Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Pass Go, Pay $200

I would love to make a Congolese version of the game "Monopoly." In the U.S.A you can find Monopoly versions geared towards specific cities and sports team. Why not countries? For the Congo version, if you got into jail you could bribe yourself out. Passing go you'd probably pay $200 for a visa.

In Monopoly I used to go for the Railroads. This would be an interesting property in the Congolese version. You could buy Lubumbashi, Kindu, Ubundu and Kisangani. But would you make any money? Let's use problems currently facing the SNCC (Congolese Rail Company - owned by the state). I'll be an NGO player who lands on your space (shall I be the boot? The little dog? How about a miniature land cruiser?).

First, you charge me for the wagons I need to rent from you ($27,000 for eight wagons). Not bad for you. Then I must compete with the military (represented by the cannon), who's also landed on your space, and wants to ship rations. The military takes priority but the general then uses the wagons to ship his own building materials to his home town. Then you keep my money and tell me that the wagons aren't available. I stay on the space for a couple of weeks and I do get four wagons, three of which get stuck along the way when the engine breaks down. Six weeks later I am still on your space, you still have my money, and my personal bank is diminishing because I'm paying a hotel rent all the while. Meanwhile, your space has also been visited by many small vendors (represented by the top hat) who start protesting since their merchandise has been in your warehouses for six months and they are going out of business. You have already spent the rent that they paid without delivering their items.

So now you have several irritated players, $27,000, and a general who will probably invite you to his housewarming party (the downside is that it might be broken up by a bunch of angry soldiers that have not received their rations and have been preying on the local population in the meantime).

Who wins? Because the train delays are increasing the price of basic goods like salt, cement, and soap in Kindu, putting people out of business, and delaying humanitarian assistance, it's clear who is losing.


Blogger Judy said...

you know, you're getting better and better at this. really great entries the last few weeks.

1:39 PM  
Blogger Judy said...

BTW, my mom particularly likes the nescafe model of development, and sees parallels in the HMO (or whatever it is now) that she works for.

1:44 PM  
Blogger Taylor Walters said...

ugh. Yeah, the economy of Kamina would take off if we could only fix the train problem. I gave to loan to two Congolese friends so they could start a small business. Then I had the great learning experience of listening discuss and conclude that their plans A, B, and C wouldn't work because shipping good by train is unreliable and expensive.

They finally decided to start a small pharmacy because the products could be brought via suitcase (instead of dealing with wagons). Of course, after they bought the drugs and brought them to Kamina, they were unable to get a permit to sell because they were known to be my friends--thus, the permit price was raised to $300!

5:30 AM  
Blogger Degstar said...

how is it that the Congo has no roads, mostly, but there exists a rail network?

7:15 AM  
Blogger 007 in Africa said...

I cannot believe the shit you have to deal with--makes my work problems feel "almost" OK in comparison.

1:00 PM  
Blogger TheMalau said...

Sarah I want to marry you :)!!!! j/k

But seriously, I could never put it that clearly, partly because I am Congolese, and sometimes I use way too much restraint in my criticism. I mean I loooove the metaphor. I am emailing this to my Mum, she will be angry at/love this. The people are definitely the losers, and the the general's boss is the winner, as he can be assured to collect his bribes for turning a blind eye, regardless of whether the party is crashed or not b y disgruntled soldiers.

degstar, the reason why the Congo has no roads, is that we inherited all our transportation network from Belgium, and we haven't done much since, due to a combination of dictatorship and nepotism, corruption and cronyism, secessions and civil-wars, and of course the always present neo-colonialism. In the Belgian times, it was actually less costly, and more cost-efficient to build railroads to transport merchandise, and then Airports, than it was for them to vuild descent roads. They traced dirt roads, but thos need maintenance, which did not occur, hence they disapppeared. Just to show you how much the railroads were purely for merchandise transportation in their intent, the the actual railroads in the East and the West are of different width... showing that they were somewhat impulsive decisions, brought out by need at different times. Sorry Sarah for taking so much space.

1:57 PM  
Blogger Huber said...

Hi Sarah, yours is an excellent blog (sorry if I sound like a spammer). I have found it through the PSD Blog:

and taken the liberty of translating and posting it to my own blog:

Excellent stuff Sarah, well written, witty and insightful. Congrats.

