My Friends Started a Bus Company in Congo
In August 2010, I traveled to Rwanda with three friends to cover the presidential election. We spent a month there and I headed back to Europe, but my friends—Yassin, Arthur, and Louis-Guillaume—crossed the border to the Democratic Republic of Congo and decided to start their own Congolese bus company, the “Amani Express,”which translates to Peace Expressin English.
The DRC is reportedly the sixth most corrupt country in Africa and its roads are rarely paved, which doesn’t seem like a great recipe for a successful start-up bus company. But that didn’t dissuade my three friends, who settled in Butembo, North-Kivu and have built their company into a profitable one, all the way from the ground up.
I thought this was all pretty impressive, so last time Yassin and Louis-Guillaume were here in Paris, I asked them some questions about their business.
Amani Express’ first passengers
VICE: What prompted you to set up your own company in the Democratic Republic of Congo ?
Yassin: Ignorance, mainly. We didn’t realize all the factors that put off foreign investors from starting businesses in the DRC. Some surveys rank the DRC as the sixth most corrupt country in Africa in order to dissuade people like us from investing money there. We were a little naïve, but that’s ultimately what has brought us so far.
LG: We were completely amazed by the country as soon as we crossed the border. We really wanted to settle in a hostile environment and live an extraordinary adventure.
Did your skin color give you any trouble when trying to fit in?
Yassin: My dad is Somali, so I thought I’d be able to be the link between the Congolese and us, but I quickly realized that, to them, all three of us were white. When we got there, people called us “muzungu,” which means “the white man” or “the rich man.” We thought that the authorities in the region would eventually give us more credit because of the company, but they didn’t. The company still suffers from corruption because of our skin color, but our relationship with the local population has changed; we’re now seen as real members of our neighborhood.
LG: It’s difficult to establish your personality and go beyond skin color at the beginning. Even though the authorities take advantage of it, people tend to put us on a pedestal for some reason. They’re very respectful and admiring toward us. It’s very strange.
Yassin, Arthur and the Amani Express team.
Do you get into much trouble with the local authorities?
LG: [laughs] They’re probably the main source of our problems.
Yassin: They call it “hassle” over there. Mind you, that can mean “a gun to the head,” which is definitely a hassle. On several occasions, soldiers sent by the local chief of immigration—who we know very well now—turned up at our house at dawn. I guess he thought, This was a bad month, I need money, so how about sending a few armed men to put pressure on the expats and extort some money from them?