Kisangani is frequently plunged into darkness. The city is home to one of Democratic Republic of Congo’s major hydroelectric dams, and the power cuts often last hours, according to residents of the city, the third-largest in the country.
Global Press Journal reporters here took a look at how the city’s authorities and residents are coping in a three-part series. While some families come up with a quick and cheap alarm system, others who call this city home look for a way out.
KISANGANI, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO— Five years have passed since 35-year-old Papy Molo started working as a motorcycle taxi driver to provide for his family. The gig used to pay well but in recent months there’s been a dry spell, Molo says.
Commuters no longer feel safe riding on the back of a motorbike.
Molo says it’s because of repeated attacks against motorcycle taxi drivers. Armed robbers are targeting these drivers because they move around with wads of cash. Some have been injured and others robbed of their vehicles during late night pick-ups and drop-offs, the father of two explains.
These crimes have not kept Molo and other motorcycle taxi drivers off the streets of Kisangani, a major city in northeastern DRC. Without their services, they say, many of the city’s dwellers have no way of getting around. City authorities have responded to their concerns with new security measures, but many remain fearful and doubt that progress is being made.
Many roads in this part of the country are only passable with motorbikes.
“Motorcycle transportation service takes the worry out of public transportation challenges,” says Michel Muamba, a senior official at the provincial division of Ministère des Transports et Voies de Communication, the national transportation ministry.
But these vehicles are quickly becoming a last resort for travelers who fear for their safety, Muamba says.
Since September, more than 15 drivers have been attacked by robbers, says Jean-Louis Alaso, mayor of Kisangani. Local police and military personnel have been conducting nighttime patrols in certain parts of the city, including the Kabondo, Lubunga and Mangobo communes, since the crimes started. But no arrests have been made, Alaso says.
Residents are growing weary.
Sometimes, the perpetrators do not spare passengers, says Nathalie Boya, a waitress in downtown Kisangani. Late last year, Boya and her motorcycle taxi driver were robbed.
“One night, I took a taxi ride home and suddenly out of nowhere, unidentified robbers stopped us, brandishing a gun and machetes at us,” she says with exasperation creeping into her voice. The attackers took her money, jewelry and the vehicle. Boya says she’s lucky to have made it out alive, but she’s afraid another attack might occur.
“I work in a bar and arrive home as late as 11 p.m. every day,” she says.
Marthe Lifinzi has only heard about the street side attacks. She lives about 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) from Kisangani’s central market, where she works. For years, she’s used motorcycle taxis to get to and from work, transport her goods and run errands. Now Lifinzi feels stuck. She makes it a point to get off the streets by 10 p.m., sometimes earlier. She’s hoping that authorities will bring the situation under control.
University student Joel Mbundu hopes so too. But he says it won’t be easy to bring safety to this sprawling city, one that is oftentimes without electricity. Thieves are taking advantage of power shutoffs in the evenings – using darkness as a guise, he adds.
Alaso, on the other hand, is confident that officials can get the job done. In addition to the patrols, Alaso says residents of the city have been advised not to travel at night.
“It’s our duty to protect people and their property,” he says.
Ndahayo Sylvestre, GPJ, translated this article from French to English.