New roads, border posts open trade routes to DRC

Saturday December 11 2021

President Felix Tshisekedi of the DR Congo (left) with his Uganda counterpart Yoweri Museveni commission a road project to ease movement between their two nations in 2021. PHOTO | PPU

By Johnson Kanamugire

Uganda and Rwanda are banking on new roads, and border posts to boost access and trade with the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Last Sunday, Uganda launched a road-building project aimed at boosting trade between the two countries. Sites for the roads were handed over to the contractor, Dott Services Ltd, a Ugandan construction firm, Kampala said in a statement adding that the roads “will open the eastern part of DRC to cross border trade with Uganda”.

The 223km road network will connect Uganda to the cities of Beni, Goma and Butembo. Uganda had announced the plans to build roads in Congo in 2019. Kampala is keen to tap this market where decades of insecurity has meant local manufacturing is non-existent, forcing dependence on imported goods.

Better access to trade with Congo would also help Uganda make up for export revenues lost after Rwanda, formerly a big market for Ugandan goods, shut their common border more than two years ago. These roads will bring jobs and interconnectedness with Uganda, Congo’s Minister for Infrastructure and Public Works, Alexi Gisaro Muvunyi said

Emmanuel Mutahunga, Uganda’s trade ministry’s acting commissioner of external trade, DRC’s trade potential with Uganda is huge and has seen Kampala now push for better infrastructure access to Eastern DRC.

Uganda is jointly constructing roads running from some of its border towns into DRC; from Kasindi to Beni (80km) and another will integrate the Beni-Butebo axis (54km). The third will stretch for 89km from the border town of Bunagana, through Rutshuru to the strategic city of Goma, the capital of the North Kivu Province.


Uganda is also creating border export zones along its boundary with the DRC.

Uganda exports to Congo stood at $267.19 million in 2020, and trade authorities say this could more than double in two years. Nearly 57 percent of the trade between the two countries is currently informal.

Rwanda is also banking on the second border post with DRC to seal trade gaps after years of political tensions paralysed activities at similar facilities at the borders with Uganda and Burundi.

DRC and Tanzania took over as key trade allies with Rwanda, which has seen the growth of Rusumo one stop border post shared with Tanzania, and Rubavu-Goma with DR Congo.

Once built, Rusizi II will become a sixth border post Rwanda gets and a second one with DR Congo which lately became the major trading partner. On Tuesday, the two countries laid the foundation stone for the $20 million border facility construction on Tuesday.

Easing movement

Rusizi II is considered an important trade/transport corridor with potential to improve lives of over three million people living in and around Bukavu in DRC and the three border districts in Rwanda. Trade is informal and mostly agricultural produce such as milk, meat, trade of live animals and foodstuff.

The EastAfrican understands that Kigali and Kinshasa are exploring the possibility of restoring the use of national IDs by travellers after border communities decried high cost of crossing since reopening from pandemic induced closure in November last year.

So far authorities only allow in passports or travel permit-holders, who are also subjected to mandatory Covid-19 test at their own cost. This has seen a decline in number of travellers but also visited misery into lives of many low income families and small scale traders having to foot regular cost of renewing travel documents and testing fees.

“We have been negotiating with our DR Congo counterparts to resume the use of border passes because our government believes it’s possible given the rate of vaccination and gains made in fighting the pandemic. It is true that cost is a hindrance to many in the border communities on both side, and that’s why we started talks,” said Francois Habitegeko, Governor of Rwanda’s Western Province.

The partial border reopening in November last year saw a drop in border crossings at Rubavu-Goma, the busiest Rwanda-DR Congo border from 50,000 people daily dip to about 10,000. Traffic at Rusizi-Bukavu also dipped to from 12,000 people to 3, 000 a day.

Imena Munyampenda, head of Rwanda Transport Development Agency told The EastAfrican works on Rusizi II, which involve putting up the physical border post infrastructure, its operationalization and integrated border management processes, will last for 15 months.

Efforts to bolster trade with DRC has also seen Kigali start rehabilitation on the road connecting the capital to the Rusizi-Bukavu border districts, alongside works on the four ports on Lake Kivu under a $24 million project to boost maritime transport and tourism slated for operationalisation in three years.

Latest data from Rwanda’s National Institute of Statistics’ formal external trade in goods report for the second quarter of 2021 show DR Congo emerge second as top destination for exports growing to $16.3 million in 2018 to $25.9 million this year.

“This border post will facilitate the mobility dimension of regional integration. It is also interesting that this is happening at time when there is discussions of DR Congo joining the East African Community. This is clearly an expression of political will between the two countries to deepen cooperation,” Justin Jarne Macdermott, Deputy Regional Director of International Organisation for Migration told The EastAfrican.