrudes towards Niger while its southern section tends to be part of Central Africa since it seems to reach the northern part of Central African Republic and the north east of Cameroon that are situated to its south.

However, a number of countries seem to offer an answer to the above puzzle in relation to their latitudinal and longitudinal positions on the African map. Before we have insight into how it works, let us learn the issue of Central Africa historically.


As for the historical reason, authors of the history of Africa often refer to the re-known Doctor David Livingstone’s explorations as having been made into Central Africa since the regions he explored were positioned in the unknown interior of Africa. In fact, since most parts of Africa were unknown to the outside world during those days, it used to be referred to as the Dark Continent. In addition, the regions that this great Briton explored are situated to the immediate south of eastern Africa’s central interior part thus a second reason though geographical that made the authors of African history to refer to them as Central Africa in their scripts.

In other words, Doctor Livingstone having began his explorations a number of times in search for the source of the River Nile from Bagamoyo that is situated on the east coast of Tanganyika which is referred to today as the Republic of Tanzania, found his way through this vast country to Ujiji on Lake Tanganyika that is situated in today’s Republic of Burundi. He did the same to Nyasaland that is today’s Republic of Malawi, Northern Rhodesia that is today’s Republic of Zambia and Southern Rhodesia that is today’s Republic of Zimbabwe. So, these regions which are independent states today having been referred to as Central Africa in relation to the above deliberated historical reason are still referred to the same yet they are situated to the immediate south of East Africa geographically, not to its west or north west where the geographical Central Africa lies.

On the other hand, in a blend of both geographical and historical facts, the above referred countries also cover the central part of south eastern Africa  as has been deliberated above save for Burundi which though is one of them historically speaking, belongs to the earlier described Central Africa too geographically. As if not enough, being land locked, they appear to be centrally positioned thus a third reason though geographical for the reference to them as Central Africa.

Armed with both geographical and historical facts on Central Africa, let us now return to the puzzle of Central Africa that was referred to above and try to tackle it.


From the above elaborated geographical and historical reasons on Central Africa, it is obvious that the two contradict themselves. This is because they give us two sets of countries as alternative Central Africa which makes one to wonder how central Central Africa is.

Geographically speaking, according to grid compass direction in relation to latitudes and longitudes, Congo Kinshasa-Rwanda-Burundi-Congo Brazzaville-Equatorial Guinea-Gabon-Central African Republic should form Central Africa due to their central positions on the African map, the equator not withstanding as it does not divide Africa into exactly two halves. This means that the exact central point of Africa should be somewhere in a circle that encloses part of north western Congo Kinshasa, north eastern Congo Brazzaville and or the southern part of the Central African Republic, see the complete circle on the map of African countries below. In turn, it will be befitting if an economic bloc and or a political federation for such a region is established in contrast to the other Central Africa of Malawi-Zambia-Zimbabwe, see the dotted circle on the map of African countries below.

On the contrary, Rwanda and Burundi will miss out if the above economic and or political proposals for Central Africa are fulfilled though they belong to it geographically. This is because they have already joined Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania as members of the East African Community  which in due course might form a political federation in the name of the East African Federation since the above proposed, say, Central African Economic Community and or Central African Federation are not forth coming as by the year 2012. This delay is perhaps due to the fact that no pioneer for the same has come up with such proposals.

The other alternative historical Central Africa of Malawi-Zambia-Zimbabwe having realized that they have missed out on regional economic integration perhaps due to their disadvantaged position in Africa have joined or for some, are in the process of joining the Southern Africa Development Community that is commonly referred to as SADC. Initially, this economic bloc had South Africa-Swaziland-Lesotho-Botswana-Namibia-Angola as its member states.

In West Africa, there is already in place the Economic Community of West African States that is commonly referred to as ECOWAS. Its members include Cameroon-Togo-Benin-Burkina Faso-Niger-Nigeria-Ghana-Ivory Coast-Sierra Leone-Senegal-Liberia-Guinea-Guinea Bissau-Gambia-Mali-Mauritania.

Similarly, in North Africa there exists the North African Arab League which is part and parcel of the greater Arab League that includes several Middle East Arab states which include Saudi Arabia-Lebanon-Syria-Iraq-Iran-Afghanistan. The member states of the North African Arab League include-Morocco-Algeria-Tunisia-Egypt-Libya before she chose to decamp from it during the reign of the late President Muammar Gaddafi so as to join the African Union that is home to most African states.

In the horn of Africa, Somalia-Ethiopia-Djibouti-Eritrea-South Sudan are yet to join or form a regional economic bloc and or a political federation by the year 2012 though they are members of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern African states that is usually referred to as COMESA besides Somalia which is still trying to put state matters in place during the same year.

Otherwise, the above referred four economic trading blocks of the East African Community-South African Development Community-Economic Community of West African States-North African Arab League are suggestive of the already identified regions of East, South, West and North African states as was referred to earlier on. If this is the case, then the above referred geographically positioned states of Congo Kinshasa-Congo Brazzaville-Equatorial Guinea-Gabon-Central African Republic need to rise to the occasion and form the Central African Economic Community and or the Central African Federation so as to prove the centrality of that region in Africa thus on the African map.