Public Transportation Conditions
Public transportation in Kinshasa is considered to be 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. U.S. government employees are forbidden from utilizing public transportation.
Kinshasa has benefitted from a new international airport, and there have been improvements in the professionalism and competence of the 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 currency from carry-on bags or ask travelers to surrender it. Travelers should keep a close watch over valuables, particularly when waiting in lines or undergoing screening. A lack of training and/or disregard for the customs laws of the DRC leads to sporadic and inconsistent enforcement of hand carried imports. Customs officials may attempt to seize items despite having no basis in law. Recourse in the situations depends on the other officials working in the vicinity.
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. Accidents were common in 2016 and resulted in multiple reported fatalities.
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 because the DRC government’s perceived lack of ability to detect and deter terrorism. The DRC government has taken steps to improve their counter-terror capacity and is proactive and cooperative with the international community in initiatives to mitigate terrorism and related activities. DRC has voiced its support of the Global Coalition Against Terrorism. There is no evidence of operations against American interests in DRC by any listed State Department Terrorist Organization.
2015 and 2016 saw reports of harassment from Americans and Westerners. It appears that harassment is more related to the perceived wealth of the individual than their 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.
The threat of civil unrest is among the Embassy’s most prominent security concerns. The breakdown of civil order could occur at any moment, as evidenced by a series of violent anti-government demonstrations in Kinshasa in January 2015 and September and December 2016, the arrest of pro-democracy activists, and the continued harassment and occasional arrests of leading members of political opposition parties.
Many cities experience periodic demonstrations by political opposition parties, students, workers unions, and civil servants. Some have turned violent. In recent years, the government has increased its capacity to employ non-lethal measures to control these demonstrations; however, human rights organizations scrutinize security organizations and often accuse them of heavy-handed tactics that cause unwarranted casualties.
The greatest potential for political and ethnic violence exists in eastern Congo where trans-national self-interests between DRC, Rwanda, and Uganda fuel a multi-ethnic struggle to control national/tribal sovereignty, the loyalty of the local inhabitants, land rights, smuggling/legitimate trade routes, etc. Attempts to disarm and demobilize militias and other armed groups have had limited success. Many armed groups act with impunity and in their self-interests, violating human rights and, in some cases, forging alliances against legitimate security forces and International Peacekeeping Organizations. Small-scale armed disputes, criminality, and lawless behavior prevail throughout the region.
Ethnic tensions in some areas have increased in 2016, leading to sporadic armed conflicts and attacks in several areas including North and South Kivu and in Tanganyika.
Mt. Nyiragongo, an active volcano 18 kilometers north of Goma, threatens the safety and livelihoods of approximately 800,000 people. During Mt. Nyiragongo’s most 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.
The capability of the government to respond to emergency/crisis situations is limited. The lack of public safety infrastructure and the difficulties associated with obtaining competent and definitive medical care elevate the risk and consequences resulting from injuries and accidents. Injuries that would be serious but treatable in the U.S. are often fatal due to the combination of insufficient emergency response and a lack of accessible medical services.
Several Congolese individuals were sanctioned by the United States in 2016. Please consult the U.S. Department of Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control for specific information.
In 2016, the government appeared to increase its ability to conduct different types of surveillance on individuals within the country.
Personal Identity Concerns
The Constitution includes a general provision that all citizens are entitled to equal protection, and it specifically prohibits discrimination based on race, ethnicity, citizenship, gender, social origin, age, disability, political opinion, language, culture, or religion. But, the government has failed to enforce these provisions.
Sexual harassment occurs. Legislation passed in 2006 prohibits sexual harassment with a minimum sentence of one year, but there is little /no enforcement of the law.
Relationships and identifying as having anything other than heterosexual orientation remain a cultural taboo, and harassment by security forces and judiciary 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 sexual conduct may be subject to prosecution under public indecency provisions, which society rarely applied to opposite-sex couples. The law prohibits same-sex relationship adoptions.
Societal discrimination and abuse also occur against persons with disabilities, ethnic minorities, indigenous persons, and persons with albinism. There were also reports of societal discrimination and violence against foreign minority groups.
Drug use (cannabis), is common; however, evidence of a drug trade 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.
The number of reported kidnappings in eastern DRC has significantly increased since November 2015. The increase is caused in part by the practice of businesses, NGOs, and family members paying ransoms to recover victims. Although the victims are primarily Congolese, there have been several instances of Westerners, including Americans, being kidnapped. Most kidnappings occur in rural areas during overland travel between established towns and villages in North Kivu.
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 laws that they are supposed to enforce. Consistency in administering laws and regulations is absent. In cases involving theft/robbery, police intervention and legal recourse are poor. Many interactions with the police are marked by demands for money, and corruption within the police is rampant.
The Congolese are sensitive about foreigners taking pictures, especially around government or military installations. It is important not to take pictures of any government or military installations including the airport, the Congo River, or government buildings. 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.”
How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment
Police and military checkpoints regularly stop and detain motorists, demanding bribes. In some instances, police or military members steal valuables. The best guidance is to avoid checkpoints, especially in less secure areas of the city.
On numerous occasions, declared and credentialed American 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 consular notification and access if detained or arrested.
Crime Victim Assistance
American citizens who are in need of assistance should contact ACS at the United States Embassy. ACS can also be reached at +243 97-261-6145 or +243 81-884-4609.
Medical facilities in Kinshasa are limited.
Contact Information for Available Medical Services
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.