As much a geographical concept as a fully fledged nation, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC; formerly Zaïre) has one of the saddest chapters in modern history: from the brazen political folly of King Leopold of Belgium to the hideously corrupt kleptocracy of maverick leader Mobutu Sese Seko and the blood-stained battlegrounds of Africa’s first ‘world war’.
But after a decades-long decline in which much of the country descended into anarchy, Africa’s second-largest nation is, by and large, headed in the right direction. It still has a long way to go (militias continue to brutalise civilians in many areas), but new roads, enormous untapped mineral wealth and the world’s largest UN peacekeeping force have bred optimism among its tormented but resilient population.
Carpeted by huge swaths of rain forest and punctuated by gushing rivers and smoking volcanoes, DRC is the ultimate African adventure. There is absolutely nothing soft nor easy about about it but for an African immersion you’ll never forget, this is the place to be.”
Capital and largest city Kinshasa 4°19′S 15°19′E
Languages. Official French. Recognised national languages: Lingala, Kituba (“Kikongo ya leta”), Swahili, Tshiluba
Ethnic groups See Ethnic groups section below
Government. Unitary semi-presidential republic. President Joseph Kabila
Independence from Belgium 30 June 1960
Area. Total 2,345,409 km2 (11th) Water (%) 4.3
Population. 2015 estimate 81,680,000 (16tH) Density 34.83/km2
GDP (PPP). 2016 estimate Total $68.691 billion. Per capita $816
GDP (nominal). 2016 estimate Total $42.056 billion. Per capita $499
When to Go. Dec–Mar: Dry season for the north means slightly easier travel conditions. Jan A good month to have the mountain gorillas totally to yourself. Apr–Oct Dry season for the south and best time to attempt Kinshasa to Lubumbashi route.
MONEY. Congolese franc (CDF) The only Congolese bank notes currently in circulation in most places are the 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1.000 franc notes. They are almost worthless, as the highest valued banknote (the 1000 franc note) is worth only about US$1.00.
U.S. dollars in denominations above $5 are much preferred to francs. In contrast, U.S. coins and $1 and $2 U.S. notes are considered worthless. Note that if you pay in dollars, you will get change in francs. Though francs may sometimes come in bills so old they feel like fabric, U.S. notes must be crisp (less than 3 folds), have no cuts and be printed in or after 2003, or they will not be accepted.
Mastercard/Maestro ATMs are available in Kinshasa at the “Rawbank” and in Grand Hotel. It spits out U.S. dollars.
VISAS. Like many African countries, the DRC does not fret too much that having a byzantine visa regime dissuades tourism and commerce – nearly every foreigner wishing to enter for any purpose will need a visa.
You can find the visa requirements on the Interior Ministry website (in French). However, getting a visa—like most government services—isn’t straightforward and can be a messy process, with different officials telling you different stories in different places around the country and at different embassies/consulates worldwide.
If arriving by air, people from countries with a DRC embassy must get a visa before arrival. Visas can be for 1/2/3/6 months, single or multiple entry. Proof of yellow fever vaccination is a must. As of 2015, most embassies require letter of invitation from a DRC person or organization. A confirmation of reservation of hotel accommodation can suffice if a tourist has no contact in the DRC.
Visas on arrival at airports (“Visa Aéroportuaire”), that is valid 7 days (can be extended at DRC migration offices), for people from a country with no embassy, but, they must first get a confirmation (“visa volant”). Write a letter to Directeur Général in DRC (knowing French will most likely be necessary for this) together with copy of your passport and ID/passport of the inviting person/organisation. If planning to get a visa in a third country (eg American arriving by air from Ethiopia), wait for a visa before paying your airfare, since DRC embassies in some African countries only issue visas to citizens or residents of that country.
If arriving overland, you’re best off if your home country doesn’t have a DRC embassy (such as Australia & New Zealand) in which case you can apply for a visa in neighbouring countries without too much trouble. If your passport is from a country with a DRC embassy (USA, France), then embassies in neighbouring countries (Uganda, Rwanda, etc) may tell you that you can only apply for a visa in your country of citizenship or residence.
From Uganda or Rwanda you can apply for a visa at the embassies in Kigali, Kampala, or Nairobi for all periods, single or multiple entry.
At the Goma border, border police is often corrupt – ask for bribes and are ignorant about rules for citizens of different countries. So even if you follow all the rules, there can be long waits. Given the bad security situation in North/South Kivu, you probably shouldn’t venture outside Goma or the national parks. If you cross the border to the DRC immigration post, you have officially left Uganda or Rwanda, so be sure you have a multiple-entry visa before leaving!
The Democratic Republic of the Congo also known as DR Congo, DRC, DROC, Congo-Kinshasa, or simply the Congo is a country located in Central Africa. From 1971 to 1997 it was named Zaire, and from 1908 to 1960 it was called the Belgian Congo. The DRC borders the Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, and South Sudan to the north; Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania to the east; Zambia and Angola to the south; and the Atlantic Ocean to the west and southwest. It is the second largest country in Africa by area, the largest in Subsaharan Africa, and the eleventh largest in the world. With a population of over 80 million, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is the most populated officially Francophone country, the fourth most populated nation in Africa and the eighteenth most populated country in the world.
The Congolese Civil Wars, which began in 1996, brought about the end of Mobutu Sese Seko’s 32-year reign and devastated the country. The wars ultimately involved nine African nations, multiple groups of UN peacekeepers and twenty armed groups, and resulted in the deaths of 5.4 million people.
The Democratic Republic of Congo is extremely rich in natural resources, but political instability, a lack of infrastructure, deep rooted corruption, and centuries of both commercial and colonial extraction and exploitation have limited holistic development. Besides the capital, Kinshasa, the other major cities, Lubumbashi and Mbuji-Mayi, are both mining communities. DR Congo’s largest export is raw minerals, with China accepting over 50% of DRC’s exports in 2012. As of 2013, according to the Human Development Index (HDI), DR Congo has a low level of human development, ranking 176 out of 187 countries.
Etymology. The Democratic Republic of the Congo was formerly known as, in chronological order, Congo Free State, Belgian Congo, Republic of the Congo (Léopoldville), Democratic Republic of the Congo, and most recently reverted to its current name from Republic of Zaire.
The country was known officially as the “Democratic Republic of the Congo” from 1965 to 27 October 1971, when it was was changed to the “Republic of Zaire”. In 1992, the Sovereign National Conference voted to change the name of the country to the “Democratic Republic of the Congo”, but the change was not put into practice. The country’s name was restored by former president Laurent-Désiré Kabila following the fall of long time dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997.
Early history. The area now known as the DR Congo was populated as early as 80,000 years ago, as shown by the 1988 discovery of the Semliki harpoon at Katanda, one of the oldest barbed harpoons ever found, believed to have been used to catch giant river catfish.
Some historians think that Bantu peoples began settling in the extreme northwest of Central Africa at the beginning of the 5th century and then gradually started to expand southward. Their propagation was accelerated by the transition from Stone Age to Iron Age techniques. The people living in the south and southwest were mostly San Bushmen and hunter-gatherer groups, whose technology involved only minimal use of metal technologies. The development of metal tools during this time period revolutionized agriculture and animal husbandry. This led to the displacement of the hunter-gatherer groups in the east and southeast.
The 10th century marked the final expansion of the Bantu in West-Central Africa. Rising populations soon made possible intricate local, regional and foreign commercial networks that traded mostly in salt, iron and copper.
Congo Free State (1877–1908). Belgian exploration and administration took place from the 1870s until the 1920s. It was first led by Sir Henry Morton Stanley, who undertook his explorations under the sponsorship of King Leopold II of Belgium. The eastern regions of the precolonial Congo were heavily disrupted by constant slave raiding, mainly from Arab–Swahili slave traders such as the infamous Tippu Tip, who was well known to Stanley. Leopold had designs on what was to become the Congo as a colony. In a succession of negotiations, Leopold, professing humanitarian objectives in his capacity as chairman of the front organization Association Internationale Africaine, actually played one European rival against another.
Leopold formally acquired rights to the Congo territory at the Conference of Berlin in 1885 and made the land his private property. He named it the Congo Free State. Leopold’s rėgime began various infrastructure projects, such as construction of the railway that ran from the coast to the capital of Leopoldville (now Kinshasa), which took eight years to complete. Nearly all such infrastructure projects were aimed at making it easier to increase the assets which Leopold and his associates could extract from the colony.
