Monday, June 29, 2009

PICS: Second field trip.

Some final pictures. Let's start with construction. This bar was right opposite our hotel in Buyakiri. At the place where the terrace was the - must be very optimistic - constructor is now building a wooden frame for a to-be building with three stories:I want the room in the front of the building, please:
The main road in Buyakiri:
Kids in Mybano:
A kid in Buyakiri:
Taking a break in Mybano, thinking about dissertation topic:
Another shopping street (a town close to Buyakiri):
Amazing views:
In DR Congo (as in many parts of the world) it are the women who do the heavy lifting. In the last few days we have seen literally hundreds of them:
Once in a while, we had to cross some not-very-trustworthy bridges:
And once in a while some big chunks of road were washed away during the rainy season (the approaching car is MSF-Spain):
As always in the Congo: breath-taking views everywhere. This one is taken from the hospital on Saturday evening:

Back from another field trip. 2/2

Sunday 530am: alarm goes off. Actually it was a goat standing right next to my window. Start of day number 2. We had no breakfast, but we were able to arrange some tea and (instant) coffee.

While we were on our way to a hospital we saw hundreds of people standing nearby the place we had a talk with IDPs the day before. There were literally hundreds of people (take of 30% of people that passed by and are just curious) seemingly waiting for something. We got out to see what was going on. Accident? Church? They were there ... for us.

All these people live in the small huts that can be seen on the picture above. Yes, tens of people crammed into these small wooden huts. We talked with many of them; first with the women, then with the children, then with the men. We asked: Where they came from, what happened, and most important: What we can we do for them. After about two hours we continued to the hospital.

RRM distributed several tens of jerry cans and several tens of disinfection devices for the cholera treatment centre. We first visited the cholera treatment center. Also, we talked with MSF-Spain. Whether everything had arrived, whether it is used properly, etc. After that, Stefan, Susan and I had an additional drive through town to visit some friends of Stefan from ACF (Action Against Hunger); three expats that were based in Buyakiri already for months. Early in the afternoon we left Buyakiri for Kalehe. Reason: visit an IDP camp (i.e. IDPs that are not taken up by host families).

IDP camp.
We drover about 4 hours to get to the IDP camp. Susan shot her pictures, and Stefan, Tracy and I talked with the villagers to ask about the situation (humanitarian, security, etc), and ask what their main priorities were regarding needs.

After another 3 hours - just before nightfall - we arrived back home in Bukavu. We were broken, but all had very good about a great weekend. A short field trip, but I am very impressed by the work of Stefan and RRM, and the resiliance of the people here in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Back from another field trip. 1/2

Saturday 530am: alarm goes off; the start of a field trip to Buyakira with RRM. Banging headache. Reason: we partied the evening before at the MONUC base. I drank too much and slept less than 3 hours. Anyhow, RRM is IRC’s Rapid Response Mechanism. If an emergency happens these guys are there quickly to build emergency schools, latrines, provide medicines, NFI kids (NFI = nonfood items), etc. RRM works together with UNICEF. Our task this weekend: monitoring and checking the (security) situation. Also, there is a photojournalist that has to be shown around.

Introducing Stefan.

The team was led by Stefan. Introducing Stefan: Bright, responsible, young German guy (30), head of RRM, worked all over the world (Afghanistan, Chechnya, Kenya, Bosnia, etc.), knowledgeable, and very dedicated to humanitarian work. I’m very impressed by him. Very nice guy as well.


After a 4 hour and (as always) bumpy ride we arrived in Buyakira. Buyakira is a 'big' town with at the moment a lot of IDPs – internally displaced people. Reason: Kimia II. Because of recent and current fighting between FARDC and FDLR - quite nearby Buyakira - attrocities are committed (by both sides) and people flee to Buyakira, which is 'relatively' safe. As always we first had a long chat with the local administration; out of nicety, but also for security reasons. After that our team split up:

Tracy (IRC employee), Roger, Jacques and Bobonne (local IRC RRM employees) were going to check recently build emergency latrines and an emergency school.

Stefan (see above) and I were going to check the IDP (internally displaced people) situation and driving around Susan (the photojournalist). Most of IDPs in the area are taken up by host families in Buyakira; sleeping in the same house, sharing the very small amounts of food, etc. We had a talk with several of them for about an hour. However, we kept it short because not too many people were around (and Susan needed some interesting pictures). We told them that we would pass by the next morning.

The emergency school. Jacques on the bottom picture.


