Dust settles on Brazzaville after immigrant clean-up
People from the Democratic Republic of Congo disembark as they arrive from Brazzaville in neighboring Congo after being forcefully deported, at Ngobila beach, near Kinshasa, on April 29, 2014 - by Junior D. Kannah
The huge operation by the authorities of the Republic of the Congo was backed by widespread anti-immigrant feeling but some residents of the capital appear to be having second thoughts.
At the Total market in the south of Brazzaville, trucks bringing onion sacks from Cameroon used to get unloaded in a day but Maurice Tchanang said the same job now takes four.
"The Kinois (inhabitants of Kinshasa) used to ask for 100 CFA francs (0.20 US dollars) for every sack they unload off the lorry," said the 39-year-old driver. "Brazzaville handlers demand up to 500."
The police in Brazzaville on April 3 launched an operation dubbed Mbata Ya Bakolo ("the slap of the elders" in the local Lingala language) to drive out illegal foreign workers.
The prime targets have been citizens from the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo. Brazzaville and Kinshasa are twin capitals, lying on either side of the Congo river.
The conflict-ridden DR Congo ranks last on the United Nations development index and over the years tens of thousands have found menial jobs in Brazzaville, where living conditions are slightly better.
-- 'Sanitise' Brazzaville --
The stated goal of the police sweep was to "sanitise" some Brazzaville neighbourhoods and fight against criminal gangs known as "kuluna".
The official number of DR Congo nationals who have been forced to pack up and ferry back across the river border stands at 80,000 after six weeks.
With many more massing at the port, waiting for the barge that will take them home, the impact on daily life has been visible in many different ways.
For Pascal Bemba, it has meant arriving to work with an unfashionable layer of his dust on his shoes.
"Where are we supposed to a find a shoe shiner if the Kinois, who did their jobs with care and charged less, are no longer around?," this insurance broker lamented.
Businessmen's shoes are not the only thing in need of a spruce up in Brazzaville, where mounds of uncollected waste are growing taller by the day.
"The authorities are doing a good job of 'sanitising' but the Kinois used to go and retrieve the rubbish from the dark corners where municipal dustcarts never venture," a city council employee said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
-- Police brutality --
The rubbish collectors from DR Congo and their hand-drawn carts are among the many victims of a government crackdown that has affected more than just criminals and undocumented workers.
"We have only expelled 1,000 people who were illegally" in Brazzaville, national police spokesman Jules Monkala Tchoumou told AFP.
Police brutality and popular resentment against the "brothers" from DR Congo accounts for the rest, in a drive that has sent an entire community scurrying back across the border in a matter of days.
Among them were people who had been living in Brazzaville for years.
Edimba Tchala, a DR Congo national in his thirties who runs a bar in Brazzaville, said he lost 1,000 dollars to the police when he was rounded up.
"Some of my fellow countrymen saw their storage completely burnt down," he said, on the brink of tears. "They claim to be going after illegal workers but I have seen policemen tearing up residency permits."
According to a figure provided by Kinshasa at the beginning of April, the DR Congo diaspora in Brazzaville was estimated at around 400,000.
That would account for one resident out of ten in the Republic of the Congo, whose population of four million is dwarfed by its giant neighbour's 68 million inhabitants.
Many Brazzaville residents defended the crackdown.
"They can be a little stubborn," said Maixent Mbou, a 42-year-old high school teacher.
"Some of them were targeted by the police because they had ignored orders... They are only being asked to legalise their situation or go home."
"My wish is for all Kinois to go back to their country. I can already tell that it has become easier to find a place to rent," said Prisca Kando, a young woman employed at a local chemist's.