Friday, July 31, 2009

Coltan, et al.

Several weeks ago Simon and I were at the UNHCR. We had a chat with the security guard; Jean Pierre. Very nice guy. He had lived in South Africa and did artisinal mining with some friends. I also lived in South Africa, and am very interested in the mining in general. The latter because much has been written on how the mining of coltan, casserite and recently even charcoal fuel the current war in the east of the Congo. on casserite and coltan. on charcoal.

Last Tuesday, just before I left to Kalehe, I met up with Jean Pierre again. We visited an AIDS clinic, met his brother who works in the church and had a long talk regarding mining. This morning at 7am I picked Jean Pierre up from his nightshift at the UNHCR and joined him to his house and family where we had tea, and he gave me several precious metals. Here we go:



Grena Rouge:


And yes, coltan:

And casserite:

So, why do I have these things now? First, I am interested and probably will do a bit of research on civil wars and natural resources, so I should see what I will be writing about. But, having these metals, isn't that a bad thing, knowing that it is fuelling conflict? I gave this a bit of thought, and answer in the negative. It is artisinally mined; by Jean Pierre himself. As the aforementioned report notes:

"Global Witness is calling for actions targeted specifically at those parts of the mineral trade which are controlled by armed groups or military units and has developed the aboverecommendations with this goal in mind. A crackdown on this part of the trade would not have significant negative effects on the civilian population in the long term, as the profits currently derived from it serve primarily to enrich the elite of businessmen, the military and leaders of armed groups.

Global Witness does not take the position that mining activities in eastern DRC should cease altogether. Nor does it advocate a boycott or embargo of the trade as a whole, as such blanket measures would adversely affect the sections of the mineral trade which are not controlled by any of thewarring parties.

The aim of Global Witness’s campaign, therefore, is not to stop artisanal miners from trading, nor to close down mines in eastern DRC, but to exclude the warring parties, and their intermediaries, from the supply chain and trading networks, so that miners are able to sell only to legitimate, civilian buyers who do not have connections with any of the warring parties.Global Witness also aims to highlight, and ultimately stop, the

grave human rights abuses committed by the warring parties involved in the exploitation and trade of minerals."

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Dinosaurs in the Congo.

On Tuesday morning, during breakfast, I spilled Nutella on the table. But... it looks like a Brachiosaurus. How cool!!

Our last fieldtrip. :(

Last Tuesday and Wednesday we were in the field again. We went to two villages to implement La Voix des Kivus in the third and fourth (and final) village.

Monday, July 27, 2009

A weekend in Goma, and instruments from hell.

At around 3pm – after a comfortable, three-hour boat ride across Lake Kivu – Tracy, Simon and I arrived in Goma. The latter is a plagued city while it should be a paradise. The area around the city is fertile, the city is located next to a gorgeous lake, there are incredible parks with wildlife all around (a.o. Virunga National Park), the weather is amazing, etc. But Goma is far from a paradise. It is fertile because of volcanoes; and in 2002 one of them – Nyiragongo – erupted and sent a stream of lava (200 meters to one kilometer wide and up to two meters deep) through the center of the city as far as the lake shore. The nature reserves are nice, but there is one problem. They are also great hide-outs for rebel groups; and are used as such. Also, Goma is located in the east of the Congo on the border with Rwanda; the city was the hub for the refugees during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, because of its strategic position it saw lots of fighting during both the First and the Second Congo War, and recently it was almost overrun by Laurent Nkunda and his CNDP rebels. Oh yes, I almost forgot. It is located next to Lake Kivu, which is about to blow up (see one of my first posts).


After arrival, being picked up by an IRC car and driver, showing our face at IRC’s Goma-office, and checking into the Caritas hotel, we had a walk through the city. Although Goma is one of the bigger city’s of the DR Congo, there is little to do. The main attraction on our walk was a supermarket. There are – in contrast to Bukavu – several good restaurants in Goma. We ended up at a great Indian place, and I made sure that the leftovers was put in a doggy-bag.