After that we traveled deeper into the mountains; about 8km. We arrived in Mybano; a small village with mud and adobe houses. Talking with villagers and recently-arrived IDPs to hear their stories of what happened to them and their villages (I will not write down the stories we heard). On the nice side: Stefan and I had a really good time with the children. They had balls made out of plastic bags and although they were not good enough for playing foodball, we invented the game "throw the ball through your legs". It is great to see that in such difficult circumstances these children can still enjoy and play. We spend there around 3 hours.



Next destination: the hospital back in Buyakira; for interviews with people (FARDC soldiers, civilian casualties, etc.). We also talked with the doctors (MSF-France) about the situation on the ground and any possible needs of the hospital.

Dinner and hotel.

By 7pm we were broken (and a strong urge for a cold Primus beer). We went for dinner at a local restaurant. I think we were the first customers in weeks; the beers had to be bought in the shop, electricity was off, there were no glasses, etc. But all this is great. Also, the goat and foufou tasted fantastic; especially knowing that I only had one sweet patato (a "yam") that we bought along the road. I hadn't had breakfast (my stomach wasn’t up for that) and no lunch. By 930pm I was in bed and very shortly after that knockout.

Of course, pre-dinner dancing. From L to R: Stefan, somebody that passed by and heard the music, Susan, Roger.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


As we mentioned in a previous post, there are many blue helmets around. Actually, to be more precise, Simon and I are situated right in the middle of the world’s largest and most expensive peacekeeping force. MONUC – the acronym for Mission de l’ Organisation des Nations Unies au Congo – has around 18,000 soldiers located here in the east of the DRC. Their headquarters for Sud Kivu is right next to us; less than a 100 meter walk. While MONUC is the biggest and most expensive peacekeeping force in the world, it is probably also one of the most useless peacekeeping forces in the world. As we wrote before the Congolese don’t like them. The United Nations has very strict security measures, MONUC therefore can’t go to the places where they are most needed. Moreover, UN peacekeepers here are a very special bunch of people. The bluehelmets located here are mainly Pakistanis (we live next to the PakBat with their PakShop), Uruguans, and Chinese. The reasons for them to be here os not to safe the world. The salary of these soldiers are by paid for by the UN. Because these countries are poor, they receive – relatively – a lot of money when they send their soldiers out for UN missions. On top of this, the main reason why China is present is geo-politics; mining contracts. The east of the Congo is filled with valuable natural resources (don’t even get me started on this point). Anyhow, so far for sending soldiers to save the DR Congo and its people. Funny also is that these soldiers do not speak English. Worse, they don’t even speak French. So far for helping the population. Finally, MONUC has fancy fancy hardware; big cars, helicopters, speedboats in Lake Kivu, etc. The reason for having this, however, is mainly to get themselves out of trouble as soon as possible. MONUC is constantly present, but as soon as things turn dangerous they are the first to leave. So, luckily, they are still around.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Why our internet connection is so bad... and will continue to be

This is a picture of the main broadband cables in the area in the next 10 years. The red dot on the map is where we are.

Find our house on Google Maps.

You want to see our house? You want to see the IRC compound? For the first, please type in:

-2.493674 28.879304

A green arrow will be placed right on top of our house. Interestingly, Google Maps says we live on Avenue Chantal. We didn’t know that. We haven’t seen a road sign yet. Also, please do not think you can send us a postcard now. We don’t know what number our house has. Also, our neighbors across the street (a fantastic Warchild – UNICEF couple) gets an electricity bill with one street name on it, a security company bill with another streetname on it, and a tv-bill with yet another name on it. In addition, if you go a little bit north on the peninsula you see the MONUC base for Sud Kivu.

To find the IRC compound, please type in:

-2.496849 28.888003

There is even a panorama picture; it seems that the compound used to be a school. We can’t open the picture here (internet is too slow), but I think if you add barbed wire and a watchtower, it should be about right.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

War-proof commodities

There seem to be three things that are immune to war in Africa:
1-cell phones
I want to talk to their logistics coordinators.

Monday, June 22, 2009

I forgot this one (already a bit old though).

Kimia II

Cook, bananas and goat.

We just arrived home from the office for lunch. Jean Pierre (our cook) is busy preparing lunch:

For dinner, I think we have bananas, cauliflower, carrots and... goat:

Sunday, June 21, 2009

So what are we up to.

