Sunday, January 31, 2010
After reading that, make absolutely sure you also read this by Jason Stearns on Congo Siasa, this by Chris Blattman, this by Wronging Rights and Texas in Africa on this issue.
Friday, January 29, 2010
- Yesterday while sitting in the plane my battery died and so I had some time to finish Ben Okri's "The Famished Road"; a book about the spirit-child Azaro who lives in Nigeria. A strange book in which the real and the spirit world spillover into each other. The almost 600 pages were finished in no time, though.
- I got this link to some nice pictures from a friend of mine already some time ago. Thanks Simon!
- The day before yesterday, when I was still in L'shi, I went to an Indian restaurant. I was never a big fan of Indian food, until last summer. After eating foufou, pondu, peanuts, beans, banana's and the occasional goat for weeks, Indian food with all its flavors was amazing. Why doesn't Congo have a rich cuisine? And is this only since recently?
- Wile eating I watched the Africa Cup with some locals: Nigeria vs Zambia (the latter lost). Was really nice! Let's hope all will go well this time when Algeria meets Egypt in the semi-final.
- To emphasize how important the medium of text message is please read this.
- Let's talk bottle deposit money. A crate of beer cost 20$ when you give them your used crate with empty bottles; other wise you pay $40! A bottle of coke is 500 Congolese Francs (around 50 $cents). But if you do not drink it at the spot (ie take the bottle with you) you either pay 1,000CFR or you have to bring it with you next time. I have a long term relation now with one of the sales ladies at the corner of the IRC compound, so we go for option 2. Yesterday when I came back after half a week in L'shi; the lady ran to me and said "you still have one of my bottles". Very true, I had kept it for her.
- I kept my Lubumbashi house key. Sorry Mark! I'll send it along with the next person who heads from Bukavu to L'shi.
- Jason Stearns keeps on writing great posts on Congo Siasa.
- Ok, so people argue that Sud Kivu is so bad off because of mineral resources. But what about Haut Katanga, which is know to be the richest province of Congo because of its resources. As always, it is not resources per se that is important, but who gets it: rebel groups and government soldiers, or big international companies that at least put part of the money they earn back in the country.
- If it wasn't that serious and tragic this would be the biggest joke ever. Btw, that cheque is so going to bounce.
- Today I am working from home. Why? 1. There is internet connection. 2. I have been hugging the toilet this morning. Last summer (when I was here for two months) I hadn’t been sick. This time (I am here for 1 month) I have already been sick 2 days!? I am quite sure that it are the Japanese Plums. A week ago I hugged the toilet shortly after eating them and thinking "fun, never had that before". Today I hugged the toilet shortly after thinking "he, there are those funny things again". Is two observations enough to draw that conclusion? Dear supervisor, please don't read this.
- So this is really random. Our Voix des Kivus' Field Coordinator is also the Director General of a school in Bukavu. In his office he had the school’s projection equipment:
Thursday, January 28, 2010
I was traveling together with one of the IRC doctors (Doctor Joseph):
This 1,030km flight was utterly beautiful; flying over the many Congolese mountain tops, forests, and over the shore of Lake Tanganyika. The flight also stopped twice: in Moba and in Kalemie; the latter is located right next to Lake Tanganyika.
Moba is a magical place and located about a 1.5 hour flight away from Lubumbashi. After first a fly-over to check whether everything is ok, the plane lands on a dirt road. This dirt road is surrounded by beautiful mountains whos tops are hidden in the clouds and small villages whose inhabitants run towards the dirt road when the plane is landing.
Moba is also the place where thousands of Congolese are currently being repatriated from Zambian refugee camps. Last weekend when I played cards at one of the ICRC houses I had a long chat about this with some UNHCR people; I am very interesting in the implications of IDP and refugee movements.
