GOMA – After trying their luck in Europe, a growing number of Congolese immigrants are returning home to Goma in the North Kivu province to start their own businesses. Their accounts of hardships – which offer an alternative view of Europe - discourage those who are thinking of following in their paths.
“Life in Europe is nice but it is even nicer to live here in Goma where everything is cheaper,” says Jospin Yoto, a young Congolese who returned to Goma after spending seven years in London. Just like Jospin, many immigrants, particularly those who stayed illegally abroad, failed to cope with their living conditions in these beautiful European cities formerly seen as an Eldorado.
Most have learned that Western life is no sure path to paradise. “I made $50 a day in a joiner’s workshop, which seems like a fair amount of money,” ” says Fiston Matungulu, who just came back to Goma after an extended stay in France. “But I was always afraid of getting caught by the police and I quickly realized that I could no longer handle hiding like a fugitive.”
Five years ago, sending a child to Europe was seen as prestigious for many Congolese, and other families across Africa. To make this dream come true, some had to sell valuables, hoping that the future immigrant would quickly succeed and the whole family would share the benefits.
"Doomed" to poverty
Yet for many immigrants, the dream often turns grim as soon as they set foot in Europe, and their once hopeful parents are left with both disappointment and despair. “I sold one of my houses to send my eldest son abroad,” explains Morisho K’s father. His son has never been able to make up for his initial travel costs.
Still, despite the many difficulties and risks of staying illegally in Europe, a lot of immigrants refuse to go home. They are afraid of having to start all over again or face seeing a childhood friend who managed to secure a job, a family and house in Congo.
For those who have come back, it is all clear: “I’m doing my best to make up for the time lost because my friends and my brothers who have stayed home have also succeeded in their own companies,” explains JKM, who came back from Ireland two years ago. He says that many Congolese abroad still believe that Congo is doomed to poverty, conflict and violence. JKM does not regret his decision to come back, since his mattress import business is booming.
According to an immigration official, dozens of Congolese come home from Europe every month and register to start their own businesses. “I have opened a multimedia studio to conceive and direct documentary films about our country” explains computer engineer Hashim Sambu, who particularly enjoys the flexibility of the local council as it often grants additional time and waivers for tax payments.
Back in Goma, some returnees get involved giving advice to their fellow citizens who still dream about trying their luck in Europe. While they do acknowledge the beauty of European cities, they mainly stress the hardships they experienced there, especially those who were living illegally.
Since he came home, James Bugera keeps telling his younger brothers about his painful journey: “I was working 12 hours a day as a handler in a cold storage facility and I was not making any money besides food and a place to sleep in my boss’ basement.”