Saturday, April 24, 2021

An A-Z Guide to Africa's Capital Cities

Although many of Africa's capital cities have little of interest for tourists, they are usually home to important resources including embassies, major hospitals, large hotels and banks. 

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In most countries, the international airport is located in or just outside the capital, so you're likely to pass through at some point on your travels. Learn more about your destination with this overview of Africa's capital cities. 

Abidjan/Yamoussoukro, Côte d'Ivoire

Côte d’Ivoire has two official capitals: Abidjan (the economic capital and largest city) and Yamoussoukro (the political capital). Abidjan is located on the coast and is the sixth most populous city in Africa. Yamoussoukro earned capital status in 1983 and was the birthplace of the country's first president.

Abuja, Nigeria

A planned city built during Nigeria's prosperous 1970s and 80s, Abuja replaced Lagos (the nation’s largest city) as the capital in 1991. It is located in the center of the country and has been named as the fastest growing city in the world. 2016 estimates put its population at over six million people.

Accra, Ghana

Founded as a trading post in the 15th century, Accra sits on the shores of the Gulf of Guinea. It was captured by the British in 1874 and colonial architecture remains a feature of its historic Jamestown district. Accra is also known for its beaches, nightlife and lively markets.

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Central Addis Ababa sits at the foot of Mount Entoto and was founded in 1886. As the headquarters of the African Union and the UN Economic Commission for Africa, it is often referred to as the continent’s political capital. Addis airport is also an important travel hub.

Algiers, Algeria

Situated on the Mediterranean coast in north-central Algeria, the area around Algiers has been settled since Phoenician times. Indeed, the city’s historic casbah is built upon old Roman ruins. Today, Algiers includes fabulous examples of Berber, Ottoman and French colonial architecture.

Antananarivo, Madagascar

Known locally as Tana, Antananarivo's central location makes it the ideal base for exploring Madagascar. It was founded in the 17th century and was the historic capital of the Kingdom of Imerina. Today, it is known for its art galleries, museums, markets and multicultural culinary scene. 

Asmara, Eritrea

Located on the northwestern edge of the Eritrean highlands, Asmara has an elevation of 7,628 feet – making it the sixth-highest capital in the world. It was first settled in 800 BC, was occupied by the Italians in 1889 and is now recognized by UNESCO for its fine modernist architecture.

Bamako, Mali

Bamako is situated on the banks of the Niger River in southwest Mali. During medieval times it was a major market town and center of Islamic learning, with two universities, multiple mosques and a lucrative trade in cotton, salt and gold. Today, it’s the seventh-largest city in West Africa.

Bangui, Central African Republic

Bangui was established as a French outpost on the banks of the Ubangi River in 1889. It gained independence in 1960; but has suffered decades of political unrest, rebellion and violence ever since. The US Department of State advises against all travel to Bangui and the CAR. 

Banjul, The Gambia

Banjul sits on an island at the mouth of the Gambia River and is the fourth-largest city in the country with a population of just over 31,000. It was founded as a British military base and trading post. Originally called Bathurst, it received its current name after gaining independence in 1973.

Bissau, Guinea-Bissau

Bissau is located on the banks of the Geba River estuary and served as the capital of Portuguese Guinea before gaining independence in 1974. It was beset by fighting during the Guinea-Bissau Civil War and remains unstable today. Visitors are advised by the US government to reconsider travel. 

Bloemfontein/Cape Town/Pretoria, South Africa

South Africa has three capital cities: Bloemfontein (the judicial capital), Pretoria (the administrative capital) and Cape Town (the legislative capital). Of these three, Cape Town is the oldest and largest. Famous for its breathtaking scenery and world-class cuisine, it's also the most popular with visitors. 

Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo

Located opposite Kinshasa on the Congo River, Brazzaville is home to more than 1.8 million people – more than a third of the country’s entire population. The capital of Free France during the Second World War, it is now known for its music scene and is part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Cairo, Egypt

Founded by Fatimid rulers in 969, Cairo now has the 15th-largest metropolitan area in the world. It is steeped in culture, with fine examples of Islamic, Ottoman and Coptic Christian architecture around every corner. Across the River Nile is the Pyramids of Giza, one of Egypt's most iconic ancient sights.

Conakry, Guinea

Originally founded on Tombo Island in 1887, the coastal city of Conakry now covers much of Guinea’s Kaloum Peninsula. Unfortunately, it has earned a reputation for political unrest and violent strikes, the latter as a result of frequent power and water outages caused by failing infrastructure.

Dakar, Senegal

Dakar became a major port under French colonial rule and was named capital after Senegal gained independence in 1960. Today, it’s known for its buzzing nightlife and beautiful beaches, while nearby Île de Gorée is a place of pilgrimage for those that want to learn about the slave trade.

Djibouti, Djibouti

Djibouti’s eponymous capital is located on the Gulf of Tadjoura. Founded by the French in 1888, it is now home to over 70% of the country’s population and has the second-largest economy in the Horn of Africa. It serves as a refuelling center for some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

Dodoma, Tanzania

Dodoma started life as a rural market town and was expanded by German colonialists in 1907. In 1973, the Tanzanian government announced its decision to centralize the seat of power by moving the capital to Dodoma from Dar es Salaam. Dar continues to be Tanzania’s financial and cultural center.