Our hotel with view:


A friend and colleague in our PhD-program is from Goma; his family still lives there, and we wanted to visit them. Of course(!) when we tried to call them on Sunday morning, the Zain network was down. We therefore had to go for another walk through Goma, and then walked back to the docks as our boat left at 2pm.

Instruments from hell.

I am not talking about AK47s; I am talking about our boat on the way back to Bukavu. The boatride was horrible. The boat – with 2x 50hp Yamaha engines – was very small. The boat was overcrowded; instead of 14 people there were about 24. The lake was extremely rough; a lot of wind and high waves. Before we had even left a lady threw up, and shortly after taking off the captain's assistant hit his head again a pin in the sealing and had a well-bleeding headwound. The lady sitting in front of me was well over 240 pounds and, as a result, her seat touched the ground and the back of her seat hit the front of my seat; i.e. my legs (already not made for these types of boats) had absolutely no room and I had to place my legs in Tracy’s legs-place. I mentioned the lake was rough. I spent enough time on boats to know that at those moments – in order not to get seasick – one has to look at the horizon. And so I did. The people in the boat did everything but that. They were talking (read: arguing and screaming), looking inside the boat, etc. However, after several minutes, many of them turned quiet and started looking sick. In addition, when, after about an hour, I looked on my GPS device (great stuff) to see how far we still had to go, we were not even a quarter of the way! Combine all this with what I thought was going to be a mix of the the following odors: vomit, petrol, blood, and… the Indian food I brought on the boat (I already smelled it in my bag while on the shore), this boat was a vomit bomb ready to explode.

Then … Idjwi saved us. Idjwi is the world's tenth-largest inland island and stretches out over almost the whole of Lake Kivu. It took the wind - and therefore the waves - away. The boat picket up speed (the GPS device indicated we were going as fast as 45 km/h), the music went on in the boat, sodas were distributed and there was even a working television in the boat. Brilliant.

The boat on the way back:

In the end we arrived at around 530pm; of course an hour later than what the people at the dock in Goma told us, but we were very happy to be back on shore. An IRC car was waiting for us, and after going through customs (yes, each time!) and a short ride back home, Simon and I could finally... dress up. We were invited by our Voix des Kivus Field Coordinator and his wife to have dinner at their place. After a great Congolese dinner (foufou, fish from Lake Kivu, etc.) we arrived back at around 11pm; finally we could sit on a couch and be tired.

Two final random things:

- This is a great report:

- We asked Macartan to send us some money via Western Union. The latter told Macartan that there were no Western Unions in the Congo. Simon and I beg to differ as we have seen tens and tens of them in Bukavu, Lubumbashi and Goma. Hereby proof:

Friday, July 24, 2009

Friday, July 24.

I am a very bad blogger. What I wanted to be a short post, is now one of the longest (and most boring). I know few of you will read it; even my parents won’t read it as they are going on holiday today (Enjoy!). Anyhow, here we go:

For the people that actually read the whole July 21 post “Regarding research, and other things”, you read the paragraph called “Peter and Ophrah Winfrey” in which I bashed those magazines that are unfortunately read by a large part of Western society. Anyhow, you won’t belief it, but I am actually going to say something positive about one of them. In 11 March 2008-issue of Best, there is an article called “Marriage madness?”. It concerns the wedding of the UK football player Wayne Rooney and the UK presenter Coleen McLoughlin who with “… a rumoured 2.5 million pounds on the table the couple will be out to impress. After all, Coleen’s 21st bash last year cost ½ million pound.” The article notes: a 200,000 pound ring, a 100,000 pound gown, and that Coleen is looking for “the biggest one-of-a-kind wedding cake”. Now, fantastically, on the same page, Best compares this to the wedding of Julie and Gary Ratcliffe who married for less than a 1,000 pounds, had everything they wanted and had a great time. Absolutely brilliant! To make an understatement, I am angry when I read how people misspend money while I know that just several meters from where I am currently writing this blog people literally die from cold, hunger, and diseases that can be prevented with extremely cheap medicines. I do not say that people shouldn’t spend money on a wedding, but please with some moderation. Wayne Rooney and Coleen McLoughlin please see something of this world, instead of only beaches and fancy hotels.

