As much a geographical concept as a fully fledged nation, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC, formerly Zaïre) has written one of the saddest chapters in modern history: from the brazen political folly of King Leopold of Belgium to the hideously corrupt kleptocracy of maverick leader Mobutu Sese Seko, and the blood-stained battlegrounds of Africa’s first ‘world war’. All of which make the inevitable Heart of Darkness references painfully apt.
But, after a decades-long decline in which much of the country descended into anarchy, Africa’s third-largest nation is now squarely headed in the right direction. It still has a long way to go (militias continue to brutalise civilians in many areas and sadly reports of mass rapes are all too frequent), but new roads, enormous untapped mineral wealth, the world’s largest UN peacekeeping force have bred some optimism among its tormented but resilient population.
Travel here remains difficult and frustrating but the huge swathes of rainforest punctuated by gushing rivers and smoking volcanoes mean DRC is an ecodestination just waiting to happen.