An Overview of Middle and West Africa

Middle Africa
Middle Africa is one of the most resource-rich regions on the African continent. The Congo River and its tributaries together drain a greater area than any river system except the Amazon. Oil, gold, uranium, timber, metals, fish and water are found here. It has one of the lowest population densities in the world, and should be one of the wealthiest. Instead, Middle Africa is one of the least-urban, most war-torn, diseased and poverty-stricken regions in the world.

Some ninety-six million people live in nine countries; increasing by three million annually, by 2025 this number will likely rise to 184 million. Two-thirds of the people live rural lives. Fifty million (nearly half the population) are children, and the region has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the world.

Few of Middle Africa’s governments are stable. All but the smallest are either mired in or rebuilding from war. Conflict has defined their history for much of the twentieth century. Decades of bloodshed in Angola, the many coups in Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea, military regimes in Central African Republic and Chad, a devastating civil war in Congo-Brazzaville and the many wars and assassinations in Congo-Zaire have all led to an atmosphere of violence. Even today, armies are flowing into this region—particularly into the Great Lakes region where so many wars have been fought. If Middle Africa is to have a better future, peace must be made.

Devastated by coups, wars, repressive governments and mismanagement, Middle Africa has become the second poorest region in the world after Eastern Africa.

Devastated by coups, wars, repressive governments and mismanagement, it has become the second poorest region in the world after Eastern Africa. Both Angola and Congo-Zaire have enormous resources—and both have succeeded in squandering them. The overwhelming majority of Chad’s millions live in abject poverty. Both Chad and Equatorial Guinea have oil resources to develop; however, many aid programs have been terminated due to the mismanagement and corruption that is further sapping their ability to advance. The two biggest economies are Cameroon (which produces thirty percent of Middle Africa’s total GNP) and Zaire (which despite its state still produces twenty percent of the area’s GNP).

Most in the region have been affected by AIDS. Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo-Brazzaville, Congo-Zaire and Gabon all have widespread AIDS epidemics. The disease is decimating the workforce and making orphans of future workers. In most cases, national plans have been organized. However, they have not yet been able to sufficiently respond to the scope of the disease.

Christianity in Middle Africa
Christianity first came to the region in the 1400s. Portuguese missionaries spread the gospel in the sixteenth century. Modern mission movements spread from the east in the nineteenth century, and the African Independent Churches exploded during the twentieth century. Today, Christianity claims a substantial majority of every country except Chad (which, bordering Egypt, Libya and Sudan, is half Muslim and a quarter Christian, with about fifteen percent holding to older ethnic beliefs), which is a substantial base for Muslim mission activity. The Church is making gains, although these gains are slipping in Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Sao Tome & Principe (which are saturated with Christianity but need revival). Less than ten percent of the population is unreached. Many Christians, however, are not actively practicing their faith. Zaire is over ninety percent Christian and yet has descended into the morass of civil war. Still, the enormous number of conversions signals a significant thirst for the water of life.

The people of the region must face the difficult work of peacemaking in order to rebuild this region’s infrastructure if any progress toward a better tomorrow is to be had. Education and ethics are needed to help reduce out-of-wedlock births, strengthen family structures and equip today’s child-parents to create a better future for their own children. Christians should make serious investment in AIDS ministries and the economy or they may face a future where strong Christian advances are lost. Yet if this is accomplished, Middle Africa is in a key strategic position from which to impact most of the continent.

Statistics for the Nine Countries of Middle Africa


P'00  P'25 C '00  % C '25 % 75-00 00-25 Issues affecting the future
Angola 13.8 26.8 13.0 94% 25.7 96% ++ ++ War recovery, landmines, many resources, poverty, AIDS, corruption
Cameroon 14.9 21.6 8.3 56% 13.1 61% ++ ++ Many resources, poverty, secessionists, AIDS, reforms
Central African Republic 3.8 5.3 2.4 65% 3.7 69% ++ ++ Unrest/violence, AIDS, undeveloped, lack of education, poverty
Chad 8.2 17.2 1.9 23% 4.1 24% ++ ++ Oil, extreme poverty, separatists, Sudan war, AIDS, Islam, droughts
Congo-Brazzaville 3.4 7.4 3.1 90% 6.7 91% +- ++ Poverty, AIDS, war recovery, corruption
Congo-Zaire 50.1 103.2 47.6 95% 98.7 96% ++ ++ Many resources, severe civil war, AIDS, drought, poverty
Equatorial Guinea 0.4 0.8 0.4 89% 0.7 87% ++ +- Oil, unemployment, poverty, corruption, repression
Gabon 1.3 1.8 1.1 89% 1.6 88% +- +- Resources, wealthy, stable, AIDS, development
Sao Tome & Principe 0.1 0.2 0.1 96% 0.2 94% +- +- Cocoa-development, poverty, debt, political stability

West Africa
West Africa features sixteen countries scattered over twenty percent of Africa’s landmass: northern deserts bordering the Sahara, central savannahs and grasslands and southern coasts lightly dusted with tropical rainforests.

The population of the region is exploding: from twenty-seven million in 1900, it has risen to 233 million today and will likely nearly double to 400 million in 2025. Its population will then exceed North America; by 2050 it will have 586 million—more people than all of Europe. Over half live in Nigeria (nearly one in eight Africans is Nigerian). Nearly half (105 million) are children and some forty-two percent (100 million) are urbanized. Nearly 168 megacities are located mainly in the south. Along with Middle Africa, this region has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the world.

