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Pushing Goods in Carts Provides Needed Work for E. Congolese

  • Heather Murdock

In Eastern Congo, formal jobs are rare and locals say survival is "by chance." Self-reliance is a way of life, and is immortalized by a golden statue of a boy pushing a wooden chikudu cart in the center of Goma. Almost exclusively used in eastern Congo, they are chipped out of solid wood plucked from forests crawling with rebel militias.

In this dusty corner of Eastern Congo, locals say unemployment is 70, 80 or 90 percent. With no available jobs, many seek out a living carrying things - vegetables to the market, construction materials, crates of goods to the supermarket.

Unlike other parts of Congo, this region boasts a vehicle they say is only found here: the Chikudu cart. It is a two-wheeled scooter of sorts that these men can push more than 24 kilometers a day, carrying more than 114 kilos of materials. On a good day, they can make $6 to $8.

But for Eastern Congo natives, the Chikudu cart is more than just back-breaking work. It is a symbol of Congolese endurance through decades of conflict and crushing poverty. One man takes photos to sell to tourists of the Chikudu statue in the center of downtown Goma.

“The statue that you see here represents the hard work of the drivers to survive and to develop our town,” he said.

Like other Congolese tools and art, Chikudu carts are hand-made, deep in the countryside. They cost drivers $50 to $100 dollars and are crafted from wood found in the Virunga Forest, a national park that has been plagued by conflict for decades.

Matias Mulumba owns an art store in Goma. He sells miniature Chikudu carts for children, and occasionally foreign visitors. He says the Chikudu is not just a symbol of the Congolese struggle, it is also representative of this region’s unique -- and practical -- craftsmanship.

“The Chikudu cart is unique to this region- you can't see it any other part of Congo. That’s why they decided to build a monument to the vehicle. It does a job. It helps many families to eat,” Mulumba said.

He says Chikudu carts were developed by farmers, who once pushed their goods to market over Congo's rocky roads on wheel-barrows, and can now deliver three times faster.

But in a land now populated by motorcycles and trucks, some drivers say they wish could afford a more modern method of transporting goods for cash.

“I’m doing this because it is not possible to get another job here in Congo,” one man said.

The driver laughs when asked about the golden Chikudu statue in the center of town, saying with eight children at home and without even the ability to read, what else would he do for a living?