Let me start with some background information (attention: this is boring). There are many villages in the four provinces we are working – around 5,000 that we know of – and they are scattered out over an area the size of France. We call these villages Lowest Level Units (LLUs). Why? Well, the IRC – for logistical reasons – grouped many of these LLUs together into so-called CDVs; entities of around 1,200 people. Then to make things even more complicated five CDVs are themselves grouped together into so-called CDCs. Now, TUUNGANE gives each VDC $3,000 and each CDCs around $60,000. To make things more complicated not all CDVs and CDCs are in TUUNGANE. Via a public lottery about half of all CDCs were selected for TUUNGANE. OK, there we go:

1. Get LLU data together.

In 2007 a baseline survey was undertaken in 600 LLUs (see previous post). Next year we will undertake another survey in the same 600 LLUs PLUS in another 600 LLUs. Consequently, it is kind of important for us to know in which CDV and CDC each LLU is (yes, hurrah for the acronyms). Also, we have to know which LLU is in the control or treatment group, whether we did the baseline survey there, what their population size is, etc. Of course, this data is scattered all over the IRC place, very messy, or simply missing. We have been working on this for the last few days; i.e. boringly sitting inside behind a laptop (but in the sun with a glass of wine).

2. Geo-locate villages.

Another thing we have to know about these LLUs is where they are located; for many LLUs we have no clue where they precisely are. What we want is the geo-location of these villages. Therefore, we are preparing to: hire people, train them how to use GPS-devices, get GPS-devices, hire motorbikes, get petrol, make maps, etc. These guys have to visit all 5,000 LLUs and have to take longitude, latitude and altitude information. Let me not start about the costs and size of this project.

3. Violence measurement system.

We received a grand from USAID to put a measure in place that gives information on local-level violence. In these two months we will pilot the “Phone Project” in 4 villages.

4. Clean the baseline survey.

We also have to clean the data we obtained from the baseline survey (see previous posts). This is a lot of work but it is going relatively smooth; a bit of coding once in a while, looking at the hardcopies of the surveys, etc.

5. Pilot the final survey.

Finally, we have to pilot the final survey. That is, there will be questions in the final survey that were not in the baseline survey, and it likely that there were questions in the baseline survey that were not good. To make sure the new question in the final survey are good, we have to pilot them. We have finished a draft of the final survey (Macartan is currently looking at it). The next step is to hire teams of people, train them how to do the survey, and send them out into the field to 8 randomly chosen villages.

6. Flying to the provinces.

For many of these things we have to be physically present in the different provinces. While number 4 will only be done in Sud Kivu (where we are at the moment), number 2 and 5 will have to be done in each province. Also, to doublecheck number 1 we have to sit around the table with provincial directors, to make sure we have the correct LLU information. Bottomline, in upcoming weeks we will have to fly to each province, which is easier said than done. There are two ways to fly around: MONUC or ECHO (there is a third – the DRC’s own airline companies – but one should only do that if one likes to crash). Both are free, but MONUC is unreliable. One goes to the UN airport, gets in the plane, and at the last moment they kick you out because there is something or someone more important than you that also has to get on the plane. It take on average 2.5 tries to get a MONUC flight. ECHO (from the European Union) is more reliable. Problem is that one should be on a list to get in. Via via we can get on the list. The only problem is that ECHO only flies out of Bukavu on Tuesdays and back to Bukavu on Thursday. Planning is complicated here (but fun!).

Some final random things.

- Simon doesn’t like foufou. Peter only likes it because he can then eat with his hands;

- Oranges are green (and grow in our garden);

- Corn also grows in our garden, but right next to the trash heap;

- Simon and I have many light-blue shirts with us, which is not wise. We look like MONUC;

- There is a small shop run by Pakistanis inside the MONUC base. We bought a $2 movie there (“Yes man”);

- Because the shower has no pressure (and no hot water for that matter), we have a bucket shower each morning.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

IRC radio and security policy.

As noted before, the security situation in Bukavu itself is relatively good. The International Rescue Committee, however, does not take risks.

Going to work.
Simon and I each have a strong, two-way radio, which we should always carry with us. In the morning we call the radio room (that is we ask for “ROMEO Base” on Channel 1; ROMEO is the codeword for "r"). We ask a car for "12.5" and "12.8" for "GOLF 5". In normal words, "GOLF 5" - GOLF is the codeword for "g" - is gate 5; the gate that leads to our house. "12.5" and "12.8" are respectivelly the code letters for Simon and me, but we are better known as "les deux visiteurs". Anyhow, we call a car and a 4x4 is dispatched from the base. That is, the car leaves the base and calls the radio room that he is leaving "GOLF 6" (the main gate leading to the base) and that he is heading towards GOLF 5. Less than 8 minutes later the car is in front of our gate and calls the security officer that guards GOLF 5. The gate opens, we get in the car, and the car calls the radio room that he is leaving GOLF 5 with 12.5 and 12.8. A minute before the car arrives at the base, the car calls GOLF 6 and the gate is opened. Once we are in, GOLF 6 calls ROMEO base that 12.5 and 12.8 have arrived.

