The Congo River rises in the East African Rift, taking water in part from Lake Tanganyika. Then, after pooling the resources of a number of tributaries, it gets down to business with some nine thousand kilometres of navigable waterway. Its river basin includes the second largest rain forest, second only to the Amazon.
It travels an area of amazing biodiversity that has been raped and pillaged by wars, by the taking of large mammals for the bushmeat trade and by illegal logging. For around 1,750km of its length it runs completely undisturbed by any rapids or falls. Sadly it is this very ease of navigability that is the reason the poachers and forest-strippers can operate so readily.
Its equatorial location and huge network of tributaries mean it has a constant flow that maintains an impressive girth, ranging between 6km and 16km through its central stretch. It’s so wide and constant that the animal species on the two banks have developed very differently. The constancy of the Congo has been a physical barrier since way back to the time some 500 million years ago when the river was even bigger, spanning both Africa and South America when they were joined as Gondwanaland, the southern supercontinent.
The Congo turns southward and narrows for a section, down to just two kilometres wide. This was the target location that Wim had originally considered for release of the still water. Below this point the river broadens out again to form Pool Malebo where, on opposite banks, the two Congo national capitals of Kinshasha and Brazzaville are situated, with a combined population of more than nine million. It was these cities that he wished to target.
After this brief pause at the lake, the river then cascades down the Livingstone Falls, a series of more than thirty rapids, to the port of Matadi. It empties into the Gulf of Guinea and from there out into the Atlantic.
Wherever there are non-navigable sections a series of railways have been created to ‘join up the dots’ and form an economic ‘highway’ reaching right through the heart of Central Africa, bringing its minerals, cotton, coffee, sugar and palm-oil kernels down to the ocean port.
Perfect for their spectacular – assault by still water!