The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a large, beautiful, mineral-rich country with wildlife that can’t be found anywhere else on Earth. The country is rich, but its people are among the world’s poorest. For centuries its resources have been plundered by outsiders and the country has been ravaged by war and ebola.
The Congo has always been a place of fear and mystery at the point where the Congo River and the Atlantic Ocean meet. In 1482, Portuguese sailors noticed a surge of brown water and realized that it must have been coming from a river. Alastair Leithead and his team travel 3,000 miles up this same river to discover its history, its secrets, and its future.
When the Portuguese arrived on the coasts they found a well organized society called The Kingdom of the Congo. The people were open to the Portuguese offers of trade. But then they reached the rapids, which made their journey impassable by boat and ended up making a port called Boma the European center of trade. They traded guns and goods for ivory and slaves. A few odd monuments across the town reflect that painful past.
The rapids remain impassable today but they provide a great opportunity for hydroelectric power because there are few places on the planet where a river runs as fast and as hard as the Congo river does as it approaches the sea. A hydrolectric plant in that location would provide electricity for the entire continent of Africa. That is how rich the Congo could be if the resources were put to good use. Sadly, the story of The Congo is often one of lost or squandered opportunity.
The Congo is lacking in infrastructure but it doesn’t mean that people are stranded. Many travel for miles by boat, train or barge. The barges are like small villages and they make many stops along the way on the the powerful river, which is like the country’s superhighway.
In some ways The Congo seems to have gone backwards and become stuck in time. Within a few hours of travel, once can come across people living a very traditional way of life. They live in mud huts with thatched roofs and they hunt in the forest with bows and arrows.
The history of The Congo highlights the wickedness of colonialism.