Republic of Congo. Travel and leisure in the Congo.

Congo

Anthem Congo.

The Congo is a country in western Africa, occupying 342 thousand km², stretching for almost a thousand km from north to south on both sides of the equator along the right bank of the Congo River (in its middle course). In the far south-west the Congo has access to the Atlantic Ocean, although the coastline is relatively short. Until 1960, the Congo was a colony of France, and French is still the official language of the country.

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Climate and weather

Congo’s climate is hot and humid, equatorial in the north and subequatorial in the south. Average monthly temperatures near the capital Brazzaville in April exceed 26 ° C, in July – about 22 ° C, but daytime temperatures in all months often exceed 30 ° C, and night drops to 17-20 ° C. Almost everywhere, except for a narrow strip north of the equator, the year is divided into dry (May-September) and wet seasons (in some areas – into two dry and two wet). Rains are heaviest in March-April and October-December. In January-February there is so called small dry season, when the rains come less often. However, the humidity remains very high in all months. The normal amount of precipitation is 1400-2000 mm a year, with somewhat less falling only on the coast.

Geography

The ocean coast is not very picturesque and hospitable: the flat sandy coast is poorly protected from the winds and waves, there are almost no bays and inlets. East of the coastal plain, 40-50 km wide, parallel to the shore stretches low (300-500 m) Mayombe mountains composed of quartzite and crystalline schists. To the east of them lies the broad Nyari Nyanga Depression, the central depressed part of which has a characteristic karst relief with sinkholes and caves. In the north and east, this depression is bounded by the spurs of the Shayyu mountains (most of which are in Gabon) height 700-800 m, in the south – the sandstone plateau Cataract. In the center of the country rises the Bateke Plateau, which also has the highest point of the Congo – Mount Leketi (1040 m). In the north-west are elevated crystalline low-walled plains with separate mountains, and the north-east is occupied by a vast, mostly swampy and flooded during floods of the Congo Basin. The Congo is also the country’s main river: virtually all of its territory (except in the southwest, where the main water artery is the Kwilu River) is irrigated by its right tributaries (the Ubangi, Sanga, Liqwala, Alima, etc.), full and stormy, with many waterfalls. There are waterfalls in the Congo itself – the Livingstone Falls on the south-eastern border.

Flora and fauna

About half of the Congo is covered by tropical forests, a mixture of evergreen and deciduous trees. Forests form three continuous massifs: the entire north of the country (the Congo Basin, the main surface of which is occupied by marshy, periodically flooded forests, and its framing plateaus), in the spurs of the Chaillou and in the Mayombe mountains. In the rest of the territory, the forests have been destroyed by man at various times and replaced by savannah and agricultural land. In the national parks of Odzala, Lefini, etc. there is quite a rich fauna: elephants, hippos, buffalos, leopards, numerous monkeys, including chimpanzees and gorillas. Birds and reptiles are also numerous.

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Population of the Congo

Congo is one of the sparsely populated African countries. As of 2016, there are 5,125,821 people living there. Covered by forests and swamps, the northern parts of the country are practically uninhabited (except for a few administrative centers). Almost the entire population of the Congo belongs to the Bantu language groups: Congo, Teke, Mboshi, and Mbete. Each of these groups is a conglomerate of several related nationalities and tribes, although they differ in language and culture. The main occupations of the inhabitants are cattle breeding, farming, and harvesting valuable timber. In the depths of the forests are preserved settlements of the smallest people on earth – Pygmies, who live mainly by hunting.

Major Cities

The largest city and capital is Brazzaville, founded in 1880, but the economic capital is considered a major seaport of Pointe-Noire. Other relatively large cities are Jacob and Luombo. The distinctive culture of the peoples of the Congo in recent decades has been enriched by new trends: for example, in painting, the style of Potopoto (named after the old African quarter of Brazzaville) has become famous – paintings depicting scenes of folk life, done in bright colors, the figures of people stretched, stylized and extremely dynamic.

History of the Congo

The territory of the Congo was originally inhabited by Pygmies. Later came the Bantu peoples, who now make up about 98% of the population.

