The Congo River

The Congo River is the second-longest river in Africa. It is shorter than the Nile but travels  a distance of almost 3,000 miles. It discharges almost as much water as the Amazon and the Ganges rivers. It is also the world’s deepest  river, with measured depths of around 220 metres..

The river and its tributaries flow through the Congo rainforest, the second largest rainforest area in the world, after the Amazon.

The sources of the Congo are in the highlands and mountains of the East African Rift, as well as Lake Tanganyika.

The Congo flows  toward the northwest and then bends south west .Kinshasa (formerly Léopoldville) and Brazzaville are on opposite sides of the river at an area known as the Pool Malebo or Stanley Pool where the river narrows and falls through a number of cataracts in deep canyons collectively known as the Livingstone Falls.

The entire Congo basin is populated by Bantu peoples, divided into several hundred ethnic groups.Pygmy tribes remain in the remote forest areas of the Congo Basin.

The upper Congo River was first reached by the Arab slave trade by the 19th century. Nyangwe was founded as a slavers’ outpost around 1860. David Livingstone was the first European to reach Nyangwe in March 1871.Livingstone wanted  to prove that the river connected to the Nile, but he witnessed a massacre of about 400 Africans by Arab slavers and he turned back to Lake Tanganyika.

The Europeans had not reached the central regions of the Congo basin from either the east or west, until HenryStanley’s expedition of 1876–77. At the time one of the last open questions of the European exploration of Africa was whether tributaries  of the Congo fed the Nile or even the Niger River.

Starting in Zanzibar Stanley’s journey involved traversing lawless areas containing cannibal tribes and hacking through dense rainforest.

Tribes were understandably extremely wary and hostile  as their only experience of outsiders was with slave traders.

Stanley reached what became known as Stanley Falls in 1877 proving that the River system did not connect to the Nile .

 Some four weeks and 1,900 kilometres later he reached Stanley Pool (now Pool Malebo), the site of present day Kinshasa and Brazzaville. Further downstream were the Livingstone Falls,a series of 32 falls and rapids with an elevation change of 270 metres over 350 kilometres. The descent of the falls  took five months and cost numerous lives. 

The expedition finally reached Boma and had lasted almost three years.By this time Stanley’s party numbered just over 100 including three children born during the trip. He had lost 132 people through disease, hunger, drowning, killing and desertion.

Kinshasa was founded as a trading post by Stanley in 1881 and named Léopoldville in honor of Leopold II of Belgium. The Congo Basin was privately claimed by Leopold II as Congo Free State in 1885 . Many atrocities  were committed here until the region was renamed. the Belgian Congo.