Livingstone Falls

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Not to be confused with Victoria Falls in Livingstone, Zambia.
The beginning of the Livingstone Falls near Kinshasa
A cataract of Inga Falls, the most spectacular part of the rapids
Livingstone Falls as seen by Stanley.
Livingstone falls map

Livingstone Falls (French, Chutes Livingstone) — named for the explorer David Livingstone — are a succession of enormous rapids on the lower course of the Congo River in west equatorial Africa, downstream from Malebo Pool in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.[1]:Vol.Two,255


Livingstone Falls consist of a series of rapids dropping 1100 feet in 155 miles (340 metres in 249 km).[1]:261 They end in Matadi in Bas-Congo. The Congo River has the second largest flow rate in the world after the Amazon, which has no falls or rapids (except near its sources). The lowest rapids of Livingstone Falls, therefore, are the world's largest waterfall in terms of flow rate — provided one accepts these rapids as being a waterfall. An interesting aspect of the 220-mile (350 km) long Livingstone Falls is the width of the channel. The channel is very narrow: in several stretches the channel width is less than 300 metres and for the majority of the length the channel is less than 800 metres wide. This is an extraordinarily narrow channel since the river flow rate typically exceeds 42,000 cubic metres per second (1,500,000 cu ft/s).


Although he explored the upper Congo, Livingstone never travelled to this part of the river and the Falls were named in his honour by Henry Morton Stanley. Stanley described the falls as "..the wildest stretch of river that I have ever seen. Take a strip of sea blown over by a hurricane, four miles in length and half a mile in breadth, and a pretty accurate conception of its leaping waves may be obtained. Some of the troughs were 100 yards in length, and from one to the other the mad river plunged. There was first a rush down into the bottom of an immense trough, and then, by its sheer force, the enormous volume would lift itself upward steeply until, gathering itself into a ridge, it sudddenly hurled itself 20 or 30 feet straight upward, before rolling down into another trough. If I looked up or down along this angry scene, every interval of 50 or 100 yards of it was marked by wave-towers - their collapse into foam and spray, the mad clash of watery hills, bounding mounds and heaving billows, while the base of either bank, consisting of a long line of piled boulders of massive size, was buried in the tempestuous surf. The roar was tremendous and deafening. I can only compare it to the thunder of an express train through a rock tunnel."[1]:261-262

Since the falls, which start with the Yellala Falls just above Matadi, are a barrier to navigation on the lower part of the river, the Matadi-Kinshasa Railway was constructed to by-pass them.

On an expedition known as 'Africa-Raft', Philippe de Dieuleveult and six members of his party disappeared during a descent of these rapids around Inga Falls on August 6, 1985.

"Grand Inga" proposed hydroelectric project[edit]

Main article: Grand Inga

Inga Falls on Congo River is a group of rapids (or cataracts) in the latter portion of the Livingstone Falls. The Congo falls ~96 metres within this set of cataracts. The mean annual flow rate of the Congo River at Inga Falls is ~42,000 cubic metres per second. Given this flow rate and the 96 metre fall, it is possible to calculate that the Inga Falls alone has a potential to generate ~39.6 GW of mechanical energy and nearly as much electrical energy.

In 2014, Inga Falls was the site of two large hydro-electric power plants and is being considered for a much larger hydro-electric power generating station known as Grand Inga. The Grand Inga project, if completed, would be the largest hydro-electric power generating facility on Earth. The current project scope calls for the use of a flow rate ~26,400 cubic metres per second at a net head of ~150 metres; this is equivalent to a generating capacity of ~38.9 GW. This hydro-electric generator would be more than double the current world record holder, which is the Three Gorges facility on the Yangtze River in China.


  1. ^ a b c Stanley, H.M., 1899, Through the Dark Continent, London: G. Newnes, Vol. One ISBN 0486256677, Vol. Two ISBN 0486256685

Coordinates: 4°19′19″S 15°12′28″E / 4.32194°S 15.20778°E / -4.32194; 15.20778