Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria are two important equatorial countries of Africa. While the former is situated on both sides of the equator, Nigeria lies within the tropics with its southern half in the equatorial belt. Large parts of these two countries are covered by dense evergreen forests. Yet the two countries differ in their relief, population and economies.
Democratic Republic of Congo
Prior to 1960 it was called Belgian Congo as it was ruled by Belgium for almost half a century. It then became an independent country. In 1997 it was renamed Democratic Republic of Congo. It is the third largest country of Africa. Study the political map of Africa. The country is almost land-locked. Note the names of the countries that share their land boundaries with the Democratic Republic of Congo. It has a very narrow opening to the Atlantic Ocean on the west. In the north-east it shares the waters of Lake Tanganyika with the United Republic of Tanzania. Name any two other lakes that lie in this country and are a part of the Great Rift Valley of east Africa. (Note that smaller country bordering former Zaire is also called Congo).
The Zaire basin is a large bowl surrounded by plateaus except in the south-east. Along the eastern edge stands the Ruwenzori range (5600 m) where Mt. Merghrite is the highest peak. Most of the country lies in the basin of river Zaire is one of the largest rivers of the world. Yet, it is navigable only in parts because it has many waterfalls that interrupt its course. The river is known as Lualaba in its early stages. Note the location of Stanely Falls on this river. The Oubange and Kasai are its main tributaries from the north and south respectively. The river spills out onto the narrow coastal plains through two waterfalls, the Mateka and Livingstone Falls.
Climate and Natural Vegetation
Democratic Republic of Congo has an equatorial location so it has very high temperatures and heavy rainfall well distributed throughout the year. Daily convectional rainfall occurs. There is hardly any difference in the temperatures of day and night. It is the same kind of climate all the year found.
The natural vegetation here is very dense. It consists of impenetrable evergreen rain-forests. Note that such a vegetation consists of tall trees nearly 50-60 metres in height which grow close together to form a thick canopy. The shrubs, creepers and other such undergrowth, all try to reach upwards to get sunlight. The surrounding plateaus are cooler. They have tropical grasslands with a few scattered trees.
Resources and their Utilisation
Democratic Republic of Congo is richly endowed with forests, wildlife soil, water – power and mineral resources. Agriculture and mining are the main occupations of the people.
Forests and Wildlife
Forests of former Zaire have the world’s largest reserves of hardwood – mahogany, ebony, rosewood. The rain forests have not been utilized for commercial purpose because of various problems. Some of these are unsuitable climate, different diseases caused by various insects. Different kinds of trees are found growing together; if one or two species of trees need to be cut on a large scale it is very difficult. Moreover many hardwoods do not float in the water Hauling the logs to the saw mills in the rain forests is an expensive matter. It is not surprising that equatorial countries like former Zaire do not export much timber even though they are so rich in forest resources.
Wildlife here is so varied that it is often called a gigantic zoo. The swamps are rich in hippopotamuses while the forests have gorillas and tree-dwelling varieties of snakes, frogs and monkeys. A variety of colourful birds and a host of insects are to be found. More open areas have giraffes, lions, leopards and elephants.
Soil and Agricultural Resources
As forests cover most of the land, only 20 per cent of the country land is under cultivation. The natives of the forests live by hunting and trapping wild animals. They eat many kinds of wild berries and roots. Outside the forests nearly 75 per cent of the population is engaged in cultivation of crops like cassava (a kind of tuber), maize, banana and rice. They cultivate crops only to support their families. The cassava plant grows to a metre and a half. Its tuber is dried and pounded into flour. Rice is grown in the north, the north-east and in the Kasai province in the south. Important cash crops like rubber, coffee, cotton and oil palm are mostly exported. In the highlands and plateaus at the periphery of former Zaire, cattle are reared by pastoralists.
Mineral Resources, Industries and Transport
Mining is the second most important occupation of the people. The country leads the world in the production of industrial diamonds and cobalt. Diamond is used for making tools used in cutting and high speed jet engines. This is because of its hardness and also it does not melt easily. Gold is found in the north-east. Diamonds are found on the banks of river Kasai. Deposits of radium and uranium, iron, zinc, silver and manganese are also found. Big mining companies have been set up which has led to the development of other facilities like schools, hospitals and farms. Most industries process the local agricultural and mineral products for export. They are located mainly at Lumumbashi, Lisaki and Kinshasa. There are industries to produce cement, cotton, textiles, soap, cigarettes and vegetable oils.
Roads and railways had to be developed to carry minerals from the interior of the country to the sea-coast over a greater distance. Many problems were encountered in laying these few transport lines. The dense forests had dangerous wild animals. It discouraged rail and roadways while numerous waterfalls prevented boats from sailing upstream from the mouth of river Zaire. These difficulties were overcome by linking the river transport to a network of railways which take over where the boat and steamer service is interrupted. Lumumbashi serves as a collection centre for various minerals. Kinshasa, Kisangani and Lumumbashi serve as international airports of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Matadi on the Zaire estuary is the main port and serves as an important outlet to the Atlantic Ocean.
