A woman on board a boat traveling from Kisangani to Kinshasa looks out on the Congo River at Lukutu village. During the Mobuto era, big boats run by the state company ONATRA dominated the traffic on the river. These had cabins and restaurants but the boats now are all private, mainly barges that transport goods. The crews sell tickets to passengers who travel in very bad conditions, mixing people with animals and goods, and with two toilets for the hundreds onboard.
Congo – Been There

Would you wait three months for a ferry?

Photo by Per-Anders Pettersson

Congo – Been There Would you wait three months for a ferry?

Rogier has been waiting for the Sowidaja to sail for two weeks now. He sits under a plastic sheet to protect himself and his two children against the heat. They keep asking when the boat will leave. “I don’t know,” he tells them time after time.

Arne Doornebal
Arne Doornebal Journalist

Four days later I join him and over 100 other passengers. I am assured that we will leave today so I have come with all my luggage. Two major boat accidents have recently shocked the Congo, one that left more than 100 people drowned. People still giggle when they see me carrying a massive orange life-jacket on board.

Here in Kisangani, in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the heat is almost unbearable. It seems as if the hundreds of miles of tropical rainforest around us repel every breeze.

The long wait has now started. Soon we hear that we won’t leave today or even tomorrow, but previous experience tells me that we may suddenly cast off once paperwork is cleared. The majority of the passengers are traders, who know that sitting around on or near the ship is the safest way to guarantee a place onboard.

“I boarded the Sowidaja nearly two months ago,” says Adou Beya Bulungu. For all those weeks the boat has been taking on goods and passengers, and enduring dozens of visits from several authorities who all demand a bribe.

Three months after the ship started loading, it finally loosens the steel cables, makes a U-turn and starts going downstream. Soon we reach our top speed of six miles per hour. Our destination Kinshasa is more than 1,000 miles away.

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A woman is baptized by pastor Marcel Makayabu in the Congo River at the small village of Lukutu. Roman Catholics make up 45 per cent of Congolese, with 25 per cent Protestant and 20 per cent members of fast-growing evangelical or non-denominational churches. The evangelical churches are known as églises de reveil (awakening churches) and dismissed as “sects” by the mainstream. Indigenous beliefs account for most of the remaining 10 per cent, although Muslims make up a tiny percentage. Photo by Per-Anders Pettersson / Getty Images

Per-Anders Pettersson

Per-Anders Pettersson

Canon EOS 5D

Agency
Getty Images
Aperture
ƒ/6.3
Exposure
1/320
ISO
100
Focal
35 mm

A woman is baptized by pastor Marcel Makayabu in the Congo River at the small village of Lukutu. Roman Catholics make up 45 per cent of Congolese, with 25 per cent Protestant and 20 per cent members of fast-growing evangelical or non-denominational churches. The evangelical churches are known as églises de reveil (awakening churches) and dismissed as “sects” by the mainstream. Indigenous beliefs account for most of the remaining 10 per cent, although Muslims make up a tiny percentage.