That's quite a bit of preaching on an early Friday morning. Don't I have anything else to blog about than a wedding? Well, yes, but it is not very spectacular as Simon and I have been working in either the IRC office or at home the last two days. So what did we do?

Yesterday and the day before.
We already got the software for Voix des Kivus working several days ago. However, several additional things we wanted to check. After some work we now know how to send credit from one phone to another; i.e. this is crucial as we have to update the credit of our phones in the villages. Also, with the help of the FrontlineSMS community, we are now able to make the computer 'do things' if it receives textmessages. For example, I programmed a (simple) code so that when somebody sends the text message OPENSTATA to my phone, Stata is opened on my computer. It is a bit geeky, but it can also be very useful. For example, we can have a dataset on our computer with information about the different villages. Then, for example, if somebody that lives in the village 1 sends the textmessage VILLAGE1, I can make the computer open the dataset, look for the information on Village 1, and have that information send – all automatically – back to that villager.

We did something else over the last two days. TUUNGANE - in all four provinces - is currently collecting GPS data on exactly where the LLUs, CDVs and CDCs are (more on this below). Of course, in the end, these locations should be projected on a nice fancy map of the DR Congo. Unfortunately, this is more complicated then we expected: 1. There are different so-called “datums”; that is, geographical coordinate systems. In brief, the world is not a nice round ball. It is therefore approximated by an ellipsoid. However, the datum is important as it determines the ellipsoid’s position with regards to the earth. There are literally hundreds of different datums. To make things even easier, this is not all. 2. There are different types of projections. While the world is kind of like a ball, a map is two-dimensional. Unfortunately, there are many different ways to go from the first to the latter. Depending on the projection, the locations that TUUNGANE obtained are either in the DR Congo, or - for example, in Latin America. :).

Yes, we have specialized software for this – ArcGIS – but that doesn’t make life much easier: 1. The program is not very user-friendly; I say this although I am already working with it for several months. 2. We obtained several maps of the DRC from the UN. Of course, these maps have different datums and projections than the locations TUUNGANE gives us.

Because we are not going to Maniema, the M&E officer in Kindu will now be responsible for conducting the pilot survey. That is, he has to train 2 people and take them into the field for several days. Yesterday and the day before, we wrote an extensive guide on how to train these surveyors, and exactly what the questions went. This document will also be useful for the final survey next year.

Over the last few weeks we noticed several inconsistencies in the 2007 baseline survey dataset, some answers were on the hardcopies but not in the dataset, etc. Consequently, last Monday we hired Junior to re-enter specific information from the (close to) 4,000 surveys into a data set. While we already made the template for the household surveys, we still had to make a template for the chief surveys.

We also did many small things: 1. We got our per diems from the IRC (we are in need for cash). 2. We asked Macartan to send us money via Western Union (for the thieves reading this. Money will be gone quickly as we have to pay our Field Coordinator, hire a car for next week, etc. Sorry!). 3. We double-checked with Junior. 4. We solved some excel-questions that the TUUNGANE boss in Haut Katanga still had for us. 5. We got in contact with a guy to become the collegue of Junior (it is more work then expected).

A final big thing we did was the writing of a template for the Sud Kivu territoire directors with questions for them to fill out regarding the LLUs. You are probably bored already. Warning: it will get even worse from now onwards.

LLU data.
LLUs are so-called “Lowest Level Units”. Let me explain. TUUNGANE works with CDVs (see one of my previous posts). These CDVs are not equal to actual villages; they are IRC-constructed entities of around 1,200 inhabitants. For example, if there are 4 villages of around 300 people 'close' to each other, they are together a CDV. But, for example, if the village is big and has say 6,000 inhabitants, the CDV only takes place in a part of the village; for example a quartier. All to make sure the CDVs has a size of around 1,200 people. This leads to weird things: some villages are split up, some villages have to work together in a CDV but are tens of kilometers apart from each other, etc. LLUs then are the entities that a CDV consists of (villages, sousvillages, quartiers, etc.). These CDVs get a project of around $3,000. Then these CDV are themselves again grouped together into CDCs; these guys get projects of around $60,000.

Anyhow, Simon and I have to create a clean database with information on these LLUs. This is not easy.

