Despite its enormous size, the DRC is connected by too few roads. Decimated by years of conflict, the business of building roads has not kept pace with the country’s population explosion, least of all in the capital Kinshasa.
The Projet de Réouverture et d’entretien des Routes Hautement Prioritaires, known as Pro-Routes, is a project centralised in Kinshasa for which the World Bank administers a $122.6 million multi-donor fiduciary fund that includes the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) and other donors. The infrastructure project, launched in 2008, aims to expand the road system to boost socio-economic development in the DRC. Augustin Kabamba, Monitoring and Evaluation Officer of the Cellule Infrastructure, and an executing agency within the Ministry of Public Works and Infrastructure, discusses the project’s projected and realised impacts.
Valérie Bah: In terms of bilateral aid programmes, Pro-Routes is a major one. Can you quickly summarise its major challenges and hopes?
Augustin Kabamba: Imagine a road that was closed for 30 years. And then when we come to open it, there is a visible impact: traffic restarts, markets emerge, and transport (time), as well as the cost of transport, lowers. For example, one of the roads we have worked on, the Kisangani link, used to take two weeks by bicycle where people had to push their bicycles on a rough stretch of road.
VB: If the general aim of Pro-Routes is to contribute to poverty reduction, how do we get there from building roads? What’s the logical link?
AK: In terms of poverty reduction, it is important to open as many roads as possible. Out of 50,000 km of road (in the country), only about 15,800 km are currently usable, so when people can’t circulate they can’t improve their life conditions. For example, from Kalemie to Uvira there was a closure that we reversed by building a 150 km road. The benefits were enormous.
VB: What were these benefits exactly?
AK: Previously, between this stretch, the return trip took people one week to make, and if there was ever a power outage, the people depending on assistance had to wait a whole week for the power to return. Presently, these problems can be solved in real time. The transport cost between these cities has been driven from $100 to $20, and the quality of the vehicles that people travel in has become more comfortable — there are now minibuses shuttling people back and forth. Also, in this zone, bandits used to take advantage of the fact that it took a long time to alert authorities.
VB: How does the project assist in terms of job creation in the road construction industry?
AK: The donors want to promote small and medium enterprises, but (we) also rely on international procurement. We launch calls to all of these tenders. In addition, the road construction helps in terms of direct employment. We also directly recruit local employees.
VB: How many people have you employed locally?
AK: I can’t say exactly, we haven’t measured this.
VB: Pro-Routes purports to connect the entire country. Why is the project centralised in Kinshasa?
AK: Pro-Routes’ management relies on two strategies. First, we have a road management (team) that has the advantage of being quite mobile. Secondly, we have multiple brigades that operate throughout the country. Also, the ambition is that one day Kinshasa will be connected all the way to Lubumbashi (in the southeast of the country) by road. We’re attempting this in order to ensure a connection between the capital and the rest of the country. It would create a capital that is more of a hub than it is now; we currently have an “ex-centered” capital. If the Belgians (colonisers) had it their way, they would have moved the capital to the middle of the country.
Notes:  Officially known as Ministère de l’aménagement du territoire, urbanisme, habitat, infrastructures, travaux publics et reconstrution.
Valérie Bah is a Canadian freelance journalist who writes on issues of migration, marginalization, crime, and LGBT human rights. She has worked in several Canadian federal government ministries and non-profit organisations and currently serves as an associate reporting officer at the United Nations’ refugee agency in Kinshasa, DRC. She holds a master’s in International Relations from the Universidad de Cadiz, Spain.
This article forms part of Urban Africa’s urban reporting series. For more of Valérie’s reporting from Kinshasa see:
Image via wikimedia user Romski.
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