Goma, DRC, Open For Business After Years Of War

Goma, DRC, Open For Business After Years Of War

From AlJazeera. Story by Jonathan W. Rosen.

Located on a lake and under constant threat from a volcano 12 miles north of town, the city of Goma, in some ways, is undergoing a revival.

Its main boulevards, trash-strewn and rutted just a few years back, are now smoothly paved and bisected by neatly manicured, pedestrian-friendly roundabouts. The runway of Goma’s airport, which was partially destroyed by lava in 2002, is in the final stages of renovation and, as of this month, is accommodating the city’s first international commercial fight, to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, via Entebbe on Ethiopian Airlines.

In recent months, the city has hosted multiple cultural festivals organized to promote peace in the region, including a concert last September that drew the American R&B star Akon, and this weekend’s second-annual Amani Peace Festival, featuring artists from across the African continent.

Driven by demand from the town’s large number of foreign-aid workers and the presence of MONUSCO, the U.N.s’ 15-year-old, $1.4 billion-a-year DRC peacekeeping mission, a host of new upscale restaurants and cafés have sprouted in the past year, including the town’s first boutique bakery and pastry shop.

Businessmen like Abraham Kazadi found success by targeting a more mass-market demographic. Starting 15 years ago by tinkering with small batches of kombucha in his kitchen, the former trader and computer salesman slowly scaled up his operation.

He perfected his recipe with the help of an herbalist in China and expanded his distribution as far as the distant capital, Kinshasa. Today, he produces approximately 20 tons of his sour brown elixir each month — a process that entails fermenting sweetened tea for 21 days with a culture of yeasts and bacteria. According to Kazadi and his many loyal customers, the drink, which is believed to have originated in Northeast China or Manchuria, helps boost the immune system and is effective against a host of ailments, including diabetes, rheumatism and sexual dysfunction.

Although these claims have not been scientifically proved, Kazadi says demand for the drink in Congo is consistently on the rise, and his biggest challenge is keeping enough in circulation.

Like other Goma-based entrepreneurs, he’s had to be creative. Aside from the city’s crime, which requires him to employ round-the-clock security for his factory, Kazadi’s biggest headache is his supply chain — particularly the 300-milliliter (10-ounce) plastic bottles he uses to package his product, which he purchases twice a month in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, a 24-hour round-trip by car.

Due to Goma’s notoriously unreliable electrical grid Kazadi bypasses the grid entirely, powering his factory, often the only building in his neighborhood with lights, with solar panels and an accumulator. Since high rates of interest and predatory lending practices make borrowing from local banks untenable, Kazadi — like most Goma businessmen — has financed his operation almost entirely from his own pocket.

…For all of the challenges that result from the region’s insecurity, the revival of Goma is also, in part, a direct result of Congo’s crisis.

In an irony not lost on Goma residents, it is largely because of the region’s elusive peace that many in the city, home to nearly 100 international development and humanitarian organizations and a major base of U.N. peacekeeping operations, have managed to prosper.

Today, aside from those employed in mining or by telecommunication firms — traditional mainstays of the local and national economies — many among Goma’s middle class are products of MONUSCO as well as the wider international-aid industry.

The economic impact of the humanitarian industry is most visible in the town’s large number of upmarket hotels and restaurants, nearly all built since the DRC conflict started. But it’s also felt by local drivers, cleaners, mechanics, cooks, office workers, translators and real-estate entrepreneurs.

…This dependency, of course, has many risks, highlighted by growing signs that the U.N. may soon begin to draw down its DRC mission — and with it, the local jobs, contracts and foreign clientele that keep the city humming.

Nonetheless, even locals whose businesses cater largely to expats say they’re prepared to trudge on even if a large portion of the international community departs.

Read more at AlJazeera.

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