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December 10, 2009


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I take it that the drop is too large for a series of canals and locks to be really feasible? Like the Welland Canal for example, between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario.


Couldn't Kongo swap some land inland to Angola for more land at the mouth of the river?

Or, make som type of arrangement whereby goods can be moved in through a freeport or some other means?

Doug M.

Christine, canals and locks are perfectly possible. Just expensive -- it's a big river.

There have been schemes to fix the river since colonial times: some combination of a hydroelectric dam, locks, and sluiceways. All very doable with mid-20th century technology. But it would be a Hoover Dam - St. Lawrence Seaway scale project, costing billions or tens of billions of dollars.

Congo's entire state budget for 2010 -- defense, roads, health care, everything -- is about $5.5 billion, of which nearly half is coming from foreign aid. So, not soon.

Doug M.

Doug M.

Oskari, more land at the mouth of the river wouldn't help move stuff up the river.

Freeport: landlocked Mali actually has an arrangement like this with Senegal. Mali basically has its own port-within-a-port at Dakar, and special rights on the road/rail corridor going inland.

Unfortunately, Congo has no neighbor that it can do this with. If you look at the map, you see there are no good ports anywhere nearby. The closest is Luanda, and that's way down in Angola, with no road or rail connections to Congo.

(BTW, it is Congo, or the Democratic Republic of Congo if you want to distinguish it from Congo-Brazzaville. That's how the Congolese themselves spell it. Kongo is the medieval kingdom.)

Doug M.


Doug, you don't need to use the entire river for a canal/lock system. Consider the Welland Canal which runs parallel to the Niagara River. I agree, even in that case, not cheap, but not the huge project that it would be to use the entire river.

Doug M.

Christine, I don't think I said "use the entire river". But in any event, the rapids stretch over about 50 miles / 80 km. So even a simple ship canal would have to be about twice as long as the Welland Canal.

It would also have to cover about twice the vertical distance. The Welland moves ships 99 meters up and down; Kinshasa, at the top of the rapids, is 224 meters above sea level.

Googling, I see the Welland took 19 years to build (with a break of a couple of years for World War One) and cost $135 million. That would be roughly equivalent to a couple of billion today. Double that for twice the length, then double it again for twice the elevation, and we're around $8 billion in very round numbers.

Again, it's totally doable from an engineering POV. Just, expensive.

Doug M.


Sorry, I should know better than to get into an argument with you! :) You're right. I read the "Just expensive -- it's a big river." wrong.

Does it really matter how big the river is, as long as there is enough water for a canal/lock system?

And I hadn't looked up the numbers. Umm, yes, far more than is likely to be spent in the Congo on a project like that.

Blue skying, if they DID do something like that, would there be any reasonable expectation of payoff of expense? Would it allow for that much more commerce?

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