A woman tries to sell a crocodile, whose tails are considered a delicacy in DR Congo, to boat passengers in Mombongo port. An exotic food in western restaurants, crocodile is a ready source of protein in DRC.
Kinshasa – Been There

Bring me crocodile and make it snappy

Photo by Per-Anders Pettersson / Getty Images

Kinshasa – Been There Bring me crocodile and make it snappy

As the Sowidaja – our boat – makes it way down the Congo river, some traders leave but new passengers are still boarding. By now there are some 200 passengers, but the Sowidaja has not become any bigger.

Arne Doornebal
Arne Doornebal Journalist

Some come from a remote fishing village, where they have been waiting for weeks in a canoe. Then they quickly hit the water, chase our boat and ask for a ride to Kinshasa. If they are lucky, they can. Sometimes when the boat is really full they are refused and, disappointed, they paddle back to their village, ready to wait for the next ship that passes.

Dozens of fishermen come aboard, hoping to sell their fish in the capital city. Paul Akilimani is one of them. “I failed to find work as a mechanic in town so I resorted to fishing,” he says. “We smoke the fish so it doesn’t spoil.” The deck of the Sowidaja is now full of empty oil barrels, filled with charcoal and constantly smoking fish. The ship starts to look like Noah’s Ark, since among the other ‘passengers’ are monkeys, ducks, crocodiles, goats, and a monitor lizard, all still alive and destined for sale in Kinshasa. Crocodile meat is really expensive; I am offered one for $100. Instead I agree to sponsor the evening’s dinner by contributing $7 for a freshly-caught monkey.

The last part of the trip goes faster. As we approach ‘Kin la belle’ (Kinshasa) the river becomes narrower and mightier. Here it is the border between two countries, both called Congo. I now spend most of my time with Paul and his friend Rufin Wema, as they explain everything about fish. “It is good business,” Rufin says. He drinks a sip of untreated water from the river and continues: “When I come from Kinshasa I normally take a bale full of second-hand T-shirts. I can sell them in the fishermen’s villages at a dollar each. On my way back I come with fish to sell in Kinshasa.”

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Francesca Mboyo (center), age 35, prepares to cook for her six children on a log raft on the Congo River outside Mbandaka. Francesca has traveled from a small rural village outside Bumba and is on her way to the capital, Kinshasa. The median age in DRC is 17.4 years and life expectancy is just over 55, among the world’s lowest, although it is improving fast. Photo by Per-Anders Pettersson / Getty Images

Per-Anders Pettersson

Per-Anders Pettersson

Canon EOS-5D

Agency
Getty Images
Aperture
ƒ/1.4
Exposure
1/160
ISO
250
Focal
35 mm

Francesca Mboyo (center), age 35, prepares to cook for her six children on a log raft on the Congo River outside Mbandaka. Francesca has traveled from a small rural village outside Bumba and is on her way to the capital, Kinshasa. The median age in DRC is 17.4 years and life expectancy is just over 55, among the world’s lowest, although it is improving fast.