In March 2016 we headed off a remote part of Northern DRC to work with a local NGO (Non Governmental Organisation) on a bednet distribution campaign. Our destination was Gbadolite, located in Nord Ubangi, but before heading up there we spent a couple of days in Kinshasa meeting various people from our partner NGO and the University. The staff from the NGO were lovely and couldn’t be more helpful in assisting us with our work. However the reaction to our announcement that we were going to Gbadolite for six weeks was somewhat concerning. When they had finished crying with laughter and picked themselves off the floor, they informed us that two days is enough….. and the best thing about Gbadolite is leaving….excellent!
Quote from the head of Entomology at Kinshasa university – “If you like Biology, DRC has it all! We have Malaria, Oncho, Schisto, Tryps, Snakes, Spiders …and Ebola!”
DRC as it is now, is one of 2 countries called “The Congo”. It is more commonly remembered as the Belgian Congo or known today as Congo Kinshasa. It is a huge country equal to the size of Western Europe and smack bang in the middle of the African continent. It has a very violent and evil past and present. Not only was it colonised by the Belgians who persistently used genocide, torture and forced work programs for nearly 100 years to decimate the local population, but then it has been involved in civil ongoing war ever since. The upshot is that it is a demoralised, badly governed, expensive, difficult and dangerous place to work.
The majority of visitors either stay in Kinshasa the capital, or visit a national park to the east of the country near the city of Goma to trek Gorrillas or the enormous volcano. There are incredibly low numbers of tourists as a result of this and work and visitors visas are extremely expensive and difficult to obtain. The security issue is severe, and no end of countries warn their citizens not to travel there unless it is essential. Even then, there are parts of the country marked as “Red Zones” which are out of bounds due to continued warfare, human displacement and instability. Some of the countries neighbours are in similar flux and to the North and North West is the Central African Republic. They spent most of 2015 in civil war due to Christian and Islamic fighting that displaced millions of citizens. 120000 people fled over the border between CAR and DRC in the hope of safety and ended up in a huge UN camp in the Province of Noord Ubangi in DRC. The Republic of Congo (to the west of DRC) or Congo Brazzaville as it is commonly known as, had political and civil instability due to elections and continued after the new President was elected in 2016. There has been a raging Militia war in the East too. Along the borders of Rwanda and Uganda, bands of armed mercenaries slaughtering each other (and the local population), raping women as a weapon of war and generally causing chaos to ensure the region is non functioning. This is to allow political, tribal and ethnic feuds to continue and more importantly to let illegal mining continue in the area for a very long list of precious stones and minerals to be plundered whilst the country is involved in war. In summary, the country is an all out mess with greedy politicians ruling by force and stealing the populations taxes and countries wealth, whilst the populous continue to be victims of horrendous waves of violence and killing. They are poorer than poor in the majority of the country, however costs are extortionate to most westerners and most locals. A can of Coke cost approximately 80p in the UK, but in the Congo it was $4! An average main course in the UK was £10, but in Congo $30!! The economy had risen due to the numbers of UN staff (20000 troops) paying UN rates for ordinary goods and NGO’s flooding in to do good with large expense accounts to accommodate them for their discomfort. Apart from a few educated and wealthy citizens in Kinshasa the rest of the country remains in grinding poverty living a day by day struggle for survival. Costs have also been bolstered by the fact that virtually everything is imported, and all goods then have to be shipped or flown across the vast country due to virtually non existent infrastructure. A “road” is usually a dirt track which is unnavigable without a 4×4 and a lot of time, patience, effort and skill. Most places don’t have “roads”.