Lawlessness at Kasumbalesa border impedes regional integration in Southern Africa

Lack of security in the region has led to protests by truck drivers at the Kasumbalesa border crossing between Zambia and the DRC. The SADC has failed to prevent this disturbance to its cross-border trade 

Chris Nshimbi
26 May 2014
SADC summit in Mozambique in 2013

SADC heads of state and government at 2013 summit in Maputo, Mozambique. Flickr/GovernmentZA. Some rights reserved

Barely two months into 2014 truck drivers in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) refused to drive into the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) through the Kasumbalesa border, protesting against the fatal shooting of their colleagues. The fatal shooting of a driver by unknown killers on the Zambian side in February was preceded by the shooting of Patrick Mwila on 29 January by a Congolese soldier in the DRC. Kasumbalesa is the busiest route to the Great Lakes Region for Zambia and the rest of the SADC, as well as the main border crossing between Zambia and the DRC. In its latest statement the Zambian government has hinted at sending soldiers to the border to improve security.

In 2013 the six months leading to 1 October saw irate SADC drivers intermittently halt business, as they sealed off Kasumbalesa in violent protests. When Zimbabwean driver Patrick Murifi was shot and wounded in the DRC on 14 September 2013, for example, drivers protested for a week that month. News of Murifi’s shooting was not reported on the Zambian side until two days later, when DRC officials transferred him to Zambian medics en route to Zimbabwe.

Mwila and Murifi’s shootings and ensuing protests are not the only events that affect drivers using the border between Africa’s top copper producers. In July 2012 a mob in the DRC burned Derrick Chanda, a Zambian driver, to death after he allegedly ran over and killed two Congolese citizens. Drivers protested Chanda’s killing and refused to drive into DRC, sealing off the border, as they did after Mwila and Murifi were shot.

In the protests following Murifi’s shooting, media reported over 1,000 trucks stretching 3 kilometres marooned on the Zambian side of Kasumbalesa. Trucks on the DRC side, most of which are cleared inland approximately 10 kilometres from the border or in Lubumbashi, could not cross onto the Zambia either. These protests had drawn attention to the grievances that SADC drivers bore over the years and had, to no avail, brought to the attention of the Zambian and DRC authorities. The drivers refused to listen to Katanga (the DRC Province that borders Zambia) Minister of Interior’s appeal to return to work and drive into DRC. Instead, they demanded to hold negotiations with delegations from Kinshasa and Zambia because the Interior Minister had failed to honour a promise made the previous year to protect the drivers, when transiting through DRC, after Chanda was killed.

The main complaint of the SADC drivers regarding working in the DRC is security-related. First, they allege that DRC security and traffic officers constantly harass them when travelling through the country. The officers reportedly extort money from the drivers on baseless charges such as possession and use of incorrect documents, speeding, and driving trucks that are not roadworthy. The officers allegedly ignore the drivers’ documents and visas, regardless of validity. In a local Zambian television interview on 18 September 2013, some drivers claimed they never experienced such treatment in other SADC countries they have travelled through.

Second, the lack of security in the DRC leaves drivers vulnerable whenever travelling in the country. During the September 2013 protests some drivers claimed that a breakdown in the DRC exposed them to Congolese civilians and security personnel who loot trucks, shatter windscreens, siphon fuel from trucks, and steal money from the drivers. Apart from the drivers, other actors have also staged protests at Kasumbalesa over the years. In January 2004, for example, some Congolese violently protested the closure of warehouses by Zambian authorities in efforts to curb the smuggling of maize and mealies into the DRC.

Trending at Kasumbalesa: lawlessness

Lawless unrest at Kasumbalesa is a trend that must be reversed if Zambia, the DRC and the SADC region as a whole are to benefit from trade and enhance Southern Africa’s integration. Lawlessness leading to violence and sometimes death creates insecurity and threatens to escalate into a cycle of lawlessness, violence, death and insecurity, all of which increasingly characterise Kasumbalesa. The border is developing a reputation for insecurity and lawlessness that is negatively affecting business. The threat affects the whole SADC regional integration project.

Kasumbalesa processes over 4000 freight trucks a week. Various goods pass through the border including machinery and spares, copper, cobalt, cement, industrial chemicals, fuel, foodstuffs, medicines and cosmetics. By August 2013, the Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) had increased revenue collections at Kasumbalesa by 52 per cent, with revenues totalling K395 million (US$ 71.2 million) over the K260 million (US$ 47 million) targeted in 2012. In the first quota of 2013, ZRA collected K276 million (US$ 49.5 million) in revenue, a notable increase over the K178 million (US$ 32 million) collected in the first quarter of 2012 and above the K203 million (US$ 36.4 million) that had been targeted for the first quota of 2013.