Beginning in the fifteenth century, the Portuguese begin to export slaves from the Congo to Brazil. In 1880-1960 – the territory of modern Congo was a French colony within the French Equatorial Africa. In 1958 the colony was granted autonomy within the French Community, and two years later independence was declared.

In 1963, the country’s leadership was overthrown in a trade union-induced violent protest against administrative corruption amid worsening economic conditions. From 1963 to 1990, the country was ruled by leftist regimes, mostly pro-Soviet. The period from the late 1960s to the mid-1970s was marked by significant political instability and several military coups. In 1979, General Denis Sassou Nguesso came to power. During his 11 years in power he pragmatized his political course, proclaiming his commitment to Marxism, Sassou Nguesso focused on France and the United States.

Between 1990 and 1991, the country – like the rest of the continent – witnessed a serious democratization of politics. The ruling party, the CPT, lost the first multiparty elections and went into opposition. From 1992 to 1997, the country was ruled by weak coalition governments, and the continuing deterioration of Congo’s economy again resulted in political instability.

In 1997, in the run-up to the elections, massive clashes broke out between supporters of the main candidates, which then escalated into a civil war. The Angolan army played a decisive role in Sassou Nguesso’s eventual victory. Small-scale insurgency continues to the present day.

In 2001-2002, Sassou Nguesso legitimized his stay in power as part of the political restoration process, and in 2002 he was elected president for a seven-year term.

Economy

The Republic of the Congo is a country where most of the population is employed in agriculture.

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Agriculture contributes 5.6% of GDP. It is mainly oriented to the domestic market. The main consumer crops are cassava (900 thousand tons), bananas (88 thousand tons) and yams (12 thousand tons). Sugar cane (460 thousand tons), oil palm, coffee (1.7 thousand tons), cocoa and tobacco are grown for export on plantations.

Industry yields 57.1% of GDP. The main industry is the oil industry. There are reserves of iron ore of high quality. Manufacturing industry is represented by light industry (production of cigarettes, cement, shoes, soap) and food industry (production of beer and beverages, canned food, sugar, flour). In Pointe-Noire, there is an oil refinery.

Full Moambe How a Russian tourist will not die in Kinshasa

Summing up the results of the outgoing year, “Lenta.ru” compiled a list of the best publications of 2016. This text is one of them. Hello, black continent. Late at night, a plane arrives at Ndjili, the international airport of Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. It’s pitch black all around: there are almost no street lights, and cars move around without headlights. Even if you see a light, it’s hard to tell whether it’s a light in a window or a fire somewhere on the street. The first impression, to put it mildly, is not good. But morning is wiser in the evening. And in the morning Kinshasa looks very different. “Lenta.ru” assessed it with its own experience.

Africa is full of Congo.

We must begin the story of Kinshasa with a little explanations to avoid confusion. If you are going to go to the Congo, you must first find out which one. There are two states: the Democratic Republic of Congo with Kinshasa as its capital and simply the Republic of Congo with Brazzaville as its capital. The first Congo was once a Belgian colony, the second was a French colony.

There used to be no confusion, since the Democratic Republic was called Zaire, and the mere Republic, as it is now, was the Congo. However, in 1997, after another local dictator was overthrown, Zaire was renamed Congo. Apparently, to spite the neighboring Congo. And now, dear tourists, sort it out as you like…

To tell you the truth, it’s not much of a problem. The two countries are separated not by a thousand kilometers, but only by the Congo River – or more precisely, by its lake-like extension, Malebo. The city of Kinshasa lies on the southern bank and Brazzaville on the northern one. By the way, before 1966, Kinshasa had a more elegant name – Leopoldville, in honor of the Belgian King Leopold, who once owned the lands of the modern DRC. Today you can easily get from one capital to the other by ferry or boat. The ticket costs about $25.

By the way, the DRC gained its independence thanks to a man whose name is known to every Russian: Patrice Lumumba, the first Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the national hero of Zaire (that is, of course, Congo) and also a poet. It is not for nothing that the Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia bears the name of this outstanding man.

