Congo-Brazzaville's killer logging trucks
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The mammoth trucks that transport lumber to the port of Pointe-Noire have residents of this coastal Congolese city up in arms. In just nine days, logging trucks caused two accidents that killed least seven people. Residents are furious about the human toll of these huge and often poorly-maintained trucks.
Accident in Mvou-Mvou on May 30.
The mammoth trucks that transport lumber to the port of Pointe-Noire have residents of this coastal Congolese city up in arms. In just nine days, logging trucks caused two accidents that killed at least seven people. Residents are furious at the human cost of these huge and often poorly-maintained trucks, which they say crash frequently.
At around 2pm on May 30, a logging truck from the UTA (United Transport Africa) company carrying eucalyptus logs hit a car and a motorcycle in Mvou-Mvou, causing one person to be critically injured. The truck’s brakes reportedly failed.
Accident in Mvou-Mvou on May 30. Video filmed by our Observer, Crépin.
Nine days earlier, in the nearby neighbourhood of Nkouikou, a truck from the same company spun out of control, ran into passersby, and came to a halt only when it crashed into a bakery. According to official sources, seven people were killed. Local residents claim that 17 people were in fact killed. Once again, the brakes failed.
According to our Observers, logging truck accidents are fairly frequent in Pointe-Noire, especially along the stretch going down the Mongo-Kamba hill, which they must take to reach the port, where logs are broken down into pellets to create paper paste. This road is steep and congested, which proves challenging for these ageing trucks. “They are old. Some have been operating for over two decades”, says a UTA driver contacted by FRANCE 24. “And security norms are not respected. Trucks just aren’t taken good care of”.
UTA has not yet responded to repeated calls by FRANCE 24.
“It’s rare for three months to go by without a truck accident”
Crépin (not his real name) lives in the Mvou-Mvou neighbourhood, right by where the last accident took place.
On May 30, at around 2 pm, I heard a crash. I went out and started filming. The truck driver had just lost control of his vehicle. He hit a taxi and a motorcycle-taxi, known here as a “Jakarta”. The young man driving the motorcycle got pinned beneath one of the truck’s wheels.
Photo taken by our Observer, Crépin.
Since the paramedics weren’t arriving, young people from the neighbourhood tried to help him. The injured man was screaming; it was ghastly. They took about an hour to get him out from under the truck using a jack, and then they drove him to the hospital. But I heard he died of his wounds.
The truck driver ran away before the crowd arrived. After the accident, the crowd attacked another truck that was coming back from the port. That truck driver was insulted, forced out of his vehicle, and beaten. Then, the authorities arrived. They tried to intimidate the crowd, but people started throwing rocks. The police responded by using tear gas. The mayor of Mvou-Mvou soon appeared; he was insulted by the residents and left almost immediately.
“This may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back”
The residents of Mvou-Mvou are calling for a restriction on logging trucks in their neighbourhood during the day, when the traffic is most dense. [According to local authorities, a city ordinance from March 8, 2004 forbids logging trucks from driving in the city at night, from 6 pm to 6 am]. Why doesn’t the city government forbid them from doing this? On Highway 1, which logging trucks have to take, there is so much traffic that each accident causes deaths. It’s rare for three months to go by without a truck accident.
The local residents didn’t just get angry because of the accident, but because of the larger Congolese context. They’re also looking for an excuse to air their grievances, because they are tired of problems like insufficient water, electricity black-outs, and unemployment. This accident or another one like it may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
Post written by FRANCE 24 journalist François-Damien Bourgery.