INFRASTRUCTURE : AFRICA`S PRIMARY NEED
Case Study of Eastern Congo
interview with Dr David Muhindo Biryage
The Democratic Republic of Congo is roughly 2.5 million km2. That is slightly greater than the combined land surfaces of Spain,Germany, France, Sweden and Norway. The DR Congo is Africa`s second largest country. The largest being Algeria.
The capital of DR Congo is Kinshasa which is located in the west, on the border with the neighbouring Republic of Congo or Congo Brazzaville , as it is sometimes called. Bukavu is the provincial capital of South Kivu which is in the east, near the borders of Rwanda and Burundi. The distance between the 2 cities of Kinshasa and Bukavu is 2,494km which is slightly less than the distance between London and Moscow.
Congo is ranked among the 3 worst cases of national infrastructure deficits in the world. The other 2 cases being Yemen and the Central African Republic which is considered to have the highest level of extreme poverty globally.
It is not possible to traverse the DR Congo by road or railway. There is no infrastructure connecting Kinshasa with the eastern regions. It is not possible to travel from Bukavu to Kinshasa by road or rail. It is not possible to travel by road or rail from Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu to Bukavu, the provincial capital of South Kivu. Nor is it possible to travel south from Goma or Bukavu to Bunia, the provincial capital of Ituri.
A road is defined by its composition which is tarmac. People in the eastern Congo travel on `tracks` which turn to mud and become impassable. The only other means of transport is by air which is unaffordable for 99% of the population.
Infrastructure and energy deficit causes poverty
Despite the natural resources in Congo, which are more diverse and plentiful than in any other country on Earth, the Congolese live with some of the highest levels of abject poverty globally to which we can also add alarmingly high and increasing malnutrition and food insecurity.
“The really basic need for the people in Congo, and the east of Congo, particularly, is infrastructure. That basic need , besides insecurity, because we know that trade is not possible when there is no peace, but we need urgently, the people, as a nation need infrastructure.If you have no roads, you cannot have an agriculture sector developed. If you have no railway how can you carry goods from one corner of the province to another, or one province to another?”
“The whole cost of living and the poverty that Congolese are subjected to, is related to lack of infrastructure.”
“How can you establish a manufacturing sector when you don`t have electricity? And this has really been a tremendously big issue for trying to resolve the problem of food shortage in DRC because when you don`t have electricity how do you process agricultural goods!”
Building infrastructure is the most important humanitarian assistance
“Talking of DRC, I really appreciate the aid ngo`s working on the ground and helping people and the funding supplied to them, but personally I think what we need is not humanitarian aid. We need infrastructure. Because humanitarian aid will make you depend on the giver. But if you have infrastructure, you are able to build your future, you are able to do something to earn a living, not for one day or two weeks or a month but for a year for years. So I think the basic need we have is for infrastructure. We need roads, we need railways, we need electricity in the country.”
Food shortage and child malnutrition are caused by lack of infrastructure
“If we have roads, the malnutrition, the food shortages cannot be had in DRC. People will be able to transport their goods, the maize, the cassava, the potatoes from one region to another. It is a very fertile country where anything can grow. The cost of transporting by air ,which is the only option for most regions, makes the cost of the food, potatoes for instance, too expensive to be affordable.The whole issue of food shortage, of malnutrition in DRC is related to lack of infrastructure, lack of roads, lack of railways, lack of electricity.”
AfCFTA : a chain is as strong as the weakest link
“Congo is sitting in the centre of Africa and when you have got no infrastructure in DRC, you are hindering the whole process of trade among the other countries of Africa. For example: when you look at this map, where you see Tanzania, you cannot ship goods from Tanzania to Congo Brazzaville because in order for you to do that, you have to go through DRC! Unless you can do it by boat but if you want to use roads, you cannot because there is no infrastructure in DRC. And this has been hindering the whole process of development for the region itself and the continent as a whole. The lack of infrastructure in DRC is affecting the whole region and the whole continent.”
End insecurity by building infrastructure
“The issue of wars and insecurity in Congo is mainly not the issue of Congolese people themselves. It is an issue of the multi nationals who desire to control the minerals. For us to have the end of the war in DRC, the multi national companies have got a role to play. But also we have to acknowledge that the people on the ground are the ones executing this mission in order of controlling the minerals in DRC. And the fact that they are not working, that they have no jobs, they have no other way to earn a living, they always become a potential target for the multi national companies to use them, because they have nothing else to do to earn a living. So when you build roads in Congo, in east of Congo, Goma, Bukavu, Ituri and other provinces; when you build railways, when you set up manufacturing systems in DRC it is obvious these infrastructures are going to create jobs for the people. And these young men are going to find themselves working, having another way of earning a living.Therefore they cannot be recruited easily to go and fight or create war in the country.
So I really believe that the physical economy, the infrastructure development, it is also a key element we need to implement in DRC if we want to end the war in DRC. Because if those multi national companies come and want to create a war in an area because they want to control minerals , and they have no back-up on the ground, it is going to be difficult for them to do it. So building the physical economy is key to bringing stability in Congo and in the region.”