From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Diagrammatic Map of ground and water transport in the DR Congo in
2000 (roads) and 2006 (waterways and railways)
Ground transport in the Democratic
Republic of Congo (DRC) has always been difficult. The
terrain and climate of the Congo Basin present serious barriers to
road and rail construction, and the distances are enormous across
this vast country. Furthermore, chronic economic mismanagement and
internal conflict has led to serious under-investment over many
On the other hand, the DRC
has thousands of kilometres of navigable waterways, and traditionally
water transport has been the dominant means of moving around
approximately two-thirds of the country.
As an illustration of transport difficulties in the DRC, even
before wars damaged the infrastructure, the so-called "national"
route, used to get supplies to Bukavu from the seaport of Matadi, consisted of the following:
In other words, goods had to be loaded and unloaded eight times
and the total journey would take many months.
Many of the routes listed below are in poor condition and may be
operating at only a fraction of their original capacity (if at
all), despite recent attempts to make improvements. Up to 2006 the
United Nations Joint
Logistics Centre (UNJLC) had an operation in Congo to support
humanitarian relief agencies working there,
and its bulletins and maps about the transport situation are
archived on the UNJLC web site.
Congo Wars saw great destruction of transport infrastructure
from which the country has not yet recovered. Many vehicles were
destroyed or commandeered by militias, especially in the north and east of
the country, and the fuel supply system was also badly affected.
Consequently, outside of Kinshasa, Matadi and Lubumbashi, private and commercial road
transport is almost non-existent and traffic is scarce even where
roads are in good condition. The few vehicles in use outside these
cities are run by the United Nations, aid agencies, the DRC
government, and a few larger companies such as those in the mining
and energy sectors. It is notable that high-resolution satellite
photos on the Internet show large cities such as Bukavu, Butembo and Kikwit virtually devoid of traffic, compared to
similar photos of towns in neighbouring countries.
Air transport is the only effective means of moving between many
places within the country. The Congolese government, the United
Nations, aid organisations and large companies use air rather than
ground transport to move personnel and freight. The UN operates a
large fleet of aircraft and helicopters, and compared to other
African countries the DRC has a large number of small domestic
airlines and air charter companies. The transport (and smuggling)
of minerals with a high value for weight is also carried out by
air, and in the east, some stretches of paved road isolated by
destroyed bridges or impassable sections have been turned into
For the ordinary citizen though, especially in rural areas,
often the only options are to cycle, walk or go by dugout
Some parts of the DRC are more accessible from neighbouring
countries than from Kinshasa. For example Bukavu itself and Goma and other north-eastern towns
are linked by paved road from the DRC border to the Kenyan port of Mombasa, and most goods for these cities have
been brought via this route in recent years. Similarly, Lubumbashi and the rest
of Katanga Province is linked to Zambia, through which the paved
highway and rail networks of Southern Africa can be accessed. Such
links through neighbouring countries are generally more important
for the east and south-east of the country, and are more heavily
used, than surface links to the capital.
In 2007 China agreed to lend
the DRC US$5bn for two major transport infrastructure projects to
link mineral-rich Katanga, specifically Lubumbashi, by rail to an
ocean port (Matadi) and by
road to the Kisangani river port, and to improve its links to the
transport network of Southern Africa in Zambia. The two projects
would also link the major parts of the country not served by water
transport, and the main centres of the economy. Loan repayments
will be from concessions for raw materials which China desperately
needs: copper, cobalt, gold and nickel, as well as by toll revenues
from the road and railway. In the face of reluctance by the
international business community to invest in DRC, this represents
a revitalisation of DRC's infrastructure much needed by its
The China Railway Seventh Group Co. Ltd will be in charge of the
contract, under signed by the China Railway
Engineering Corporation, with construction to be started from
The national system is mostly operated by the Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer du
Congo (SNCC). Not all rail lines link up, but are generally
connected by river transport. The rail systems are listed
Railway: From Matadi Harbour to Kinshasa via Songolo, Kimpese, Mbanza-Ngungu
and Kasangulu, operated by ONATRA, 1,067 mm (3
ft 6 in) gauge, originally constructed as 750 mm (2 ft 51⁄2 in)
three trains a week. This
line is a bypass of the Livingstone Falls on the Congo River,
known as a portage railway. Upstream from the
Kinshasa river port, water transport reaches about two-thirds of
the country. The line lost traffic to road transport when the
Matadi-Kinshasa road was re-established in 2000, and it is now
planned to revitalise it with Chinese help. An
agreement was signed in July 2006 between ONATRA and a Chinese
company (CMIC) which will renovate the track, trains,
telecommunications, signal system and electric supply.
