When thinking about rivers in Africa, people often think of the Nile River. In this post, you’ll learn about the Nile, and 11 other African rivers. These rivers are beautiful and cover some breathtaking scenery.
The longest river in Africa is the Nile River, at 3,417 miles (5,500 km). Other measurements put the Nile River at 4,404 miles (7,088 km) in length. The Congo River is the second-longest African river. River lengths are dynamic, and sources often conflict in their measurements.
Quick Overview of 12 Major Rivers in Africa
Here’s a summary of the 12 longest rivers in Africa. Following the chart, you’ll find more details about each river system.
|1. Nile: White Nile, Blue Nile||3,417 to 4,404 miles (5,499 to 7,088 km)|
|2. Congo-Lualaba-Chambesi River||2,920 miles (4,700 km)|
|3. Niger River||2,600 miles (4,180 km)|
|4. Zambezi River||1,600 miles (2,574 km)|
|5. Ubangi-Uele River||1,410 miles (2,270 km)|
|6. Orange River||1,400 miles (2,200 km)|
|7. Kasai River||1,338 miles (2,153 km)|
|8. Shebelle River||1,130 miles (1,820 km)|
|9. The Kwango||1,100 miles (1,770 km)|
|10. Limpopo River||1,090 miles (1,750 km)|
|11. Okavango River||1,000 miles (1,600 km)|
|12. Volta River||930 miles (1,500 km)|
12 Major African Rivers: The List
Here is the list of major African Rivers in descending order, by length.
You’ll also learn some interesting facts and some tourist attractions if there’s any available.
1. Nile: White Nile, Blue Nile
Not only is this river the longest in Africa, but some consider the Nile to be the longest river in the world. This status has been challenged by the Amazon River in South America.
Luxury cruises are offered on the Nile, where you can see tombs, temples, and pyramids.
- Other Names Include: Iteru and Ar/Aur (Ancient Egyptian)
- Length: 3,417 to 4,404 miles (5,499 to 7,088 km)
- Source 1: Lake Victoria, White Nile
- Source 2: Lake Tana, Blue Nile
- Mouth/End: Nile Delta, Egypt, Mediterranean Sea
- Countries: Burundi, Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda
- Discharge: up to 100,000 cu ft/s (2,830 cu m/s)
- Basin Size: 1,300,000 sq mi (3,400,000 sq km)
Murchison Falls in Uganda is located near the headwaters of the White Nile. You might expect to see Nile crocodiles while exploring this region.
Some consider the Rwenzori Mountains to be the true headwaters of the Nile River.
Learn more about some of the most popular foods in Egypt.
Learn about the 12 Longest Rivers in South America
2. Congo-Lualaba-Chambesi River
The Congo-Lualaba-Chambesi River system is ninth among the world’s longest rivers.
It also has the distinction of being the only major river in the world to cross the equator two times.
Like the Nile, you can enjoy river cruises for some sightseeing.
- Other Names Include: Nzâdi Kôngo (Kongo), Zaire River (Formerly)
- Length: 2,920 miles (4,700 km)
- Source: Katanga Plateau
- Mouth/End: Atlantic Ocean
- Countries: Angola, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Zambia
- Discharge: average of 1,450,000 cu ft/s (41,200 cu m/s)
- Basin Size: 1,550,000 sq mo (4,014,500 sq km)
The Congo Rainforest is the second-largest rainforest in the world.
3. Niger River
The Niger River has 10 other different names, four of which are listed below. It is also a relatively clear river, having about 10 percent of the sediment the Nile river has.
If you enjoy sailing, there are companies that offer multi-day sailing and camping on the river.
- Other Names Include: Joliba (Maninka), Jeliba (Bambara), Issa Berri (Zarma), Kwara (Hausa)
- Length: 2,600 miles (4,180 km)
- Source: Guinea Highlands, Guinea
- Mouth/End: Gulf of Guinea, Nigeria, Atlantic Ocean
- Countries: Benin, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Nigeria
- Discharge: average of 197,000 cu ft/s (5,589 cu m/s)
- Basin Size: 827,600 sq mi (2,117, 700 sq km)
4. Zambezi River
One key feature of the Zambezi River is Victoria Falls, located on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe, which is one of the biggest and most famous waterfalls in the world.
- Other Names Include: Besi (Nickname), Cuama (formerly) Sena (formerly)
- Length: 1,600 miles (2,574 km)
- Source 1: Ikelenge District, North-Western Province, Zambia
- Source 2: Moxico Municipality, Moxico Province, Angola
- Mouth/End: Indian Ocean, Mozambique
- Countries: Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe
- Discharge: average of 120,000 cu ft/s (3,400 cu m/s)
- Basin Size: 540,000 sq mi (1,390,000 sq km)
5. Ubangi-Uele River
The Uele part of the river joins with Mbomou to make the Ubangi.
The Ubangi part of this river actually forms part of the border between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of the Congo.
Enjoy a relaxing time on the shores of the Ubangi if you visit Bangui, Central African Republic.
- Other Names Include: Welle, Uélé, Ouélé, Oubangui
- Length: 1,410 miles (2,270 km)
- Source: confluence of the Dungu and Kibali River (both come from the mountains near Lake Albert)
- Mouth/End: Congo River
- Countries: Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo
- Discharge: average of 140,000 cu ft/s (4,000 cu m/s)
- Basin Size: 298,400 sq mi (772,800 sq km)
Lake Albert is one of the largest lakes in Africa.
