Zaire Table of Contents
Figure 7. Topography and Drainage
Several major geographic regions may be defined in terms of terrain and patterns of natural vegetation, namely the central Congo Basin, the uplands north and south of the basin, and the eastern highlands (see fig. 7).
The country's core region is the central Congo Basin. Having an average elevation of about forty-four meters, it measures roughly 800,000 square kilometers, constituting about a third of Zaire's territory. Much of the forest within the basin is swamp, and still more of it consists of a mixture of marshes and firm land.
North and south of the basin lie higher plains and, occasionally, hills covered with varying mixtures of savanna grasses and woodlands. The southern uplands region, like the basin, constitutes about a third of Zaire's territory. The area slopes from south to north, starting at about 1,000 meters near the Angolan border and falling to about 500 meters near the basin. Vegetation cover in the southern uplands territory is more varied than that of the northern uplands. In some areas, woodland is dominant; in others, savanna grasses predominate. South of the basin, along the streams flowing into the Kasai River are extensive gallery forests. In the far southeast, most of Shaba Region (formerly Katanga Province) is characterized by somewhat higher plateaus and low mountains. The westernmost section of Zaire, a partly forested panhandle reaching the Atlantic Ocean, is an extension of the southern uplands that drops sharply to a very narrow shore about forty kilometers long.
In the much narrower northern uplands, the cover is largely savanna, and woodlands are rarer. The average elevation of this region is about 600 meters, but it rises as high as 900 meters where it meets the western edge of the eastern highlands.
The eastern highlands region is the highest and most rugged portion of the country. It extends for more than 1,500 kilometers from above Lake Albert to the southern tip of Shaba below Lubumbashi (formerly …lisabethville) and varies in width from eighty to 560 kilometers. Its hills and mountains range in altitude from about 1,000 meters to more than 5,000 meters. The western arm of the Great Rift Valley forms a natural eastern boundary to this region. The eastern border of Zaire extends through the valley and its system of lakes, which are separated from each other by plains situated between high mountain ranges.
In this region, changes in elevation bring marked changes in vegetation, which ranges from montane savanna to heavy montane forest. The Massif du Ruwenzori (Ruwenzori Mountains or Mountains of the Moon) between lakes Albert and Edward constitutes the highest range in Africa. The height and location of these mountains on the equator make for a varied and spectacular flora. Together with the Virunga Mountains north of Lac Kivu, site of several active volcanos, and together with the game park situated between them, they constitute Zaire's most important potential touristic resource.
Data as of December 1993