Of all the empty promises which led to the 2006 election of current president Joseph Kabila, the most potent was probably his guarantee of establishing a network of paved roads (the first in Eastern Congo) from Ituri Province down towards Katanga Province. It is no secret at all the differences an established system of navigable roads creates, which is precisely why the idea of establishing such a system in Eastern Congo carried so much weight for Kabila and his allies on their way to office in Kinshasa.
Seeing that nothing at all has been accomplished in this regard (any pavement in the East has been put down by MONUC troops), the oncoming elections in 2011 might be a scary prospect for Kabila. I personally had been wondering since 2008 how he might go about explaining away the fact that his most ambitious promise hasn’t even begun in order to ensure his reelection, and things began explaining themselves a bit this past December. Towards the middle of December, huge road graders and backhoes arrived in Uvira in a nicely arranged ceremony. The heavy machinery arrived on flatbed trucks (ironically making slow progress on the excuse for a road we find in Uvira) surrounded by a convoy of the Land Cruisers and Mercedes owned by state employees. Businesses all shut down and people began discussing the fact that finally, work was beginning on Kabila’s grand promise to the East. The amount of excitement generated by this procession of earth moving equipment was surprising and eventually extremely disheartening.
The sad (and unfortunately, distinctly Congolese) part of all this story is that nothing has happened since. The machines ended up making their tour of Uvira, dropping down towards Fizi as well to drum up more hope, then made a quick return to Uvira, where they have been sitting and rusting ever since in what could certainly be called a ‘development graveyard.’ I find myself regularly passing just to see if there are any signs of use or movement among these machines which arrived to build Kabila’s road. The only noticeable difference is that bits and pieces of the machines have begun to be picked from the originals, probably in order to get another machine up to working order. In addition, one of the backhoes is partially crushed as it fell off a flatbed near Kabimba (during the ‘publicity tour’) when the dirt road crumbled and dropped the flatbed off the side of a bridge-I’m not making this up. Another detail I have picked up on is that all the necessary equipment for using the machines (including the keys and various engine parts) are in Bukavu, as administrators there decided to donate their equipment just to generate optimism that the road would be built, with no intention of actually starting any of the machines and getting to work.
This is one of the stories I hope people aren’t forgetting in light of the elections planned for 2011. I certainly understand the enticement offered by the idea of usable roads. Commerce, aid work, security patrols, traveling and countless other necessities are made simple by a good network of paved roads. But, for the moment, nothing seems to be happening in that regard, besides the placement of more than a few expensive and increasingly useless ‘statues,’ or more accurately tributes to underdevelopment in Congo. Don’t hold your breath.
Posted By Ned Meerdink (DR Congo)
Posted Jul 17th, 2009