Thursday, December 8, 2022

Democratic Republic of Congo Travel Guide - Travel S Helper

Democratic Republic of Congo

travel guide


The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo), often known as DRC, DROC, Congo-Kinshasa, or simply the Congo, is a nation in Central Africa. It was known as Zaire from 1971 to 1997, and the Belgian Congo from 1908 to 1960. The DRC is bounded to the north by the Central African Republic and South Sudan; to the east by Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and Tanzania; to the south by Zambia and Angola; to the west by the Republic of the Congo; and to the southwest by the Atlantic Ocean. It is the second-biggest country in Africa in terms of land area, the largest in Sub-Saharan Africa, and the eleventh largest in the globe.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is the most populous officially Francophone country, the fourth most populous nation in Africa, and the eighteenth most populous country in the world, with a population of over 80 million people.

The Congolese Civil Wars, which began in 1996, brought Mobutu Sese Seko’s 32-year reign to an end and destroyed the country. The conflicts eventually encompassed nine African states, several sets of UN forces, and twenty armed factions, and killed 5.4 million people.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is abundant in natural resources, but political insecurity, a lack of infrastructure, deep-seated corruption, and decades of commercial and colonial extraction and exploitation have hampered holistic development. Apart from Kinshasa, the two main cities are Lubumbashi and Mbuji-Mayi, both mining towns. The most important export of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is raw minerals, with China absorbing more than half of the DRC’s exports in 2012. According to the Human Development Index (HDI), DR Congo ranks 176 out of 187 nations in terms of human development in 2013.

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DR Congo - Info Card

Population

108,407,721

Currency

Congolese franc (CDF)

Time zone

UTC+1 to +2 (WAT and CAT)

Area

2,345,409 km2 (905,567 sq mi)

Calling code

+243

Official language

French

DR Congo | Introduction

Only the most seasoned, committed African travelers should visit the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is not a nation for the typical “tourist,” like as backpackers, vacationers, or those looking for luxury safaris or planned cultural activities. The DRC remains one of Africa’s least developed nations, with the world’s second-lowest GDP per capita, behind only Somalia. The DRC’s heart, which is mostly covered in lush tropical rainforest, is similar to the Amazon (the only larger rainforest on Earth). The Congo River is the country’s backbone, transporting barges full of Congolese (and the odd daring Westerner) and merchants sending their huge pirogues loaded with commodities, fruit, and indigenous bushmeat out to sell to those on the barges.

Since colonialism, the nation has had a sad and turbulent history. King Leopold II of Belgium plunders it for rubber and palm oil, which he extracts forcefully from the Congolese via heinous methods such as cutting off hands for “crimes” such as output below quota. The country and its central government disintegrated just weeks after independence in 1960, and its leaders have been far more concerned with quelling rebels and keeping the country together since then than with building infrastructure, improving education and healthcare, or doing anything else to improve the lives of Congolese. The country’s eastern jungles saw the worst fighting since World War II ended from 1994 and 2003, with occasional violence continuing since then. Millions of people have been uprooted in the last 20 years as a result of rebel murder and mass rape, and hundreds of thousands of people remain in refugee camps today, housed by the world’s biggest UN peacekeeping operation (MONUC).

Those who brave the weather to get here will be in for a real treat. In the east, mist-shrouded volcanic summits soar hundreds of meters above the surrounding jungle. Hikers may climb Mount Nyiragongo, which towers above Goma, and camp on the rim above an active lava lake (one of only four in the world!). A limited number of visitors are allowed to travel to gorilla families in the surrounding forests each day—one of our species’ closest living cousins. Every year, a small group of tourists spend weeks floating hundreds of kilometers down the Congo River aboard barges filled with goods and Congolese. Don’t forget to look for masks and other handicrafts at the country’s bustling marketplaces.

Geography

The DRC is enormous. It is almost three and a half times the size of Texas, at 2,345,408 square kilometers (905,567 square miles). It is bigger than the combined regions of Spain, France, Germany, Sweden, and Norway.

The country’s distinguishing characteristic is the world’s second biggest rainforest. Rivers, both big and tiny, weave their way across the nation, and with a limited road network, rivers are still the primary mode of transportation. The Congo River is the world’s third biggest river by discharge, and it even flows into the Atlantic, creating an underwater canyon that stretches 50 miles (80 kilometers) to the continental shelf’s edge! It is also known for being one of the world’s deepest rivers, reaching depths of up to 220 meters (720 ft). The Congo River is home to a high number of endemic species due to its enormous volume of water, depth, and rapids. The Congo River “begins” at Kisangani at Boyoma Falls. The river is known as the Lualaba River above these falls, and its longest tributary flows into Zambia. Before flowing into the Congo River, the Obangui River forms a boundary between the DRC and the CAR/Congo-Brazzaville.

The Albertine Rift, which is a branch of the East African Rift, extends along the DRC’s eastern border. Lakes Tanganyika, Kivu, Edward, and Albert are all under its jurisdiction. The fissure is bordered by a number of extinct volcanoes as well as two active volcanoes. The Rwenzori and Virunga Mountains, which run along Rwanda’s border, are very beautiful, rising from the middle of lush tropical woods and sometimes covered in mist. Several summits rise over 4000 meters (13,000 feet). One of only four continuous lava lakes in the world is found on Mount Nyiragongo.

The only area of the nation not covered with lush woods is the south, which is mainly savannah and grasslands surrounding the Kasai Province.

Climate

With one-third to the north and two-thirds to the south, the nation straddles the Equator. The Congo receives a lot of rain and has the greatest frequency of thunderstorms in the world as a consequence of its tropical position. Annual rainfall may reach 80 inches (2,032 mm) in certain areas, and the region is home to the world’s second biggest rain forest (after that of the Amazon). This huge swath of lush rainforest occupies the majority of the river’s broad, low-lying middle basin, which descends westward into the Atlantic Ocean. This region is bounded on the south and southwest by plateaus that merge into savannahs, on the west by hilly terraces, and on the north by thick grasslands that stretch beyond the Congo River. The far eastern area has high, glaciated mountains.

Ethnic groups

With one-third to the north and two-thirds to the south, the nation straddles the Equator. The Congo receives a lot of rain and has the greatest frequency of thunderstorms in the world as a consequence of its tropical position. Annual rainfall may reach 80 inches (2,032 mm) in certain areas, and the region is home to the world’s second biggest rain forest (after that of the Amazon). This huge swath of lush rainforest occupies the majority of the river’s broad, low-lying middle basin, which descends westward into the Atlantic Ocean. This region is bounded on the south and southwest by plateaus that merge into savannahs, on the west by hilly terraces, and on the north by thick grasslands that stretch beyond the Congo River. The far eastern area has high, glaciated mountains.

Religion

According to a 2010 Pew Research Center estimate, Christianity is the predominant religion in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with approximately 95 percent of the people practicing it, and 80 percent according to the CIA World Factbook and Pew Research Center 2013 statistics. Indigenous beliefs account for 1.8–10% of the population, whereas Islam accounts for 10–12%.

With six archdioceses and 41 dioceses, the nation has approximately 35 million Catholics.

It’s impossible to overstate the Roman Catholic Church’s influence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is the country’s “sole genuinely national institution separate from the state,” according to Schatzberg. Its schools have educated more than 60% of the country’s primary school pupils and more than 40% of secondary school students. The church owns and operates a large network of hospitals, schools, and clinics, as well as a number of diocesan economic businesses such as farms, ranches, stores, and artisan shops.

