LUBUMBASHI: With President Joseph Kabila in the saddle as the new chairman of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) seems determined to change its sad record as a country known for civil wars to a reliable trading partner within the 15-nation economic bloc.
And one of the driving forces behind this "reawakening" is Katebe Katoto, a Congolese national based in the United States of America (US). Katoto owns Samaki Fisheries, a company based in Lubumbashi, the capital of Katanga Province, and his boys are making a killing by trading in fish that they procure from Zambia's Luapula and Northern provinces, which are endowed with various lakes such as Lake Mweru, Lake Samfya and Lake Tanganyika.
Katoto owns barges for hire to holidaymakers and two hotels in the US so he has entrusted the fish business to his cousins and his son living in Congo-DR, as the country is popularly referred to by citizens here.
Almost every day Samaki refrigerated trucks cross the border to go and buy the fish in Zambia and then deliver the fish into the DRC where it is in great demand. In Northern Province they buy it at Mpulungu Port and in Luapula they go to Lake Mweru.
The fish on the Congolese side of Luapula River, which borders the two countries, is depleted and hence the Congolese trek to buy fish on the Zambian side to augment local supplies.
The types of fish that they buy are Buka and Kapenta from Mpulungu Port in Northern Province and Breams, Mackerel and Bubble fish from Lake Mweru. It is the Bubble fish that the Congolese like most. Prepared with cassava leaves called "Sombe" and palm oil called "Kinkondya" the dish is tasty and it takes only a Congolese woman to prepare "Sombe Samaki"(cassava leaves and fish). So some Congolese women are also cashing in on this booming trade, teaching their Zambian counterparts how to prepare this nutritious and mouthwatering dish.
Fish business has proved to be second only to mealie meal business in cross border trade between the DRC and Zambia. The fleet of refrigerated trucks crossing into Zambia and vice versa is unmistakable.
"Je Mange Beau coup des poissons sur tout poissons a sec. Je n'aime pas des viandes" (I eat a lot of fish, especially dried fish," said Kabongo, a Congolese immigration officer.
"The process of drying fish takes too long that is why Samaki Fisheries prefers fresh fish to dried ones", said Simbeye Nicholas, a Zambian driver working for Samaki Fisheries who are planning to cast their net wide in the SADC region by expanding their business to places like Lake Kariba on the Zambia-Zimbabwe border. The former Belgian Congo, which Mobutu Sese Seko later renamed Zaire, gained independence on June 30, 1960. But the country was plunged into a prolonged civil war when Katangese secessionist rebels assassinated its first Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba.
According to the 2004 population estimates, the DRC has a population of 59.8 million people and its gross domestic product (GDP) per capita is US$111 (2004 SADC estimates). The country is also rich in mineral resources, including diamonds, uranium, copper, coal, and natural gas. It also exports electricity to many countries in SADC. (Sila Press Agency)