Dealing with Bureaucracy, Congo Style

Wads of 100FC, or Congolese Francs
Wads of Congolese Francs (500FC is approximately a dollar). Green dollar bills might be required depending on your problem.

This is the one area of this work that I am just not very good at.

You need to have patience in abundance, and then some. Out here it is a world away from Europe or America. Totally different rules apply. However an obvious defense which does not improve my patience: immense poverty, no education, and complete isolation do change the rules. I am talking about dealing with the officials , and the multitude levels of bureaucracy.

For example, I have official documents from the government in the capital, Kinshasa, but in Kisangani (still DR Congo of course) they said they are for Kinshasa not here! Then I get documents in Kisangani for the whole Province Orientale and the people here in Opala (still Province Orientale of course) say they are for Kisangani, not here!

Then there are the incredibly numerous departments that have to be dealt with everywhere. For example here in Opala (see it in Google Maps), a small village basically in the middle of nowhere, there is an immigration dept and they asked for my passport and to see my visa. How on earth do they think I got here. As if there was an international airport in Opala, flying daily to London direct! See, already I lost my patience and I’m just typing about it…

Finally for me there is the problem of dealing with people I would rather not know. I refer to people like the Colonel who held us up for 4 days. I’m not sure he is even a real Colonel but he seems to think he is and all the people here fear him immensely. All I know about him is that he is a former Mai Mai rebel leader who understandably has been integrated into the army, at least I think he has.

What else do you do with people like that? He bullies, intimidates, procrastinates, talks an incredible amount of rubbish and in the end we have to slip him something so we get a smooth passage. His former rebels still here in the forest, apparently. He gave us a signed letter saying we are basically ok and not here to exploit the DR Congo.

In defence of the average Congolese, they do not necessarily like this either but when you have people who work in government departments and do not get paid what else are they to do? They know that the rare white persons that turns up will have money. The problem is no legitimate businesses are ever going to bother here big time with so much corruption.

I feel this is like one of those Catch 22 situations. You starve if you don’t accept bribes because you don’t get paid, but if you do accept bribes then you give the DR Congo a bad name and hold it back from progressing. Hmmm…

Mai Mai chief in foreground with leopard skin
Mai mai in Opala, holding court


  1. William
    Posted 2007-06-21 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

    It depends on the type of progression you are looking for. The Chinese don’t mind paying a bribe.

  2. Posted 2007-06-21 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

    Yes, that is clearly the case and there are chinese just about everywhere building roads, putting in little factories. They do so with the lowest bids, paying bribes, using their own expertise, hiring congolese for the most menial jobs AND no training of consequence, no investment to assure anything other than resources and profit for the investors. That is a type of progress but not one based on love of or even respect for the country being exploited.
    But for anyone, including congolese, pretty hard to do anything without paying the “matabisi”

  3. Posted 2007-08-07 at 10:38 pm | Permalink


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  4. Dee
    Posted 2008-04-29 at 1:44 pm | Permalink


    A congalaise my self, this need to stop. If there are any Congo guy out there, i mean outside of Congo we need to go bck and change the place

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