The Belgians outlawed kimbanguism because it was regarded as a threat to the colonial authority. Kimbanguism, officially “the church of Christ on Earth by the prophet Simon Kimbangu,” currently claims approximately three million adherents, the majority of whom are Bakongo from Bas-Congo and Kinshasa.

The Church of Christ in Congo is a confederation of 62 Protestant groups. It is often referred to as the Protestant Church since it encompasses the majority of Protestants in the DRC. It is one of the biggest Protestant organizations in the world, with over 25 million members.

Islam is the religion of 12% of the population, according to the Pew Forum. Muslims comprise about 10% of the population, according to the CIA World Factbook. Traders/merchants were the ones who brought Islam and primarily propagated it. Sunnis (50 percent), Shias (10 percent), Ahmadis (6 percent), and non-denominational Muslims make up the Congolose Muslim population (14 percent ). In 2013, the Allied Democratic Forces, an Al-Qaeda-linked organization, started carrying out assaults in Congo, killing mainly Christians people.

In 1953, the first Baha’i Faith followers arrived in the nation from Uganda. The first local administrative council was chosen four years later. The National Spiritual Assembly (national administrative council) was elected for the first time in 1970. The religion was outlawed in the 1970s and 1980s owing to misrepresentations by foreign governments, but by the end of the decade, the prohibition had been removed. Plans to construct a national Baha’i House of Worship in the country were revealed in 2012.

Monotheism, animism, vitalism, spirit and ancestor worship, witchcraft, and sorcery are all examples of traditional religions, which vary greatly across ethnic groups. Syncretic cults typically combine aspects of Christianity with ancient beliefs and rituals, and they are not accepted as Christians by mainstream churches. New versions of old beliefs have proliferated, spearheaded by Pentecostal churches influenced by the United States, which have been at the forefront of allegations of witchcraft, especially against youngsters and the elderly. Children suspected of witchcraft are removed from their homes and families, and are often forced to live on the streets, which may result in physical abuse against them. Enfants sorciers (child witches) or enfants dits sorciers are two terms used to describe these children (children accused of witchcraft). Exorcisms are expensive, therefore non-denominational religious groups have sprung up to cash in on this idea. Children have been exposed to often-violent abuse at the hands of self-proclaimed prophets and priests in these exorcisms, which were recently banned.

Economy and infrastructure

The Congolese franc, which is the principal form of money in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is developed and maintained by the Central Bank of the Congo. The World Bank agreed in 2007 to provide up to $1.3 billion in assistance money to the Democratic Republic of Congo over the next three years. Kinshasa is in the process of applying to join the Organization for the Harmonization of African Business Law (OHADA).

The Democratic Republic of Congo is generally regarded as one of the world’s wealthiest nations in terms of natural resources, with undeveloped raw material reserves valued at more than US$24 trillion. Congo contains 70% of the world’s coltan, a third of the world’s cobalt, more than 30% of the world’s diamond deposits, and a tenth of the world’s copper.

Despite its enormous natural riches, the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s economy has been in steep decline since the mid-1980s. In the 1970s and 1980s, minerals accounted for up to 70% of the African country’s export income, and it was especially hard affected when resource prices fell. Mineral revenues accounted for 90% of the DRC’s income in 2005. (Exenberger and Hartmann 2007:10). Due to the country’s problems, its inhabitants are among the poorest on the planet, despite its potential. The Democratic Republic of Congo regularly has the world’s lowest, or almost lowest, nominal GDP per capita. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is also one of the twenty nations with the lowest Corruption Perception Index scores.

Visa & Passport Requirements for DR Congo

Burundians, Rwandans, and Zimbabweans may visit the DRC without a visa for up to 90 days. Kenyans, Mauritiusans, and Tanzanians may get a visa on arrival that is only valid for 7 days. Everyone else who wishes to visit the Congo for any reason will need a visa. The Visa Requirements may be found on the Interior Ministry’s website (in French). Getting a visa, like other government services, isn’t simple and may be a tangle of red tape, with various authorities giving you different things in different parts of the nation and at different embassies/consulates across the globe. Then there are immigration officers who are attempting to extort additional money from you for their personal benefit. The criteria listed below seem to be in effect as of June 2012, but you may hear tales to the contrary.

If travelling by plane (Kinshasa or Lubumbashi), you must have a visa and evidence of yellow fever vaccine before to arrival. Visas on arrival are not granted, or at least aren’t issued often enough to put you on the next aircraft back. You should also include one passport-sized picture and proof of adequate money to cover your stay, such as a hotel reservation confirmation. Visa requirements and fees differ per embassy, with some needing a letter of invitation, others an onward plane ticket, evidence of money for travel, and yet others asking nothing more than an application. If you intend to obtain a visa in a third country (for example, an American coming by plane from Ethiopia), make sure you secure a visa first before booking your flight, since several African nations’ DRC embassies only grant visas to nationals or residents of that country.

If your native country (like as Australia or New Zealand) does not have a DRC embassy, you may apply for a visa in one of the neighboring nations without too much difficulty. If your passport is from a nation with a DRC embassy, you may be told that you may only apply for a visa in your place of citizenship or residency by embassies in neighboring countries (Uganda, Rwanda, etc.).

The visa procedure seems to be different for everyone entering the DRC from Uganda or Rwanda (particularly at Goma). For US$50–80, you may apply for a visa at the embassies in Kigali, Kampala, or Nairobi, which will take 1–7 days to process. With a yellow fever certificate and a passport-sized picture, you could apply for a transit visa at the border for US$35 (and perhaps a tiny “tip” for the official, which goes away with perseverance) as late as 2011, but this no longer seems to be feasible. Recently (2012), travellers attempting to get a visa at the border were requested for as much as USD500!

The actual cost seems to vary depending on who is working at the post on that particular day, your country, and how persistent you are, with USD100 seeming to be the true price, but many being told USD200–300 as either the “charge” or a fee + “tip” for the authorities (which is what happens in the former situation anyways). These visas are either 7-day “transit” visas or visas that only allow you to visit Goma and the border regions. You definitely shouldn’t go outside of Goma or the national parks anyhow, given the terrible security situation in North/South Kivu. You may obtain a visa for USD50 if you visit Virunga National Park (official site) and apply on-line or via your tour operator. If you can’t obtain a visa in Goma at a fair fee, you may go south and try to cross the lake at Bukavu, then take a boat to Goma (do not go by road…too dangerous). Also, crossing the border to the DRC immigration station means you’ve officially left Uganda or Rwanda, so make sure you have a multiple-entry visa before you leave!

There is a US$50 departure tax that must be paid in cash at the airport when leaving the nation by flight. Traveling by boat from Kinshasa to Brazzaville requires a special departure permission as well as a Congo-Brazzaville visa. Before boarding the boat, you should definitely call your embassy in Kinshasa to save time, money, and worry.

How To Travel To DR Congo

Get In - By plane

Kinshasa-N’djili airport is the primary entry point into the DRC (IATA: FIH). It was built in 1953 and hasn’t had much in the way of improvements, and it isn’t among the continent’s best airports.

South African Airways, Kenyan Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, and Royal Air Maroc all fly several times a week from Johannesburg, Nairobi, Addis Ababa, and Casablanca (via Douala) to Kinshasa-N’djili.

