In North Kivu, rebel taxes have made food prices skyrocket

A street vendor in Goma. Photo by our Observer.
In the last few months, the Congolese army has been fighting a rebel group known as M23 in an attempt to keep them away from Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu, in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). While the city has so far been kept safe from the rebels, its economy is nonetheless suffering from the conflict, as the M23 has been racketing truck drivers bringing food into the city.
The trucks carrying food must take a road that is partially controlled by the rebels, who impose exorbitant taxes. These costs are so high that they discourage many food distributors from doing business in Goma, while those distributors who continue to service Goma are forced to increase their prices. As a result, food has become scarce in Goma’s markets, and its cost is skyrocketing.
The M23 rebels were part of a militia that had joined the ranks of the army three years ago, but deserted this April. The rebels accuse the DRC government of failing to keep promises made in an agreement signed on March 23, 2009 (thus M23’s name). Among other things, the agreement concerned the rebels’ pay and rank within the army.
For the last four months, the rebels have been terrorizing North Kivu. They have captured several key cities in the region, including Rutshuru, just 70 kilometres away from Goma, where they set up their administrative headquarters. People living in the conflict areas have reported that the rebels are kidnapping children to make them fight on the front. A general named Bosco Ntaganda, nicknamed “Terminator”, heads the M23 rebels. He has been the subject of an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court since 2006 for conscripting children.
Trucks carrying food entering Goma. 

'The price of cassava has nearly doubled!'

Charly Kasereka lives in Goma. He is a journalism student and writes a blog where he discusses news events in his region.
Currently, there is not much for sale in the Goma markets, and everything has become very expensive: corn, green beans, milk, all basic food products… Before, a 100 kg bag of cassava cost between 25 to 30 US dollars; today, this amount costs in the 45 to 50 dollar range [35 to 40 euros]. And, for instance, a kg of green beans, which used to cost half a dollar, now costs almost a full dollar [0,80 euros]. These basic food products have nearly doubled in price! In a city where the population is already very poor, people are really suffering. Many people are unemployed, and the average salary of someone who owns or works in a small shop is only 20 to 30 dollars per month [16 to 24 euros]. Food has basically become unaffordable.
A couple of days ago, I met truck drivers who were complaining about their work conditions. One of them, who has been driving food products between Goma and Lubero (215 km away) for the last ten years, told me that whereas it used to only take eight hours to reach Goma, it now takes him 14 hours. When the rebels took Rutshuru in early July, the M23 rebels put up numerous roadblocks and now undertake lengthy inspections of each trucks’ contents. On his last trip, he was taxed about 350 dollars [285 euros] for his cassava cargo. Before the rebels came, he used to pay at most only 50 dollars [40 euros] in taxes. Trucks containing wood planks for construction are taxed even more harshly. [According to Radio Okapi, each truck carrying planks is taxed 1,000 dollars, or 815 euros]. On other parts of the road, he told me that soldiers from the Congolese army had also asked for small fees in order to buy cigarettes.
A truck driving at the entrance to Goma.
“The M23 rebels are increasing the number of roadblocks and tax all the trucks”
I have recently undertaken several round trips on the road between Goma and Rutshuru, a city held by the rebels. They don’t let anyone take the road after 5 pm. I counted three M23 roadblocks. At one of them, they checked my identity and searched me. When they saw that I had a camera, they got scared — they thought I might be a spy. They ended up letting me through, though they strictly forbade me from taking pictures, and told me that if they saw pictures of their activities on my Facebook page or elsewhere, they would come and find me.
Given everything that we hear about the rebels — the violence, the kidnappings — few people continue to take this road, not even to visit family, unless they have very compelling business reasons to do so.
There are a couple other roads that go to Goma. But two of these are at least as dangerous, as they go through areas where a new armed militia has been wreaking havoc. And, at any rate, these roads are huge detours. It is still possible to go to Rwanda [Goma is on the border]. But what we buy from Rwanda is mostly in household appliances or clothing, but not so much food products. Rwandans actually come to shop for food in our city. The Beni-Goma road is thus absolutely essential.
Goma’s inhabitants are now hoping that authorities, or even MONUSCO [the UN mission in DRC] will do something, quickly, to avoid widespread famine in Goma.
A half-empty market in Goma.
The price of beans has doubled since the M23 rebels started taxing trucks delivering food.
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Gaelle Faure.


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The really reason prices have

The really reason prices have dramatically increased is because of the closure of the DRC boarder with Uganda (bunagana). Traders told the BBC that they now have to use the boarder between Rwanda and DRC in Rubavu and Goma. This has more that trippled the cost of getting goods including food to DRC. In addition, one should not ignore that most of north kivu population involved in agriculture are those kinyarwanda speakers who have either been internally displaced or fled abroad mostly to Rwanda and Uganda as result of fighting or political marginalisation.
DRC government and its western backers are mainly the ones to blame as they are insisting on not talking to the rebels describing them as a bunch of criminals. These so called criminals are sons of the same people the West and its band of NGOs pretend to be speaking for. Using ICC arrest warrant against one of the ethnically connected to the rebels (Gen Bosco Ntaganda) is red-hearing. The rebels insist that he is not part of their movement but the west does want to listen to that and if they refuse to listen why don't they move in and arrest him? They have the means and authority to do so without looking here and there for someone to blame. In this regard a question could be asked; why did the DRC gvt back in 2009 agree to entre into negotiation with the then CNDP led by Ntaganda whom at the time had the same ICC arrest warrant over him? What pressure has the DRC gvt came under recently to turn everything that seemed to be working despite some minor issues upside down?
Things can only start to get back to some kind of normalisation if the DRC government was to agree to talk to it's mutineers and implement the agreement it freely signed in Murch 2009.
Turning around and attribute everything bad in the region on to this new rebellion will not solve the problem for a sustainable future.
The West and Kabila's gvt must be very careful not to keep on marginalising a section of DRC people for political gains as this may risk creating similar situation to that of Northern Mali or Somalia and if this was to happen, it may suck in many countries into the conflict which would eventurely leave DRC on the losing side despite Western support.

Really Reason

This is not the reason; you are twisting the truth and the fact. First, RD Congo has over 400 tribes and never has a major tribe’s dispute like the Rwanda genocide. For you memory, Kivu region was once a major agric culture of the grand Lac region before the invasion of Tusti Rwandese. In Congo we don’t separate Tusti or Hutu, Bashi or Luba we are first Congolese period. The ethnic problem is false argument from those who want to harm Congolese people. The Tusti are largely represented in Congolese than any other tribes and they are among the successful business in Congo despite they are not originally from Congo, that is a fact. Don’t play the race card, it will not work here.
Speaking of fact, it’s truth that Kagame and Museveni are destabilizing Congo to profit on mining. And it’s also truth, mining and arm conflict have prevented those farmers to cultivate their land. You are not Congolese and you don’t love Congo, the 5 millions people we lost do not sound enough for you? One day justice will prevails.

who is originally from Congo?

who is originally from Congo? Where a country known as Congo originates from?When this country came into being? One does not have to be a congolese to have a view on what is going on in Congo and what makes you think that I am not Congolese? furthermore, most vocal on issues in Congo are not Congolese and live very far away from the region but that the main issue her, the issue is how you seem to be abscessed with Tutsi; in my original comments I only said that the marginalisation of kinyarwanda speakers in the region is not ended, the risk is that a situation like that of Norther-Mali might emerge in DRC. It is unclear whether your comments constitute an argument or something else as they fail to identify the problem and possible solution.