Expanding Internet Access in the DRCIn today’s digital age, the internet is a norm in many people’s lives, as nearly 4.66 billion active internet users exist worldwide. People use the internet for communication, research, gaming and e-commerce. Yet, most citizens of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have no access whatsoever to the internet. Only about 20 million people out of 100 million people living in the DRC have access to the internet. However, changes are occurring in the DRC. Nearly 9 million people in the last few years have gained access to the internet due to technology companies investing in the development of the internet in the DRC. Likewise, Liquid Intelligent Technologies (LIT) and Facebook are partnering to build a massive fiber network in the DRC. Here is some information about how they are expanding internet access in the DRC.

How LIT is Expanding Internet Access in the DRC

Liquid Intelligent Technologies plans on building a 2,000-kilometer-long fiber-optic cable network from the DRC to the Atlantic Ocean. From there, it will connect with the 2Africa submarine cable system, which Facebook has a major role in developing.

On completion, the undersea cable network will better connect the DRC to Europe and the Middle East. It will help complete LIT’s two-year-long project to build a vast digital pathway from the Atlantic Ocean connecting to East Africa and the Indian Ocean, where millions of people would gain access to the internet. In addition, it will bridge the democratic republic with its neighboring countries of Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda and Zambia.

Facebook has invested in this operation and helped plan the fiber network, but LIT will be the company to build and own the fibre network. It also plans to provide internet service providers and services to network operators to take advantage of the fibre network. Thus, the company estimates that nearly 30 million people in the DRC will gain access to the internet.

However, the effort that is necessary will not be easy. “This is one of the most difficult fibre builds ever undertaken, crossing more than 2,000 km of some of the most challenging terrain in the world,” said Nic Rudnick, CEO of Liquid Intelligent Technologies. To help build the network, LIT will hire nearly 5,000 locals from communities in the Congo, employing many people and families in the DRC.

Why Internet Access in the Congo is Nonexistent

Government policies on censorship and high Wi-Fi costs ensure that the Congolese have no access to the internet. The government passed a censorship policy in 2002, called law No. 013/2002, which has the power to control telecommunications in the DRC. It grants the government the power to control telecommunications to defend the public or in the interest of national security. If telecommunication companies don’t comply with this law, they risk getting their operating licenses terminated. This forces many ISPs to shut off the internet.

Due to manipulation of this law, the Democratic Republic of Congo has cut off the internet, text-messaging services and social media services multiple times such as Facebook, YouTube and WhatsApp to stifle civil and peaceful protests occurring in the country. In addition, the country is suffering economically as it is losing $2 million every day due to the termination of internet services.

Buying one gigabyte of mobile broadband data in the DRC costs a staggering 26% of monthly income. This makes the DRC the most expensive country to get access to the internet in the world because there are no rules regulating caps on internet prices. Additionally, customers bear the burden of high taxes on telecommunication companies. These reasons allow telecommunication companies to raise prices to an extreme.

Companies like Liquid Intelligent Technologies are expanding internet access in the DRC. However, the government will need to make changes in censorship policies on the internet, to ensure every Congolese can experience the joys of the internet.

Matthew Port Louis
Photo: Flickr

Mutombo CoffeeOver a span of 18 years, Dikembe Mutombo built a Hall of Fame NBA career that made his name synonymous with stifling defense and a trademark finger wag. In 1997, he established the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation with the mission to improve the lives of people in his native country of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Mutombo also recently established Mutombo Coffee to revive the Congolese coffee industry.

Congolese Coffee

A major accomplishment of the Foundation is the construction of a 170-bed hospital in Kinshasa, the capital of the DRC. The hospital opened in 2007 and was built in memory of Mutombo’s mother. The hospital services anybody in need, regardless of their ability or inability to pay.

While certainly impressive and commendable, Mutombo’s latest endeavor involves building a thriving coffee industry in the DRC. “Rebuilding” is actually the proper term to use when describing the DRC’s coffee economy. In the 1980s, coffee was the country’s second-largest export, providing approximately $164 million to the economy. Connoisseurs prized Congolese coffee and rain-rich, volcanic soils in the Lake Kivu region provided ideal growing conditions.

However, recent decades of conflict and instability, much of it centered in the country’s coffee-growing east, have decimated output. Many Congolese people live without the infrastructure needed to safely operate their farms and easily reach international markets.

Mutombo Coffee

Mutombo announced the creation of a new coffee company in the first few months of 2021. He has placed special weight on not only providing economic sustainability and fair wages for farmers but spotlighting the unsung efforts of women farmers in the industry. The emphasis is especially significant given the DRC’s infamous struggles with sexual violence. Additionally, his work is important given that in 2018 an estimated 73% of the Congolese population lived on less than $1.90 a day. As the chair of the international distribution company, Cajary Majlis, Mutombo partnered with the DMCC Coffee Centre to bring coffee from the DRC to other parts of Africa and Dubai. Mutombo hopes to extend the coffee’s reach even further.

