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Democratic Republic of the Congo 2018 Crime & Safety Report

 

According to the current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication, Democratic Republic of the Congo has been assessed as a “Level 3: Reconsider travel” country due to crime and civil unrest. Some areas of have increased risk; do not travel to the eastern DRC and the three Kasai provinces due to armed conflict.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

U.S. Embassy Kinshasa does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizen Services (ACS) Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.    

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Kinshasa as being a CRITICAL-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. Government interests.                                 

Please review OSAC’s DRC-specific webpage for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Volatile security conditions prevail despite substantial support from the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Congo (MONUSCO). The U.S. Embassy’s ability to respond to security incidents and emergency situations is extremely limited outside of Kinshasa due to official travel restrictions and security concerns. Travelers should not rely solely on the U.S. Embassy for their security and emergency response measures.

Crime Threats

The vast majority of criminal incidents against U.S. citizens in Kinshasa are crimes of opportunity, and nearly all are motivated by financial gain. The most commonly reported crimes are pickpocketing, theft (from persons, vehicles, and residences), and robbery. Petty crime may be more likely to occur in public places and areas of congregation. Criminal elements do not typically single out U.S. citizens but may view them as targets of opportunity based on perceived affluence or perceived vulnerability. In 2017, there were a number of notable trends in Kinshasa:

  • Opportunistic crime targeting motorists or vehicle passengers was the most commonly reported crime. These crimes typically involved males opening unlocked car doors and stealing valuables while victims were stopped in traffic. In nearly all cases, victims had the doors unlocked or the windows down. Multiple thieves are often involved, and in some instances one of the young men will lie in front of the vehicle’s wheels in the street to prevent the car from moving forward, while others bang on the windows and try to open the doors.

  • Express kidnappings involving shared taxis spiked in Kinshasa, including the Gombe area. Robbers posing as drivers would pick up fares, threaten them with bodily harm, drive them to another part of the city, and take all of their belongings before dropping them off. Most victims were Congolese, probably because Congolese use shared taxis more frequently than foreigners.

  • Pickpocketing of foreigners by groups of thieves was also reported. Young males surrounded foreigners traveling on foot; some would hold the victim’s arms while others rifled their pockets and belongings for valuables.

  • Harassment of foreigners by mentally ill individuals was reported by members of the international community. In some cases, the victims were assaulted or had their vehicles damaged. In nearly all instances, the victims believed they were targeted as a result of being identified as a foreigner. The local public safety system cannot handle the substantial population of mentally ill individuals.

    U.S. citizens have been the victims of more serious, violent crime (armed robbery, armed home invasion, assaults) though such incidents are rare compared to petty crime. Victims from the international community often report that the assailants posed as police or security agents. Weapons are controlled by security forces, leading to widespread speculation that armed crimes are often perpetrated by members of the police and military. The U.S. government protects all of its official residences with a 24-hour security guard presence. Some notable incidents of violent crime affecting Westerners include:

  • An armed robbery of a grocery store frequented by expatriates on the southern edge of Gombe in December 2017; a group of masked gunmen carried out the robbery during business hours.

  • Two confirmed home invasions against U.S. citizens in November and December 2016; these incidents involved multiple armed assailants entering the dwellings, holding occupants at gunpoint, and stealing valuables.

Small-scale armed disputes, criminality, and lawless behavior prevail throughout the DRC. In 2017, there were more frequent reports of violent crime (banditry, kidnapping, and sexual assault) and attacks by armed groups in eastern and central DRC, as well as reports in other geographic areas. Armed groups frequently act with impunity and in their self-interest; as a result, many have committed human rights abuses. The overall security situation in many parts of the DRC can best be described as volatile and unpredictable.

Armed banditry is widespread, particularly along transit arteries between major cities and in remote areas. In North Kivu, armed banditry is extremely common, especially along the road to Beni from Goma.

