The Congo Basin is one of the largest inland basins on earth. The largest part of the basin belongs to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic, the northern part is in the Republic of the Congo. At a height of 300 to 400 m, the basin lies between the Asandeschwelle in the north, the Lundaschwelle in the south and the Central African rift system in the east.
The Congo drains the basin. It is the second largest and most water-rich river in Africa. It is 4,374 km long, its catchment area covers 3.69 million km². The Congo flows through the Congo Basin as a broad flatland stream. In its further course it breaks through the Lower Guinea threshold in over 32 rapids and waterfalls and flows into the Atlantic Ocean at Matardi. The steep gradient and the high flow speed of the Congo are used in hydropower plants to generate energy. The Congo is an important transport route. The abundance of fish is important for people’s nutrition. Agriculture is practiced in the lower reaches of the Congo. Large ore deposits in the Congo Basin gave rise to industry.
The Congo Basin has a typical equatorial climate with high levels of precipitation. Tropical rainforests, savannas and swamps shape the landscape.
The Congo Basin has a diameter of about 1500 km and lies on both sides of the equator in the tropical climate area. The basin has an average height of 300 to 400 m. In the east, the Congo Basin is bounded by the Central African rift and volcanic system. The northern boundary is the Asanda threshold or north equatorial threshold with an average height of 600 m and island mountains of up to 1500 m. In the south, the Congo Basin is bounded by the Lunda wave (Fig. 1).
The northern part of the Congo Basin lies in the Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic, the largest part belongs to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (until 1997 Zaire).
The Congo drains the Congo Basin. His name means the “great river” in Bantu or Swahili. Today it has two names. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo the river has been called Zaire since 1871, in the Republic of the Congo it is still called the Congo. With a length of 4,374 km, it is the second longest and richest river in Africa. At 6671 km in length, the Nile is the longest river on the continent, but the Congo carries considerably more water. It has a catchment area of 3.69 million km² (Europe has an area of 10 million km², the Elbe with 700 km length a catchment area of 98,000 km². With a discharge of 42,000 m³ / s, it is the second richest river on earth.
The source river of the Congo is the Lualaba. It rises on the border with the Zambezi in the southeast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo on a 1420 m high plateau. In a wide arc it still flows north as Lualaba. On the way to Kisangani it forms numerous rapids, u. a. the Boyoma Falls. At Kisangani it turns to the west and from there bears the name Congo. It flows through the Congo Basin as an extraordinarily wide flatland current – its greatest width is 55 km. At Kinshasa it is dammed up to form the approximately 30 km long Maleba Pool.
Below Leopoldville, the Congo breaks the threshold of Lower Guinea in the west and falls over 32 rapids of the Livingstone Falls. The river bed narrows here to 500 m. The Congo flows into the Atlantic Ocean below Matadi in a wide funnel mouth.
Economic area of the Congo Basin
The river system of the Congo has 200 major tributaries (including Lukuga, Ubangi, Sanga, Lomami, Kasai). It has over 13,000 km of navigable waterways. The river itself is navigable for 2700 km. Navigability begins at Kukama. The Congo thus forms the most important natural traffic route in the Congo Basin. Rapids and waterfalls are avoided by railway lines. However, they significantly restrict inland navigation. The abundance of fish in the Congo and its tributaries is important for feeding the people in the Congo Basin.
The enormous water masses of the Congo and its tributaries enable the generation of electrical energy in hydropower plants such as z. B. at Lualaba and at Inga.
In the last section of its course, the water of the Congo is used for agriculture, which shapes the landscape along the river.
When they were discovered rich in natural resources in the Congo Basin, economic life took off. One of the largest copper ore deposits in the world was developed in the Katanga region. In addition, cobalt, tin ore, zinc, gold, diamonds, platinum and uranium mined. The ore wealth created an industrial landscape in the heart of Africa, especially around Kinshasa and Kisangani.
Climate and vegetation
In the Congo Basin there is a typical equatorial climate, in its peripheral areas there is a tropical alternating climate. The evenness, even in the recurring daily routine, is characteristic of these climatic conditions. The sun rises around 6 a.m. and rises rapidly higher. It gets very hot quickly. Cumulus clouds gather around noon. Between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. a storm breaks out with torrential rain. After about two hours, the thunderstorm subsided. It remains cloudy and hazy. At 6 p.m. the sun sets without much twilight and the 12-hour tropical night begins. Due to the heavy rainfall, the Congo constantly has a high water flow. Its source rivers arise both north and south of the equator. This results in two more flood waves and flood the river plains.
The vegetation of the Congo Basin consists mainly of dense tropical rainforest (Fig. 2). In the more southerly area they merge into wet savannas. Extensive wetlands stretch along the rivers in the Congo Basin .
DAVID LIVINGSTONE (1813–1873) was the first to travel to the interior of the Congo region. His reports attracted researchers and missionaries.
The Englishman HENRY MORTON STANLEY (1841–1904) explored the interior of the Congo from 1874 to 1877 on behalf of Belgium.
From 1881 to 1884 he acquired land for the Belgian Association International du Congo, for trading posts from around 400 tribal princes along the river.
The Belgian Congo colony became the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1960, and French Equatorial Africa became the Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic. All three countries now have a share in the Congo Basin.