The booming business of street vendors – La Libre Afrique

The lack of petrol forces the filling stations to close, to the delight of the most resourceful.

On Boganda Avenue, the Tradex gas station is deserted, only a goat wanders between the dry pumps: In Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, several stations have not been supplied for sometimes seven months, and the fuel sellers are scattering.

A few meters from this usually very busy station, Princia Omah, 18, arranges her bottles filled with petrol and fuel oil under a multicolored umbrella that protects her from the scorching sun.

“I sell fuel to make it easier for people in vehicles”explains the young woman.

The Central African Republic, the second least developed country in the world according to the United Nations, regularly experiences problems with the supply of hydrocarbons. But since March, the country has been going through a dramatic shortage.

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“These are the consequences of the war in Ukraine and the difficulties of transporting hydrocarbons because the country has no opening to the sea”, explains to AFP Ernest Fortuné Batta, general manager of the Central African Company for storage of petroleum products (SOCASP).

Black market

In Bangui, the price at the pump has been blocked by the authorities at 865 CFA francs (1.32 euros) per liter for several years. But on the street, bottled fuel is 30 to 40% more expensive.

These dealers mostly supply the black market and often buy products that are cut and of poor quality.

“My father gets his supplies from smugglers in the Muslim quarter 5 km from the city center, it usually comes from Chad or Cameroon”, says Prince Omah.

On the outskirts of closed stations, street vendors have thus replaced the tank attendants, several hundred of whom are on technical unemployment.

The last to resist are stormed by processions of vehicles, all in search of a few liters of the precious liquid.

“I have no choice, I have to take fuel from these dealers to allow me to do my shopping and go to work, although sometimes these fuels are mixed and this can cause problems for the car”, regrets Cédric Banam, who buys it three times a week. “We did not expect the crisis to reach this level. I have many more customers than before”says Maurice Gbeza, 29, street vendor for a year.

As a result, transport prices skyrocket in line with users’ anger.

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“Before I spent 1,000 CFA francs a day (about 1.5 euros), but now I need at least 2,000 francs for a day, it’s too much, the salary hasn’t changed.” sorry Pamela Mayevosson, administrative secretary. “The government must quickly restore the situation, otherwise the country risks becoming a desert”, she lets go.

“There is no solution planned to remedy this situation”rages Franck Ngaïckom, chairman of the motorcycle taxi association, adding: “The government is not aware that the population is suffering. Many drivers have stopped working”.

Among the poorest

According to Mr. Batta, the government “have contacted other suppliers to end this crisis”without giving further details. In mid-March, the Minister of Energy and Hydraulics, Arthur Bertrand Piri, had wanted to reassure the population by announcing the arrival of trucks to supply the capital. But since then the situation has continued to deteriorate.

“Three tankers have just arrived to remedy the situation, we still have a stock of hydrocarbons, but we are limiting supplies to avoid falling into total drought.”says Batta.

“Come to Maman M16, it’s 1,100 francs a bottle”hails Marguerite Goungbon, 52, from the bottom of her plastic chair.

“When I saw that most of the stations were closed because of the crisis, I started selling petrol”explains this former donut seller. “But when the crisis is over, I will stop selling”she concludes.

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A country still in civil war since 2013, although it has significantly decreased in intensity for four years, the Central African Republic is completely landlocked in the heart of the African continent and one of the poorest countries in the world despite its wealth of natural resources. especially gold and diamonds, but also with an interesting potential in oil.

The World Bank estimates that 71% of the approximately 6 million inhabitants live below the international poverty level alone (less than 2.15 euros per day per person). Almost half suffer from food insecurity and are dependent on international humanitarian aid, according to the UN.

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