A series of prison breaks have occurred throughout the DRC in the wake of rising instability and declines in the security environment. Criminal and militant activity may increase as escaped inmates melt into areas surrounding prison break sites or return to their homelands.

  • In May 2017, Bundu dia Kongo (BDK) militants attacked the Makala prison in Kinshasa, which enabled approximately 4,700 inmates to escape; this incident one of the largest reported prison breaks in central Africa.

    The use of ATMs is considered risky due to the potential for skimming. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud.”

    Cybersecurity Issues

    Cybersecurity and technology-oriented crime is not as pervasive or sophisticated in Kinshasa as most other critical-threat locations for crime.

    The DRC government has restricted mobile communications and internet access on multiple occasions during periods of civil unrest.

    Other Areas of Concern

    The U.S. Department of State’s Travel Advisory for the DRC recommends that U.S. citizens do not travel to eastern DRC and the three Kasai providences due to armed conflict. DRC’s borders remain porous, particularly those with the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi; travel to these areas is extremely dangerous due to transnational crime, poaching, smuggling operations, and the presence of multiple armed groups.

    Military operations are ongoing in parts of the DRC. The Congolese government continues to target small armed groups throughout the DRC but has mainly focused on those operating in the eastern DRC provinces of Ituri, North Kivu, and South Kivu. UN troops have undertaken offensive military operations against armed groups in the DRC’s eastern areas. Attempts to disarm and demobilize militias and other armed groups have had limited success, and many armed actors have entered into shifting alliances to fight against local and UN security forces. Travelers in eastern and central DRC should closely monitor local sources for updates regarding Congolese and UN military operations. 

    Travel to national parks carries high risks, as militia, wildlife poachers, and criminal elements may operate throughout these area. Non-essential travel to the Kahuzi-Biega National Park, a UNESCO heritage site in eastern DRC that is home to a gorilla sanctuary, is highly discouraged. Travel to Virunga National Park, including the area near Goma, should be avoided due to ongoing criminal and militia activity.

  • In 2017, several park rangers were killed by armed militia, despite improvements in security measures and infrastructure around the park to boost tourism.

Transportation-Safety Situation

For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.”

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Driving in Kinshasa is extremely hazardous. Traffic laws are not observed by the majority of motorists and are seldom enforced by police. In many cases, motorists blatantly disregard traffic signals and direction from police due to a lack of enforcement and the absence of a professional and competent police force.

Vehicle accidents occur frequently and often result in serious injury. Most local vehicles do not meet Western safety standards, are not well maintained, and may be transporting more passengers than is considered safe. Motorcyclists may weave in and out of traffic unpredictably.

Travelers should avoid checkpoints, especially in less secure areas of Kinshasa and rural areas, whenever possible. If unable to avoid a checkpoint, travelers should approach them slowly, ensure that vehicle doors are locked, and roll windows down only far enough to converse with checkpoint guards. Actual documents should not be relinquished; instead, hand over copies of documents. Using a local driver is recommended to prevent checkpoint issues. Attempting to run or circumvent checkpoints may result in use of force.

When vehicle accidents occur large and sometimes violent crowds can form, especially when foreigners are involved. Mob violence against those perceived as being responsible for vehicle accidents is a common occurrence. In one instance, two American diplomats were pursued and attacked by a large group of motorcyclists after an accident.

Those traveling by road outside of major cities should consider taking additional safety measures. Nighttime and/or stranded travelers may be at higher risk of being targeted. For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report “Driving Overseas: Best Practices."

