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.