Crossing into the poorest country in the world - Congo

Wednesday 06 March 2013 11.16
There are no paved roads, few street lights, and few police for the people of Congo
There are no paved roads, few street lights, and few police for the people of Congo

In the first of his blogs from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, RTÉ's Ray Kennedy reports on crossing the border from Rwanda to the poorest country on earth.

You may not expect it, because many places in Africa struggle with poverty and strife. In fact, Rwanda is synonymous with it. Sitting in the troubled heart of central Africa.

But travel to Rwanda today and find a country reminiscent of an Asian holiday resort or even at times the Balearic Islands.

It is nonetheless a country in the shadow of the mid-90s genocide when over 200,000 were murdered. It may forever be known for that scar on the nation.

It still has many social issues, and the Hutu and Tutsi tribes that were at the centre of a country ripping itself apart in the 1994 war, live an uneasy peace together. They remember too - a giant national memorial reminds people what happened.

But as you drive on its smooth paved roads and look at its spotless pavements, all illuminated by street lighting and controlled by western style police cars, you are clearly in a country President Paul Kagame sees as being on the move.

Mr Kagame is originally of the Tutsi tribe, but to his credit, tribes are not mentioned these days and the population refers to themselves as Rwandan - part of the healing process.

But the striking thing about Rwanda is not this small central African country itself, but its giant troubled neighbour, Congo.

When I crossed the border here on Thursday, it stood for everything that can go wrong in Africa; when governance fails, when rebellion overcomes the countryside, when the people starve.

At the border between Rwanda and Congo, you must first present endless reams of paperwork and ID to Rwandan border guards.

Then you must walk across the frontier to the red wrought iron fence controlled by the Congolese army.

The walk lasts minutes, just a few hundred metres, but you pass into a country a century behind Rwanda and indeed most of its African neighbours, which themselves would be decades behind development in the west, according to any UN index.

This transition takes just a moment for the weary traveller though.

Now as you glance back at once troubled Rwanda, you are standing in the poorest country on Earth. To leave the Democratic Republic of Congo, you will need fresh reams of paperwork.

The people here have suffered decades of war over the rich minerals that line their hills.

Much like the rich pastures that Kipling correctly observed could feed the world many times over.

They still cultivate the steep slopes, but the people gain little from it.

This country can barely feed its own, let alone govern vast swathes of this the 11th largest country in the world.

In the undeveloped east, far from the capital Kinshasa, there are no paved roads and there are few street lights for the people of Congo.

Depending on what rebel group controls which sectors, there are few police, while UN troops are relied on for much of the security.

In fact there is little of anything.

In a seldom seen dark corner of Africa, millions are in dire need of help.

Ireland at one time had a large contingent of troops here. Serving with the UN, a number of the soldiers died here.

That was the early '60s and not much has changed.

This country is not one on the move, it is still in need of help and the reams of paperwork to get out are not easy to obtain. Even for a visitor like me.

The Rwandan border, for many, glistens in the distance.

Follow Ray Kennedy's journey on Twitter

Keywords: congo, rwanda