1994 the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DROC; formerly called Zaire)
has been rent by ethnic strife and civil war, touched off by a massive
inflow of refugees from the fighting in Rwanda and Burundi. Troops from
Uganda, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Angola, and Namibia have intervened in this
devastating conflict. A cease-fire was signed on 10 July 1999, but skirmishing
The economy of the Democratic Republic of the Congo - a nation endowed
with vast potential wealth has declined drastically since the mid-1980s.
The new government instituted a tight fiscal policy that initially curbed
inflation and currency depreciation, but these small gains were quickly
reversed when the foreign-backed rebellion in the eastern part of the
country began in August 1998. The war has dramatically reduced government
revenue, and increased external debt. Foreign businesses have curtailed
operations due to uncertainty about the outcome of the conflict and
because of increased government harassment and restrictions. Poor infrastructure,
an uncertain legal framework, corruption, and lack of openness in government
economic policy and financial operations remain a brake on investment
and growth. A number of IMF and World Bank missions have met with the
new government to help it develop a coherent economic plan but associated
reforms are on hold. Assuming moderate peace, annual growth is likely
to increase to nearly 5% in 2000-01, but inflation will continue to
be a problem.
Its location in the center of Africa has made DROC a key player in the
region since independence. Because of its size, mineral wealth, and
strategic location, Zaire was able to capitalize on Cold War tensions
to garner support from the West. In the early 1990s, however, in the
face of growing evidence of human rights abuses, Western support waned
as pressure for internal reform increased.
Relations with surrounding countries have often been driven by security
concerns. Intricate and interlocking alliances have often characterized
regional relations. Conflicts in Sudan, Uganda, Angola, Rwanda, and
Burundi have at various times created bilateral and regional tensions.
The current crisis in DROC has its roots both in the use of The Congo
as a base by various insurgency groups attacking neighboring countries
and in the absence of a broad-based political system in the Congo.
U.S. citizens should be aware that there are currency laws in effect
which require that all transactions be exclusively made in Congolese
francs. New regulations issued September 22, 1999, prohibit the possession
of foreign currency (including U.S. dollars) by anyone in DRC. U.S.
citizens, as well as all other persons traveling to or from DRC, are
required to declare all foreign currency in their possession. Upon arrival
in DRC, travelers are allowed three business days to deposit their foreign
currency in a bank-run Exchange House or convert the foreign currency
(at the official, government-controlled rate) at a bank or bank-run
Exchange House. It remains unclear whether these facilities will sell
foreign currency to travelers upon their departure. Currency transactions
that are not done at a bank or bank-run Exchange house are illegal.
The regulations reiterate that local currency must be used for all commercial
transactions in DRC and that there are criminal sanctions for non-compliance.
American Express, Visa, Master Card, and Diner's Club are accepted for
payment of bills at Kinshasa's two major hotels. No other businesses
in DRC accept credit cards. Credit cards may not be used at banks to
obtain cash advances. Traveler's checks are accepted only if accompanied
with a letter from a bank confirming the issuance of the Traveler's
checks to the individual cashing the Traveler's checks. However, the
use of Traveler's checks is generally not advised in DRC because banks
charge substantial fees for cashing them. Traveler's checks are rarely
accepted outside Kinshasa.
Photography of public buildings, military installations, airports, and
the banks of the Congo River is forbidden. Offenders can expect to be
arrested, held for at least several hours, and fined. Film and cameras
may also be confiscated. Due to the threat of harassment and the lack
of signs designating sites prohibited for photography, photography is
best practiced in private homes and amongst friends.