Discovering the Congo River
The Congo River is a Central African river that flows through the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo and Angola. With a length of 4,500 km, it is the second longest river in Africa after the Nile, and the second largest in the world in flow after the Amazon. It is also the deepest river in the world, at over 220m in some places. This imposing river serves as the natural border between the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Republic of Congo.
The river takes its name from the Congo region. Now the region is divided into 2 countries (Congo Brazzaville and Congo Kinshasa), of which it is the natural border. The Portuguese were the first to refer to the river as Zaire, which means river. This name was later used to name the current Democratic Republic of Congo under President Mobutu. In 1997, the name of the DRC and the river were changed back to Congo.
The course of the Congo is segmented by alternating rapids, waterfalls and slack water. Its course initially runs northwards, then from the town of Kisangani in the DRC, westwards and south-westwards from the town of Mbandaka. The Congo River floods twice a year. The first flood is in September and October, when the rains fall north of the equator. The second flood is in March and April, when the tributaries south of the equator rise. Its reddish-brown color is due to the large amount of organic matter present in its waters.
Where is the Congo River located?
The Congo River rises in the Katanga region, in the south-east of the Democratic Republic of Congo. From its source to Kisangani, the upper reaches of the Congo River (Upper Congo) are known as the Lualaba. It then becomes the Congo (Middle Congo) and flows through the equatorial forest to Pool Malebo. This stretch of the river, which is almost 1,740 km long and free of obstacles, is used as a shipping route and as a link between towns. With its many tributaries. The main ones being the Oubangui, the Sangha and the Kwa-Kasaï, the Congo River gains in depth and power.
Between the Republic of Congo and the DRC, it widens to form the Pool Malebo, on whose banks the capitals of the two Congo are located : Brazzaville (Republic of Congo) and Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of Congo). Finally, downstream, after passing the Livingstone Falls, the river widens before flowing into the Atlantic. The river form an 80-kilometre-long estuary.
An unique ecosystem in the world
The Congo River plays a major role in the Central African ecosystem, flora and fauna largely dependent on it. Hundreds of species live together in this rich basin of biodiversity. The waters of the Congo River are home to a wide variety of fish species, as well as crocodiles and turtles. The riverbanks provide an ideal habitat for primates and birds.
The flora is also rich, with many tropical plant species and aquatic plants, including water hyacinth, water lilies and aquatic ferns.
The heart of economic and social life
As well as being a source of food for neighboring ethnic groups, the Congo River is an essential artery of communication and transport. The various ethnic groups in the region, including the ancient Bantus, already used it to travel and transport goods. The Congo River is therefore of economic importance to the regions along its banks, which are still poorly served by land routes. Congo river is used to transport goods by barge, mainly manioc, maize, groundnuts, palm oil and smoked fish.
The river bed is highly irregular, with sandbanks creating a wide range of depths. So flat-bottomed boats are excellent for easy, year-round navigation. They are easy to fit out and suitable for navigation in shallow water, and are very stable in calm water. The characteristics of the Congo River make them the most widely used boats in the region for trade of all kinds.
Navigation on the Congo River
Congo River is navigable in sections because of its waterfalls and rapids. The river is subject to navigation rules and regular maintenance. These tasks are divided between Congo Brazzaville and the DRC.
The care, conservation and development of the waterways are entrusted to the Joint waterways maintenance service in the Republic of Congo and to the Riverways Direction in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The aim of river maintenance is to make navigation safer and more efficient. This is why the river is developed through buoyage (to make navigation safer by marking navigable passages). But also dredging (to maintain the channel by deepening or widening it but also to widen and deepen rocky corridors). And finaly hydrographic studies (to develop reliable navigation routes)
The history of exploration
The mouth of the Congo River was first explored in 1484 by the Portuguese sailor Diego Cam. But waterfalls 200km upstream prevented the expedition from venturing any further. It was in the early 1800s that the river was explored in greater detail by a British expedition. These discoveries have led to more accurate mapping and a census of the river’s various tributaries. Finally, Henry Morton Stanley’s expedition concluded the exploration of the river. He made the discovery of Upper Congo and Lualaba.
The Congo and its tributaries
The Congo River is fed by numerous tributaries. They contribute to its flooding at different times of the year. In the Upper Congo, its upper reaches are joined by two main tributaries, the Loufira and the Louapoula. From the Middle Congo onwards, the tributaries are more important. Some of them being navigable for kilometers and forming part of the extensive navigation network of the Congo region. These tributaries, which join the Congo River, increase its size and flow considerably. Its three main tributaries are the Kwa-Kasaï, the Oubangui and the Sangha. Sangha river is navigable as far as Ouesso, and its banks are dotted with villages and alternating forest and savannah.
A vast majority of the Congo River’s tributaries join its bed before reaching the Pool Malebo. From where the Congo’s tributaries become rarer and less important.
Why is the Congo River unique in the world?
A safari cruise on the Congo River is an exceptional experience because :
– Its length of 4500km makes it the second longest river in Africa and the 8th longest in the world.
– It is the deepest river in the world, at over 220m in some places.
– After the Amazon, it is the second largest river in the world for its flow.
– Its history is intimately linked to the history of Central Africa.
– It is the guarantor of an ecosystem that is unique in the world.
– As the natural border between the DRC and the Republic of Congo, it is the scene of Congolese life.
– It is a unique way to discover and immerse yourself in the scenery of the Congo forest.