If you can make it in Congo, you can make it anywhere

It's a busy day in one of the markets in Kinshasa (Pic: Siphelele Dludla)

It's a busy day in one of the markets in Kinshasa (Pic: Siphelele Dludla)

Consider having to hustle in a city that has poor infrastructure and almost invisible government, among other issues.

If you can make it in New York you can make it anywhere, or so goes a variation of the saying from Frank Sinatra’s song titled New York.

But consider having to make it and hustle in a city that has poor infrastructure, almost invisible government, overpopulation, unbearable heat, and high crime levels.

This is what the majority of 11 million residents of Kinshasa and the rest of 88 million Congolese citizens have to contend with on a daily basis. Many of them are in a constant struggle to make ends meet and they barely get by.

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), that beautiful land released from the clutches of Belgian colonialism and imperialism by Patrice Lumumba in 1960, is poor despite being one of the richly endowed with precious minerals – perhaps more than any other country on the continent.

Looked at in that context – the DRC is not poor, she is rich, but her people are starving.

On my week-long visit to the DRC with the Goodwill Parcel Project to South African soldiers deployed to fight rebels, I gained a newfound respect for the resilience of the Congolese. They are determined to make it in spite of the adversities facing them.

DRC is flanked by the Congo River on the western border and Lake Kivu on the eastern border, large bodies of water that even power electricity generation. So much water, but the Congolese cannot drink water from a tap unless they have a death wish.

Your guess is as good as mine as to why this is the case.

Food shortages are not uncommon in DRC. Even though the country has so much arable land and good rains, it farms almost nothing and imports almost everything it consumes.

From sugar, frozen chicken, and fish to leather products, the Congolese have to pay quadruple for things which South Africans pay a fraction for.

South African ambassador to the DRC, Abel Shilubane, aptly put it when he said: “Those of you from Durban would give their kids sugar to play with, but here sugar is a commodity.”

Because of decaying road network infrastructure, it’s even quicker and cheaper to transport goods from Kinshasa to Durban, more than 4,000km away, than it is from Kinshasa to Tanzania, a mere 3,000km.

When the poor Congolese people fall ill, they have to be under the care of NGO-run hospitals and volunteers like Red Cross and Médecins Sans Frontières, otherwise, they are doomed.

While out shopping at a discount shop in Kinshasa one morning, we were approached by a group of five kids not older than 10. They were all beggars. “Give us a dollar,” they pleaded.

When asked why they were not at school during the day, they become shy and would not be drawn to speak on the subject of education. Survival comes first before education.

From a young age, each Congolese has the law of the jungle ingrained in them. They have to fend for themselves or else they will perish from starvation.

So under the scorching sun – which sometimes reaches 40 degrees Celsius – you see the Congolese push huge wheelbarrows, carrying sacks of maize-meal, selling bootlegged jet fuel, and fake branded clothing on the side of the road.

Some more adventurous types can be seen hanging on for dear life onto the sides of overloaded public taxis, whose conditions generally defy any sense of road safety.

The enterprising spirit of the Congolese is clearly hard to break. They’ve gotten used to their plight – they don’t even break a sweat anymore when doing arduous tasks.

But amazingly, on our way to the airport, we chanced upon the newly elected DRC President Felix Tshisekedi’s convoy coming from behind us. At that moment, the plight of the Congolese was momentarily suspended.

People flocked to the streets. They cheered and ululated as the president’s motorcade sped past.

I left Congo with a bitter taste in the mouth. I don’t know if it was from seeing the president driving through crass poverty or if it was from the poor people cheering at seeing their president’s luxurious bullet-proof cars speed by instead of scoffing at them.

I concluded that if one can make it in the DRC, they deserve absolute respect because they can make it anywhere else in the world.

– African News Agency

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