The Congo Basin has always fascinated and nourished many myths, fantasies and dreams of exploration from the European continent. And this was well before its official discovery in the 15th century. From the first century, Ptolemy already located approximately the Mountains of the Moon (Ruwenzori Mountains) and the Great Lakes on his famous world map... The Pygmies and okapis (!) were already known to the old world and fuelled many stories, based on the writings of Pliny the Elder and Aristotle and hieroglyphics dating back 2,500 years... This pre-existing fascination for this territory will give rise to many expeditions, widely followed and mediated at the time. This led to the creation of the Independent State of Congo at the end of the 19th century, the personal property of a monarch who also became mythical: Leopold II.But other legendary historical figures and episodes have fuelled the fascination with Congo: the meeting in 1871 of the explorer Stanley and the missing Doctor Livingstone ("Dr Livingstone, I presume?"); the relief expedition to Emin Pasha still led by Stanley... Not to mention the Arab slave campaigns of the 19th century which, although very real, did not less fuel many fantasies and contributed to the construction of the "Congo myth". All that was missing was a certain Joseph Conrad with his edifying "Heart of Darkness" (1902), the evocation of the missionaries who had left to evangelize the heart of Africa, and other epic colonial tales (building the railway, anti-slavery campaigns, capturing and exhibiting Pygmies, cannibalism legends or man-eating lions, etc.), to add to the collective imagination on this truly incredible land.
DR Congo collects superlatives on different levels, attesting to its exceptional situation and character. This makes it a unique destination in Africa, although still largely unknown. First of all, by the immensity of its territory, which places it in 11th place in the world: with 2,345,409 km2 (four times the size of France), only Algeria surpasses the DRC on the African continent. The most populous country in Central Africa, the DRC is crossed by two time zones. The capital Kinshasa (eleven million inhabitants) - itself set to become Africa's leading city by 2020 - occupies the same time zone as Brussels and Paris and is more than 500 km south of the equator. It crosses the country, notably in Mbandaka (Ecuador) and Butembo (North Kivu). Near the equator, there is the 3rd highest peak in Africa covered with eternal snow and an unpublished equatorial alpine flora: the Pic Marguerite of the Ruwenzori massif, which rises to 5,119 metres.Another impressive feature is the DRC's hydrographic network, which covers approximately 77,810 km2 and is made up of many lakes and rivers. Including the famous Great Lakes, which also have African and world records. And of course the majestic Congo River, the country's true backbone, and 2nd largest river in the world behind the Amazon for its flow, and 5th by its length (4,700 km). But the DR Congo is also this "geological scandal", with incomparable mineral contents among the most precious in the world (coltan, diamond, gold, copper, tin...). The DRC can also be proud to have 47% of the tropical forest massif of the African continent, the 2nd in the world after the Amazon and 6% of the world's tropical reserves. The United Nations made no mistake in classifying five of the country's eight national parks as World Heritage Sites. That is to say, the immoderation present in a single country and the incredible wealth it contains. Hence also the enormous interest it arouses and the challenges it raises.
© Dominique Auzias & Jean-Paul Labourdette