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The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has many ports, all of which were built along the Congo River and its affluent. Some of them are used solely for domestic transport, while others are used for international trade. The Congolese maritime ports that are used for international trade were constructed along the Congo River during the colonial period and have belonged to the Congolese government since 1935. Under State control, these ports are run by the Office National des Transports (Onatra). Onatra, a Congolese public enterprise that specializes in transport, is owned, in its entirety, by the Congolese government. Over the past few decades international trade and maritime ports, as centers for the international transport of goods, have experienced significant changes. With the recent phenomena of containerization and globalization, the maritime transport sector has grown exponentially. As a result, the efficiency of port industries has become increasingly important to port users “for whom ports services have always constituted a bottleneck in periods of rapid international trade.” In an effort to meet the needs of this rapidly growing industry and satisfy the demand for increased efficiency most maritime ports have invested in infrastructure and technology renewal. The expansion and modernization of maritime ports and changes in the shipping industry have resulted in a maritime transport and management system that is characterized by “mega-carriers and megaships calling at efficient mega-ports.” Globalization of trade and expansion of import-export activities in Africa places many African countries, including the DRC, in a position to be major players in the future of international trade. This is particularly important to the DRC because increased trade “opens access to new markets and opportunities . . . fostering [the] export-led economic growth [that is] essential to alleviate poverty on a significant scale.” At the same time, most African maritime ports are not equipped to satisfy the needs of the globalized maritime sector. In addition, management, port access, security, and cost issues have had a negative impact on the number of ships calling on these ports. Consequently, the DRC’s maritime ports have been marginalized in international trade. This Article outlines these issues in greater detail and explores potential solutions to these problems. In addition, this Article calls for reforms to Onatra, evaluates the steps that the Congolese government has already taken, and suggests alternatives for improving management and attracting much needed capital.



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