Democratic Republic of the Congo
|Democratic Republic of the Congo|
The Democratic Republic of the Congo, often called DR Congo, RDC or Congo-Kinshasa is not to be confused with its neighbour to the north the Republic of the Congo (often called Congo-Brazzaville).
The second Congo war, known as The African World War in the countries involved, officially came to and end in 2003. In five years of combat, more than 5,4 million people died making in the deadliest war since world war 2. The aftermath of that war is not over yet. The UN and the armies of several neighboring countries (although most deny it) are heavily represented in DR Congo harvesting the natural resources. The areas of the country not under the control of foreign forces are mostly run by local militias (Mai-Mai, Hutu etc.), terrorist forces (Lord's Resistance army etc.), European/Zimbabwean mercenaries, or the Congolese Army, of which whole brigades has disbanded forming their own Colonel Kurz style parallel societies.
Congo is widely recognized as the richest country in the world in terms of natural resources, but it currently has the second lowest GDP per capita in the world.
It's needless to say, that traveling solo in Congo can be ridiculously dangerous, and is not recommended for anyone.
There are currently only three relatively small areas safe for tourists, backpackers and hitchhikers. Those are the capital Kinshasa in western Congo, the town of Goma on the border to Rwanda in eastern Congo and the bush land of the easternmost part of the Orientale province in north-eastern Congo. There are few roads and plenty of militias between these areas, and trying to get from one to another overland will cost you months of traveling and most likely your life. It's not worth trying!
Experience in 2012 from member Thumbingmyway goes to show that the above paragraph is not up to date, with all due respect. One can hitch-hike across the DRC from Lubumbashi to Kinshasa in 2 or 3 weeks, weather, road conditions, and vehicle reliability taken into account. The drivers of vehicles will expect payment. The mere presence of a westerner makes instantly far wealthier than more than 80% of the population, which is incredibly impoverished. However, hitch-hiking long distances is more than possible.
Hitchhiking in Kinshasa
Kinshasa is a huge city a population of more than 10 million. It is considered on the same level as high risk African capitals as Lagos or Nairobi.
"Hitchhiking" is the main way anyone without a car gets around in Kinshasa, as there is no public transit system. When waving at the cars you will get a ride in a matter of seconds, although at busy time there will be 15 other people on every corner, also waiving at cars. If you are travelling within Kinshasa, it helps if you ask for the hand signal for your destination neighbourhood. Drivers will look for people signalling for the same destination as them and may not waste their time stopping otherwise. You will be expected to pay for your ride.
Experience in 2012 from member Thumbingmyway goes to show that the above paragraph is not up to date, with all due respect. There is public transport in Kinshasa, in the form of motorcycle taxis, shared minibuses, buses, and shared car taxis. It may not be "publi transport" in the truest sense as it's mostly privately owned and not government provided, but in that respect it conforms with the rest of Africa in transport forms. The writer of this post found that the majority of the Kinshasa public uses one of these forms of transport, and also used it many times himself, finding it safe and reliable. Hitching within the city is possible.
Hitchhiking in the West
Many Congolese will tell you that the road shown on maps connecting Kinshasa in the west to Lumbumbashi in the south does not exist or is impassable. In 2011 Hitchwiki member Alyssa hitched the route. It took about 25 days of being on the road every day (or sometimes being stuck in the mud, but still on the road). There were very few vehicles passing - maybe 5 a day, all bug trucks in terrible condition that were extremely overloaded. At one point a hitched ride in a truck took 6 days to go 200 km due to mechanical problems and mud. There were few security issues and contrary to popular belief about African police, they did not insist on bribes, instead generally offering food and help hitching onwards.
Experience in 2012 from member Thumbingmyway confirms that the above paragraph is accurate in the description of hitching long distances in the DRC.
Hitchhiking in the East
In early 2010 Hitchwiki member JeppeRobert tried hitching in the region. Feel free to send my any questions you might have considering Congo.
The town of Goma is controlled by the UN. It lies on the border to Rwanda, and is divided from the Rwandan city of Gisenyi by a wall. Because of the huge amount of UN personnel in the town, it is quite easy to get a free ride around town or a few kilometers out of it. If you plan to visit the mountain gorillas in the nearby Volcanos National park, you might get lucky hitching a ride with fellow backpackers. Ask around in the bars or hotels in town. Going more than 15-20 kilometers away from the town is very dangerous. There is plenty of rebel activity in the area, and the local warlords will do anything to make the UN look bad. Hence attacks on foreigners is quite common.
Further to the north. The part of the Oriantale province bordering the West-Nile region of Uganda is safe. Day trips from Nebbi or Arua in Uganda are okay. Any further and things become difficult. Hitchhiking is the same as in Uganda. Every single vehicle passing by will pick you up, but only the ones driven by NGO's or the UN will be free. Everyone else will expect a payment.