Freetown, Sierra Leone

Freetown was founded in 1792 by the Nova Scotian Settlers, a group of African American ex-slaves who sided with the British during the American Revolutionary War. It became a haven for freed and free-born slaves from across Africa and the Caribbean and is still famous for its diversity today.

Gaborone, Botswana

Gaborone is located in Botswana’s southeastern corner and was chosen as the country’s post-independence capital for the fact that it had no tribal affiliation and was therefore neutral territory. Today it is home to 10% of the population and is one of the world’s fastest-growing cities.

Gitega, Burundi

Once the seat of the historical Kingdom of Burundi, Gitega’s capital status was restored in 2018 by president Pierre Nkurunziza. His decision was approved by parliament in early 2019 and all branches of government are expected to move there from Bujumbura over the next three years.

Harare, Zimbabwe

Known as Salisbury during colonial times, Harare in Zimbabwe has been named one of the 10 Worst Cities to Live In thanks to failing infrastructure and government negligence. However, every spring, its streets are transformed into a thing of beauty by rows of blooming jacaranda trees.

Juba, South Sudan

Juba is located on the banks of the White Nile and was established in the early 1920s. It only achieved capital status in 2011, when South Sudan declared its independence from the Sudan. The government has announced plans to move the capital from Juba to Ramciel in the near future.

Kampala, Uganda

Located on the northern shore of Lake Victoria, dynamic Kampala was ranked as the most liveable city in East Africa in a 2016 survey by consulting firm Mercer. It once served as the capital of the Buganda kingdom, and many of its top attractions date back to this pre-colonial era.

Khartoum, Sudan

Located at the confluence of the White and Blue Niles, Khartoum was founded in 1821. It served as the seat of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan government, and was named capital after independence in 1956. Now a major trade center, it’s home to souks, mosques and the excellent National Museum.

Kigali, Rwanda

Kigali became the capital after Rwandan independence in 1962. During the Rwandan genocide, thousands of the city’s inhabitants were slaughtered and much of its infrastructure destroyed. The Kigali Genocide Memorial reminds us of these atrocities. Now, the city has recovered to become one of Africa’s safest capitals.

Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo

Brash, fast-paced and full of infectious energy, Kinshasa was established as a colonial trading post on the banks of the Congo River in 1881. Since then, it has grown into the third-largest urban area in Africa. With a population of over 11 million, it’s also the world’s largest French-speaking city.

Libreville, Gabon

In 1846, the French navy captured a Brazilian slave ship and settled the freed slaves on French-owned land on the banks of the Gabon Estuary. The settlement came to be known as Libreville. After independence the city experienced rapid growth and now houses almost half of Gabon’s population.

Lilongwe, Malawi

Named after the Lilongwe River, Malawi’s central capital spent centuries as a rural fishing village. It was developed under British rule and later chosen as the independent capital in 1975. Today, the city is a bustling urban hub; however, Blantyre is the country’s commercial and industrial center.

Lobamba/Mbabane, eSwatini

eSwatini – formerly known as Swaziland – has two capital cities: Mbabane (the executive capital) and Lobamba (the legislative capital). Mbabane is located in the Mdzimba Mountains and is the country's largest city. Lobamba is located in the Ezulwini Valley and is home to the King and Queen Mother.

Lomé, Togo

Located on the Gulf of Guinea near the Ghanaian border, Lomé was the colonial capital of German Togoland and retains its capital status today. Its deep-water harbor is capable of handling three million tons of goods every year including Togo’s main exports – coffee, cocoa, copra and palm products.

Luanda, Angola

Coastal Luanda is also Angola's largest city and primary port. It was founded in 1576 by Portuguese explorers, and despite gaining independence in 1975, remains the largest Portuguese-speaking capital in the world with the population of its metropolitan area estimated at over eight million. 

Lusaka, Zambia

Lusaka is conveniently located in the southern part of Zambia’s central plateau, on main roads heading north, east, south and west. The strategic value of its location led to it being chosen as the capital of Northern Rhodesia in 1935; a title that it retained after independence in 1964. 

Malabo, Equatorial Guinea

Historic Malabo is located northwest of the mainland on Bioko Island. It is the only Spanish-speaking capital in Africa. Plans are underway to move the capital to Ciudad de la Paz, a planned city in the center of the country that is currently still under construction. 

Maputo, Mozambique

Known as Lourenço Marques until 1976, Maputo is located in the far south of Mozambique. It grew up around a Portuguese fort built in 1781 and many fine examples of colonial architecture remain today. The port faced economic devastation during the Mozambican Civil War but has now largely recovered. 

Maseru, Lesotho

Maseru sits on the Lesotho-South Africa border. It started life as a police camp, served as the capital of the British Protectorate and suffered major damage when riots broke out as a result of fraudulent parliamentary elections in 1998. Much of the city has now been re-built. 

