KISANGANI, April 18, 2012 -- Recent road improvements in the Kisangani-Banalia-Buta-Bondo area (RN4), and the Kalemie-Bendera-Uvira section (RN5), have already begun to improve access into and out of long-isolated areas of Eastern Province and Katanga Province. The rehabilitation includes Tshopo and Bas-Uélé districts in Eastern Province and Tanganika District, providing a boon to famers who have more to offer, and reassurance to traders engaged in commerce between the city and the countryside.
Ending Banalia’s Isolation
Because of the road upgrades, those who live along National Road No. 4, specifically along the section that runs from Kisangani to Dulia and Bondo in Eastern Province, are slowly escaping their isolation. For more than a decade, the 485 km-long roadway that runs through major towns such as Banalia and Buta, remained impassable. Bridges were cut off, sloughs had become impossible to cross and uncontrolled growth of grasses and shrubs had virtually turned the road into a path, where only motorcycles and bicycles could operate. To cover the 132 km stretch between the provincial seat and Banalia, famous for its artisanal diamond mines, considerable courage was required. By bicycle, the trip took five days.
The Office of Roads began construction began in July 2009 as part of the Pro-Routes Project, and automobile traffic was restored along this section starting in December 2010. The reopening sparked economic and commercial activity along the road, with a number of markets where manufactured goods are mixed in with agricultural products: rice, cassava, bananas.
“Now we see cars passing by,” said Paul Liofondja, chief of Abata group, 19 km from Kisangani. “That was unimaginable before!”
After remaining isolated for so long, people and commodities are now on the move in the countryside. At Belgica, for example, there is now a new shopping mall offering a full range of services, including a pharmacy, apparel, manufactured goods and food products. In the parking lot managed by the Congo Drivers Association, a few cars patiently await passengers headed to Kisangani. Today, one can make the whole trip from Kisangani to Banalia by automobile in two hours and a few minutes. According to traffic counting records, daily traffic on the Kisangani-Banalia road tops 141 vehicles on average.
Since the road was reopened, a drop in the price of certain products has also been observed. In Kisangani, for example, a basket of manioc roots that sold for CF 7,500 before the road was reopened now goes for CF 2,500. In Banalia, a bottle of beer has been priced at CF 1,000 since December 2010, whereas the price was CF 2,500 before the roadwork was completed. Bralima Brewery is even considering the possibility of opening a warehouse here. Rice, maize, and bananas and other products have also fallen substantially in price since the Kisangani-Banalia road was reopened. Meanwhile, agricultural output has risen considerably, as confirmed by the Banalia Territorial Administrator: “With the road now reopened, there has been a significant uptick in economic activity. The population is now truly committed to agriculture because now there is a way to move products to market, and the level of traffic is sufficient.”
Another factor that has helped reduce the isolation of the Banalia district is the rehabilitation of the Banalia ferry, funded by the Pro-Routes Project. Since the ferry went out of service, the Aruwimi River has been a break-bulk point for decades. Having the ferry back in service since the start of 2011 has opened the door for continuing the roadwork along RN 4 on the other side of the Aruwimi River, because it is now easier to move equipment and materials across. It has also made it easier for the transport of goods and persons to large towns such as Kole, known for its agricultural production. Currently, the ferry makes an average of five or six crossings per day, free of charge for vehicles, motorcyclists, and pedestrians.
On the other side of Aruwimi River, the road has been reopened as far as the town of Télé, 240 km from Kisangani and just 87 km from Buta. Rehabilitation of the bridge over the Télé River, which marks the border between Tshopo and Bas-Uélé districts, is pending.
Relief for the Farmers of Bendera in Northern Katanga
In northern Katanga Province, specifically in the Tanganika district, the Pro-Routes work crew is on site on RN 5, along the Kalemie-Bendera-Uvira section. The work began in August 2010, and the road has now been reopened as far as PK 156, inside the border with Maniema Province.
“With the road reopened, traffic has been restored, but no one has any idea of what this road had become,” said the deputy district commissioner. “It practically no longer existed. It was a trail, accessible only to motorbikes. Automobile traffic was cut off. Moving a product from Bendera to Kalemie cost $50, on top of the 10 liters of fuel you had to give the motorcyclist. Now, automobile traffic has been restored, and the road’s impact is highly visible for residents.”
Along the roadway, automobile traffic has indeed become more significant, with taxis, shared taxis, and numerous motorbikes serving the towns of Mapanda (Bendera) at PK 125 and Musakaite at PK 137. The most recent count yielded a daily average of 67 vehicles, all categories combined, on the Kalemie-Bendera road.
Coinciding with the restoration of traffic, economic and commercial activity is now blooming all along the road. Markets have reopened. Even in small villages, it is no longer surprising to find shops that are well stocked with numerous manufactured goods. Meanwhile, prices have fallen substantially. For example, a bottle of beer that was selling for CF 4,000 in Musakaite before the road repairs can now be purchased for CF 2,000. The price of a liter of gas has fallen to CF 3,000, compared to CF 4,500 in the same town before the road was reopened. A glass of salt used to cost CF 1,000, but now it costs just CF 400.
Launched in 2009, the Pro-Routes Project of support for opening and maintaining high-priority roads is funded by the World Bank and DFID, with a budget of US $123 million. Its goal is to restore and ensure long-term preservation of transport infrastructure, and thereby provide guaranteed access to markets and to the social and administrative services needed for socioeconomic development and for the country’s reintegration, by opening and maintaining 2,917 km of roads.
Alexandre Dossou, World Bank team leader for the project, said he can see the many chances that the road improvements have made.
“The project’s socioeconomic impacts are undeniable and highly visible in the field, in terms of both physical outputs and attention to environmental and social components, although overall project performance still needs to be improved, not just to accelerate the outputs but also in regard to road sector management reforms,” he said.