Top 10 Longest Rivers In The World

Last updated on April 12th, 2022

9. The Congo – the world’s ninth longest river

The Congo River is not just a famous river in Africa, it is also the one that has reached some mythical status. It is second only to the Nile in terms of length in the African continent but its beauty is as legendary. Here are 15 interesting facts about the Congo River and how it has helped shape the history and culture of many parts of Africa.

1. The Congo River was once known as the Zaire River. The name “Congo” comes from the name of the Bakongo group of ethnic people who lived in the Congo river basin. The term Congo means hunter.

2. The Congo River is the deepest river in the world. Its recorded depth is 220 meters. However, it has sections that are deeper still – so deep in fact, that light fails to penetrate the waters.

3. The river is the world’s second most voluminous waterway, discharging about 1.5 million cu. ft. of water every second.

4. Zambia’s Chambeshi River is generally considered as the Congo River’s source. Its major tributary is the Lualaba River that flows from the southeast.

Congo river on map

5. The Congo River is divided into three regions – the upper, middle, and lower. Upper Congo is composed of rapids and tributaries while middle Congo is generally made up of a steady stream of water. Lower Congo is the most dangerous section in that it is made up mostly of falls and gorges.

6. At the end section of Middle Congo, the waters of the river slow down so much that it doesn’t seem to flow. This section goes on for about 20 miles and is known as the Malebo (Stanley) Pool.

7. The Congo River flows close to the equator. This is why the area surrounding it is almost always hot with high levels of humidity. Because of its course, the waters of the river crosses the equator twice.

8. The flow of its waters is generally stable because the river’s route is located in the rain zone.

View from the River Congo between Kinshasa and Lukolela, Democratic Republic of Congo
View from the River Congo between Kinshasa and Lukolela, Democratic Republic of Congo. Top 10 longest rivers in the world. Image credit – CIFOR

9. The course of the Congo River begins calm and smooth in Lake Tanganyika. When it enters a rapid canyon that is 75 miles long, the waters begin to flow rapidly. The rapids are so turbulent that they earned the nickname, “Gates of Hell”.

10. The Congo River empties into the Atlantic Ocean. Before it joins the ocean, it passes through different landscapes, including floodplains, swamps, wetlands, lakes, and rapids.

11. The Congo River was “discovered” by Diogo Cam, a Portuguese explorer, in 1482. He marked the river estuary on what is now known as Shark Point using a stone pillar called a Padrao. Fragments of the pillar still exist to this day.

12. The Europeans called the river “Zaire”, which is a corruption of an African term known variously as nzari, nzaddi, and nzali, which means “river”. The name was changed later in the 18th century to Rio Congo.

13. The Congo River powers 40 hydropower projects. Unfortunately, even the largest of these projects do not produce enough power to capacity because of lack of funds for repairs and insufficient maintenance.

14. The Congo River is an inspiration for many poets and writers. Novelist Joseph Conrad called it the “heart of darkness”. Thanks to the largely unexplored rainforest at the time, the area surrounding the Congo River was believed to be home to pygmies, mythical beasts, and even cannibals.

15. According to geologists, the Congo River was likely linked with the Amazon River once upon a time before the continents broke apart.

Congo River – quick facts and statistics

NameThe Congo
Formerly known asZaire River
SourceLualaba River (Boyoma Falls)
MouthAtlantic Ocean
Length4,700 km (2,922 miles)
Widthup to 13 km
Depth220 m (world's deepest recorded river)
Basin size4,014,500 square km (1,550,000 sq mi)
Direction of flowInitially east to west
and then
north to south
CountriesThe Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, western Zambia, northern Angola, and parts of Cameroon and Tanzania.
Major citiesNovosobirsk, Barnaul, Mogochin, and Akademgorodok.
Did you know?1. The river is the largest source of hydroelectric power in Africa.

2. The Congo Basin is the only place to shelter all three subspecies of gorilla: the lowland gorilla, the endemic eastern lowland gorilla and the endangered mountain gorilla.

3. The Congo is the second largest river in the world by discharge volume.

4. The Congo rainforest is known for its high levels of biodiversity, including more than 600 tree species and 10,000 animal species.
Some useful resources1.

Table last updatedDecember 6, 2021

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