Mai Mai Militiamen - Fighter - Democratic Republic of Congo

“The trains are running again. We have peace,” says Didier, the station master at Mindouli, in the Republic of Congo’s southern region of Pool. But a glance at the weeds growing on the line connecting the capital Brazzaville and the port city of Pointe-Noire shows that traffic — to put it gently — is not huge. Outside the station, a war-battered relic of French colonial times, a few plucky hawkers have set up stalls in the hope of snaring a little cash. More than two years after a brutal civil conflict in Pool, the second in 20 years, was settled, Congo’s key agricultural region remains deeply depressed. The so-called Pool War erupted in April 2016, pitting the forces of President Denis Sassou Nguesso against the troops of Frederic Bintsamou, a Protestant clergyman and leader of a rebel group called the Ninjas. A ceasefire ended the conflict in December 2017 — but it took until November 2018 for traffic to resume on the Congo-Ocean Railway. Even today, there are no passenger trains and a new Chinese-built highway siphons off much of the meagre trade. “On average, we have five trains a day,” says Didier. “Before, we used to have three times as many.” The track is old, the rolling stock decrepit and out of the first seven months of this year, workers went unpaid for four, employees say. The state’s coffers are empty. The government, run by Sassou Nguesso for 35 years, has debts of $9.5 billion, nearly a third of…

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