Making raffia rope in Congo
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Making raffia rope in Congo

© Creative Commons / Nick Hobgood

Congo Travel Guide

Key Facts
Area

2,345,410 sq km (905,563 sq miles).

Population

75.5 million (2013).

Population density

32.2 per sq km.

Capital

Kinshasa.

Government

Republic. Gained independence from Belgium in 1960.

Head of state

President Joseph Kabila since 2001.

Head of government

Prime Minister Augustin Matata Ponyo Mapon since 2012.

Electricity

220 volts AC, 50Hz. Plugs with two round pins are used.

Congo has many beautiful landscapes, with lakes and forests, waterfalls and wildlife. However, this is a vast country, with an almost non-existent transport infrastructure. It is mired in conflict and a long and intricate history.

A five-year civil war from 1998 to 2003 resulted in the deaths of around 3 million people, not only through the fighting itself, but also through hunger and disease.

Joseph Kabila, son of assassinated former president Laurent Kabila, was installed as president in 2001 and elected by the people in a historic presidential election in 2006. He now faces the formidable job of bringing back some level of normality to this scarred country, where the threat of civil war has not disappeared.

Visitors are advised to check the latest travel advice before visiting

Travel Advice

Last updated: 28 March 2015

The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. 'We' refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.


Crime

Be alert to the risk of street crime and armed robbery at all times. Foreigners are at particular risk of street robbery in Kinshasa, especially near hotels and supermarkets in the centre of town. Robberies by gangs of street children are increasingly common and becoming more aggressive. There have been reports of an increase in criminal activity in North and South Kivu specifically targeting the international community. There have been many reports of robberies and banditry in Goma after dark. You should not travel to Goma after dark.

Don’t walk in the streets alone at any time. Avoid displaying valuables and cash. Use a hotel safe if possible and keep copies of documents, including your passport separately.

Some gangs use girls to lure people into traps; others promise cut-price gold and diamonds, or pose as police or security forces. There is also a risk of arbitrary arrests of foreigners by security authorities who demand payment for release.

Local Travel

The FCO advise against all travel to eastern and north eastern DRC. The only exceptions to this are the towns of Bukavu and Goma, to which the FCO advise against all but essential travel. The FCO advise against all but essential travel to the remainder of the DRC.

If you’re in North Kivu against FCO advice you should keep your security situation under review. Attacks on the civilian population of Beni territory led to several hundred deaths in late 2014. These attacks were allegedly carried out against women and children and include reported mutilations and rape. During fighting in the region in 2012 and 2013, shells landed on Goma causing civilian deaths and injuries. There was also shelling around the border with Rwanda in late 2012 and explosions in the town of Gisenyi on the Rwandan side of the border. While British Embassy staff do visit Goma, there aren’t always staff in the area, and our ability to offer consular assistance is therefore severely limited.

The security situation in the wider area of eastern DRC remains unstable. As well as civil unrest sometimes leading to anger at the international community, a risk of criminal acts remains, and attacks by armed men on NGO compounds have taken place.

The border crossings between Rwanda and the DRC at Gisenyi/Goma and Cyangugu/Bukavu are currently open between 06:00 and 18:00. Both borders are liable to short notice closure and you should not rely on them as a point of exit from DRC. If you are crossing regularly between Rwanda and the DRC you may encounter immigration difficulties if you have not regularised your residency status. There have been a number of security incidents in Lubumbashi and surrounding areas of Katanga. On 23 March 2013, the armed group Mai Mai Kata Katanga entered Lubumbashi and clashed with security forces. In late June 2013, they threatened to march on Lubumbashi.

On 7 January 2014 there were reports of fighting in Katanga Province, and the situation remains tense, particularly around the town of Pweto. You are advised to exercise particular caution if travelling in Katanga.

You should be prepared to move at short notice or lock down for a period of time. In the event of escalating tensions and civil unrest, commercial flights may be suspended and borders closed. Keep your travel documents up to date. Those who did not have valid travel documents faced great difficulties leaving the DRC following the fall of Goma in November 2012.

The lack of reliable air transport and continued insecurity may prevent the British Embassy in Kinshasa from being able to extend normal levels of consular assistance to British nationals anywhere in DRC other than Kinshasa.
The local authorities may impose curfews without warning. You should follow the directives of the local authorities at all times.

