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.
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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
Travellers are advised against all travel to Bas-Congo and to eastern and north eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), including entering DRC from Uganda and Rwanda. This is due to continued insecurity and lawlessness in these areas. Since late August 2007, there has been a significant increase in the fighting between the Congolese army and insurgents in North Kivu province, leading to very high numbers of civilians being displaced.
Travellers are advised against all but essential travel to the rest of DRC because of continuing tension and insecurity. The situation can deteriorate at short notice, as happened in Kinshasa in March 2007.
Violent clashes took place between a local political group, the BDK, and the police in Bas-Congo (south western DRC) on 5 January 2008. Five people were reported to have been killed. The BDK and government troops fought in Bas-Congo at the end of January and early February 2007, when over 100 people are reported to have been killed. The situation in Bas-Congo remains tense.
Travellers should also continue to remain vigilant at all times if travelling elsewhere in DRC.
Ndjili International Airport and Kinshasa's ferry terminal are likely to close at short notice if the security situation in town deteriorates. Visitors should check with their airline before travelling.
The threat from terrorism is low.
Travellers should be aware of the risk of street robbery of foreigners in Kinshasa by individuals posing as plain-clothes police, and gangs promising cut price gold and diamonds to lure the unwary.
This advice is based on information provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. It is correct at time of publishing. As the situation can change rapidly, visitors are advised to contact the following organisations for the latest travel advice: