Democratic Republic of the Congo woes

This item appears on page 67 of the April 2014 issue.

The Department of State warns of the risks of traveling to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Congo-Kinshasa, or DRC). 

Throughout the country, travelers are frequently detained and questioned by poorly disciplined security forces at roadblocks and border crossings. Requests for bribes in such instances are extremely common, and security forces have occasionally injured or killed people who refused to pay. In the past year, several US citizens were illegally detained by government forces or were robbed of their valuables while being searched. 

Roadblocks should be avoided. If stopped at a roadblock, keep doors locked and crack the window in order to communicate.

The US Embassy has received many reports of robberies and banditry in Goma after dark. In most such cases, the robbers have stopped cars and stolen money and other valuables. The poor condition of the roads, along with widespread new road construction around the city, contribute to the banditry problem, as traffic is either bottlenecked on the main road or forced to travel on secondary roads with even worse conditions. Be wary of gangs of street children who may approach your car, open the door and steal belongings. 

Most taxis do not meet safety standards. Avoid all travel by public transportation and hire private transport from a reliable source. The DRC has few viable roads or railways but does have several major waterways. Boat transport is widely used; however, the vessels are often overloaded and/or poorly maintained, and accidents are commonplace and often fatal.

The only way to get around the country quickly is by plane. However, domestic air travel on Congolese or other local airlines in the DRC is not recommended. In March 2013 a domestic airline flight crashed in Goma, killing five crewmembers and passengers. Crashes of private aircraft are even more common. 

Due to an outbreak of measles in the DRC, you should update your measles vaccination, if necessary. Due to the high levels of airborne irritants (dust, burning trash, debris, etc.), individuals with respiratory illnesses should carry all their necessary medications and equipment plus adapters.

You should avoid all public demonstrations and areas where crowds have gathered because even peaceful events can become violent and even deadly.