6. Orange River
A popular belief is that this river was named because of its supposedly orange color.
In fact, the name “Orange River” came from Dutch explorer Colonel Robert Jacob Gordon. He named it in 1779, for Dutch royal William V, Prince of Orange.
This river is great for water-sport lovers, as you can enjoy white-water rafting, fly fishing, and canoeing, among other activities.
- Other Names Include: Oranjerivier (Afrikaans/Dutch), !Garib (Khoekhoegowab)
- Length: 1,400 miles (2,200 km)
- Source: Thaba Putsoa, Maloti Mountains, Lesotho
- Mouth/End: Alexander Bay, South Africa, Atlantic Ocean
- Countries: Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa
- Discharge: average of 12,900 cu ft/s (365 cu m/s)
- Basin Size: 376,000 sq mi (973,000 sq km)
7. Kasai River
The Kasai River has five main tributaries, which are fairly navigable due to them being clear of obstructions like river weed.
This helps with transport in the area is important for trade.
- Other Names: Rio Cassai (Portuguese), Kwa(h) River
- Length: 1,338 miles (2,153 km)
- Source: Bíe Plateau, Angola
- Mouth/End: Congo River
- Countries: Angola, Democratic Republic of the Congo
- Discharge: average of 348,70 cu ft/s (9,873 cu m/s)
- Basin Size: 340,500 sq mi (881,890 sq km)
8. Shebelle River
The Shebelle is a river in East Africa. An interesting point about this river is that if there’s enough rain, it will reach the Jubba River, then into the Somali Sea.
If there isn’t, then the Shebelle dries up just short of the Jubba. If a camping adventure is your thing, look no further than the Wabe Shebelle, especially with its unspoiled wilderness.
- Other Names Include: Shebeli River, Webi Shabeelle (Somali)
- Length: 1,130 miles (1,820 km)
- Source: Ethiopian Highlands
- Mouth/End: Occasionally Jubba River, usually dries up before reaching it, Somali
- Countries: Ethiopia, Somalia
- Discharge: up to 17,657 cu ft/s (500 cu m/s)
- Basin Size: 114,662 sq miles (296,972 sq km)
Note: The above link takes you to a PDF article about the Shebelle River that may likely be downloaded.
9. The Kwango
The Pende, the Mbala, the Suku, and the Yaka tribes live in the river valley of the Kwango.
They’re skilled in crafting, as seen by their mask carvings and other objects. You can also enjoy such activities as sightseeing, fishing, and boat riding, especially in the town of Bandundu.
- Other Names Include: Rio Cuango (Portuguese)
- Length: 1,100 miles (1,770 km)
- Source: Alto Chicapa, Angola
- Mouth/End: Bandundu, Kasai River
- Countries: Angola, Democratic Republic of the Congo
- Discharge: average of 95,000 cu ft/s (2,700 cu m)
- Basin Size: 101,700 sq mi (263,000 sq km)
10. Limpopo River
The explorer Vasco da Gama from Portugal was the first from Europe to come across the Limpopo River. He did so in 1498 while on his way to India.
de Gama called the river “Espiritu Santo”, or “Holy Spirit”. The river borders Kruger National Park if visiting national parks is your thing.
- Other Names Include: Crocodile River until it meets the Marico River
- Length: 1,090 miles (1,750 km)
- Source: Constantia Kloof, Witwatersrand Mountains (Crocodile River)
- Mouth/End: Gaza Province, Mozambique, Indian Ocean
- Countries: Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa, Zimbabwe
- Discharge: average of 6,000 cu ft/s (170 cu m/s)
- Basin Size: 160,000 sq mi (415,000 sq km)
11. Okavango River
The Okavango River doesn’t flow into an ocean or sea.
Instead, it empties in open land, creating the Okavango Delta, which was named one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa back in 2013, and was the 1000th site be included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
A wide variety of wildlife can be found in the area, great for sightseeing.
- Other Names Include: Rio Cubango (Portuguese)
- Length: 1,000 miles (1,600 km)
- Source: Highlands of Angola
- Mouth/End: Moremi Game Reserve
- Countries: Angola, Botswana, Namibia
- Discharge: average of 16,800 cu ft/s (475 cu m/s)
- Basin Size: 200,000 sq mi (530,000 sq km)
12. Volta River
The river was named “Volta” by Portuguese gold traders. The name means “twist” or “turn”, which appropriately describes the twisty nature of the river.
Day trips are available, which include going on a canoe or enjoying a beach.
- Other Names Include:
- Length: 930 miles (1,500 km)
- Source 1: Black Volta
- Source 2: Nakambe
- Source 3: Red Volta
- Mouth/End: Gulf of Guinea, Atlantic Ocean
- Countries: Burkina Faso, Ghana, Ivory Coast
- Discharge: average of 43,000 cu ft/s)
- Basin Size: 157,179 sq mi (497,093 sq km)
Learn about the largest waterfalls in the world.
This list is a list of major rivers in Africa, and not necessarily the longest. If there are any rivers that you thought should be on this list, or if you have some thoughts about the ones mentioned, let us know in the comments below!
- About the Author
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Hello, I’m Joshua Diegor. My love for travel began I was 18 when I went with some friends to New York City. All in all, I’ve traveled to 6 continents and 14 countries.
I’m a regular contributor to Storyteller Travel.