Driving in Kinshasa



People here drive aggressively.  Very aggressively.  In cars that look like they might break down any second, with people gripping onto the sides and sitting on top. In the few places around town where there are traffic lights, people don't really follow them, so if you want to get anywhere, you have to keep up, and drive aggressively too.

Things here can also get very serious in a matter of seconds.  Therefore, extreme precautions need to be taken when you are a foreigner here, like never roll down your windows, or never take pictures. We were also told that if there is an accident that happens nearby, we would not stop to help. Authorities and other locals would much rather blame the cause of the accident on you, the foreigner, who has money, as opposed to some local who is just as poor as yourself.  So whether you actually cause the accident or the accident is caused around you, you need to get away from the situation very quickly.  

Taking pictures, or looking like you are taking pictures, also presents an opportunity for exploitation.  By restricting where picture can be taken (by foreigners) it creates a unique business opportunity for cops to assume you were taking pictures of them and fining you for it. I hope this explains why we don't have a whole lot of pictures that are not from the orchestra site.

I'd like to share with you two insightful tales I heard, which may illuminate the situation clearer. One involves someone that was here on a security visit from the UK, someone whose skill sets allowed him to simply look at vehicles and identify what was wrong with them.  He pointed out after 3 hours of driving around town that he had yet to see a car that would pass inspection on the streets of London. I know I'm no expert, but after seeing so many cars being pushed by men down the street, I'm convinced he's right.

Another involves someone living here working in the development industry.  A police officer accused a NGO worker of his car not being in working order.  After the police officer rattled off a long list of accusations (ie - headlights not functioning, papers not in order) which were repeatedly and patiently proven false by the driver, the officer finally fined him for stopping on a road where he was not allowed to be stopped.

When I first heard these rules of the road, I thought, "The cops here are corrupt. They are the bad guys!" We were in diplomatic vehicles, so cops knew to stay away from our car, but a cop did walk up to our driver once, gesturing "Wow! Beautiful car!" As our driver waved back politely, she began gesturing, "Hungry, need money." As usual, our driver kindly, yet firmly gestured "no," but as we drove away, he muttered, "Well, she probably is really hungry. Cops haven't been paid in over 3 months now." 

That being said, we didn't have any encounters with the cops while we were there, and our driver's excellent driving skills allowed us to get around town without any trouble. It's too bad we couldn't take pictures though. There were so many beautiful people and places around town that I wish I could have shared with all of you. But it looks like that will have to wait, until we understand the rules better.

- Nana