Going for a swim.
The ritual is conducted when we go for lunch at home in the afternoon, when we go back home in the evening, and even when we go for a short walk. For example. About hundred meters away from our house there is this place called “the Orchid”. The Orchid - not Dharma-initiative for the Lost-watchers - is a gorgeous restaurant with an amazing view and a great place to go for a swim in Lake Kivu (see pictures in the previous post). It is one of those real expat-places; actually quite horrible knowing the state this country is in. Anyhow, on a Saturday afternoon, when the sun shines, we like to walk there. There we go: We first tell the security guard where we are going. He calls the radio room and says that 12.5 and 12.6 leave GOLF 5 to the Orchid. Then when we arrive we call ROMEO base telling that we arrived safely. And we go through the same again when we leave the Orchid to go back home. Stupid radios.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


After a long day of work, we went for a swim in Lake Kivu. The lake, despite being explosive (see previous post), is absolutely beautiful and the water is quite warm. According to one of the drivers at the IRC (who was fisherman in a previous life), the lake is teeming with fish. Many fisherman work at night, using huge lamps to attract fish to the surface. They also seem to have fresh water tilapia in the lake, which makes for a nice alternative to goat and foufou for dinner.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Something all academics should do.

Macartan left earlier this morning. I won’t get started about what we did and what Simon and I will be up to in upcoming weeks. But, bottomline, it is a lot. A lot! But it is also really great stuff! I will write how and what in one of the next posts; I promise.

I do want to say this. Often it is difficult to relate work that involves a lot of math and econometrics (or academia in general for that matter) to 'the real world'. This was one of the reasons I switched away from economics to political science a few years ago. Also, if one works with data, the latter is often taken from such uneventful sources as the IMF, a central bank, etc. In upcoming weeks, one of the things Simon and I have to do is cleaning a dataset of 16,000 observations. Yep, this sounds very boring. Today we were – once again – reminded of how amazing this particular data set is that we will be working with, and how much the work we will be doing actually is related to 'the real world'. This was because of two things we did yesterday:

First, yesterday afternoon we read through the reports of the people that did the baseline survey. One simply can’t imagine the size of this evaluation we are doing here in the DR Congo! In 2007, 100+ people were send out to conduct surveys in 600 different villages that were randomly selected in an area that is the size of France. While use was made of cars, planes, motorbikes, etc., because of the complete lack of infrastructure many of the survey teams still had to walk for many days, sometimes weeks to arrive to the randomly chosen villages. The reports we read noted how the survey people were hospitalized, got typhoid, were kidnapped by Mai Mai rebels, got malaria, had to build their own bridges, etc. And when they arrived at the site where a village should be it once in a while happened that the village didn’t exist anymore or the village was empty (people fled for rebels). Absolutely incredible! To give an indication of the size of the area I have included at the bottom of this post a map of the DRC that also includes the Netherlands for comparison; remember, in contrast to the Netherlands, in the sampling areas there are no roads that are worth mentioning (and that is during the dry season!!).

Secondly, yesterday evening we went to "La base" to sit down and have a good look at the treasure: the hardcopies of all the 3,000 households (600 * 5 households in each village) and 600 chiefs. The by-hand-filled-out-surveys occupied several boxed; many of them over 15 kilograms. It is a strange feeling to know that for each piece of paper you hold in your hand, people have travelled for days in very difficult circumstances. Reading through them is amazing and makes one think. 1. There is a question in the survey that lists several types of livestock (chickens, goats, etc.) and asks the amount they had of each in 1996 (before the war) and in 2007 (the year the survey was taken). In all of the surveys I have read the amounts went down from 1996 to 2007! 2. People often have not more than 200 CFA for the whole household at home (that is around 2 US$. No, they don't have banks nearby). 3. People have to walk for hours to get to a primary school, and often as much to visit the neighboring village. 4. We read the names of the sons and daughters who joined the rebel groups, whether the family was displaced, injured, etc. Absolutely incredible! So many answers, on so many questions, about so many people, and in such an incredible area! For us this 16,000 observations-counting dataset is not just a dataset. And these people are not just another row in yet another Stata datasheet. This data is very much alive for us.

Map of the DR Congo. That green dot is the Netherlands.