Nelly Bassily | January 10, 2011
It’s a Saturday morning in December. A group of jostling women are gathered at the entrance to the central market in Butembo, north of the city of Goma. Basins in hand, they flock towards a motorcycle driver who is carrying a large basket filled with fresh fish. He has just arrived from Kyavinyonge, a fishing town on Lake Edward, more than 80 kilometres east of Butembo.
The driver navigated the hilly route, passing along dangerous cliffs. Now busy selling fish, he says, “It’s fast it’s true, but very arduous.” One woman buys more than 50 fish. She says, “Before, we had to wait 15 hours for a fresh fish, but now we get it immediately.”
Up until a few years ago, motorcycle taxis in Butembo transported only passengers. But since the price of motorcycles dropped from 1000 American dollars to 600, people can afford to buy them for their own use. As a result, fewer passengers use motorcycle taxis, and the business is less profitable.
Jean Kavuke is a motorcycle taxi driver. With the drop in price, he knew he had to try something new. So he began to carry farmers’ goods to and from town. He can often be seen transporting plantains, baskets of fish, or bundles of cassava leaves on the back of his bike. Mr. Kavuke says, “These types of trips are very profitable. You carry a street trader’s goods and you can return to your village with food for the family.” He is pleased that his daily income has doubled.
His customers also appreciate this new way of transporting goods. Women who used to carry heavy loads home on their backs are relieved. Driver Makata Kule says, “Me, I carry for women traders. They prefer to walk home without a load on their back. When they get home, they find their products already there.”
Georgette Masika is one trader who transports her wares by motorcycle. She says, “With them [motorcyclists], at least you’re sure that nothing goes astray. They are identifiable and traceable in their office from the number that they wear.” All motorcycle taxis are affiliated with one of three associations, which supervise more than 6,000 drivers.
But the drivers worry about their bikes. They were not built to carry 200 kilos of cassava, and can break down. Gerlance Kakule is secretary of ATAMOV, the association of motorcycle taxis and cars. He mentions another concern − theft: “Our villages are full of thieves who believe that the bike is a fortune. They are willing to kill to steal the motorcycle.”
But this is a danger that the bikers are willing to brave. Jean Kavuke says, “You will die one day and the bike, it will eventually fail.” He says that transporting goods to villages is profitable, and he needs to make a living. He says, “I cannot afford to only carry passengers around the city.”