Drinking Beer in the DRC

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Primus, the most ubiquitous and popular beer in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), is more than just a sought-after brand of brew -- it's a "source of national pride." The Congo-based company and subsidiary of Heineken that produces Primus, Bralima, has been around since the Belgian colonial period, and Primus has reigned supreme since Congo's independence in 1960. "Primus played a central role in the new country, even basing its logo off the national flag," write Jason Miklian and Peer Schouten in their article for Foreign Policy, "Fluid Markets."

But as Miklian and Schouten detail, beer trade in the DRC can be a complicated business. In a country wracked with violence and warfare, neither Primus's popularity or the Congolese culture of celebrities who drink (and promote) the beer have kept it far from turmoil. Indeed violence escalated once again as recently as late August after U.N. troops and the Congolese Army launched an attack, attempting to drive M23 rebels from Goma, a city of about one million people in eastern Congo on the volatile border with Rwanda.

Whether it's outsourced distributors paying off armed men at road blockades in order to ensure safe passage for Primus's yellow-and-blue trucks or Bralima having to operate its breweries and business in and around rebel-controlled cities, Primus, like most other things in Congo, exists within a world of conflict. 


In order to access areas deep in eastern DRC, trucks bearing Bralima often have to negotiate passage with whichever armed groups are manning the road blocks, according to Miklian and Schouten. These blockades around Goma, along the route to Rutshuru, are primarily controlled by M23 -- a group notorious for rape and murder. Reports from eye witnesses say that when passing through M23 roadblocks, Bralima drivers will drop off a case of beer for the soldiers and pick up the empties on their way back to Goma.

One U.N. peacekeeper was killed and some 700 members of the Congolese Army were reportedly wounded in the most recent round of fighting between the M23 rebels in Goma. The U.N.'s intervention brigade (which consisted of 3,000 troops) was operating under a mandate to disarm and neutralize rebel groups in the region. After days of "clashing with U.N. backed forces," M23 rebel leaders said that they are withdrawing from the frontlines. 

Above M23 rebels man the gate to the occupied military academy in Rumangabo, DRC on July 20.


Bar owner Caroline Kjarala stands next to her daily delivery of Fanta, Coca-Cola, and Primus bottles in Kinshasa in July 2013. (Bralima not only produces Primus beer, but Heineken, Coca-Cola, Sprite, and Fanta at its main plant in the capital.) Kjarala used to run a fashion boutique, but decided two years ago to switch trades in order to sell a more in-demand product. "Everyone has a reason to drink. Drink to get rid of feeling bad, drink to celebrate," she explains.


Congolese rapper JB Mpiana works a crowd into a frenzy at a concert in Kinshasa in July 2013. Mpiana, nicknamed "the man who puts the water in the coconut" by his loyal fans, is one of the DRC's biggest music stars. Here at his weekly Primus-contracted VIP Sunday night pool party, he sings about life, love, and of course, Primus beer.


An armed man stands guard outside of a small hotel in Goma, as the region's volcanoes loom in the distance.

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