Finally, as I wrote before, on January 13, another ECHO plane crashed in Moba. Today the plane was still there, but without any EU logos on it; the sneeky European Union had painted over the logos. :). So, hereby pictures of a crashed European Union plane:
Because the crashed plane took up part of the run way our plane had to turn around rather abruptly:
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Shortly after Congo was granted independence on June 1960, Moise Tshombe proclaimed Katangan independence from the new Congolese government of Patrice Lumumba. His declaration of independence was made with the support of Belgian business interests and over 6,000 Belgian troops; Tshombe was known to be close to the Belgian industrial companies that mined in HK. In September 1960, Prime Minister Lumumba was replaced in a coup d'état by Mobutu Sese Seko. In January 1961, Lumumba was sent to Lubumbashi, where he was tortured and executed shortly after arrival; most likely with the help of the Belgium and US government. It was only after a decisive attack by UN forces on Katanga in December 1962 and the fall of Lubumbashi in January 1963, that Tshombe surrendered. Many lives were lost; including that of UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld who died in uncertain circumstances in a plane crash.
More recently Lubumbashi was again in the spotlight. This was when rebel leader Laurent-Désiré Kabila was in the process of overthrowing the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. (Yep, the first is the father of Joseph Kabila the current Congolese president who took over after his father’s assassination in January 2001). Laurent-Désiré Kabila, after Mobutu had fled in May 1997, spoke from Lubumbashi to declare himself president of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The pictures and statues of Laurent-Désiré Kabila are present throughout the city.
At the moment Lubumbashi is very safe and quiet; almost to being boring. I do not need a radio here, I do not have a call sign, and the IRC even allows one to walk around the city. Let's see whether this stays the same in the next election (this year? Who knows?) when the governor of Katanga - Moïse Katumbi Chapwe – is is likely to run for the presidency.
So, what am I doing here in Lubumbashi?
Well, actually nothing very interesting. I am not going into the field and I am not training any people. I mainly talk and sit behind my laptop. That is, I have five main things that I am doing here:
- Talking to Mark; the boss of TUUNGANE for Haut Katanga. The evaluation is getting closer, we are planning to add a behavioral measure, and there are several other things that have to be talked about but that doesn’t go well over the phone;
- Talking to UN OCHA regarding maps of the Haut Katanga region;
- Talking with Professor Gabriel Kalaba from OCU at the University of Lubumbashi. He was responsible for the baseline survey in 2007 and I talked with him about his experiences and about his ideas for the next survey. Trivia: The Belgians established the University of Élisabethville (now the University of Lubumbashi) in 1954;
- Much time is spend behind a laptop to clean data. The IRC works with entities that are called CDCs and CDVs. A CDV consist out of several villages and a CDC consists out of several CDVs. In 2007 we had a nice document that said which villages were in which CDV and CDC. Over the last few years some CDVs were split up, merged, etc. and because nobody kept track, I am now trying to figure out in which CDC and CDV each of the villages is. FYI: We’re talking over 5,000 villages spread over four provinces. Yes, oh joy!
- We are about to start a big exercise to collect all the geo-locations of those aforementioned villages. I am now preparing the data for this, creating forms that can be filled out, have contact with different agencies to increase the number of GPS devices that we have, etc.
The IRC has a new office, which used to belong to the ICRC. It is much bigger than the one I worked in last summer:
Saturday, January 23, 2010
Note: Please only read this when you have a strong stomach. Over the last few days the bottom of my right foot started hurting right under my small toe. When it started I had a quick look and thought it was a splinter of wood; so "no worries". But, yesterday it started to hurt again so I took out my Swiss Army Knife, my small bottle with anti-bacterial, and started to work.
After cutting away an unusual amount of skin I noticed it wasn't a splinter as it took a lot of trouble to take 'it' out. When it was finally out I noticed a small white dot. Nothing was infected, so I didn't know what it was, and thus continued the surgery. After more cutting I took out a white egg of around 4 by 5 mm! After making sure this was really the only one, I disinfected everything very carefully, and checked my whole body for other intruders: none found.
