With railroads to bypass major falls (Matadi-Kinshasa; Kisangani-Ubundu; Kindu-Kongolo), the Congo River and its tributaries form a system of navigable waterways c.9,000 mi (14,480 km) long, along which move much of central Africa's copper, palm-oil kernels, cotton, sugar, and coffee. The chief ocean port is Matadi, with its associated oil port, Ango Ango; the chief river ports are Kinshasa and Kisangani. River steamers operate throughout the year between Kinshasa and Kisangani. The Congo River is Africa's largest potential source of hydroelectric power; the most valuable site is along Livingstone Falls, where the first phase of the Inga Power Project has been completed. In spite of government initiatives, hydroelectric power is underdeveloped.
The Congo river basin encompasses the world's second largest contiguous rain forest, surpassed only by that of the Amazon. The region is biologically diverse, and a huge watershed. The forest is threatened by illegal logging and the poaching of large mammals (especially for the bushmeat trade), but two summits (1999, 2005) that brought together the nations of the basin have committed its participants to forest conservation and have led to the establishment of wildlife preserves.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.