Renovation of the Goma airport is underway at a hectic pace, and for many the modernization means economic development potential for the region. But the construction comes at a cost as airport neighbors face a fraught and uncertain relocation process.
GOMA, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO — Domina Kuru sits in front of her small wooden house. She’s lost in thought watching planes land and take off at the airport that is just 30 meters (32 yards) from her home.
The noise is unbearable for most. But Kuru, 62, is used to the deafening roar. She says she just tunes it out.
“I’ve lived in this house for 30 years now,” she says. “I am used to the constant whine of plane engines.”
Kuru’s home in the Majengo neighborhood abuts the growing Goma International Airport. As the main airport in DRC’s North Kivu province, the facility supports regional, international and United Nations flights.
But this airport, which has long been in a state of disrepair, is now undergoing reconstruction. Experts and officials say revitalizing the transportation industry in the region is key to advancing agriculture development, improving trade and supporting the region’s burgeoning mining sector. While many welcome the arrival of a modern airport, Goma residents who live near the airport were informed earlier this year that they will be expected to move to make room for the new construction.
Kuru says she received a visit from Le Projet d’Amélioration de la Sécurité de l’Aéroport de Goma staff members in March. They informed her that she would need to leave the home where she has lived for decades.
“They promised me they would give me fair compensation but I fear that the promise will prove to be more of a pipe dream than a realistic commitment,” she says. “Anyway, I will not get off until they show me a house that my family and I will live in.”
Kuru says she and her neighbors fear they will be relocated to underdeveloped villages on the outskirts of Goma. There has been little formal communication about the compensation and relocation processes, leaving neighbors to worry that corruption or mismanagement will plague the already challenging process.
Regional and international donors have already committed millions to restore Goma’s airport. In 2015, the World Bank approved a $52 million grant to support peacebuilding efforts in DRC. The grant covers safety, security and operations at Goma International Airport, the main gateway to eastern DRC and a vital link with the rest of the country. Similarly, SAFRICAS-CONGO, a local construction company founded in 1923, signed on to invest $18 million to expand the airport’s runways to their original 3,000-meter (1.9-mile) length, which will allow for safer take-offs and landings. Runways were shortened following the volcanic eruption of Jan. 17, 2002. The runway expansion is expected to be completed by July 1, 2018.
But to make way for the longer runways, 35 homes, including Kuru’s, will be razed. Officials have reduced the amount of space required by 10 meters (32 feet) on each side to spare more local families from having to relocate.
As time ticks by with no word from officials on when relocations will take place, neighborhood residents say their despair is growing.
Marie Siuzike Mibero, 54, is the mother of 11 children. She is skeptical about the effectiveness of the compensation process promised to the families who need to move.
“They took away a portion of my plot on which my house was erected,” she says of her recent conversations with the airport staff. “They pledged to build me another house to dwell in on the remaining portion but I have little faith that they will keep their pledge.”
A representative from the Cellule d’Exécution du Projet de Transport Multimodal, or CEPTM, the implementing agency under the transport ministry, says neighbors shouldn’t worry because relocation provisions were addressed in the agreement negotiations between the government and the World Bank.
Evelyne Kavira Mathe, GPJ Democratic Republic of Congo
The representative, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for not having permission to speak to the press, says all relocation expenses will be reimbursed at the market price by the government.
Gustave Kashamura, 40, and his six children will be among those asked to relocate. Like Kuru, he says they fear being relocated to a remote village, far from work and educational opportunities.
“We live in the city, and our present home is near a hospital, and my children travel shorter distances to school. I fear that they will force our families to move to underdeveloped locations, making life difficult for us,” he says.
The CEPTM representative says a survey of the area revealed that nearby areas currently covered by lava rock will be cleared so that residents who are being relocated will not have to go far. Newly constructed houses will have better access to electricity and be constructed from more durable materials, the representative added.
But residents say this information has not been communicated to them, leaving them with lingering fears about the changes to come.
Mathias Sekabwa, Kuru’s husband, says they are anxious to learn their fate. He says he is afraid of losing his job if they are relocated outside of the city.
“I live near my work and have to commute to my workplace on foot every day because I can’t afford a bus ride. I hope they will take into account the way things are,” Sakabwa says.
Jean Baptiste Sengiyumva Musekura, the head of Majengo neighborhood, says he plans to liaise with provincial and central government authorities to ensure residents are treated fairly.
“We will use our powers to help ensure things are sorted out amicably,” he says.
Relocations are expected to begin in the coming months.
Sylvestre Ndahayo, GPJ, translated this article from French.