Small, wooden boats traveling from Kisangani to Kinshasa are often overcrowded with goods and passengers, increasing the risk for accidents, but one entrepreneur hopes to alleviate that concern by building a large ferry to provide affordable and safe transportation. The ferry is set to be ready by January, but details about the cost have yet to be determined.
KISANGANI, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO — The Congo River is dotted with wooden boats.
The boats are filled with people or with food — sometimes both.
One of the many long, wooden boats in the river belongs to Dido Mboka, a father of 15, who says trade along the river is the only lifeline for many residents of Kisangani, the capital of DRC’s Tshopo province.
Doing business on the river has been his primary income for the last seven years.
“For those of us who can’t afford an air ticket, the river is and remains the only alternative,” Mboka says, adding that Kisangani is an isolated city, cut off from much the country because roads are not safe and air travel to the capital, Kinshasa, is too expensive for most. “For under $350, you can’t get a one-way flight from Kisangani to Kinshasa, while boat travel costs as little as $50 per person.”
The average annual income for people in DRC is $400, according to the United Nations country profile.
From trade to transport, the river is the center of life and livelihoods here. But boating fatalities are frequent.
Local businessman Barnabé Mupira’s ferry, which he hopes will offer a solution to the river safety crisis here, is under construction. He says the boat will set sail in early 2018.Brigitte Kaniki, GPJ DRC
Mboka says the river-worthiness of most boats leaves a lot to be desired. They are often old and rickety, but to increase income, captains are prone to overloading their boats with a mix of both people and goods. The boats also travel long distances, selling goods along the river banks for miles or traveling the 1,750 kilometers (1.087 miles) to Kinshasa, which is an area of the river considered to be the most navigable, but can still be dangerous in a loaded canoe. There are no rules or supervision about what is and isn’t allowed on the river, he says.
Celestin Lisako Mokonji, a river commissioner at the transportation department in Tshopo province, says there have been at least 32 deaths because of boating fatalities on the Congo River since 2015. But most deaths go unreported.
“I’m alive today only because of God’s grace,” Mboka says of several near-death incidents in wooden boats. “Several of my colleagues have lost their lives, going missing while traveling by boat. And as if that wasn’t enough, finding and burying their bodies remain a vain hope.”
But local businessman Barnabé Mupira is working on a solution to the river safety crisis that he says will reduce deaths on the river.
He’s building a large, metal ferry.
As a well-known local soap manufacturer, Mupira is a recognized innovator in Kisangani. As a child, Mupira says he remembers working on the banks of the river and dreaming about building a safe and luxurious boat for his fellow Boyomese, the name used to refer to people who live in Kisangani.
by Brigitte Kanji of Global Press Journal