19.2 C
New York
Saturday, June 3, 2023

Buy now


Why bicycles are crucial to Congo’s cross-border trade

In Casson Balesa On the Zambian side of the border, trucks wait for days before entering Congo. Long delays at border crossings are common across Africa. But in frontier towns in the north of the country, some wheels are still turning. The rickety bicycles, piled high with cargo, zip past the trucks like rivers around boulders.

Hear this story.
Enjoy more audio and podcasts iOS or android.

Your browser does not support

The World Bank estimates that there are 4,000 to 8,000 bicycle “porters” in the town. They load their bikes with hundreds of kilograms of items such as diapers, energy drinks and cornmeal. A load this heavy will test the Tour de France winner’s thighs, so the cyclists will be working as a team. A “helmsman” sits in front, while three or four push behind. “My job is to work out,” one said. They dodge shoppers, goat herds and jealous truck drivers. Once out of Zambia, the goods are thrown onto trucks and resold, usually in the nearest major city, Lubumbashi.

Congo is dependent on imports because after decades of war it produces and grows very little of its own. More than 70 percent of the food consumed in its southeastern province crosses the Zambian border, some of which is bought at market stalls in Kasumbalesa, where French- and Swahili-speaking Congolese use sign language alongside those who speak English, Bemba Or bargaining with sellers in Gujarati.

Import duties are the same no matter how the goods are moved. But bikes save money and time. Fuel is expensive, with a vehicle tax of $400 round trip from Zambia. Driving a truck is harder than riding a bicycle to evade corrupt officials.

“Bikes are the only way we do business,” said the owner of a company that exports Namibian fish to Congo via Zambia. He used to use the truck, but delays meant his fish rotted. Today, he uses Congolese middlemen who arrange the bike trade. Two-thirds of small-scale trade passes through official border crossings; another third is smuggled.

Two rounds of Kasumbalesa exporters hint at the importance of informal and small-scale cross-border trade in Africa. In fact, according to the Brookings Institution, a US think tank, unrecorded export volumes mean that intra-African trade may be 11-40% higher than official figures suggest. When official trade barriers are so high, entrepreneurs find alternatives. In other words: Hawkers will keep pedaling.

Related Articles


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Stay Connected

- Advertisement -spot_img

Latest Articles