By Paul Ndiho

August 16, 2011

With one of the worst transport safety records in the world, residents of Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, say that their infrastructure needs a massive overhaul and the government will be hard pressed to improve it ahead of elections later this year.

Beating the rush hour traffic is next to impossible when you live in Kinshasa.

Commuters and motorists here often find themselves struggling to get to work and back, as there are few efficient and reliable transport services.

Many Congolese use mini buses to get around, the most popular means of transport, but they are notorious for their reckless drivers, and picking up and dropping off passengers at illegal stops.

Passengers wait in line for hours for a bus. Boyafi Lusingu is a conductor:

“You can see people are suffering because of transport. There are not enough buses for a big city like Kinshasa. We need the government’s assistance to assist in the transport industry, so that they can give us more buses to avoid difficulties so that there is a bus every two minutes, for all the routes.”

Despite its mineral wealth, decades of dictatorship and civil war have meant that most of the DRC’s transportation infrastructure is in poor shape.

The central African nation’s information minister says the government is trying to change that.

“Transport is one of the major hindrances that our government faces. We went from a small town of 350,000 people in the 1960’s to a metropolis city of more that 10 million people.”

In 2008, a Chinese state-owned railway firm signed a 9 billion dollar deal, to build thousands of kilometers of road and rail, but there is nothing to show for it in the DRC. Other such deals have been signed over the years, to no avail. Martin Lukusa heads the Inter-Urban transport project in Kinshasa:

“The real problem is that there is no political will. I have always said that if there is political will, things will get done. I’ll gives you a silly example: Boulevard June 30. The road was built based on political will, where one morning, a man woke up and (President Kabila), and he said that he wanted Boulevard June 30 to be built, and it was built. If the same political will can also be applied when it comes to the railway system and the sea transport, I can tell you that it’s not necessarily a problem of money.”

Travel by Congo’s vast water ways also problematic. Boats are in poor condition, are poorly piloted, and may be overcrowded, which results in hundreds of drowning deaths each year.

“The river is full of inexperienced boat drivers and mechanics. That is why there are many accidents, because most of them are not necessarily professional mechanics or boat drivers.”

But most travelers choose to ignore the statistics. Trader Francine Tambu says she depends on water transport.

“No, we are not afraid of this problem. If the boat is in a bad shape, then we will be scared to board. But otherwise, if the boat is in a good shape, then we have no fear boarding it.”

In May this year, China and the World Bank launched a 600 million dollar plan with Congo to revamp nearly 700 kilometers of rail in southern and central provinces, in the heart of Congo’s copper mining sector. The Congolese government says it has so far spent more than 500 million dollars on eight transportation projects and is seeking some 400 million dollars more before the end of the year.

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