Second longest river in Africa is the Congo River. It is also on of the longest waterways in the world. The only river longer than the Congo in Africa is the Nile. The Congo is about 2,720 miles long and ranges in width from eight tenths of a mile to about 10 miles.
The river forms at a junction of the Lualaba and Luvua rivers in southern Zaire. It flows generally north as far as Stanley Falls, which is located just south of the Equator.
From this spot the Congo looks like a very large irregular arc. It moves northeast, then west and then to the south. Ir has an outlet on the South Atlantic ocean. At this point the volume of water discharge is approximately 1.2 million cubic feet per second at high water.
There are more than 4,000 islands located in the Congo River. About 50 of them are more than 10 miles long.
South of the rivers junction with the Ubangi•River, the chief northern tributary, to a point below Nelebo Pool (Stanley Pool), the Congo is part of the boundary between the Congo and Zaire.
With its many affluents, which also include the Aruwimi, Kasai and Lomami rivers, the Congo provides the main artery of transportation in central Africa. It also drains the central African equatorial basin, a territory that is more than 1.6 million square miles in area. This drainage basin includes most of the Congo and Zaire, north Angola, western Zambia and Tanzania and the south Central African Republic.
This vast region is heavily covered with tropical vegetation.
In its descent from the western region, the lower Congo moves through a series of cataracts, known collectively as the Livingstone Falls, the southernmost of which is a short stretch north of Matadi, the leading port of the river estuary.
The total length of navigable routes on the Congo and its affluents is about 9,000 miles.
The first European to visit the river was a Portuguese navigator named Diogo Cam. He entered the Congo estuary on a voyage between 1482 and 1484. He claimed the surrounding area as Portuguese territory, leaving a marble marker in the shape of a shaft on the river bank as proof of his discovery.
From this visit the river became known as the Rio de Padrao, or Pillar River. This name was replaced by Zaire, a term that is similar to the native word for river. That name was later changed and it became the Congo River.
After Cam's visit, other Europeans came to the river estuary, chiefly for trading purposes. However, more than three centuries passed before a serious exploration was made.
In 1816 a British team reached a point between present day Matadi and Kinshasa.
The first explorer to investigate the main stream was an American named Henry Stanley. His visit was in 1876 and 1877.