KIRUMBA, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO — I’ve lived in Kirumba, a village in the Lubero Territory, a remote part of DRC’s North Kivu province, for most of my life. In that time, I’ve seen many things change here. But one thing that has stayed the same is that we still rely on goods from nearby cities for our basic needs.
Urban centers provide the basis for livelihoods in even the most remote parts of DRC. To purchase everything – food, clothing, construction materials or almost anything else one can think of – people travel to Goma, the capital of the North Kivu province, or to nearby Butembo. Many of the goods are then resold locally by small businesses and microbusinesses.
But to get to and from those urban centers, we rely on cars or motorcycles. And, more than anything, we rely on our roads, the conditions of which range from bad to worse.
The 201-kilometer (130-mile) stretch between Kirumba and Goma is rendered impassable several times per year, thanks to rain. At numerous points along the way, travelers encounter muddy quagmires. In 2017, the trip to Goma took, on average, four hours. Today, it takes more than 10. The last rainy season left things a mess, and no one has bothered even to begin repairs.
It’s a constant topic of conversation here. We all wonder where our money goes when we pay road toll after road toll to the Fonds National d’Entretien Routier, the national road maintenance fund. Yet, in the last four years, not a single road mender or contractor has been hired. Where do the tolls go?
Recently, I was traveling to Butembo for a family funeral. Numerous times during the journey, we had to get off the motorcycle to walk through the mud. Young people along the roadsides happily took our cash, 1,000 or 2,000 Congolese francs (about 62 cents or $1.23) at a time, to push the bike through the muddiest bits. I also found myself on the ground twice.
The terrible state of the roads leads to other negative consequences, too. Prices have been on the rise since April, because some goods are running in short supply and because trips to urban centers are becoming increasingly costly. For me, the poor state of the roads have a daily impact, as I try to move around to do my reporting and care for my family.
Ndahayo Sylvestre, GPJ, translated the column from French.