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Democratic Republic of Congo VisaSince 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 continues.
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.