In Katanga, Fake IDs Are Key to Finding a Job

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the mines of Katanga province attract thousands of the young and unemployed from across the country. But these internal migrants find themselves classified as “foreign bodies” and few employers will hire them.

Lina is tired of shuttling between her home and a local tribal organization which is supposed to help her find a job. During the month of February, the organization was supposedly recruiting young workers for an anonymous employer. More than ten days ago, Lina, a young social sciences graduate, added her name to the list of job seekers, and now she does what most in her situation do; she just waits in front of the organization’s office.

In an attempt to comfort her, one of the young people waiting with her tells her not to worry: these jobs are not open to “foreign bodies” (meaning those who aren’t natives of the province).

In Katanga, young university graduates have serious difficulties finding jobs, and those who arrive from other provinces are even less likely to be hired. To have a better chance finding a job, some of the “non-natives” have begun carrying two ID cards: one of which (falsely) claims Katanga province as their place of birth.

When they heard about the job recruitment announcement, three young friends hurried to file applications at the organization’s headquarters. But, “after a quick glance at our names and birth province, the recruiters declared us ineligible,” they said. The three friends are among the infamous “foreign bodies,” Congolese not born in Katanga. “I went back home,” said one of them, “to get my other ID card that states ‘Birthplace: Katanga.'”

In recent years, this southern province, rich in copper and cobalt, has created increasingly difficult barriers for those who are not “natives.” Tribal and regional rivalries, often exacerbated by politicians’ speeches, contribute to the exclusion of Congolese born elsewhere in the country. Those who are hit especially hard by this discrimination are the Congolese who were born in the Kasai region (in the center of the country), some of whom have been living in Katanga for many decades.

“Those who were quick to understand the situation used the last elections to get registered on Katanga’s electoral lists, in order to have two voters cards (which have been used in the Democratic Republic of Congo as temporary ID cards),” said J.K. one of the three friends mentioned above. One of the cards states the real birthplace of its owner; the second one “has false information and is only used when you need to get a job.”

Jeff, another job seeker discouraged by the system, is an electrical engineer who took and successfully passed many tests and job interviews. But in the end, he was never offered a job, so he gave up applying. He simply decided to be self-employed. “I stopped writing letters begging for a job,” he said.

Discrimination against job seekers based on birthplace is a concern for the National Employment Agency (ONEM), whose role is to put employers in contact with job seekers. The officers at ONEM, a body created several years ago to help implement the government’s employment policy, are seriously worried because very few companies go through the state agency when they are looking for new employees.

Some employers don’t even know about the existence of the Agency, while others prefer to ignore it or never request its services. Yet, “the Agency has a solid database on job seekers with all important information regarding their qualifications,” said Gerard Kasongo, the director of the Agency’s Katanga district. Kasongo underlined the main mission of ONEM and expressed his alarm at the fact that other people or organizations do the work in their place. “They do the job the wrong way. We hope that they will understand their wrongdoings and will stop,” he said.

Jean-Pierre Kulu, another expert on the Congolese employment market, emphasized that the government should be more involved in fighting job discrimination: “people should be recruiting for competency and not recruiting by tribe, this is a serious factor in the general growing discontent [around the country],” he said.

Maurice Mulamba