So where does this chap come from? Two possible reasons:
1. Early last week I went to the bathroom and only noticed the puddle of water next to the toilet once I stood in it. Although I did immediately clean my feet with soap, I may have had a small cut somewhere in my foot, etc.
2. Being Dutch means that one is often taller than both the Congolese and the expats. Consequently, all the beds I sleep in are too small. It is possible that in the evening my food touched the mosquito net and one of those flying chaps thought about migrating to my foot.
Anyhow, I'm ok. I noticed it on time and I had the tools to deal with it. Moreover, I have good shoes, mosquito nets and soap so it is unlikely that it will happen soon again. However, think about the Congolese. They do not have a Swiss Army Knife and no bottle of anti-bacterial. Also, the forest is one big public toilet and almost none of the Congolese has good shoes, soap or a mosquito net for that matter.
My camera had problems taking a picture of it, but to the left my little friend:
Friday, January 22, 2010
While the baseline survey took place in 2007 another will take place at end of this year and yet another in the summer of next year. Not only are we preparing these surveys, we are also working on a great behavioral measure to get at the impact of TUUNGANE (more on that later). All in all, this needs lots of preparation: doing lots of coding (mainly to clean data), meeting all the stakeholders, etc.
In addition, the geo-location of over 5,000 villages throughout Eastern Congo has to be taken in upcoming months. Indeed, lots of preparation: talking with organizations to get more GPS devices, getting the data in such a way that we know what villages we are looking for, etc. Before I leave I want at least one of the provinces to have send out the first teams.
Then there are a ziljon smaller things: finding the PDAs that were planned to be used for the 2007 baseline survey, but were - of course - blocked at customs. Hiring somebody for several days to enter data from 100 randomly selected surveys to doublecheck the quality of previous data entry. Etc.
VOIX DES KIVUS
In January Voix des Kivus turned 6 months old; i.e. the end of the pilot, and a decision had to be made whether to continue or not. From our Ivory Tower in New York things looked good: more than a 1,000 messages were received. But what do our phoneholders think about the project (is it safe? Are they motivated? Etc.). And what does the development community in Eastern Congo think (Are they going to use the information?). So, we visted each of the phoneholders and we gave a presentation at the weekly UN OCHA meeting - where all development organizations get together - and it was clear that the project had to continue.
But continuation means growing. The pilot takes plane in only four villages; a very low number to give much useful information to, for example, the development community. So, decisions had to be made on how to expand and where, a code had to be written that randomly selects villages for entry into Voix des Kivus, new contracts have to be written for the Field and Technical Coordinator, more phones have to be bought, and a ziljon other things.
Finally, the grant for this project comes from USAID. Just before I left they gave me a camera and asked me whether I could make a small documentary about Voix des Kivus. So, now I am walking around with a camera; interviewing the phoneholders, people from the development community, etc.
If time permits, I hope to do three more things: 1. Meet up with Alain who buys and sells coltan, casserite, gold, etc. 2. Meet several economics, anthropology, sociology, etc. professors and students here in Bukavu. 3. Go to a village, completely map the village, sit down with people and talk with them for several hours, and really try to get at how it is to live in rural Congo.
Anyhow, maybe a boring post for you, but for me all of the above is really great stuff!
Thursday, January 21, 2010
Firstly, I helped a bit. This morning we left Bukavu with 7 people, a car and a large truck filled with medicines destined for Minembwe. The latter is a bigger village in South Kivu's territoire Fizi where the IRC has a base. The week before I arrived in the Congo fighting had intensified around Minembwe so the IRC had been evacuated. After three weeks it was slowly being staffed and stuffed again; the latter with among others medicines. To get it there the IRC had hired a plane. so the truck had to be unloaded, the plane had to be loaded, etc. Because only half of the truck fitted in the plane, the plane returned after two hours for the other half. This was fun.
