Cablegate: River Transport in the Drc

DE RUEHKI #0784/01 1911529
R 101529Z JUL 07




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) Summary: River transport will likely play a pivotal
role and become very lucrative in the event of economic
recovery in the DRC. There is a very high demand for river
transport, but corruption, lack of government services and
other obstacles limit growth. End summary.


2. (U) The DRC's river system is a crucial component of the
transport sector, particularly as few roads link major cities
throughout the country. The Congo River and its main
tributary, the Kasai, form the primary river system, with
over 9,000 navigable miles that reach about three-fourths of
the DRC. The Congo River is navigable for a stretch of about
1,000 miles, from Kinshasa to Kisangani, Orientale province,
and the Kasai is about 500 miles long, linking Bandundu city,
in Bandundu province, to Ilebo, Western Kasai. Other
important tributaries include the Ubangi, Itimbiri, Lomami,
Kwilu and Lukenie, and in the east the lakes Tanganyika and
Kivu are integral. According to NGO Innovative Resources
Management (IRM), which manages a river anti-corruption
program, 60 boats travel along the Congo River monthly with
an estimated 36,000 tons, but traffic along the Kasai exceeds
120 boats monthly carrying 72,000 tons.

3. (U) River transport is generally used to transport
consumer goods and humanitarian aid supplies to the interior
of the country, and to deliver agricultural products, such as
corn, manioc and peanuts, for domestic and limited export
sale. According to river transport operators, the cost of
cargo on the Kasai is about 16 cents per ton per mile, and 12
cents per ton per mile on the Congo. The price differential
is a result of easier navigability on the Congo River
compared to the Kasai; however, more water transporters work
on the Kasai since they feel there are fewer risks in going
the shorter distance. There are 13 ports along the Kasai,
compared to at least 20 along the Congo River, according to
IRM. The General Director of a private operator TFCE said
that while air transport is faster, its cost is roughly ten
times that of water transport fees. Boats moving with the
current from the interior to Kinshasa take two-thirds the
time of an upstream voyage to the interior.

4. (SBU) The principal government agency in the sector is the
Regie des Voies Fluviales (RVF), which in theory is
responsible for waterway upkeep. However, according to
numerous contacts, it rarely performs its functions. Other
relevant state agencies include the Office Nationale des
Transports (ONATRA) and the Societe des Chemins de Fer du
Congo (SNCC), although their roles have diminished
significantly since the 1980s. ONATRA operates limited Congo
River transport, while the SNCC transport includes the
eastern DRC's lakes including Kivu and Tanganyika. ONATRA
reports that their boats are over 30 years old, and most of
their docks are informally leased to private industries. An
SNCC official in the Kinshasa office reported to EconOff that
they operate at 25 percent capacity and are 26 months behind
in employee salary payments. Private enterprises are
becoming increasingly dominant, and make up at least
three-fourths of river transport according to Initiative for
Central Africa (INICA) report "Afrique Centrale Les
Infrastructures de Transport."


5. (U) Despite the demand for river transport, several
factors limit its growth, including corruption and the lack
of supporting government services. Companies often face tax
harassment, such as demands to buy an "annual" permit every
six months and to pay numerous unauthorized taxes that do not
apply to the transport sector. Contacts in the river sector
reported varying degrees of success in dealing with these
problems. One private operator reported that he was
obligated to pay an illegal tax, while another managed to pay
a small fee in its place. Bribery is also rampant on the
rivers, increasing the cost and duration of voyages, and
consequently the price of goods. A 2003 IRM study estimated
that 25 percent of the cost of a bag of manioc was the result
of illegal taxation. Public officials' low salaries are a
main factor in the bribery, according to experts in the
sector. TFCE's director said that an 18 day trip to
Kisangani takes up to 30 days, as operators must check in

KINSHASA 00000784 002 OF 003

with all official and unofficial "government agencies" in at
least 10 different ports en route.

6. (SBU) There are four government agencies authorized to
oversee port and river transport activities according to
March 2002 law 036, but TFCE's director said there are at
least 12 other agencies that operate unofficially (16
according to 2004 IRM reports). These include the Republican
Guard, three different hygiene agencies, two agricultural
agencies, four water transport police bodies, and
intelligence and anti-corruption agencies. The owner of
Societe Elmay et Freres on Lake Kivu reported a similar
situation, with 23 illegal agencies. Conversely, in Mbandaka
on the Congo River, sources said the Force Navale is the only
agency controlling and exploiting the port. IRM also said
that in some cases in the interior the Force Navale or the
Police Fluviale control ports.


7. (SBU) The GDRC's failure to maintain the waterways is the
second main impediment to efficient river traffic. The RVF
is responsible for dredging the river, marking the routes,
and providing updated information and maps, but as discussed
above, the RVF fails to perform these functions. RVF's
Technical Director told EconOff the RVF needs roughly USD two
million annually to perform its duties, but that the 2007
national budget allocated only USD 48,000 and that RVF direct
tax receipts add little to this sum. (Note: Private
operators have said their companies pay ten to twenty
thousand dollars in taxes directly to the RVF per year. End

8. (SBU) One expert described the state of the water
transport sector as "ground zero." Trees, sunken boats and
other hazards, as well as undredged areas, make portions of
the river inaccessible according to private operators. A
forestry company owner reported that the Mbandaka port is
clogged with weapons that were dumped in the water during the
conflicts and that parts of the Kinshasa port are silted. In
the absence of accurate maps, captains make their own
navigational charts. One operator reported that some boats
send a canoe a couple of hours ahead to put up temporary
markers (often sticks with a plastic bag attached) on sand
bars -- which move constantly -- or rocks to aid navigation.
Further, boats can only run during the day because the RVF
does not light waterways.


9. (SBU As a result of corruption, navigation and othermarket obstacles, water
transport activity is morelimited
today than 20 years ago despite growing emand. As a result,
according to IRM, many villages are not able to access goods
or transport their crops because water transporters cannot or
will not travel to their areas; some villages can only convey
goods to the immediate areas in canoes or on makeshift rafts.
IR employees told EconOff that 20 years ago boats usd to
pass by villages on the Congo River every 1 minutes, however
now a full day can pass withoutany traffic. There is higher
demand for transpot to Kinshasa than to the interior because
ruralcommunities need to export heavy agricultural prodce.
The Commissariat Fluval, which grants navigation permits,
reported that 3,303 boats left the Kinshasa port in 2006
carrying 582,844 tons and that 1,660 boats entered the
Kinshasa port carrying 640,236 tons, with an average total
transport of 90,433 tons monthly to and from Kinshasa.

10. (SBU) The difficulty of acquiring new capital and skilled
labor also impedes growth. Many water transport businesses
are operating with old equipment. The manager of the private
operator Mpkasa said it is expensive and time-consuming to
import boats, and that finding skilled labor is difficult.
The only navigation school in the DRC closed many years ago,
and expatriate captains are subject to greater harassment
than Congolese.


11. (SBU) Comment. There is an increasing demand for

KINSHASA 00000784 003 OF 003

dependable river transport, and businesses already in place
will have an advantage over newer arrivals as the DRC economy
grows. Private companies are now taking the lead in the
sector, and new opportunities could prove lucrative.
However, both cultural knowledge and specialized skills are
required to prosper in this sector. Interested American
investors would benefit from establishing local partnerships.
Improving RVF's performance is necessary to develop river
transport, as is dealing with deeply entrenched corruption.
End comment.

© Scoop Media

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