Public Transportation Conditions

The U.S. Embassy advises against using all forms of public transportation. Public transportation in Kinshasa is very hazardous. In general, public transportation vehicles are inadequately maintained and lack even basic safety features. Public transit is essentially unregulated and often overcrowded. There have been numerous instances of foreigners being targeted for crime by other passengers when taking public transportation. U.S. government employees are forbidden from utilizing public transportation.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

Kinshasa has benefitted from a new international airport, and there have been improvements in the professionalism and competence of airport security screening staff and Direction Générale de Migration (Customs and Immigration) staff. Despite these improvements, officials do harass foreigners and attempt to use their position to exploit individuals unfamiliar with the DRC. Some security screening staff will remove items from carry-on bags or ask travelers to surrender them, stating that they items are not authorized for boarding. Recourse in these situations depends on the other officials working in the vicinity. Travelers should keep a close watch over valuables, particularly when waiting in lines or undergoing screening. A lack of training and/or disregard for DRC customs laws among airport security staff leads to sporadic and inconsistent enforcement of hand carried imports.

Airports in provincial areas are likely to be of lower capacity and quality than those in Kinshasa and other major cities. National airlines have a poor safety track record. Facilities, planes, and equipment may be in need of repair and frequently do not meet Western safety standards.

Other Travel Conditions

Traveling on rivers and lakes is common and represents a major method of transportation. Boats are often poorly maintained, do not have adequate safety precautions, and are overburdened. Use of public boats should be avoided if possible.

Terrorism Threat

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Kinshasa as being a LOW-threat location for terrorist activity directed at or affecting official U.S. Government interests.

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

U.S. government employees are instructed to remain vigilant and to report all suspicious activity. The Congolese government’s perceived lack of ability to detect and deter terrorism may entice or enable terrorist groups to carry out activities in Congolese territory. However, the DRC government has taken steps to improve its counterterrorism capacity. The DRC government has also voiced its support of the Global Coalition Against Terrorism and been proactive and cooperative with the international community in initiatives to mitigate terrorism and related activities.

Anti-American/Anti-Western Sentiment

There is no evidence of operations against U.S. interests in DRC by any listed State Department terrorist organization. In 2016 and 2017, there were reports of harassment against U.S. citizens and expatriates. It appears that harassment is more related to the perceived wealth of the individual rather than victims’ nationality, itself.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Kinshasa as being a HIGH-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. Government interests.

Continued delays in presidential elections, which were supposed to have been held in December 2016, have exacerbated anti-government grievances and civil unrest. Elections are scheduled for late December 2018; however, demonstrations, political rallies, and protests could become more frequent during the campaign season, if the election continues to be postponed, and/or after the election if it is held.

Civil Unrest

The threat of civil unrest is among the U.S. Embassy’s most prominent security concerns, as the breakdown of civil order could occur at any moment, even in Kinshasa. While protest activity is banned in Kinshasa, anti-governments demonstrations have repeatedly occurred there since September 2016.

Multiple cities, including Kinshasa and the major economic center of Lubumbashi, have experienced recurring demonstrations by political opposition parties, students, workers unions, civil servants, and more recently churchgoers. Many demonstrations have turned violent due to efforts by security forces to quash them before they grow in size. In recent years, the government has increased its capacity to employ non-lethal measures to control these demonstrations; however, lethal force is still used, as documented in numerous human rights reports. Congolese security forces have used teargas and live ammunition to disperse crowds, resulting in numerous civilian injuries and deaths. The repeated arrest and harassment of pro-democracy activists and opposition leaders, as well as the more recent teargassing of churches and killing of unarmed civilians after church services, have exacerbated to the volatility of DRC’s political situation.   

Congo Central province, as well as Kinshasa, experienced a spike in violence associated with BDK militancy in mid-2017. In late 2017, there were reports of gunfire at multiple locations throughout Kinshasa in the wake of BDK demonstrations and a simultaneous BDK attack on Makala prison, prompting U.S. Embassy to send an alert advising U.S. citizens to shelter in place. BDK supporters had attacked Makala prison in May 2017, freeing the BDK’s leader. Though the BDK does not actively control any territory in Congo Central or Kinshasa, it enjoys a significant base of followers.

