The Democratic Republic of the Congo is the largest and most populous country in Central Africa. It straddles the Equator and has plenty of neighbours, in the form of Angola, Congo, CAR, South Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania and Zambia.
Population: 71 million
Time zone: East: GMT+2; West: GMT+1
Plugs: Two and three-prong round sockets
Dialling code: +243
Currency: Congolese franc and US dollars – $1=911CDF
Languages: French, Lingala, Kiswahili, Kikongo, Tshiluba
A vast country with immense economic resources, the DRC has had its share of internal conflict. Although it isn’t considered as risky as it used to be, visitors are encouraged to do their homework before travelling. The DRC’s wealth lies in enormous mineral deposits, including copper and cobalt, and business travel is predicted to grow due to the hydro power development at Inga Falls. The World Bank and other financial institutions are expected to offer finance and South Africa has agreed to buy half of the power generated. A new $20-billion development was announced recently in Paris, with work planned to start in October 2015. This would make the complete Grand Inga development the largest hydro project in the world. In theory, say its backers, it could provide 40% of Africa’s electricity needs.
Business Travel Activity
SA Express reinstated its flights once the runway at Lubumbashi International Airport was re-opened, whilst both Kempinski and Carlson Rezidor have earmarked the DRC as a future growth opportunity, with Kempinski announcing at the Africa Hotel Investment Forum in Kenya in September that it has its eye on both Rwanda and the DRC in the short-term.
N’Djili International Airport in Kinshasa is the largest international airport in the DRC. Other major airports are Lubumbashi International Airport and Goma International Airport.
NIA, built in 1953, has not had much in the way of upgrades and certainly does not rank among the continent’s better airports. There are no 24-hour food concessions, although there is a restaurant operated by the Grand Hotel and a small cafeteria operated by RVA (Regie des Voies Aerienne) during airport opening hours. Luggage storage lockers are not available, and travellers should watch their personal belongings at all times, especially during check-in and (manual) baggage control.
There is a noticeable absence of any high-profile international hotel brands in Kinshasa, but that is expected to change in the coming years. Significantly, Lonrho Hotels took over the management of the Grand Kinshasa in 2012, and the hotel is in the final phases of a much needed face-lift.
“The Hotel Royal is a fairly new 4-star establishment with a conference facility located in the city centre in close proximity to the embassies and government buildings,” says Kagiso Dumasi, Commercial Manager: Africa for BCD Travel. “It offers the business essentials such as good air-conditioning, complimentary breakfast and Wi-Fi. Hotels in the DRC are not cheap and there is not a standardised grading body, which makes it difficult to choose a hotel.”
The average hotel room in Kinshasa ranges from $150-$200 a night, with rooms at the high-end costing upwards of $300. The same is true for accommodation in the copper mining capital, Lubumbashi, where Lonrho also has a presence with the Grand Karavia.
Credit cards and travellers cheques are not generally accepted. This is mostly a cash economy, but credit cards are accepted at a few major hotels, restaurants and car rental firms. It is possible to withdraw cash with a bank card at Rawbank and BCDC – both banks are located on Blvd du 30 Juin, Gombe. ATMs are not available.
“It is highly recommended that you carry foreign currency, preferably US dollars. Exchange enough into the local currency, but be aware that US dollar notes older than 2006 are not accepted,” says Dumasi.
The DRC requires citizens from nearly every single African country to apply for a visa. A passport, visa and evidence of yellow fever vaccination are required for entry. Visitors to the DRC should also have a letter of invitation and/or written proof of a hotel reservation for presentation to immigration officials upon arrival. In some cases, invitation letters must be endorsed by local immigration authorities prior to arrival.
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. Active DRC mobile network operators include Airtel, Congo Chine Telecom (Orange), Office Congolais des Postes et Télécommunications, Congolese Wireless Network, SuperCell, Tigo and Vodacom. But visitors should avoid attracting unwanted attention by using mobile phones in public.
All travellers require a yellow fever certificate. There is a high risk of malaria and HIV, rabies, sleeping sickness and bilharzia. Immunisation against typhoid, tetanus and hepatitis A and B is recommended. Do not drink the local water. Bottled water seems to be cheap enough, but sometimes hard to find. The usual soft drinks such as Coke, Pepsi, Um Bongo and Mirinda are available in most places and are safe to drink.
Shelley Summers – General Manager Africa Division: American Express Travel Services
The DRC is not one of the most difficult business destinations that I have been to, but it is a destination to travel to cautiously.
On arrival in Kinshasa, the airport building looks very old and poorly maintained, but once inside the immigration hall is pretty modern and organised. The queues at immigration are organised, short and they move quickly. There are baggage carousels in operation and the wait for the baggage is not delayed once you are through immigration.
I was cautioned by my business partners in the DRC that no exchange of money should take place whatsoever on arrival at the airport. Sadly, DRC airport is renowned for being full of corrupt officials and being harassed to hand over money is a common occurrence. There is a tax to be paid in US dollars, cash, on departure from Kinshasa airport. This is a ‘go past fee’, which has only recently been introduced and is payable at bank counters at the airport.
The road from the airport has recently been upgraded into a dual lane road, which is by no means a highway, and although there are sections of mayhem along the road, it certainly alleviates traffic congestion into the city centre. Out of peak traffic times and on a good day, this trip takes 30-40 minutes.
There isn’t an abundance of decent hotels in Kinshasa. I stayed at the Memling Hotel, which was of an acceptable standard. The hotel is due for an upgrade, but the overall experience was good and the staff friendly. The hotel has a small shopping mall within the building, which is very convenient. I was told by our business partners not to leave the hotel or travel anywhere in Kinshasa unless accompanied by a local business colleague.
Although considerably expensive, as is usual with many hotels in Africa, the experience at the Memling Hotel was pleasant and the restaurants, pool area and hotel gym were all of a good standard.
It is also recommended to use a known driver to do any airport transfers or ground transportation in Kinshasa. It is not recommended to use a local taxi in the DRC, as there is no knowing as to how much the taxi will cost, once the taxi driver is aware that you are not a local.
Infrastructure, Internet connectivity and bandwidth are not very strong, which may cause frustration and slow business processes down unnecessarily.
It is important to have a good local contact to advise you on the local nuances and culture of doing business in the DRC.
Air France – www.airfrance.com
Arik – www.arikair.com
Brussels – www.brusselsairlines.com
Camair – www.camair-co.cm
Ethiopian – www.ethiopianairlines.com
Kenya – www.kenya-airways.com
Korongo – www.flykorongo.com
SAA – www.flysaa.com
SA Express – www.flyexpress.com
Turkish – www.turkishairlines.com
Faden House – www.fadenhouse.cd
Fleuve Congo – www.fleuvecongohotel.net
Grand Kinshasa – www.lonrhohotels.com
Hotel Cana – www.hotelcana.com
Hotel Invest de Presse – www.hotelinvest.fr
Hotel Leon – www.leonhotel.cd
Hotel Memling – www.memling.net
Hotel Royal – www.hotelroyaldrc.com
Hotel Sultani – www.sultanihotel.com
Hotel Venus – www.hotelvenus.cd
La Difference Plus – www.ladifferenceplus.cd
Le Voyageur – www.voyageurhotel.com