The border crossing between the DRC and Uganda at Bunagana remains closed due to military action in the area.

The DRC’s borders with Burundi and Angola can also be subject to closure at short notice. The Virunga National Park in North Kivu is currently closed for gorilla trekking, and armed groups are thought to be active within the park. The Nyiragongo volcano in Virunga National Park has also closed to tourists. The north eastern district of Ituri, near the frontier with Uganda, remains subject to inter-factional conflict despite the presence of the UN and the Congolese army.
Following the unrest in the Central African Republic (CAR), there are reports that around 37,000 refugees from CAR have crossed the border into DRC and are now in the Gemena area in Equateur Province.

The DRC’s borders with Burundi and Angola can also be subject to closure at short notice. The opportunities for gorilla trekking in the Virunga National Park in North Kivu are limited, and armed groups are thought to be active within the park. The Nyiragongo volcano in Virunga National Park is active and has only limited access to tourists. The north eastern district of Ituri, near the frontier with Uganda, remains subject to inter-factional conflict despite the presence of the UN and the Congolese army. Following the unrest in the Central African Republic (CAR), there are reports that around 37,000 refugees from CAR have crossed the border into DRC and are now in the Gemena area in Equateur Province.

The Lord’s Resistance Army, a rebel group originating in northern Uganda, is currently operating in north eastern DRC.

Road travel

You will need an international driving permit to drive in DRC. Car hire is possible in Kinshasa although self-drive options are limited. Most car hire companies will only rent a car with a driver.

There is no reliable public transport. Over-crowded and poorly maintained vans serve as buses in Kinshasa. A few taxis are available from the large hotels, but these do not meet western safety standards. Outside Kinshasa and other main cities, most roads are barely drivable even with a 4x4, especially during the rainy season (September to May).

Be aware of vehicle theft and car-jacking. Lock vehicle doors and keep windows closed when driving and watch out for armed gangs who may target your car. Don’t drive off the main routes or park in unsupervised areas.

DRC’s security forces operate roadblocks, particularly after dark. If you are asked to produce documents for inspection at a check point, remain in your vehicle and show them through closed windows.

Rail travel

The railways are in a dilapidated state. You should avoid rail travel.

Air travel

All air carriers certified in the DRC are banned from operating within the EU due to safety concerns. You should avoid flying on these airlines. On 4 March 2013 a CAA aircraft crashed in Goma killing several passengers.

There is a departure tax of $50 per passenger on international flights and $10 per passenger on domestic flights. These are official fees paid when checking in.

River travel

The ferry service between Kinshasa and Brazzaville is operating, but is subject to cancellation at little notice. The ferry stops running in late afternoon, and there is no service on Sundays.

Boats and ferries serving the rivers and lakes are poorly maintained and often overloaded. As a result of the low safety standards, high river traffic levels, strong currents, shifting sandbanks and poor maintenance there have been many accidents.

Political situation

There is a risk of political demonstrations, which can turn violent. From 19-22 January there were violent demonstrations in Kinshasa in response to an electoral reform bill being considered by parliament. Troops were deployed to the streets to maintain order. Several schools were closed and movement around the city was restricted. There have also been violent demonstrations in other areas of the country, including in Goma.

There were shooting incidents in Kinshasa on 30 December 2013 around the national TV and radio station RTNC, the airport and the main army barracks and Ministry of Defence at Ngaliema. There were also reports of fighting in Lubumbashi, Katanga Province and in Kindu, Maniema Province.

On 24 May 2013, a small demonstration in Bukavu turned violent resulting in several hours of unrest and looting. On 18 July 2013, large scale demonstrations took place in Goma. You should monitor local and international media for information about planned demonstrations or any other events which may affect the local security situation The BBC world service broadcasts on 92.6 FM in Kinshasa and 92 FM in Kisangani and Lubumbashi. Radio Okapi broadcasts in French on 103.5 FM. You should avoid all demonstrations.

A heavy United Nations peace keeping presence is deployed in eastern DRC. Since April 2009, the Congolese army has been carrying out operations against foreign and armed groups operating in North and South Kivu province. Large numbers of civilians remain displaced as a result of the conflict. Acts of violence, including killing, rape and looting continue against the civilian population.

Insecurity in eastern DRC has allowed other armed groups in the area to operate more freely. There has been an increase in rebel group activity in Orientale, Katanga and both North- and South Kivu.

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