However, owing to water falls, vegetation, and seasonality, most rivers in Africa are impassable. Africa must band together to use these rivers for irrigation, hydroelectric generation, and to address the major issue of transportation by overcoming weeds and waterfalls.
The longest river in Africa is the Nile River, which is also the highest flowing river on Earth. It flows for 3,532 km (2,253 mi) from west to east across six countries of Africa: Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya. At its lowest point, the Nile is 1,024 m (3,270 ft) wide.
The second longest is the Congo River, which is a tributary of the Atlantic Ocean. It too crosses six countries: the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Zambia, and Malawi. At its widest point, the Congo is 2,240 km (1,370 mi) wide.
Most African rivers are shorter than 100 km (62 miles). Only a few, such as the Nile and Congo, are even partially navigable by ship.
In fact, only 2 percent of all African rivers are suitable for commercial navigation. The reason for this is that many rivers in Africa are very narrow or have steep-sided banks where trees and vines grow.
Most African rivers have several waterfalls and impassable rapids, making them unsuitable for navigation. The Nile has many branches in Africa, and although some of them can be used as waterways they are usually too small to be useful for commerce.
In fact, the Nile was once thought to be suitable for large vessels, but early explorers were mistaken about this. In 1534, Antonio de Morga, a Portuguese explorer, reported that the Nile was "large enough for ships to sail up," but this was later proved to be false. In 1856, an English expedition led by John Hanning Speke reached the shores of Lake Victoria and claimed that it could be the source of the Nile, but this also was found to be untrue.
There are some rivers in Africa that are sometimes used for navigation. The Congo River is very important for trade and transportation in Africa and its waters are even used to power some mills, but it is still not widely used for fishing or farming because of its turbulent nature. The Gambia River runs through Senegal and The Gambia and is the only river in Africa that is considered to be commercially viable for boat traffic. However, the volume of traffic on the Gambia is limited because there are no bridges over it and it cannot support large boats.
NOTE: The navigability of Africa's major rivers is hampered by deltaic mouths, mangrove swamps, river fluctuation regimes, and waterfalls and rapids. Navigable distances on the Congo, Nile, Zambezi, and Gambia Rivers are limited to about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles). Beyond this distance, steamers must be hauled by tugboats.
The main factor limiting the navigability of African rivers is their depth. Most rivers in Africa are shallow compared with those in Asia or America. This is because most African countries are situated in a continent-wide mountain range, which creates steep slopes that lead into deep valleys where the rivers flow. Only at the end of these valleys do the slopes become less severe and the river depths increase.
In addition to depth, the other important factor affecting river navigation is current velocity. In general, the faster the current, the more difficult it is to navigate boats against its power. However, there are exceptions to this rule. For example, large vessels can cross wide rivers at high speeds if they have diesel engines or electric motors. Also, small craft can traverse swift currents without much difficulty if they are not loaded down with passengers and cargo.
African rivers are the continent's veins. These rivers provide fresh water, food, and transportation for millions of people. Millions of African animals rely on African rivers for existence. When these rivers change course or disappear, so too may all life along them.
Many African countries depend on river flows for agriculture and industry. Changes in river flow can therefore have serious economic consequences for vulnerable populations who rely on those waters for survival. In addition, some African rivers carry nutrients that feed into oceanic circulations, which influence climate and contribute to sea-level rise. Finally, many African cities sit at the confluence of two or more rivers, making them potentially vulnerable to damage from upstream developments.
Overuse of land along major rivers is one of the leading causes of river degradation. The construction of dams for electricity production or irrigation purposes can have severe downstream effects for nations that rely on hydropower for their power supply. Flooding caused by failed dams or rising temperatures due to climate change can also be devastating for surrounding areas.
In conclusion, African rivers are important to Africa because they not only provide vital resources but they also connect people and place. Damage to these rivers can have disastrous results for both humans and wildlife. It's therefore important that efforts are made to protect them.