Afriqiyah Airways (Tripoli); Air Mali (Douala, Bamako); Benin Gulf Air (Cotonou, Pointe-Noire); Camair-co (Douala); CAA (Entebe); Ethiopian/ASKY (Brazzaville, Cotonou, Douala, Lagos, Lome); RwandAir (Kigali); TAAG Angola Airways (Luanda); Zambezi Airlines (Zambia); (Lusaka).

Air France and Brussels Airlines have frequent direct flights from Europe. In August 2012, Turkish Airlines will resume operations from Istanbul. You may also book a flight with one of the main African carriers, such as Ethiopian Airlines, South African Airlines, Kenyan Airlines, or Royal Air Maroc.

Lubumbashi (IATA: FBM) is the second largest city in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with an international airport served by Ethiopian Airlines (Lilongwe, Addis Ababa), Kenya Airways (Harare, Nairobi), Korongo (Johannesburg), Precision Air (Dar es Salaam, Lusaka), and South African Express (Dar es Salaam, Lusaka) (Johannesburg).

Other international airports include Goma (IATA: GOM), which has CAA service to Entebbe (Kampala), and Kisangani (IATA: FKI), which has Kenya Airways service from Nairobi.

Get In - By train

From Zambia, there is just one line that enters the DRC. Trains, on the other hand, are infrequent, so unless you have a compelling need to go by train, you should arrive via road or air. Lubumbashi is reached, and the railway continues to Kananga. Trains in the DRC are ancient, and the tracks are in different stages of condition, resulting in numerous derailments. Even when trains do run, which may be weeks between, they are overcrowded and lack almost every amenity (a/c, dining car, sleeping beds, etc.). Many lines in the southeast are no longer operational. Chinese businesses who run mines in the area, on the other hand, are trying to repair and construct new lines, mostly for freight, although passenger service is expected in a few years.

Get In - By car

The roads are too rough or muddy for vehicles without 4 wheel drive to navigate. The Katanga area has good paved highways connecting it to Zambia and Kinshasa, as well as Matadi and Angola. Roads connect Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi to the DRC, but travel beyond the border is difficult and portions of the Eastern DRC remain dangerous. There are boats that span the Congo River from Congo-Brazzaville, and a ferry from the CAR to the isolated, muddy roads of northern DRC may be feasible. Do not put your whole faith in your map. Many people exhibit unfavorable wishful thinking. Rains often wash away roads, or they were never constructed in the first place. Check with a local or a guide to see whether a route is passable.

Get In - By bus

The Bunagana Kisoro Border connects Uganda with Congo. Every day from 07:00 to 13:00, several buses run between Bunagana/Uganda and Goma. The cost of the bus is $5. In either route, a valid visa for both countries is needed. The processes for entering and exiting Bunagana are “simple” and straightforward, and the locals are extremely friendly in helping tourists to pass through without difficulty.

Get In - By boat

Passenger and VIP boats, also known as ‘Carnot Rapide’ in Kinshasa, run every two hours from 08:00 to 15:00 on a daily basis between Brazzaville and Kinshasa. Ferry tickets cost USD15 for passengers and USD25 for VIP passengers (Carnot Rapide). Because they are fresh new boats, the latter is suggested. In either way, a valid visa for both nations is needed, as well as (at least “officially”) a special permission. Both ends of the bureaucracy take some time. Brazzaville’s entry and departure procedures are “simple” and straightforward, and the locals are very helpful in ensuring that you pass through without incident. In Kinshasa, however, these processes are more complex and are dependent on whether you are an independent traveller, someone who is assisting you, or an official government agent.

There are also speed boats to rent, either in a group or individually (price! ), but these are not recommended since they really race across the river along the rapids.

How To Travel Around DR Congo

Get Around - By plane

The only method to travel across the nation fast is by aircraft, due to the vast expanse of the country, the bad condition of the roads, and the unstable security situation. This isn’t to suggest it’s risk-free; Congolese aircraft crash with alarming frequency, with eight documented accidents in 2007. Still, it’s a better option than traveling by land or water.

Compagnie Africain d’Aviation, is the biggest and longest-running carrier, serving Goma, Kananga, Kindu, Kinshasa-N’djili, Kisangani, Lubumbashi, Mbandaka, Mbuji-Maya, and Entebbe (Kampala) in Uganda.

Stellar Airlines was founded in 2011 and now flies one Airbus A320 aircraft between Kinshasa-N’djili, Goma, and Lubumbashi.

FlyCongo, which operates from Kinshasa-N’djili to Gemena, Goma, Kisangani, Lubumbashi, and Mbandaka, was founded in 2012 from the remains of the old national airline Hewa Bora.

Goma, Lubumbashi, Kindu, Kinshasa-N’djili, Kisangani, and Mbuji-Maya are all served by Lignes Aeriennes Congolaises

Air Kasaï flies to Beni, Bunia, Goma, and Lubumbashi from Kinshasa-N’Dolo.

Korongo Airlines started flying from Lubumbashi to Kinshasa-N’djili and Johannesburg in 2012, with services to Kolwezi and Mbuji-Maya scheduled for the summer of that year. Korongo’s maintenance is handled by Brussels Airlines, therefore it’s definitely the safest option.

Congo Express began operations in 2010 and serves only Lubumbashi and Kinshasa.

Wimbi Dira Airways was formerly the second-largest carrier, but as of June 2012, it does not seem to be in operation. Air Tropiques, Filair, Free Airlines, and Malift Air are all based in Kinshasa-N’Dolo airport and may or may not be operational.

Get Around - By truck

Because smaller vehicles can’t handle what’s left of the roads, trucks are used for a lot of transport in the Congo. You should be able to locate a truck driver to transport you anywhere you want to go if you go to a truck park, which is usually near the market. You go with a big group of people on top of the burden. It may be very pleasant if you choose a truck carrying sacks of something soft like peanuts. Beer trucks aren’t one of them. If the journey is going to take many days, comfort is important, particularly if the vehicle is going to be on the road all night. It’s best to sit in the rear since the driver will not stop simply to allow you use the restroom. The price must be negotiated, so first consult the hotel personnel and don’t spend more than double the local rate. The inner seat is sometimes available. The driver may sell you food, although they usually stop at roadside booths every 5-6 hours. Though time is extremely flexible, departure times are usually at the start or conclusion of the day. It is beneficial to make plans the day before. It is preferable to travel as a group. Women should never go alone themselves. Some routes have a lot of bandits, so double-check before you go.

Locals are often harassed for money at army checkpoints. Foreigners are usually left alone, but have a bribe ready just in case. The troops may be inebriated by the middle of the day, so be cautious and courteous. Never lose control of your emotions.

Get Around - By ferry

If security allows, a ferry runs every week or two from Kinshasa to Kisangani on the Congo River. It’s available at a few places along the way, but you’ll have to hurry since it doesn’t wait. A bribe to the ferry manager gets you a four-berth cabin with cafeteria cuisine. The ferry is made up of four or five barges that are linked together around a central ferry and serve as a floating market. Wooden boats piloted by people emerge from the surrounding forest as the ferry travels, carrying local products such as vegetables, pigs, and monkeys, which are exchanged for industrial items such as medicine or clothing. You’re sitting on the roof, listening to beautiful African music. Of course, it’s filthy, uncomfortable, and dangerous. It is, nevertheless, one of the great experiences of the globe.