Some background information (in brief!): In 2007 there was a document with >5,000 LLUs from which the 600+ LLUs were chosen to be sampled for the baseline survey. Then in 2008 the IRC obtained information on the amount of people living in each of these LLUs and then grouped these LLUs together into CDVs and then these CDVs into CDCs. This newly created document was then used to for a lottery determining whether the CDC was going to get TUUNGANE. After that, IRC people found out that the population sizes of the LLUs were often very different than what they thought. Consequently, from 2008 to 2009 many CDVs were regrouped because CDVs should have around 1,200 people in there. So, some LLUs were kicked out of certain CDV and entered others, some LLUs didn’t exist and were deleted from the files, etc.

Therefore at the moment, Simon and I have to work with several files that are all different, but all have some interesting information:
1. A file from 2007 with information which LLUs were chosen for the 2007 baseline sample;
2. A file from 2008 saying in which CDV and CDC the different LLUs are in 2008;
3. A file - at the CDC level - with information on the lottery (what lottery bin, the date of the lottery, etc.);
4. A current 2009 file that tells us which CDCs have which CDVs.

Our job is to combine these files in clean database with information at the LLUs-level. If this sounds complicated, please read this. 1. Documents 1 and 2 have some strange reason not the same LLUs in there!? Merging the two gives a very bad match. 2. Document 2 has been documented at the provincial level. Many provinces do not have this document anymore, or are not sure how they grouped the LLUs into CDVs and CDCs. 3. Which CDVs changed composition? In which CDVs are the LLUs now? Document 4 is at the CDV level, and doesn't say anything about the LLUs.

After the aforementioned template is filled out, we have finished the province of Sud Kivu. That is, we have a do-file that is many pages long, we spend weeks on it, bothered the territoire directors of Sud Kivu many times., and... Sud Kivus is the easiest province!

Over the last few weeks Simon and I worked each weekday and each weekendday. Knowing that we have less than two weeks left in the DR Congo, this weekend we take a 1.5 day break. Macartan, I hope you don’t read this. ;). On Saturday morning we take a speedboat to the other side of the Lake Kivu, stay over in Goma, and be back on Sunday. I should have some nice pictures on Monday.

Two great links.
Finally, two great links. The first is just for fun, and especially people from New York will understand most of its humor.
I have to say that this website is also good for my knowlegdge about the geography and history of the United States. For example:

Girl #1: “I hate my life! I need to go out there! Like drive to Hawaii!”
Girl #2: “You can't drive to Hawaii, you don't even have a license!”

20-something girl: There's this guy in my class who's like an Indian. But, I keep reading these things about how we were so horrible to the Indians and how there are none left, so where did he come from? Like, if there are none left, where did he come from?

Finally, the second link is a towards a great blog that also has some posts on the Congo (I stole the link from Chris Blattman’s blog):

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

From the BBC.

Also check out the "KEY STORIES" to the right.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Regarding research, and other things.

Hereby a post with several things that I wanted to write down already for a while, but still hadn’t. There we go:

Regarding research.

Why do I not research Europe, instead of Africa? I know Europe, travelled through most of it, grew up there, know many of its cultures, etc. Why not let Africans study Africa? They know the area better than I ever will, they know its (local) languages, etc. Well, next to the fact that Africa is much more interesting than Europe, it is crucial for a researcher not to be biased. Somebody researching his/her own region, however, takes sides either knowingly or unknowingly; especially if one is interested – like me – in issues such as conflict. This point was emphasized during a talk Simon and I had with our driver during dinner in Walunga Centre several weeks ago. In brief: He is from the east of the Congo, and we asked him about the situation in the region. He then started raving about how the situation is all the fault of the Rwandans and the Buyamulenga (Rwandan-speakers in the east of the DRC). He claimed, for example, that Paul Kagame (the president of Rwanda) was aiding the FDLR; the main rebel group here in the east at the moment. I noted to him that I thought this was a problematic statement as Kagame is Tutsi and the FDLR is (to a large extent) Hutu-based. He then became even wilder. He could be right, but how he reacted showed that he is far from being unbiased. Research has to be objective; a search for the truth. Biases whenever possible should be avoided. So, once back in NYC, I will invest in finalizing my French, and after that it is Swahili.

