What makes Congo, Republic of the a unique country to travel to?
The Republic of the Congo (Congo-Brazzaville) is a developing nation in Central Africa. The official language is French, and Lingala, Kikongo, and Kituba are also widely spoken. The largest cities are the capital, Brazzaville, located on the Congo River, and Pointe Noire, on the Atlantic coast. Parts of the capital and large areas in the south of the country were damaged during civil conflicts from 1997 to 1999. The last rebel group signed a cease-fire accord with the government in March 2003. Facilities for tourism are very limited.
Several incidents of petty street crime against U.S. citizens have occurred recently and reports of violent crime in Brazzaville, although not specifically targeting U.S. citizens, are not uncommon. Incidents of armed robberies, vehicle break-ins, mugging, and pick-pocketing have been reported near the ports, outside popular restaurants, as well as in the Congolese neighborhoods surrounding the city center in both Pointe Noire and Brazzaville.
U.S. citizens and many foreigners are perceived to be wealthy and should take precautions to avoid becoming victims of crime. Criminals often target individuals based on their dress, actions and perceived vigilance.
The Embassy recommends that you do not travel alone, avoid poorly lit streets and unfamiliar areas, especially at night.
You should note that in cases of theft and robbery, legal recourse is limited; leave valuable items at home. Pointe Noire shares similar concerns to Brazzaville with one exception; petty crime is often committed near Pointe Noire’s beaches. The Embassy recommends that you stay on main beaches, secure valuables, and avoid all beaches completely at night, when crimes typically occur. You should also use caution when swimming because of riptides. The main areas of concern in Pointe Noire are the coastline (currents), beachside after hours, and market areas (another popular area for petty crime, which you should avoid after dark).
While you are traveling in the Republic of the Congo, you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different from our own. It is important to carry some form of identification at all times. Wallets should contain only a small amount of cash and be free of all credit cards. You may be taken in for questioning if you are stopped by the police and are unable to produce an acceptable form of identification. A common practice among policemen is to stop foreigners and accuse them of minor infractions (which may or may not be valid). When this occurs, the police do not want to write a ticket, but rather request the person to pay a fine on the spot. The U.S. Embassy does not encourage anyone to pay fines. The Embassy recommends that all travelers carry a copy of their U.S. passport and Congolese visa to prevent them from being taken by police or armed assailants during an attempted bribe.
If you travel to a new region within the Republic of the Congo, you should carry your passport, as you may be asked to register with Immigration Service officials upon arrival in a new location. It is illegal to take pictures of government buildings, military installations, and other key parts of infrastructure such as ports, train stations, and airports. In general, it is best to keep your camera out of sight and ask permission prior to taking photos. If permission is refused, don’t take the photo.
There are also some things that might be legal in the Republic of the Congo, but still illegal in the United States. You can be prosecuted under U.S. law if you buy pirated goods. Engaging in sexual conduct with children and using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States. If you break local laws in the Republic of the Congo, your U.S. passport will not help you avoid arrest or prosecution. If you are arrested in the Republic of the Congo, you have the option to request that the police, prison officials, or other authorities alert the U.S. Embassy of your arrest, and to have communications from you forwarded to the U.S. Embassy.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
Medical facilities are extremely limited. Some medicines are in short supply, particularly in rural areas. Travelers should carry their own supply of properly-labeled medications. The Embassy’s Consular Section maintains a list of clinics in Brazzaville and Pointe Noire. This list is provided as a service for U.S. citizens residing in or visiting the Republic of the Congo, and in no way constitutes an endorsement or recommendation of any particular facility.
Disease Outbreaks: Mosquito borne illnesses are a major problem throughout the country and prevention of bites and proper immunizations are important for all areas. Travelers should carry and use mosquito repellents containing DEET or picaridin and sleep under insecticide-impregnated mosquito nets if possible. A yellow fever outbreak in western portions of the country started in December 2012 leading to an immunization program for citizens. All visitors should have documentation of yellow fever vaccination within ten years. Chikungunya, another mosquito borne virus, appeared in June 2011. There is no immunization or treatment for this disease, which causes fever, headaches, and severe joint pain. Again, prevention of mosquito bites is most important.
Hepatitis A and typhoid are very common in the Republic of the Congo; all travelers should be immunized. Because of an ongoing measles outbreak, you should be immunized (or have had measles). Rabies is not uncommon; travelers staying in rural settings, especially for long periods, should be immunized before arriving. Although currently controlled, polio outbreaks have occurred in recent years. Travelers should be immunized before arrival.
Malaria is a serious and sometimes fatal disease that is highly prevalent in cities and rural areas throughout the country in all seasons of the year. If you will be visiting the Republic of the Congo, you will need to discuss with your doctor the best ways for you to avoid getting sick with malaria. A combination of strategies should be taken to diminish the chance of developing malaria and other mosquito-borne illnesses such as chikungunya and yellow fever:
Taking a prescription antimalarial drug,
Using insect repellent and wearing long pants and sleeves to prevent mosquito bites, and
Sleeping in air-conditioned or well-screened rooms and/or using bed nets.
