Officially, it’s legal to take photos in DR Congo, although for professional purposes you are supposed to have a permit. Unofficially, it’s a scorned practice.
This is the problem that I’ve been running in to while being here. If you want to take a shot, you need to be stealthy about it. Using point and shoots is advisable over hauling out the 30D with the 2.8 aperture lens on it that makes it looks like a gun.
If regular people see you taking a photo, they will get in your face about it. This can vary by region though. In the west, they are much more antagonistic than in the east, probably because the west has more people sitting on their asses with little to do but harass people.
The police are the worst of all. They won’t let you off without a bribe. Friends of friends have actually been taken down the police station only to argue their way out of bribes though, as it is legal to take pictures. This is a practice that you just want to do for the purpose of being right as they’ll detain you for for several hours before you get out of there. Passing off a dollar’s worth of Francs will make life go a lot smoother if cops get in between your camera and a shot.
This attitude about taking photos dates back to the Mobutu times when it was absolutely forbidden to take pictures in what was then Zaire. As is the case with just about every aspect of modern society in DR Congo, these old habits are hell to kill off and thus people get offended of your taking photos of things. Even if it’s something as silly as taking a picture of an empty street, someone will get offended in the end if they see you, which can drive you crazy because it makes you think that they should focus more on fixing their streets than harassing a tourist with a camera.
So, here is the problem for me. I like to have photos to emphasize my blog posts, but for this series on DR Congo, the photos are going to be limited. Some will have them and some will not. I will have a nice selection of photos in the galleries once I get to posting them from Spain though.
It’s a real shame that people are so asinine about this, as the country is beautifully colorful and the people vibrant and full of life despite their endless hardships that they’ve had to endure.