Water Power potential of the country is very large. Presently hydroelectric power is generated from the Kariba Dam on the river Zambezi and Inga power project on the river Zaire. Neighbouring countries of Congo and Burundi also get their power supply from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Yet there is a lot of scope for future development.
This country has a population of about 46.6 million people (1997) which is not much considering the vast size of the country. Average density is only 20 persons per square kilometer. Most of the people in the equatorial forests live in small compact riverside and lakeside villages. Others live in mining and plantation area. Kinshasa is the capital, Kisangani and Matadi are other important cities with population concentration.
The people of Democratic Republic of Congo are mostly Bantu Negroes. A large number of pygmies also live in isolated forest pockets. Although official language is French, a number of dialects or local languages are also spoken.
The Federal Republic of Nigeria lies along the coast of the Gulf of Guinea in West Africa. It is one of the wealthiest and most progressive counties of Africa. It is also the most populated country in the continent. Nigeria was a British colony but since 1960 it is an independent republic.
Nigeria has coastal lowlands and the basins of river Niger and its tributary, river Benue. Which water body do they drain into ? Away from the river basin, the land rises to hills and plateaus of various heights upto 400 metres. Northwards it forms the Jobs plateau; along the northern border are low sandy plains that are a continuation of the southern edge of the Sahara desert. Rivers of the north eastern part of the country flow into lake Chad to form an area of inland drainage.
Climate and Natural Vegetation
Nigeria also has an equatorial hot wet climate. Rainfall is heavier in the south than in central and northern parts of the country. There are three climatic belts from south to north. (a) Southern Nigeria has a wet tropical climate; summers are hot and rainy while winters are cool and dry. (b) The central parts have extreme temperatures with summer rain, (c) The north is exposed to hot dusty winds from the Sahara in summer before the rains set in. These north-easterly winds are called Harmatten.
Climate and relief determine the changes in natural vegetation from south to north. The coast has equatorial climate with swamp and mangrove forests. The wetter slopes of the Jobs plateau inland have rain forests. Further north, where the land is drier, tall coarse savanna grass gives way to dry scrub and throny trees as rainfall deceases northwards.
Resources and Their Utilisation
Nigeria is mainly an agricultural country and farmers support their own families by growing essential crops. The increased mineral oil production in 1970s affected the economic condition of the people greatly. It is one of the largest mineral oil-producing countries of Africa. Although the oil boom helped to earn more money for the country, it affected agriculture adversely. The number of people engaged in agriculture dropped by nearly 25 per cent. They then began to provide other services.
The farmers grow cassava, yam, maize and rice in southern Nigeria. Millets are grown in the higher regions of the north. Cash crops are grown on plantations in a specialised manner mainly for export. Nigeria is the world’s largest exporter of oil palm, palm kernels and groundnut. The oil palm tree grows well in equatorial climate. It becomes nearly 12 metres tall in about fifteen years. Oil is extracted from the hard nuts and pulp of the fruits that grow in clusters. Oil extracted is used to make soap, candles, margarines and hair oil among other things. Nigeria also produces large quantities of cocoa and rubber in west Nigeria while the drier north produces cotton, tobacco and groundnuts. The Benue valley produces soya beans.
Forests and Animal Resources
Although a limited amount of timber is harvested from the tropical forests in the Jos plateau and southern Nigeria, animal rearing for milk and meat is an important occupation. Cattle hides are exported in large quantities while the leather industry within the country uses goat skins for the manufacture of various handicrafts.
Mineral Resources, Industries and Transport
Petroleum obtained from onshore and offshore wells in Nigeria has earned valuable foreign exchange for the country. Tin, gold, iron, zinc, limestone and coal are also mined. Nigeria is the largest producer of columbite, a rare metal ore used in the manufacture of steel. The majority industry of Nigeria is refining of edible oil from the oil palm nut and groundnuts. There are several other industries such as textiles, food processing, leather tanning, cigarette manufacture, rubber and metallic works.
Lagos was the former capital city and is still an important port. Port Harcourt is also a very important outlet to the Atlantic in the south-east. Ibadan serves as an important trade centre while Kano, Kadura and Jos are industrial centre. Nigeria’s transport and communication system is far better developed in comparison with other African nations. There are roads and railways that link the northern and southern parts of the country.
A new capital city has come up at Abuja as it is more central in its location.
Hydel power is produced at four stations in the Jos plateau of the north. The Kainji dam has been constructed on the river Niger. Coal and Petroleum which are locally available are used to produce thermal power. Water power combined with the thermal power, meets the requirements of the growing industries of Nigeria.
Nigeria has a population of about 121 million (in 1998). It is the most populated country of Africa. Density of population is over a hundred and twenty five persons per square kilometer. The north is more thinly populated than the rest of the country. Population density is higher in the south-west and south-east. The country is inhabited by nearly 400 diverse groups of Negroid descent each of which speaks a distinct dialect. They belong to various tribes and religions. The four main tribes are the Hausa and the Fulani in the north and the Yoruba and the Ibo in the south. These four groups make up two-thirds of Nigeria’s population. The official language is English.