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Overseas Security Advisory Council
Bureau of Diplomatic Security
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Republic of the Congo 2020 Crime & Safety Report

This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Brazzaville. OSAC encourages travelers to use this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in the Republic of the Congo. For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s country-specific page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Travel Advisory

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses the Republic of the Congo at Level 2, indicating travelers should exercise increased caution in the Republic of the Congo due to crime and civil unrest. Reconsider travel to the southern and western districts of the Pool Region due to potential civil unrest. Review OSAC’s report, Understanding the Consular Travel Advisory System.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

Crime Threats

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Brazzaville as being a CRITICAL-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Most crime affecting expatriates in the Republic of the Congo (RoC) is for economic gain. In recent years, there have been several incidents of petty/street crime and burglaries involving U.S. citizens and other expatriates. Petty crime often happens in public places and areas of congregation (e.g. marketplaces, sports venues, popular bars/restaurants frequented by local nationals). On rare occasions, armed assailants have confronted expatriates. Criminal elements do not typically single out U.S. citizens, but may view them as targets of opportunity based on perceived affluence or vulnerability.  Review OSAC’s reports, All That You Should Leave Behind.

The Marché Total and Bacongo neighborhoods of southern Brazzaville and the Moungali area of northern Brazzaville are higher-crime areas. The Embassy has received reports of violent crimes perpetrated by gangs of young males. Local media and security forces use the catch-all term of bébés noirs to describe young criminals, who generally use knives to subdue victims. There are also reports of fights between gangs and confrontations with security forces in the northern neighborhoods of Brazzaville. RoC security forces have attempted to repress gang activity by rounding up suspected young men and adolescents. In 2018, one of these actions led to the deaths of 13 youths in custody at the Chacona police station in Mpila.

The downtown (centre-ville) areas of both Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire are generally safe, housing high concentrations of government offices and security forces. Most expatriates live and work in these areas, with many major shops, restaurants, and hotels concentrated there. In recent years, expatriates have noticed many cases of aggressive panhandlers. This may pose an indirect danger by putting expatriates into vulnerable positions. Pay attention when entering and exiting vehicles and stores to avoid them. The Embassy continued to receive sporadic reports of burglars targeting expatriate homes in 2019. Homes without adequate security features, such as razor wire, are vulnerable to home invasion. Review OSAC’s reports, Hotels: The Inns and Outs and Considerations for Hotel Security.

There is a spike in crime each year around the December holiday season.

The RoC is primarily a cash-based economy. Travelers may exchange Euros and U.S. dollars at the airport and at some banks/hotels. ATMs are available but unreliable. Only major hotels and two grocery stores (Park and Shop and Casino) accept major international credit and debit cards, although connectivity problems sometimes limit availability. Review OSAC’s reports, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud and Taking Credit.

Pointe-Noire has the same general concerns as Brazzaville. However, its beaches are areas for opportunistic crime, which is often associated with violence, particularly after dark. The U.S. Embassy has designated one portion of Pointe-Noire’s beaches as permissible for U.S. official personnel to visit; this area extends from the western limit of The Yes Club to the eastern limit of the VIP Escale Demex, and borders many hotels/restaurants, which provide increased security. All other public beaches are off limits to U.S. official personnel. The Embassy recommends that travelers avoid all beaches at night.

Pay close attention both to events in RoC and in neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Unrest in Kinshasa can affect Brazzaville, as the two capital cities are located directly across the Congo River from one another.

The U.S. Embassy discourages travel in the Western Pool region due to a history of armed conflict. The Embassy has received several reports of armed highway robbery after dark in this area. Avoid unnecessary travel in this part of the country. 

Cybersecurity Issues

Review OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity Basics, Best Practices for Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi, Traveling with Mobile Devices: Trends & Best Practices, and Satellite Phones: Critical or Contraband?

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Road infrastructure has improved in recent years. However, campaigns to improve road-safety awareness have not accompanied physical road improvements; in fact, fatal accident rates are increasing in areas with new highways. Motorists should use extreme caution and defensive driving techniques on highways. Avoid nighttime driving on major highways.

Secondary roads outside of Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire are often impassable during the rainy seasons (September-December, February-May). Outside of Brazzaville, the RoC environment is a mix of rainforests and open savanna. Make sufficient preparations prior to travel and exercise extreme caution in these remote areas. 

Gasoline and diesel fuel are sometimes unavailable in the major cities, and are especially limited in the more isolated regions of the country. 