- Vicicongo line: Bumba (Congo
river port) - Aketi - Buta - Likati - Isiro - Mungbere, with branch lines to Bondo and Titule; 600 mm (1 ft 115⁄8 in)
narrow gauge. This system is not operational, and was described by
UNJLC in 2006 as 'very degraded'. A few trains ran in 2002/3. The
line is not mentioned in the UNJLC description of the network. That
and its very narrow gauge suggest it may be abandoned.
- Great lakes line first section: Kisangani (Congo River
port) to Ubundu (upper Congo
River port), 1,000 mm (3
ft 33⁄8 in). This
line is a bypass (portage railway) of the Stanley Falls on the
Congo River. A train runs after arrival at Kisangani of a ship from
Kinshasa or before departure of a ship to Kinshasa, which may
happen about every 2 to 3 month, no fixed schedule. There is no
connecting boat service between Ubundu and Kindu on the Lualaba River (the upper Congo).
- Great lakes line second section: Kindu (Lualaba River port) -
Kibombo – Kongolo – Kabalo (Lualaba River port and
junction with Katanga line) - Nyunzu – Niemba – Kalemie (the port on Lake Tanganika), 1,067 mm (3
ft 6 in). This line was 1,000 mm (3 ft 33⁄8 in)
gauge like the first section until 1955, when the gauge was changed
for the connection with the Katanga line in 1956. Just north of
Kongolo, the Lualaba is unnavigable due to the rapids named
Portes D'Enfer ('Gates of Hell'). The track between
Kalemie and Niemba is described by UNJLC in 2006 as 'very degraded'
and may not be operational, although it has been travelled by
tourists as recently as 2007. Boats
to Moba and Kalundu-Uvira on Lake Tanganyika used to connect
with trains at Kalemie. In 1917 a train ferry was introduced on the lake
operating from Kalemie, but is long gone.
- Katanga line: Kabalo (Lualaba River port and
junction with Great Lakes line) – Kamungu - Katumba – Kabongo (or a town
8 km south-east) – Kamina
(junction with Kasia line) - Bukama (Lualaba River port) – Tenke
(junction with Benguela Railway)- Likasi – Lubumbashi - Sakania - Zambia, 1,067
mm (3 ft 6 in). There are a number of short
branch lines in the mining areas between Tenke and Kolwezi. The
section from near Kabongo to Kamina was described by UNJLC in 2006
as 'very degraded'.
- Kasai line: Ilebo (Kasai River port) – Kananga – Mwene Ditu – Kaniama - Kamina
(junction with Katanga line), 1,067 mm (3
ft 6 in). This connects the Katanga line to the
river port at Ilebo from where boats can reach Kinshasa. Freight is
transferred to river barges, but in 2006 UNJLC reports the river
service operates sporadically. On 1 August 2007 a passenger train
rain out of control on the line 170 km north-west of Kananga
and 7 coaches overturned, killing about 100 people.
- Katanga-Benguela line: A branch of the Katanga
Railway was built from Tenke junction just north-west of Likasi via
Kolwezi to Dilolo at the Angolan border to connect with the Benguela Railway 1,067 mm (3
ft 6 in) from Luau to the Atlantic port of Lobito. This allowed through
passenger trains to run between Lubumbashi and Lobito, and freight
trains to carry copper from the Zambian and Katangan Copperbelts to a seaport
for the export of copper. It
was this purpose which provided the investment for the Benguela
Railway. Unfortunately it has not operated through Angola since the
1970s, due to the civil war there. Currently the line between
Kolwezi and Dilolo is described by UNJLC in 2006 as 'very
The following lines have been completely removed and are not
listed for future rehabilitation:
- Mayumbe line: Boma to Tshela, 1889–1984, 610 mm (2 ft)
removed in 1984.