10:43 AM  
Blogger Sahara Sarah said...

Taylor - Argh! At least a few months ago the train was making more regular trips. I heard that those soldiers not getting their rations are in kamina. Unhappy soldiers = never good (esp in Katanga!)

tangent - thanks sweetie. glad your mom likes the nescafe model. i wonder what else we could apply it too..

degstar - themalau answered better than i could.

themalau- great response. you should so the shells of big boats along the congo river in kindu. it sums it up perfectly.

huber- had no idea i'd been quoted! thanks for posting the link - it's a great blog. and i am flattered to you took the time to tranlsate.

12:12 PM  
Blogger Sahara Sarah said...

007 - almost left you out, dearie. i think SNCC vs. health dept would be an interesting rumble...

12:21 PM  
Blogger Manuel Delgado said...

Dear Sarah,

Great blog, indeed. After reading your latest posts, I cannot afford missing the next ones, so I'll visit your pages often.

Cheers from Spain!

12:57 PM  
Blogger Father Bailey said...

Sarah, Today being St. Patricks Day and you being of Irish heritage I want to you think about the following solution to the transportation problems. Why not entice the Leprachauns to move to Kindu by giving away buckets of Guiness to anyone under 3ft in height (that would also benefit the pigmy population). Then inform those who benefit from diversion of NGO program supplies that each Leprechain has hidden pot of gold and that it must be given to whoever catches one. This should cause a serious diversion of supples to your area in order to support the Leprechain hunt. It could also cause a happier local population if there is an overbaiting with the Guiness. Now your other readers hope you got your Mother's genes.

3:53 PM  
Anonymous Kurt Wayne said...


I think there are actually three separate rail systems in the DRC.

1. Matadi (deepwater port on the Congo River that oceangoing ships can unload at) to Kinshasa.

2. A narrow-gauge railway in the northeast (what themalau was talking about...railroad cars on that would essentially be useless on the others).

3. A great hand-fan-shaped railroad network in the of the "fan's" rays goes to a river port in central Congo, another to Kindu(?), another to a barge connection on Lake Tanganyika to the Tanzanian railway.

The bottom of this "fan", where all the "rays" intersect is around Lubumbashi (where a few smaller branch lines servicing the mines also intersect). From Lubumbashi, the railroad goes down to another town on the old Angolan-Tanzanian railway connection. This line exits the DRC around Ndola, and ends up at Kapiri Mposhi, which is an important station (pictured) on the TAZARA (to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania) railway. I think there are connections southbound for freight to actually go all the way to South Africa if the lines are maintained.

2:01 AM  
Anonymous Kurt Wayne said...

Sorry...forgot to say that "Kapiri Mposhi" is in Zambia.

2:05 AM  
Anonymous Kurt Wayne said...

Not to beat a dead horse, but here is a map of the TAZARA(Tanzania Zambia) railway, which connects to the southern "hand-fan" of railways within the DRC.

As I thought, in theory the southern and eastern DRC are connected all the way to South Africa and the Indian Ocean ports of southeast Africa.

- Kalemie, DRC is where the Tanganyika barge connection to a direct Tanzania-Dar es Salaam railroad connection is.
- Kindu, where Sahara Sarah is, is a connection to east DRC
- Ilebo is a principal river linked by river to Kinshasa (and Matadi ship port via Kinshasa-Matadi rail line)
- There's a link to Angola and an atlantic port in that nation as well.

BOY, I'll bet rail transshipment between African nations is fun...

12:48 AM  
Blogger Sahara Sarah said...

Wow kurt, you really did your homework on that one. To keep going with it, Kindu used to connect to Ubundu by barge until the barges stopped one day and were never fixed (story of the Congo). Ubundu connects to Kisangani by rail, and the Congo River goes all the way back to Kinshasa from Kisangani. And voila! You can start you're trans-Congo transport business!

BTW our items are still stuck somewhere around Kamina. Sigh.

7:00 PM  
Anonymous CreditDude said...

I'm not sure I was able to get the point completely because I am not..Congolese but still..the post is really funny. And I guess the point was - you transportation system is all screwed up by the Congolese Rail Company.

10:47 AM  
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