Updated: Mar 23
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) , also known as the the Congo, and historically Zaire, is a country in Central Africa is the largest country in sub-Saharan Africa. The Congolese Civil Wars, beginning in 1996 had devastated the country, resulting in the deaths of 5.4 million.
In 2009, the DRC was relatively calm and I was able to visit Kinshasa for some meetings.
Landing in Kinshasa, the first thing I noticed was that the runway was flanked by wrecks of other aircraft. One of the other passengers, a local, warned me not to take photographs of the wrecks, so I put my camera away.
Travel inside the DRC at that time was a challenge. There were no safe internal flights; no long distance roads and no long distance railways. As I was only visiting Kinshasa, this was not a problem for me.
My GP had shown me the long list of list of tropical diseases that I needed to be vaccinated against and had filled both arms with the vaccines that would keep me healthy.
I handed over my passport on arrival. The official looked at my passport and then looked at me. He then took my passport away and showed it to some of his colleagues. They looked at me, looked at my passport and then started to laugh. When the official handed me back my passport, he was still laughing. I asked him what was so funny?
He giggled and explained, "we all think you look like Bill Clinton".
A driver met me and drove me to the office along roads packed with vehicles and people.
Later, I discover that someone we were working with had just been arrested for murder. News of on-going conflict in the east of the DRC had raised alarms when I started to plan the trip, that were dispelled when I explained that the fighting was as far from Kinshasa as Istanbul was from London. The DRC really is a very big country.
The office I visited had been the home of a warlord and sported a large hot-tub with what looked liked gold-plated taps. Next to the office was a machine gun post that looked out across the Congo river to Brazzaville in the `Republic of Congo.
All too soon, it was time to go home. My driver packed my bag in the boot and we set off for the airport. Not far from the airport, the road ran alongside a railway track. Some youths riding on top of a goods car on a passing train spotted me in the passenger seat and started to get excited.
The was a loud crack and the windscreen in front of my face shattered. The was another large bang that came from somewhere low down on the outside of the passenger door next to me. My driver pulled out of the slow moving traffic and put a truck between us and the youths on the train.
We then drove to the airport without any further problems. When I got out of the car, I noticed a small round hole in the car door, just below the level of my seat.
The local office insisted that our vehicle had been hit by stones thrown from the train. They must have been right...what else could it have been?