The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) faces what is probably the most daunting infrastructure challenge on the African continent. As a result of the conflict, networks have been seriously damaged or left to deteriorate, with about half of existing infrastructure assets in need of rehabilitation. Even before the conflict, the lack of basic infrastructure made it difficult to knit together the country’s disparate economic and population centers. The country’s vast geography, low population density, extensive forestlands, and crisscrossing rivers further complicate the development of infrastructure networks.
Since the return of peace, there have been promising signs. Notably, a privately funded global system for mobile communications (GSM) telephone network now provides a signal to two-thirds of the population at a reasonable cost. Significant external funding has been captured to rebuild the country’s tattered road network. And there has been an increase in domestic air routes served as well as a renewal of the aircraft fleet operated by private airlines only. The country is endowed with the largest hydropower resources in Africa, giving it the potential to not only meet its own energy demands very cost-effectively but to become the continent’s largest power exporter. Meanwhile, the country’s inland waterways can provide low-cost surface transport, with only relatively modest investments needed to improve navigability (To that effect, under a five year World Bank project reported to have started in 2010, around 10,000 new or replacement markings are being installed along the navigable section of the Lualaba River, mainly the section (Ubundu-Kindu (308 km) and Kongolo-Bukama (645 km) that complement the SNCC railroad network along the Lubumbashi-Kisangani Corridor.
Also included in the program are the Mogalo-Oubangui section of the Lua river (141 km) and the Businga-Mobeka section of the Mongala river (342 km) in the agricultural rich North-Western part of the country (Equateur Province) to improve both day and night time navigation.
As part of the activity, the hydrometric network is also under rehabilitation through the installation of scales and depth gauging sections. These interventions complement the waterway rehabilitation activities supported by the European Union (EU) through the 10th European Development Fund (EDF) and the Belgian Technical Cooperation (BTC) and improve the integration of the intermodal network with SNCC regarding the West-South Corridor and the South-North Corridor as outlined on the Map below:
Source: RVF, 2010
But much still remains to be done.
One of the DRC’s most urgent infrastructure challenges is to increase the generation of power and deliver it in a more cost-effective manner. Close to half the existing plants require refurbishment, and capacity must increase by 35 percent over the next decade just to meet domestic demand. Both road and rail infrastructure are in dilapidated condition, while the latter has also fallen into disuse. As the DRC embarks on a massive road investment program, an adequate financial and institutional basis will be essential to maintain the network going forward.
To rebuild the country and catch up with the rest of the developing world, the DRC needs to spend $5.3 billion a year over the next decade, or 75 percent of the 2006 GDP. Of this total, as much as $1.1 billion a year needs to be devoted to maintenance alone. Without increasing spending or improving efficiency, the DRC would take more than a century to redress the country’s infrastructure deficit. This is clearly an unacceptable outcome, and underscores the urgency of action in this area.