Culture & LifeEditors Choice

Supertrees: Meet Congo’s caretaker of the forest

YANGAMBI RESEARCH STATION, Democratic Republic of Congo — A pair of 70 horsepower outboard motors cut the river journey westward, from the city of Kisangani, to just two hours. By the more common motorized barges — floating cities in their own right, bursting with commerce and chaos — the journey is four times longer. The even more common canoes, poled and paddled by hand, stretch the trip into days. The alternative is a rutted dirt road so extravagantly potholed and seasonally impassable that it is mostly, and sensibly, avoided.

Congolese infrastructure is scant and parlous, a daily losing battle against neglect and nature. But even so, the Yangambi Research Station in the heart of the world’s second-largest rainforest is remote from everywhere.

Not far downriver from Kisangani’s city limits, concrete and brick houses give way to thatched huts and, soon after, to the forest. Soon there is no riverbank at all: trees and a kind of rainforest creeper, called liana, cascade directly into Congo. The forest is an endless undulating green wall, but “green” does no justice to the tropical palette: fern, laurel, lime, moss, teal, emerald, neon.

Kabinda looks up at an Afrormosia tree.
Dieumerci Kibinda, a Congolese botanist, calls Afrormosia “the most beautiful tree.”

When we reach Yangambi, a long, squat three-story brick building set back from the river’s edge, silhouetted against the trees, greets visitors. There are gaping holes in the roof and missing panes in the window frames. Adjacent is an abandoned rubber factory and, next to that, derelict gas storage tanks. Half a century ago, before the Belgian colonialists left, this was a world-leading research center with all those things and more. Today, there is no electricity here, no paved roads, no piped water.

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*The views of the above article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Africa Speaks 4 Africa or its editorial team.

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