Democratic Republic of Congo

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Background

A vast country with immense economic resources, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been at the centre of what is often called ‘Africa’s World War’. This has left it in the grip of a humanitarian crisis, and despite a peace deal and the formation of a transitional government in 2003, people in the east of the country remain in terror of marauding militia and the army. However, it remains one of the wealthiest countries in the world, in terms of natural resources, with a heavy reliance on the mining of cobalt, copper, industrial diamonds, gold and coltan.

Important Cities

Kinshasa is the capital and largest city, located on the Congo River in the west, with approximately 10 million inhabitants. The copper-mining city of Lubumbashi is the hub of the south-east.

Climate

The DRC is mostly hot and humid. The coastline is fairly dry, while the central region receives a lot of rain. The equator splits the country into two climatic zones. The south is driest and coolest from April to October and wet from November to March. The north is driest from December to February, and wet from April to October.

Visas

All foreign nationals require a visa, with the exception of travellers on transit flights, who do not leave the airport.

Connectivity

Internet accessibility is fairly adequate in urban areas, but dependent on electricity. There is some mobile phone network coverage and local providers have roaming agreements with a few international companies, but visitors should avoid attracting unwanted attention by using mobile phones in public.

Travel Tips

Due to political and military volatility and many socio-economic challenges, visiting the DRC is risky and visitors are advised to avoid all but essential travel, especially to the eastern and north-eastern regions. There is a high risk of street crime and visitors should not walk alone at any time. Keep a copy of your passport on you and other copies separately. Avoid displaying any valuables. Crowds gather quickly, so move away if you’re involved in a car accident. Refrain from taking photos in public, particularly of official buildings, borders and airport. Failure to do so can lead to arrest. Journalists need permits, and female travellers should be extremely cautious. Congolese francs can’t be converted or taken out of the country.

Getting Around

In addition to the bad state of roads, political instability makes travelling by car or bus extremely unsafe. Although trains and ferries are an option, domestic travel is best done by air, although travellers should be aware of the country’s poor air safety record. Serious business travellers should consider private charters. Taxi services are available in Kinshasa, but they are unreliable, and car rental options are limited and usually require that a chauffeur also be hired. Driving is done on the right-hand side.

Health

All travellers require a yellow fever certificate. There is a high risk of malaria and HIV, rabies, sleeping sickness and bilharzia are prevalent. Immunisation against typhoid, tetanus and hepatitis A and B is recommended.

Contacts

No notable DRC-based websites, so consult travel sites such as lonelyplanet.com/democratic-republic-of-congo.

Fact File
Population: 71 million
Time zone: Eastern DRC – GMT+2; Western DRC (Kinshasa) – GMT+1
Plugs: Two and three-prong round sockets
Dialling: code: +243 + area code + number
Currency: Congolese franc and US dollars – US$1=902.2CDF
GDP growth rate (2010): 7.2%
Languages: French, Lingala, Kiswahili, Kikongo, Tshiluba

Jacqueline Cochrane

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