Travelers should avoid large gatherings, as even peaceful demonstrations can escalate to violence; note that demonstrations may or may not be announced and can materialize quickly. Travelers should also ensure they have appropriate security measures in place. Access to communications capabilities is particularly important, even in Kinshasa, due to the dynamic security environment and in case of civil unrest. Given that civil order remains tenuous and unpredictable, travelers should monitor local media and Embassy alerts continuously for developments.

Religious/Ethnic Violence

The DRC has experienced recurring cycles of political and ethnic conflict; the number, location, and intensity of outbreaks of violence tend to coincide with periods of heightened instability and insecurity. In addition, dozens of armed groups operate throughout large swaths of its eastern and central territory. The longest-running political and ethnic violence in the country has been in eastern DRC where transnational self-interests between the Congolese, Rwandan, and Ugandan governments fuel a multi-ethnic struggle over national/tribal sovereignty, the loyalty of local inhabitants, territorial control and land rights, licit and illicit trade routes, and intercommunal grievances. Notably, ethnic tensions increased in 2017, leading to sporadic armed conflicts and attacks in several provinces:

  • North Kivu saw up-ticks in violence perpetrated by a variety of actors, including criminal elements, ethnic militia, and rebel groups of domestic and foreign origin. Congolese security forces and UN peacekeepers have been increasingly targeted in Beni Territory by Allied Defense Force (ADF) rebels; one attack attributed to the ADF killed 15 UN troops in December 2017. While the ADF is a Ugandan rebel group that espouses an Islamist agenda and has been declared a terrorist group by the Congolese government, its attacks appear to be motivated more by self-preservation and financial gain than religion.

  • South Kivu has experienced growing violence due to the resurgence of two militia groups: Mai Mai Yakutumba, which carried out attacks in Uvira and Fizi cities and surrounding areas, and Mai Mai Raia Mutumboki, which have been active around the Kahuzi-Biega National Park area near Bukavu.

  • Ituri has seen a rapid intensification of violence since late 2017, as clashes between Hema herdsmen and Lendu farmers resume after nearly a decade of dormancy.

  • Tanganyika and parts of Haut-Katanga have suffered up-ticks in violence between multiple ethnic groups prompting mass flight into Tanzania.

  • The three Kasai provinces, which had been relatively calm, have experienced significant armed conflict since late 2016, resulting in mass population displacement, the deaths of numerous civilians and individuals associated with the Kamuina Nsapu militia, the execution of many police and security forces, and the murder of two members of the UN Group of Experts -- one of whom was a U.S. citizen. The situation in the Kasais remains tense, with recent violence reported in the vicinity of the Kananga airport.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Mt. Nyiragongo, an active volcano 18 km north of Goma, threatens the safety and livelihoods of approximately 800,000 people. During Mt. Nyiragongo’s recent eruption in 2002, lava flow destroyed part of Goma’s city center, prompting the evacuation of 300,000 people. Around 100 people died, and the eruption destroyed almost 80% of the commercial infrastructure. Since then, minor eruptions have taken place every few years. The ability of the scientific community to monitor eruption warning signs is diminished since armed groups have vandalized and stolen seismic and other scientific monitoring equipment.

Critical Infrastructure

Critical infrastructure is lacking in many parts of DRC. Transportation, water and sanitation, energy, technology, communications, health and medical services, and public services infrastructure are at best inadequate and at worst nonexistent. Existing infrastructure is often poorly maintained, prone to disruption and failure, or inadequate to meet demand.

The DRC government has restricted internet and mobile communications access during periods of unrest. These restrictions may occur in advance of announced demonstrations or important anniversaries, particularly those of deadly clashes between protestors and security forces; such disruptions may last for several days. As a result, travelers should have redundant communications methods in place.

Economic Concerns

Several Congolese individuals were sanctioned by the U.S. in 2016 and 2017. Please consult the U.S. Department of Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control for specific information.

Privacy Concerns

In 2016 and 2017, the DRC government demonstrated its ability to conduct different types of surveillance on individuals. 

