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Wed, 28 Dec 2016 18:39 - Updated Wed, 28 Dec 2016 18:38

Angola: Luvu - A hope for Angolan and Congolese traders

Luvu (Zaire) - The cross-border Luvu market records on Saturdays the presence of Angolan wholesalers and retailers of national make goods and others who buy clothing, footwear, jewelry, electric appliances, creams, cell-phone sets and “super-wax” fabrics from Congolese traders.

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Buyers awaiting crossing to Luvu Market

Photo: ANTONIO ESCRIVAO

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By Esmael da Purificação

 

Everyday, more than a hundred trucks loaded with assorted goods mostly from Luanda arrive in Luvu, some 557 kilometres away. In fewer numbers other types of vehicles carry goods from several parts of the country. 
 

According to truck drivers, before the ban on re-export of goods, loads of items were ferried from South Africa, Namibia and other countries for sale in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
 

One of the factors boosting the flow of such a high number of trucks and smaller vehicles into the region is the good condition of the roads that started to be asphalted in 2014, coupled with the festive season just around the corner.


However, reaching Luvu involves some challenges like the obstacles in the locality of Quilometro 25, near Nkuanza village, where there is a 10 percent slope that is the spot of several accidents. Abandoned scraps of vehicles, mostly trucks, litter the site.
 

In January 2016, for instance, road traffic was interrupted for more than 24 hours, due to an accident that involved a trailer truck heading for Luvu.

Other obstacles, according truck drivers, are the countless check-points they come across as they drive towards the border. Tax police, border police and traffic police inspect cargo and people, they say, explaining that, contrary to the south, most of the illegal immigration is recorded on Angola’s northern border, particularly in Zaire and Cabinda provinces, including Lunda Norte (northeast).
 

As an example, 87 Congolese nationals were repatriated from northern Zaire province last week, whereas in Southern Cunene province, the authorities held only six foreigners trying to jump the border in April this year. There are no records of recent cases.
 

Truck driver Mabengue Victor says the police check-points are the main obstacle standing in their way to Luvu. However, he praised the better condition of the road leading to the region, despite some minor ground problems.


Ahead of the last police check-point, where the road bends and the market appears in the horizon, one nearly bumps into the rear part of one of the 200 trucks parked along more than one kilometre, awaiting their turn to enter DR Congo with cement.   
 

The least patient drivers deplore having to wait for days to get across, a feat few attain.
 

Near the last check-point, there is a market that serves food and drinks to truck drivers and other people forced to pitch camp nearby.



On this, Manuel Diabanza, responsible for the accounting department of the Luvu Customs Services, stated that the cars that are parked are those that transport cement and, according to the work schedule, are not supposed to cross everyday.

Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays are the days set for the crossing of heavy vehicles carrying cement.

Beyond the penultimate control, there are more trucks parked with another type of merchandise, waiting only for clearance to enter. 

This process can be fast or slow, depending on the condition of the documents and inspection of the cargo.

Kislumeso Paulo, also a truck driver, said he was waiting for the official to issue the permit enabling him to enter the Congo with the goods.

On the other hand, exporters who were on the spot, alleged that there was a deliberate delay in attendance.

Emilia Cabungula said that the customs authorities are detrimental to the work, since, although the documents are organised, there are still many hours waiting for clearance. 

"We can stay for hours with the merchandise here, without being able to move, due to the delay in handling our papers," said another exporter who preferred to speak under anonymity.

The exporters also explained that for licensing, they pay a percentage of the purchase value of the merchandise.

Asked by Angop, Manuel Diabanza said there was no delay, but rather irregularities in the constitution of the documents to formalise the process by the exporters, and some technical difficulty on the part of the Ministry of Commerce.

"What's happening is that the Ministry of Commerce technically has some difficulty in issuing licences, so many cannot get them in time, but bring their trucks to the border before they have the documents ready. 

This stage of approaching the officers to apply for regularisation can take some days,"
explained the head of customs accounting.

Manuel said that the officer approaches the Customs for the approval of the documents and this whole process creates difficulties.


"Because of the delay, the owner unloads the goods, sort them out, which ends up overloading the work of the customs authorities, because they are many separate volumes, which leads to approximately 250 applications  a day," he explained.

