On the outskirts of Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of the Congo, a minimalist tollbooth called Lifoula is silently carrying out its duties. Several cars disappear into the distance as the red and white railings are raised.
This is the key entrance to the No. 1 National Highway. In an office with a pale yellow paint job, Aubièrge is talking to her colleagues about their work. As station manager, her role is to supervise the whole team and improve the quality of the service. In the next two hours, Lifoula will see quite a lot of traffic, the first of two peak hours in a day.
Opened in 2016, the 535-kilometer-long No. 1 National Highway has built up a major transport artery from the capital Brazzaville to the key port city of Pointe-Noire, greatly enhancing land transport in the Republic of the Congo.
“In the past there might have been just over 100 vehicles per day travelling between the two cities. The new highway will see an exponential increase in traffic of up to 4,000 vehicles per day,” said Aubièrge proudly.
“The man who splits the mountain” is what the local community said about China State Construction (CSCEC) when the No. 1 Highway was opened to public. It expressed the local people’s recognition of and praise for the top standard highway providing the best service experience. The highway took eight years to complete. It was built through a no-man's land, opening up the Mayombe forest, which had been secluded for more than half a century. The highway was hailed as the “Road of Dreams” by Congolese President Denis Sassou-Nguesso. In cooperation with CSCEC and a French engineering design consultancy, the government of the Republic of the Congo founded a tripartite joint venture company called “La Congolaise des Routes (LCR)” at the end of 2019, which stands for “Roads for Congolese”. The No. 1 National is the first high-grade highway operated by a Chinese enterprise in Africa. Since March in the same year, LCR has run it as the core vehicle for operations and has ensured road safety while achieving appreciation in asset values and sustainable development of the highway.
Aubièrge has been working at the station for three years, starting in the first cohort. Her excellent communication skills and rigorous work ethic helped her to advance to become the station chief.
“Luckily, my family is very supportive of what I do for a living. Given that there’s never a dull moment, they are even surprised by my work because I’m able to manage a whole station and there must be many problems to deal with for the customers,” said Aubièrge.
During the construction and operation of the project, China State Construction (CSCEC) has directly created a large number of job opportunities in the Republic of the Congo, with more than four hundred employees at the toll station at present.
“This is a 30-year job and 30 years means that this job is very important and can benefit me and my family in the long run, as well as the Congolese people,” said Babakila, the Deputy Station Manager.
The completion of the highway has brought unlimited potential. And as transport times and costs have been greatly reduced, a number of small markets along the route have begun to develop, creating the possibility for an increase in the income of the local population.
“The highway helps society flourish, connecting our world with the outside as a whole. With its help, we can travel and go shopping more conveniently,” said a merchant along the route.
Since its opening, the daily vehicular traffic on the No. 1 National Highway has increased more than 10 times on average. Over 90% of the import and export of important materials, minerals, and forest resources are transported to the Port of Pointe-Noire via this road, driving a 69% increment in local GDP.
“It used to take three to six weeks to get from Pointe-Noire to Brazzaville, but now that the highway is open, it only takes a day to a day and a half,” said a passing truck driver.
Not far from the entrance to the Lifoula toll station, a verdant tree sways in the breeze. The lifeblood symbol of friendship, planted by China, France and Congo, stands tall and green, as if telling the story of how the LCR is taking root here.
Aubièrge ended her conversation with her colleagues and began a new busy schedule. Like the tree standing sentinel here, she will continue to guard and ensure the safety and free passage of the No. 1 National Highway, so that the “Road of Dreams” will enable the Congolese people to develop their economy and achieve their dreams, en route to a happy and fruitful future.
(Video source: China State Construction Engineering Corporation)