Congo's bread basket struggles to recover from conflict

More than two years after a brutal civil conflict in Pool, the second in 20 years, was settled, Congo's key agricultural region remains deeply depressed.

09 August 2019 | Economics

When I arrived in Congo in 2009, a tonne of cement sold for 200 000 CFA francs. Today, it's 40 000. - Clement Mawuli Ahialey, Manager: Diamond Cement

Laudes Martial Mbon and Samir Tounsi - "The trains are running again. We have peace," says Didier, the station master at Mindouli, in the Republic of Congo's southern region of Pool.

But a glance at the weeds growing on the line connecting the capital Brazzaville and the port city of Pointe-Noire shows that traffic - to put it gently - is not huge.

Outside the station, a war-battered relic of French colonial times, a few plucky hawkers have set up stalls in the hope of snaring a little cash.

More than two years after a brutal civil conflict in Pool, the second in 20 years, was settled, Congo's key agricultural region remains deeply depressed.

The so-called Pool War erupted in April 2016, pitting the forces of president Denis Sassou Nguesso against the troops of Frederic Bintsamou, a Protestant clergyman and leader of a rebel group called the Ninjas.

A ceasefire ended the conflict in December 2017 - but it took until November 2018 for traffic to resume on the Congo-Ocean Railway.

Even today, there are no passenger trains and a new Chinese-built highway siphons off much of the meagre trade.

"On average, we have five trains a day," says Didier. "Before, we used to have three times as many."

The track is old, the rolling stock decrepit and out of the first seven months of this year, workers went unpaid for four, employees say.

Fiscus

The state's coffers are empty.

The government, run by Sassou Nguesso for 35 years, has debts of US$9.5 billion, nearly a third of which is owed to state enterprises and private firms.

In July, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) gave Congo a three-year loan of nearly US$450 million after revenues from oil, the country's main currency earner, crashed.

Congo, with a population of 4.6 million, has a poverty rate of 43%, according to the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

The country ranks a lowly 135th out of 188 nations rated in terms of human development, and life expectancy is a mere 62.9 years, compared to 80.9 years in the EU.

The name of the Pool department derives from Stanley Pool, which the 19th-century European colonialist Henry Stanley named after himself.

It comes from a lake-like broadening of the mighty Congo River in its lower reaches.

The region controls the corridor to the Atlantic coast from the capital Brazzaville, which sits on the opposite bank of the Congo from Kinshasa, the capital of the vast Democratic Republic of Congo.

‘Garden of Congo’

Pool's nickname is the "Garden of Congo" - for decades, its rich soil, plentiful rainful and tropical warmth brought forth cheap and plentiful corn, manioc, millet, peanuts, pork and farmed fish.

Today, though, the region of plenty bears the imprint of want in a country burdened by debt.

A cement factory which opened on the outskirts of Mindouli in January 2018 and provides several hundred jobs, seems to be one of the rare causes for optimism.

But, says Diamond Cement manager Clement Mawuli Ahialey, a Togolese, times are hard. The plant has a capacity of 700 000 tonnes a year, but produces just 4 000 tonnes a month.

The plant's opening was delayed by several years as a result of the Pool War - by which time the price of cement had crashed.

"When I arrived in Congo in 2009, a tonne of cement sold for 200 000 CFA francs (US$341). Today, it's 40 000. We're selling at a loss," he said.

Aid

The Congo government, the UN and 16 humanitarian organisations last month put out the begging bowl for US$23.7 million to help 138 000 distressed people in Pool for the next six months.

A June 2017 survey found that more than half of families in Pool were living in food insecurity - among children in displaced families, more than one in six is acutely malnourished.

In Mindouli, the World Food Programme is working with a Congolese partner to restore fish farms.

Three ponds, each measuring about 50x50 metres, are already filled with water and awaiting their fish.

At a fourth pond, dozens of workers, hired on a basis of 1 500 CFA francs (US$2.5) per day, clear out weeds from the dried-up bed. – Nampa/AFP

Similar News

 

Debts, joblessness fuel latest rating downgrade

6 days ago - 09 December 2019 | Economics

Rating agency Moody's downgraded Namibia's economy on Friday to a Ba2 rating but changed the outlook to stable, citing among other things rising government debt...