Personal Identity Concerns

The Congolese constitution includes a general provision that all citizens are entitled to equal protection, which specifically prohibits discrimination based on race, ethnicity, citizenship, gender, social origin, age, disability, political opinion, language, culture, or religion. However, the DRC government has failed to enforce these provisions.

Sexual harassment is common. Legislation passed in 2006 prohibits sexual harassment with a minimum sentence of one year, but there is little/no enforcement of this law.

LGBTI individuals may experience harassment, as non-heterosexual relationships and personal identities remain a cultural taboo. Incidents of harassment by security forces and judicial officials on the basis of sexual orientation and personal identity occurred in 2015 and 2016. While no law specifically prohibits consensual sexual conduct between same-sex adults, individuals engaging in public displays of same-sex affection may be subject to prosecution under public indecency provisions, which are rarely applied to opposite-sex couples. Congolese law prohibits adoptions by same-sex couples.

Ethnic minorities, persons with disabilities, indigenous persons, and persons with albinism have faced societal discrimination and abuse. There have also been reports of societal discrimination and violence against foreign minority groups; protestors attacked businesses owned by ethnic Chinese and Indians on two occasions in 2016.

Drug-related Crimes

Drug use (cannabis) is common; however, evidence of drug trafficking is not readily apparent to travelers in Kinshasa. Local law enforcement capabilities in narcotics detection and interdiction are severely limited. Occasionally, passengers are arrested attempting to smuggle in drugs though N’Djili International Airport.

Kidnapping Threat

Kidnapping-for-ransom is prevalent throughout many parts of the DRC. The number of reported kidnappings-for-ransom in eastern DRC has increased significantly since November 2015. Ransom payments by businesses, NGOs, and family members to recover victims have contributed to this rise in kidnappings.

Although kidnapping victims are primarily Congolese, there have been several abductions of Westerners, including U.S. citizens. Most kidnappings occur in rural areas during overland travel between established towns and villages in North and South Kivu. Increasingly, kidnappings of locals have been reported in and around Beni Territory in North Kivu and Kananga city in Kasai Central. Kidnapping-for-ransom is rare in Kinshasa, but express kidnappings targeting shared taxi passengers continue to be commonplace.

For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “Kidnapping: The Basics.”

Police Response

The ability of the DRC government to respond to emergency/crisis situations is limited, even in major cities. The police force in Kinshasa, and throughout most of the country, is generally ineffectual and dysfunctional. There is no reliable way to summon police assistance in Kinshasa. When the police do intervene, it is apparent that they are ill-equipped and poorly trained. Many lack a basic understanding of the law. Consistency in the administration of laws and regulations is absent. In cases of crime including theft/robbery, police intervention, judicial recourse, and bureaucratic capabilities are limited. Many interactions with the police are marked by demands for money, and corruption is rampant.

Congolese security forces can be sensitive about foreigners taking pictures, especially around government or military installations. Be aware that taking pictures of any government or military installations, including the airport, the Congo River, and government buildings, can result in detention. It is also not advisable to take pictures of Congolese citizens unless you receive their permission. Embassy employees have been questioned and temporarily detained for taking pictures in public. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report “Picture This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography.”

Due to the limited capacity of Congolese security forces and local police in many parts of the DRC, communal and ethnic militia (often called Mai Mai), armed groups, and criminal elements are able to act with impunity. Rule of law remains tenuous, especially in remote areas. The DRC government’s inability to adequately control its borders has enabled a number of armed groups from neighboring countries to operate and seek safe haven within Congolese territory.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

Police and military personnel at checkpoints in Kinshasa regularly stop and detain motorists to demand bribes and have stolen valuables in some cases. Outside of Kinshasa, security forces lack cohesion; as a result, elements may engage in criminal activity and/or armed violence. Members of the Congolese security forces may erect unofficial checkpoints in order to extort travelers transiting by road, especially outside of major cities. A variety of armed groups may similarly use checkpoints to exploit travelers. Uniforms worn by members of the security forces may vary, making it hard to differentiate them from other armed actors.