Hitch-hiking in the South
Experience in 2012 from member Thumbingmyway hitching in the south, coming in from Kitwe, Zambia, is as follows: Kasumbalesa to Lubumbashi, DRC: As you get to the border town, the human & vehicular chaos is intense. There are many scammers and touts offering to escort you through the border, get you a taxi to Lum'bashi etc, be firm and politely ignore them. I found most of them to be Congolese, and that's no judgement on the people or country, just the facts. Don't listen to the lies that you can't change Zambian Kwacha in Lum'bashi, you can. If you want, you can also change at the border at a bureau, or from a private person, if the rate is better. Leaving Kasumbalesa, Zambia, is easy. Stamp out at the immigration counter (walk around to the back of the building) and that's it. Walk through no-man's land to the the DRC border post. you will be greeted by sentries at the boom-gate. One will will out your details in a register and another will escort you inside where the bribery will begin. They will take you to a room full of men and ask for a fictitious "entry fee" of $20. I refused, and after a while they let me go, but they tried every trick. They then tried to make me pay for injections I didn't need, like Cholera and Typhoid innoculations. I have my Yellow-Fever one so that was fine, but they tried to bribe me there too, even saying I must just pay for the stamps to say that I've had them. I refused and didn't pay. When I eventually got to the immigration counter so the guy could stamp me in to the country, he asked me directly to give him money and I refused. Eventually he stamped me in, but I dug my heels in and left the compound. The sentry whom I first met at the boom-gate then tried to get me a taxi as I was leaving but I declined saying I was hitching. I was in the compound for 45min to an hour, it was tough going, but I refused to be robbed of myn money. Side note: I got my visa for the DRC in South Africa, from the embassy in Pretoria. It was about $148 for a 1-month tourist visa. Sent photos, completed application, invitation letters, proof of payment. They rejected my first application as they said I wasn't allowed to hitch in the country. My second stated road transport via cars, and then some flights and they granted me the visa.
Leaving the border post and heading to Lubumbashi: Walk out the border compound past all the trucks on your right hand side to the boom-gate and you are in the DRC. The trucks are waiting for their papers to clear and as they come past hitch a ride to Lubumbashi. Some may have to wait at a customs clearing station a few km up the road for a day or two, so if there is space for you and you are happy to sleep in a truck for a few days, go for it. Of course you can also hitch rides with all the cars and pickups, and 4x4's headed to the city. I got a lift with 3 Americans in a Land Cruiser, and they gave me the front seat, so that was nice of them, and a relaxing trip for me. Leave Kitwe early when heading to this border, you don't want to be stranded here looking for a place to sleep at night because you arrived too late!
From Lubumbashi to Kolwezi: Hitching out of this city may be a problem, it was my first time to Kolwezi, so I had to find out a lot of information etc, and the local concept of hitch-hiking is to take a truck (camion) that is packed with loads of goods, with a but of space for peopple in the front of back, or on top. They pay for their place beforehand, and sometimes the truck only leaves in a few days. Best to head north out of Lubumbashi to the peage (toll-gate) area and hitch rides from people in cars, 4x4's, trucks going north to Likasi, Kolwezi, etc from there. As there is an army base nearby, the security at the toll-gate consists of soldiers and not police. They are chilled and polite. It's a better bet to hitch from the toll-gate, as you may find space on a truck that has come straight from the border that morning and you can ride in the passenger seat. There is a lay-by just before the toll-gate on the left, so you can approach drivers if they stop there. As for me, a soldier with an AK-47 said I must let him find me a ride after he saw me speaking to a few truck drivers. He asked three businessmen in the mining industry to take me to Likasi, which they did willingly.
From Likasi to Kolwezi: I was dropped near the main bus/taxi station in town. From there, ask locals about the road to Kolwezi and they will show you. I got a ride in a small truck. It was mostly a dirt road, and quite bad in some places, but otherwise ok.
The Ugandan Shilling and Rwandan franc are the standard currencies in the areas of Congo bordering these places.
If you get "arrested" by local militias US dollars can buy you out of any trouble. Always have a 10 or 20 dollar note in an easily accessible pocket and at least 50 dollars hidden in your shoes or underwear.
Get the phone number of someone who can help you.
Don't be seen hitching a ride with white people in none-NGO cars. They are most likely mercenaries and are hated by the locals.
Give your country's embassy in Uganda or DR Congo your contact details. It is the fastest way to get info on a sudden chance in the security situation.
Check, double check and triple check the security situation in any area of the Congo you want to go. Humanitarian NGO's are good for this.