The 10 Longest Rivers in Africa

December 13, 2023

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Longest rivers in Africa

As the second-driest continent in the world after Australia, Africa relies on its rivers even more than most other parts of the world. The continent’s waterways provide drinking water to millions, enable people to grow crops and catch fish, and are an essential method of transportation for cargo.

Not only that, but they are home to crocodiles, hippos and nearly 3,5000 species of fish. Plus, they give life to an abundance of wildlife, including elephants, rhinos, buffaloes and baboons, who come to the riverbanks to drink.

But what are Africa’s longest rivers? In this article, we’ll reveal all.

1. Nile River – 6,650 km

A boat navigating down the Nile River against a city backdrop
Boat on the Nile River against a city backdrop

Not only is the River Nile the longest in Africa, but it is also the longest river in the world. Formed by three major tributaries — the White Nile, the Blue Nile and the Atbara — it stretches for 6,650 km and flows through ten countries, from south to north.

The Nile River begins in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and ends in Egypt, where it empties into the Mediterranean Sea. The eight other countries this mighty river travels through are Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi and Eritrea. More than 300 million people live in these countries, meaning the Nile is extremely important in terms of transportation, irrigation and trading, and as a source of drinking water.

Although it carries less water than some of the other rivers in Africa, the River Nile’s water is rich in nutrients and silt deposits, which encourage vegetation to grow in the desert. Some of the animals that can be found living in or drinking from the banks of the Nile are elephants, buffaloes, wildebeests, gazelles, crocodiles and hippos.

2. Congo River – 4,700 km

Woman paddling a canoe on the Congo River
Woman paddling a canoe on the Congo River

With depths of more than 720 feet in places, the Congo is the world’s deepest river. It is also the world’s ninth-longest and Africa’s second-longest river, at 4,700 kilometers long. The Congo River’s sources are in the mountains of the East African Rift, Lake Tanganyika and Lake Mweru, and it flows in an arc shape to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where it drains into the Atlantic Ocean. The river’s journey takes in the Central African Republic, Angola, the Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Cameroon, Zambia, Burundi and Rwanda.

Along the way, it passes through the Congo Rainforest, which is the second-largest rainforest in the world. Both the river and rainforest are home to around 400 species of mammals, 216 species of amphibians, 280 species of reptiles and 1,000 types of birds. 

While the Congo is the most powerful river in Africa, hundreds of species of fish can be found in its turbulent waters, such as the elephant fish, which has an electric organ that helps it withstand its inhospitable environment.

3. Niger River – 4,167 km

Silhouette of a fishing boat on the Niger River at sunset
Silhouette of a boat on the Niger River at sunset

The Niger River flows for 4,167 kilometers from the Guinea Highlands to the Gulf of Guinea in the Atlantic Ocean and empties into the Niger Delta. The Niger River flows in a crescent shape through the countries of Nigeria, Mali, Niger, Algeria, Guinea, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Benin and Chad, and it is unique in that it flows away from the sea and into the desert. It also floods every year, from September to May.

The Niger River’s waters are relatively clear and they are home to crocodiles, hippos and 243 species of fish — 20 of which are endemic.

4. Zambezi River – 2,693 km

Elephant bathing in the Zambezi River, with two other elephants on the riverbank
Elephant bathing in the Zambezi River, with two other elephants on the riverbank

The Zambezi River may only come fourth in the longest rivers in Africa list, but it is the longest east-flowing river in Africa, as well as the longest river flowing into the Indian Ocean from Africa. It runs for 2,693 kilometers from Zambia, passing through Angola, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe before draining into the ocean.

There are many waterfalls along the river, the most notable being Chavuma Falls and Ngonye Falls — both of which are in Zambia — and Victoria Falls, which is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.

Crocodiles and hippos can be found in the calmer stretches of the Zambezi River, which is also home to hundreds of species of fish, such as catfish, tigerfish and bull sharks. There is also an abundance of wildlife around the river, with bird species, including herons, pelicans and the African fish eagle hunting in its waters and giraffes, zebras, elephant and buffalo coming to the riverbanks to bathe and drink.

5. Ubangi-Uele River – 2,300 km

Crocodile entering the river
Crocodile entering an African river

With a length of 2,300 kilometers, the Ubangi-Uele is the largest tributary of the Congo River. The Ubangi River is formed where the Uele and Bomu rivers meet and flows west and south through the Central African Republic, the Democratic of the Congo and the Republic of the Congo to join the Congo River at Liranga. In fact, the river forms the boundary between the Democratic of the Congo and the Republic of the Congo.

Again, the Ubangi-Uele River is a lifeline for many animals, including fish, crocodiles, lizards, pelicans, egrets and eagles.

6. Kasai River – 2,153 km

Tortoise sitting on a rock in a river
Tortoise sitting on a rock in a river

Like the Ubangi-Uele River, the Kasai is a tributary of the Congo River. It begins in central Angola and flows eastwards until it reaches the border between Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Turning north, it serves as the border between these countries and then enters the Democratic Republic of the Congo to join the Congo River.

