British Central Africa, the general name given to the British protectorates in South Central Africa north of the Zambezi river, but more particularly to a large territory lying between 8° 25′ S. on Lake Tanganyika and 17° 6′ S. on the river Shiré, near its confluence with the Zambezi, and between 36° 10′ E. (district of Mlanje) and 26° 30′ E. (river Luengwe-Kafukwe). Originally the term "British Central Africa" was applied by Sir H.H. Johnston to all the territories under British influence north of the Zambezi which were formerly intended to be under one administration; but the course of events having prevented the connexion of Barotseland (see Barotse) and the other Rhodesian territories with the more direct British administration north of the Zambezi, the name of British Central Africa was confined officially (in 1893) to the British protectorate on the Shiré and about Lake Nyasa. In 1907 the official title of the protectorate was changed to that of Nyasaland Protectorate, while the titles "North Eastern Rhodesia" and "North Western Rhodesia" (Barotseland) have been given to the two divisions of the British South Africa Company's territory north of the Zambezi. The western boundary, however, of the territory here described has been taken to be a line drawn from near the source of the Lualaba on the southern boundary of Belgian Congo to the western source of the Luanga river, and thence the course of the Luanga to its junction with the Luengwe-Kafukwe, after which the main course of the Kafukwe delimits the territory down to the Zambezi. Thus, besides the Nyasaland Protectorate and North Eastern Rhodesia, part of North Western Rhodesia is included, and for the whole of this region British Central Africa is the most convenient designation.
Within these limits we have a territory of about 250,000 sq. m., which includes two-thirds of Lake Nyasa, the south end of Lake Tanganyika, more than half Lake Mweru, and the whole of Lake Bangweulu, nearly the whole courses of the rivers Shiré and Luangwa (or Loangwa), the whole of the river Chambezi (the most remote of the headwaters of the river Congo), the right or east bank of the Luapula (or upper Congo) from its exit from Lake Bangweulu to its issue from the north end of Lake Mweru; also the river Luanga and the whole course of the Kafue or Kafukwe. Other lesser sheets of water included within the limits of this territory are the Great Mweru Swamp, between Tanganyika and Mweru, Moir's Lake (a small mountain tarn - possibly a crater lake - lying between the Luangwa and the Luapula), Lake Malombe (on the upper Shiré), and the salt lake Chilwa (wrongly styled Shirwa, being the Bantu word Kilwa), which lies on the borders of the Portuguese province of Moçambique. The southern border of this territory is the north bank of the Zambezi from the confluence of the Kafukwe to that of the Luangwa at Zumbo. Eastwards of Zumbo, British Central Africa is separated from the river Zambezi by the Portuguese possessions; nevertheless, considerably more than two-thirds of the country lies within the Zambezi basin, and is included within the subordinate basins of Lake Nyasa and of the rivers Luangwa and Luengwe-Kafukwe. The remaining portions drain into the basins of the river Congo and of Lake Tanganyika, and also into the small lake or half-dried swamp called Chilwa, which at the present time has no outlet, though in past ages it probably emptied itself into the Lujenda river, and thence into the Indian Ocean.
As regards orographical features, much of the country is high plateau, with an average altitude of 3500 ft. above sea-level. Only a very minute portion of its area - the country along the banks of the river Shiré - lies at anything like a low elevation; though the Luangwa valley may not be more than about 900 ft. above sea-level. Lake Nyasa lies at an elevation of 1700 ft. above the sea, is about 350 m. long, with a breadth varying from 15 to 40 m. Lake Tanganyika is about 2600 ft. above sea-level, with a length of about 400 m. and an average breadth of nearly 40 m. Lake Mweru and Lake Bangweulu are respectively 3000 and 3760 ft. above sea-level; Lake Chilwa is 1946 ft. in altitude. The highest mountain found within the limits previously laid down is Mount Mlanje, in the extreme south-eastern corner of the protectorate. This remarkable and picturesque mass is an isolated "chunk" of the Archean plateau, through which at a later date there has been a volcanic outburst of basalt. The summit and sides of this mass exhibit several craters.
The highest peak of Mlanje reaches an altitude of 9683 ft. (In German territory, near the north end of Lake Nyasa, and close to the British frontier, is Mount Rungwe, the altitude of which exceeds 10,000 ft.) Other high mountains are Mounts Chongone and Dedza, in Angoniland, which reach an altitude of 7000 ft., and points on the Nyika Plateau and in the Konde Mountains to the north-west of Lake Nyasa, which probably exceed a height of 8000 ft. There are also Mounts Zomba (6900 ft.) and Chiradzulu (5500 ft.) in the Shiré Highlands. The principal plateaus or high ridges are (1) the Shiré Highlands, a clump of mountainous country lying between the river Shiré, the river Ruo, Lake Chilwa and the south end of Lake Nyasa; (2) Angoniland - a stretch of elevated country to the west of Lake Nyasa and the north-west of the river Shiré; (3) the Nyika Plateau, which lies to the north of Angoniland; and (4) the Nyasa-Tanganyika Plateau, between the basin of the river Luangwa, the vicinity of Tanganyika and the vicinity of Lake Mweru (highest point, 7000-8000 ft.). Finally may be mentioned the tract of elevated country between Lake Bangweulu and the river Luapula, and between Lake Bangweulu and the basin of the Luangwa; and also the Lukinga (Mushinga) or Ugwara Mountains of North Western Rhodesia, which attain perhaps to altitudes of 6000 ft.
The whole of this part of Africa is practically without any stretch of desert country, being on the whole favoured with an abundant rainfall. The nearest approach to a desert is the rather dry land to the east and north-east of Lake Mweru. Here, and in parts of the lower Shiré district, the annual rainfall probably does not exceed an average of 35 in. Elsewhere, in the vicinity of the highest mountains, the rainfall may attain an average of 75 in., in parts of Mount Mlanje possibly often reaching to 100 in. in the year. The average may be put at 50 in. per annum, which is also about the average rainfall of the Shiré Highlands, that part of British Central Africa which at present attracts the greatest number of European settlers.