Craziness in the Congo

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US citizens are warned against non-essential travel to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), especially to the eastern and northeastern regions. Seems the DRC is a dangerous place to visit. Two Belgian travellers, Josephine and Frederick, recently braved the deep, dark Congo with only their trusted 4×4 Landcruiser and they came up against many officials and non-officials stopping them for fines and “malcharges” along the way.

The Congo has for some years now been an enigma. It is a beautiful country with a horrid history of unrest, violence and barbarity. The governmental travel bureau of the US released a warning on 25 November of this year, citing the continued reflection of “instability in North and South Kivu provinces and the surrounding area, the ongoing risk of possible unexpected flare-ups of violence in other parts of the country, the critical crime threat in Kinshasa, and transportation and health concerns”. Clearly the US does not want any Americans on Congolese soil.

When Josephine and Frederick set off on their 53-day journey through the Congo they knew a little of what to expect: shortage of supplies, chaotic borders, pushy touts, corruption and small bribes. What they didn’t realise was that they were heading into a country where the roads are derelict, the taxes are make-believe and the laws are changeable at the drop of an official’s hat.

In one area, Lubumbashi, the Belgian travellers were told that because of the bad state of the electricity factory there is always one area in the region that does not have electricity. The area is changed every week or so that every area gets electricity at some point.

Ironically, Congo is arguably one of the richest countries in the world with its endless supply of natural resources, but the mines and the companies that own them are a shadow of their former selves. Mismanagement and corruption caused many of the mines to go into bankruptcy: as a consequence they lie in ruins, scattered throughout the country.

For anyone crazy enough to want to visit Congo it’s a difficult task getting hold of the right documentation. It is widely agreed that visitors to the country need a permit, but very few people know which the right one is, or have even seen a Congo permit. Josephine and Frederick contacted the Belgian Consulate and even the governor of Katanga but could not obtain the correct documentation.

This level of disorganisation and corruption is a big concern for travelers to the Congo. On Canada’s official Foreign Affairs and International Trade website Canadians are also warned against travel to the central African country. Phrases such as “endemic criminality” and “persisting armed conflict” are enough to scare any Canadian citizen off from even thingking of visiting the DRC.

For the brave Belgians, Josephine and Frederick, their journey through Congo was an experience they’ll not soon forget. They were stopped at every road by hostile policemen, officials and everyday Congolese citizens, and were expected to pay hefty fines regularly. They were even threatened with arrest a number of times in attempts to get money out of them. Thankfully for them they are experienced travelers and managed to make their way through the 53-day journey relatively unscathed. You can read the full account of their trip here.

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