DR Congo

DRC entrepreneurs fight unemployment with local cooking

Franck Bulonza serves lunch to his customers in Goma, DRC.
Franck Bulonza serves lunch to his customers in Goma, DRC.

Unemployment is an almost insurmountable hurdle for young people in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It’s hard to find reliable unemployment rates, but the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development estimates that underemployment is at 58 percent. DR Congo came in 176 out of 187 countries on the UN Human Development Index in 2015.

But one group of young people in Goma, eastern DR Congo, has taken matters into their own hands. After two years of looking for work, Franck Bulonza started a business with two friends delivering home-cooked lunches to people’s homes and workplaces.

‘It could even help us reach peace’

Observer Guylain Bulame, who first told us about Franck's business, explains why it sets an important example in Goma:

Unemployment isn’t just a problem in Goma, it’s a major problem throughout DR Congo. Among young people, unemployment is as high as 80 to 90 percent. Many young people turn to petty crime or prostitution. It’s been even more of a problem since the start of the March 23 movement, a rebel insurgency that has been threatening the government [since 2012]. Armed groups frequently try to recruit young people in Goma. They say, “We have work for you. Take a weapon and come with us.” Since they are out of work, many young people join.

I think Franck’s initiative is really encouraging. Many young people in Goma dream of having a fancy job, with a big NGO, where you get a computer and everything. Franck had the courage to show that you can create work on your own. It’s an example that people should really follow. If more people started their own businesses, it wouldn’t just reduce unemployment, it might also make people less ready to join rebel groups. So it could even help us reach peace.

‘I can’t just let myself do nothing’

I started Manger Equilibré ("Eating a Balanced Diet") at the beginning of January 2016 with my friends Dahate and Shadadi. The idea came to me because of the job insecurity that we have in Goma. I received a master’s degree in economics, but I ended up spending two years looking for a job with no results. It was hard. Here in DRC, once you have your degree you’re expected to be totally independent, to not ask your family for anything anymore. But just two weeks after I graduated, I wound up back in my parents’ house. I sent my CV everywhere. Being out of work is a real headache. You spend a lot of time sleeping and playing video games. But after two years of that, I said, “I can’t just let myself do nothing.”

Today I deliver 80 to 120 meals every day, and employ 12 people: eight to do food preparation, and four to do deliveries. The initial inspiration for my business came from McDonalds. I liked their model, the way they are able to put together food like in an assembly line. But I wanted to do traditional food with products that come from here. We try to use as few processed ingredients as possible. Only the pots and the plates aren’t from DR Congo.

Franck Bulonza serving lunch to his clients in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo.

The recipes are mostly from my region of the country, like sombé, which is made from ground cassava leaves and peanut; or foufou, which is a soup with yam-paste dumplings.

We make food for lunch and deliver it to people’s work. If they’re working in a store and have plates and cutlery, we serve the food right in front of them. If they’re working at a bank or office, we’ll bring them a to-go container with everything they need to eat.

A lot of people made fun of me at first. They didn’t understand what we were doing. To them, if you graduate from school you’re supposed to get a job at a big NGO or something like that. Even though I was wearing a suit and a tie they didn’t think what I was doing was a real job.

But now they understand. In fact, people are imitating my idea: I already have four competitors in Goma! And just like me, they’re employing other people.

I still can’t say that I am 100 percent employed, but at least I have a schedule and a team to manage. I can pay my rent and buy clothes, and every once in a while I can go watch the Paris Saint-Germain matches on TV! I wouldn’t say that I’m totally independent, but it’s a good start.

What I really need is someone who understands my project and can give it a push forward.