DR Congo - Introduction
Given the many rumors circulating concerning the sudden death 04 July 2006 of General Sylvain Buki, second-in-command of the armed forces [FARDC], the government took the relatively unusual step of ordering an autopsy. Autopsy results were shared with Minister of Defense Adolphe Onusumba (from the RCD, Buki's party) and Air Force General John Numbi (from President Kabila's political family). Cause of death (both reported) was found to result from a lethal mix of herbal (homeopathic) medicines prescribed by a "traditional doctor." Buki had gone to the traditional doctor to be treated for what he, Buki, said was malaria. In fact, Buki went to the herbalist to be quickly cured of his HIV/AIDs, from which he had suffered for six years. Buki was impatient with the antiretrovirals he had been taking, and wanted to be "healed" so he could get married in December. The autopsy results were widely accepted in the DRC, mostly because Buki's antipathy towards "regular" doctors and his preference for traditional healers was well known.
Unrelenting political dysfunction, social disorder, and economic collapse have combined to make the DRC among the least developed states in the world. The United Nations Development Program’s 2011 Human Development Index ranked the DRC dead last, 187th out of 187 rated countries.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo is also known as DR Congo, DRC, Congo, Congo-Kinshasa, DROC, or RDC, and was known as Zaïre 1965-97. The Congo. Zaire was formally called the Republic of the Congo from independence to August 1, 1964, when it became the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which name was used until October 27, 1971).
The Democratic Republic of the Congo, located in central Africa, is the second largest country on the continent. The capital is Kinshasa. French is the official language. The country endured more than a decade of civil war that ended in 2003, but still faces continuing violence from armed groups, political instability, and extreme poverty.
Post-independence, the country saw a mix of unrest and rebellion, secession, dictatorships, armed conflict, and neighboring countries controlling parts of the D.R.C.'s territory. The country was the battle ground for the African World War (1997-2003) during which time nine African countries fought over the D.R.C’s resources, causing the deaths of upwards of five million Congolese. Following the 2001 assassination of the country's president, a United Nations peacekeeping mission deployed throughout the country, and a transitional government took office in 2003.
The DRC, a country as vast as the United States east of the Mississippi River, has the economic potential to drive the development of all of central Africa. Abuses of human rights and humanitarian standards by the remaining rebel militias and Congolese army continue at a high level, particularly in the east of the country. There are frequent reports of summary execution of civilians, widespread rape and sexual violence, banditry and forced labour. Ethnic tensions are high in the east and north-east of the country.
DRC could be one of the wealthiest countries in Africa, with some of the most valuable and diverse natural resources in the world. But war and decades of misrule and mismanagement have devastated the economy leaving the physical and social infrastructure shattered. DRC ranked 167 out of 177 countries on the UN Human Development Report 2007. Most Congolese are desperately poor, living in extreme poverty on less than $1 a day. Human Rights abuses occur on a massive scale with extremely high levels of sexual violence against women and children. There are over 1 million internally displaced people in eastern DRC requiring humanitarian assistance.
Congo is often said to be plagued by the “resource curse.” During each period in history since its discovery by the West, the DRC has possessed the resources the world craves and the world has sought these without regard for the consequences to the Congolese people. This is a country that has been pillaged for the past 500 years. The first resource stolen from Congo was the Congolese themselves, for slavery in Brazilian mines and American cotton plantations. Under the Congo Free State the country was forced to effectively finance its own occupation to personally enrich King Leopold II as he stole its rubber and ivory. After the Belgian government took control of the colony, the mining of copper, diamonds and other minerals generated profits for shareholders in Belgium and elsewhere. Independence did not thwart the theft of Congo’s resources. Under Mobutu’s 32 year reign an estimated $5 billion of the country’s wealth was transferred overseas. In the Kabila years, neighboring countries have occupied Congolese territory trading defense of Congo with unfettered resource extraction.
The overall crime and safety situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) can best be described as tenuous and volatile. Poor economic conditions continue to foster crime and the inability of the Congolese government (GDRC) to pay its civil servants, military, and police on time (if at all) contributes to the instability of the country. It is well-known that a large number of crimes are committed either by military or police personnel. Vehicle thefts, burglaries, armed robbery, and carjackings occur throughout the country.
