#The "Congo" myth
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.
Diversity and contrasts
The DRC presents diverse and varied universes, supported by the incredible cultural and natural richness that makes up this country, unique in many ways. These are countless assets that are as unsuspected as they are attractive, making it a destination with enormous potential (ecotourism in particular). Its cultural and human heritage, first of all, is incredibly rich with a mosaic of more than 450 ethnic groups and almost as many languages, practices, customs and traditions, most of which still deserve to be studied and valued in artistic, cultural and anthropological terms.As for its rich ecosystem, it presents a variety of landscapes of exceptional beauty (savannah, deep forests, mountains, mangroves, rivers and streams), itself shaped by the climatic diversity at work in Congo. As well as a unique fauna with many endemic species in the country including several emblematic specimens including okapi, bonobo, mountain gorilla, lowland gorilla, Congolese peacock and until recently the white rhinoceros. This formidable reservoir of fauna and flora is found in the eight national parks and 63 reserves and natural areas, several of which are on the World Heritage List of Humanity (in danger).
Beyond the endless list of immense riches and resources, there is one, unquantifiable and of equal if not greater importance, that makes this particular destination so endearing: the warmth of life of this Congolese population. Congo is indeed known for its tradition of welcoming people, with many foreign communities having always stayed on its soil, sometimes even for generations... Whether they are European communities resulting from colonization, or other African communities, or even, like the current world, new nationalities like the Chinese. In Congo, visitors are always welcome and treated as they should be, in accordance with the resources available and faithful to the tradition of hospitality, in the city and in the deep bush.Unlike many other (tourist) countries, here the authentic is within reach: it's easy to establish relationships with the locals, have a beer or a goat skewer and discuss everything, and even be invited to the family table at the end of the day. An experience that is often immersive, for those who know how to make themselves available, respectful and open to exchange, and that has a lasting impact, revealing all the magic of this living culture and destination, and resolutely open to the other. This certainly goes against the cliché of dangerous and inhospitable countries (not to mention conflict zones, most often linked to policies of aggression by external countries, it should be recalled...).
Opening to tourism
It can be seen that the DRC is slowly but surely opening up to tourism. Going back to those splendid colonial and Zairian periods when the country was optimized in this sense, attracting many visitors who came to gorge themselves with all these beauties and treasures present in a single country... Certainly the road to reconstruction is still long, and full of pitfalls (security climate!). But mentalities are changing, many infrastructures are emerging, and a certain "customer-oriented" (tourist) spirit is at work, especially in Kinshasa and in the major cities. Many projects are underway throughout the country, most often taking advantage of the incredible beauty of the landscapes and natural resources (fauna, river, lakes, forest...). Whether through agrotourism, industrial, river, historical, cultural or industrial tourism... Almost all these sectors, if properly developed, would potentially support the development of sustainable and responsible ecotourism. National parks in particular alone allow the development of a vision tourism (safaris), which is very promising economically, and an adventure tourism (trekking, mountaineering, water sports, etc.). It remains for the Congolese to take these initiatives and provide the necessary resources to deploy these large-scale projects and optimize their country's immense latency resources... So that we can really witness the "awakening of the giant" and so that the DRC can take its rightful place on the world stage, given all its potential.
© Dominique Auzias & Jean-Paul Labourdette