The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) at Level 3, indicating travelers should reconsider travel to the country due to crime and civil unrest. Do not travel to North Kivu and Ituri provinces due to Ebola, and to the Eastern DRC and the three Kasai provinces due to armed conflict.
Overall Crime and Safety Situation
The U.S. Embassy in 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.
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.
The security situation in parts of eastern DRC remains unstable due to the activities of armed groups and ongoing military operations, which continue to destabilize the region. In 2017, one armed group declared itself aligned with ISIS and called for supporters to travel to the region to join the group. Sporadic but serious outbreaks of violence targeting civilians, including murder, rape, kidnapping, and pillaging, continue throughout North Kivu, South Kivu, Tanganyika, Haut Lomami, Ituri, Bas-Uele, and Haut-Uele provinces.
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.
There is serious risk from crime in Kinshasa. The vast majority of criminal incidents against U.S. citizens in Kinshasa and the DRC are crimes of opportunity, nearly all seeking financial gain. The most commonly reported crimes are pickpocketing, theft (from persons, vehicles, and residences), and robbery. Petty crime may be more likely 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 vulnerability. In 2018, there were a number of notable crime trends in Kinshasa:
- Opportunistic crime targeting motorists or vehicle passengers continues to be commonly reported crime. These crimes typically involve males opening unlocked car doors and stealing valuables from victims 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 in 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, most likely because Congolese use shared taxis more frequently than foreigners.
- Groups of thieves pickpocket foreigners. Young males surrounded foreigners traveling on foot; some would hold the victim’s arms while others rifled their pockets and belongings for valuables.
- Members of the international community reported bring harassed or assaulted by mentally ill individuals. In some cases, victims 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 (e.g. armed robbery, armed home invasion, assault), though such incidents are rare compared to petty crime. Victims from the international community often report that assailants posed as police or security agents. Security forces control weapons, leading to widespread speculation that members of the police and military often perpetrate or sanction armed crimes. 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:
- A group of masked gunmen carried out an armed robbery of a grocery store frequented by expatriates on the southern edge of Gombe in December 2017 during business hours.
- There were 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. There were frequent reports of violent crime (e.g. 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 own self-interest; as a result, many commit human rights abuses. The overall security situation in many parts of the DRC can best be described as volatile and unpredictable.
Over the last year, reports of crime – particularly violent and gun-related crime – have become more frequent in and around Goma, the largest city in eastern DRC. Incidents predominantly affect locals, and include armed robberies, property destruction, violent sexual assault, kidnapping for ransom (especially targeting local children), and murder. The risk of crime greatly increases after dark.
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 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, enabling approximately 4,700 inmates to escape in one of the largest reported prison breaks in central Africa.
The use of ATMs is risky due to the potential for skimming. For more information, review OSAC’s Report on The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud.
Cybersecurity and technology-oriented crime is not as pervasive or sophisticated in Kinshasa as in most other critical-threat locations for crime.
The DRC government has restricted mobile communications, and at times shuts down Internet access during periods of civil unrest or expected political opposition activity. The latest example began on December 31, 2018, when the government shut down Internet and SMS text messaging capability nationwide for nearly three weeks.
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 military continues to target small, armed groups throughout the country, but focuses mainly on those operating in the eastern provinces of Ituri, North Kivu, and South Kivu. UN troops continue to undertake offensive military operations against armed groups in the eastern areas. Attempts to disarm and demobilize militias and other armed groups have had limited success; many armed actors enter 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 areas. Non-essential travel to the Kahuzi-Biega National Park, a UNESCO heritage site in eastern DRC home to a gorilla sanctuary, is highly discouraged. Avoid travel to Virunga National Park, including the area near Goma, due to ongoing criminal and militia activity.
In 2017, armed militia killed several Virunga park rangers, despite improvements in security measures and infrastructure around the park to boost tourism.
- In 2018, kidnappers took two British tourists traveling to Virunga on a road just north of Goma. One park ranger died during the altercation.
Transportation Safety Situation
For more information, review OSAC’s Report on Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.
Road Safety and Road Conditions
Driving in Kinshasa is extremely hazardous. The majority of motorists do not observed traffic laws, and police seldom enforce them. In many cases, motorists blatantly disregard traffic signals and direction from police. The police force lacks professionalism and competence.
Vehicle accidents occur frequently, and often result in serious injury. Most local vehicles do not meet Western safety standards, are not in good condition, and may be transporting more passengers than is safe. Motorcyclists weave in and out of traffic unpredictably.
Avoid checkpoints whenever possible, especially in less secure areas of Kinshasa and rural areas. If unable to avoid a checkpoint, approach slowly, ensure you lock vehicle doors and roll windows down only far enough to converse with checkpoint guards. Do not relinquish actual documents; instead, hand over copies of documents. Use a local driver 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, a large group of motorcyclists pursued and attacked two U.S. diplomats 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, review OSAC’s Reports on Driving Overseas: Best Practices and Road Safety in Africa.