- Kivu Railway: Kalundu-Uvira-Kamaniola (- Bukavu), 1931–1958,
1,067 mm (3
ft 6 in) gauge.
4772 km (2002), 5138 km (1995);
- 3621 km 1,067 mm (3
ft 6 in) gauge (858 km electrified);
- 125 km 1,000 mm (3
ft 33⁄8 in)
gauge; (2002) ev. transformed to
1,067 mm (3
ft 6 in) gauge in 1955
- 1026 km 600 mm (1
ft 115⁄8 in)
- 3987 km 1,067 mm (3
ft 6 in) gauge (858 km electrified);
Railway links to adjacent
There is only one currently functioning international link:
This link is not operating:
- yes - same gauge - 1,067
mm (3 ft 6 in), but link to the port of Benguela has been unusable
since the 1970s.
There are boat links to rail lines in these neighbouring
These neighbouring countries have rail systems, but there are no
links from the Congo:
These neighbouring countries have no rail systems: Central African
- In September 2007 it was reported that China would provide US$5
billion for new infrastructure projects including rehabilitation
and construction of new sections to link Sakania and Lubumbashi to Matadi (3200 km), to be completed in 3
- A line from Uganda to Kasese was proposed in 2005.
served by rail
The Democratic Republic of the Congo has fewer all-weather paved
highways than any country of its population and size in Africa — a
total of 2250 km, of which only 1226 km is in good
condition (see below). To put this in perspective, the road
distance across the country in any direction is more than
2500 km (eg Matadi to Lubumbushi, 2700 km by road). The
figure of 2250 km converts to 35 km of paved road per
1,000,000 of population. Comparative figures for Zambia (one of the
poorest African countries) and Botswana (one of the richest) are
580 km and 3427 km respectively.
The total road network in 2005, according to UNJLC:-
total: 171,250 km
paved: 2,250 km
unpaved: 15,000 km
tracks 43,000 km
country roads 21,000 km
local roads or footpaths 90,000 km
However, a DRC government document shows
that, also in 2005, the network of main highways in good condition
was as follows:
paved: 1,226 km
unpaved: 607 km
UNJLC also points out that the pre-Second Congo War network no longer
exists, and is dependent upon 20,000 bridges and 325 ferries, most of which are
in need of repair or replacement.
The 2000 Michelin Motoring and Tourist Map 955 of Southern and
Central Africa, which categorises roads as surfaced, 'improved'
(generally unsurfaced but with gravel added and graded), 'partially
improved' and 'earth roads' and 'tracks' shows there were
2694 km of paved highway in 2000, indicating that, compared to
the more recent figures above, rather than improving there has been
a deterioration this decade.
UNJLC reports that, although the road network is theoretically
divided into four categories (national roads, priority regional
roads, secondary regional roads and local roads), this
classification is of little practical use because some roads simply
do not exist. For example, National Road 9 is not operational and
cannot be detected by remote sensing methods.
The two principal highways are:
- National Road No. 1 connecting the Atlantic seaports with
Kinshasa and southeast Katanga, the most important economic area of
the country due to its copper and other mines.
- National Road No. 2, Kisangani-Bukavu–Goma,
connecting the principal waterway systems of the country, namely
Kinshasa-Kisangani on the Congo River and the Lake Kivu and Lake
Tanganyika systems on the eastern edge of the country. This road
was cut during the war and as of July 2007 was not in use south of
Walikale. Note that the so-called Kinshasa Highway is not a physical
road but a metaphor applied to the route by which AIDS is believed to have been spread east through
Uganda and Kenya and neighbouring countries by truck drivers from
the Congo. In the DR Congo the only highway which physically
matches the route is National Road No. 2, and most passengers and
freight moving between Kinshasa and that road goes by boat along
the Congo River.
Three routes in the Trans-African Highway
network pass through DR Congo:
Town Highway: this route crosses the western extremity of the
country on National Road No. 1 between Kinshasa and Matadi, a distance of 285 km
on one of the only paved sections in fair condition.
