DR Congo Country Report
Prior to departure, all travelers to the Democratic Republic of Congo (population 79 million) should take note of the tense political situation. The security situation remains extremely volatile across much of the country.
AREAS TO AVOID
Most Western governments formally advise their nationals against all travel to the eastern regions of the DRC (Haut [Upper] Uele, Ituri, North Kivu, South Kivu, Haut Lomami, Maniema, and Tanganyika) and in the Kasaï, Kasaï Central, and Kasaï Oriental provinces. All travel to within 50 km (30 mi) of the northern border with Central African Republic and South Sudan is also advised against.
Travel to the cities of Goma (North Kivu province) and Bukavu (South Kivu) is more permissible, but most Western governments advise against all but essential travel to these cities, along with the the N'djili and Kimbanseke districts of Kinshasa.
The Congolese government struggles to exert control over the military which, in turn, fails to maintain a stable security environment across much of the country. Members of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) are sometimes directly responsible for violence carried out against the civilian population and represent a real threat to national stability. Be alert and cooperative in all dealings with Congolese soldiers.
Numerous armed groups remain present across the country, particularly in the restive eastern Kivu provinces and the south-central Kasaï provinces. Violent clashes between these groups and government forces, as well as between rival groups, are common. Around 70 armed groups are officially known to operate in the eastern region alone.
Since December 2016, heightened political tensions between the ruling party and the opposition have contributed to a worsening security situation.
President Joseph Kabila's refusal to step down, despite the expiration of his term on December 20, 2016, has led to deadly protests and recurrent clashes between security forces and demonstrations. Political protests in September and December 2016 left dozens dead in Kinshasa and other major cities.
On December 31, the National Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO), helped broker a deal to end the crisis between the government and the Rassemblement opposition alliance. Under the agreement, elections were supposed to take place before the end of 2017. The government, however, failed to honor the agreement, citing budgetary constraints and violent unrest. The Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) announced on November 5, that the long-awaited presidential, legislative, regional, and local elections would only take place on December 23, 2018. The move was widely criticized by the opposition coalition, who called for protests and acts of civil disobedience, insisting that Kabila leave office by the end of 2017 and hand over power to a transitional administration.
Travelers should be aware that political demonstrations often turn violent, and security forces have been known to violently crack down on demonstrations. As a precaution, travelers are thus advised to closely monitor the local situation and avoid any political gatherings.
Meanwhile, the falling prices of raw materials, and the resulting drop in revenue and value of the currency, undermine the economic prospects of the country. The World Bank reports GDP growth rates have fallen from just over 9 percent in 2014 to 2.5 percent in 2016, although projections indicate a slight uptick in growth in 2017. Simultaneously, access to electricity and general living conditions have deteriorated throughout the country, a combination that could lead to significant social challenges.
Crime rates are high throughout the country - particularly in the capital Kinshasa - due to poor economic conditions and social inequalities. Theft, burglary, carjacking, assault, and extortion are common in the capital. Foreigners are regularly targeted due to their assumed wealth. Residential neighborhoods of Kinshasa, such as La Gombe, are not exempt from crime or armed attacks. Due to the rise in the number of thefts, increased vigilance is also required outside supermarkets and hotels in the center of the capital. Moreover, it is advised to avoid walking around at night. When traveling by car, lock doors and keep windows closed; youth gangs known as "Shegue" operate in traffic jams while vehicles are stopped and vulnerable to theft. Permanent professional security protection is strongly advised.
Given the country's large size, air transportation is preferred for any long-distance trips. However, domestic aviation safety standards in the DRC remain poorly enforced. Despite various safe western airline companies operating in the DRC, all local airlines are listed on the European Union blacklist.
According to French authorities, only 15 percent of the roadways in the country are drivable, with driving conditions significantly worse during and after the rainy season (April to October in the north, and from November to March in the south).
Dangerous driving conditions created by poorly maintained roads are exacerbated by locals' aggressive driving habits and poor vehicle maintenance. Moreover, all night travel should be avoided due to the lack of public lighting and traffic signs. Outside major cities, all travel must be done during the day, with all-terrain (i.e. 4X4) vehicles with adequate supplies of water, food and fuel. Travelers should also ensure that the vehicle contains spare parts (wheels, cables, etc.) and have effective means of telecommunication.
Public transportation is nonexistent for the most part and otherwise not recommended.
Rail travel should also be avoided as the rail network can be unsafe and unreliable.