In the Free State, colonists brutalized the local population into producing rubber, for which the spread of automobiles and development of rubber tires created a growing international market. Rubber sales made a fortune for Leopold, who built several buildings in Brussels and Ostend to honor himself and his country. To enforce the rubber quotas, the army, the Force Publique, was called in and made the practice of cutting off the limbs of the natives a matter of policy.
During the period of 1885–1908, millions of Congolese died as a consequence of exploitation and disease. In some areas the population declined dramatically – it has been estimated that sleeping sickness and smallpox killed nearly half the population in the areas surrounding the lower Congo River. A government commission later concluded that the population of the Congo had been “reduced by half” during this period, but determining precisely how many people died is impossible, as no accurate records exist.
Belgian Congo (1908–60). In 1908, the Belgian parliament, despite initial reluctance, bowed to international pressure, especially from the United Kingdom, and took over the Free State from King Leopold II. On 18 October 1908, the Belgian parliament voted in favour of annexing the Congo as a Belgian colony. Executive power rested with the Belgian Minister of Colonial Affairs, assisted by a Colonial Council (Conseil Colonial) (both located in Brussels) and the Belgian parliament exercised legislative authority over the Belgian Congo. In 1926, the colonial capital moved from Boma to Léopoldville, some 300 km further upstream into the interior.
The transition from the Congo Free State to the Belgian Congo was a break but it was also marked by a large degree of continuity. The last Governor-general of the Congo Free State, Baron Wahis, remained in office in the Belgian Congo and the majority of Leopold II’s administration with him. Opening up the Congo and its natural and mineral riches for the Belgian economy remained the main motive for colonial expansion – however, other priorities, such as healthcare and basic education, slowly gained in importance.
At its peak, the Force Publique had around 19,000 African soldiers, led by 420 white officers.
In 1936 it was recorded that there were 728 Belgian administrators controlling the Colony. No political activity was permitted in the Congo whatsoever and the Force Publique, a locally-recruited army under Belgian command, put down any attempts at rebellion.
The Belgian population of the colony increased from 1,928 in 1910 to nearly 89,000 in 1959.
The Belgian Congo was directly involved in the two world wars. During World War I, an initial stand-off between the Force Publique and the German colonial army in German East Africa (Tanganyika) turned into open warfare with a joint Anglo-Belgian invasion of German colonial territory in 1916 and 1917 during the East African Campaign. The Force Publique gained a notable victory when it marched into Tabora in September 1916, under the command of General Charles Tombeur after heavy fighting.
After the war, Belgium was rewarded for the participation of the Force Publique in the East African campaign with a League of Nations mandate over the previously German colony of Ruanda-Urundi. During World War II, the Belgian Congo was a crucial source of income for the Belgian government in exile in London, and the Force Publique again participated in Allied campaigns in Africa. Belgian Congolese forces under the command of Belgian officers notably fought against the Italian colonial army in Ethiopia in Asosa, Bortaï and Saïo under Major-General Auguste-Eduard Gilliaert during the second East African Campaign.
Independence and political crisis (1960–65). In May 1960, a growing nationalist movement, the Mouvement National Congolais or MNC Party, led by Patrice Lumumba, won the parliamentary elections and achieved independence on 30 June 1960 under the name “République du Congo”.
Shortly after independence, the provinces of Katanga (led by Moise Tshombe) and South Kasai engaged in secessionist struggles against the new leadership. Most of the 100,000 Europeans who had remained behind after independence fled the country, opening the way for Congolese to replace the European military and administrative elite.
As the neighboring French colony of Middle Congo (Moyen Congo) also chose the name “Republic of Congo” upon achieving its independence, the two countries were more commonly known as “Congo-Léopoldville” and “Congo-Brazzaville”, after their capital cities.
On 14 September, Lumumba was arrested by forces loyal to Joseph Mobutu. On 17 January 1961, he was handed over to Katangan authorities and executed by Belgian-led Katangese troops. Amidst widespread confusion and chaos, a temporary government was led by technicians. The Katanga secession was ended in January 1963 with the assistance of UN forces. Several short-lived governments, of Joseph Ileo, Cyrille Adoula and Moise Tshombe, took over in quick succession.
Lumumba had previously appointed Joseph Mobutu chief of staff of the new Congo army. Taking advantage of the leadership crisis between Kasavubu and Lumumba, Mobutu garnered enough support within the army to create mutiny. With financial support from the United States and Belgium, Mobutu paid his soldiers privately. The aversion of Western powers to communism and leftist ideology influenced their decision to finance Mobutu’s quest to neutralize Kasavubu and Lumumba in a coup by proxy. A constitutional referendum after Mobutu’s coup of 1965 resulted in the country’s official name being changed to the “Democratic Republic of the Congo.” In 1971 Mobutu changed the name again, this time to “Republic of Zaire”.
The new president had the support of the United States because of his staunch opposition to Communism, believing that his administration would serve as an effective counter to communist movements in Africa. A one-party system was established, and Mobutu declared himself head of state. He periodically held elections in which he was the only candidate. Although relative peace and stability were achieved, Mobutu’s government was guilty of severe human rights violations, political repression, a cult of personality and corruption.
Corruption became so prevalent the term “le mal Zairois” or “Zairean Sickness”, meaning gross corruption, theft and mismanagement, was coined, reportedly by Mobutu himself. International aid, most often in the form of loans, enriched Mobutu while he allowed national infrastructure such as roads to deteriorate to as little as one-quarter of what had existed in 1960. Zaire became a “kleptocracy” as Mobutu and his associates embezzled government funds.
In a campaign to identify himself with African nationalism, starting in June 1966, Mobutu renamed the nation’s cities: Léopoldville became Kinshasa [the country was now Democratic Republic of The Congo – Kinshasa], Stanleyville became Kisangani, Elisabethville became Lubumbashi, and Coquilhatville became Mbandaka. This renaming campaign was completed in the 1970s.
In 1971, Mobutu renamed the country the Republic of Zaire, its fourth name change in 11 years and its sixth overall. The Congo River was renamed the Zaire River.
During the 1970s and 1980s, he was invited to visit the United States on several occasions, meeting with U.S. Presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union U.S. relations with Mobutu cooled, as he was no longer deemed necessary as a Cold War ally. Opponents within Zaire stepped up demands for reform. This atmosphere contributed to Mobutu’s declaring the Third Republic in 1990, whose constitution was supposed to pave the way for democratic reform. The reforms turned out to be largely cosmetic. Mobutu continued in power until armed forces forced him to flee Zaire, in 1997.
Continental and Civil wars (1996–present) By 1996, following the Rwandan Civil War and genocide and the ascension of a Tutsi-led government in Rwanda, Rwandan Hutu militia forces (Interahamwe) fled to eastern Zaire and used refugee camps as a base for incursions against Rwanda. They allied with the Zairian armed forces (FAZ) to launch a campaign against Congolese ethnic Tutsis in eastern Zaire.
A coalition of Rwandan and Ugandan armies invaded Zaire to overthrow the government of Mobutu, and ultimately to control the mineral resources of Zaire, launching the First Congo War. The coalition allied with some opposition figures, led by Laurent-Désiré Kabila, becoming the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (AFDL). In 1997 Mobutu fled and Kabila marched into Kinshasa, naming himself president and reverting the name of the country to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Kabila later requested that foreign military forces return to their own countries—he had concerns that the Rwandan officers running his army were plotting a coup to give the presidency to a Tutsi who would report directly to the Rwandan president, Paul Kagame. Rwandan troops retreated to Goma and launched a new Tutsi-led rebel military movement called the Rassemblement Congolais pour la Democratie (RCD) to fight against Kabila, while Uganda instigated the creation of new rebel movement called the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), led by the Congolese warlord Jean-Pierre Bemba. The two rebel movements, along with Rwandan and Ugandan troops, started the Second Congo War by attacking the DRC army in 1998. Angolan, Zimbabwean and Namibian militaries entered the hostilities on the side of the government.