Boring Africans.

In general, it is difficult to bore Africans; they can talk for hours, sit quitely for hours, etc. The amazing thing is that Simon and I already bored Africans several times. For example, several weeks ago in Burhuba, when we were waiting for our surveyors to return, after a few hours of chit-chatting people started walking away. :)

Off to China.

The few roads that are build in the Democratic Republic of Congo – and that are of decent quality – are made by the… Chinese. Do they do this because it makes it easier to extract minerals from the DRC? When we were in Lubumbashi we noticed that the main road going out of the city carried a lot of trucks with loads and loads of casserite and coltan:

Although, I have to admit that I got the following information from Wikipedia, I think it is still interesting: “Currently, industry experts estimate that the majority of coltan from the DRC is being exported to China for processing into electronic-grade tantalum powder and wires.”

The Washington Post recently had an story on exactly the above-mention road ( and noted that “As part of a $10 billion deal between the newly elected government and the Chinese, to be signed in coming weeks, the Chinese will build major routes linking south to north and connecting mining cities to western ports, mostly in exchange for lucrative mining concessions. Here in the mineral-rich province of Katanga, projects for secondary roads such as the one to Kilongo are being undertaken by foreign mining companies that need to get minerals to market.”

All in all, it reminds me of a map of Africa of the railroad systems build by the Europeans during the colonial period and mainly to extract as much as possible as quickly as possible from the continent. See how all the lines nicely go to the ocean; i.e. to European ships:

It is just a pity (understatement) that for centuries the benefits of the minerals from this country and continent has gone to everybody except its people.

Top dog.

As in most of Africa, also many government officials in Congo try to be more important than their job give them reason to. People (that are often illiterate) look for ages into your passport, customs seems extremely important and your entrance and departure is carefully written down in thick books (that nobody ever looks into again), etc. This is ok (don't get me started on US customs), and most of the times I play the game along. I do want to note what happened at the airport in Lubumbashi. The European Union is helping the migration-offices in the Congo and, as a result, there were several computers installed in the migration office at L'shi airport. Of course, when after a bit of waiting finally the migration officers arrived, the keyboard were carefully put aside and the thick book was brough out again, ready to scribble down my name and look for tens of minutes at my passport.

That’s deep.

The Congo river is the deepest river in the world; again, I got this from Wikipedia. At some places it is up to 750 feet (around 250 meter) deep!

James Bond is a loser.

When I travel I wear one of those jackets with a ziljon pockets in it, and I carry loads of stuff with me: 2 or 3 cellphones, photocamera, notebook, compas, several pens, a GPS receiver, and … a Swiss Army knive. I know, James Bond is not even half as cool as I am. The pocketknive, however, was – I thought – going to be problematic when entering our ECHO plane in L’shi, because there was a guy with one of those handscanners scanning all passengers. When it was my turn, the handscanner was, of course, beeping all over. After showing him the goodies I was carrying one by one he got tired after I showed him the third phone, and he ordered me to walk on. Ha! The next pocket would have been my pocket knive.

William People.

I make a lot of friends here in Africa. I think the biggest one up to now is William People; a guy in his twenties whom we met in Yandisha – a few hours drive away from Lubumbashi. He only knows half a sentence of English, but he was able to repeat that sentence several tens of times (and very loudly) during the few hours we were in his village. Him and me:

I think the really fun thing of this picture is that we actually both - honestly - tried to look cool. :). I know mom, I have a big face. I will eat a bit less Goma cheese upcoming week.

Family fight.

Once in a while we noticed “This house is not for sale” on a building or on a wall that is around the building. We asked several locals what was going? Well, when one has a family fight it can happen that one part of the family wants to sell the house. By writing the above on the house, this can be avoided. It is probably a strategy that works. Unfortunately, of course, also everybody immediately knows you have family problems.

Fun with village kids.

