Getting into Congo
Hallelujah. I’ve escaped the unrelenting grime and corruption of Kinshasa, not without some difficulty. I've taken a ferry north across the river from Kinshasa and I’m in the Republic of Congo now. The immigration booths are rickety, but the service straightforward.
Facts and Factoids
- The Republic of the Congo, or RoC (not to be confused with Taiwan) is also known as Congo-Brazzaville (so as not to confuse it with the Democratic Republic of Congo).
- The Congo got its name from the old kingdom of Kongo, which was at the mouth of the river from the fourteenth to nineteenth centuries.
- The region is dominated by Bantu-speaking tribes from three kingdoms: Kongo (originating about 1000), the Loango (flourishing in the 17th century), and Tio.
- 85% of Congo’s sparse population (five million) lives in a few urban areas, mainly in Brazzaville, and Pointe-Noire, as about 80% of the entire country is covered in the dense Congo Rainforest.
- French is the main language used. Very few people understand English.
A Brief History of the Congo
- The Portuguese located the Congo River in 1482, establishing commerce with the tribes-especially because of the slave trade.
- The Frenchman Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza (hence Brazzaville) signed a treaty with Makoko, ruler of the Bateke people, in 1880. This established French control.
- The country was then named French Congo, and after 1905, Middle Congo.
- Together with Gabon and Ubangi-Shari (CAR), it became the colony of French Equatorial Africa in 1910.
- The Congo proclaimed its independence, without leaving the French Community in 1960, then calling itself the Republic of Congo.
- Congo became a Marxist–Leninist state, from 1969 to 1992, under the name People's Republic of the Congo.
- Multi party elections were introduced in1992, but these came to an end in the 1997 Republic of the Congo Civil War. President Denis Sassou Nguesso who first came to power in 1979 ruled until 1992 and then again, after he was reinstated. His rule (and his family) has been rife with accusations of corruption, but he has been granted a third consecutive term in office, by a referendum which led to much civil unrest.
Is Congo a Poor Country?
Civil wars and militia conflicts have historically plagued the Republic of Congo. Nearly half the population lives in poverty, according to the World Bank, even though the Republic of Congo is one of sub-Saharan Africa's main oil producers.
Is Congo Safe To Visit?
Congo is considered to be one of Africa's safer countries. Brazzaville is one of Africa's safer cities, and certainly one of its safest capitals, considerably safer than Kinshasa, over the water.
What to Do in the Congo?
I’m flying north to one of the national parks. and I’m going to visit the lowland gorillas at Odzala Camp. It's not cheap - these are special charter flights and the lodging is beautiful, run by knowledgeable and hard-working staff and guides. It's an amazing experience.
Leaving Congo - Maya Maya Airport
Bureaucracy is still alive and kicking this side of the Congo, though for the most part (not when it comes to the passport checking officer), with humour. I have pages of flight itineraries and the check-in clerk feels it necessary to photograph every single one of them, This includes the details of my accommodation in Zambia, my next stop. But they all (except the immigration officer) send me on my way with a cheery bon voyage.