Get Around - By train

The few trains that still run in the DRC are in bad shape and travel on lines built by the Belgian colonial administration more than half a century ago. The rolling stock is decrepit and ancient. If you get a hard seat, you’re in luck, and even fortunate if your train has a dining car (which probably has limited options that run out halfway through the trip). The vehicle will most likely be congested, with many people sitting on the top. Trains in the DRC run on a sporadic schedule owing to a lack of money or fuel, as well as frequent maintenance and breakdowns. Trains may be two to three weeks apart on several routes. If there’s a silver lining, there haven’t been many fatalities as a result of derailments (probably less than have died in airplane crashes in the DRC). There’s no way to reserve a train trip in advance; just show up at the station, ask the stationmaster when the next train is scheduled to depart, and purchase a ticket on the day of departure. The Chinese government promised to build railways and roadways worth $9 billion in exchange for mining rights, although there is no evidence of this as of 2012.

Destinations in DR Congo

Cities in DR Congo

  • Kinshasa – Capital
  • Bukavu
  • Goma
  • Kananga
  • Kisangani
  • Kidu
  • Lubumbashi
  • Matadi
  • Mbandaka

Regions in DR Congo

Western DRC(Kinshasa)
Kinshasa, the nation’s capital, and the country’s sole port are both located here. Tropical woods and grazing pastures predominate.

Katanga
mostly fertile plateaus for agriculture & ranching, home to much of the country’s recoverable minerals; de facto independent from 1960-1966 during the “Katanga Crisis”

Kasai
significant diamond mining, not much else.

Kivu (Bukavu, Goma, Kahuzi-Biega National Park,Virunga National Park,)
This area, which is affected by Burundi, Rwanda, and Uganda, is renowned for its volcanoes, mountain gorillas, and unfortunately, incomprehensible wars.

Congo Basin (Garamba National Park, Maiko National Park, Okapi Wildlife Reserve, Salonga National Park)
the DRC’s portion and the majority of the world’s second largest jungle after the Amazon.

Regions in DR Congo

UNESCO has designated many parks as World Heritage Sites.

  • Virunga National Park
  • Kahuzi-Biega National Park
  • Garamba National Park
  • Salonga National Park
  • Okapi Wildlife Reserve
  • Maiko National Park

Money & Shopping in DR Congo

City Market, Peloustore, Kin Mart, and Hasson’s are supermarkets in Kinshasa’s Gombe commune that offer food and beverages, detergent, kitchen appliances, and more.

At a reasonable price, SIM cards and prepaid mobile phone recharges are available on the street and at the Ndjili airport.

The Congolese franc, abbreviated FC and often simply with a capital F after the quantity, is the local currency, with the ISO 4217 international currency code CDF. The currency may be changed at any time (but impossible to get rid of outside the country)

CDF50, 100, 200, 500, 1000, 5000, 10,000, and 20,000 banknotes are available in various denominations. The 50, 100, 200, and 500 franc bank notes are presently the only Congolese bank notes in circulation in most locations. They’re almost worthless, with the largest denomination bill (the 500 franc note) being worth around USD0.55.

Dollars in denominations greater than $2 are favored over francs. Coins and one and two dollar notes from the United States, on the other hand, are deemed worthless. You will get change in francs if you pay in dollars. Though francs may sometimes arrive in banknotes that feel like cloth, US dollar bills must be crisp (less than three folds) and printed in or after 2003 to be accepted.

The sign FF is used in certain businesses to represent 1000 francs, and 1 US dollar is believed to be equal to 1000 francs.

In Kinshasa, ATMs for MasterCard and Maestro are now accessible at the “Rawbank” on avenue du 30 Juin (Gombe District) and the Grand Hotel. It spits out dollars in the United States. Visa cards may also be used at ATMs operated by “Procredit” banks in Kinshasa, on Avenue des Aviateurs, or in front of the Grand Hotel (only USD20 and USD100 bills).

Food & Drinks in DR Congo

Moambe is the national dish of Congo. Palm nuts, chicken, fish, peanuts, rice, cassave leaves, bananas, and spicy pepper sauce are among the eight components (moambe is the Lingala word meaning eight).

The water in the area should not be consumed. Bottled water seems to be reasonably priced, however it may be difficult to get at a reasonable price. Soft drinks (known as sucré in Congo) such as Coke, Pepsi, Um Bongo, and Mirinda are widely accessible and safe to consume. Vitalo, a local drink, is fantastic. Traditional beverages such as ginger ale are also popular.

The native beer is made from rice and is very tasty. Bottles of 75 cl are available. The most popular brands are Primus, Skol, and Castel. The local dark beers are Tembo and Doppel.

Local palm wine, an alcoholic beverage made from the sap of the palm tree, is available in rural regions. It is harvested directly from the tree and instantly starts to ferment. Fermentation produces a fragrant wine with up to 4% alcohol content that is moderately intoxicating and sweet after two hours. Some individuals like a harsher, more sour and acidic flavor, which may be achieved by allowing the wine to develop for up to a day.

Keep an eye out for the local gin. Methanol, which is poisonous and may cause blindness, is sometimes mixed in by unscrupulous sellers. Methanol is thought to be a byproduct of normal fermentation by some. This is not the case since normal fermentation cannot produce lethal quantities of methanol.

Traditions & Customs in DR Congo

Without an official permission, which costs US$60 at the time of writing, photography is legally prohibited. Even with this authorization, photography is problematic, since Congolese people get enraged when they are shot without permission or when a kid is photographed. These conflicts may be easily avoided by excessively apologizing and refusing to engage in the debate. A little bribe may be required to “oil the wheels” on occasion.

Under no circumstances may you photograph government facilities or buildings. This includes, but is not limited to, police stations, presidential mansions, border checkpoints, and any location inside the airport. If you are detected and are unable to pay the police, you will be held by them.

All vehicle traffic is required to give a clear way while motorcades pass. These processions should not be photographed.

The national flag is hoisted and lowered at dawn and dusk (about 06:00 and 18:00 everyday). All vehicles and pedestrians are forced to halt for the event, and any who do not are reportedly arrested by security officers.

Language & Phrasebook in DR Congo

The official language of the Democratic Republic of Congo is French. It is widely recognized as the Congo’s lingua franca, enabling communication among the country’s numerous ethnic groups. According to a study published by the OIF in 2014, 33 million Congolese individuals (or 47% of the population) can read and write in French. 67 percent of the people in Kinshasa, the capital, can read and write French, and 68.5 percent can speak and comprehend it.

Only four languages are recognized as national languages: Kituba (“Kikongo ya leta”), Lingala, Tshiluba, and Swahili. Although some individuals use these regional or trade languages as their first language, the majority of the population speaks them after their tribal tongue. Under Belgian colonial control, Lingala was the official language of the colonial army, the “Force Publique,” and it is still the majority language in the armed services today. Since the recent rebellions, a large portion of the troops in the East has been speaking Swahili in areas where it is spoken.

The four native languages were taught and used in elementary schools while the country was a Belgian colony, making it one of the few African countries to have literacy in indigenous languages throughout the European colonial period. Following independence, this tendency was reversed, with French being the only language of instruction at all levels. Since 1975, the four national languages have been reinstated in the first two years of primary school, with French being the only language of instruction from the third year onwards; nevertheless, many primary schools in metropolitan areas utilize French exclusively from the first year onwards.

