Lusaka. The Democratic Republic Congo and Zambia’s Kasumbalesa border post is one typical African border.
Dusty, crowded and suffocating. Do not forget the sweltering heat, but not to the level of the humidity found in the coastal town of Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania. A man in his middle 20s is goading a goat for sale, many others balancing cargo on their heads and backs.
They have to find their way amidst trucks and trailers driving at a snail’s pace as they approach the clearance yard.
From the Zambia side of the Chililabombwe district, located north of the capital Lusaka, the road to the border post is relatively well tarred until a potholed section gives way to a narrow, bumpy and dusty leg leading to the customs.
Poor maintenance has worn out the tarmac but hawkers, money changers, water vendors and women selling food stuffs and the famous Congo Kitenge (coloured African fabric) earn their sustenance here.
One contraption - bicycles with no chains and with an unusually long hand-bar - catches the eye. It is used to ferry goods removed from trucks to help duck taxes at the border.
The bicycles at times carry loads which rival those in a Toyota Hilux pick up, the popular cargo carrier here.
Striking a conversation with the cyclists is difficult as they chase business. Few speak English and converse in a “dialect” somewhere between Zambia’s Bemba, DRC’s Lingala and and east Africa’s Kiswahili.
Yet, the Kasumbalesa border post teems with life.
Located about 90 kilometres south of Lubumbashi, the capital of Katanga province and the major industrial hub in the southeastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, it is a passing point for truck carrying minerals from the province. It is 62 kilometres north of Lusaka, the Zambia capital.
It is the main link between the DRC and southern Africa countries like Botswana, Malawi and South Africa-the region’s super power. Zambia and DRC clear about 500 trucks on each side per day.
For the last past month, however, truckers have suffered a prolonged traffic congestion.
“From Kitwe to here (Kasumbalesa), I have been on the road for two weeks,” one trucker Emili Ibrahim Kasongo, a Tanzanian told Africa Review.
“The delay has affected us so much on time and money but even the facilities here are bad, a small clinic and no proper toilets.
Why do we have to pay so much to get such a poor service?”
DRC officials referred our queries to their superiors even as truckers complained of inept customs staff, corruption and lack of security at the border post.
Chililabombwe District authorities said they were planning a truck park in the next six months to improve facilities.
“We are putting up a modern truck park 2km from the border and it will be connected to the border for smooth corroboration to avoid the congestion,” Chililabombwe town clerk Cosmas Chalusa said.
The project will be done under private public partnership, he said.
He says the interested investor would work with locals and seek partnerships from others willing to put hotels and lodging facilities.
During the congestion people were going to the bushes to relief themselves.
He said the local authority had asked the country’s Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit to provide mobile toilets.
Trade experts called for the modernisation of border facilities.
Zambia collects an estimated $560,000 monthly through Kasumbalesa border post where 500 trucks cross into the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) daily.
Zambia’s is DRC’s biggest market after China ($3.26 billion) and third biggest seller after South Africa ($976) and China ($968).
To cross over to DRC, Mr Kasongo now has to pay a notification notice of $20 again, the other one having expired during the time spent in traffic.
The congestion started with a protest by truckers over clearance at Whiskey which means that between Kasumbalesa and Lubumbashi, a distance of 90 kilometres three toll points form a non-tariff barrier to trade.
In addition, the toll fees over the stretch are the highest in the region; reaching $900 for a round trip over a distance of the 420 kilometres to Kolwezi towards the Angola border.
“It has taken me one week to get here (Kasumbalesa from Zambia’s Copperbelt).
Sad situation for our colleagues that get paid on the number of trips that they make. But I’m lucky I am carrying mining machines headed into Kolwezi,” Anthony Mulenga,a trucker said.
A hawker identified as Ngoi, however, says the congestion has been good for his food trade.
A boy who sells water said he had to go for refills from the supplier has his usual daily order was getting finished by two in the afternoon.
The gridlock has soured diplomatic relations between Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Zambian officials led by the country’s Road Transport and Safety Agency chief executive officer Zindaba Soko led a fact-finding mission on how to ease the flow of traffic.
“We have meetings on how traffic flow can be improved but nothing seems to change,” Mr Soko said. He blamed DRC for not implementing resolutions adopted at various levels. (NMG)