Published: November 1st 2011October 28th 2011
As you pass a United Nations sniper tower, a truck loaded with mercenary’s thunders past holding rocket launchers, machetes and AK47′s. While political activists rally for the looming elections, Congolese soldiers dressed like Rambo carry mounted machine guns to protect road blocks around the city. With armoured vehicles at every intersection, and police patrolling the streets, helicopter gunships hover above watching your every move.
Attempting to enter a conflict zone on a tourist visa is surreal, the fact that it is even possible a mind-blowing experience. Realizing that the British Foreign Office has travel restrictions in place invalidating your insurance policy the reality. With tourist visa #479 it quickly becomes clear that only Non Government Organisations and the most intrepid travellers dare visit the Kivu province in the Eastern Congo.
Delayed at the Gisenyi border for refusing to pay a bribe you get the chance to meet War Correspondents, Non-Government Organization’s and United Nations Officers. With the United Nations evacuating their families in preparation for the looming elections, they smile at your brave attempt to enter the country. They warn you Goma is a ticking time bomb, they tell you to trust no one.
As a German doctor
fills your head with horror stories of violence and genocide, an American and his assistant approach. Covered in tattoos and resembling a biker he introduces himself as a preacher. Regularly working in Sudan, Uganda and Congo, he tells stories of child soldiers, rape and genocide. Reaching out to offer his business card, he tells you God sent him to protect the children. The children at the mercy of the Lord’s Resistance Army.
As you drive past soldiers, activists, and mercenaries, the adrenaline begins to pump through your veins. Your senses go into overload while scanning the surroundings for potential threats. While half-naked Prostitutes shout at you from makeshift tin shacks and Congolese soldier’s eye up your belongings, your vision becomes blurred while struggling to cope with the culture shock of entering a conflict zone.
With the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) emerging from the bush and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) carrying out attacks during the build up to the elections, you soon find yourself within a political minefield. Regularly breaking eye contact with armed activists giving you the finger, you begin to question your sanity. Have you finally gone too far? Is this what you came to see?
Are you actually walking the extreme?
As a white person in an African conflict zone, you quickly get a lot of attention. Being warned not to take photographs the challenge. With everyone stopping to stare, it’s difficult to assess the intent of the local population. While the United Nations soldiers are surprised to see you, Congolese soldiers tower over you with authority demanding bribe. As children wave at you with excitement, activists hold weapons in the air, intimidating you and your driver.
Knowing at any moment an armed gang representing one of many political fractions could kidnap you is enough to make anyone nervous. Witnessing political rallies in preparation for the looming elections is both intense and sobering. An adrenaline fuelled experience capable of scaring the most experienced and intrepid traveller.
Driving through down town Goma, you are amazed to witness a brand new Mercedes bouncing towards you along a black lava road. While they smile and wave, you are stunned to see the driver with a rocket launcher between his legs. The passengers holding AK47′s, all dressed in combat gear, all ready for war.
As you pass crashed aeroplanes, blown up buildings and burnt out
vehicles you finally arrive at one of the world’s largest refugee camps. With hundreds of thousands building shacks under an active volcano it is shocking to see how people live. With the walls of houses built from wood, steel and rubbish provide the shelter. With the streets black from brimstone, you wonder how long it will be before doomsday and the pending apocalypse.
As the UN, Save the Children, Oxfam, and UNICEF work together in keeping the peace, its amazing to witness the contribution they make. Building schools and hospitals, providing food and clean water, supplying teachers, doctors and nurses.
Yet it seems odd that the UN drive brand new 4x4's and reside in a secure compound along a beautiful lake. They rent expensive mansions and live in western comfort. As refugees watch with envy, you stand in amazement. The contrast shocking, the divide unbelievable.
With the World’s Largest Peacekeeping Mission, United Nations Soldiers, Congolese Army, Corrupt Police, Non Government Organisations, Lord’s Resistance Army, Allied Democratic Forces, Refugees, Genocide Criminals, Child Soldiers and Political Fractions all living together under one volcanic cloud, it’s fair to say Goma is the World’s Most Dangerous City.
The Worlds Most
Dangerous City Who Knew…?
Based on the business card and ‘Hells Angles’ biker appearance, I believe the preacher I met at DRC border was no other than; Sam Childers, a.k.a ‘The Machine Gun Preacher’ Amazing who you meet in Africa. How To Do It
Contact: Emmanuel Rufubya
Website: Okapi Tours & Travel
DRC Mobile: +243994328077
Rwanda Mobile: +250783589405
Notes: Emmanuel can arrange the $50USD national park visa, otherwise $120 for 30 day visa from DRC embassy in Kigali. Alternatively a $285USD unofficial visa is available from the border. You do not need to be a Rwanda resident as some may tell you. There is no 7 day visa as suggested in the Lonely Planet!
I would not advise just rocking up and crossing the border – It’s a dodgy city and you will probably encounter border bribes. Use a local guide, there are many. I used Emmanuel. He speaks 8 languages and knows the city. He collects you in Gysini (Rwanda) and keeps you safe. Most importantly he knows the border guards, soldiers and police. Highly recommended!
Please research the political situation before going. The
Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) and Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) are capable of pulling the DRC and entire region (Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi) into conflict. The east, especially Goma and the Kivu area are extremely volatile and can change quickly.
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