According to Diabanza, in addition to those who transport cement, on average, 100 trucks arrive daily with beers, soft drinks, energetic drinks, flour and other Angola made products.

"After crossing the border, the merchandise is piled in rustic warehouses, where Akz 50 are paid per crate, box or bag. The price varies according to the size of the parcel," he added.

The Luvu Market

The dizzying frenzy, the strong odours emanating from the people who cross the border between DR Congo and Angola and vice-versa, the luggage compartments and the long lines of trucks are evident when one arrives at the cross-border Luvu market.

The place becomes more uncomfortable when the sun reaches its zenith and its rays "strike" everything on the spot. The dust caused by the constant movement of the fair is hangs on, being part of the air breathed or mixed with the sweat, forming a coating layer on people's skin.

Traders call for improved conditions of commercialisation in the market, through the installation of benches, pavements and toilets.

Mabengue Tula Victor suggested that the construction of the modern market on the Angolan side should be resumed, in order to give visitors conditions for sale and sanitation.


Close to the bridge used by people and cars (trucks, vans, light vehicles and motorbikes with rear car), there are sellers of soft drink and beer who cheerfully shout "cold beer," "cold drinking water". Upon buying, one realises that nothing is cold, but just bathed in the river water, which makes the thirst worse.

On the Congo side, bargaining is done in French, Kikongo or Lingala. Hardly in Portuguese. Should those communities fail to communicate, then sociolinguistic conditions would be in place for the emergence of pidgins (language resulting from contact between languages, not being the mother tongue of any speaker) and then any other creole...


Goods on sale are placed on makeshift stands of tree trunks or on a slight rise in the ground. At present, there is no perishable foodstuffs - vegetable oil, grains or other imported ones, due to the ban on their re-exportation.


On the Congo side, clothing, footwear, mobile phones, electric appliances, creams and costume jewelry are visible. The biggest highlight on that side are clothing, especially the "super-wax" fabric. On both sides, the Congolese franc and Kwanza are legal tenders.

A simple "super-wax" set costs between Akz 4,500 and Akz 5,000, and a double set goes between Akz 5,500 and Akz 6,500.
 

As to beer, soft drinks and Angolan energy drinks, prices vary according to daily rate of exchange, but prices are open to bargain.


Earlier this year, the executive director of the Investment and Export Promotion Agency, Lopes Paulo, said that trade between Angola and DR Congo in the Luvu market would bring benefits to the country's economy.
The initiative of the two countries to continue working for organised trade on the spot was praiseworthy and is expected to provide citizens with products that are safe and of high quality.


Although the customs and tax authorities refuse to talk about taxes collected and sales of goods, it is known that large sums are being collected.

The Luvu commune, which lies 60 kilometres north of the municipal headquarters of Mbanza Congo, the capital of Zaire provionce, has existed since the 1980s.
 

A dramatic bridge
 

The entry and exit from Congo through this border is done by the metal bridge over the Luvu river, with lorries carrying high tonnages, vans, motorcycles and people circulating simultaneously.
 

In June 2014, the old bridge over the Luvu river collapsed, due to overweight of a truck carrying construction materials to Congo, but was replaced the following month.
 

In the morning, the crossing goes in a normal way, despite hundreds of people travelling both ways. In contrast, when the market is on the Congolese side, after 3 pm, chaos settles on the bridge.


Like the "bursting of a herd," people, on both sides, rushing to leave the foreign side in time, walk and meet in their hundreds on the bridge. Equal force on both sides paralyses any movement.
 

It is an almost indescribable experience: men, women and children stuck. With the breasts compressed, temperature high, bodies soaked with sweat, nobody moves. Suffocation, fainting and shouting of people to be trampled renders the place a "spectre of death".
 

Fortunately, rationality seizes a few of the "animalistic" crowd and, crouching between the legs of other people and loads, manages to "escape" from the place and warn the Angolan authorities about the disaster.
 

With the warning, police officers prevent others from trying to cross the bridge and organise the crossing. Gradually, the movement is cleared. But those who leave are almost voiceless, their bodies trembling, clothes undone, and personal possessions such as telephones and other accessories missing.
In face of this scenario, a police officer said: "That's what the market on the Congo side is like."

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