Despite being closely associated with one of the deadliest global conflicts of the past 50 years, the city of Goma, the capital of the province of North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), is not without its charms. Situated on the shores of the beautiful Lake Kivu, within the shadow of the looming Mount Nyiragongo volcano and sharing a border with the Rwandan city of Gisenyi, Goma was once a favoured vacation retreat of the DRC’s political and economic elite.

North Kivu itself also contains vast reserves of coltan (DRC is home to 64% of the world’s known reserves of the metallic ore which, when refined, is an essential component of mobile phone capacitors), as well as cassiterite, the most important ore from which tin is extracted. The Unesco World Heritage-designated Parc National des Virunga, a 7800-square-kilometre national park, lies to the north of the city.

Advertisement

Making amends

Few regions, though, have suffered more from DRC's ongoing series of conflicts, many of which also involve either the armies or the proxies of neighbouring countries, such as Rwanda and Uganda, or groups intending to oust the governments of those countries. A host of rebel groups – from Rwanda’s Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda to Uganda’s Allied Democratic Forces to DCR’s homegrown Force de Résistance Patriotique de l’Ituri – are still at arms in the region. Moreover, there is concerned that another group, the Rwanda-backed Mouvement du 23 Mars, which declared a ceasefire in December 2013, may take up arms again.

However, a $52m World Bank-funded programme, the Goma Airport Safety Improvement Project, is working to rehabilitate Goma International Airport, which was badly degraded by the attendant lava flow of the 2002 eruption of Mount Nyiragongo, one of Africa’s most active volcanoes. In mid-2015, for the first time in more than a decade, international flights to Goma resumed. Despite its continuing problems, Goma, with all its attractions and ancillary riches, is more open to the world than it has been in some time.

Further complications

DRC as a whole, however, is still struggling to put its political turbulence behind it. President Joseph Kabila, in office since January 2001 when he inherited the position following the assassination of his father, then-president Laurent-Désiré Kabila, is due to step down at the end of 2016, but has made moves that many see as a prelude to an attempt to continue in power.

Both the president and vice-president of the Commission Électorale Nationale Indépendante (DRC’s electoral body, known as the CENI) have resigned in recent weeks, and, in late-October, a spokesman for Mr Kabila’s government coalition said that the election polls may be delayed for “two to four years”, due to what he said was a badly needed new national census and voter roll revision. It is a move that DRC's fractious but vocal opposition has vowed to fight.