Tackling Kasumbalesa security challenges
Published On February 23, 2014 » 3796 Views» By Davies M.M Chanda » Features
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KASUMBALESA, Zambia’s border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was recently a hive of activity emanating from the harassment and victimisation of truck drivers at the hands of Congolese nationals.
The harassment of truck drivers, which ultimately has led to the death of some of them after being shot at like was the case with Patrick Mwila, 28, a Zambian truck driver.
Mr Mwila was shot dead on January, 29 this year by a Congolese soldier as he tried to retrieve a number plate the soldier had ripped off his truck.
This was after Mr Mwila had allegedly refused to bribe the soldier who demanded US$10 (about K55) to enable him jump a queue of other truck drivers who were waiting to be cleared at a dry port called Wisky, situated a few kilometres from Kasumbalesa border post.
The killing of Mr Mwila seemed to have certainly aggravated already existing wounds among international truck drivers as it was coming from a backdrop of similar unpleasant incidences in which a Zimbabwean driver was shot at and wounded before another Zambian driver, Derick Chanda was burnt to ashes alongside his truck by Congolese nationals.
The two are just but a few of the many truck drivers who have fallen victim of the Congolese brutal assault on foreign nationals who have had the courage of setting their foot in the DRC territory.
The shooting to death of Mr Mwila brought to the fore one plain truth of unguaranteed safety and security that has been a source of concern for many people crossing into the DRC.
A number of people who have had an opportunity of crossing into DRC have time and again raised alarm of how they have suffered harassment and victimisation even at the hands of security personnel who are expected to guarantee their safety and security.
And when people and truck drivers in particular complained of lack of safety and security whilst in the DRC, their complaints only seemed to be genuine when something nasty like the killing of Mr Mwila and other drivers before him happened.
This is no wonder international truck drivers refused to take the death of Mr Mwila lightly as seen from their five-day boycott that caused hundreds of trucks to be marooned on both sides of the border post.
The boycott presented a perfect opportunity for stakeholders who included international truck drivers, the Zambian Government, and their DRC counterparts to seat at a roundtable and dissect the boiling issues involving harassment and victimisation of people.
Copperbelt Minister Mwenya Musenge led the Zambian Government delegation while Interior Minister for Katanga Province Juvenile Kitungwa led the DRC delegation with the international Truck Drivers Associations represented by their leaders led by chairperson Stanley Muluka and general secretary Mwape Yoyo.
From the word go, it was clear on the part of the irate drivers that they were going to stop at nothing to ensure that they delivered home their message of displeasure as they had prepared a list containing their demands to the two governments.
Mr Yoyo was first to read out the drivers’ demands directed to the Zambian Government highlighting what measures they wanted taken to improve operations at the border post.
“We feel the Zambian Government to an extent is to blame for the killings of our colleagues because these atrocities are usually committed on the drivers whilst in a queue waiting for clearance to cross the border into Zambia,” Mr Yoyo said.
He attributed the queue to what he said lack of efficiency on the part of customs officials on the Zambian border side to clear trucks crossing the border.
Mr Yoyo said it was in this vein that they were demanding to the Zambian Government to among other things increase the border post operation hours by extending the closing time from 18:00 hours to 20:00 hours.
He said it was also their demand that Government should engage more cashiers at the border post as well as open the old border entry route which was closed after the construction of the new Kasumbalesa border post.
“If the old route can be opened, empty trucks coming from DRC can use the same route and this will lessen congestion at the border post,” he said.
Mr Yoyo said furthermore, as drivers, they wanted Government to create a parking bay on the Zambian side  preferably in Chililabombwe  for trucks waiting clearance to park there.
This, he said, would help lessen congestion at the border post as trucks would not need to wait there while waiting for clearance to cross the border.
“It is the congestion here that has been leading to trucks crossing from DRC forming a long queue that side so what we want is a parking space here in Zambia to allow trucks to cross and park from here where we are guaranteed of security and safety while awaiting clearance,” he said.
These were just but a few of the drivers demands as they had more to give to the DRC government for its attention.
Mr Muluka who was the bearer of the drivers’ message to the DRC government demanded that the Congolese authorities should reduce the number of security personnel carrying guns as they were using the fire arms on innocent people.
He said their other demand was that the DRC government should compensate all the families of drivers that had been killed and injured after being shot at whilst in that country.
“What assurance and promises are there to be given that if we started going into DRC we are going to come back safely and this is why we are demanding to have these issues we have raised to be first addressed before we can resume crossing into DRC,” he asked.
From these demands, it was clear to the Katanga Province Interior Minister that the international drivers meant business and that what was going to move them was more than mere promises as had been the case.
Mr Kitungwa made it clear from his lengthy talk to drivers and the Zambian government that the impact of the truck drivers’ boycott was having an adverse effect on that country’s economy, which largely depended on the road network for haulage of goods particularly minerals being exported out of  the country.
He started his address by urging all involved parties to work together in addressing the problem of shooting as well as harassment and victimisation against trucks in that country.
“The DRC government is committed to making efforts to improve the safety and security for truck drivers but what you need to understand is that the country is currently going through a difficult period because of the wars and infighting which is not allowing us to move forward,” Mr Kitungwa said.
He said it was because of this infighting and the presence of militias in that country that had caused a lot of  police officers to be armed with weapons.
He also agreed with the drivers over their concerns of  harassment and victimisation at the hands of security personnel but blamed this on high levels of corruption among the men and women in uniform, which the DRC government was working hard to address.
Mr Kitungwa, however, accepted that the DRC government was going to compensate the family of Mr Mwila as he was killed by a soldier of that country.
He also said that issues of compensation for other truck drivers that had been killed in DRC would be pursued by his government with insurance companies in that company.
Mr Kitungwa who regretted the death of Mr Mwila and conveyed condolences to the irate drivers said the DRC government was committed to addressing all the drivers’ concerns regarding their security and safety whilst in the DRC.
“We are doing everything possible to ensure that we improve on security and safety of the drivers because we do realise that you are very important to our country which depends on vehicle transport to ferry products such as copper,” Mr Kitungwa said.
It was upon hearing these assurances that the truck drivers agreed to call off their boycott of crossing into DRC.
But with a day barely gone, another Zimbabwean truck driver Joseph Howard, 52, was killed in cold-blood by unknown people while in a queue on the Zambian side trying to cross into DRC.
The shooting reignited tension on the border as Zambians directed their anger on the Congolese nationals flooding the Zambian territory.
This raised the already contentious issue of security and safety raised by the drivers who had expressed displeasure at the influx of Congolese nationals on the Zambian border side.
Home Affairs Minister Ngosa Simbyakula and Inspector General of Police Stella Libongani did not need to think again on the need to tighten security around the border post when they visited the area to check on security situations following the chaotic scenes sparked by the killings of the two drivers.
Other questions that beg answers include why should an armed soldier aim at a defenceless driver who is not armed.
There must be something the ordinary eye cannot see that raises emotions of the soldiers to open fire on drivers.

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