Ferries linking Kinshasa to Brazzaville via the Congo River exist, however, it is recommended to ensure vessels are adequately maintained and have life vests on board as not all ferries adhere to proper safety standards. On Lake Kivu, daily shuttles link Goma to Bukavu. Accidents are sometimes reported.
Access to electricity is not guaranteed throughout the country and power outages are common, especially in Kinshasa.
Access to drinking water is also not guaranteed in the DRC; in 2015 only 50 percent of the population had access (80 percent located in urban areas and 30 percent in rural areas), and some Kinshasa neighborhoods experience drinking water shortages.
Use of mobile phones and internet is expanding in the country. In the past, authorities have unilaterally cut all access to social media communications in Kinshasa (Twitter, Facebook, etc.), including during violent political protests in December 2016.
Volcanic activity in North Kivu makes the eastern part of the country vulnerable to natural disaster. Although the last significant volcanic eruption was in 2004, minor eruptions or earthquakes may occur, as was experienced in August 2015 in Goma and Bukavu.
Pockets of methane gas and carbon dioxide (linked to volcanic activity) are present around and on Lake Kivu.
It is forbidden to take photographs of "sensitive" government buildings as well as government officials (police and military in particular). The assessment of the "sensitivity" of a location remains random; it is advisable to remain cautious and always ask permission.
Although it may be possible to enter the DRC from Rwanda or Uganda, it is likely that travelers entering from those countries will encounter difficulties with customs authorities. Similarly, entering the country with satellite phones, military clothing, or GPS devices, even if not per se illegal, may raise questions from customs officers.
Prior to departure, travelers should purchase health insurance covering overseas care and medical repatriation, the latter being mandatory in case of an urgent health issue.
A certificate of immunization against yellow fever is mandatory to enter the DRC for travelers over nine months of age; without it, entry to the territory may be refused. Regarding malaria, also highly prevalent, it is recommended to take individual protection measures against mosquito bites and other suitable treatments.
Tap water is not drinkable. Diarrheal diseases are frequent in the country. It is thus recommended to only drink filtered bottled water, ensure that food has been properly cleaned before eating, and wash hands several times a day.
To avoid any risk of parasitic infection, it is advised to avoid bathing or washing clothes in bodies of stagnant water like ponds or lakes. It is not advised to walk barefoot outdoors.
Moreover, it is necessary to take precautions against HIV/AIDS, which is highly prevalent throughout the country.
The DRC continues to suffer from outbreaks of measles, cholera, and yellow fever. In the eastern regions of the country, there were over 38,000 cases of those diseases recorded in the first six months of 2017, leading to over 700 deaths. In the last six months of 2016, there were some 32,000 cases and 670 deaths recorded.
A localized breakout of Ebola virus disease (EVD) in Bas-Uele was declared over in July 2017; isolated breakouts of the disease occur with some frequency in the country, mostly in remote areas. EVD is extremely virulent. Despite a dilapidated healthcare system, international health organizations operating in the country as well as the local population are well versed in responding to the disease and are able to able to do so effectively. However, given the highly infectious nature of the disease, travelers should monitor for any outbreaks and immediately seek medical attention if they believe they could have been exposed to the disease.
Finally, public health infrastructure is weak in the country; in case of an emergency, it is advised to head for private health facilities while planning in advance for expedited travel home in the event of severe medical emergencies.
The climate is equatorial in the north of the DRC and rainy all year round (with a slight respite from rains in the months from December to February) with constant temperatures (26°C). In the extreme north the climate is wet and tropical. Heading south, the climate becomes drier with more distinct seasons and a shorter rainy season. In the south, the dry season lasts for some six months (May to September). In the highlands the climate is alpine at intermediate elevations and with abundant snowfall at the highest elevations. At the mouth of the Congo River the climate is more “oceanic” (cooler temperatures, lower levels of rainfall) due to the cold Banguela current.
Useful NumbersCountry Code: +243
There are no emergency services in the DRC.
Voltage: 220 V ~ 50 Hz
DRC: Kidnapped Congolese aid worker released Feb. 19 /update 1
TIMEFRAME: from 2/21/2018, 12:00 AM until 2/28/2018, 11:59 PM (Africa/Kinshasa).
DRC: Two aid workers killed and one kidnapped in North Kivu
TIMEFRAME: from 2/20/2018, 12:00 AM until 2/27/2018, 11:59 PM (Africa/Kinshasa).