The Department of State’s Security Environmental Threat List Report has designated the DRC as a high-threat post for political violence. The DRC has suffered bouts of civil unrest and conflict for many years. Large-scale military looting in 1991 and 1993, for example, resulted in significant loss of economic productive capacity and flight of foreign investors. In addition, widespread looting and destruction associated with wars in the DRC from 1996-1997 and from 1998-2003 further damaged the Congolese economy.
Political instability results in a highly unpredictable security situation in many parts of the country including Kinshasa. On December 30, 2013, clashes occurred when armed supporters of a religious leader attacked strategic government locations in Kinshasa, including the airport, as well as key locations in three other Congolese cities. Over 100 people were killed across the country when Congolese police and military units responded with live gunfire, effectively shutting down the capital until the situation stabilized. The security situation in the DRC remains unstable and difficult to predict.
The DRC lacks many key elements of basic infrastructure, such as buildings, equipment, and transportation. For example, according to a study by 17 donor nations, no roads linked 9 of the DRC’s 10 provincial capitals to the national capital and no roads linked the DRC’s northern and southern regions or its eastern and western regions. The lack of an adequate in-country transportation system increases the time required to get supplies to those in need.
Road conditions in DRC are generally poor and deteriorate significantly during the rainy season from October to May. Traffic safety is hazardous due to lack of infrastructure, poorly trained/disciplined drivers, poorly maintained vehicles, and indifference among many drivers toward the safety of pedestrians and cyclists. Use of cell phones while driving is prohibited in the DRC. As with other traffic regulations, enforcement of this law is inconsistent. Distracted drivers pose a threat.
Any form of public transportation is unregulated, unreliable, and generally unsafe. Taxis, mini-buses, buses, and trains are in poor mechanical condition and are often filled well beyond their intended capacity. At airports criminals have been known to use luggage tag information to present themselves as pre-arranged drivers. Overcrowded vans and taxis, which often do not meet Western safety standards, serve as public transportation in Kinshasa. Few independent taxis are available, and most do not meet U.S. safety standards. Reputable car rental firms include drivers in all rentals. The DRC has few viable highways or railways. Although boat transport is widely used, vessels are often overloaded and/or poorly maintained; accidents are commonplace and often fatal. Ferry service between Brazzaville and Kinshasa may close completely with minimal notice.
The security situation in the DRC remains unstable, difficult to predict, and sometimes volatile. Violent crime, political instability, and high unemployment persist throughout the country, while various armed groups remain active in eastern and southern Congo. Several ongoing conflicts in the DRC pose serious and significant risk.
Both inside and outside Kinshasa, security forces have been known to set up spontaneous roadblocks, especially after dark, at which they conduct vehicle searches and check passengers for identity papers. They may also solicit bribes. Armed robberies, burglaries, and vehicle thefts, occur throughout the country with reports of some carjackings in the North Kivu area resulting in deaths. Some criminal groups pose as law enforcement officials in both urban and rural areas, especially after nightfall.
Most reported criminal incidents in Kinshasa involve crimes of opportunity, which include pick-pocketing and petty theft, often committed by homeless street children called “shegues” who can be aggressive and persistent, particularly in Kinshasa. In heavy traffic, these gangs of street children may open doors and steal belongings.
A simple translation of the French term se debrouiller (verb; noun form, debrouillardise) might be "to fend for oneself," or "to cope," but that literal translation would need to be elaborated with the connotations of hustle, know-how, and the ability to get by or to get what you want. It may consist of knowing how to get a ride on one of the rare commercial trucks that still ply the deteriorating roads of the interior and that furnish what is often the only passenger service available. It may involve knowing which official to bribe in order to get one's salary released or knowing which kinship connection to tap in order to get a sought-after secondary school slot opened for one's child or cousin after enrollment is formally closed. Or debrouillardise may be demonstrated by the ability to locate on the black market drugs needed by a hospitalized family member or by paying a hospital or dispensary nurse to "acquire" the needed medications from institutional stocks. The term may also be adapted to refer to the entire unofficial economy. The popular admonition that "you need to know how
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