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Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrThe world’s deepest river, at 722 feet, and flowing through ten countries, the Congo River is a watercourse of massive proportions. It is central Africa’s greatest geographical feature, snaking its way across the heart of the continent and draining the rainforests of the Congo Basin .
GeographyThe world’s 9th longest river (and second largest in terms of water flow after the Amazon River), the Congo River's drainage basin covers more than 4 million square kilometers. Its tributaries are sourced from elevated regions of the East African Rift, Zambia’s Chambeshi River, and Lake Tanganyika and Mweru that feed into the Lulaba River. The Chambeshi River is the longest tributary and, therefore, considered the source.
The river flows across the equator and benefits from rainy seasons on both sides, resulting in stable flows throughout the year.
The name ‘Congo River’ was derived from the Kingdom of Kongo that used to inhabit the lands surrounding the mouth of the river. The river, in turn, gave its name to the Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo that sprawl to the east along its river banks. Brazzaville and Kinshasa (the respective capitals) lie adjacent alongside either bank of the river. The river then narrows into deep canyons and the cataracts of the Livingstone Falls, before reaching the sea at the small town of Muanda on the South Atlantic Ocean.
HistoryPygmy people are thought to date back 20,000 years in the Congo River Basin while Bantu farmers migrated there around 5,000 years ago. Ishongo people are thought to have lived in the area around 8,000 years ago with the first mathematical system of counting inscribed on bones found within their culture. The diversity of people within the basin is immense with the Democratic Republic of Congo, alone, home to more than 250 different ethnic groups and subsequently a vast array of languages including Kikongo, Lingala and Swahili.
Most people are farmers and hunter-gatherers who rely heavily on the lands natural resources and exchange food and produce at local markets. The river provides a life source for water, animals, and agricultural activities.
The traditional resource management system has been strained by logging, oil palm plantations, road developments, and increased population growth. Non-traditional hunting technologies and increased access to alternative markets have also altered the traditional exchange of resources and lifestyle of the Congo River basin.
The first Europeans to discover the mouth of the river were the Portuguese sailors in the 15th century, however rapids prevented navigation and discovery of the interior for many years. It was not until the 19th century that a British expedition went further up the river with the first explorer to chart the course of the river being H0 feet Stanley. His expedition traveled down the Congo River to the Atlantic Ocean through the remote and difficult country, often carrying their boats through the jungle to bypass rapids and waterfalls. It is an area of cultures largely untouched by the outside world and, while demanding both physically and mentally, offered a rare insight into this largely unknown part of Africa.
Formation and EcologyIt is thought the river was formed 1.5-2 million years ago during the Pleistocene period. Its immense scale has led to the formation of a number of different Eco-regions, each with their own distinct and endemic species. Richness of species and endemics is significantly high, particularly with aquatic species, within the basin. The Lower Congo Rapids are home to more than 300 species of fish while the Kasai Basin has more than 200. Several turtle species, the African manatee, the Nile and Dwarf crocodile, as well as endemic frogs and snails, are also found in the river. One of the dominant fish families is the Cichlidae with endemic non-pigmented and blind species living up to 525 feet below the surface of the water.
EconomicsThe river is home to a number of different ports and has been an important trade route through a region with few roads or railways. Although Livingstone Falls prevent access from the sea, river steamers plough the water with coffee, cotton, sugar, and copper.
Due to its immense flow with over 50,000 cubic meters of water flowing per second into the Atlantic Ocean during the rainy season, the hydro electric energy potential of the Congo River is significant. It is believed that the river could provide electricity for the entire population of sub-Saharan Africa with 13% of the world’s hydro power potential. Hydro power developments may, however, threaten many of the river’s faunal species.
Getting ThereMaya-Maya Airport in Brazzaville or N'Djili International Airport in Kinshasa are both major transport hubs for the Congo River. 'Undiscovered Destinations' runs 17-day Congo River cruises from Lisala to Kisangani including flight transfers from Kinshasa. Prices start at around $ 5,500 USD . This is a tented camping expedition through remote forested regions and local villagers offering the opportunity to experience an Africa which few western tourists often get to see.
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Author: Pip23. Last updated: Mar 06, 2015