For some 150 disabled couriers in the Congolese city of Goma, ferrying the contents of commercial long-haul trucks across the border to Rwanda has served as their livelihood for decades.
Riding giant tricycles, it takes the men and women up to a week to deliver a whole lorry’s worth of goods to Rwandan buyers. Exonerated from export taxes, the arrangement has allowed them to make a living, albeit meagre, in one of the poorest countries in the world.
But today, Goma’s disabled couriers say President Joseph Kabila’s government has “left them for dead” after scrapping the exoneration, effectively stripping them of their livelihood.
Rocked by decades of war, some 15 percent of Congolese are estimated to be disabled (the government hasn’t released relevant statistics since the 1980s). Most people live on under $2 a day and have little access to even basic healthcare.
Patrick Pindu-di-Lusanga, one of the country’s leading disabled rights activists, estimated in 2012 that more than 90 percent of people with disabilities in the DRC are illiterate, unemployed, and live “in an unhealthy and inhumane environment”.
In September 2015, the DRC signed the UN’s Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD), which was praised internationally as a major step forward for the country’s disabled population.
But there are still no government programmes in place to address the needs of the country’s roughly 11 million disabled inhabitants.
“There is an interest from the ministry of social affairs in having a better legal framework in conformity with international standards,” Catherine Stubbe, who heads Handicap International’s DRC office, told FRANCE 24. “But in terms of social programmes, there is a lack of financial support.”
Daniel Shamamba Mutaka, head of the Goma Disabled Couriers’ Collective, agrees that decades of relentless poverty have led to a common indifference to the rights and needs of disabled people in the DRC. “We’re marginalised by society, by our neighbours, even by our own families,” he told FRANCE 24. “Because who can afford to help us? Nobody.”
“Corn flour, soap, almonds… We can move the contents of an entire lorry across the border in five days,” disabled courier Daniel Shamamba Mutaka (top centre) says.
Centose Barashinyora, 34, a former corn farmer, pulls up his trousers to show his prosthetics. Fleeing violence in 1997, he stepped on a mine and lost both legs.
Couriers on the Rwandan side of the border, where the roads are tarmacked. The tricycles cost up to $4,000, and are usually loaned by couriers.
Polio, car accidents, poor healthcare and decades of war are blamed for the DRC's high disability rate. Ildephonse Kakule, 38, suffers severe kyphosis.
“Since they changed the system we spend every last cent of what we earn on export taxes,” says Desiré Kakule Sivanzare. “Life has become unliveable.”
Bisimwa Mitima, 42, who has been a courier for 18 years, attracts a crowd when he pulls up to the Disabled Couriers’ Collective to complain about the new policy.
A polio survivor, 60-year-old François Lughima has been a courier for 30 years. “Even though we’re disabled, the border police search us everywhere now,” he says.
The Congolese government did not respond to a request for information on this story.
Sophie Pilgrim was a 2016 fellow with the International Women’s Media Foundation’s Africa Great Lakes Reporting Initiative. Additional reporting by FRANCE 24 Observer Charly Kasereka.
Date created : 2016-04-14