Public Transportation Conditions
U.S. government employees may not use any form 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 passengers targeting foreigners for crime aboard public transportation.
N’djili Airport in Kinshasa (FIH) has benefitted from a new international terminal. Despite improvements, officials 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 these items are not authorized for boarding. Recourse in these situations depends on the other officials working in the vicinity. Keep close watch over valuables, particularly when waiting in lines or undergoing screening. A lack of training and/or disregard for customs laws among airport security staff leads to sporadic and inconsistent enforcement of hand-carried imports.
Airports in provincial areas are of lower capacity and quality than those in Kinshasa and other major cities. Congolese 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
Travel on rivers and lakes is common, and represents a major method of transportation. Boats are often in poor condition, do not have adequate safety precautions, and are overburdened.
Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns
There is minimal risk from terrorism in Kinshasa. In November 2018, the U.S. Embassy received credible and specific information of a possible terrorist threat against U.S. government facilities in Kinshasa. In response, the U.S. Embassy closed to the public for 7 days.
The Congolese government’s perceived lack of ability to detect and deter terrorism may entice or enable terrorist groups to carry out activities in the DRC. However, the government has taken steps to improve its counterterrorism capacity. The DRC government has voiced its support for the Global Coalition Against Terrorism, and has been proactive and cooperative with the international community in initiatives to mitigate terrorism and related activities.
In 2016 and 2017, there were reports of harassment against U.S. citizens. It appears that harassment related more to the perceived wealth of the individual than their nationality.
Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
After two years of delays, political disputes, and escalating violence, DRC held presidential elections in December 2018. Of the three major presidential candidates (two opposition, one endorsed by then-president Joseph Kabila), now-president Felix Tshesikedi, member of opposition, was announced as the winner. The opposition contested results, and the Constitutional Court ruled in favor of the earlier announced results. The presidential inauguration took place in January 2019, and no major incidents occurred. This marked the country’s first-ever peaceful transfer of power since independence in 1960.
There is considerable risk from civil unrest in Kinshasa. 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 anywhere in the country, including in Kinshasa.
Multiple cities, including Kinshasa and the major economic center of Lubumbashi, experience occasional demonstrations by political opposition parties, students, workers unions, civil servants, and churchgoers. Many demonstrations turn violent due to efforts by security forces to quash them before they grow. While the government has increased its capacity to employ non-lethal measures to control demonstrations, and there has been recent improvement, authorities still sometimes use lethal force, as documented in numerous human rights reports. Congolese security forces have used teargas and live ammunition to disperse crowds, resulting in civilian injuries and deaths.
Avoid large gatherings; even peaceful demonstrations can escalate to violence. Unannounced demonstrations can materialize quickly. Ensure appropriate security measures are 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, monitor local media and Embassy alerts continuously for developments.
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, economic, and ethnically based 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. Ethnic tensions remained in 2018, notable incidents were:
There were upticks in violence perpetrated by a variety of actors in North Kivu, including criminal elements, ethnic militia, and rebel groups of domestic and foreign origin. Increasingly, Allied Defense Force (ADF) rebels have targeted Congolese security forces and UN peacekeepers in Beni Territory; one ADF attack in December 2017 killed 15 UN peacekeeping troops. In November, 2018, seven UN peacekeepers and as many as 12 FARDC (DRC Armed Forces) soldiers died in Kididiwe, not far from Beni. The ADF’s ability to launch numerous attacks in and around Beni in 2018 highlights the challenges MONUSCO and the FARDC face when it comes to security in the region. While the ADF started as a Ugandan rebel group espousing an Islamist agenda, and the Congolese government declared it a terrorist group, 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 has 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 resumed after nearly a decade of dormancy. In early 2018, at least 260 died and more than 200,000 fled their homes due to violence in the region.
- Tanganyika and parts of Haut-Katanga have suffered upticks in violence between multiple ethnic groups, prompting mass displacement into Tanzania.
- The three Kasai provinces have experienced significant armed conflict since late 2016, resulting in mass 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 in 2017 – one of whom was a U.S. citizen.
- There were also reports of a revival of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), led by Joseph Kony. Sporadic incidents starting in late December 2018 include killing, kidnapping (to include children), and armed robbery.
Mt. Nyiragongo, an active volcano 18 km north of Goma, threatens the safety and livelihood of approximately 800,000 people. During Mt. Nyiragongo’s 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 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 or weeks. As a result, ensure redundant communications methods are in place.
The DRC’s rich endowment of natural resources, large population, and strategic location in Central Africa make it a potentially rewarding market for U.S. companies. However, the DRC’s commercial and investment climate remains extremely challenging. Businesses in the DRC face numerous challenges, including poor infrastructure, endemic corruption at all levels of government, predatory tax agencies, limited access to capital, a shortage of skilled labor, and difficulties enforcing contracts. Potential investors, importers, or exporters should consult the U.S. Department of State’s Country Commercial Guide, published through Export.gov, and the 2018 Investment Climate Statement for more specific information on doing business in the DRC. The U.S. sanctioned several Congolese individuals in 2016 and 2017; consult the U.S. Department of Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control for specific information.