Kabila was assassinated in 2001. His son Joseph Kabila succeeded him and called for multilateral peace-talks. UN peacekeepers, MONUC, now known as MONUSCO, arrived in April 2001. In 2002 and 2003 Bemba intervened in the Central African Republic on behalf of its former president, Ange-Félix Patassé. Talks led to the signing of a peace accord in which Kabila would share power with former rebels. By June 2003 all foreign armies except those of Rwanda had pulled out of Congo. A transitional government was set up until the election was over. A constitution was approved by voters, and on 30 July 2006 DRC held its first multi-party elections. An election-result dispute between Kabila and Jean-Pierre Bemba turned into an all-out battle between their supporters in the streets of Kinshasa. MONUC took control of the city. A new election took place in October 2006, which Kabila won, and on December 2006 he was sworn in as President.
Refugees in the Congo. However, Laurent Nkunda defected along with troops loyal to him and formed the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), which began an armed rebellion against the government, starting the Kivu conflict. They were believed to be again backed by Rwanda as a way to tackle the Hutu group, Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). In March 2009, after a deal between the DRC and Rwanda, Rwandan troops entered the DRC and arrested Nkunda and were allowed to pursue FDLR militants. The CNDP signed a peace treaty with the government in which it agreed to become a political party and to have its soldiers integrated into the national army in exchange for the release of its imprisoned members. In 2012 the leader of the CNDP, Bosco Ntaganda, and troops loyal to him, mutinied and formed the rebel military March 23 Movement, claiming a violation of the treaty by the government.
In the resulting M23 rebellion, M23 briefly captured the provincial capital of Goma in November 2012. Neighboring countries, particularly Rwanda, have been accused of using rebels groups as proxies to gain control of the resource-rich country and of arming rebels, a claim they deny. In March 2013, the United Nations Security Council authorized the United Nations Force Intervention Brigade, the first offensive United Nations peacekeeping unit, to neutralize armed groups. On 5 November 2013, M23 declared an end to its insurgency.
Additionally, in northern Katanga, the Mai-Mai created by Laurent Kabila slipped out of the control of Kinshasa with and briefly invadrf the provincial capital of Lubumbashi in 2013 and 400,000 persons displaced in the province as of 2013. On and off fighting in the Ituri conflict occurred between the Nationalist and Integrationist Front (FNI) and the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) who claimed to represent the Lendu and Hema ethnic groups, respectively. In the northeast, Joseph Kony’s LRA moved from their original bases in Uganda and South Sudan to DR Congo in 2005 and set up camps in the Garamba National Park.
In 2009 people in the Congo continued to die at a rate of an estimated 45,000 per month – estimates of the number who have died from the long conflict range from 900,000 to 5,400,000. The death toll is due to widespread disease and famine; reports indicate that almost half of the individuals who have died are children under five years of age. There have been frequent reports of weapon bearers killing civilians, of the destruction of property, of widespread sexual violence, causing hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes, and of other breaches of humanitarian and human rights law. One study found that more than 400,000 women are raped in the Democratic Republic of Congo every year.
In 2015 major protests across the country demanding Kabila step down about a law thaat would keep Kabila in power at least until a national census was conducted (a process which would likely take several years and therefore keep him in power past the planned 2016 elections, which he is constitutionally barred from participating in).
This bill passed; however, it was gutted of the provision that would keep Joseph Kabila in power until a census took place. A census is supposed to take place, but it is no longer tied to when the elections take place. As of 2015 elections are scheduled for late 2016 and a tenuous peace holds over the Congo.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is located in central sub-Saharan Africa, bounded by (clockwise from the southwest) Angola, the South Atlantic Ocean, the Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania across Lake Tanganyika, and Zambia. The country lies between latitudes 6°N and 14°S, and longitudes 12° and 32°E. It straddles the Equator, with one-third to the North and two-thirds to the South. The size of Congo, 2,345,408 square kilometres, is slightly greater than the combined areas of Spain, France, Germany, Sweden, and Norway.
As a result of its equatorial location, the DRC experiences high precipitation and has the highest frequency of thunderstorms in the world. The annual rainfall can total upwards of 2,000 millimetres (80 in) in some places, and the area sustains the Congo Rainforest, the second-largest rain forest in the world after the Amazon. This massive expanse of lush jungle covers most of the vast, low-lying central basin of the river, which slopes toward the Atlantic Ocean in the west. This area is surrounded by plateaus merging into savannas in the south and southwest, by mountainous terraces in the west, and dense grasslands extending beyond the Congo River in the north. High, glaciated mountains (Rwenzori Mountains) are found in the extreme eastern region.
The tropical climate also produced the Congo River system which dominates the region topographically along with the rainforest it flows through, though they are not mutually exclusive. The name for the Congo state is derived in part from the river. The river basin (meaning the Congo River and all of its myriad tributaries) occupies nearly the entire country and an area of nearly 1,000,000 km2 (390,000 sq mi). The river and its tributaries form the backbone of Congolese economics and transportation. Major tributaries include the Kasai, Sangha, Ubangi, Ruzizi, Aruwimi, and Lulonga.
The sources of the Congo are in the Albertine Rift Mountains that flank the western branch of the East African Rift, as well as Lake Tanganyika and Lake Mweru. The river flows generally west from Kisangani just below Boyoma Falls, then gradually bends southwest, passing by Mbandaka, joining with the Ubangi River, and running into the Pool Malebo (Stanley Pool). Kinshasa and Brazzaville are on opposite sides of the river at the Pool (see NASA image). Then the river narrows and falls through a number of cataracts in deep canyons, collectively known as the Livingstone Falls, and runs past Boma into the Atlantic Ocean. The river also has the second-largest flow and the second-largest watershed of any river in the world (trailing the Amazon in both respects). The river and a 37 km wide strip of coastline on its north bank provide the country’s only outlet to the AtlantiC.
The Albertine Rift plays a key role in shaping the Congo’s geography. Not only is the northeastern section of the country much more mountainous, but due to the rift’s tectonic activity, this area also experiences volcanic activity, occasionally with loss of life. The geologic activity in this area also created the famous African Great Lakes, three of which lie on the Congo’s eastern frontier: Lake Albert (known during the Mobutu era as Lake Mobutu Sese Seko), Lake Kivu (Unknown until late 1712), Lake Edward (known during the Amin era as Lake Idi Amin Dada), and Lake Tanganyika. Lake Edward and Lake Albert are connected by the Semliki River.
The Rift valley has exposed an enormous amount of mineral wealth throughout the south and east of the Congo, making it accessible to mining. Cobalt, copper, cadmium, industrial and gem-quality diamonds, gold, silver, zinc, manganese, tin, germanium, uranium, radium, bauxite, iron ore, and coal are all found in plentiful supply, especially in the Congo’s southeastern Katanga region.
Salonga National Park.
On 17 January 2002 Mount Nyiragongo erupted in Congo, with the lava running out at 64 km/h and 46 m wide. One of the three streams of extremely fluid lava flowed through the nearby city of Goma, killing 45 and leaving 120,000 homeless. Four hundred thousand people were evacuated from the city during the eruption. The lava poisoned the water of Lake Kivu, killing fish. Only two planes left the local airport because of the possibility of the explosion of stored petrol. The lava passed the airport but ruined the runway, trapping several airplanes. Six months after the 2002 eruption, nearby Mount Nyamulagira also erupted. Mount Nyamulagira also erupted in 2006 and again in January 2010.
The rainforests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo contain great biodiversity, including many rare and endemic species, such as the common chimpanzee and the bonobo, the African forest elephant, the mountain gorilla, the okapi and the white rhino. Five of the country’s national parks are listed as World Heritage Sites: the Garumba, Kahuzi-Biega, Salonga and Virunga National Parks, and the Okapi Wildlife Reserve. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is the most biodiverse African country.
The civil war and resulting poor economic conditions have endangered much of this biodiversity. Many park wardens were either killed or could not afford to continue their work. All five sites are listed by UNESCO as World Heritage in Danger.
Conservationists have particularly worried about primates. The Congo is inhabited by several great ape species — the common chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes), the bonobo (Pan paniscus), the eastern gorilla (Gorilla beringei), and possibly the western gorilla (Gorilla gorilla). It is the only country in the world in which bonobos are found in the wild. Much concern has been raised about great ape extinction. Because of hunting and habitat destruction, the chimpanzee, the bonobo and the gorilla, each of whose populations once numbered in the millions, have now dwindled down to only about 200,000 gorillas, 100,000 chimpanzees and possibly only about 10,000 bonobos. Gorillas, chimpanzees, and bonobos are all classified as endangered by the World Conservation Union, as well as the okapi, which is also native to the area.
