Drivers stuck for days on east DR Congo’s nightmare roadsTue, 05 Mar 2024 06:04:59 GMT

Travelling through the DR Congo’s volatile east takes days, with ramshackle roads and bridges, bandits and militia making journeys a nightmare.Unlike well-kept Rwandan roads, the road between Bukavu and Uvira, the two main cities of the eastern South Kivu province, is pockmarked with potholes and craters.Burundi closed its border with Rwanda in January, cutting off the safest and most efficient roads for transporting goods into the Democratic Republic of Congo.”All the roads are impossible to travel, we are used to suffering,” said Albert Muganguzi, one of many lorry drivers stranded for days on the 100-kilometre (62-mile) stretch bordering Rwanda and Burundi.Muganguzi had been stuck in the mud for three days after trying to cross the Shange River, where a dilapidated bridge had washed away.Many bridges in the east of Congo cannot withstand the passage of heavy vehicles or the force of overflowing water from torrential rains.At the wheel of his Howo truck ferrying tonnes of fish and food from Uvira, Nathanael Kanune was also stuck in a queue of a dozen vehicles.”The goods are going to rot, they will not last long,” Kanune warned.While goods are stopped at the edge of the river on their way to Burundi’s economic capital Bujumbura, vehicles queue up on the opposite side of the bank.”Take it easy. Get in line, or you are all going to fall down,” an official shouted to the disembarking passengers as they hurried across a makeshift wooden footbridge.- Makeshift passages -Passengers are forced to travel through makeshift passages after Burundi closed its border with Rwanda on January 11, accusing it of supporting the rebel group RED-Tabara, which launched a deadly attack near the border with the DRC in late December.Since then, there have been no direct Rwandan and Burundian routes from Bujumbura to Bukavu.”I prefer to go through Rwanda, because the road is good and safe,” Sammy Bisimwa told AFP at a travel agency in Bukavu.The Rwandan route avoids a section of the Congolese road which passes through the so-called “Ngomo escarpment”, some 40 kilometres of track winding through mountains.Going through Rwanda “reduces the suffering a bit,” Bisimwa added. “The road through the Ruzizi plains is dilapidated, but there is also a lack of security, with robberies, assaults and kidnappings,” he said. Anselme Kangeta, who lives in Bukavu, says the Rwandan side is better in terms of bribes passengers have to pay merely to travel.While Rwanda has “just a small immigration checkpoint” the Ngomo section in DRC has “many barricades manned by security services, just to hassle people”, Kangeta said.Decades of turbulent relations between the DRC and Rwanda have hit a new low since the M23 rebel group (March 23 Movement) took up arms again in late 2021 to fight the Kinshasa government.The Rwandan-backed rebels have since seized vast swathes of North Kivu province, effectively cutting off its capital Goma from the country’s interior.Although Kinshasha expelled the Rwandan ambassador in 2022, the border between the neighbours remains open.