Congo’s busi­ness dreams flat­lined by vi­o­lence

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

The ques­tion is so ab­surd that Butembo’s deputy mayor misses a beat be­fore an­swer­ing. What is the town’s unemployment rate? “Unemployment is the norm around these parts,” says Gode­froid Kam­bere Ma­tim­bya. “There aren’t any busi­nesses.” Butembo is no ghost town, but a city of 1.1 mil­lion in Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo’s restive North Kivu prov­ince. Fa­bled for its nat­u­ral riches, the lush east of the coun­try abounds in forests, lakes, farm­land and min­eral-packed peaks. For many, its wealth is its curse. “Noth­ing has gone right for the past 10 years or so” in Butembo, Kam­bere says. In fact, for the past two decades ri­val armies and in­sur­gents have ripped through North Kivu, fight­ing each other, steal­ing re­sources, up­root­ing and killing civil­ians in their wake.

Butembo-”the city of fi­cus trees” in Ki­nande, the lan­guage of the lo­cal Nande eth­nic group-was once known for its cof­fee farm­ing and a cor­nu­copia of worldly goods. Elec­tri­cal ap­pli­ances, cloth­ing, shoes: the cov­eted for­eign items used to draw shop­keep­ers from neigh­bor­ing prov­inces in one of the world’s least de­vel­oped coun­tries. To­day it would be too dan­ger­ous for traders to travel the roads to Butembo. Butembo also once boasted an in­dus­trial-scale fac­tory, the Cobeki soft drinks maker. But it went out of busi­ness in the tran­si­tional pe­riod be­tween DR Congo’s sec­ond civil war (19982003) and its 2006 elec­tions.

Liv­ing ‘by the grace of God’

The pe­riod that fol­lowed, in the wake of Pres­i­dent Joseph Ka­bila’s elec­tion, has not treated the re­gion any bet­ter. Around 700 peo­ple have been killed, mostly hacked to death, in at­tacks since Oc­to­ber 2014 around Beni, its neigh­bor­ing city to the north. Beni, now a shell of a city, no longer buys Butembo’s goods. “The peo­ple have been run out of the fields, and now must live by the grace of God,” Kam­bere says. “In­se­cu­rity is the big prob­lem,” says Butembo’s Poly­carpe Ndi­v­ito Kik­waya, pres­i­dent of the lo­cal branch of the Con­golese Busi­ness Fed­er­a­tion. For­eign goods do still make it to Butembo although only in “very, very small” numbers, shipped to the Kenyan port of Mom­basa and then trans­ported via Uganda.

But with the in­se­cu­rity, “buy­ers no longer come since they are afraid of be­ing robbed” along the way, he ex­plains. Strangely, it is the pe­riod of civil war from the late 1990s that fires up eco­nomic nostal­gia. Butembo then was the stomp­ing ground of the RCD/K-ML, a mili­tia group backed by neigh­bor­ing Uganda. “Busi­ness was good,” re­calls Elie Kwiravusa, a mem­ber of Butembo’s Civil So­ci­ety Co­or­di­na­tion group­ing of lo­cal ci­ti­zens. “Dur­ing the re­bel­lion, we could trade goods,” he says. “The re­bel­lion was prof­itable for peo­ple”un­like to­day, he adds. — AFP

BUTEMBO: A man and two goats rest at a gas sta­tion in Butembo. The high unemployment rate is con­sid­ered ‘nor­mal’ by Gode­froid Kam­bere Ma­tim­bya, deputy mayor of the North Kivu prov­ince city of Butembo, which counts over a mil­lion in­hab­i­tants. Rich in min­er­als, for­est and arable land, Butembo has been torn for over two decades by armed con­flicts, with vi­o­lence and in­se­cu­rity im­pact­ing eco­nomic ac­tiv­i­ties for more than 10 years. — AFP

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