Why Is Central Africa Missing From So Many Maps?

You’ve probably had the following experience: You are reading along when a map, shaded in a procession of pastels, interrupts the story. Your eyes travel first to your home country, then to the country where you spent a summer abroad, and then, finally, sweep around the map looking for the brightest or dimmest shades that mark a place is the most or least of something. Along the way you cross a vast colorless expanse where Central Africa should be. “No data,” the legend explains.


This gap appears across a huge range of subjects that have inadequate source data for developing countries. Often all of Sub-Saharan Africa is missing, but it is the Central African countries that seem to disappear most frequently. Central Africa is defined by the UN to include nine countries. It extends from the tiny island nation of São Tomé & Príncipe to the expansive, resource-wealthy Democratic Republic of the Congo. Estimates—and they are only estimates—put Central Africa’s total population at just under 150 million people.

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