With borders and airports closed and movement within the country restricted due to the coronavirus, traders in the Democratic Republic of Congo are struggling with currency fluctuations and a sharp downturn in business.
The lack of flights and international movement and trade has raised the relative value of the American dollar, the main currency used in the country alongside the Congolese franc. For the past two years, the local currency has been relatively stable, hovering around 1,600 francs to the dollar, but since Congo closed its borders and halted internal flights in late March, the official exchange rate has steadily increased and peaked on May 13th at 1,746 francs to the dollar. In Congo’s informal street markets, the exchange rate can be 2,000 francs, according to traders. “The rate of the dollar at noon is not the same as the rate at 2pm,” said Pascal Habamungu, a street side moneychanger in Sake, a trading town in Masisi district in eastern Congo’s North Kivu Province. “Everything is disrupted.”
The sliding value of the franc is compounded by the significant increase in the costs of basic goods since borders were closed due to the pandemic. In Goma, the price of salt has increased by 88.9 percent, peanut oil by 57.9 percent, hand sanitizer by 66,7 percent, and potatoes by 50 percent, according to the Kivu Security Tracker. The erosion of purchasing power as markets stagnate is having a severe impact. “We are suffering from this situation,” said Salama Furaha, a farmer and trader in Sake. “We are going to die from hunger.”
More concerned with daily survival than with the intangible effects of an invisible virus, many Congolese are calling on their government to reopen borders so that trade can resume.
After 7 new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in North Kivu Province today, the governor announced that Goma will go into a 14-day lockdown starting on Wednesday, May 20. A curfew will be imposed restricting all movement between 8pm and 5am. All traffic between Goma and Bukavu in South Kivu will be closed until further notice. Details of the new measures, including the obligatory wearing of masks, can be found here.
As of May 19, Congo had 1,538 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 61 deaths. For the latest figures, click here.