All of the following antimalarial drugs are equal options for preventing malaria in the Republic of the Congo: Atovaquone-proguanil (Malarone®), doxycycline, or mefloquine. Chloroquine is NOT an effective antimalarial drug in the Republic of the Congo and should not be taken to prevent malaria in this region. The CDC provides additional information on malaria protective measures.
If you become ill with a fever or flu-like illness while traveling in the Republic of the Congo, and for up to one year after returning home, you should seek prompt medical attention and tell the physician you have traveled into a malarial area and what antimalarials you have been taking.
African trypanosomiasis is transmitted by the bite of the tsetse fly and is primarily found along the Congo River in the regions of Bouenza (including Loudima, Nkayi, and Madingou), Pool, Plateau (including Gambona), and Cuvette (including along the Likouala and Sangha rivers). Conventional insect repellents (DEET and permethrin) are ineffective against the tsetse fly. Wear light-colored, (not blue, which attracts tsetse flies) heavyweight clothing.
Loiasis, a filarial infection transmitted by large tabanid flies (Deer or Mango Fly), is highly endemic in forested areas. Exposure of longer than just a week or two is generally required for infection. Daytime insect precautions are recommended. Onchocerciasis, another filarial infection which is transmitted by black flies, is highly endemic. Exposure of longer than just a week or two is generally required for infection. Daytime insect precautions are recommended, especially near the shores of rivers.
Schistosomiasis is caused by a parasitic worm and is endemic in the Republic of the Congo. The larval stage of the worm burrows through the skin when in contact with contaminated fresh water. Avoid wading, swimming, bathing, or washing in, or drinking from bodies of fresh water such as canals, lakes, rivers, streams, or springs.
There is a very high incidence of diarrheal diseases throughout the country including in luxury hotels in major cities. Travelers can protect themselves by following good hygiene and safe food preparation. These include scrupulous washing of hands under running water, especially before food preparation and eating, thorough cooking of food, boiling or treatment of drinking water, and use of sanitary facilities. Above all, be very careful with food (especially raw vegetables and leafy salads) and water, including ice.
Tuberculosis is an increasingly serious health concern in the Republic of the Congo.
Safety and Security
Although the Republic of the Congo is still recovering from its civil war, there have been no serious episodes of unrest or violence since the March 2003 peace accord. Continued security awareness, however, remains a key consideration for all visitors.
You should avoid travel in the Pool region south of Brazzaville. Although terrorism has not been a recent problem in the Republic of the Congo, the Ninjas (a former rebel group) reside in the Pool Region, especially in and around the village of Kinkala. Although they do not specifically target U.S. citizens, they do routinely establish roadblocks and conduct highway robberies. For this reason, the Embassy advises against travel by road between Brazzaville and Pointe Noire. In the past, the passenger train connecting Brazzaville and Point Noire passed through this region and train passengers have been robbed; however, there has been a recent push by the government to improve the comfort and safety of the rail connection between Congo’s two largest cities. For more on these developments, feel free to contact the Embassy as we will continue to monitor these improvements.
You should also pay close attention to events in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as unrest in Kinshasa can also affect Brazzaville. In 2007, stray small arms fire originating in Kinshasa landed in Brazzaville.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in the Republic of the Congo, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. Traffic safety in general is hazardous due to high speeds, aggressive driving, poorly maintained vehicles, and general indifference toward the safety of pedestrians and cyclists. The information below concerning the Republic of the Congo is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Road conditions are generally poor and deteriorate significantly during the rainy season from November to May. The National Highway 2, which links Brazzaville to Pointe Noire, is largely unpaved and often impassable in the rainy season. Unleaded gasoline and diesel fuel are frequently unavailable in the major cities and especially in the more isolated regions of the country. Maintenance of the few paved roads is limited. Overland travel off the main roads requires a four-wheel drive vehicle. Poorly-marked checkpoints, sometimes manned by undisciplined soldiers, exist in many areas of the countryside.
Bus travel is strongly discouraged. While there are no officially registered taxi companies in Brazzaville or Pointe-Noire, taxis are required to have an operator permit. Many taxi drivers are owner-operators. In the past several years, there have not been any reported criminal incidents involving U.S. citizens using taxis in Brazzaville or Pointe Noire. Hire only taxis painted in the government-authorized green and white color scheme in Brazzaville and blue and white color scheme in Pointe Noire. Taxis are not metered, so fares should be negotiated before passengers embark. Most taxi drivers will always round-up fares or not return change.
Emergency services are limited within Brazzaville and Pointe Noire and virtually non-existent elsewhere in the Republic of the Congo. Please refer to the medical section above.
There are currently no Distracted Driving Laws in effect in the Republic of the Congo, but police may pull over drivers who talk or text while driving for not following safe driving procedures.