Democratic Republic of Congo

Local Authorities Prohibit Transactions Using the Ugandan Shilling, But that Doesn’t Stop Vendors

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, vendors and consumers who live and work in the Rutshuru territory near the Ugandan border favor the Ugandan shilling over the Congolese franc. Despite authorities prohibiting transactions using shillings in 2014, the practice is so common that it is now difficult to find vendors that accept francs.

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Local Authorities Prohibit Transactions Using the Ugandan Shilling, But that Doesn’t Stop Vendors

Esther Nsapu, GPJ DRC

In the Rutshuru territory of Democratic Republic of Congo, which borders Uganda, people say they prefer to use the Ugandan shilling because the Congolese franc is losing its value. Transacting with the shilling is illegal in this area, but its use is unregulated.

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RUTSHURU, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO – Francine Kamudogo walks 22 kilometers (13.6 miles) toward the Ugandan border every day.

She says the long journey is worth it.

She walks from her home in Kiwanja to the DRC town of Jomba, a few miles from the border, to buy onions, tomatoes, green peppers and other goods, like salt and juice, because prices there are half what they are elsewhere in DRC. She buys the goods and brings them back to Kiwanja to sell them for a profit.

But she’s only able to take advantage of the low prices if she makes a pit stop on her way to the market every day at one of dozens of currency traders along the road to trade Congolese francs for Ugandan shillings.

“Unlike the Congolese franc, the use of the Ugandan shilling pushes prices down. Consequently, the cheapest way of making purchases is to exchange the Congolese franc into the shilling,” Kamudogo says.

Vendors prefer the shilling because the exchange rate is better. Changing 10,000 francs becomes 23,300 shillings, confirms Saidi Kasongo, president of the Société Civile de Kiwanja, the local organization that represents citizen interests.

The only problem is that using Ugandan shillings in the Rutshuru territory is illegal.

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Esther Nsapu, GPJ DRC

Francine Kamudogo (center) sells tomatoes and onions at a market outside of Kiwanja in Rutshuru, Democratic Republic of Congo. She travels to the Ugandan border to purchase her produce at a lower price because she uses Ugandan shillings.

In 2014, Rutshuru authorities announced that transactions using the shilling were prohibited. But little has been done to punish vendors or traders dealing in shillings.

“It’s important for Congolese people to use the Congolese franc,” says Liberata Rubumba Buratwa, deputy administrator in charge of Finance for the Rutshuru territory, adding that there is no mechanism in place to punish people for using the shilling.

“At the moment, we are only making people aware of the importance of using our own currency because that is the very meaning of being patriotic,” she says. “The harsh reality is that if the Ugandan shillings continue to circulate, our Congolese francs will continue to fall.”

Officials have tried numerous strategies to quell the use of the shilling, from radio advertisements to government petitions, but the value of the shilling continues to drive its demand.

Eddy Mungere, a local trader, says the franc is less popular because so many high-demand products like soap, flour and even mattresses are imported into DRC from Uganda, so prices are cheaper if customers use the shilling.

The harsh reality is that if the Ugandan shillings continue to circulate, our Congolese francs will continue to fall.

Kasongo says civil servants in Kiwanja want to be paid in shillings too, because of the expense of exchanging every paycheck into shillings to buy basic goods.

“As a result, these civil servants lose almost half of their salaries when dealing with moneychangers to get the most highly coveted Uganda shilling,” he says.

The shilling has become so common throughout the Rutshuru territory that it is becoming difficult to find businesses that even take the franc.

Ntibategera Chenche, leader of Kiwanja’s Buzito neighborhood, traveled to the border town of Busanza to attend a funeral. He went to bed hungry because he couldn’t find a restaurant that would accept francs.

“I moved from one restaurant to another and couldn’t be served as I only had Congolese francs in my pocket,” he says.

Ndayaho Sylvestre, GPJ, translated the article from French.