This is a thing that our driver last weekend liked to do. As always, when you stop your car near a village within minutes there will be tens of kids around the car. The driver then attracks them even closer to the car by turning the headlights on and off. Once 10 or more children have placed their heads on the headlights to see the lights go and off… claxon! Both the children and us laughed hard.

Peter and Ophrah Winfrey.

Yes, Simon and I are toilet-readers. We read a lot for work during the day and in the evening, and in the evening and night we read articles for our upcoming comprehensive exams. Therefore, at the toilet we have "light-reading"; the best we could find in the house are magazines like "Hello", “Marie Claire”, "Best", "People", “Oprah”, etc. Anyhow, instead of it being nice easy reading, these magazines piss me off. Ophrah (August 2008), for example notes: “If you are craving a European vacation, but the exchange rate is scaring you, skip Paris, London, and Rome and try these four fabulous cities where your dollar will let you splurge…” They continue and note that these four places are Valencia, Dubrovnik, Antwerp and Belfast! How stupid are they! Spain and Belgium have, just like France and Italy, the euro. Croatia with its kuna is soon to be added to the euro area, and Northern Ireland has just like the UK the pound. “… but the exchange rate is scaring you…” Aargh!

Barack Obama.

I know, I haven't written anything about President Obama’s speech. For two good discussions, please see: and

We maybe should have called this blog…

"Rumble in the Jungle". As Simon told me yesterday evening this was a historic boxing event that took place on 30 October 1974 in Kinshasa; the capital of what was then Zaire. It pitted then world Heavyweight champion George Foreman against former world champion and challenger Muhammad Ali.

More serious.

Finally, let me end with something a bit more serious. In the evenings – that is, whenever I have some time and am not writing something for this blog – I study for my comprehensive exams. The latter are exams that PhD-students have to take at the end of their second-year to show that they are familiar with the material in their field of research. In other words, we have to make sure that we have read (literally) hundreds of articles and books; and even pretend we remember something from it.

Anyhow, I read, among others, a 2003 article by William Easterly and Ross Levine, published in the JME, asking itself what leads to economic growth: Is it endowment (disease environment, proximity to the tropics, landlocked, weather type for crops, minerals, etc.)? Is it institutions? Or, is it policies (inflation, trade policies, exchange rate, etc.)? Easterly and Levine find evidence for the second, and argue that the first is only important via the second.

For now let me focus on the proximity to the tropics. For the people that read this blog once in a while you know by now I am frustrated that in the afternoon and evening in the villages the men do absolutely nothing; while the women work hard. Interestingly, Easterly and Levine quote Montesquieu on the association between tropical location and underdevelopment:

“You will find in the climates of the north, peoples with few vices, many virtues, sincerity and truthfulness. Approach the south, you will think you are leaving morality itself, the passions become more vivacious and multiply crimes... The heat can be so excessive that the body is totally without force. The resignation passes to the spirit and leads people to be without curiosity, nor the desire for noble enterprise.”

Seemingly counter-intuitive, Easterly and Levine also note other work that argues that because it is easy to gather food crops in the tropics it reduces the need to work hard and produce. They quote Machiavelli (1519): "Fertile countries are apt to making men idle and unable to exercise any virtue’’. Interestingly, I thought of a similar thing over the last few weeks. Here in the Great Lakes Region (I don't want to generalize too much) food is almost literally lying on the ground; manioc all around, corn all around, etc. If it is so easy to survive there is no need for specialization; something that in my opinion is crucial for development. Moreover, and these are just my thoughts, if nobody specializes there is also no need to build cooperative structures; everybody can survive on its own. Maybe something for future work...

For now as a final thing on the tropics (one can write many pages on this), Chris Blattman (professor at Yale, interesting research, great blog, etc.) has a reference ( to a great article that argues for the importance of the potato. I am quoting Blattman now: “Humans can subsist healthily on a diet of potatoes, supplemented with only milk or butter, which contain the two vitamins not provided for by potatoes, vitamins A and D.” Why are no patatos being grown here in the East of the Democratic Republic of Congo? There are also cows around, so we have milk and butter and we are done. Unfortunately, we are close (very close) to the equator; it is dry here for three months and then... it rains and rains. From experiences back home, I know that patato farmers do not like much rain.