Interest rates remain unchanged

1 week ago - 04 December 2019 | Economics

The Bank of Namibia (BoN) this morning left its repo rate unchanged at 6.5%.This means the prime lending rate of local commercial banks will remain...

Gender inequality hits home

1 week ago - 04 December 2019 | Economics

Gender discrimination in the labour market and the high youth unemployment rate needs to be tackled in order to close gaps in the housing market...

IMF chief urges debt wisdom in maiden Africa visit

1 week ago - 04 December 2019 | Economics

Diamniadio - New International Monetary Fund chief Kristalina Georgieva this week highlighted Africa as a lure for investment as she kicked off her maiden visit...

Sudan militia leader grew rich by selling gold

1 week ago - 04 December 2019 | Economics

Khalid Abdelaziz, Michael Georgy and Maha El Dahan - Late last year, as former president Omar Hassan al-Bashir's hold on power weakened, one of Sudan's...

Zimbabweans grow more despondent

3 weeks ago - 20 November 2019 | Economics

Fanuel JongweTwo years ago, Linos Mutepera was among hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans who celebrated the toppling of long-time ruler Robert Mugabe with tears of...

Many pitfalls in reform of Africa's CFA franc

3 weeks ago - 20 November 2019 | Economics

Pierre Donadieu and David Esnault - Calls to overhaul the West African CFA franc, a currency tied to the euro and historically rooted in French...

Fact file

3 weeks ago - 20 November 2019 | Economics

The CFA franc, a seven-decade-old currency shared by more than a dozen states in West Africa, has found itself in the spotlight over calls for...

Sri Lanka's Rajapaksa likely to re-boot China ties

3 weeks ago - 20 November 2019 | Economics

Simon Sturdee - The unfinished, purple-headed Lotus Tower soars uselessly into the Colombo sky, mired in corruption allegations - a project typical of China's misadventures...

Inflation slows down further

1 month - 14 November 2019 | Economics

Annual overall inflation in Namibia last month was 3.0%, down from 3.3% in September and 5.1% a year ago.Data released by the Namibia Statistics Agency...

Latest News

Rundu chaos engulfs Swapo again

2 days ago - 13 December 2019 | Politics

The same chaos that engulfed the Rundu town council office-bearers election late last year, which dragged on to earlier this year, is once again playing...

Intercape confirms terrifying bus robbery

2 days ago - 13 December 2019 | Crime

While confirming a terrifying incident in which Intercape passengers were robbed at gunpoint on their way to Harare, the bus company did not answer questions...

Action, not promises

2 days ago - 13 December 2019 | Opinion

Acting fisheries minister Albert Kawana's utterances on Wednesday in Walvis Bay, where he addressed the fishing industry, must have come as music to the ears...

Erastus gets CEO nod

2 days ago - 13 December 2019 | Business

Licky Erastus has been appointment as the new CEO of Mobile Telecommunications Limited (MTC). Erastus had served as the company's acting CEO since June...

Dam levels still critical

2 days ago - 13 December 2019 | Disasters

While several dams have received inflows following good rains over the majority of the country, forecasts indicate that most parts of Namibia can expect only...

N$100k fine for ivory possession

2 days ago - 13 December 2019 | Crime

A man has been sentenced to a fine of N$100 00 or four years in prison for illegal possession of four elephant tusks. Bangorogile Motsokwe...

Students accuse Schlettwein of 'sabotage'

2 days ago - 13 December 2019 | Education

The Students' Union of Namibia (SUN) has accused finance minister Calle Schlettwein of sabotage, saying he is yet to release monies to pay their tuition...

Hundreds of thousands food insecure

2 days ago - 13 December 2019 | Disasters

ELLANIE SMIT Namibia’s agricultural sector has been contracting for the past five years and rural households and small-scale farmers have been severely affected, with 700...

Rundu welcomes ACC probe

2 days ago - 13 December 2019 | Disasters

KENYA KAMBOWE Rundu mayor Isak Kandingu has responded to a letter circulating on social media which alleges that the Rundu town council illegally swapped land...

Load More