Democratic Republic of the Congo, Africa - Stein Travel

Democratic Republic of the Congo




    • 16+ years

    • 12-15 years

    • 2-11 years

    • 0-23 months


Welcome to Democratic Republic of the Congo

Decades of civil war and corruption after the end of colonialism brought the central African Democratic Republic of Congo to its knees, economically, politically and socially, although the country has the potential of being the richest in Africa. This vast country (third largest on the continent) currently exists in a state of fragile peace after decades of civil war, still beset by outbreaks of violence. Despite the tensions, investors are keeping tabs on this battle-worn equatorial enclave, which has enormous mineral wealth, including copper and cobalt.

The capital, Kinshasa, is a transportation hub on the Congo River, one of Africa's main arteries, sited opposite Brazzaville, capital of the Republic of the Congo. The city is no backwater, despite the collapse of its economy due to political turmoil; it sports a university and several other important academic institutions, including a research centre for tropical medicine, some worthy historic buildings, monuments and museums.

To the north east, bordering Uganda's Rwenzori Mountains and the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, lies the Virunga National Park that was established in 1925 as Africa's first national park. It became well known for its mountain gorillas, although these are now extremely rare due to poaching and the ongoing civil war.

Visiting the DRC is, however, risky and recreational tourism is not advised. Businessmen, diplomats, aid workers and others with essential business are well catered for in some good hotels and restaurants, chiefly in Kinshasa's affluent Gombe district.


Business

By rights, the Democratic Republic of Congo should be one of Africa's richest countries due to its abundance of natural resources, yet it has suffered from corrupt leadership and extensive civil war. The business world in the DRC is relatively undeveloped and one has to ensure business is conducted with the correct (legal) establishments. The principal language used is French and interpreters are available. Business tends to be formal and suits should be worn, although a lightweight material is best due to the heat. Business hours are usually 8am to 4pm Monday to Friday, closing at 12pm on Saturdays.

Climate

The DRC straddles the equator and therefore experiences a tropically hot and humid climate. South of the equator there are frequent heavy rains between October and May, and north of the equator the rain falls between April and November. The eastern highlands has a more temperate weather. In the low central basin average annual temperatures are around 77°F (25°C), while at the higher altitudes the temperatures hover around 68°F (20°C). The average annual rainfall in Kinshasa is 56 inches (1,422mm).

Communications

The international dialling code for the DRC is +243 and the outgoing code is 00, followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0044 for the United Kingdom). International direct dialling is available. Domestic telephone connections are unreliable. There are GSM 900 and 1800 networks with variable coverage and roaming agreements covering Kinshasa, but it is unwise to use a mobile phone in public because of the likelihood of robbery. There are some Internet cafes in Kinshasa, but power failures can be a problem.

Customs

Photography is technically illegal in the Democratic Republic of the Congo without a permit. Even with a permit though, one must never take photos of police or military personnel, official buildings or motorcades. The Congolese may get very upset if you take pictures of them, or of children, without permission. At 6am and 6pm the national flag is raised and lowered, and all traffic and pedestrians are expected to stop for this ceremony, as well as for any official motorcade.

Duty Free

Visitors to the DRC may import 100 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 250g tobacco; one bottle of alcohol; perfume for personal use and a camera to be used for touristic purposes, without paying customs duty.

Electricity
Electrical current is 220 volts, 50Hz. Plug types in use are round two-pin attachment plugs and round pin plugs with grounding.
Health

Yellow fever vaccination is a requirement for entry for everyone over one year, and vaccinations against cholera, meningitis, typhoid and polio are highly recommended. Large numbers of cases of acute watery diarrhoeal syndrome have been reported in North Kivu province (easter DRC) since September 2008. In many instances these have been fatal. In areas of poor sanitation it is not advisable to drink water unless it has been treated by boiling and filtration or with a chemcial purifier. There is a significant malaria risk throughout the country, and advice should be sought in advance about preventive measures. HIV/AIDS is prevalent. Rabies is endemic to the DRC, and monkeypox occurs, which is a virus usually transmitted to humans from infected ground squirrels and rodents. Regular outbreaks of pneumonic plague also occur, particularly in the district of Ituri, and is fatal if left untreated. An outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus occurred in September 2007. The Centre Prive d'Urgence (CPU) clinic in Kinshasa is able to cope with basic health problems and to stabilise a patient after most serious accidents. However, medical evacuation to South Africa (or elsewhere) would be advised as soon as possible. Outside Kinshasa, western standard medical facilities are practically non-existent. Visitors are advised to take their own basic medical supplies with them, as medicines are in short supply. Medical insurance with provision for emergency air evacuation is essential for visitors. All water should be regarded as contaminated, and milk is unpasteurised, therefore consume only imported bottled water and avoid dairy products.

Language
French is the official language, but Lingala, Kingwana, Kikongo and Tshiluba are also spoken.
Money

The official currency is the Congolese Franc (CDF). Credit cards have a very limited use, as do traveller cheques, usually only in Kinshasa. It is best to take US dollars in hard currency. Banks are closed on weekends and credit cards cannot be used to obtain cash advances. The economy is highly unstable in the Congo, and therefore denominations of currency and exchange rates are subject to change at short notice.

Passport Visa

All foreigners entering the DRC require a visa obtained in advance, as well as a yellow fever vaccination certificate. If no diplomatic representation in country of origin, visas will only be granted on-arrival to passengers holding a pre-notification letter issued by the Direction Generale de Migration (DGM) officials. Documents and tickets for return or onward travel are required. NOTE: It is highly recommended that your passport has at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.

Safety

Travellers are advised against all but essential travel to the Democratic Republic of the Congo because of continuing tension and insecurity. The east and north east of the country are insecure and travellers should be cautious if travel to the region is necessary, particularly near the borders with Uganda and Rwanda. All travel to Bas-Congo should be avoided. There are frequent armed clashes in the district of Ituri near the Ugandan border, as well as Kivu province and northern Katanga. There is a high level of street crime and armed robbery, particularly in Kinshasa, where armed gangs or criminals posing as plain-clothes policemen regularly attack foreigners. Security officials have also been known to arrest foreigners and demand payment for their release. Do not display valuables on your person, walk the streets alone or carry large amounts of money, and keep car doors and windows locked. Demonstrations and political gatherings should be avoided. Boats and ferries are poorly maintained and have low safety standards. The DRC also has one of the world's worst air safety records.

Time
GMT +1 in the west (Kinshasa) and GMT +2 in the east.
Tipping

A 10% service charge is included in restaurant and hotel bills and further tipping is unnecessary. In general, tipping (known as 'Mahtabish' or 'something extra') is a way of life and it is routine to give some small change for all services.


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