Culture Of DR Congo

The culture of the Democratic Republic of the Congo reflects the variety of the nation’s hundreds of ethnic groups and their different ways of living across the country, from the mouth of the Congo River on the coast to the more densely inhabited highlands in the far east. Traditional modes of life have changed dramatically since the late 1800s, thanks to colonization, the fight for independence, the Mobutu era’s stagnation, and, most recently, the First and Second Congo Wars. Despite these challenges, the Congo’s traditions and cultures have maintained a lot of their uniqueness. The majority of the country’s 60 million residents live in rural areas. The 30 percent of the population that live in cities has been the most receptive to Western influences.

Music

Congolese culture is well known for its music. Soukous was born when the DRC combined its ethnic musical roots with Cuban rumba and merengue. Other African countries have developed music genres based on Congolese soukous. Some of the African bands perform in Lingala, one of the DRC’s official languages. Under the direction of “le sapeur,” Papa Wemba, the same Congolese soukous has set the tone for a generation of young men who are constantly dressed up in costly brand clothing. They’ve been dubbed the “fourth generation” of Congolese musicians, and they’re mainly from the well-known band Wenge Musica.

Art is very well-known in the Congo. Masks and wooden sculptures are examples of traditional art.

Sports

Football, basketball, and rugby are among the sports popular in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Various venues throughout the nation, notably the Stade Frederic Kibassa Maliba, host the games.

The NBA players from the country are particularly well-known outside. Dikembe Mutombo is regarded as one of the greatest African basketball players of all time. Mutombo is well-known in his native country for his humanitarian efforts. Others who received widespread worldwide notice include Serge Ibaka, Bismack Biyombo, Christian Eyenga, and Emmanuel Mudiay.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo has competed in the Olympic Games since 1968.

History of DR Congo

Hundreds of tiny hunter-gatherer tribes lived on the area that is now the Democratic Republic of Congo for millennia. The thick, tropical forest environment and the wet climate kept the population of the area low, preventing the development of sophisticated civilizations, and as a consequence, just a few relics of ancient communities survive today. The Kongo Kingdom, established in the 13th and 14th centuries, was the first and only major political force. The Kongo Kingdom, which included what is now northern Angola, Cabinda, Congo-Brazzaville, and Bas-Congo, became rich and strong through selling ivory, copperware, textiles, ceramics, and slaves with other African peoples (long before Europeans arrived). In 1483, the Portuguese established contact with the Kongos and were able to convert the monarch to Christianity, as well as the majority of the people.

The Kongo Kingdom was a significant supplier of slaves, who were mainly war prisoners who were sold in line with Kongo legislation. The Kongo Kingdom experienced fierce struggle for succession to the king, conflict with tribes to the east, and a series of wars with the Portuguese after reaching its peak in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. The Portuguese destroyed the Kongo Kingdom in 1665, essentially ending it, but the mainly ceremonial post of King of Kongo lasted until the 1880s, and “Kongo” retained the name of a loose group of tribes in the Congo River delta. Arab traders from Zanzibar used Kivu and the surrounding regions of Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi as a supply of slaves. Beginning in 1884, the Kuba Federation in southern DRC was remote enough to escape slavery and even resist Belgian efforts to contact them. However, by 1900, the Kuba Federation had disintegrated after reaching its pinnacle of strength in the early nineteenth century. Only tiny tribes and short-lived kingdoms flourished elsewhere.

The area that is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo was the last part of Africa to be discovered by Europeans. The Portuguese never made it more than a few hundred kilometers away from the Atlantic coast. Explorers attempted to go up the Congo River dozens of times, but rapids, the thick forest around them, tropical illnesses, and hostile tribes stopped even the best-equipped groups from getting beyond the first cataract 160 kilometers interior. In the mid-1860s, renowned British explorer Dr. Livingstone started investigating the Lualaba River, which he mistakenly believed was linked to the Nile but is really the upper Congo. Livingstone traveled down the Congo River to Stanley Pool, which is now shared by Kinshasa and Brazzaville, after his historic encounter with Henry Morton Stanley in 1867. From there, he crossed the Atlantic on land.

In Belgium, the ardent King Leopold II urgently desired a colony to keep up with other European powers, but the Belgian government continually blocked him (he was a Constitutional monarch). Finally, he decided to create a colony as a regular citizen, and formed a “humanitarian” organization with the goal of claiming the Congo, as well as numerous shell corporations to do so. Meanwhile, Stanley was looking for a backer for his dream project: a railway through the lower cataracts of the Congo River, which would enable steamers to travel the upper 1,000 miles of the Congo and unlock the riches of the “Heart of Africa.” Stanley was entrusted by Leopold with constructing a chain of forts along the upper Congo River and purchasing sovereignty from local chiefs (or killing those unwilling). Several forts were constructed on the Congo’s higher reaches, with laborers and supplies arriving from Zanzibar. Stanley made it overland from the Atlantic to Stanley Pool in 1883. When he went upriver, he found that a strong Zanzibari slaver had learned of his exploits and had seized the region surrounding the Lualaba River, enabling Stanley to construct his final fort right below Stanley Falls (site of modern Kisangani).

Congo Free State

When the European countries partitioned Africa between themselves at the Berlin Conference in 1885, Leopold, the only shareholder, officially acquired sovereignty of the Congo under the cover of the Association internationale du Congo. The Congo Free State was founded, including the whole current DRC. Leopold replaced the AIC with a group of friends and business associates when he no longer needed it, and went out to exploit the Congo’s resources. Any area that did not include a settlement became the property of the Congo, and the country was split into two zones: a private zone (exclusively owned by the Congo) and a Free Trade Zone, where any European could purchase a 10-15 year land lease and retain all of the revenue generated by their land. Fearing that Britain’s Cape Colony might acquire Katanga (on the grounds that Congo had not exercised its right to it), Leopold sent the Stairs Expedition to Katanga. When talks with the native Yeke Kingdom fell down, the Belgians waged a brief battle that culminated with their king’s execution. In 1894, the Zanzibari slavers controlling the Lualaba River fought another brief battle.

Following the conclusion of the conflicts, the Belgians set out to maximize revenues from the areas. Administrators’ wages were cut to the bare minimum, with a rewards system based on high commissions based on district revenues, which was subsequently replaced with a system of commissions at the conclusion of administrators’ employment depending on their superiors’ approval. People who lived in the state-owned “Private Domain” were prohibited from dealing with anybody other than the state and were forced to provide predetermined quantities of rubber and ivory at a low, fixed price. Rubber originated from wild vines in the Congo, which workers slashed, rubbed the liquid rubber on their bodies, then had it scraped off in a painful procedure when it solidified. As rubber quotas increased, the wild vines were destroyed in the process, making them fewer and more difficult to locate.

These quotas were enforced by the government’s Force Publique, which imprisoned, tortured, flogged, even raped and burned disobedient/rebellious communities. However, the FP’s most terrible crime was the taking of hands. Failure to fulfill rubber quotas resulted in death as a penalty. Concerned that troops were misusing their valuable bullets for pleasure hunting, the leadership demanded that soldiers give one hand for each bullet used as evidence that the bullet had been used to kill someone. Entire towns would be encircled, and residents would be killed, with baskets of severed hands being delivered to commanders. Soldiers might be rewarded with bonuses and be allowed to return home earlier if they returned more hands than others, while communities facing unreasonable rubber quotas could attack neighboring villages to gather hands to give to the FP in order to escape the same fate. Rubber prices soared in the 1890s, giving enormous riches to Leopold and the Congolese whites, but low-cost rubber from the Americas and Asia ultimately lowered prices, making the CFS business unprofitable.

