Official name : Democratic Republic of the Congo
Area: 2,345,410 square kilometers (905,562 square miles)
Highest point on mainland: Margherita Peak (5,110 meters/16,765 feet)
Lowest point on land: Sea level
Hemispheres: Eastern, Northern, and Southern
Time zones: In Kinshasa, 1 P.M. = noon GMT; in Lubumbashi, 2 P.M. = noon GMT
Longest distances: 2,276 kilometers (1,414 miles) from south-southeast to north-northwest; 2,236 kilometers (1,389 miles) from east-northeast to west-southwest
Land boundaries: 10,744 kilometers (6,672 miles) total boundary length; Angola 2,511 kilometers (1,559 miles); Burundi 233 kilometers (145 miles); Central African Republic 1,577 kilometers (979 miles); Republic of the Congo 2,410 kilometers (1,497 miles); Rwanda 217 kilometers (135 miles); Sudan 624 kilometers (390 miles); Tanzania 473 kilometers (295 miles); Uganda 765 kilometers (459 miles); Zambia 1,930 kilometers (1,199 miles)
Coastline: 37 kilometers (23 miles)
Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers ( 12 nautical miles )
1 LOCATION AND SIZE
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DROC, formerly known as Zaire) is located along the equator in Central Africa, north of Angola and Zambia. It shares borders with nine countries. With a total area of about 2,345,410 square kilometers (905,562 square miles), it is the third-largest country in Africa and is slightly less than one-fourth the size of the United States. The DROC is divided into ten provinces.
2 TERRITORIES AND DEPENDENCIES
DROC has no outside territories or dependencies.
The climate in the DROC is basically tropical, with temperatures that vary widely depending on elevation and latitude. In the equator region, it is hot and very humid and the temperature does not go below 20°C (68°F). It is cooler and less humid in the southern highlands and cooler and wetter in the eastern highlands and mountains. The average temperature in the central region is 25°C (77°F), while on the coastline the temperature is generally around 26°C (79°F).
There are two rainy seasons and two dry seasons in each year. North of the equator, the rainy seasons are from April to June and September to October, and the dry seasons are from November to March and July to August. South of the equator, the cycle is reversed. Annual rainfall is about 130-200 centimeters (51-79 inches).
4 TOPOGRAPHIC REGIONS
Nearly the entire country is within a region known as the Congo River Basin, which is further divided into four major geographic regions within the DROC. The core region is the Central Congo Basin, a depression often referred to as the cuvette. The northern uplands and southern uplands are high plains on either side of the cuvette, and along the eastern border there are high mountains associated with the Great Rift Valley (or East African Rift).
5 OCEANS AND SEAS
Seacoast and Undersea Features
The DROC claims a very narrow border of coastline (37 kilometers/23 miles) along the Atlantic Ocean, north of the Congo River.
Sea Inlets and Straits
DROC has no major sea inlets or straits.
Islands and Archipelagos
There are no coastal islands, but countless alluvial islands are found throughout the river systems and interspersed along the Congo River between Kisangani and Mbandaka. Idjwi Island is located on Lake Kivu.
There are no significant geographic features on DROC's narrow coastline.
6 INLAND LAKES
The DROC is home to several of the Great Lakes of Africa, which fill basins in the western branch of the Great Rift Valley along the eastern border of the country. The northernmost of these Great Lakes is Lake Albert, which has more fish than any other lake in Africa. To the south lies Lake Edward, which drains its waters into Lake Albert through the Semliki River. These two lakes belong to the Nile Basin.
Farther south, Lake Kivu, the highest of the Great Lakes, is situated at an altitude of 1,470 meters (4,851 feet) and is connected to Lake Tanganyika by the Ruzizi River. Lake Tanganyika is the largest lake in the DROC. It covers an area that is 650 kilometers (408 miles) long and 80 kilometers (50 miles) wide and is the second-deepest lake in the world. It drains its waters into the Congo River through the Lukuga River. The southernmost lake of the Great Lakes chain (except for Lake Malawi, which is outside of the DROC) is Lake Mweru. Lake Mweru straddles the border between DROC and Zambia and is drained by the Luvua River, a tributary of the Lualaba and Congo Rivers.
Other DROC lakes include Tumba and Mai-Ndombe in the western part of the country. Their shores are generally swampy. Another swampy depression surrounds Lake Upemba on the southeastern plateau of the same name. Malebo Pool is a lake formed by the widening of the Congo River. It is located in the Lower Congo River region, and the capitals of both the DROC and the Republic of Congo are located on its shores.
7 RIVERS AND WATERFALLS
The Congo River is the longest river in the DROC, the second-longest river in Africa, and the sixth-longest river in the world, with a total length of about 4,344 kilometers (2,700 miles). The Congo River begins with its main tributary, the Lualaba River, close to the Zambian border. It then flows north and is navigable between Bukama to Kongolo. Along this stretch it receives many tributaries. The most important of these are the Luvua and Luapula Rivers, which drain waters from Lakes Bangwelo (in Zambia) and Mweru, and the Lukuga River, which drains waters from Lakes Tanganyika and Kivu.
