Kasongo made his way towards the water front.
The place was as usually crowded with people waiting to board their boats for different destinations.
It resembled an open air market.
People had assembled with all sorts of wares.
This was not just a voyage along the Congo River…it would also be an opportunity to make a living.
The journey would take at least 2 weeks from Kinshasa to Kisangani.
And this was the best case scenario because at times the length of the journey could stretch to about a month.
The boat they were to use was christened ‘Lubanga’ …a vessel who’s owner had kept on negotiating with fuel merchants for a discount to allow it to start moving.
The people were now getting agitated after a week of waiting.
Some of them had reached the point of demanding their money back.
But this was not just the best but their only option.
The road network linking the two cities is basically non-existent.
The Congo being the largest country in Sub-Saharan Africa is mostly covered by a dense forest at its centre.
This has created a myriad of logistical challenges for passengers wishing to access cities far-flung from Kinshasa like Kisangani and Lubumbashi.
Besides, some tracks linking these cities go through regions plagued by hostility.
The River Congo therefore helps connect these cities.
And that’s why Kasongo and others had to wait for the Lubanga.
He had been around for 5 days trying to give himself hope.
Hope that seemed distant but which would materialize within a few hours.
The vessel owner had secured fuel but still had to bribe some officials to allow for ‘safe’ passage.
Congo is an African nation pressed down by the weight of corruption.
A nation so rich in mineral resources yet who’s people are so impoverished.
A nation that has made many other’s wealthy yet its own people languish in squalor.
A nation with marauding militia groups rampaging sections of its expanses ready to pounce on any wealth that comes nearby.
And the Lubanga is one of those ‘wealthy’ vessels.
Packed with over 200 people and flanked by two barges each carrying approximately 50 people, the vessel is a gold mine for gunmen operating in the wild zones the Congo river ventures into.
But that notwithstanding, the Lubanga flows against the strong current of the mighty Congo.
Being the third longest river in Africa, it rises in the south from highlands of Katanga Province near Lubumbashi.
It flows majestically northwards leaving the cities of Goma, Kalemie and Bukavu to the East.
This troubled zone has seen its fair share of turmoil…
From the Banyamulenge uprising, the spill over of the war in Rwanda and Burundi to name but a few.
Numerous rebellions have been forged in Eastern Congo including the one that overthrew Mobutu Sese Seko, the one who named himself as the ‘most powerful warrior’ or Kuku Ngbendu wa Za Banga.
But his power was no match for Lauren Kabila, that battle hardened guerrilla fighter groomed by neighboring nations for the final invasion from the east.
These regions have gone through their fair share of turmoil.
So the flow of the Congo must offer a ray of hope to them.
It leaves the reaches of Eastern Congo as it snakes northwards towards Kisangani…the final destination of the Lubanga.
Except that the vessel will be approaching from the opposite direction.
Back to our boat story…
So Kasongo sat staring at the evening sky as the river voyage entered day 6.
Being in his early twenties, he had just secured a job as an electrician in Kisangani.
This trip was going to be important for him and his young family.
At the moment, he was traveling all alone in order to set up base to enable his family join him later.
He had squeezed himself into a corner where the vessel and one of the barges joined.
The space wasn’t even enough for sitting let alone sleeping.
Women and children, the old and the young, people of all walks of life crammed close to each other with a goal of reaching a common destination.
The Lubanga was a vessel like no other.
The crew maneuvered the best way they could.
Sailing upstream along the Congo was akin to maneuvering a field of landmines.
The risks were many including sand banks and unpredictable current that could capsize the boat.
Yet this misery was filled with a floodlight of hope.
A people rising up from a nation battered by war.
A people who don’t enjoy the advantages we do yet who choose to make each day better than the previous one.
After 12 days, the vessel docked at Mbandaka…about half way into the voyage.
Some passengers alighted as others sought to market their wares.
The boat suddenly reconverted into a floating market.
The journey ahead would be tougher than the one so far.
The risks would magnify not only to include the river but also man’s cruelty to man.
It would be no surprise if militiamen waylaid the vessel as it made the next turn.
Or if a strong current would sweep over the crowded vessel underwater.
Nothing beats the determination of those on board.
They are clinging onto the only hope they have to reach their destination.
They will not lose sight but trudge on.
Come what may, Kisangani, here we come.
VILLE DE KISANGANI
Fictional story inspired by ‘Free Documentaries‘