Reports of these crimes reached Europe around the turn of the century. Other European countries started examining Leopold’s actions in the Congo Free State after a few years of effectively persuading the public that these allegations were isolated occurrences and slander. The problem was brought to the European public’s attention by notable journalists and writers (such as Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Doyle’s The Crime of the Congo). Embarrassed, Belgium’s government seized the Congo Free State, took over Leopold’s possessions, and renamed the country Belgian Congo (to differentiate from French Congo, now Republic of the Congo). Although no census was ever conducted, historians believe that between 1885 and 1908, half of the Congo’s population, up to 10 million people, were murdered.

Belgian Congo

The Belgian government first made little adjustments, apart from abolishing forced labor and its accompanying penalties. Belgians started building roads and railways throughout the Congo to utilize the country’s enormous mineral riches (most of which remain, with little upkeep over the century, today). Belgians also tried to provide education and health services to Congolese people. During WWII, the Congo remained faithful to the Belgian government in exile in London, sending soldiers to Ethiopia to fight Italians and East Africa to fight Germans. The Congo also became a major source of rubber and ores to the rest of the globe. Uranium mined in the Belgian Congo was sent to the United States and used in the atomic bombs that ended the Pacific War at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The Belgian Congo flourished after WWII, and the 1950s were some of the Congo’s most tranquil years. Belgium’s government made investments in health care, infrastructure, and housing. Segregation almost disappeared when Congolese acquired the freedom to own and sell land. Even in the bigger cities, a tiny middle class emerged. The Belgians failed to create a well-educated cadre of black leaders and public employees. In the bigger cities, the first elections accessible to black voters and candidates were conducted in 1957. By 1959, the Congolese had been encouraged by the success of other African nations’ independence movements, and demands for independence had become more vociferous. Belgium did not want a colonial war to keep control of the Congo, so in January 1960, it invited a group of Congolese political leaders to Brussels for negotiations. With independence in mid-1960, the Belgians planned a 5-year transition plan that included holding parliamentary elections in 1960 and progressively handing over administrative authority to the Congolese. The Congolese delegation rejected the meticulously planned plan, and the Belgians finally agreed to conduct elections in May and give a quick independence on June 30. Patrice Lumumba, a once-incarcerated politician, was chosen Prime Minister and head of the government by regional and national political groups.

On June 30, 1960, the “Republic of the Congo” (the same name as the neighboring French colony Middle Congo) was given independence. After complimenting Monarch Leopold II’s brilliance, the day was characterized by a sneer and verbal attack aimed against the Belgian king. Within weeks of Belgium’s independence, the army revolted against white commanders, and rising violence aimed against the country’s remaining whites drove almost all 80,000 Belgians to leave.

Congo Crisis

The nation rapidly broke apart after gaining independence on June 30, 1960. South Kasai proclaimed independence on 14 June, while Katanga declared independence on 11 July, both under the leadership of Moise Tshombe. Despite not being a puppet of Belgium, Tshombe benefited significantly from Belgian financial and military assistance. Katanga was basically a neocolonial state supported by Belgium and mining corporations based in Belgium. The UN Security Council approved a resolution on July 14 allowing the establishment of a UN peacekeeping force and ordering Belgium to remove its remaining soldiers from the Congo. The Belgian soldiers withdrew, but several commanders remained as hired mercenaries and were instrumental in repelling assaults by the Congolese army (which were poorly-organized and were guilty of mass killings and rape). President Lumumba appealed to the Soviet Union for assistance, getting military assistance as well as 1,000 Soviet advisors. A UN force was sent to maintain the peace, although it accomplished nothing at first. After a hard battle in December 1961, South Kasai was regained. To assist the Katangan army, mercenaries from all across Africa and even Europe came. The UN army tried, but failed, to apprehend and return mercenaries. The UN mission was ultimately altered to forcefully reintegrate Katanga into Congo. UN and Katanga troops battled in numerous battles for almost a year. In December 1962, UN troops encircled and conquered the Katanga city, Elisabethville (Lubumbashi). Tshombe had been vanquished by January 1963, the last of the foreign mercenaries had fled to Angola, and Katanga had been reintegrated into the Congo.

Meanwhile, tensions between Prime Minister Lumumba and President Kasa-Vubu, of rival parties, developed in Leopoldville (Kinshasa). Kasa-Vubu fired Lumumba from his post as Prime Minister in September 1960. Lumumba questioned the constitutionality of this, and Kasa-Vubu was fired as President. Lumumba, who desired a communist society, appealed to the Soviet Union for assistance. On September 14, just two and a half months after the country’s independence, Congolese Army Chief of Staff General Mobutu was forced to interfere, leading to a coup and the detention of Lumumba. Mobutu had obtained funds from the Belgian and US embassies to pay his troops and entice them to remain loyal. Lumumba eluded arrest and fled to Stanleyville (Kisangani), only to be apprehended and brought to Elizabethville (Lubumbashi), where he was publicly assaulted, vanished, and declared dead three weeks later. He was killed in January 1961 in front of Belgian and US authorities (who had both attempted to assassinate him secretly ever since he requested the USSR for help), and the CIA and Belgium were involved in his death.

President Kasa-Vubu stayed in power, while Tshombe of Katanga rose to become Prime Minister. Pierre Mulele, a Lumumbist and Maoist, launched a revolt in 1964, effectively seizing two-thirds of the nation, and sought assistance from Maoist China. The United States and Belgium were engaged once again, this time with a small military force. Mulele escaped to Congo-Brazzaville, but was subsequently persuaded to return to Kinshasa by Mobutu’s offer of amnesty. Mulele was publicly tortured, his eyes gouged out, genitals chopped off, and limbs severed one by one while still alive, and his corpse was thrown in the Congo River when Mobutu broke his word.

Between 1960 and 1965, the whole nation was engulfed in war and revolt, prompting the term “Congo Crisis” to be coined.

Mobutu

General Mobutu, a devout anti-communist, made friends with the United States and Belgium throughout the Cold War, and continued to accept money to purchase the allegiance of his troops. During yet another power struggle between the President and Prime Minister in November 1965, Mobutu staged a coup with the help of the United States and Belgium. He said, “For five years, there would be no more political party activity in the nation,” claiming that “politicians” had taken five years to destroy the country. The nation was put under martial law, Parliament was weakened and eventually dissolved, and independent trade unions were outlawed. Mobutu founded the sole legal political party (until 1990), the Popular Movement of the Revolution (MPR), in 1967, which quickly amalgamated with the government, thus turning the government into a function of the party. By 1970, all challenges to Mobutu’s authority had been removed, and he was the sole candidate in the presidential election, with voters choosing between green for optimism and red for anarchy (Mobutu… green… won with 10,131,699 to 157). Mobutu and his associates created a new constitution, which received 97 percent approval.