There are many notable rapids and waterfalls along the Kasai River — such as the Mai-Munene Falls — and because it is relatively clear of river weed, it is extremely navigable, making it ideal for trade and transport.

Like most of the rivers on this list, the Kasai River is home to crocodiles and hippos, as well as water snakes and semi-aquatic tortoises.

7. Orange River – 2,092 km

People rafting down the Orange River
People whitewater rafting on the Orange River, South Africa

The seventh-longest river in Africa is the longest in South Africa. The Orange River stretches across South Africa for 2,092 kilometers, rising in the Drakensberg Mountains in Lesotho and flowing west into the Atlantic Ocean, with its basin extending into South Africa, Namibia and Botswana. The river forms parts of the borders between South Africa and Namibia and South Africa and Lesotho.

The Orange River is vital to the South African economy, providing water for hydroelectric power and irrigation, and it is popular for watersports such as canoeing and whitewater rafting.

Despite its large size, the Orange River doesn’t contain as many species of fish as some of the other African rivers on this list, but it is home to a few endemic species like rock catfish, largemouth yellowfish and river sardines.

8. Limpopo River – 1,800 km

Two hippos bathing in a river, one has its jaws open
Hippos in a river, one with its mouth open

The Limpopo begins where the Marcio and Crocodile rivers join in South Africa and makes its way through the countries of Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique in a large arc to drain into the Indian Ocean at Xai Xai in Mozambique. It forms the borders between Botswana and South Africa and Zimbabwe and South Africa. 

During periods of low rainfall, the upper sections of the Limpopo River only flow for a maximum of 40 days a year. However, the section between Mogalakwena and Mokolo is home to the highest concentration of hippos in the river. Other wildlife that can be found in and around the Limpopo include elephants and more than 600 species of birds.

9. Senegal River – 1,641 km

Aerial view of the Senegal River showing turquoise water
Aerial view of the Senegal River

Africa’s ninth-longest river is the longest in West Africa. Originating in Mali, where the Bafing and Bakoy Rivers meet, the Senegal River flows for 1,641 kilometers, through Mauritania and ends in Senegal. Much of the river forms the border between Mauritania and Senegal and there are two large dams along its course: The Maka-Diama Dam on the Mauritania-Senegal border and the Manantali Dam in Mali.

While the river is overfished, 141 fish species have been recorded as living in the waters, and Nile perch are common. Bird species like herons, egrets, spoonbills and weaverbirds are also plentiful, and various types of animals live on Senegal’s banks, such as warthogs, hedgehogs, and monitor lizards.

10. Blue Nile River – 1,600 km

Image of Blue Nile Falls casting a rainbow over the landscape
Blue Nile Falls casting a rainbow over the landscape

The Blue Nile River, which runs for 1,600 kilometers, begins in the Ethiopian Highlands. Initially, the river flows south but then loops across northwest Ethiopia and into Sudan to join the White Nile at Khartoum before flowing as the Nile into the Mediterranean Sea. During the rainy season, around 85 per cent of the Nile’s water is supplied by the Blue Nile.

The Blue Nile Falls — located not far from the river’s source at Lake Tana — are the Nile River system’s most dramatic, especially during the rainy season. Cascading down a 140-foot-high drop, they cast rainbows over the landscape and produce such an impressive amount of mist that the local people call the falls ‘Tis Abay’, which means ‘The Great Smoke’ in Amharic.

Many types of birds can be found in the area surrounding the falls, some of which are endemic, such as the wattled ibis. However, the most notable species to live near the Blue Nile is the Blue Nile patas monkey, which can be spotted along the river valley in Ethiopia, Sudan and maybe also South Sudan.

Overview: Africa’s Longest Rivers

RankRiver systemCountryLength (km)Length (miles)Outflow
1Nile RiverSudan, Ethiopia, Egypt, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Eritrea, The Democratic Republic of the Congo6,6504,132Mediterranean Sea
2Congo RiverThe Democratic Republic of the Congo, The Central African Republic, Angola, the Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Cameroon, Zambia, Burundi, Rwanda4,7002,920Atlantic Ocean
3Niger RiverNigeria, Mali, Niger, Algeria, Guinea, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Benin, Chad4,1672,589Gulf of Guinea
4Zambezi RiverZambia, Angola, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi, Tanzania, Namibia, Botswana22,6931,673Mozambique Channel
5Ubangi-Uele RiverThe Democratic Republic of the Congo, The Central African Republic2,3001,429Congo River
6Kasai RiverAngola, The Democratic Republic of the Congo2,1531,338Congo River
7Orange RiverSouth Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho2,0921,300Atlantic Ocean
8Limpopo RiverMozambique, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Botswana1,8001,118Indian Ocean
9Senegal RiverSenegal, Mali, Mauritania1,6411,020Atlantic Ocean
10Blue Nile RiverEthiopia, Sudan1,600994Nile River

These ten rivers play a significant role in Africa’s ecosystem, economy and social life. It is important to recognize and appreciate their importance and take measures to protect them from pollution, overfishing and other human activities that may harm the rivers and their surrounding environment.

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