Environmental issues. A dense tropical rainforest in the DRC’s central river basin and eastern highlands is bordered on the west by the Albertine Rift (the western branch of Africa’s Great Rift System). It includes several of Africa’s Great Lakes.
Major environmental issues DR Congo’s major environmental issues include: deforestation, poaching, which threatens wildlife populations and water pollution. Displaced refugees cause or are otherwise responsible for significant deforestation, soil erosion and wildlife poaching. Another significant issue is environmental damage from mining of minerals, especially diamonds, gold and coltan – a mineral used to manufacture capacitors.
Renewable energy. Because of sunlight, potential for solar development is very high in the DRC. There are already about 836 solar power systems in the DRC, with a total power of 83 kW.
Bushmeat. Over the past century or so, the DRC has become the center of what has been called the Central African “bushmeat” problem, regarded by many as a major environmental and socio-economic crisis. “Bushmeat” is another word for the meat of wild animals, typically obtained through trapping, usually with wire snares, or else with shotguns, poisoned arrows or arms originally intended for use in the DRC’s numerous military conflicts.
The bushmeat crisis emerged mainly as a result of the poor living conditions of the Congolese people and a lack of education about the dangers of eating it. A rising population combined with deplorable economic conditions made many Congolese dependent on bushmeat, either as an income source (selling the meat), or for food. Unemployment and urbanization throughout Central Africa have exacerbated the problem further by turning cities like the urban sprawl of Kinshasa into prime markets for commercial bushmeat.
This combination has caused widespread endangerment of local fauna, and has forced humans to trudge deeper into the wilderness in search of the desired animal meat. This overhunting results in the deaths of more animals and makes resources even more scarce for humans. The hunting has also been facilitated by the extensive logging prevalent throughout the Congo’s rainforests from both corporate logging, and farmers clearing forest landfor agriculture. Logging allows hunters much easier access to previously-unreachable jungle terrain, while simultaneously eroding away the habitats of animals. Deforestation is accelerating in Central Africa.
Although located in the Central African UN subregion, the nation is also economically and regionally affiliated with Southern Africa as a member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
Corruption. Mobutu Sese Seko ruled the DRC, which he renamed Zaire, from 1965 to 1997. A relative explained how the government illicitly collected revenue: “Mobutu would ask one of us to go to the bank and take out a million. We’d go to an intermediary and tell him to get five million. He would go to the bank with Mobutu’s authority, and take out ten. Mobutu got one, and we took the other nine.” Mobutu institutionalized corruption to prevent political rivals from challenging his control, leading to an economic collapse in 1996.
Mobutu allegedly stole as much as US$4-5 billion while in office; in July 2009, a Swiss court determined that the statute of limitations had run out on an international asset recovery case of about $6.7 million of deposits of Mobutu’s in a Swiss bank, and therefore the assets should be returned to Mobutu’s family.
Human rightS. Child soldiers have been used on a large scale in DRC, and in 2011 it was estimated that 30,000 children were still operating with armed groups.
Instances of child labor and forced labor have been observed and reported in the U.S. Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor in the DRC in 2013 and six goods produced by the country’s mining industry appear on the department’s December 2014 List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor.
Violence against women. Violence against women seems to be perceived by large sectors of society to be normal. The 2013–2014 DHS survey found that 74.8% of women agreed that a husband is justified in beating his wife in certain circumstances. In the post-war transition period, the promotion of women’s human rights and gender equality was not seen as a priority. The eastern part of the country in particular has been described as the “rape capital of the world” and the prevalence of sexual violence there described as the worst in the world.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is also practiced in DRC, although not on a large scale. The prevalence of FGM is estimated at about 5% of women. FGM is illegal: the law imposes a penalty of two to five years of prison and a fine of 200,000 Congolese francs on any person who violates the “physical or functional integrity” of the genital organs.
A phenomenon of “pendulum displacement” has developed, where people hasten at night to safety. Armed groups attack local communities, loot, rape, kidnap women and children, and make them work as sexual slaves. By 2010, rapes committed by civilians had increased seventeenfold. In June 2014, Freedom from Torture published reported rape and sexual violence being used routinely by state officials in Congolese prisons as punishment for politically active women.
Foreign relations and military. The global growth in demand for scarce raw materials and the industrial surges in China, India, Russia, Brazil and other developing countries require that developed countries employ new, integrated and responsive strategies for identifying and ensuring, on a continual basis, an adequate supply of strategic and critical materials required for their security needs. Highlighting the DR Congo’s importance to United States national security, the effort to establish an elite Congolese unit is the latest push by the U.S. to professionalize armed forces in this strategically important region.
There are economic and strategic incentives to bring more security to the Congo, which is rich in natural resources such as cobalt. Cobalt is a strategic and critical metal used in many industrial and military applications. The largest use of cobalt is in superalloys, used to make jet engine parts. Cobalt is also used in magnetic alloys and in cutting and wear-resistant materials such as cemented carbides. The chemical industry consumes significant quantities of cobalt in a variety of applications including catalysts for petroleum and chemical processing; drying agents for paints and inks; ground coats for porcelain enamels; decolourisers for ceramics and glass; and pigments for ceramics, paints, and plastics. The country contains 80% of the world’s cobalt reserves.
In 2007, The World Bank granted $1.3 billion in assistance funds over the following three years.
The Democratic Republic of Congo is widely considered to be one of the world’s richest countries in natural resources; its untapped deposits of raw minerals are estimated to be worth in excess of US$24 trillion. The Congo has 70% of the world’s coltan, a third of its cobalt, more than 30% of its diamond reserves, and a tenth of its copper.
Despite such vast mineral wealth, the economy of the Democratic Republic of the Congo has declined drastically since the mid-1980s. The African country generated up to 70% of its export revenue from minerals in the 1970s and 1980s, and was particularly hit when resource prices deteriorated at that time. By 2005, 90% of the DRC’s revenues derived from its minerals. The country’s woes mean that despite its potential its citizens are among the poorest people on earth. DR Congo consistently has the lowest, or nearly the lowest, nominal GDP per capita in the world. The DRC is also one of the twenty lowest-ranked countries on the Corruption Perception Index.
Mining. The Congo is the world’s largest producer of cobalt ore, and a major producer of copper and diamonds. The latter come from Kasai province in the west. By far the largest mines in the Congo are located in southern Katanga province, and are highly mechanized, with a capacity of several millions of tons per year of copper and cobalt ore, and refining capability for metal ore. The DRC is the second-largest diamond-producing nation in the world, and artisanal and small-scale miners account for most of its production.
At independence in 1960, DRC was the second-most industrialized country in Africa after South Africa; it boasted a thriving mining sector and a relatively productive agriculture sector. The First and Second Congo Wars began in 1996. These conflicts have dramatically reduced national output and government revenue, increased external debt, and resulted in deaths of more than five million people from war and associated famine and disease. Malnutrition affects approximately two thirds of the country’s population.
Foreign businesses have curtailed operations due to uncertainty about the outcome of the conflict, lack of infrastructure, and the difficult operating environment. The war intensified the impact of such basic problems as an uncertain legal framework, corruption, inflation, and lack of openness in government economic policy and financial operations.
Conditions improved in late 2002, when a large portion of the invading foreign troops withdrew. A number of International Monetary Fund and World Bank missions met with the government to help it develop a coherent economic plan, and President Joseph Kabila began to implementing reforms. Much economic activity still lies outside the GDP data. A United Nations Human Development Index report shows that the human development index of DR Congo is one of the worst it’s had in decades. Through 2011 the Democratic Republic of the Congo had the lowest Human Development Index of the 187 ranked countries. It ranked lower than Niger, despite a higher margin of improvement than the latter country over 2010’s numbers.
The economy of DR Congo, the second largest country in Africa, relies heavily on mining. However, the smaller-scale economic activity from artisanal mining occurs in the informal sector and is not reflected in GDP data. A third of the DRC’s diamonds are believed to be smuggled out of the country, making it difficult to quantify diamond production levels. In 2002, tin was discovered in the east of the country, but to date has only been mined on a small scale. Smuggling of conflict minerals such as coltan and cassiterite, ores of tantalum and tin, respectively, helped to fuel the war in the Eastern Congo.
In 2004, state-owned Gécamines signed an agreement with Global Enterprises Corporate (GEC) to rehabilitate and operate the Kananga and Tilwezembe copper mines. In 2007 a World Bank found that the 2005 deals were approved with “a complete lack of transparency”.