Perils of Congolese Coffee Farming

The Congolese wars between 1996 and 2002 significantly impacted the country’s export industry. Coffee farmers were forced to make a dangerous journey across Lake Kivu in small boats to smuggle their crops into Rwanda and neighboring countries. Locals estimate that 2,000 drowned making these trips. Those who made it were forced to accept below-market value prices for the coffee out of desperation.

Fortunately, many farmers no longer have to undertake this ordeal. The development of regional cooperative associations with stable international supply links has reduced some of the hurdles. However, numerous challenges still remain. Grenades and mines lie waiting in thickets around crops. Also, more than one hundred armed groups, such as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda and the Allied Democratic Forces, still operate in the eastern DRC. Abductions and kidnappings also happen with some regularity, putting farming families at risk.

Bureaucracy and taxes pose additional hurdles and can reach as much as 13% of a shipment’s value. This total is far higher than in neighboring countries. Frequent delays involved in moving goods across the DRC border can needlessly increase prices even further.

Building a Market

There is also disagreement regarding the optimal strategy for marketing DRC coffee. Some argue the product needs to be sold at the lowest possible price in the highest possible quantities to reestablish the beans around the globe and compete with neighboring countries. Others believe higher prices targeting the burgeoning specialty coffee market are ideal. Congolese coffee shop owners say there needs to be more emphasis on building a domestic market.

Mutombo sees promise in his native country and so do others. A partnership funded by USAID, the Howard G. Buffet Foundation, Catholic Relief Services, Eastern Congo Initiative and World Coffee Research committed a four-year-long effort to help Congo’s coffee industry. The effort led to 4,000 farmers exporting their own coffee, which Starbucks sold in 2015.

Financial aid is flowing in to redevelop the region, and despite the obvious challenges, hope is on the horizon. With Mutombo’s track record of success and the personal touch of a native Congolese committed to prioritizing people over profits, Mutombo Coffee seems primed to bolster a region hungry to rebuild and thrive.

Jackson Fitzsimmons
Photo: Flickr

CongoThe Democratic Republic of the Congo has one of the highest poverty rates and one of the worst healthcare systems in Sub-Saharan Africa. The country’s struggle with healthcare is related to many other socio-economic issues the country struggles with.

Healthcare in the Congo is not guaranteed for its citizens. This is due to long-lasting poverty and a lack of healthcare efficiency in the country. Since there are no hospitals in the Congo that offer free care, each patient must pay. Medical bills can range anywhere from $50 to $100. However, the average annual salary in the Congo is just $400, making the medical costs prohibitively expensive. And, in addition to 71% of the population living in poverty, the law does not require that people have access to healthcare despite their economic standing.

The Healthcare System in the Congo

Armed conflict has consistently damaged the country’s ability to improve healthcare facilities for decades. The lack of stability associated with the conflict has exacerbated the situation.

Per 10,000 people, the nation has 0.28 doctors and 1.91 nurses and midwives. In the Congo, the staff in the healthcare industry and the level of care have declined. There is no coordination structure in place to enable health worker training organizations to take current health system needs into account. In training schools, there is a lack of physical and financial resources. Patients must schedule an appointment with their physicians in order to be evaluated. In most cases, physicians see patients on specific days out of the week. Thus, patients must wait for lengthy periods of time to be treated due to the limited range of health centers with doctors.

There are currently 401 hospitals in the Congo. Moreover, small towns have limited access to primary treatment and, as such, many residents continue to struggle to access appropriate medical care. These hospitals also fail to maintain the tools and supplies needed to meet most of the patients’ health concerns. Because of armed conflict, among other reasons, hospitals often run out of critical prescriptions and materials needed for different services.

Plan for Improvement

The Republic of Congo has successfully developed a draft for a national strategy, Plan National de Développement des Ressources Humaines Pour la Santé (PNDRHS), with the ultimate goal of improving the medical staff development system, training and administration. This plan aims to expand the education programs for health workers and on-the-job practice to meet the community’s medical needs. It also aims to help motivate and encourage health staff to ensure their performance and accessibility.

Cordaid, a credible institution with significant experience in the Congo, gained a GPSA award for strengthening the consistency and accessibility of critical medical facilities in the country. As a result, hospitals and clinics have been able to receive new appliances. Additionally, Cordaid has successfully achieved upgrades to water pumps and prenatal care units for healthcare centers in recent years.

Overall, due to strengthened management, cooperation and investments in critical healthcare issues, the country has made significant progress in recent years. For example, the nation has been polio-free for four years. This is a significant accomplishment considering its scale and lack of healthcare facilities, and a sign of improvement yet to come.

– Rand Lateef
Photo: Flickr