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Exotic is not safe

Kinshasa is a city of contrasts, and this fact should be considered when compiling travel itineraries. In the west are not the most prosperous areas of Masina, Kimbanseke and Limete, populated mostly by people from the countryside (alas, people here also seek the capital in search of a better life). In these narrow streets you have to keep your eyes open: you could lose your wallet forever, a gawky tourist could be hit by a truck with broken headlights or someone could accidentally knock over a guest with huge bales full of odds and ends.

The streets of Kinshasa's poorest districts are not safe

The streets of Kinshasa’s poorest neighborhoods are not safe

Photo: Jerome Delay / AP Photo

One more thing: the residents of the local slums don’t like to be photographed, so those who like to take pictures might want to keep them inconspicuous. Or don’t take them at all.

A few words about public transport. The main mode of transport is a minibus. Minibuses are bought in Europe. Needless to say, that these are the old gibbons, sometimes cargo ones. It is very roomy: if you try hard, up to 40 people can fit into such a minibus.

You can buy anything you want in the Grand Marché market.

You can buy anything you want in the Grand Marché market

Photo: John Bompengo / AP Photo

Few travelers in search of exoticism miss the city markets. The largest market in the capital is the Grand Marché. A landmark in its own right, you can see and buy anything you like: colourful fabrics, shamanistic paraphernalia, spices, vegetables and meats of all kinds. But the meat is not so simple – it is sold together with the skin. If the customer wishes, the meat will be cooked right there, but also with the fur. How is it eaten? It is difficult to say. But the smell during cooking is not the most pleasant.

An urban oasis

The life and appearance of the city changes rapidly as you approach the center of Kinshasa, adjacent to the river. It is already a modern, high-rise metropolis divided into three parts. In the oldest quarters – Kintambo – are luxurious mansions, villas, cottages of the rich Belgians who lived here during the colonization (which, for the record, ended in 1960). All these buildings are buried in green gardens, many parks and squares. Walking around here, you forget for a while what part of the world you are in.

Patrice Lumumba, national hero, poet and politician, is remembered and honoured in Congo

National hero, poet and politician Patrice Lumumba is remembered and honored in Congo

Photo: Francois Lenoir / Reuters

Kintambo was the site of the marble palace, residence of foreign heads of state arriving in the country and one of the best hotels in Kinshasa, the Okapi. It is a complex of one-story houses connected by covered galleries. For some reason, hotels in Kinshasa in general is not cheap: a room at the modest hotel, where there are problems with lighting and cleanliness leaves much to be desired, costs $ 30 dollars a day. Rooms in hotels with normal conditions are 150-200 dollars a day. But in Brazzaville, in the “other” Congo, literally across the river, prices are several times lower.

They sell diamonds here

The administrative district of the city is Gombe. In addition to public buildings, educational institutions (in Kinshasa there are the National University, Art and Medical Institutes, the Academy of Fine Arts with Institutes of Architecture and Plastic Arts), stores, museums (worth visiting the Prehistory Museum, University of Kinshasa Museum and Museum of Local Life), hotels and restaurants, the residence of the President of the Republic, Parliament, Palace of Nations, National Bank and commercial offices of different countries are located here. This is also where the main street of Kinshasa, Boulevard 30 July passes. It is, by the way, well lit compared to other streets, and the asphalt on it is in excellent condition. So Gombe is a pleasant and safe place to walk, have fun and go out.

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In the area it is worth seeing the Catholic Cathedral of St. Anne, built by the colonial authorities in 1914. The neo-Gothic building stands out against the surrounding modern buildings, so it is impossible not to notice the cathedral. Around the cathedral there is a park, where you can hide from the heat, in the cathedral itself is also a pleasant coolness and semi-darkness, as well as very comfortable wide benches, as if specially created for tired tourists.

Saint Anne's Cathedral was built in 1914

St. Anne’s Cathedral was built in 1914

Photo: Zute & Demelza

In the center of Gombe is the Monument of Freedom. Not far from the government offices, there is a sculptural composition “Shield of the Revolution”, dedicated to the memory of local heroes who defended their land from the advancing colonialists. In its center is a figure of an African warrior holding a spear and shield.