Katanga Mining Limited, a Swiss-owned company, owns the Luilu Metallurgical Plant, which has a capacity of 175,000 tonnes of copper and 8,000 tonnes of cobalt per year, making it the largest cobalt refinery in the world. After a major rehabilitation program, the company resumed copper production operations in December 2007 and cobalt production in May 2008.
In 2013, anti-corruption NGOs revealed that Congolese tax authorities had failed to account for $88 million from the mining sector, despite booming production and positive industrial performance.
Transportation. Ground transport in the Democratic Republic of Congo has always been difficult. The terrain and climate of the Congo Basin present serious barriers to road and rail construction, and the distances are enormous across this vast country. Chronic economic mismanagement and internal conflicts have led to long-term under-investment.
Road. The DRC has fewer all-weather paved highways than any country of its population and size in Africa — a total of 2250 km, of which only 1226 km is in good condition (see below). To put this in perspective, the road distance across the country in any direction is more than 2500 km. The figure of 2250 km converts to 35 km of paved road per 1,000,000 of population. Comparative figures for Zambia and Botswana are 721 km and 3427 km respectively.
Three routes in the Trans-African Highway network pass through DR Congo:
Tripoli-Cape Town Highway: this route crosses the western extremity of the country on National Road No. 1 between Kinshasa and Matadi, a distance of 285 km on one of the only paved sections in fair condition.
Lagos-Mombasa Highway: the DR Congo is the main missing link in this east-west highway and requires a new road to be constructed before it can function.
Beira-Lobito Highway: this east-west highway crosses Katanga and requires re-construction over most of its length, being an earth track between the Angolan border and Kolwezi, a paved road in very poor condition between Kolwezi and Lubumbashi, and a paved road in fair condition over the short distance to the Zambian border.
Water. The Democratic Republic of Congo has thousands of kilometres of navigable waterways. Traditionally water transport has been the dominant means of moving around in approximately two-thirds of the country.
Air. As of 2016, DR Congo had one major national airline (Congo Airways) that offered flights inside DR Congo. Congo Airways was based at Kinshasa’s international airport. All air carriers certified by the DRC have been banned from European Union airports by the European Commission, due to inadequate safety standards.
Energy. Coal and crude oil resources are mainly used domestically in 2008. Has infrastructure for hydro-electricity from the Congo River at the Inga dams. The Democratic Republic of Congo also possesses 50% of Africa’s forests and a river system that could provide hydro-electric power to the entire continent, according to a UN report on the country’s strategic significance and its potential role as an economic power in central Africa.
The generation and distribution of electricity is controlled by Société nationale d’électricité (SNEL)
Education. In 2014 the literacy rate for the population between the ages of 15 and 49 was estimated to be 75.9% (88.1% male and 63.8% female). Primary education in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is not free or compulsory.
As a result of the 6-year civil war in the late 1990s-early 2000s, over 5.2 million children in the country did not receive any education. Since the end of the civil war, the situation has improved tremendously, with the number of children enrolled in primary schools rising from 5.5 million in 2002 to 12 million in 2012, and the number of children enrolled in secondary schools rising from 2.8 million in 2007 to 3.9 million in 2012.
Health. DRC has the world’s second-highest rate of infant mortality (after Chad).
HIV/AIDS. In 2012, about 1.1% of adults aged 15–49. Malaria and yellow fever affect the DRC.
Maternal health is poor in DRC-DRC has the 17th highest maternal mortality rate in the world. According to UNICEF, 43.5% of children under five are stunted.
Over 200 ethnic groups populate the Democratic Republic of the Congo, of which the majority are Bantu peoples. Together, Mongo, Luba and Kongo peoples (Bantu) and Mangbetu-Azande peoples constitute around 45% of the population.
In 2009, the United Nations estimated the country’s population to be 66 million people, a rapid increase from 39.1 million in 1992 despite the ongoing war. As many as 250 ethnic groups have been identified and named. The most numerous people are the Kongo, Luba, and Mongo. About 600,000 Pygmies are the aboriginal people of the DR Congo. Although several hundred local languages and dialects are spoken, the linguistic variety is bridged both by widespread use of French and the national intermediary languages Kituba, Tshiluba, Swahili, and Lingala.
Migration. It is extremely difficult to obtain reliable migration data. Evidence suggests that DRC is a destination country. Immigration is very diverse: refugees and asylum-seekers – products of the numerous and violent conflicts in the Great Lakes Region – constitute an important subset of the population. The country’s large mine operations attract migrant workers from Africa and beyond. Transit migration towards South Africa and Europe also plays a role. The number of immigrants in the DRC has fallen from just over 1 million in 1960, to 754,000 in 1990, to 480,000 in 2005, to an estimated 445,000 in 2010.
Figures for Congolese nationals abroad vary greatly, from 3 to 6 million. The majority live in Africa and to a lesser extent in Europe; 79.7% and 15.3% respectively. New destination countries include South Africa.
Since 2003, more than 400,000 Congolese migrants have been expelled from Angola.
Christian 95%: Catholicism (36.8%), Protestantism (32%), Other Christian (11.2%). There are about 35 million Catholics in the country. The impact of the Roman Catholic Church in the Democratic Republic of Congo is difficult to overestimate. Schatzberg has called it the country’s “only truly national institution apart from the state.” Its schools have educated over 60% of the nation’s primary school students and more than 40% of its secondary students. The church owns and manages an extensive network of hospitals, schools, and clinics, as well as many diocesan economic enterprises, including farms, ranches, stores, and artisans’ shops. 62 Protestant denominations are federated under the umbrella of the Church of Christ in Congo. It is often simply referred to as the Protestant Church, since it covers most of the DRC Protestants. With more than 25 million members, it constitutes one of the largest Protestant bodies in the world.
Islam 10%. Sunni Islam (6%), Shia Islam (1.2%), Ahmadiyya Islam (0.7%), Other Muslim (4.1%). Islam was introduced and mainly spread by traders/merchants. In 2013 the Allied Democratic Forces, a group linked to Al-Qaeda, began carrying out attacks in Congo which killed civilians, mostly Christians.
Indigenous religion (3%). Traditional religions embody such concepts as monotheism, animism, vitalism, spirit and ancestor worship, witchcraft, and sorcery and vary widely among ethnic groups. The syncretic sects often merge elements of Christianity with traditional beliefs and rituals and are not recognized by mainstream churches as part of Christianity. New variants of ancient beliefs have become widespread, led by US-inspired Pentecostal churches which have been in the forefront of witchcraft accusations, particularly against children and the elderly. Children accused of witchcraft are sent away from homes and family, often to live on the street, which can lead to physical violence against these children. The usual term for these children is enfants sorciers (child witches) or enfants dits sorciers (children accused of witchcraft). Non-denominational church organizations have been formed to capitalize on this belief by charging exorbitant fees for exorcisms. Though recently outlawed, children have been subjected in these exorcisms to often-violent abuse at the hands of self-proclaimed prophets and priests.
Kimbanguism was seen as a threat to the colonial regime and was banned by the Belgians. Kimbanguism, officially “the church of Christ on Earth by the prophet Simon Kimbangu”, now has about three million members, primarily among the Bakongo of Bas-Congo and Kinshasa.
Other or non-specified (1%). Unaffiliated (4%).
Baha’i Faith. The first members came from Uganda in 1953. In 2012 plans were announced to build a national Baha’i House of Worship in the country.
Languages. French is the official language. It is culturally accepted as the lingua franca facilitating communication among the many different ethnic groups. 33 million Congolese people (47% of the population) can read and write in French. In the capital city Kinshasa, 67% of the population can read and write French, and 68.5% can speak and understand it.
Approximately 242 languages are spoken in the country, but only four have the status of national languages: Kituba (“Kikongo ya leta”), Lingala, Tshiluba, and Swahili. Although some people speak these regional, or trade languages as first languages, most of the population speak them as a second language after their own tribal language. Lingala was the official language of the colonial army, the “Force Publique”, under Belgian colonial rule, and remains to this day the predominant language in the armed forces. Since the recent rebellions, a good part of the army in the East also uses Swahili where it is prevalent.