Secondly, I socialized and looked around. There were a few more expats waiting for the ECHO flight: a doctor from Medices Sans Frontiers and the country director of Search for Common Ground. We talked a lot. I also looked around as these airports are cool: many UN personel helicopters, UN cargo planes, and even some UN helicopter gunships landed and took off. Also, DRC government troops (the FARDC) arrested somebody. Before they handcuffed the man he first had to take off his shoes, which were then tied to the handcuffs. Why? Is it to discourage him from running away? Interesting.
Thirdly, I worked. I had charged my laptop the evening before (I already saw something like this coming) and sat in the shade for several hours.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
I did make some nice pictures on the way back, though. In the back of this picture is Kavumu Airport. It is such a beautiful country.
Did he/she try to take a shortcut?
* This is a piece of paper saying a person's name, the organization he/she works for, where he/she is going to, from when to when, what mode of transportation, and - of course - this document includes some stamps and signatures. One has to get this document for each new "mission".
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
I'm flying with ECHO - the European Union airservice here in the Congo - to Lubumbashi; the capital of the province of Haut Katanga. The reason why I am going to Lubumbashi for 10 days I'll write in the next post.
In order to get to Lubumbashi one has to stop twice: one time in Kalemie and one time in Moba. Interestingly, last Wednesday (January 13) the ECHO plane crashed in Moba. From sources I heard that the pilot did a "mauvais atterissage". "The pilot missed the target and one of the back wheels broke off on the runway, causing the plane to lean over to one side. One of the wings consequently dragged along the runway until the pilot was able to steer the plane until a small puddle of water to slow down the plane." Luckily, "everyone got out of the plane safe and sound, but visibly shaken up."
Of course, we all want to see the pictures:
More seriously, though. I flew this same route in the summer, also with ECHO. They are good: fly new Canadian Bombardier planes, operate under international quality standards, etc. So, no worries. And to increase the image of the EU a bit after this: European Union, you rock!
Mom, I hope to write something tomorrow again. ;)
It was Friday evening – the evening before Macartan would leave – so we went for a Primus in one of the local bars (Belvedere). Within two hours we had consumed several beers and several additional Congolese – friends and students of Professor Chimanuka – had joined our table. It was great.
For example, one of the people that joined was Alain; a surveyor for the 2007 baseline survey. For the survey Professor Chimanuka sent out the surveyors in teams of two – one man and one woman – and Alain had some nice stories to tell. He talked about how they had to cross rivers filled with hippos and crocodilles. He told us how they walked for a day up to their belly in the mud to cross a 3-kilometer swamp. Finally, he told us how they had to flee one village in the night because an Interhamwe commander ‘fell in love’ with his his fellow (female) team member. Then Alain got a smile on his face and told us that... the two of them recently got married.
Not only is it a nice story, it also gives an idea of just how amazing this data is. Not only is the content extraordinary (see here), so was (and is going to be again) its collection; placing a heavy burden on us to use it well.
Alain now works for a company in Bukavu that buys minerals (casserite, coltal, gold, etc.) from miners in Shabunda; one of Sud Kivu’s territoires. They fly in the resources at Kavumu Airport (the military airport to the north of Bukavu) and then transport this in trucks to Bukavu where it is to be sold. I arranged with Alain that somewhere in upcoming days I will join him for a day to his work; to learn more about the process of arrival/selling/processing/buying of natural resources first hand. Looking much forward.
Saturday, January 16, 2010
Five months ago - when launching the project - we gave the phoneholders a codesheet in Swahili and French; each event has a unique code and we asked the holders just to send these codes. Completely unexpected over the last five months, in addition to the codes, Voix des Kivus received over 250 textmessages in Swahili.
Because time was limited last Wednesday, we picked up our 3 phoneholders in village 1 to talk with all six at the same time in village 2. When driving from village 1 to 2 a big FARDC truck with several FARDC soldiers the age of my little brother passed by. As a response one of our phoneholders screamed through the car "douze"; i.e. the code for the presence of FARDC troops. We all knew exactly what that number meant and we had a good laugh.