- Lagos-Mombasa Highway: the DR Congo is the
main missing link in this east-west highway and requires a new road
to be constructed before it can function.
- Beira-Lobito Highway: this east-west
highway crosses Katanga and
requires re-construction over most of its length, being an earth
track between the Angolan
border and Kolwezi, a paved
road in very poor condition between Kolwezi and Lubumbashi, and a paved
road in fair condition over the short distance to the Zambian border.
The DRC has more navigable rivers and moves more passengers and
goods by boat and ferry than any other country in Africa. Kinshasa,
with 7 km of river frontage occupied by wharfs and jetties, is
the largest inland
waterways port on the continent. However, much of the
infrastructure — vessels and port handling facilities — has, like
the railways, suffered from poor maintenance and internal
The total length of waterways is estimated at 15,000 km
including the Congo
River, its tributaries, and unconnected lakes.
The 1000-kilometre Kinshasa-Kisangani route on the Congo River is the
longest and best-known. It is operated by river tugs pushing
several barges lashed together, and for the hundreds of passengers
and traders these function like small floating towns. Rather than
mooring at riverside communities along the route, traders come out
by canoe and small boat alongside the river barges and transfer
goods on the move.
Most waterway routes do not operate to regular schedules. It is
common for an operator to moor a barge at a riverside town and
collect freight and passengers over a period of weeks before hiring
a river tug to tow or push the barge to its destination.
via inland waterways
- Kinshasa is linked to Brazzaville (Republic of the Congo) by regular
boat and ferry services 3.5 km across the Congo River.
- Kinshasa and other river ports via the Ubangui River to Bangui (Central African
- Goma and Bukavu on Lake
Kivu to Gisenyi, Kibuye and Cyangugu in Rwanda.
- Kalemie, Kulundu-Uvira and Moba on Lake Tanganyika to Kigoma
(Tanzania), Bujumbura (Burundi) and Mpulungu (Zambia).
- Kasenga and Pweto on the Luapula River-Lake Mweru system to Nchelenge, Kashikishi and Kashiba in Zambia.
- Lake Albert: two small ports on
the DRC side, Kisenye near Bunia
and Mahadi-Port in the north can link to Ugandan ports at Butiabo and Pakwach (served by Uganda Railways) on
the Albert Nile, which is navigable as far as
Nimule in southern Sudan. Water transport is conducted
principally in small craft, and commercial water transport is
- Lake Edward:
located within national parks, settlements are small, water
transport is conducted principally in small craft, commercial water
transport is absent.
Domestic links via inland
The middle Congo River and its tributaries from the east are the
principal domestic waterways in the DRC. The two principal river
See the diagrammatic transport map above for other river
The most-used domestic lake waterways are:
- Kalemie to Kalundu-Uvira on Lake Tanganyika
- Bukavu to Goma on Lake Kivu
- Fimi River to Inongo on Lake
- Irebu on the Congo to Bikoro on Lake Tumba
- Kasenga to Pweto on the Luapula-Mweru system
- Kisenye to Mahadi-Port on Lake Albert.
petroleum products 390 km
1 petroleum tanker
Kemal Saiki, a United Nations spokesman, said that the
Democratic Republic of the Congo does not "even have 2,000 miles of
roads" and that many people traveling around the country fly on
The main airlines of the country are Hewa Bora
Airways, Bravo Air Congo, and Wimbi Dira
Airways. All of their hubs are at Kinshasa's N'djili
The country had 229 airports in 2002 and 232 around 1999.
Airports - with paved
over 3,047 m: 4
2,438 to 3,047 m: 2
1,524 to 2,437 m: 16
914 to 1,523 m: 2 (2002 est.)
Airports - with unpaved
1,524 to 2,437 m: 19
914 to 1,523 m: 95
under 914 m: 91 (2002 est.)
All air carriers certified by the Democratic Republic of the
Congo have been banned from operating at airports in the European
Community by the European Commission, because of inadequate safety
- August 1 train derailment kills 100, many riding on roof.
- Tim Butcher:
Blood River - A Journey To Africa's Broken Heart, 2007.