When the country was a Belgian colony, the Belgian colonizers instituted teaching and use of the four national languages in primary schools, making it one of the few African nations to have had literacy in local languages during the European colonial period. This trend was reversed after independence, when French became the sole language of education at all levels. Since 1975, the four national languages have been reintroduced in the first two years of primary education, with French becoming the sole language of education from the 3rd year onwards, but in practice many primary schools in urban areas solely use French from the first year of school onward.
The culture of the Democratic Republic of the Congo reflects the diversity of its hundreds of ethnic groups and their differing ways of life throughout the country — from the mouth of the River Congo on the coast, upriver through the rainforest and savanna in its centre, to the more densely populated mountains in the far east. Since the late 19th century, traditional ways of life have undergone changes brought about by colonialism, the struggle for independence, the stagnation of the Mobutu era, and most recently, the First and Second Congo Wars. Despite these pressures, the customs and cultures of the Congo have retained much of their individuality. The country’s 60 million inhabitants are mainly rural. The 30% who live in urban areas have been the most open to Western influences.
Music. The DRC has blended its ethnic musical sources with Cuban rumba, and merengue to give birth to soukous. Other African nations produce music genres that are derived from Congolese soukous. Some of the African bands sing in Lingala, one of the main languages in the DRC. The same Congolese soukous, under the guidance of “le sapeur”, Papa Wemba, has set the tone for a generation of young men always dressed up in expensive designer clothes. They came to be known as the fourth generation of Congolese music and mostly come from the former well-known band Wenge Musica.
The Congo is also known for its art. Traditional art includes masks and wooden statues.
Sports. Football, basketball and rugby. Internationally, the country is especially famous for its NBA players. Dikembe Mutombo is one of the best African basketball players to ever play the game. Mutombo is well known for humanitarian projects in his home country. Serge Ibaka, Bismack Biyombo, Christian Eyenga and Emmanuel Mudiay are others who gained significant international attention.
Travel Warning: Armed groups in North and South Kivu, Orientale provinces, northern and central regions of the Katanga province, and the eastern section of Maniema, have been known to pillage, steal automobiles, take hostages, sexually assault, murder, and carry out violent operations in which civilians are indiscriminately targeted. U.S. Department of the State advises to avoid all but essential travel.
Although the Democratic Republic of the Congo is no longer considered as risky as it used to be, it remains a destination for only the most seasoned, hardcore African traveller. It is not a country for the casual “tourist”: the average backpacker, holidaymaker, and especially those seeking luxury safaris or organized cultural experiences.
The DRC remains one of the least developed countries in Africa; its GDP per capita is the fifteenth lowest in the world. Largely covered by lush, tropical rainforest, the heart of the DRC is comparable to the Amazon (the only larger rainforest on Earth). The mighty Congo River forms the backbone of the country, carrying barges overflowing with Congolese (and the occasional adventurous Westerner) and merchants bringing their large pirogues laden with goods, fruit, and local bushmeat out to sell to those on the barges.
The country has faced a tragic, tumultuous history since colonization. It was plundered by Belgium’s King Leopold II for rubber and palm oil, collected forcibly from the Congolese by extremely brutal means. The country and its central government fell apart just weeks after independence in 1960. Future leaders spent far more time fighting rebels and trying to keep the country together. As such, they failed to build modern infrastructure, failed to improve education, failed to improve healthcare and failed to do anything else to improve the lives of the Congolese people. Between 1994 and 2003, the bloodiest conflict since the end of World War II played out in the country’s eastern jungles, with sporadic violence ongoing ever since. Millions of people have been displaced in the past 20 years, fleeing murder and mass rape carried out by rebels and hundreds of thousands remain in refugee camps to this day, sheltered by the largest UN peacekeeping mission (MONUC) in the world.
Those who do brave the elements to travel here are in for quite the adventure. In the east, volcanic peaks rise thousands of meters above the surrounding rainforest, often shrouded in mist. Hikers can climb up Mount Nyiragongo, looming above Goma, and spend the night on the rim above an active lava lake (one of just four worldwide!). In the jungles nearby, a small number of tourists each day are permitted to trek to families of gorillas. Along the mighty Congo River, a handful of travellers each year spend weeks floating hundreds of kilometres on barges loaded with cargo and Congolese. And don’t forget to pick up masks and other handicrafts in lively markets across the country.
The DRC is truly vast. At 2,345,408 square kilometres (905,567 sq mi), it is larger than the combined areas of Spain, France, Germany, Sweden, and Norway—or nearly three and a half times the size of Texas.
The defining feature of the country is the second largest rainforest in the world. Rivers large and small snake throughout the country and with a okay road network remains the main means of transport to this day. The Congo River is the third largest river in the world measured by discharge—it even continues into the Atlantic, forming a submarine canyon roughly 50 mi (80km) to the edge of the continental shelf! It also has the distinction of being one of the deepest rivers in the world with depths up to 220m (720 ft). Because of the huge volume of water, depth, and rapids, the Congo River is home to a large number of endemic species. The Congo River “begins” at Boyoma Falls near Kisangani. Above these falls, the river is known as the Lualaba River, whose longest tributary extends into Zambia. The Obangui River forms the border between the DRC and CAR/Congo-Brazzaville before flowing into the Congo River.
The Albertine Rifft—a branch of the East African Rift—runs along the eastern border of the DRC. It is responsible for Lakes Tanganyika, Kivu, Edward, & Albert. The rift is flanked by a number of extinct volcanoes and two volcanoes that are still active today. The Rwenzori Mountains and Virunga Mountains along the border with Rwanda are quite scenic, rising in the midst of lush tropical forests and sometimes eerily shrouded in mist. Several peaks are over 4000m (13,000 feet). Mount Nyiragongo contains one of only four continuous lava lakes in the world.
The only part of the country not covered by lush forests is the south, around the Kasai Province, which contains mostly savanna and grasslands.
The land that is now the DRC was the last region of Africa to be explored by Europeans. The Portuguese never managed to travel more than a one to two hundred kilometres from the Atlantic coast. Dozens of attempts were made by explorers to travel up the Congo River, but rapids, the impenetrable jungle around them, tropical diseases, and hostile tribes prevented even the most well-equipped parties from travelling beyond the first cataract 160km inland. Famed British explorer Dr Livingstone began exploring the Lualaba River, which he thought connected to the Nile but is actually the upper Congo, in the mid-1860s. After his famous meeting with Henry Morton Stanley in 1867, Livingstone travelled down the Congo River to Stanley Pool, which Kinshasa & Brazzaville now border. From there, he travelled overland to the Atlantic.
Climate. The country straddles the Equator, with one-third to the North and two-thirds to the South. As a result of this equatorial location, the Congo experiences large amounts of precipitation and has the highest frequency of thunderstorms in the world. The annual rainfall can total upwards of 80 inches (2,032 mm) in some places, and the area sustains the second largest rain forest in the world (after that of the Amazon). This massive expanse of lush jungle covers most of the vast, low-lying central basin of the river, which slopes toward the Atlantic Ocean in the West. This area is surrounded by plateaus merging into savannahs in the south and southwest, by mountainous terraces in the west, and dense grasslands extending beyond the Congo River in the north. High, glaciated mountains are found in the extreme eastern region.
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. A short novel published in 1903 based on the experiences of Conrad while working in the Congo Free State.
Through the Dark Continent by Henry Morton Stanley. An 1878 book documenting his trip down the Congo River.
King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild. A non-fiction popular history book which examines the activities of Leopold and the men who ran the Congo Free State. A best-seller with 400 000 copies printed since publication in 1998. It is the basis of a 2006 documentary of the same name.
Blood River:A Journey to Africa’s Broken Heart by Tim Butcher. The author carefully retraces the route of Stanley’s expedition in Through the Dark Continent and describes the challenges he faces.
When exiting the country by air, there is a USD50 departure tax that you’ll need to pay in cash at the airport. If you travel by boat from Kinshasa to Brazzaville, you officially need a special exit permit and a visa for Congo-Brazzaville. To save time/money/stress, you should probably contact your embassy in Kinshasa before taking the ferry.
Air. Kinshasa-N’djili airport (FIH). Built in 1953, it hasn’t had much in the way of upgrades and certainly doesn’t rank among the continent’s better airports.
From Africa: South African Airways, Kenyan Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, & Royal Air Maroc serve Kinshasa-N’djili multiple times a week from Johannesburg, Nairobi, Addis Ababa, & Casablanca (via Douala), respectively.
