Transport under the hammer.

Author:Misser, Francois

As the Zairean state withers away under the weight of inefficiency and corruption, the Government of President Mobutu and his Prime Minister Kengo wa Dondo is increasingly looking to the private sector to take over the running of the country's essential transport services. Francois Misser reports on the latest round of wheeling and dealing.

A bizarre cocktail of foreign investors has been revealed as last ditch hope for Zaire's dying national carrier, Air Zaire.

The airline barely exists at all today. It operates only one of its designated lines, from Goma to Nairobi, and some analysts say this service exists solely because it is a gold smugglers route.

Yet a brace of mysterious South Africans, the Belgian national carrier, Sabena, and the private Zairean airline Scibe Airlift, plan to salvage Air Zaire from the wreckage of its near bankruptcy, and launch a joint company called New Air Zaire.

What is particularly interesting about this new venture is that Scribe Airlift is the very company whose aircraft crashed into a marketplace just outside Kinshasa's Ndolo airport, killing over 350 people.

This terrible disaster blew wide open the inadequacy of Zairean air transport, but the participation of Scibe will surprise no one familiar with Zairean politics. Scibe's Manager, Mr Bemba Saolona, is widely believed to be one of the men who handle President Mobutu's vast personal fortune.

While Zaire's record for safety may be extremely dubious, New Air Zaire could prove a very safe bet for those investing in it. The company is set to inherit Air Zaire's rights over international routes from Kinshasa to both Brussels and Johannesburg, currently used by Scibe and another private airline, Shabair.

New Air Zaire could also compete for the domestic market against Shabair and Zaire Express; a market expanding rapidly as the rest of Zaire's infrastructure collapses.

This emphasis on air transport was underlined on December 10 by Prime Minister Kengo wa Dondo when he inaugurated a new 2,000 meters long airstrip at Ravumu, near the capital of Southern Kivu, Bukavu, giving room for Shabair and Zaire-Express 707 and 737 Boeings to land.

Just as the private sector sniffs around for bargains while the state slowly withdraws from providing basic services to the travelling public, so other sections of Zaire's infrastructure may soon come under the hammer.

Hiving off transport sector

Prime Minister Kengo's plans include the railways, and last April a consortium...

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