Article 53 of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’ (DRC) constitution states that “All persons have the right to a healthy environment that is favorable to their development. They have the duty to defend it. The State ensures the protection of the environment and the health of the population.”

Late October 2019, as part of our DRC Diaspora Engagement initiative, Africa Faith and Justice Network (AFJN) invited and welcomed a parliamentary delegation in Washington. One of the asks made to the delegates, the Honorable Jean Jacques Mamba, member of the opposition and Honorable Lambert Mende Omalanga, member of the coalition in power was to work in a nonpartisan fashion to champion the care of the environment specifically addressing the threat posed by plastic waste.

General Statement of the Problem

 of plastic waste used on the African continent over the years, ocean areas and cities are rapidly being polluted, and Africa’s ecosystem overall is dangerously affected by this matter. Similarly, the act of burning plastic waste is harmful because it causes toxic pollution–threatening the health of human beings, vegetation, and wildlife. In addition, the lack of a plan to respond to plastic litter, continues to worsen an existing problem of lack of adequate drainage systems in African cities.

Call for Action in the DRC

The DRC is not an exception to this problem. For this reason, we urged the Hon. Mamba and Mende to generate the long overdue political will from their respective political platforms and pass legislation which will compel the government to pay attention to the issue. Also, such a law would as a consequence provide much needed encouragement and additional cover to civil society organizations willing to carry out local campaigns and take serious measures to protect their environment and urban life from the threat of uncontrolled usage of plastic bags. They both agreed that something has to be done before it is too late and also transform the problem into an opportunity to create jobs for so many Congolese who desperately need one.  

Plastic bags a Health hazard

In regards to how the inescapable plastic waste affects health and induces underlying diseases, Quartz Africa reported that in Kenya,“clumps of bags that clogged drainage systems created breeding pools for malaria-bearing mosquitoes”. Quartz Africa also pointed out that a UN environmental study in Africa found out that, “Burning of plastic waste increases the risk of heart disease, aggravates respiratory ailments such as asthma and emphysema and causes rashes, nausea or headaches and damages the nervous system”.

Public health scholars from the University of Ghana, Fobil and Hogarh, argue that “…all producers of these products need to be made to bear well-calculated pollution responsibility in order to achieve a long-term solution to the plastic waste problem.” However, Ntama Bahati, a Policy Analyst with the Washington based Africa advocacy group Africa Faith and Justice Network, insists that to overpower lobbyists and manufacturers’ opposition to plastic usage reforms and ban, grassroots mobilization is needed to make the case and call for individual responsibility in solving this issue.

Besides the obvious solution of legally banning or recycling plastic materials, Mr. Bahati suggests that biodegradable knitted bags made from natural eco-friendly alternatives such as palm plants, banana trees, bamboo, sorghum plant, all kinds of vine and much more is the way forward. More importantly, new job opportunities will obviously be created for so many Congolese faced with extremely high unemployment.

Countries that Have Taken Action

Although the journey for improvement seems distant, NAD Uberblicke and Hintergrunde reports that 34 of the 55 African countries,especially those that have developed a strong  tourism industry—have either legally regulated, completely banned the production and consumption of plastic bags, or have simply put in place plastic recycling facilities as a solution.

Rwanda was the first African country to ban plastic bags in 2008, which also applies to tourist travelers. In 2017, Kenya banned plastic bags and imposed sanctions or punishments on those who manufacture, import, export, or use plastic bags . Tanzania also imposed drastic penalties on the production and sale of plastic bags in June 2019. Malawi legally banned the production of plastic bags in 2015. Senegal, in response to the vast amount of plastic on local beaches imposed stricter laws, tougher penalties and frequent police checks intended to resolve problems. Egypt recently banned plastic bags, straws, crockery, and cutlery along the Red Sea coast. Other countries that have enforced a plastic bag ban are Mauritania, Morocco, and Niger. Namibia also has  some planned measures. South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Senegal have recycled plastic waste to produce new essential products for their economy.

Ultimately, the solution to the plastic threat to the environment begins with individual responsibility whereby each user makes a personal choice not to use plastic material where there is a biodegradable alternative.

Additionally, we need political will to produce strong legal measures in order to help significantly reduce if not eliminate plastic litter which is choking African cities, towns, villages, lakes, rivers, just to name a few.

AFJN will continue its advocacy to encourage the Democratic Republic of the Congo and other countries to join the community of nations which have taken action against the ongoing threat posed by the use of plastic bags to urban life and the environment in general.

To Learn more Click here to see pictures of the plastic use threat in Kinshasa 

Watch YouTube videos by France24 : RD Congo – A Kinshasa : Kin la Belle devient “Poubelle and Une “banquise” de bouteilles en plastique recouvre le fleuve Congo à Kinshasa

Also read Kinshasa: Opération Kin-Bopeto, après la pluie la ville plonge dans l’insalubrité à grande échelle

Listen to a radio Okapi’s “Faut-il instaurer une nouvelle taxe sur l’insalubrité à Kinshasa ?”