KIRUMBA, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO — Exhaust smoke fills the morning air as motorcycle drivers busily maneuver the dusty roads in search of customers.
Fast, cheap motorcycles are the most common form of transportation for workers and others in Kirumba, a village in DRC’s northeastern Lubero territory. For drivers providing the high-demand service, motorcycles are easy to purchase locally — especially ones made in China.
“Chinese-built motorcycles came at just the right time, providing inexpensive transport for the locals,” says 48-year-old Kambale Makasi, a motorcycle dealer.
Farmers and traders travel long distances for work, sometimes outside of the Lubero territory. But inadequate transportation infrastructure has limited how far they can go.
While road access has increased from 13 percent in 2006 to 45 percent in 2014, DRC’s transportation sector still faces challenges. Years of conflict and underfunding have led to poor road systems. Travel to provincial capitals is out of reach for some. In other parts of the country, public transportation is crowded, making travel unreliable and unsafe.
Merveille Kavira Luneghe, GPJ DRC
Lubero’s mountainous terrain also makes it hard to move from one place to another. For years, many have traveled on foot or by bicycle. But residents now increasingly rely on Chinese-made motorcycles to ease travel and the transportation of goods, often agricultural produce.
About 80 percent of motorcycle owners in Lubero use vehicles made in China, says Roger Vivalya Paluku, head of the provincial office of the Ministère du Transport et Voies de Communication, the country’s transportation ministry.
Motorcycle brands, including Haojiang, Haojue and Haojin, cost between 1.18 million to 1.66 million Congolese francs ($750 to $1,060). That is cheaper than motorcycles from other countries, such as Japan. Taxi drivers also choose Chinese-made motorcycles because they feature robust shock absorbers that help them navigate highlands and damaged roads, says Richard Virayi, president of Association des Taximan Motos et Voitures, Kirumba’s association of motorcycle- and car-taxi drivers.
Imported by Chinese business owners and distributed by locals, the motorcycles have also helped create jobs in a part of the country where formal job opportunities are few and where people join armed groups to survive, Virayi adds.
Chinese-made motorcycle taxi drivers typically charge fares ranging from 300 to 500 francs (19 cents to 32 cents), depending on the distance of the journey.
Charles Kasereka has been using his Haojin motorcycle as a taxi for five years.
“I appreciate this motorcycle because of its quality,” he says. “On a blessed day, I can earn between 15,000 and 20,000 francs ($9.55 and $12.73).”
The 29-year-old driver says he recently bought a plot of land with his income and hopes to build a house soon.
Others work as motorcycle dealers and offer rentals. Dealers in Kirumba buy about 30 motorcycles each week, often in Butembo, a city about 237 kilometers (147 miles) north of the village, Paluku says.
Bonheur Luhembo rents out his Haojue motorcycle several times a week.
“With my weekly income from motorcycle rentals of 30,000 francs ($19), I can afford to meet some of my basic needs,” he says.
The motorcycles are affordable and convenient for customers, too.
Fiston Mumbere regularly rents motorcycles to use as a taxi driver. He says he makes three times more than the rental price of 32,000 francs ($20).
Kambale Maelezo used to hire rides to get to his farm from his home in Bingi, a village about 35 kilometers (22 miles) northwest of Kirumba. He says he was charged up to 800 francs (50 cents) by motorcycle taxi drivers whose vehicles were expensive, non-Chinese imports. But soon, he purchased his own Chinese-made motorcycle.
“I used to camp on my farm, due to the long distance to my home,” Maelezo says. “Today, it’s much easier to supervise my workers, traveling back and forth between my home and my farm using my Haojiang motorcycle.”
Ndayaho Sylvestre, GPJ, translated the article from French.