Equatorial Africa was intended to be part of World Showcase's original line-up proposed in 1979, being placed between China and Germany. However, it would be pushed back with the intention of becoming World Showcase's first addition with a planned 1983 opening.
Imagineers would work with Roots author Alex Haley, who served as an adviser as well as the narrator for one of the pavilion's shows. Haley would appear in Epcot Center: The Opening Celebration in a brief segment talking about the project.
The concept would end up falling through as a result of Epcot's sponsorship model. The multi-nation design of Equatorial Africa was a way to split the costs for a pavilion among multiple African nations, with only Kenya, Senegal and the Ivory Coast signing letters of intent to take part. Political unrest in other parts of the region would serve to make negotiations more difficult and the shared costs were impractical to poorer nations. Additionally, the only corporate sponsor to step up was a company based in South Africa, and Disney was not willing to let the pavilion be associated with the Apartheid regime. Shortly after this, the concept would end up getting cancelled.
In contrast to the single-nation pavilions in the rest of World Showcase, Equatorial Africa would be a pan-African experience devoted to different parts of East and West Africa along the equatorial belt. One of the village's central landmarks would be a large treehouse that guests could climb to view a diorama of a busy watering hole on the savanna populated by numerous animals. The central part of the village, the Heritage area, would be a cultural demonstration space featuring performers from different nations. Additionally, an exhibit of African art could be found here.
Two main shows were proposed:
- The Heartbeat of Africa: The story of Equatorial Africa's history told through the music of its different cultures. A pre-show would be dedicated to the history of the drum, while the main show would be a trip through Africa's past, present and future through the eyes of a traditional storyteller. The finale would conclude in a modern African city at an outdoor jazz concert with lasers being projected onto the screen and bringing the instruments to colorful life.
- Africa Rediscovered: Hosted by Alex Haley, Africa Rediscovered was a film that would explore Africa's natural and cultural history, exploring different environments and Africa's status as the "cradle of humanity".
The site of the Equatorial Africa pavilion is now the home of the African Outpost marketplace area sponsored by Coca Cola. Additionally, much of the conceptual work that went into Equatorial Africa would inspire the Africa area at Disney's Animal Kingdom.
When the pavilion was in planning stages, Disney purchased the African art collection of Paul Tishman in 1984, with plans to display the collection in a gallery at the pavilion. It would also serve as a research collection during pre-production of The Lion King as the animators hoped to incorporate elements of African art into the design of the film's more fanciful sequences. Years later, in 2005, the collection, now referred to as the Tishman-Walt Disney Collection, was donated to the Smithsonian Institute, where it became part of the National Museum of African Art.
Of all the scrapped World Showcase pavilions, Equatorial Africa was the one that came closest to fruition. Both of the pavilion's films had already been made, and a model of the pavilion was showcased during Epcot's opening day telecast.