Other African airlines serving Kinshasa-N’Djili are: 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 (Lusaka).
From Europe: Air France & Brussels Airlines have regular direct flights. Turkish Airlines will begin service from Istanbul in August 2012. You can also try booking travel through one of the major African airlines like Eithiopian, South African, Kenyan, or Royal Air Maroc.
The DRC’s second city Lubumbashi (FBM) has an international airport served by Ethiopian Airlines (Lilongwe, Addis Ababa), Kenya Airways (Harare, Nairobi), Korongo (Johannesburg), Precision Air (Dar es Salaam, Lusaka), & South African Express (Johannesburg).
Other airports with international service are Goma (GOM) with service by CAA to Entebbe (Kampala) & Kisangani (FKI} which is served by Kenya Airways from Nairobi.
Train. There is one line entering the DRC from Zambia. However, trains are very infrequent and unless you absolutely have to take the train for some reason, you should enter by road/air. The line reaches Lubumbashi and continuing to Kananga. The trains in the DRC are very old and the tracks are in various states of disrepair, with derailments frequent. Even when the trains do run, which may be weeks apart, they are overcrowded and lack just about every convenience you’d want (a/c, dining car, sleeper berths, etc). Many of the lines in the southeast are no longer used. However Chinese companies who operate mines in the region are working to fix existing lines and build new ones, mainly for freight but some passenger service is likely in a few years (maybe by 2015?).
Car.The roads as a whole are too rocky or muddy for cars without 4 wheel drive. Decent paved roads connect the Katanga region with Zambia and Kinshasa down to Matadi and Angola. Roads enter the DRC from Uganda, Rwanda, & Burundi, although travelling far past the border is very difficult and parts of the Eastern DRC remain unsafe. There are ferries to take vehicles across the Congo River from Congo-Brazzaville and it may be possible to find a ferry from the CAR to the remote, unpaved roads of the northern DRC.
Bus. From Uganda to Congo via Bunagana-Kisoro border. There are many buses which operate daily between Bunagana/Uganda and Goma. Entry and exit procedures at Bunagana border are “easy” and straight forward, and people are very helpful.
Boat.. Between Brazzaville and Kinshasa VIP ferry (Carnot Rapide) recommended as new and not cramped. Entry and exit procedures in Brazzaville are “easy” but difficult in Kinshasa. Speed boats speed across the river along the rapids.
Air. Due to the immense size of the country, the terrible state of the roads and the poor security situation, the only way to get around the country quickly is by plane. This is not to say that it’s safe — Congolese planes crash with depressing regularity, with eight recorded crashes in 2007 alone — but it’s still a better alternative to traveling overland or by boat.
Compagnie Africain d’Aviation, with service to Goma, Kananga, Kindu, Kinshasa-N’djili, Kisangani, Lubumbashi, Mbandaka, Mbuji-Mayi, & Entebbe(Kampala), Uganda. The largest and longest-operating carrier
Stellar Airlines operates one Airbus A320 plane between Kinshasa-N’djili and Goma and Lubumbashi.
FlyCongo was formed in 2012 from the remnants of former national airline Hewa Bora, operating from Kinshasa-N’djili to Gemena, Goma, Kisangani, Lubumbashi, & Mbandaka.
Lignes Aeriennes Congolaises flies to Goma, Lubumbashi, Kindu, Kinshasa-N’djili, Kisangani, & Mbuji-Mayi.
Air Kasaï operates from Kinshasa-N’Dolo to Beni, Bunia, Goma, & Lubumbashi.
Korongo Airlines base in Lubumbashi to Kinshasa-N’djili and Johannesburg, with routes to Kolwezi and Mbuji-Maya. Maintenance for Korongo is carried out by Brussels Airlines, so its probably the safest choice.
Congo Express flies only between Lubumbashi and Kinshasa.
Truck. As smaller vehicles are unable to negotiate what remains of the roads, a lot of travel in the Congo is done by truck. If you go to a truck park, normally near the market, you should be able to find a truck driver to take you where ever you want, conflict zones aside. You travel on top of the load with a large number of others. If you pick a truck carrying bags of something soft like peanuts it can be quite comfortable. Beer trucks are not. If the trip takes days then comfort can be vital, especially if the truck goes all night. It helps to sit along the back, as the driver will not stop just because you want the toilet. The cost has to be negotiated so ask hotel staff first and try not to pay more than twice the local rate. It is best to travel with a few others. Women should never ever travel alone. Some roads have major bandit problems so check carefully before going.
At army checkpoints locals are often hassled for bribes. Foreigners are normally left alone, but prepare some kind of bribe just in case. By the middle of the afternoon the soldiers can be drunk so be very careful and very polite. Never lose your temper.
Ferry. A ferry on the Congo River operates from Kinshasa to Kisangani, every week or two. The ferry consists of 4 or so barges are tied around a central ferry, with the barges used as a floating market. As the ferry proceeds wood canoes paddled by locals appear from the surrounding jungle with local produce – vegetables, pigs, monkeys, etc – which are traded for industrial goods like medicine or clothes. You sit on the roof watching as wonderful African music booms out. Of course it is not clean, comfortable or safe. It is however one of the world’s great adventures.
Train. The few trains which still operate in the DRC are in very poor condition and run on tracks laid by the Belgian colonial government over a half century ago. The rolling stock is very old and dilapidated. You are lucky to get a hard seat and even luckier if your train has a dining car (which probably has limited options that run out halfway through the trip). Expect the car to be overcrowded with many sitting on the roof. Trains in the DRC operate on an erratic schedule due to lack of funds or fuel and repairs/breakdowns that are frequent. On many lines, there can be 2-3 weeks between trains. If there’s any upside, there haven’t been too many deaths due to derailments (probably less than have died in airplane crashes in the DRC). There’s really no way to book a train ride in advance; simply show up at the station and ask the stationmaster when the next train will run and buy a ticket on the day it leaves. The Chinese government in return for mining rights has agreed to construct US$9 billion in railroads and highways, but there is little to show for this as of 2012.
As of 2012, the following lines are in operation…but as mentioned above, that doesn’t imply frequent service:
Kinshasa-Matadi—Built in the 1890s by forced labor (of whom 7000 died), this line is the busiest in the country. There is possibly once or twice weekly service.
Lubumbashi-Ilebo—Possible weekly service, with the journey taking 6-8 days. In 2007, the Chinese agreed to extend the line to Kinshasa, but current progress in unknown. Ilebo lies at the end of the navigable portion of the Kasai River, allowing travelers to transfer to ferry to reach Western DRC.
Kamina-Kindu—Unusable after the war, this line has been recently rehabilitated. The line connects with the Lubumbashi-Ilebo line, so there may be trains running from Lubumbashi-Kindu.
Kisangani-Ubundu—A portage line to bypass the Stanley Falls on the Congo, service only runs when there is freight to carry when a boat arrives at either end which may be once every 1-2 months. There are no passenger ferries from Ubundu to Kindu, but you may be able to catch a ride on a cargo boat.
Bumba-Isiro—An isolated, narrow-guage line in the northern jungles, service has restarted on a small western section from Bumba-Aketi (and possibly Buta). There were reports of trains running in the eastern section in 2008, but this part is most likely abandoned.
Lines that are most likely inoperable or very degraded/abandoned are:
UNESCO World Heritage List – Virunga National Park (gorillas), Kahuzi-Biega National Park (gorillas), Garamba National Park, Salonga National Park, Okapi Wildlife Reserve (okapis and learn the secrets of the Mbuti), Maiko National Park
Mount Nyiragongo – In Goma in the extreme eastern part of Congo. The Nyiragongo volcano with a red lava lake is popular. Sleep on the rim.
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.
Congo River – The river being the largest one in the Western Central Africa, is a popular attraction by boat. Best for Wildlife
Kundelunga National Park
Lola Ya Bonobo Sanctuary. bonobo, a rare, peace-loving relative of chimpanzeesBest for Adventure
Overland Kinshasa to Lubumbashi – hike the jungle, the adventure of a lifetime.
Forest hikes with the pygmies
Rwenzori Mountains – go hiking
Western DRC (Kinshasa) – home to the capital Kinshasa and the nation’s only port. Mostly tropical forests and grazing lands.
Katanga – mostly fertile plateaus for agriculture & ranching, home to much of the country’s recoverable minerals; de facto independent from 1960-1963 during the “Katanga Crisis”
Kasai – significant diamond mining, not much else.