On numerous occasions, declared and credentialed U.S. diplomats have been detained and searched by security forces, who show complete disregard for international norms and the provisions of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. The police and military are equally likely to deny consular access to private Americans, who should make every effort to assert their right to notify the U.S. Embassy and access consular services if detained or arrested. Requests for consular notification may need to be repeated.

Crime Victim Assistance

U.S. citizens who are in need of assistance should contact ACS at the U.S. Embassy. ACS can also be reached at +243 97-261-6145 or +243 81-884-4609.

Medical Emergencies

Medical care is extremely limited throughout the country. The lack of public safety infrastructure, nonexistent or inadequate emergency response, and the difficulties associated with obtaining competent and definitive medical care elevate the risk and consequences of illness, injury, and/or accident. Medical conditions that would be serious but treatable in the U.S. are often fatal in the DRC.

Travelers should bring sufficient supplies of prescribed and over-the-counter medication with them for the duration of their travel in DRC, if possible. Medical facilities may experience medication shortages and locally available drugs may be of inferior quality to ones obtained in the U.S. or counterfeit. For more information, please refer to OSAC’s Report, “Traveling with Medications.”

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

Medical facilities in Kinshasa are limited. Contact information for medical facilities in Kinshasa is listed below:

  • The Centre Privé des Urgences (CPU) is located on the corner of Avenue du Commerce and Avenue Bakongo on the first floor of CH building. CPU is open 24-hours, but membership is required. Tel: 089-895-0305.

  • Centre Medicale de Kinshasa (CMK) is located on the corner of Avenue Wagenia and Chef Nkokina, just past the U.S. Embassy Chancery compound; Tel: 089-895-0300 or 089-982-6504.

Many expatriates in Kinshasa pay a quarterly or annual membership fee so that they will be eligible for care at the Centre Privé d’Urgences (CPU), which has the best equipped emergency facilities in DRC. It is recommended that travelers contact the CPU directly on arrival regarding membership. Unless travelers have prepaid membership, they will not be eligible for direct admission to this hospital. In the event that travelers do not have CPU membership, they should go to Centre Medical de Kinshasa (CMK), which is a sister facility to CPU. If hospital admission is required, CMK will suggest patients go to CPU, in which case travelers will have to pay out of pocket for all incurred costs. Medical costs can be extremely high for non-members and all fees may be required up front if surgical intervention is required.

For more information on medical assistance, please refer to the U.S. Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.

Insurance Guidance

Travelers to the DRC must obtain insurance that includes emergency medical evacuation. U.S. Embassy policy toward its own employees is to stabilize the patient and medevac, usually to South Africa.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

Multiple serious diseases are endemic to the DRC, including malaria, yellow fever, and Zika, as well as other tropical diseases.

The country has experienced periodic, but small-scale and localized, outbreaks of Ebola.

Water-borne illnesses, such as cholera, are widespread. For more information, please refer to OSAC’s Report, “I’m Drinking What in My Water?.”

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for DRC.

OSAC Country Council Information

Kinshasa has an active OSAC Country Council, which meets quarterly. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Africa team with any questions.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address: U.S. Embassy, 310 Avenue des Aviateurs, Kinshasa, Gombe district.

The Embassy is open Mon-Thurs, 0730-1715; Fri, 0730-1230. The offices are closed on legal and Congolese and American holidays.

Embassy Contact Numbers

Switchboard: +243-81-556-0151.

Website: https://cd.usembassy.gov/

Embassy Guidance

U.S. citizens traveling in the DRC are encouraged to register in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). STEP is a free service that helps the U.S. Embassy disseminate information about safety conditions and contact travelers in an emergency.

Additional Resources

DRC Country Information Sheet

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