January 30, 2015
GOMA, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO – Clarisse Mansengo is afraid to walk the streets of Goma, the largest city in DRC’s North Kivu region.
She never carries valuables when walking or taking motorcycle taxis, called motos. She fears assault. Even on a moto, she doesn’t feel safe.
Recently Mansengo was robbed on the street. Not wanting to give the robbers everything she had, she put up a struggle.
“I was walking home from a party when by bad luck I had fallen into the hands of unidentified people,” she says. “They took everything I had on me – my telephone, my money, my bag. They even broke my arm, as they wanted my bracelets and gold rings I was wearing.”
Had a safe mode of transportation been available, Mansengo says she would have been spared the attack.
Residents of Goma, where street crime is rampant, welcome a new company whose gray cabs with green and red stripes promise a safer way to get around.
Lucien Ngubiri Amani, the owner and chief executive of the Transport Agency and Commission, or TAC, founded the company in 2008 in the South Kivu city of Bukavu. Amani opened TAC in Goma a year ago to help combat the crime that plagues travelers in the city, he says.
“Goma is a big city with a lot of visitors,” Amani says. “But it’s been without safe taxis.”
Most people in Goma can’t afford to own or hire a car. In a nation with a gross national income of just $740 a year as of 2013, gasoline costs $1.36 a liter ($5.14 a gallon). World Bank data on car ownership in DRC is not available.
With few affordable alternatives, motos are the primary transportation choice in Goma.
Moto fares are unregulated. Passengers and drivers negotiate the rate before the ride. A ride can cost as little as a few cents.
“But too many people are robbed on motos,” Amani says. “And the streets are not safe for walking at night.”
Amani’s more than two dozen taxi drivers are accountable to him for assuring customers safe passage, he says. And unlike motorcycle taxis, which often don’t provide door-to-door service, TAC drivers drop customers off exactly where they specify.
Mansengo’s experience is hardly uncommon. Dozens of residents and commuters are attacked every week on the streets of Goma. Insecurity, especially at night, is among the most pressing issues here. TAC is the first taxi company in Goma to provide safe cars with registered drivers.
Goma police responded to 175 reports of aggravated robbery in December 2014, Police Officer Papy Chizungu says.
Decades of conflict between armed groups and Congolese armed forces have destabilized North Kivu, making the region prone to violence and insecurity. The government and armed groups are battling for control of resources.
Violent crime is worsening in many parts of Africa, including DRC. In Africa as a whole, the homicide rate is 20 per 100,000, according to the Africa Center for Strategic Studies. In DRC it is 28 per 100,000, putting it in the top quartile of homicide rates in Africa. (For comparison, the rate is 6.5 per 100,000 in North America.)
Fear of crime is associated with a high rate of gun ownership. In a nation of 77 million people, DRC civilians own some 800,000 guns, according to the Small Arms Survey, an independent research project located at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva.
Street crime is a daily impediment to human rights in DRC, according to the U.S. Department of State.
Road safety hazards, including high injury and mortality rates in traffic accidents, are among the most dangerous aspects of life in DRC, according to the U.S. Overseas Security Advisory Council, or OSAC.
Amani’s taxis have become popular in Goma because they provide security, he says.
Chizungu, of the police department, agrees that fear of street crime weighs on Goma residents.
“People are often exposed to theft,” he says. “People are insecure and afraid to walk around.”
Some people are seriously injured while resisting thieves, he says.
While Amani says his primary aim is to provide safe transport, he admits TAC has been profitable. The $300,000 he invested has yielded healthy returns.
“Honestly, my work is lucrative,” Amani says. “I am able to pay my employees, my drivers, pay the mechanics also, feed my family, and, of course, to help some people in need.”
Amani’s employees look up to him.
“Amani is a nice guy,” says Zawadi Akilimali, a TAC driver in Goma. “He is like a father to me. He gave me a job when I was jobless.”
Akilimali says he believes in the work he is doing.
“TAC taxicabs help us reduce insecurity,” he says. “The reason why we work a lot in the night is to stop problems and help people travel safely.”
Customers agree that TAC is revolutionizing transportation in Goma.
“Every time that I want to go out, I use TAC to do my shopping,” says Djuma Weude, a frequent TAC customer.
Weude calls Amani a pioneer.
“Amani did a good thing bringing us these taxicabs,” he says.
In addition to providing a secure ride, TAC ensures customer safety with its unique door-to-door service, Weude says.
“These taxis are important,” he says. “They take us where motorcycles don’t go. They take us all the way.”
Dorcas Kasuza, a frequent TAC customer, says the new taxi service has changed her life.
“TAC taxicabs always make people safe, more than other options here,” she says. “TAC brings you where you want to go.”
TAC drivers are especially cautious, Kasuza says.
“Accidents are not frequent with TAC,” she says.
Amani could not provide a tally of the accidents his taxis have been in since the Goma operation began in 2013.
“I’d like to see many more TAC cars,” Kasuza says. “They are decreasing the insecurity problems, especially during the night. I hope the authorities suppress motorcycle [taxis] because there are very dangerous and we’re not safe on them.”
TAC doesn’t fulfill everyone’s transit needs. TAC taxis are more expensive than motos.
TAC transportation is beyond the reach of many Goma residents, says Serge Kibombo Lubanda, a resident who says TAC is out of his financial reach.
“True safety begins when the whole population is safe,” he says. “Even though TAC taxicabs are here, insecurity persists. People always die, and they are often attacked.”
But Abiambere Muinyuzi, the chief of the Mapendo District, a government post that is responsible for the streets of Goma, says TAC is helping the community move out of a period of insecurity.
“We are happy with this initiative,” Muinyuzi says. “It is helping people to leave behind insecurity. Thanks to these taxicabs that help the population to be safe, we are not in as much of an insecurity situation.”
To increase commuters’ access to safe transport, Amani plans to add cars to the Goma TAC fleet.
“I have a passion for my job,” he says. “And I hope I will work until insecurity in Goma city won’t be a problem anymore.”
Muinyuzi wholeheartedly supports Amani’s work.
“May these taxicabs continue circulating everywhere in districts and avenues,” he says. “TAC taxicabs make us safe in relation to other vehicles, especially in late hours.”
Today Mansengo is not afraid of returning home late.
“I take TAC taxi because it makes me feel safe,” she says. “Nothing bad can happen as long as TAC taxis are available for us.”
GPJ translator Rafiki Nzita King translated this article from French.