Around 9 out of the 12 months it is rainy season here in the Congo. Around Bukavu, for example, from mid-May to beginning August it is dry; the other days it rains. Although it hadn't rained very heavily for a while, our car slipped quite a bit during the day (especially fun on top of mountains). And even 4x4s get stuck once in a while:
In 4 villages in Sud Kivu we have 3 people who send us textmessages about what happens in their village. After five months these 12 so-called phoneholders have amazed us; they have send over a 1,000 messages giving a detailed and real-time picture of what happens on the ground. This information can then be used by the development community for action, it provides high-quality data for academics, and people in rural villages are finally given a voice.
Last week we were in the field for several days to talk to each of our phoneholders. In brief, they are really enthousiastic about Voix des Kivus. In addition, yesterday we gave a presentation at the weekly United Nation's OCHA meeting where the whole development community of Bukavu is present, and from them we obtained similar reactions. Consequently, the number of Voix des Kivus will be increased in upcoming months.
On Tuesday we left very early so we could visit both our villages in Sud Kivu’s territoire Walungu. The first village is located on top of a mountain and after a 2.5 hour drive we reached the mountain’s foot. Because we knew that even our 4x4 could not drive up the mountain, the phoneholders walked for 3 hours down the mountain to meet us. After talking with them for several hours we left for our second village where we had another several-hour talk with the 3 phoneholders there. These meetings with the phoneholders were very informative as we discussed many issues. Importantly, the phoneholders are proud to be part of the project.
Shortly before it got dark we arrived in Walungu Centre where we had a Primus in the local pub, and after that we had dinner and slept in the village’s church. Macartan, shortly before all this, got himself a haircut in Walungu Centre’s beauty salon (the house in the middle of the picture below):
This picture is taken while standing in the door of that same beauty salon:
Friday, January 8, 2010
I am back in Congo, and loving it.
After an only 25 minute flight from Kigali I arrived around 9am in Kamembe. After receiving angry looks from several customs officials - I had put my passport in the washingmachine and the DRC visa wasn't really very readable anymore - I was able to cross the border.
The first hours were spent on the usual: arranging accomodation, a radio and a simcard with credit (trust me that is more difficult then it sounds). So, for all those people that desperately want to call or text me (hi mom!), my number here is: +243995200724.
Although most expats are still gone, I spent lots of time catching up with people I still knew from the summer. I also met our Voix des Kivus Field Coordinator for over two hours regarding work, I made several appointments for next week when Macartan is in town, and then spent time working behind my laptop; yep, for this blog this the more boring part of my time here. More on that later.
After doing some groceries shopping I just arrived in IRC House 5; the same house as last summer. Ok, so let's see, my first impressions:
- The holes in the road have grown.
- Such friendly people here.
- Salted peanuts, bananas and a coke with real suger is really truly the best lunch there is.
- The house and office are the same as last time; only with many different faces.
- I seem to survive with my french.
- It's mainly warm during the day and for about 2 hours a day it rains. Awesome.
- And yes, I'm drinking my evening gin tonic again. Regarding this one more thing:
Following its instructions, malaria pills have to be taken together with food. Last summer for two months I think Simon and I never took it with food. On the other hand, we did always take them with alcohol. I just remembered that while taking my malerone with a gin tonic. :)
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
Up to now all is going well; without delays we did Amsterdam -> Nairobi -> Bujumbura (Burundi) -> Kigali (Rwanda). The only thing worrying was that the flight attendent from Kenya Airlines kept on saying during her safety talk: "In the likely event we loose cabine pressure, ...". :)
Two quick other things. First, I got an email this morning from Dan De Lorenzo. He produced a film from footage gathered in August while he was on mission for UN OCHA. He sent me the video, but I don't have bandwidth to download it. The film premier is this Friday, 12-2, at a policy forum at the International Peace Institute. Secondly, I should actually use Twitter; knowing there is so often no internet connection.
