Capital Capitals: Africa I


Africa is HUGE! One of the biggest problems that cartographers face is that the world is three dimensional while maps are flat. The Mercator projection, for example, is widely used since it has been traditionally useful for marine navigation, but it depicts Africa and Greenland as about the same size, even though Africa is fourteen times larger. The Economist demonstrated how Africa can contain the entire country of China. And, simultaneously, the United States. And Western Europe. And India. And Mexico. And Japan.

So, I’ll split the African countries into two posts. I think it will still be a long read, but I’ll try to make it short.  Instead of a few interesting facts about each capital and country ,the cities are going to come like Japanese Shinkasen bullet trains; blink, and you might miss them.

Algeria – Algiers – This name should be easy enough to remember; just look at the country’s name. Algiers is sometimes referred to as Alger la Blanche or Algiers the White for the blocky, white buildings that greet sailors entering port in this Mediterranean harbor.

Angola – Luanda – This African city sitting along the Atlantic Ocean is actually the third most populous Portuguese-speaking city and the most populous Portuguese-speaking capital (besting Brasilia, Brazil and Portugal’s own capital, Lisbon).

Benin – Porto-Novo – Located adjacent to the Gulf of Guinea, Porto-Novo is home to the style of music known as Adjogan, which is played using a stick with metal rings to produce syncopation.

Botswana – Gaborone – Gaborone was built to become the capital city and is named after a Botswana chief, whose name literally translates to “it does not fit badly” or “it is not unbecoming” – a modest name for a modest capital.

Burkina Faso –  Ouagadougou – This capital city might look like it’s pronounced like a morning zoo radio sound effect (and it sort of is), but Ougadougou is a respectable city with a population that has been doubling  nearly every ten years in the past few decades.

Burundi – Bujumbura – Bujumbura resides on the northeastern shore of Lake Tanganyika, the second largest freshwater lake by volume and second deepest lake in the world (only behind Lake Baikal in Siberia).

Cameroon – Yaoundé – The Germans called it Jeundo when it was first founded as a trading post for rubber and ivory. The Germans lost control of Cameroon after World War I, and the capital was given an English pronunciation to go along with its German roots.

Cape Verde – Praia – Praia became capital of the small island country after pirate attacks on the former capital Ribeira Grande forced citizens to flee to Praia and eventually name the settlement their new capital.

Central African Republic – Bangui – Not exactly a tourist destination, Bangui is the site of rebellion and unrest, with some classifying it as one of the most dangerous cities in the entire world; at the beginning of this year, it was reported that at least half the of the city’s 1 million people fled due to the rebel activity.

Chad – N’Djamena – N’Djamena was a strategic post in World War II, allowing the French to transport troops and supplies into the city by air. After World War II, the population of the town boomed, mostly due to a large refugee influx.

Comoros – Moroni – Comoros is a small archipelago northwest of Madagascar. Moroni is referenced in the Book of Mormon; it is the name given to an angel and son of Mormon. The island’s name means “in the heart of the fire”, accurately describing the city’s location at the foot of an active volcano.

Congo – Brazzaville – Two African countries take the name Congo, named for the river defines a border between the nations. Brazzaville sits directly across the Congo River from the capital city of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kinshasa, making these two cities the only two capitals that are located on opposite banks of a river.

Democratic Republic of the Congo – Kinshasa – The DRC, formerly Zaire, has Kinshasa as its capital city. Kinshasa was the site of the “Rumble in the Jungle” fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in 1974, where Ali knocked out Foreman to regain the World Heavyweight title.

Cote d’Ivoire – Yamoussoukro – Pronounced “Yam-So-Kro” or “Ya-Mu-So-Kro”, the Ivorian capital is the location of what is possibly the largest Christian place of worship on Earth: the 30,000 sq. ft. Basilica of Our Lady of Peace of Yamoussoukro, built by Pope John Paul II in 1990.

Dijibouti – Dijibouti City – Another easy capital to remember, Dijibouti City is situated near the world’s busiest shipping lanes and sees economic prosperity by acting as a refueling and trading center.

Egypt – Cairo – The Egyptian mega-city is the largest capital city in Africa and is only second in population for all African cities to the ever-growing city of Lagos, Nigeria.

Equatorial Guinea – Malabo – Malabo is located on the Bioko Island of Equatorial Guinea. The island is actually off the coast of Cameroon. The capital city sits on the rim of a sunken volcano.

Eritrea – Asmara – Asmara was once an Italian colonial city and is known today for its well-preserved colonial Italian modernist architecture; sharp, rounded corners, smooth stucco walls, and block lettering all stuck in the 1940s.

Ethiopia – Addis Ababa – This centrally located Ethiopian city is the largest city in Ethiopia and is designated as a chartered city. This means the city functions as a city and a state simultaneously.

Gabon – Libreville – “Libreville” is French for “Freetown”. This means that the capital of Sierra Leone and Gabon are identical, after a little translation.

Gambia – Banjul – Banjul was originally founded as St. Mary by the British, who used the city as a trading post and base to suppress the slave trade. The name was later changed to Banjul, a mispronunciation of “bang julo”, which is a rope fiber that is used by native ropers on the island.

Ghana – Accra – Ghana: once the bane of the US men’s soccer team, now just another African country most US citizens know very little about. Accra was once the capital of the British Gold Coast, a lucrative merchant colony with vast shiny, soft precious metal mines.

Guinea – Conakry – Ahmed Sékou Touré, the first president of Guinea, built concentration camps throughout Guinea to detain his political opponents. It was believed that over 50,000 were killed in these camps during his 36 years in office. Camp Bioro in Conakry may have been responsible for over 10% of these deaths.

Guinea-Bissau – Bissau – To avoid confusion with Guinea, the capital city was included in this nation’s name upon gaining sovereignty. Easy enough to remember, unless the capital ever moves elsewhere.

Kenya – Nairobi – Nairobi means “cold water”, named for the Nairobi River that is near the city. It is also sometimes referred to as the “Green City in the Sun”, which accurately describes its luscious green fields scattered throughout the capital.

Lesotho – Maseru – Lesotho is a landlocked country surrounded on Africa on all sides, making it an Inception-esque country within a country. The capital city was originally founded as a police camp and eventually grew to become the nation’s seat of government.

Liberia – Monrovia – Monrovia, as you might guess, honors former US President James Monroe, who was a strong proponent for Liberia’s colonization. Interestingly, it’s the only other capital named after a US President. Can you guess the other?

Libya – Tripoli – The capital of Libya was originally founded in the 7th century BC by the Phoenicians, an ancient Semitic civilization.

Madagascar – Antananarivo – The capital of the world’s fourth-largest island was named after a garrison of 1000 soldiers, who captured the city and kept it guarded for the Merina people. The name translates to “City of the Thousand”.

Check out next week’s post to see the rest of this massive continent and its capital cities.


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