Personal Identity Concerns
The Congolese constitution includes a general provision that all citizens are entitled to equal protection, specifically prohibiting discrimination based on race, ethnicity, citizenship, gender, social origin, age, disability, political opinion, language, culture, or religion. However, the government has failed to enforce these provisions.
Sexual harassment is common. The law prohibits sexual harassment, with a minimum sentence of one year, but there is little/no enforcement.
LGBTI individuals may experience harassment, as non-heterosexual relationships and personal identities remain a cultural taboo. Incidents of harassment at the hands of security forces and judicial officials based on sexual orientation and personal identity have occurred. 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 have attacked businesses owned by ethnic-Chinese and Indians in the past.
Drug use (mainly 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. Authorities occasionally arrest passengers attempting to smuggle in drugs though N’Djili International Airport.
Kidnapping for ransom is prevalent throughout many parts of the DRC. Although kidnapping victims are primarily Congolese nationals, 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, locals have been kidnapped in and around Beni Territory; in certain districts of Goma, especially along the main roads leading from Goma to Butembo; and along the Bukavu-Walikale road. In the Kasais, kidnappings occurred in Kananga city, Kasai Central. Kidnapping for ransom is rare in Kinshasa, but express kidnappings targeting shared taxi passengers continue to be commonplace.
For more information, review OSAC’s Report on Kidnapping: The Basics.
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 include demands for money; corruption is rampant.
Congolese security forces can be sensitive about foreigners taking pictures, especially around government or military installations. Taking pictures of any government or military installations, including the airport, the Congo River, and government buildings, can result in detention. Do not take pictures of Congolese citizens unless you receive their permission. Authorities have questioned and temporarily detained Embassy employees for taking pictures in public. For more information, review OSAC’s Report on 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), other armed groups, and criminal elements are able to act with impunity. Rule of law remains tenuous, especially in remote areas. The government’s inability to control its borders adequately 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 in some cases stolen valuables. Outside of Kinshasa, security forces may engage in criminal activity and/or armed violence. 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, security forces have detained and searched declared and credentialed U.S. diplomats, showing complete disregard for international norms and the provisions of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. The police, intelligence service, and military are equally likely to deny consular access to private U.S. citizens, who should make every effort to assert their right to notify the U.S. Embassy and access consular services if in police detention; you may need to repeat requests for consular notification.
Crime Victim Assistance
U.S. citizens in need of assistance should contact the American Citizen Services Unit (ACS) at the U.S. Embassy. Reach ACS via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at +243 (0)97-261-6145 (ACS and for calls from outside of DRC), +243 (0)81-556-0151 or 0152 (for outside of office hours).
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. Serious but treatable medical conditions in the U.S. are often fatal in the DRC.
Bring sufficient supplies of prescribed and over-the-counter medication for the duration of 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, refer to OSAC’s Report on Traveling with Medications.
Contact Information for Available Medical Services
Medical facilities in Kinshasa are limited. Contact information for medical facilities in Kinshasa appears 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 to be eligible for care at the CPU, which has the best-equipped emergency facilities in DRC. 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 CMK, a sister facility to CPU. If hospital admission is required, CMK will suggest patients go to CPU, where travelers will have to pay out of pocket for all incurred costs. Medical costs can be extremely high for non-members. All fees may be required up front if surgical intervention is required.
For more information on medical assistance, refer to the U.S. Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.
Strongly consider obtaining insurance that includes emergency medical evacuation (medevac). U.S. Embassy policy toward its own employees is to stabilize the patient and then 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.
In August 2018, an Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreak ensued in the eastern part of the country, primarily in the North Kivu and Ituri provinces, with the epicenter located close to the border separating the two provinces. This is not the country’s first EVD outbreak. Historically, the DRC has been aptly capable in countering EVD in most parts of the country. However, due to deteriorations in the security environment, logistical challenges, community resistance, and access constraints in the area, the outbreak has become a grave concern to DRC, the African Great Lakes region, and the international community. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are currently more than 1,000 confirmed cases, including more than 600 deaths. The ongoing EVD outbreak in eastern DRC is the second largest in history, the first being the EVD outbreak in West Africa from 2014-2016. DRC has also experienced periodic EVD outbreaks in its western areas, including a localized, small-scale outbreak near Mbandaka in spring 2018.
Water-borne illnesses, such as cholera, are widespread. For more information, 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.
Monday-Thursday, 0730-1715; Friday, 0730-1230. Offices close on U.S. and Congolese holidays.
Embassy Contact Numbers
U.S. citizens traveling in the DRC should 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.
DRC Country Information Sheet