In the early 1970s, Mobutu launched the Authenticité campaign, which carried on the nationalist philosophy he had started in his N’Sele Manifesto of 1967. Congolese were forced to acquire African names, males were forced to abandon Western suits in favor of the traditional abacost, and geographical names were altered from colonial to African names under Authenticité. In 1972, Leopoldville was renamed Kinshasa, Elisabethville was renamed Lubumbashi, and Stanleyville was renamed Kisangani. The most remarkable of them was Joseph Mobuto’s transformation into Mobutu Sese Seko Nkuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga (“The all-powerful warrior who, due of his stamina and unyielding desire to conquer, travels from conquest to conquest, leaving fire in his wake.”). All Congolese were proclaimed equal, and hierarchical modes of speech were abolished, with Congolese being obliged to address others as “citizens,” and visiting visitors being greeted with African singing and dance instead of a Western-style 21-gun salute.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Mobutu maintained tight control over the government, changed political and military leaders often to prevent competition, and the implementation of Authenticité principles weakened. Mobutu progressively changed his tactics from torturing and murdering opponents to bribing them. Little thought was given to improve the lives of Congolese people. The single-party state basically served Mobutu and his associates, who became obscenely rich. Mobutu’s indulgences included a runway in his hometown big enough to accommodate Concorde aircraft, which he leased for official visits overseas and shopping excursions in Europe on occasion; when he left power, he was believed to have over US$5 billion in foreign accounts. He also tried to create a cult of personality by plastering his picture all over the place, prohibiting the media from mentioning any other government official by name (only by title), and introducing titles such as “Father of the Nation,” “Saviour of the People,” and “Supreme Combatant.” Despite his Soviet-style single-party state and authoritarian governance, Mobutu was vocally anti-Soviet, and the US and other Western powers continued to provide economic and political support to the Mobutu regime, fearing the rise of Soviet puppet governments in Africa (such as in neighboring Angola).

With the end of the Cold War, international support for Mobutu was replaced by criticism of his authority. Domestic opposition organizations grew quietly, and Congolese citizens started to demonstrate against the government and the collapsing economy. The first multi-party elections were conducted in 1990, however they had little impact. In 1991, unpaid troops started rioting and plundering Kinshasa, forcing most foreigners to flee. Talks with the opposition eventually resulted in the formation of a rival administration, resulting in a deadlock and a dysfunctional government.

First and Second Congo Wars

Mobutu’s reign was clearly coming to an end by the mid-1990s. The international world, no longer dominated by Cold War politics, turned against him. Meanwhile, Zaire’s economy was in disarray (and remains little improved to this day). The central government had a limited grip on the nation, and many resistance organizations sprung up in Eastern Zaire, distant from Kinshasa.

The Kivu area has long been riven by ethnic tensions between different ‘native’ tribes and Tutsis who were imported from Rwanda by Belgians in the late 1800s. Since independence, there have been a number of minor wars that have resulted in thousands of fatalities. However, when the Rwandan genocide occurred in 1994, approximately 1.5 million ethnic Tutsi and Hutu refugees fled to Eastern Zaire. Militant Hutus, the genocide’s primary perpetrators, started targeting Tutsi refugees and the Congolese Tutsi community (the Banyamulenge), as well as forming militias to conduct assaults into Rwanda in the hopes of regaining control. Mobutu not only failed to halt the bloodshed, but he also backed the Hutus in their invasion of Rwanda. The Zairian Parliament ordered all individuals of Rwandan or Burundian origin to return to their homeland in 1995. Meanwhile, in Zaire, the Tutsi-led Rwandan government started training and supporting Tutsi militias.

Battling erupted in August 1996, when Tutsis in the Kivu provinces launched a revolt with the aim of regaining control of North and South Kivu and fighting Hutu militias who were still assaulting them. The revolt quickly gathered local support and a large number of Zairian opposition organizations, which ultimately merged to form the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (AFDL) with the aim of deposing Mobutu. By the end of the year, the rebels had taken control of a significant part of Eastern Zaire, which shielded Rwanda and Uganda from Hutu assaults, thanks to Rwanda and Uganda’s assistance. The Zairian army was weak, and when Angola deployed soldiers in early 1997, the rebels gained confidence and were able to take control of the remainder of the nation and depose Mobutu. By May, the rebels had seized Lubumbashi and were close to Kinshasa. Mobutu fled and AFDL leader Laurent-Desire Kabila marched into Kinshasa after peace negotiations between the two factions broke down. In 1998, Kabila renamed the nation the Democratic Republic of the Congo and tried to restore order by expelling foreign soldiers.

In August 1998, Tutsi troops revolted in Goma, and a new rebel organization sprang up to take control of most of the Eastern DRC. Kabila enlisted the assistance of Hutu militias to put down the new insurgents. Rwanda saw this as an assault on the Tutsi people and sent soldiers over the border to defend them. By the end of the month, the rebels had taken control of most of Eastern DRC, as well as a small region near Kinshasa, including the Inga Dam, which enabled them to cut off power to the capital. When it seemed like Kabila’s government and capital, Kinshasa, might fall to the rebels, Angola, Namibia, and Zimbabwe pledged to support him, and soldiers from Zimbabwe arrived just in time to defend the city from a rebel onslaught; Chad, Libya, and Sudan all deployed forces to assist Kabila. As a stalemate loomed, the foreign countries fighting in the DRC agreed to a truce in January 1999, but combat continued since the rebels were not signatories.

In 1999, the rebels split into many groups based on ethnicity or pro-Uganda/pro-Rwanda sentiment. In July, the six warring nations (DRC, Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, and Uganda) and one rebel group signed a peace pact in which they promised to stop fighting and hunt down and disarm all rebel organizations, particularly those linked to the Rwandan genocide of 1994. As pro-Rwanda and pro-Uganda groups turned on one other, fighting persisted, and the United Nations approved a peacekeeping operation (MONUC) in early 2000.

President Laurent Kabila was shot and killed by a bodyguard in January 2001. Joseph Kabila, his son, took his position. In addition to fighting the DRC and foreign forces, the rebels proceeded to split up into smaller groups and fight their other. Many rebels made money by smuggling diamonds and other “conflict minerals” (such as copper, zinc, and coltan) from the areas they controlled, sometimes using forced and child labor in hazardous circumstances. In 2002, the DRC signed peace accords with Rwanda and Uganda. The major groups signed the Global and All-Inclusive Agreement to cease the war in December 2002. The deal created a Transitional Democratic Republic of Congo administration that would reunify the nation, integrate and disarm rebel groups, and conduct elections for a new constitution and lawmakers in 2005, with Joseph Kabila staying president. The UN peacekeeping force expanded significantly in size, with the mission of disarming rebels, many of whom maintained their own militias even beyond 2003. The provinces of North and South Kivu, Ituri, and northern Katanga are still in conflict.

The First Congo War claimed the lives of between 250,000 and 800,000 people. The Second Congo War resulted in approximately 350,000 violent fatalities (1998-2001) and 2.7-5.4 million “excess deaths” among refugees as a consequence of hunger and illness (1998-2008), making it the world’s worst conflict since World War II ended.

Modern DRC

With significant financial and technical assistance from the international world, Joseph Kabila remained president of a transitional administration until countrywide elections for a new Constitution, Parliament, and President were conducted in 2006. Kabila was victorious (and was re-elected in 2011). While corruption has decreased significantly and politics has been more tolerant of minority political ideas, the country’s situation has not improved much after Mobutu’s departure.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo has the unfortunate distinction of having the world’s lowest or second-lowest GDP per capita (only Somalia is worse), and the economy remains impoverished. China has applied for a number of mining claims, many of which are funded by the construction of infrastructure (railroads, roads, schools, and hospitals). Despite the fact that the UN and numerous NGOs have a significant presence in the Kivu provinces, many people still remain in refugee camps and rely on foreign/UN assistance. By the end of the decade, fighting in Kivu and Ituri had subsided, but many former militia members remained active. Although several former rebel commanders are accused of crimes against humanity and the use of young soldiers, few have been prosecuted and convicted for war crimes.