These figures hint at the losses in revenue the government incurs whenever protesters disrupt business at Kasumbalesa. The private sector loses more financially in lost man-hours and damage to trucks, etc. Some truckers transport perishable goods including fresh vegetables, which are spoiled during protests. Consequently, consumers lose out too. The lawlessness at Kasumbalesa, therefore, generates costs for business, governments, SADC citizens and the region, all of which affect regional trade and the SADC integration project.

State and interstate initiatives for addressing lawlessness at borders

Attempts to contain protests at Kasumbalesa have so far included authorities on both sides urging protesters to calm down and return to work, while the authorities addressed protesters’ grievances. Zambian authorities, through a Chililabombwe District Joint Operations Committee, claim they engage their DRC partners over the protests. Zambia and the DRC enjoy good diplomatic relations to the point where Zambia is very supportive of the government in the crisis in eastern DRC, according to the Zambian Foreign Affairs Minister, Wylbur Simuusa.

However, appeals to drivers to end the September 2013 protests and assurances of addressing their grievances were initially ignored because of past failure. Drivers are losing faith in the authorities. Despite the burden on both Zambia and the DRC to each and jointly find solutions, the protests and factors behind them also affect transportation from the rest of the SADC. Regional efforts should boost domestic and bilateral attempts at finding long-term solutions to the disruptions at Kasumbalesa.

Lapses in regional security and trade structures

As the situation stands, however, the protests at Kasumbalesa reveal gaps in SADC’s security and trade architecture. For one, law enforcers in the SADC region need to combine their efforts. Two international law enforcement organizations currently exist in Southern Africa: the Southern African Regional Police Chiefs Cooperation Organisation (SARPCCO) and the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL). SARPCCO is the duly recognized law enforcement agency of the SADC. Its force, however, suggests that SARPCCO focuses more on fighting international organized crime than the kind of lawlessness SADC citizens resort to when aggrieved at Kasumbalesa.

INTERPOL on the other hand administratively liaises between its 190 member countries’ law enforcement agencies and does not have its own ‘ground troops’. It uses its databases to track criminals around the world and provide crime intelligence, among others, to member countries. Like SARPCCO, INTERPOL is biased towards transnational and international organized crime.

The responsibility is, therefore, on SADC through SARPCCO or security instruments such as the SADC Protocol on Defence and Security to establish law and order in the region. SARPCCO could form ad-hoc committees at selected borders reputed for being trouble spots in SADC with a long-term view of transforming the committees into an established department within SADC. Kasumbalesa would be a good place to start.

SADC currently lacks a tailored-made protocol for managing regional labour migration. Ratification of the Draft Protocol on the Facilitation of Movement of People in the SADC has generally stalled since signing in 2005. Besides this, the closest SADC has come to establishing a mechanism for managing regional migration is the SADC Regional Labour Migration Action Plan 2013-2015, which SADC Ministers of Labour and Ministers of Home Affairs endorsed in April and July 2013.

Ratified instruments such as the SADC Protocol on Trade might help harassed drivers. This protocol, however, has no policing provisions to ensure the drivers’ safety when traversing the SADC. With the absence of migration-specific regional policy, the alleged actions of security officers towards drivers around Kasumbalesa violate some of SADC’s other protocols.  

Hindering drivers’ movements on unsubstantiated grounds, for example, amounts to non-tariff barriers (NTB) to trade and contradicts SADC Trade protocol provisions. The Trade protocol only allows members to take steps to protect domestic security interests and maintain the peace after a concerned Member State notifies the Committee of Ministers responsible for trade matters (CMT) of such concerns. Neither the DRC nor Zambia has submitted such notifications to the CMT despite alleged harassment of drivers on security grounds.

The Trade protocol also promotes simplification and harmonisation of trade documentation and procedures. The harassment of drivers suggests that procedures and documents issued in the drivers’ countries of origin and those of the DRC are inconsistent. This is despite Member States committing to facilitating trade and transport within the SADC when they ratified the protocol. Security and law enforcement officers in Member States should be sensitized in the facilitation of trade to fulfil the protocol’s commitment to conducting joint training programmes for officials involved in facilitating trade among SADC countries.

Security officers’ actions also violate the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) Mode 4 provisions of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) that allow traders in services to be physically present in the foreign country where they are providing the services. These violations impede SADC integration and also suggest that the business environment at Kasumbalesa is not properly regulated.

The whole of Southern Africa should participate in finding lasting solutions to the lawlessness at the border between Zambia and the DRC. The SADC urgently needs to ratify the Protocol on the Facilitation of Movement of Persons. This will clear the ambiguity around the provisions for the cross-border movement of traders and service providers, all of which are not adequately addressed in the protocols designed for other aspects of SADC’s integration, such as transport and communication. Additionally the SADC should standardise travel, transport, and trade documentation for regional citizens who regularly travel across the region under the auspices of instruments such as the Trade protocol. Such travellers could be issued with specialized border passes to be recognized by all Member States.

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