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Economy

How Congo's Civil Strife Drives Up Food Prices For All

Fleeing the conflict, Masisi
Fleeing the conflict, Masisi
Cosmas Mungazi and Mustapha Mulonda

MASISI - Every day at 6 a.m., a parking lot near a roundabout in this northeastern Congo city fills with minibuses, motorbikes and heavy cargo trucks. The atalakus (ticket sellers) shout out names of destinations: "Masisi! Nyabiondo!"

Passengers board with their packages: manufactured goods, drinks, salted fish...Everyone is pushing each another, trying to get the best seats on the available vehicles. Those in a hurry scramble onto the back of motorbikes; two passengers huddle behind a minibus driver. Once the buses are finally on the road, at each stop women run up to the buses with cheese and bottles of milk and rush around the vehicles, which are still moving, pushing and shoving to be the first to make a sale.

The same thing happens on the return journey. With the enormous number of displaced persons - 17,000 displaced in a town of only 20,000 residents - and NGO workers, Masisi is attracting waves of shopkeepers from the nearby city of Goma, who travel here to sell beer, clothes, soap, cosmetics and electronic products.

This is the commercial side of the fighting that broke out last spring in the eastern region of North Kivu over disputes around the implementation of a 2009 peace agreement that integrated National Congress Defence of the People (CNDP) rebels into the national army. The United Nations esimates that the violence has displaced nearly half a million people since April.

"The conflict between government forces and the M23 rebels seems to be calmer in the center of the Masisi territory, so thousands of people have started to flock here," says André Buhima Bahibika, deputy administrator of the territory.

A price surge

However, it is a situation that is only making matters worse for the displaced persons. "The manufactured products are extremely expensive. They must think that we have already recovered after losing everything in the war! Being displaced, I can't even afford the basics," says Célestin Sengi, originally from Nyamaboko, more than 30 kilometers away.

Farming products have also risen in price: "100 kilos of beans have gone from $50 to $55. Two years ago, it used to cost $40," says Sakina Bilingo, a vendor from Goma who regularly travels between the two towns.

Even though, traditionally, Masisi used to supply Goma with meat, a kilogram is now more expensive here than it is in the capital of the North Kivu region. "One kilogram now costs $5.50 in Masisi, whereas in Goma, it's between $2.25 and $2.50," Sakina Bilingo says.

The surge in prices is not only making life difficult for the residents, but also for the humanitarian workers. "I've been here for three months now, traveling often from Masisi to the most remote corners of the territory. I have been eating at the restaurants in Masisi, and they're charging the same rates as in Goma. I don't earn enough to pay these prices," says one humanitarian worker in Masisi.

For residents, this relatively peaceful period has been beneficial: "Masisi is coming back to life. But, due to the large presence of national and international humanitarian workers, there are more and more shop owners, who aren't taking into account our average incomes. Prices are becoming unbearable and I'm really struggling to feed my family," complains one resident, Bito Kalinga.

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Ideas

Joshimath, The Sinking Indian City Has Also Become A Hotbed Of Government Censorship

The Indian authorities' decision to hide factual reports on the land subsidence in Joshimath only furthers a sense of paranoia.

Photo of people standing next to a cracked road in Joshimath, India

Cracked road in Joshimath

@IndianCongressO via Twitter
Rohan Banerjee*

MUMBAI — Midway through the movie Don’t Look Up (2021), the outspoken PhD candidate Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) is bundled into a car, a bag over her head. The White House, we are told, wants her “off the grid”. She is taken to a warehouse – the sort of place where CIA and FBI agents seem to spend an inordinate amount of time in Hollywood movies – and charged with violating national security secrets.

The Hobson’s choice offered to her is to either face prosecution or suspend “all public media appearances and incendiary language relating to Comet Dibiasky”, an interstellar object on a collision course with earth. Exasperated, she acquiesces to the gag order.

Don’t Look Upis a satirical take on the collective apathy towards climate change; only, the slow burn of fossil fuel is replaced by the more imminent threat of a comet crashing into our planet. As a couple of scientists try to warn humanity about its potential extinction, they discover a media, an administration, and indeed, a society that is not just unwilling to face the truth but would even deny it.

This premise and the caricatured characters border on the farcical, with plot devices designed to produce absurd scenarios that would be inconceivable in the real world we inhabit. After all, would any government dealing with a natural disaster, issue an edict prohibiting researchers and scientists from talking about the event? Surely not. Right?

On January 11, the National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC), one of the centers of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), issued a preliminary report on the land subsidence issue occurring in Joshimath, the mountainside city in the Himalayas.

The word ‘subsidence’ entered the public lexicon at the turn of the year as disturbing images of cracked roads and tilted buildings began to emanate from Joshimath.

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