Transportation of barrels in the rural Congo
The value of Congolese deposits of natural resources is estimated at over 20 trillion dollars. That is approximate equivalent of the entire U.S. housing market, or ten times the most recent financial crisis. The amount could be alternatively used to buy everyone on the planet a three packs of rice, flour and bananas – each weighting a tonne – or thousand kilograms. Yet another, a bit more reasonable way of using that amount would make the hunger problem across the world cease once and for all. So, what leaves Congolese people with no access to running water, nor electricity in a country where hunger is nearly ubiquitous and children continue to die just of a simple cold?
Take a look at any of the country development rankings. If you turn any of the lists upside down, the Democratic Republic of Congo would always be at the forefront, right on the podium. It can only be challenged by countries such as lost in the absolute anarchy Somalia or forgotten by the rest of the world Burundi.
It it worth to mention that the Congo has an area of over 2 million square kilometers (more than Poland, Germany, France, England, Spain and Portugal put together). On this big area hundreds of different languages and dialects are used. The case of Congo is a problem even more complex than the Congo river flowing into the Atlantic.
According to my estimations, if you install a no corrupt, stable and transparent government in Congo, then within several years the country could stand up and become one of the most powerful economies in the world. The corruption, bad allocation of available resources, exploitation and lack of concern for social welfare, together with the lack of infrastructure and the devastating civil war, effectively prevent the former Zaire from following the potential improvement path.
The wild market
Transportation of barrels in Kalemie
In the morning Kalemie lazily comes to life. In the main port on Lake Tanganyika, we find a miserably stocked marketplace, where besides a few bananas and manioc, nothing else is available. In one of the shops the only available food is mayonnaise, biscuits, margarine and powdered milk. A more detailed search enables us to buy a chocolate spread in a simple plastic bag with inscription in both French and English, saying “The product for internal UN use only. Not for resale”.
I continue my research to find out a devastating market paradox that prevails in the Congo.
Powdered milk is imported only from Switzerland, while the Congolese have thousands cows and even more potential pastures.
Canned sardines are imported from Morocco and Thailand, while the Tanganyika is the world’s second most populated with fish lake.
One onion costs half a dollar. Before such an onion is sold at marketplace in Kalemie, it must travel a long way by land and water from Bukavu.
In a place where a nearly greenhouse cultivation conditions prevail, one dollar buys, at most, two onions, half a beer in the sleazy restaurant, or 10 kg sugar cane on the street.
In fact, due to absence of other alternatives, immersing myself into the Congo the cane falls completely to my liking. It gives a lot of energy, but you have to be careful for your teeth. They are easy to be broken by biting hard stem.
Where do these disproportions come from and how the natives can afford the mutual trade at so high prices of imported goods, since the majority of the population lives on less than a dollar a day?
Why the Congolese so doggedly import foreign whiskey, which stays for months on the shelves, instead of bottling and exporting their excellent lotoko, a homemade cassava moonshine?
Why at the bar, where beer is the only item sold, there are also five peddlers selling nothing but boiled eggs? Why would they not introduce salty peanuts, a simple menu item surely better matching cold Primus beer than the eggs.
That is how the prominent port city looks like. Entering the interior of the Heart of Darkness hundreds of miles deep inside I would not come across any trace of a modern world. The absolute lack of running water, electricity, phones, roads, hospitals, doctors and schools.
In fact, it is only the tip of an iceberg, a good preface to the book on the gist of problems the Congo is facing.