Kivu (Bukavu, Goma, Kahuzi-Biega National Park, Virunga National Park) – influenced by neighboring Burundi, Rwanda, & Uganda this region is known for its volcanoes, mountain gorillas, and, tragically, its unfathomable conflicts .
Epulu River – The “Academie des Beaux-Arts” – gallery a good place to meet the famous artists of this country.
Congo has one national dish: moambe. It’s made of eight ingredients (moambe is the Lingala word for eight): palm nuts, chicken, fish, peanuts, rice, cassave leaves, bananas and hot pepper sauce.
Drink. Do not drink the local water. Bottled water seems to be cheap enough, but sometimes hard to find for a good price. The usual soft drinks (called sucré in Congo) such as Coke, Pepsi, Um Bongo and Mirinda are available in most places and are safe to drink. Local drinks like Vitalo are amazing. Traditional drinks like ginger are also common.
The local beer is based on rice, and tastes quite good. Primus, Skol, Castel are the most common brands. Tembo, Doppel are the dark local beers.
In rural areas, try the local palm wine, an alcoholic beverage from the sap of the palm tree. It is tapped right from the tree, and begins fermenting immediately after collection. After two hours, fermentation yields an aromatic wine of up to 4% alcohol content, mildly intoxicating and sweet. The wine may be allowed to ferment longer, up to a day, to yield a stronger, more sour and acidic taste, which some people prefer.
Beware of the local gin. Sometimes unscrupulous vendors mix in methanol which is toxic and can cause blindness. Some people believe that the methanol is a by product of regular fermentation. This is not the case as regular fermentation can not yield methanol in toxic amounts.
ACCOMMODATION. There are more and more hotels in Kinshasa, with smaller hotels available in Gombe and Ngaliema area.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo has seen more than its fair share of violence. A number of ongoing wars, conflicts, and episodes of fighting have occurred since independence, with sporadic, regional violence continuing today. As a result, significant sections of the country should be considered off-limits to travellers.
In the northeastern part of the country, the LRA (of child-soldier & ‘Kony’ fame) continues to roam the jungles near the border with the CAR/South Sudan/Uganda. Although a few areas very close to the Ugandan border are relatively safe to visit, travel anywhere north and east of Kisangani & Bumba is dangerous.
The regions of North & South Kivu have been in a state of continuous conflict since the early 1990s. The days of the notoriously bloody violence officially ended in 2003, but low-level violence by warlords/factions has occurred ever since and this region is home to the largest UN peacekeeping mission in the world (as of 2012). Hundreds of thousands live in refugee camps near Goma. In April 2012, a new faction—”M23″—arose, lead by Gen. Ntaganda (wanted by the ICC for war crimes) and has captured/attacked many towns in the region, where they are accused of killing civilians and raping women. This has been the most serious crisis since the end of war in 2003. In mid-July, they threatened to invade Goma to protect the Tutsi population there from “harassment”; the UN peacekeeping mission quickly responded that they would reposition 19,000 peacekeepers to protect Goma & nearby refugee camps. The only safe areas in North/South Kivu are the cities of Goma & Bukavu and Virunga National Park, all on the Rwandan border.
The road network needs improvement and traveling long distances can take weeks, especially during the wetter months. Even some of the country’s “main” roads are little more than mud tracks that can only be traveled by 4×4 or 6×6 trucks. The DRC has 2250km of sealed roads, of which the UN considers only 1226km to be in “good” condition. To put this in perspective, the road distance east-west across the country in any direction is over 2500km (eg. Matadi to Lubumbashi is 2700 by road)! Another comparison is that there are just 35km of paved highway per 1 000 000 people — Zambia (one of the poorest African countries) and Botswana (one of the richest) have 580 km and 3427 km per 1 000 000 people, respectively. Public transportation is almost non-existent and the primary means of travel is catching a ride on a truck where several paying passengers are allowed to sit atop the cargo (This is dangerous!!) or catching a ride on a taxi if your in the cities.
Congolese planes crash with depressing regularity, with eight recorded crashes in 2007 alone. Despite this, the risks of air travel remain on par with travel by road, barge, or rail. The notorious Hewa Bora airlines has gone out of business and the creation of a handful of new airlines between 2010-2012 should lead to improvement in the safety of air travel in the DRC. Avoid at all costs, old Soviet aircraft that are often chartered to carry cargo and perhaps a passenger or two and stick with the commercial airlines operating newer aircraft. If you still are fearful of getting on a Congolese plane and aren’t as concerned about cost, you can try flying with a foreign carrier such as Kenyan Airways (which flies to Kinshasa, Lubumbashi, & Kisangani) or Ethiopian (Kinshasha, Lubumbashi). Just be sure to check the visa requirements to transit.
Travel by river boat or barge remains somewhat risky, although safer than by road. Overcrowded barges have sunk and aging boats have capsized traveling along the Congo River, resulting in hundreds of deaths. Before catching a ride, take a look at the vessel you will be boarding and if you don’t feel safe, it is better to wait for the next boat, even if you must wait several days.
Most of the country’s rail network is in disrepair, with little maintenance carried out since the Belgians left. A few derailings have occurred, resulting in large numbers of casualties. Trains in the DRC are also overloaded, don’t even think of joining the locals riding on the roof!
Crime is a serious problem across much of the country. During the waning years of Mobutu’s rule, Kinshasa had one of the highest murder rates in the world, and travel to Kinshasa was comparable to Baghdad during the Iraq War! While the levels of violence have subsided immensely , Kinshasa is now medium-high crime city (comparable to Abidjan). Keep anything that can be perceived as valuable by a Congolese out of sight when in vehicles, as smash-and-grab crime at intersections occurs. Markets in larger cities are rife with pickpockets. Keep in mind that the DRC remains among the poorest(But most developing) countries in Africa and compared to the locals, most white people are perceived as rich. Be vigilant of thieves in public places. If traveling in remote areas, smaller villages are usually safer than larger ones. Hotel rooms outside the biggest cities often don’t have adequate safety (like flimsy locks on doors or ground-level windows that don’t lock or have curtains).
Taking photos in public can be cause for suspicion. Do not photograph anything that can be perceived as a national security threat, such as bridges, roadblocks, border crossings, and government buildings.
The DRC has quite poor health care infrastructure/facilities. Outside the capital Kinshasa, there are very few hospitals or clinics for sick or injured travellers to visit. If you are traveling on one of the country’s isolated, muddy roads or along the Congo River, you could be over a week away from the nearest clinic or hospital! A number of tropical diseases are present.
Stay healthy. You will need a yellow fever vaccination in order to enter the country. There are health officials at entry points, such as the airport in Kinshasa who check this before you are allowed to enter.
Congo is malarial, although slightly less in the Kivu region due to the altitude, so use insect repellent and take the necessary precautions such as sleeping under mosquito nets. The riverside areas (such as Kinshasa) are quite prone to malaria.
If you need emergency medical assistance, it is advised that you go to your nation’s embassy. The embassy doctors are normally willing and skilled enough to help. There are safe hospitals in Kinshasa, like “CMK” (Centre Medical de Kinshasa) which is is private and was established by European doctors. Another private and non-profit hospital is Centre Hospitalier MONKOLE, in Mont-Ngafula district, with European and Congolese doctors.
Drink lots of water when outside. The heat and close proximity to the equator can easily give those not acclimated heatstroke after just a few hours outside without water.
Authoritarian Legacy. Photography is officially illegal without an official permit which, last known was $60. Even with this permit, photography is very difficult with the Congolese becoming extremely upset when photographed without permission or when one is taking a picture of a child. These confrontations can be easily diffused by apologizing profusely and not engaging in the argument. Sometimes a small bribe might be needed to “grease the wheels” as well.
Never under any condition photograph government buildings or structures which include but are not limited to police stations, presidential palaces, border crossings, and anywhere in the airport. You will be detained by police if caught and unable to bribe them for your transgression.
When motorcades pass, all vehicular traffic is expected to provide a clear path. Do not photograph these processions.
At approximately 6AM and 6PM daily, the national flag is raised and lowered. All traffic and pedestrians are required to stop for this ceremony, with reports indicating that those who do not are detained by security personnel.
There are a number of Internet Service Providers in DRC but the country is so vast that many of the enterprises rely on VSAT satellite services.