Women in The Democratic Republic of Congo(DRC) are working hard to change both the political and economic discourse and trajectory in the country by participating in re-building the strife-torn country.
This is not easy but it is also not impossible according to three New Faces New Voices(NFNV) members who were recently in South Africa on a country business mission trip. The women were part of a 20-business delegation comprising 10 women and 10 men from DRC organised by the country's embassy in South Africa to explore ways in which they can revive and increase trade with South Africa.
DRC images of impoverished women fleeing from war is just one of the single narrative of DRC women which is no way a representationof all women in the country, the majority who are despite financial odds, are running successful businesses.
The NFNV chapter director Jacqueline Busimwa Murangaza, and members Annie Eze Kamimbaya who is also the Vice President of Association of Women's Business Owners of DRC and Emilie Ngomora Nsimire who is also Association of Women Entrepreneurs in DRC were part of the South Africa business fact finding mission.
The three women are currently significant players in food security, public transport and construction including road resurfacing as well as offering business technical consultancy and mentoring to young aspiring female businesses in DRC. This is critical in a country where un -employment is considered one of the highest due to political strife.
Since the economy cannot be separated from politics, Murangaza urged DRC women to participate in politics if change is to occur. "Women cannot fold their hands and expect things to change, even if they are not candidates in this election they have to be involved in the politics", says Murangaza. She says women make good leaders and good decisions. DRC is currently planning elections after the current President Joseph Kabila's term was extended by a year.
The women believe their work and that of other women will help change how women in DRC are perceived. DRC has immense mineral resources and Africa's biggest copper producers and world's largest source of cobalt used in making electric cars.
Murangaza has been making efforts to empower women to develop a saving culture through a motor bike loan programme. She loans the women motor bikes without any deposits. The women can repay over a long period while at the same time making money through transporting farm produce or people.
Once the women finish paying for the motor-bikes they get to own them. She also offers training and mentorship to aspiring female entrepreneurs. She has also inherited family land because the father entrusted her not to sell it. While she is not farming herself, members of her family who want to use it have access to it.
She says this shows women are not self-centred but are always willing to share resources for the benefit of their families.In addition, she has a food processing company and recently was appointed Vice President of the World Association of Women Entrepreneurs (FCEM) represented by 60 countries.
Kamimbiya is farming cassava and maize on an 8-hectare farm for local consumption. She is not apologetic by aptly stating that she is into farming firstly to earn wealth but most importantly it is her contribution to providing food security to the country to help stop it from importing food. Experts say DRC has agricultural potential to feed most of Africa. Conflicts in some parts of DRC have severely disrupted farming activities, creating acute food shortages.
About 4,5 million people in DRC are said to have been displaced by the war. The conflict also reduced women's farmers. Kamimbiya have been farming since 2010 after she inherited money when her father died. Most women cannot participate in large scale farming because of lack of access to finance. Her ambition is to acquire a beneficiation machine to add value to her products so that she is not only selling raw material which is why she participated in the South Africa business mission trip.
The lack of a reliable transport system motivated her to diversify into public transport business as she says it's one of the essential sectors. "The lack of a reliable transport system to transport goods and people makes it hard to do business in DRC," she says.
To add to her colleague's efforts, Nsimire is making a huge contribution to the transport sector as her construction firm is concentrating on road construction where it is rehabilitating roads destroyed by war and construction of new ones to motivate people to resume agricultural production. During her visit to South Africa she learnt of new and durable models of brick manufacturing and road construction which she intends to implement in her business.