Ground transport in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has always been difficult. The terrain and climate of the Congo Basin present serious barriers to road and rail construction, and the distances are enormous across this vast country. Furthermore, chronic economic mismanagement and internal conflict has led to serious under-investment over many years.
On the other hand, the DRC has thousands of kilometres of navigable waterways, and traditionally water transport has been the dominant means of moving around approximately two-thirds of the country.
As an illustration of transport difficulties in the DRC, even before wars damaged the infrastructure, the so-called "national" route, used to get supplies to Bukavu from the seaport of Matadi, consisted of the following:
In other words, goods had to be loaded and unloaded eight times and the total journey would take many months.
Many of the routes listed below are in poor condition and may be operating at only a fraction of their original capacity (if at all), despite recent attempts to make improvements. Up to 2006 the United Nations Joint Logistics Centre (UNJLC) had an operation in Congo to support humanitarian relief agencies working there, and its bulletins and maps about the transport situation are archived on ReliefWeb.
The First and Second Congo Wars saw great destruction of transport infrastructure from which the country has not yet recovered. Many vehicles were destroyed or commandeered by militias, especially in the north and east of the country, and the fuel supply system was also badly affected. Consequently, outside of Kinshasa, Matadi and Lubumbashi, private and commercial road transport is almost non-existent and traffic is scarce even where roads are in good condition. The few vehicles in use outside these cities are run by the United Nations, aid agencies, the DRC government, and a few larger companies such as those in the mining and energy sectors. High-resolution satellite photos on the Internet show large cities such as Bukavu, Butembo and Kikwit virtually devoid of traffic, compared to similar photos of towns in neighbouring countries.
Air transport is the only effective means of moving between many places within the country. The Congolese government, the United Nations, aid organisations and large companies use air rather than ground transport to move personnel and freight. The UN operates a large fleet of aircraft and helicopters, and compared to other African countries the DRC has a large number of small domestic airlines and air charter companies. The transport (and smuggling) of minerals with a high value for weight is also carried out by air, and in the east, some stretches of paved road isolated by destroyed bridges or impassable sections have been turned into airstrips.
For the ordinary citizen though, especially in rural areas, often the only options are to cycle, walk or go by dugout canoe.
Some parts of the DRC are more accessible from neighbouring countries than from Kinshasa. For example, Bukavu itself and Goma and other north-eastern towns are linked by paved road from the DRC border to the Kenyan port of Mombasa, and most goods for these cities have been brought via this route in recent years. Similarly, Lubumbashi and the rest of Katanga Province is linked to Zambia, through which the paved highway and rail networks of Southern Africa can be accessed. Such links through neighbouring countries are generally more important for the east and south-east of the country, and are more heavily used, than surface links to the capital.
In 2007 China agreed to lend the DRC US$5bn for two major transport infrastructure projects to link mineral-rich Katanga, specifically Lubumbashi, by rail to an ocean port (Matadi) and by road to the Kisangani river port, and to improve its links to the transport network of Southern Africa in Zambia. The two projects would also link the major parts of the country not served by water transport, and the main centres of the economy. Loan repayments will be from concessions for raw materials which China desperately needs: copper, cobalt, gold and nickel, as well as by toll revenues from the road and railway. In the face of reluctance by the international business community to invest in DRC, this represents a revitalisation of DRC's infrastructure much needed by its government.
The China Railway Seventh Group Co. Ltd will be in charge of the contract, under signed by the China Railway Engineering Corporation, with construction to be started from June 2008.
Main article: Rail transport in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
The Democratic Republic of the Congo has fewer all-weather paved highways than any country of its population and size in Africa — a total of 2250 km, of which only 1226 km is in good condition (see below). To put this in perspective, the road distance across the country in any direction is more than 2500 km (e.g. Matadi to Lubumbashi, 2700 km by road). The figure of 2250 km converts to 35 km of paved road per 1,000,000 of population. Comparative figures for Zambia and Botswana are 721 km and 3427 km respectively.
The road network is theoretically divided into four categories (national roads, priority regional roads, secondary regional roads and local roads), however, the United Nations Joint Logistics Centre (UNJLC) reports that this classification is of little practical use because some roads simply do not exist. For example, National Road 9 is not operational and cannot be detected by remote sensing methods.
The two principal highways are:
The total road network in 2005, according to the UNJLC, consisted of:
The UNJLC also points out that the pre-Second Congo War network no longer exists, and is dependent upon 20,000 bridges and 325 ferries, most of which are in need of repair or replacement. In contrast, a Democratic Republic of the Congo government document shows that, also in 2005, the network of main highways in good condition was as follows:
The 2000 Michelin Motoring and Tourist Map 955 of Southern and Central Africa, which categorizes roads as "surfaced", "improved" (generally unsurfaced but with gravel added and graded), "partially improved" and "earth roads" and "tracks" shows that there were 2694 km of paved highway in 2000. These figures indicate that, compared to the more recent figures above, there has been a deterioration this decade, rather than improvement.
Three routes in the Trans-African Highway network pass through DR Congo:
The DRC has more navigable rivers and moves more passengers and goods by boat and ferry than any other country in Africa. Kinshasa, with 7 km of river frontage occupied by wharfs and jetties, is the largest inland waterways port on the continent. However, much of the infrastructure — vessels and port handling facilities — has, like the railways, suffered from poor maintenance and internal conflict.
The total length of waterways is estimated at 16,238 km including the Congo River, its tributaries, and unconnected lakes.
The 1000-kilometre Kinshasa-Kisangani route on the Congo River is the longest and best-known. It is operated by river tugs pushing several barges lashed together, and for the hundreds of passengers and traders these function like small floating towns. Rather than mooring at riverside communities along the route, traders come out by canoe and small boat alongside the river barges and transfer goods on the move.
Most waterway routes do not operate to regular schedules. It is common for an operator to moor a barge at a riverside town and collect freight and passengers over a period of weeks before hiring a river tug to tow or push the barge to its destination.
The middle Congo River and its tributaries from the east are the principal domestic waterways in the DRC. The two principal river routes are:
See the diagrammatic transport map above for other river waterways.
The most-used domestic lake waterways are:
Most large Congo river ferry boats were destroyed during the civil war. Only smaller boats are running and they are irregular.
petroleum products 390 km
1 petroleum tanker
Due to the lack of roads, operating railroads and ferry transportation many people traveling around the country fly on aircraft. As of 2016 the country does not have an international passenger airline and relies on foreign-based airlines for international connections. Congo Airways provides domestic flights and are based at Kinshasa's N'djili Airport which serves as the country's main international airport. Lubumbashi International Airport in the country's south-east is also serviced by several international airlines.
over 3,047 m: 4
2,438 to 3,047 m: 2
1,524 to 2,437 m: 16
914 to 1,523 m: 2 (2002 est.)
1,524 to 2,437 m: 19
914 to 1,523 m: 95
under 914 m: 91 (2002 est.)
All air carriers certified by the Democratic Republic of the Congo have been banned from operating at airports in the European Community by the European Commission because of inadequate safety standards.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo has a rocketry program called Troposphere.