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    DRC Misses UPDF Cash

    New Vision (Kampala)

    February 21, 2003
    Posted to the web February 21, 2003

    Emmy Allio
    Kampala

    THE abrupt withdrawal of UPDF soldiers from Congo is causing widespread economic misery in some of its key towns, if Gbadolite is anything to go by.

    Residents of Mobutu's birthplace in north-west DRC said that since the Ugandan army left, so has a significant portion of the trade on which the Congolese have depended for the past four years.


    In a country like Congo, with such a warped focus on minerals, making a living outside of the diamond business can be a tough job, but there are always opportunities.

    For residents of Gbadolite, the presence of Ugandan troops with their ample dollar wage-packets was once such opportunity.

    "They used to come to the market three times a week," says Peki-Peki Leontine, a banana trader at Gbadolite's main market in the town centre.

    "When they came up we used to sell a whole lot in one go, every time. Now, we're lucky to make one big sale in a week," she adds.

    Ugandans have a notorious appetite for the banana so it was to be expected that banana traders would be amongst the hardest hit by the sudden loss of matoke-munching UPDF soldiers.

    "Ugandan soldiers like bananas a lot, so we kept ourselves well from their business," says Peki-Peki," but now - it's been a big change.

    Yet it isn't only banana sellers suffering the change. A walk through Gbadolite's fish and meat stores reveals a similar feeling of economic loss amongst traders. As Rose, a middle-aged woman who sells dried fish of all kinds, remarks: "There's no money in this town anymore. When Uganda's military were here we were well fed and so were they. Things are more difficult now," he said.

    Money changers were perhaps the worst hit, as changer Mobati pointed out, because the UPDF were paid in dollars and so they had to come to us to get Congolese Francs.

    The Congolese girls or wives left behind by the UPDF soldiers is another issue.

    Their lifestyle was raised by the Ugandan soldiers and such they despised local boys or men.

    "We refer to them as UPDF widows. Others still hope that their men will return. Many others walked to Uganda. We do not know whether they reached. The truth is that these girls are now trying to get used to the hard life without UPDF soldiers," said Meki Merida, a trader from Gemena.

    In spite of hardship caused by this exodus of dollars, it seems people are coping in Gbadolite.

    The fuel shortage is a case in point. Fuel has been scarce since the Ugandans left town.

    The army were well supplied and happy to sell it on the black market.

    The UPDF absence has caused serious fuel shortage in the town. Now all fuel has to be imported from Bangui, 500km away in neighbouring Central African Republic.

    It costs a staggering US$2 (sh3,700) a litre and even those few who can afford this, are not able to get much.

    For those in the transport business like Francois Mgoku, assistant to a driver. This huge weather-beaten truck, covered in a thick film of red dust, runs on diesel made from palm oil.

    "We get 35 litres of palm oil and mix it with about 10 litres of petrol. With this you have enough fuel to take you 100 kilometres on the road," he explains.

    As a solution to Gbadolite's chronic fuel shortage, it is far from ideal. The mixture is dense and clogs up the vehicle's engine.

    The technique of mixing palm oil with petrol to obtain a cheaper fuel was devised by one of Mobutu's men in a factory not far from Gbadolite called Bosongo, established for this purpose.

    Most bars and shops which had sprung up to feed the ripe market have since closed.

    Gbadolite's biggest loss is the collapse of an entertainment centre referred as OXYGEN. This is dubbed as Gbadolite's Ange-noir.

    This was one centre where the beauty of beauties of the beautiful city gathered to catch the eyes of UPDF soldiers and MONUC officials. The New Vision visited Oxygen located in downtown Gbadolite. "Oxygen has lost its glamour and importance," a waitress said.

    It seems, the population has taken its anger to the already dilapidated palaces of Mobutu. Looting has continued years after the rampaging Rwandan army captured the town in 1997.

    Looted from it are ironsheets to make local sigiri, glassses, and anything of value. Ends

    NOTORIOUS: Congolese missing out on cash from matooke






 
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