There are even more original sculptures on the city streets: “The Beauty of Zaire”, for example, or “The Three Graces”, or “The Tamtam Player”. They are located in the Presidential Park on the Ngalema Hill. It is recommended to visit this hill not only for the sculptures, but also for the views of the city and its surroundings.

The people who work in the Gombe area are called Evolue (“enlightened”) by the inhabitants of Kinshasa. They are well dressed, educated, and well mannered, so they work in good places: selling diamonds, oil, and other minerals that the Democratic Republic of the Congo is rich in.

Outside the city there are picturesque waterfalls downstream of the Congo River. The views are fantastic. However, the locals believe that the waterfalls hinder the development of river navigation.

The Chinese rule.

The city has its own industrial area located upstream of the Congo. But there is nothing of interest to the tourist here. The industrial area is centered around the train station and river port and is surrounded by monotonous barracks. Interesting fact: any kind of construction here are engaged in… the Chinese. According to the locals, this is not only in Congo, but almost in all Africa: the Chinese appeared here relatively recently, about 10-15 years ago, but they took over everything so successfully, that in another ten years, the natives fear, Africa will become a Chinese colony.

About money and yellow fever

An important detail of any trip is money. The official currency of the DRC is the Congolese franc. One euro is equal to about 1100 francs, 1 dollar is worth about 950 francs. The Russian ruble is unknown to the local population.

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The currency exchange offices in Kinshasa are worthy of special mention. Piles of local money are stacked in blocks and covered with a grid right on the floor of the exchange office. The exchanger always holds dollars in his hands, folding them in half for volume and solidity.

Money is often lying on the floor in exchange offices in Kinshasa

Money is often lying on the floor in exchange offices in Kinshasa

Photo: Katrina Manson / Reuters

Credit and other cards can be a problem in Kinshasa. At the very least, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to use them to pay for your purchases at the market. Even expensive hotels and restaurants hesitantly accept them, usually asking if there is any cash – it’s easier that way. ATMs and banks are in affluent areas of the capital, in some residential neighborhoods, but so squalid look that sticking your card in them is scary. In short, to visit the attractions of Congo is better with cash in a wallet – dollars or euros.

Important: When getting ready for a trip, you must take a kit of medicines. Also, you must have an international certificate of vaccination against yellow fever to enter the country. After all, this is Africa. In addition, no visa will be issued without a certificate of vaccination, and without a visa it is impossible for an ordinary traveler from Russia to enter the DRC.

Pharmacies here, for the most part, also have a local flavor. If a drugstore is not located in the main street, most likely it will be a mountain of bales with dried herbs and roots and an assortment of “suspensions”: a number of glass jars filled with the same herbs, but already soaked. It’s up to each of us to decide for himself whether to try the remedies or not.

Surprisingly close

About Kinshasa can tell for a long time. Getting used to this city, you make more and more interesting discoveries. For example, the streets are very clean no matter what part of Kinshasa you are in – rich or poor. You see janitors with brightly colored vests and mops in their hands everywhere. Shoe-shiners are also a local specialty: Kinshasa residents take pleasure in shining their shoes. What’s more, it’s not just seeing the shoe-shiner, it’s hearing him from afar as he wanders down the street, attracting attention by tapping on two planks. At the same time, another sound is usually heard somewhere nearby – the clanking of the manicurist’s jars. Yes, you can get a manicure and nail polish here right on the street. This is a very popular procedure, and for both women and men. And it does not play any role in society and wealth. It’s just the way it is.

Finally, we must mention the local dish, which is served in almost every cafe in Kinshasa. It is called “moambe”, which means “eight” in aboriginal language. There are eight ingredients in the recipe: chicken, fish, rice, coconut, peanut, banana, local herbs and a spicy hot sauce. A strange combination? Yes, but it’s delicious. It’s just like Kinshasa: a lot of things are mixed in and quite unusual, and the result is good and interesting – in a word, exotic.

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