If you’re a regional road haulier serving Haut Katanga province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), you could be forgiven for claiming the abbreviation stands for “dereliction, rot and corruption”.
Just ask a truck driver using the North-South Corridor (NSC) – if it can even be called that with all the corruption, congestion, and non-tariff barrier issues transporters have to contend with on this route.
Nowhere is this contention more starkly exposed than at the NSC’s northern extremity, where long-distance drivers are expected to bribe their way past customs officials and law enforcers brazenly asking for handouts.
Ordinarily, elsewhere in southern Africa, a bribe request is usually prefixed with “what can you give me?”
But in the DRC it’s become so systemic that “corruption is part of the system”, says Mike Fitzmaurice of the Federation of East and Southern African Road Transport Associations (Fesarta).
In ongoing discussions about the practice of transporters being forcibly diverted by officials to use a hellish alternative dirt track and exit post on return trips south, the NGO’s chief executive emphasised that there was nothing to be done about it.
The $50 irregular fee that drivers have to pay on empty-leg journeys south, apparently, is just one of those things.
“That’s how it works. Either you accept it or you don’t but nothing’s going to change.”
At least the Mokambo Road from the main crossing of Kasumbalesa between Haut Katanga and Zambia’s Copperbelt Province is safe, free from the political violence sporadically flaring up closer to the mining areas of Lubumbashi and Kolwezi.
As for the Mokambo Road itself – “it’s a mess”, said Fitzmaurice.
When the rains come, as is currently the case, “it becomes a muddy trench, taking ages for truck drivers to use”.
Usage of the road in the past was often compulsory, with back-hauls diverted that way to alleviate congestion at Kasumbalesa, which led some drivers to mistakenly think that it was still the mandatory route for southbound trips.
Kasumbalesa though has become a relatively free-flowing border, or at least as free-flowing as borders on the NSC can be.
Chirundu, further south, where the corridor crosses the Zambezi from Zambia into Zimbabwe, has also become relatively free flowing - past notoriety aside.
However, it’s a fragile equilibrium, with tentative ease always stalked by the possibility of extreme disruption.
For example, a truck that overturned on the Mokambo Road, said Fitzmaurice, was likely to stay there for some time before someone managed to get it out.
“I’ve seen overturned trucks elsewhere in the vicinity with drivers camping by the side of the road for more than a week before helps arrives. I can’t see why the Mokambo route should be any different.”
In the meantime southbound hauliers are advised to resist being diverted onto the Mokambo Road, even though the $50 ‘tariff’ is often accompanied by a receipt.
“Corruption is part of the system in the DRC and there’s nothing we can do about it,” Fitzmaurice said.