Congo Country Report
Notwithstanding investments such as a new airport prior to the 2014 oil price crash, the country's infrastructure remains poor. Development is stymied by political interests, lack of funds, and poor administrative capacity. Endemic corruption is a major issue, particularly in the natural resources sector. Although the government is enthusiastic about attracting further foreign investment and the IMF is pushing for reforms to improve governance and transparency, these conditions are unlikely to improve significantly in the next two years. In December 2019, the IMF postponed the scheduled January 2020 payment due to unfulfilled conditions and debt opacity.
Aside from the civil war of the 1990s, the Republic of Congo has no history of religious or ethnically motivated terrorism. However, President Sassou Nguesso's March 2016 re-election led to urban riots in Brazzaville and fighting in the Pool region between security forces and the previously dormant Ninja militia group opposed to Sassou Nguesso's re-election. In July 2019, Sassou Nguesso’s foundation launched agricultural development programmes in the Pool region, indicating an attempt to mitigate opposition sentiment there ahead of the 2021 election.
Petty street crime is common in the major cities of Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire, although the frequency of incidents of armed robbery and car-jackings has been reduced recently by a heavy police presence . Rural banditry is arguably a greater risk, with groups of bandits operating on major routes through the Pool, Niari, and Bouenza regions, as well as along the main road to the north of the country. For this reason, some governments suggest that travel along these routes should be conducted in convoy and with the knowledge of the authorities. Bandits (often ex-Ninja militia members or off-duty security force personnel) have previously been known to attack goods and passenger trains with small arms, but this threat has decreased since the Ninja's leader's partial acceptance of a disarmament programme in August 2018.
The Marché Total and Bacongo neighborhoods of southern Brazzaville and the Moungali area of northern Brazzaville are higher-crime areas. The downtown (centre-ville) areas of both Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire are considered safe, housing high concentrations of government offices and security forces. Most expatriates live and work in these areas and many major shops, restaurants, and hotels are concentrated there. However, several expatriate homes in the centre-ville area were burglarised in 2018.
The security forces comprise the police, the gendarmerie, and the army, and are known collectively as the Force Publique. In theory, the police have primary responsibility for crime prevention and maintaining security, with gendarme and army units acting as second-tier support. However, recent fighting in the Pool region against militias opposed to President Denis Sassou Nguesso's re-election has put the army and the gendarmerie at the fore-front of security, including crime prevention. Operational distinctions remain blurred. The capacity of crime prevention forces is further undermined by low pay and the culture of impunity that penetrates the security services, transforming undisciplined police elements into vectors of criminal activity, from extortion at police roadblocks, to looting of property and premises in the capital. Response times can be extremely slow in the event of emergencies, up to and over 45 minutes. Most rank-and-file police officers do not speak English.
Fighting in the southern Pool region between security forces and the previously dormant 'Ninja' militia group opposed to the March 2016 re-election of President Denis Sassou Nguesso is becoming less frequent following a peace agreement in December 2017 and subsequent small steps towards disarmament. However, there is a residual risk of sporadic attacks on army patrols in the region, although this is unlikely to develop into full-blown civil war due to security forces' overwhelming dominance in arms and manpower. The risk of inter-state war involving the Republic of Congo is low, despite several incidents at the border with Angola during 2019.
Vaccines Required to Enter the Country
Yellow fever: A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required for all travelers over nine months of age upon entry to the country. A single dose of YF vaccine is sufficient to confer sustained life-long immunity against the disease; it should be taken ten days in advance to be fully effective.
Vaccines Recommended for All Travelers
Routine vaccinations: Consult your doctor to ensure all routine vaccinations - such as for diphtheria, tetanus, polio, tuberculosis, influenza, measles, mumps, pertussis, rubella, varicella, etc. - are up to date (include booster shots if necessary).
Vaccines Recommended for Most Travelers
Hepatitis A: The vaccine is given in two doses, six months apart, and is nearly 100 percent effective. The WHO recommends the vaccine be integrated into national routine immunization schedules for children aged one year or older.
Malaria: There is currently no malaria vaccine. However, various antimalarial prophylactics are available by prescription and can reduce risk of infection by up to 90 percent. Different medications are prescribed depending on the risk level and the strains of the virus present in the destination. Antimalarial tablets need to be taken throughout the trip to be effective and may need to be taken for as long as four weeks following the trip.