Mogadishu, Somalia

Mogadishu has been an important port for Somali Sea traders since antiquity. It experienced a medieval Golden Age under the Muzaffar dynasty, served as the capital of Italian Somaliland and was fought over by militias during the Somali Civi War. It is still considered unsafe for tourists today. 

Monrovia, Liberia

Founded in 1822 as a permanent settlement for freed African-American slaves, Monrovia pre-dated the establishment of Liberia itself by quarter of a century. It was named in honor of US President James Monroe. More recently, the city has suffered civil war and the 2014 Ebola outbreak. 

Moroni, Comoros

Moroni earned its status as the federal capital of the Comoros archipelago in 1958 but has been the capital of the semi-autonomous island of Ngazidja for several decades longer. There are many mosques in its historic medina, the oldest of which dates back to 1427. 

Nairobi, Kenya

Founded in 1899 as a colonial rail depot, Nairobi earned capital status in 1907 and is now the 10th-largest city in Africa. It is a major hub for commerce and culture, with one of the continent’s biggest stock exchanges. Tourist attractions include the Karen Blixen Museum and Nairobi National Park. 

N’Djamena, Chad

N’Djamena is a port city on the Chari River, which forms the border between Chad and Cameroon. It’s connected by bridge to the Cameroonian town of Kousséri. Founded by the French in 1900, it was originally named Fort-Lamy. After independence, N’Djamena was severely damaged during the Chadian Civil War. 

Niamey, Niger

Niamey is situated on the Niger River. It grew in importance as a French colonial post at the end of the 19th century and became capital in 1926. It is home to the largest mosque in the country, while other attractions include the Niger National Museum and Niamey Grand Market. 

Nouakchott, Mauritania

Originally a fortified fishing village, Nouakchott was chosen as the location of the new capital ahead of Mauritanian independence in 1960. It was enlarged to house a population of 15,000; however, refugees fleeing drought in the country’s rural areas have now pushed the population to over one million. 

Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso

Known as Ouaga, Burkina Faso’s capital enjoys a central location and a rich history that dates back to the time of the 15th-century Mossi Empire. Today, it’s a charismatic city known for its lively craft markets, vibrant arts scene and frequent festivals. The population doubles roughly every 10 years.

Port Louis, Mauritius

Located on the northwest coast of Mauritius, Port Louis was named in honor of French King Louis XV. A major port for several centuries, its diverse culture borrows influences from Indian, European, Chinese and Middle Eastern settlers. Le Caudan Waterfront is a popular tourist destination in its own right. 

Porto-Novo, Benin

Porto-Novo sits on an inlet of the Gulf of Guinea in the extreme southeast of Benin. It was founded in the late 16th century and is the home of the Beninese parliament. However, the seat of government is located at Cotonou, the country’s largest city and main industrial center. 

Praia, Cape Verde

Situated on Cape Verde’s largest island, Santiago, Praia was once an important port of call for Portuguese ships en route to their colonies. It was named capital in 1770, and experienced a major population boom after independence in 1975. It’s now home to nearly 30% of all Cape Verdeans. 

Rabat, Morocco

Once a major port and pirate haven, Rabat was founded in 1146 and sits on Morocco’s north Atlantic coast. It’s recognized by UNESCO for its blend of medieval and modern architecture. However, it’s only the seventh-largest city in Morocco and has fewer tourist attractions than Marrakesh or Fez. 

São Tomé, São Tomé and Príncipe

Over a third of São Toméans live in São Tomé. The island on which it’s located was uninhabited until the Portuguese arrived in the 15th century and São Tomé itself was founded in 1493. Now, most tourists use it as a base for exploring the island’s beautiful jungles and beaches. 

Tripoli, Libya

A Mediterranean seaport on the edge of the Sahara Desert, Tripoli was founded by the Phoenicians in the 7th century BC. It has a turbulent history, which includes conflict with the US under Reagan and the outbreak of civil war in 2011. Travel is not recommended for safety reasons. 

Tunis, Tunisia

Coastal Tunis has a fascinating history that dates back to the 4th century BC. It was destroyed alongside Carthage during the Third Punic War, and its 7th-century Islamic medina is listed as a World Heritage Site. The modern city is a legacy from the French colonial era. 

Victoria, Seychelles

Located on the northeastern coast of Mahé, the Seychelles' largest island, Victoria was established by the British as the seat of the colonial government. Attractions include the Botanical Gardens and bustling Victoria Market. Victoria is twinned with Djibouti city and Haikou in China. 

Windhoek, Namibia

Windhoek sits close to the geographical center of Namibia and was originally settled by indigenous tribes who found a permanent hot spring there. German colonialists founded the modern city in 1890 and today, Windhoek is the main port of entry for tourists. It also has some interesting attractions. 

Yaoundé, Cameroon

Although it’s the capital, Yaoundé is not Cameroon’s largest city – that accolade belongs to coastal Douala. It’s spread over seven hills in the country’s Centre Region and was chosen as the capital in 1922. When Cameroon gained independence it retained its status and is now home to several excellent museums.

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