Soldiers who had previously been part of a militia that battled in Kivu from 2006 until a 2009 peace accord mutinied in April 2012, triggering a fresh wave of bloodshed when they seized control of a wide region along the Uganda-Rwanda border. Rwanda has been accused of supporting the M23 movement, and the United Nations is looking into it.

Stay Safe & Healthy in DR Congo

Stay Safe in DR Congo

The Democratic Republic of Congo has had its fair share of bloodshed. Since independence, there have been a series of continuous wars, conflicts, and periods of warfare, with occasional regional violence continuing now. As a consequence, large swaths of the nation should be deemed off-limits to tourists.

The LRA (of child-soldier and ‘Kony’ renown) continues to prowl the woods along the CAR/South Sudan/Uganda border in the northeastern portion of the nation. Although there are a few places near the Ugandan border that are reasonably safe to visit, travel north and east of Kisangani and Bumba is risky.

Since the early 1990s, the North and South Kivu areas have been in a state of constant warfare. With a peace deal signed in 2003, the infamously brutal bloodshed of the First and Second Congo Wars (during which 5 million people perished in combat or as a consequence of disease/famine) came to an end. Low-level warfare, sparked by various warlords/factions, has continued since then, and this area now hosts the world’s biggest UN peacekeeping operation (as of 2012). Hundreds of thousands of people have taken up residence in refugee camps around Goma. In April 2012, a new group known as “M23” emerged, headed by Gen. Ntaganda (who is sought by the International Criminal Court for war crimes) and claimed control of or assaulted several towns in the area, accusing them of murdering people and raping women. Since the conclusion of the war in 2003, this has been the most severe crisis. They vowed to attack Goma in mid-July to defend the Tutsi community there from “abuse,” prompting the UN peacekeeping force to relocate 19,000 troops to safeguard Goma and surrounding refugee camps. It’s unclear how severe the danger of violence in Goma is, according to a BBC report.) The only secure places in North/South Kivu are the Rwandan border towns of Goma and Bukavu, as well as Virunga National Park.

Visitors, on the other hand, face risks that go well beyond wars. After Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is most likely Africa’s least developed nation. The road system is abysmal. The country’s roads are in terrible shape, and driving large distances may take weeks, particularly during the rainy season. Even some of the country’s “major” highways are little more than mud tracks that only 4×4 or 6×6 vehicles can navigate. The DRC has just 2250 kilometers of sealed roads, of which only 1226 kilometers are in “excellent” condition, according to the UN. To put this in context, the road distance east-west throughout the nation in any direction is about 2500 kilometers (for example, Matadi to Lubumbashi is 2700 kilometers by road)! Another contrast is that there are only 35 km of paved roadway per 1 000 000 inhabitants in Zambia (one of the poorest African nations) vs 580 km and 3427 km in Botswana (one of the wealthiest). The main mode of transportation is hitching a ride on an old, overcrowded truck where many paying passengers are permitted to perch atop the goods. This is very hazardous.

Congolese aircraft crash on a depressingly frequent basis, with eight accidents reported in 2007. Despite this, the dangers of flying are comparable to those of traveling by road, barge, or rail. The infamous Hewa Bora airlines has gone out of business, and the establishment of a few other airlines between 2010 and 2012 could enhance air travel safety in the DRC. Stick with the commercial airlines that operate modern planes (mentioned above under “Get around/By plane”). Avoid outdated Soviet aircraft that are often hired to transport cargo and maybe a passenger or two. If you’re still afraid of traveling on a Congolese aircraft but don’t mind paying more, consider flying with a foreign carrier like Kenyan Airways (which flies to Kinshasa, Lubumbashi, and Kisangani) or Ethiopian Airlines (which travels to Kinshasa, Lubumbashi, and Kisangani) (Kinshasha, Lubumbashi). Just be sure you verify the transit visa requirements.

Traveling by river boat or barge is still hazardous, although it is safer than driving. Hundreds of people have died as a consequence of overcrowded barges sinking and aged boats capsizing while traveling down the Congo River. Take a look at the vessel you’ll be aboard before boarding, and if you don’t feel secure, it’s best to wait for the next boat, even if it means waiting several days. Since the Belgians departed, the majority of the country’s rail network has fallen into disrepair, with little maintenance taken out. Several train derailments have occurred, resulting in several fatalities. Trains in the DRC are extremely overcrowded; don’t even consider riding on the roof with the people!

Crime is a major issue in many parts of the nation. Kinshasa had one of the highest murder rates in the world during Mobutu’s last years in power, and travel to Kinshasa was akin to Baghdad during the Iraq War! Kinshasa is a high-crime city, despite the fact that violence has decreased significantly (comparable to Lagos or Abidjan). When in a car, keep everything that might be considered as valuable by a Congolese out of sight, since smash-and-grab violence at junctions is common. Pickpockets abound in bigger cities’ markets. Keep in mind that the DRC is still one of Africa’s poorest nations, with every white person seen as wealthy by the natives. Keep an eye out for pickpockets in public areas. Smaller communities are generally safer than bigger ones while traveling in rural regions. Outside of major cities, hotel rooms often lack sufficient security (for example, weak door locks or ground-level windows that don’t lock or have curtains).

Taking photographs in public is fraught with danger. According to some reports, taking photographs in the DRC requires an official permission. In fact, finding and obtaining them will be difficult, if not impossible. Photographing bridges, roadblocks, border crossings, and government buildings may be seen as a national security threat.

Furthermore, the DRC’s health-care infrastructure and facilities are severely lacking. There are few hospitals or clinics outside of Kinshasa for ill or wounded travelers to visit. You might be over a week away from the closest clinic or hospital if you’re traveling on one of the country’s remote, muddy routes or along the Congo River!

Stay Healthy in DR Congo

To enter the country via plane, you’ll need a yellow fever vaccine (this requirement is often ignored at land entry points – particularly the smaller ones). Some major entrance points, such as Kinshasa’s airport, have health inspectors who verify this before allowing you to enter.

Malaria is prevalent in Congo, albeit somewhat less so in the Kivu area owing to altitude, so bring bug repellent and take measures like sleeping beneath mosquito nets. Malaria is quite common in riverfront regions (such as Kinshasa).

If you need immediate medical help, you should contact your country’s embassy. The embassy physicians are usually eager and capable of assisting. In Kinshasa, there are secure hospitals, such as the private “CMK” (Centre Medical de Kinshasa), which was founded by European physicians (a visit costs about US$20). Centre Hospitalier MONKOLE, in the Mont-Ngafula region, is another private and non-profit hospital with European and Congolese physicians. The Monkole Medical Director is Dr. Léin Tshilolo, a paediatrician educated in Europe and one of Africa’s foremost specialists on sickle-cell anemia.

When you’re outdoors, drink plenty of water. The heat and closeness to the equator may easily cause heatstroke in people who are not used to it after just a few hours outdoors without water. There are numerous well-stocked pharmacies, although costs are many times more than in Europe.

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Kinshasa

Kinshasa (Leopoldville) is the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s capital and biggest city. It’s on the banks of the Congo River. Kinshasa, formerly a fishing...

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