West Africa was ruled by several empires, including the Soninke, Soso, Mali and Songhai. The Portuguese arrived in 1445, followed by other European powers. The African slave trade began soon after. Up to World War II, Britain and France controlled much of West Africa; however, between 1957 and 1960 most of the countries achieved independence. Unfortunately, to date few have achieved political stability or fully developed their countries.

Wars have been or are being fought in Togo, Ivory Coast and Liberia. Most are smaller conflicts than those in Middle or Eastern Africa. Apart from the open warfare, there are many small clashes caused by ethnic and religious unrest.

As a result of this instability, West Africa contributes just fifteen percent of Africa’s total GNP. The two largest producers are Ivory Coast (fourteen percent of West Africa’s economy) and Nigeria (forty percent of West Africa’s economy). Nigerian oil (which makes up ninety percent of Nigeria’s export earnings) is a large component of this.

Ten of the seventeen countries have serious AIDS epidemics. The drug trade has a new and growing influence, as Latin American drug lords courier shipments to Europe through West Africa.

Christianity in West Africa
Christianity was first brought by missionaries to West Africa in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Today, West Africa is divided between Islam in the north and Christianity in the south, with a belt of ethnoreligionists and syncretists in between. Many participate in secret occult societies.

West Africa is divided between Islam in the north and Christianity in the south, with a belt of ethnoreligionists and syncretists in between.

Three countries are majority Christian, and five have significant Christian minorities. Nigeria is evenly divided between southern Christians and northern Muslims, with religious conflict erupting where the two meet. The Islamization of some countries and provinces, as well as the general desire to enforce some kind of peace on warring factions, has led to some restrictions on religious (especially Christian) activity. These restrictions are not as severe as those in, for example, Western Asia; nonetheless, they pose an obstacle to the spread of church planting. A larger problem is violence from extremists.

About a third of West Africa has little or no access to the gospel. African mission societies are sending hundreds of workers throughout the west and north and have plans to rapidly increase their numbers. As they do, it is almost certain that religious confrontation will increase.

Statistics for the Sixteen Countries of West Africa

Name P'00  P'25 C '00  % C '25 % 75-00 00-25 Issues affecting the future
Benin 7.2 14.3 2.2 30% 4.3 30% ++ ++ AIDS, political stability, religious freedom, economic growth
Burkina Faso 11.3 23.2 2.0 17% 5.8 25% ++ +- Extreme poverty, spiritism, AIDS, Islam (north)
Cape Verde 0.5 0.8 0.4 85% 0.7 95% +- ++ Drug trade, resource depletion, ecological disasters
Gambia 1.3 2.3 0.1 4% 0.1 4% ++  +- AIDS, Islam, unemployment, numerous coups, nominalism
Ghana 19.9 31.0 11.4 57% 19.2 62% ++ ++ AIDS, development, religious tensions, leadership training
Guinea 8.4 14.9 0.3 3% 0.5 3%  ++  ++ AIDS, resource management, liberalization, leadership training
Guinea-Bissau 1.4 2.9 0.2 13% 0.4 14% ++ ++ AIDS, political stability, poverty, religious freedom
Ivory Coast 16.7 25.1 5.5 33% 8.5 34% ++ ++ War, corruption, political instability, Islam, syncretism
Liberia 3.1 5.8 1.2 39% 2.4 41% ++ ++ AIDS, war, occult societies, resource management
Mali 11.6 24.0 0.3 3% 0.7 3% ++ ++ AIDS, Tuareg unrest, ecological crises, Islamic growth
Mauritania 2.6 5.0 0.0 0% 0.0 0% +- +- Poverty, resource scarcity, political instability, relations with Israel
Niger 11.8 26.4  0.1  0%  0.1  0% ++ +- AIDS, Tuareg insurgency, famine, poverty, Islamic growth
Nigeria 117.6 190.3 55.1 47% 92.2 49% ++ ++ AIDS, ethnic/religious tensions, resource management
Senegal 10.3 17.3 0.6 6% 1.1 6% ++ ++ Civil unrest, rapid Islamic growth, religious freedom
Sierra Leone 4.5 8.7 0.5 11% 1.0 11% ++ +- One of the poorest countries in the world, in total anarchy
Togo 5.4 9.6 2.4 44% 5.6 59% ++ ++ AIDS, poverty, civil war, religious freedom

Key for above charts:
P’00 – Population, AD 2000
P’25 – Population, AD2025
C’00 – Christianity, AD 2000 (followed by the percentage of the overall population)
C’25 – Christianity, AD2025 projection, World Christian Database (followed by percentage of overall population)
75-00 – Growth rate. The first (+/-) indicates whether Christianity is growing or declining; the second (+/-) indicates whether it is growing faster or slower than the population (thus whether Christianity’s influence is growing or declining). (+-) means Christianity is growing, but not as fast as the population, and so is declining as a share of the country.
00-25 – Growth rate projected for AD2000-2025
Issues – A brief encapsulation of the issues affecting the growth of Christianity in the nation

Justin Long manages and is senior editor for Momentum, a magazine devoted to unreached peoples. He can be reached at [email protected].