Past Kongolo there are waterfalls which block river traffic. North of this, the river is again navigable between Kasongo and Kibomho, has another waterfall, and is once again navigable between Kindu and Ubundu. Beyond that point, navigation is stopped by the Boyoma (Stanley) Falls, located directly upstream of Kisangani. After Kisangani, the river is considered to be the Congo River proper, and is known as the Upper Congo (Haut-Congo). It also changes direction, gradually curving west and then southwest.
The Congo River and its tributaries have historically provided vital transportation routes for commercial trade. The waterway is also an important source of hydroelectric power.
There are no desert regions in the DROC.
9 FLAT AND ROLLING TERRAIN
Only about 7 percent of the land in DROC is considered to be permanent pasture.
The largest region of the DROC is the Central Congo Basin, a depression often referred to as the cuvette (which means "saucer" or "shallow bowl"). It has an area of roughly 800,000 square kilometers (312,000 square miles) and covers about a third of the country's territory. The DROC's portion of the equatorial rain-forest is located in this region. A substantial proportion of the forest within the cuvette is swamp, and still more of it consists of a mixture of marshy and firm land grasslands.
The Great Rift Valley is a lengthy depression that stretches from north to south across most of eastern Africa and into Asia. It is the result of volcanic and tectonic activity along the East African Rift. In the DROC, Lakes Albert, Edward, Kivu, and Tanganyika occupy most of the bottom of this valley. On either side of the valley are mountain ranges.
10 MOUNTAINS AND VOLCANOES
There are many mountain ranges comprising the chain that borders the Great Rift Valley in the DROC. In the north are the Blue Mountains around Lake Albert. They reach heights of up to 2,000 meters (6,600 feet) and separate the Congo and Nile River basins.
The Ruwenzori Mountains between Lakes Albert and Edward are the highest mountain range in the country and include Albert Peak (5,100 meters/16,830 feet) and Margherita Peak (5,110 meters/16,765 feet). Margherita, the highest point in the DROC, is perpetually covered by snow despite being located practically on the equator.
To the south are the Ngoma Mountains, which extend to the Lukuga River. Their highest point is at Sambrini Peak (2,250 meters/7,425 feet). The Mitumba Mountains, with heights of up to 2,200 meters (7,260 feet), border Lake Tanganyika in the extreme southeast.
On the far side of the country, near the Atlantic shore, are the Mayumbe Mountains, part of the Crystal Mountain range. These are old mountains, strongly attacked by erosion, that now resemble a hilly plateau.
The Virunga Mountains, between Lake Kivu and Lake Edward, consist of a series of volcanoes, including the active volcanoes of Karisimbi, Nyamulagira, and Nyiragongo. Nyiragongo is about 3,465 meters (11,365 feet) high and has erupted about thirty-five times since 1882, making it one of Africa's most active volcanoes. Its most recent eruption began January 17, 2002, with a lava flow that filled the streets of the city of Goma with pumice several feet thick. Other volcanoes such as Mikeno, Visoke, and Sabinio are now dormant.
11 CANYONS AND CAVES
There are no other significant canyons or caves in the DROC.
12 PLATEAUS AND MONOLITHS
Most of the DROC could be considered to be a low plateau, dropping in elevation only as it nears the Atlantic Ocean, and rising to mountains in the east. The southeastern part of the country was once all mountainous, but the effect of erosion has leveled much of these mountains. The result is Upemba, a hilly plateau with an altitude greater than 1,500 meters (4,950 feet).
13 MAN-MADE FEATURES
The Congo River supplies massive amounts of water that is harnessed by dams, such as the Inga and Mobayi-Bongo Dams, to be converted to hydroelectric power. Dams help generate nearly all of the electricity in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
DID YOU KNOW?
On January 17, 2002, lava from Nyiragongo flowed on the eastern and southern flanks of the volcano at a rate of 1.2 to 1.8 kilometers/hour (0.7 to 1 mile/hour) toward Goma. As lava several feet thick flowed down city streets, four hundred thousand people were evacuated for three days and fourteen villages were damaged by the lava flows.
14 FURTHER READING
Bobb, F. Scott. Historical Dictionary of Democratic Republic of the Congo (Zaire) . Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 1999.
Henry-Biabaud, Chantal. Living in the Heart of Africa. Trans. Vicki Bogard. Ossining, NY: Young Discovery Library, 1991.
Simkin, T., and L. Siebert. Volcanoes of the World . Tucson, AZ: Geoscience Press, 1994.
Caputo, Robert. "Lifeline for a Nation–Zaire River." National Geographic , November 1991: 5-35.
Volcano World. http://volcano.und.nodak.edu/ (accessed May 3, 2003).