Congo Travel Warning
Issued by US Department of State
Nov 25, 2010
The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of traveling to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Congo-Kinshasa) (DRC), and recommends against non-essential travel to eastern and northeastern Congo. This notice replaces the Travel Warning dated April 21, 2010 to reflect continued 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.
Government soldiers, as well as rebel fighters, remain a security concern in eastern and northeastern DRC. These armed groups -- located especially in North Kivu, South Kivu, and Orientale provinces, as well as the northern part of Katanga province, parts of Equateur province, and the eastern part of Maniema province-- are known to pillage, steal vehicles, kidnap, rape, kill, and carry out military or paramilitary operations in which civilians are indiscriminately targeted.
Armed conflicts continue despite the signing of peace accords in 2008 and 2009 and the presence of UN forces (MONUSCO). In January 2009, Rwandan government troops and the Armed Forces of the DRC (FARDC) launched large-scale joint military operations against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) rebels in North Kivu. The DRC-Rwandan operations have been followed by joint operations by the FARDC and MONUSCO, which remain on-going.
In two separate incidents in early April 2010, one in Equateur province in the western DRC and one in South Kivu province in the east, foreigners were kidnapped by armed militia groups. In South Kivu province, eight International Red Cross workers were kidnapped by a group called the Mai Mai Yakutumba, a group that controls its own territory in the region and was formed to resist Rwandan Hutu forces that fled into the DRC after the 1994 genocide. The region has been the scene of violent clashes that have resulted in the displacement of more than 1.9 million civilians since the start of the conflict.
Travelers are frequently detained and questioned by poorly disciplined security forces at numerous official and unofficial roadblocks and border crossings throughout the country. Requests for bribes in such instances are extremely common, and security forces have occasionally injured or killed people who refuse to pay. In the last six months, the Embassy has recorded several instances in which U.S. citizens were detained illegally by government forces. The isolation of North and South Kivu from Kinshasa makes the provision of consular services difficult.
Kinshasa remains a critical crime threat area, and U.S. citizens continue to be the victims of serious crime, including armed robbery by groups posing as law enforcement in both urban and rural areas, especially after nightfall. Avoid walking alone and displaying cash and other personal property of value. Avoid taking photos in public, especially of the river, government buildings and the airport, which are viewed as places of national security, since doing such may lead to arrest.
Lock vehicle doors and keep windows closed when driving. You are advised to not stop at the scene of an accident or at intersections where people have gathered, as mobs can develop quickly. In areas where the roads are in poor condition and the speed limit is minimal, be wary of gangs of street kids who may approach your car, open your door, and steal your belongings. Roadblocks are often found throughout the country and especially near government buildings and installations in Kinshasa and should be avoided if possible. If stopped at a roadblock, keep doors locked and crack the window in order to communicate.
Official Congolese motorcades pose hazards to motorist and pedestrians. Drivers should pull to the far side of the road when sirens or security forces announce their presence. You should not take photographs of motorcades. Proceed only when security forces permit you to do so.
There is no reliable public transportation system in the DRC. Overcrowded vans, which often do not meet western safety standards serve as public transportation in Kinshasa. Few independent taxis are available, operating largely out of the big hotels, and most do not meet safety standards. You should avoid all travel by public transportation.
Public health concerns pose a hazard to U.S. citizen travelers due to outbreaks of deadly viruses and other diseases, which can occur without warning and often are not rapidly reported by local health authorities. Information on personal protection for international travelers, including children, can be found at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/content/vaccinations.aspx. Travelers are required to carry evidence of a yellow fever vaccination in order to enter the DRC. Due to the recent outbreak of Wild Polio Virus in neighboring countries, you should up-date your Polio vaccinations, if necessary, and refer to the Centers for Disease Control for additional guidance.
Domestic air travel on Congolese or local airlines in the DRC is not recommended. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has assessed the government of the DRC as not being in compliance with international standards for aviation safety oversight. There have been several recent incidents causing deaths and injuries, including one on August 25, 2010 that killed all but one passenger. The U.S. Embassy has prohibited official travel by U.S. government employees and contractors on all DRC-owned and -operated commercial airlines due to safety and maintenance concerns. International flights on foreign-owned and operated carriers are not affected by this prohibition.
You should avoid all public demonstrations and areas where crowds have gathered because even those that are peaceful can turn confrontational and become violent. You should exercise caution at all times, and closely monitor local and international news from reliable sources. Radio Okapi broadcasts in French on 103.5 FM at 0700, 0800, 1200, and 1800 and provides updates throughout the day. English-language news can be found on BBC at 92.6 FM. In times of emergency, the Belgian Embassy operates a French-language radio broadcast system at FM 98.8. Changes in security conditions may occasionally restrict the travel of U.S. Mission personnel.
The U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa also strongly encourages U.S. citizens who travel to or remain in the DRC despite this Travel Warning to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP - https://travelregistration.state.gov/ibrs/ui/) so you can receive the most up-to-date security information. You should remember to keep all of your information in STEP up to date. It is important during enrollment or updating of information to include your current phone number and current email address where you can be reached in case of an emergency.
The U.S. Embassy is located at 310 Avenue des Aviateurs; the Consular Section entrance is located on Avenue Dumi, opposite Saint Anne’s church. The Embassy’s telephone number, including for after-hours emergencies, is 243-81-225-5872; callers within the DRC should dial 081-225-5872. All Embassy telephone numbers are cellular phones as landlines are unreliable. The Embassy web site is http://kinshasa.usembassy.gov/.
U.S. citizens should also consult the Department of State's Country Specific Information Sheet for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Worldwide Caution, both located on the Department of State's web site. Up-to-date information on safety and security is available toll-free at 1-888-407-4747 from within the United States and Canada, or at regular toll rates at 1-202-501-4444 for callers from other countries, from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).