Armed soldiers or national police may conduct vehicle searches and check passengers for identity papers. These roadblocks often are poorly marked. Local authorities may target foreigners to solicit bribes.

Review OSAC’s reports, Road Safety Abroad, Driving Overseas: Best Practices, and Evasive Driving Techniques; and read the State Department’s webpage on driving and road safety abroad.

Public Transportation Conditions

Avoid travel by public transport (e.g. buses). Train service between Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire is unreliable and does not meet U.S. safety standards.   Review OSAC’s report, Security In Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

While there are no officially registered taxi companies, municipal authorities in the major cities require taxis to have an operating permit and to have a specific color scheme (green/white in Brazzaville, blue/white in Pointe-Noire, red/white in Dolisie). Although taxis are a convenient and relatively safe alternative for transportation in Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire, the Embassy does not endorse the use of any particular local taxi operators. Taxis do not have meters; negotiate fares before using one. It is customary for drivers to charge a supplemental fee to or from airports. Travelers using taxis should keep small denomination bills. Passengers should take note of the vehicle registration in case of any incidents or issues with taxi operators. The Embassy has received reports of a small number of taxi operators conspiring with thieves to rob passengers. Taxis do not undergo routine inspections and vary significantly in their state of repair. Always wear a seat belt and use the vehicle’s door locks for added safety. To avoid theft at intersections do not use a mobile telephone with the window down and place your personal baggage between your legs.   

A commercial ferry service exists between Brazzaville and Kinshasa; however, it may suspend service with little notice. The port closes at 1600, and is open only until 1200 on Sundays and holidays. Passengers must already have a valid visa to cross the Congo River.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

Brazzaville’s Maya-Maya International Airport (BZV) received a new runway in 2010 and a new terminal in 2013. 

Terrorism Threat

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Brazzaville as being a LOW-threat location for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Although there have been no terrorist attacks in the RoC, its neighbors do experience a terror threat. Cameroon continues to experience attacks by Boko Haram and other terrorist groups, particularly in the north. In 2017, the U.S. Embassy received a specific terrorist threat, and in 2018, U.S. Embassy Kinshasa received what it publicly described as “credible and specific” terrorist threat information against U.S. government facilities in that city. 

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

Civil Unrest 

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Brazzaville as being a MEDIUM-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Starting in 2016, for almost two years, the RoC Government fought an insurgent group known as the Ninjas in the western Pool region. In 2017, the parties reached a ceasefire agreement, which remains in effect. 

During 2019, Brazzaville continued to experience a small number of public protests. However, the government normally anticipates and forestalls any protests. Travelers should avoid any demonstrations or large groups of people. Review OSAC’s report, Surviving a Protest.

Religious/Ethnic Violence

Clashes between Congolese nationals and West African immigrants and shopkeepers occur occasionally. Although strong ethnic fault-lines exist among the Congolese population (mainly along a North/South divide), ethnic violence has not surfaced among domestic groups in recent years. 

Post-specific Concerns

Critical Infrastructure Concerns

RoC infrastructure does not meet Western standards for workplace health, safety, security, and environmental issues. A primary example is in the engineering and construction sectors, where few safety standards exist on construction sites, other than those under the control of Western companies.

Internet access is extremely expensive, tends to be unreliable, and is often affected by technical glitches and regular government restriction.

Economic Espionage/Intellectual Property Theft

An abundance of pirated merchandise is readily available from street vendors. It is a violation of U.S. law to bring this material to the United States.

Local law prohibits exiting the country with the local currency, the Central African CFA Franc. The Central African CFA Franc is a currency shared by six countries in the region, and is different from the West African CFA Franc, which is not legal tender in RoC.

Personal Identity Concerns

Same-sex sexual activity is legal in the ROC. However, members of the LGBTI community face heavy stigmatization, and there is no legal protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation. There have been reports of police in Pointe-Noire verbally, physically, or sexually abusing openly gay young men and harassing gay men in order to elicit bribes. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI+ travelers.

Police receive reports for only a fraction of rapes. Police reports verifying rape cost CFA 30,000 francs ($52) to cover medical examination and report expenses, an onerous cost for most victims. Domestic violence is widespread but rarely reported. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for female travelers.

Review OSAC’s report, Freedom to Practice, and the State Department’s webpage on security for faith-based travelers.