Typhoid fever: The typhoid fever vaccine can be administered via injection (administered in one dose) or orally (four doses). The vaccine is only 50-80 percent effective, so travelers to areas with a risk of exposure to typhoid fever, a bacterial disease, should also take hygienic precautions (e.g. drink only bottled water, avoid undercooked foods, wash hands regularly, etc.). Children can be given the shot beginning at two years of age (six for the oral vaccine).
Vaccines Recommended for Some Travelers
Hepatitis B: The WHO recommends that all infants receive their first dose of vaccine as soon as possible after birth, preferably within 24 hours. The birth dose should be followed by two or three doses to complete the primary series. Routine booster doses are not routinely recommended for any age group.
Rabies: The rabies vaccination is typically only recommended for travel to remote areas and if the traveler will be at high risk of exposure (e.g. undertaking activities that will bring them into contact with dogs, cats, bats, or other mammals). The vaccination is administered in three doses over a three-to-four week period. Post exposure prophylaxis is also available and should be administered as soon as possible following contact with an animal suspected of being infected (e.g. bites and scratches).
The north of the country has a tropical rain forest climate. Weather is hot and humid with regular rainfall between October and May. In the south (Brazzaville included), the climate is tropical with a rainy season running from September to June and an average temperature of 77 to 86 °F. Rainfall sometimes heightens the risk of floods, landslides, and mudslides, even in urban areas. At the end of 2015, floods wreaked havoc in several districts of Brazzaville.
Avoid bathing in the Congo River and its tributaries because they are very dangerous; also avoid waterfalls.
The single greatest risk to travelers may be travel by car due to the poor state of the country's road infrastructure, particularly during the rainy season (October to May in areas south of the equator), despite the recent construction of paved highways connecting major population centers (from Brazzaville to Ouesso; Owando to the Gabon border; and from Brazzaville to Pointe-Noire). Dangerous local driving habits also pose a significant risk on the road.
Hazardous driving habits (speeding, overtaking, vehicles badly-maintained, heavy loads, drunk driving, etc.) make it a challenge to drive on highways. The Pointe-Noire - Dolisie highway is particularly dangerous due to logging truck traffic. In the event of a road collision involving physical injury to a local individual, it is strongly advised to immediately go to the Consulate or to the nearest police station, as there is a high risk of attracting a crowd and hostile reaction by the local population.
It is advisable to avoid travel after nightfall, including within Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire. In rural areas, always travel in a convoy with a minimum of two vehicles (preferably SUVs) equipped with appropriate means of communication (two-way radio, satellite telephone, etc.). Share your itinerary with a trusted third party and be aware that roadside emergency services are nonexistent in rural areas. In the case of traffic accidents, drivers can be violently attacked or lynched. In the event of an accident, it is best not to stay in the area and rather report the incident to your consulate or the nearest police station.
A railway service now operates between Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire with several trips per week.
When using taxi services, it is advisable to only ride with licensed taxi drivers. Licensed taxis are recognizable by their colors (green and white in Brazzaville, blue and white in Pointe-Noire). Taxis are not always fitted with a meter; it is best to negotiate the price of the fare before entering the vehicle. Taxi drivers generally charge more for journeys to and from the airport. Finally, they rarely have change.
All Congolese airlines are blacklisted by the European Union due to ageing equipment and lack of maintenance. Flying with Congolese airlines should be avoided. Equajet is the only airline taking part to the IOSA program (IATA Operational Safety Audit) and its validity expired on June 27, 2016. Equatorial Congo Airlines (ECAir) and Trans Air Congo are known for better safety standards.
A ferry links Brazzaville to Kinshasa. Connections between the cities can be suspended without warning, especially during political troubles. A visa is mandatory to enter the DRC, as it is to enter Congo.
The Republic of the Congo is situated along the equator and the climate in the majority of the country is equatorial, e.g. permanently hot and humid.
The central region is subjected to heavy rain throughout the year with temperatures steady around 26°C.
However, the north and the south of the country have two distinct rainy seasons (October-December and January-May) as well as a dry season. Regions at high elevations often receive significant snow storms. The climate is more temperate, alpine, at intermediate elevations. There is also a small zone with an oceanic climate; the presence of the cold Banguela current at the mouth of the Congo River considerably lowers air temperatures and levels of rainfall (which hardly ever passes 80 cm) in the region.
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