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
Monday, January 4, 2010
I was in Austria a week ago. Many Austrians drive really big cars, live in well-kept buildings, etc. Why? Those high mountains are perfect for rebel groups to hide from the government, and it must be/ must have been very difficult for the government to project power. Why do Austrians living in isolated houses at the top of mountains far away from military and police sleep without worries, while people in the Congo (or in Africa for that matter) do not? Why is Austria developed and peaceful, and the Congo not? Sure, I can give a laundry list. But it did struck me.
When in France and Austria I did not have too much time to read. I did read something:
- Poisoned Wells: The Dirty Politics of African Oil is a good book written by Nicholas Shaxson's who - after working for many years in Africa - discusses how oil is hurting the African continent. Especially France get's its ass kicked.
- Frederick Forsyth’s Dogs of War's is a novel set in imaginary Zangaro where richness are found in the Crystal Mountains. Interestingly, and probably not by accident, the latter is also a range of mountains that the Congo River has coursed its way through (located approximately 200 miles east of the Atlantic coast).
- Already mentioned in a previous post, but Adam Hochchild’s King Leopold’s Ghost is a fantastic book.
- Allah N'est Pas Oblige by Ahmadou Kourouma - a book I got from my supervisor already a while ago in order to learn French - is a first-person narrative by a West African child soldier who recounts his experiences in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Nice book.
- I also bought Deception Point by Dan Brown and Foundation 2 by Isaac Azimov in French, I started the first.
Talking about French; I am now going to say something positive about France. TV5 Monde has a webpage called "Apprendre le français", which gives not only the newsvideos, but also their transcript, several games, etc. A great tool to study the language.
Friday, January 1, 2010
Chris Blattman linked to a review written by Alex Engwete (who btw keeps a very interesting blog) about René Lemarchand’s new book “The Dynamics of Violence in Central Africa”. Lemarchand is a ‘biggy’ when it comes to research on Africa; being especially a specialist on the Great Lakes Region.
Les Larmes du Soleil
Some days ago I watched Les Larmes du Soleil. Sounds interesting, but it is nothing more than “Tears of the Sun” in English (while in France I bought some movies to keep my French up). It is a bad Hollywood movie about Africa in which Bruce Willis is a good old American-style hero. He is a US soldier sent to Nigeria to get an American citizen during a period in which the country falls into chaos after a bloody coup. Of course, Bruce Willis not only brings back this gorgeous-looking American lady, but in the meantime he also saves the lives of countless civilians including the son of the late president and the last in the royal bloodline of the Igbo people. However, despite all this there is one thing that sticks with me (paraphrasing):
Nigerian to Bruce Willis: “May God be with you”
Bruce Willis: “God already left Africa”
- Just found some picutures from Pieter Hugo's Nollywood series. I am not sure I like them. He notes that "the situations are clearly surreal, although they could be real on a set". Quite a few of these pictures, however, could actually be really real in Africa!
- Laura Seay - the author of the excellent blog Texas in Africa - has a page with tips on conducting research in the DRC. Although I have much much less field experience, much of it sounds very familiar. Thanks!
- So last Tuesday I went to the Rwandan Embassy to get a visa; luckily I could sit down and wait for it. I forgot a book and therefore closely studied my itinery. At the back of the page STA reminded me that I "had chosen not to purchase the STA Travel Protection Plan". And that if I would purchase the STA Travel Protection Plan within 14 days of making your deposit or initial trip payment, I would received additional protection for... terrorism. I am really curious how they do that. :)
- If you put your passport in a washingmachine (see here), you do have a lot of empty pages again. Awesome!
- Macartan (my supervisor) is teaching a course on violence next semester at Columbia. I'm also his RA and one of the things I therefore just did was reading through the Syllabus. First, it's going to be a great course. Second, it also reminded me of an interesting article by Jared Diamond that I read in the New Yorker already some months ago (note: the article received lots of critisism).
- In a few days I will be heading to Bukavu in Eastern Congo. Mom, please don't read this.