Making it in Kinshasa, Capital of Congo

God's hand in Kin's garbage
This is Formal Sector garbage clearance. Notice a hand from on high is among them.

We are in New York for the New Year and planning our return soon to Congo.  We head first to Kinshasa and soon after John will head for the Lomami watershed 1600 km away.  I, though, will spend much more time in Kinshasa: writing reports, talking to ministers, buying malaria cures and cans of tomato paste to send east. Thank goodness Kinshasa is an interesting place, actually it is rather puzzling.

For instance, only 4.8% of the working-age population has employment. So how do the rest of them make it?

That statistic is from a recent study of Kinshasa (UNDP study 1997-2001) and really bothers me. What is more the figure includes the Informal Sector, such as market merchants selling at open stalls.

I don’t believe it.

First, how vast is the working-age population?

  • The population of Kinshasa is 7.5 million.
  • Half the population is under fifteen years of age and another 2.5% is over 64 year of age.
  • So, about 3.5 million Kinois are of working age.
  • If it is true that fewer than 5% are employed that leaves 3.2 million unemployed. Those are the parents of the 3.75 million children all of whom must be fed.

I just don’t believe it.

If most Kinois workers are not in the informal sector then they are in the “sub-informal” sector. Here is my idea of the job pyramid.

FORMAL SECTOR includes government, companies and otherwise registered employees.

state workers -at a border
These immigration officers, policing one of Kinshasa’s many small ports, are formal sector.

INFORMAL SECTOR still pays “tax” to the state.

electrical shop near the grand marché
This electrical stall near Kinshasa’s main open market pays a pittance to the government for commercial rights and is thus officially Informal Sector.

SUB-INFORMAL SECTOR is everywhere but remains “invisible” to the state.

seller of used clothes
This vendor of used clothes has staked out his store with cardboard. His own house is not far away.

local potions for sale
This sub-informal merchant of local potions and football caps has twice been swept off the street during the past year (2008) by the local military. The “regularization” does not last long.

mabele (mineral for pregnant women)is mined locally
Sub-informal export economy to Congo Brazzaville flourishes at all the tiny ports. This white mineral clay is sought after by pregnant women, and is sub-informally mined, processed and shipped over in near darkness on small dugouts.

UN-EMPLOYED SECTOR ??

taking a little snooze

Maybe this fellow taking a nap by the roadside is unemployed or, more likely, just done-in by the sub-informal work of heavy-lifting at the Congo docks.

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