Access to transportation, lodging, and public buildings is limited. There are few sidewalks and no curb cuts, and most buildings lack functioning elevators. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers with disabilities.

Kidnapping Threat

Review OSAC’s report, Kidnapping: The Basics.

Piracy and Maritime Security 

The International Maritime Bureau warns mariners to be extra cautious when transiting the waters off Pointe-Noire, where minor piracy events happen regularly. Sophisticated piracy events occur in and near RoC waters (about 100 nautical miles from Ponte-Noire) targeting oil tankers, including a tanker hijacking with its crew on board. Pirate groups involved in Gulf of Guinea piracy typically originate from Nigeria. Increasingly, pirates have kidnapped crewmembers for ransom from ships in more northern waters of the Gulf of Guinea; in such cases, pirates have transferred victims to other vessels or even taken them ashore – often to hideouts in southern Nigeria.

Privacy Concerns

Cell phone and the Internet services are private but subject to direct government control and monitoring. The government has a history of shutting electronic and telephonic communications nationwide during constitutional referendum-related civil unrest and presidential elections.

Other Issues

Congolese law strictly prohibits the photographing of military installations, police, military personnel, industrial facilities, government buildings, and infrastructure such as roads, bridges, dams, and airports. Such sites are rarely marked clearly. Review OSAC’s report, Picture This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography.

RoC law prohibits the exports of artifacts and other items of historical significance. Read the State Department’s webpage on customs and import restrictions for information on what you cannot take into or out of other countries.

Police Response

The RoC security services, including the Army (Forces Armées Congolaises), National Police (controlled by the Ministry of the Interior), and Gendarmerie (a police force under the control of the Ministry of Defense), are highly visible on a day-to-day basis across Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire. There are regular reports of law enforcement officers using excessive force. There are also occasional reports of solicitations of bribes and participation in criminal activity by security forces. Police resources are limited, and response to emergency calls is often slow or non-existent.   

Always carry some form of formal identification. The Embassy recommends that travelers carry a copy of their passport and Congolese visa rather than the originals.

Police have stopped foreigners and accused them of minor infractions, which may or may not have been justified. Police typically do not want to write a ticket and often request the payment of a fine on the spot. The U.S. Embassy does not encourage payment of fines directly to requesting officers. 

The detention of U.S. citizens is rare. In the few instances that have occurred, Congolese police have allowed arrested U.S. citizens to contact the Embassy. Arrested or detained U.S. citizens have the right to request that Congolese authorities alert the U.S. Embassy and are encouraged to use whatever means of communication available to notify the U.S. Embassy of their situation. 

The emergency line in the Republic of the Congo is 117. Local Emergency Fire and EMS services number is 118. Download the State Department’s Crime Victims Assistance brochure.

When reporting a crime to the police, victims should ask for an official written police report (CFA 15,000 charge). For violent crimes, the Embassy can help victims find appropriate medical care, contact family members and friends, and help them send money. Consular officers can help victims understand the local criminal justice process and provide a list of local attorneys, if needed.

Medical Emergencies

Health facilities are very limited. Hospitals in Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire suffer from inadequate facilities, chronic underfunding, outdated equipment, and shortages of supplies and medications. There is a shortage of physicians and other qualified medical personnel. Some hospitals have ambulance services, but these are limited, unreliable, and require an on-scene cash payment. Psychiatric services and medications are very limited. Travelers must carry their own supplies of prescription drugs and preventive medicines. Find contact information for available medical services and available air ambulance services on the U.S. Embassy website.

The U.S. Department of State strongly recommends purchasing international health insurance before traveling internationally. Review the State Departments webpage on insurance overseas.

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for the Republic of the Congo.

Review OSAC’s reports, The Healthy Way, Traveling with Medication, I’m Drinking What in My Water?, Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad, Health 101: How to Prepare for Travel, and Fire Safety Abroad.

OSAC Country Council Information

Brazzaville has an OSAC Country Council that meets quarterly. Contact OSAC’s Africa team.

U.S. Embassy Contact Information

The Embassy is located in Brazzaville on Denis Sassou N’Guesso Boulevard (formerly known as Maya-Maya Boulevard), the same road as the airport. 

Hours of operation are Monday-Thursday, 0730-1700, and Friday, 0730-1230.

Switchboard: +242 06 612 2000.

After-hour Emergencies: +242 05 526 3533

Website: https://cg.usembassy.gov/

Helpful Information

Before you travel, consider the following resources:

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