Sunday, February 28, 2010

Dissertation and Monty Python.

These days I spend much time working on my dissertation. The reason is that by the end of next month our dissertation proposals have to be handed in. By now I have a topic and a very preliminary draft; I hope to post it here by the end of the week after another solid revision.

Thus, in upcoming weeks I will bother lots of professors and policy makers for comments. For the same reason I also present the draft at different occasions; Columbia's CP workshop, IGERT's International Development and Globalization meeting, and the PhD dissertation seminar. The best motivators, however, are my friends in the cohort for two reasons. (1) Four months ago we signed a post-dated check of 200 US$, which we then gave to a third-party enforcer. If a person now does not hand in his/her proposal that person's money is cashed, given to the group who will subsequently spend it on dinner, drinking or holiday. The loser is not allowed to join. (2) We spend lots of time reading and discussing each others proposals. Last Friday, for example, I spent 3 hours with a colleague who had read through my proposal. Because we are all good friends we can (and will) say whatever we think and really try hard to shoot holes in each others' proposals.

My dissertation partly deals with local governance. Of course, one has to be aware of one topic's classical works, so hereby. One more executive power oriented:

And one more judicial power oriented:

Friday, February 26, 2010

Snow. Great day ahead.

Completely to the right (where the light is on) is my building.

Columbia is closed because of heavy snowfall. As a result, a meeting at 9am, my dissertation seminar (10-1130am), a CSDS get together (12-2pm), and a meeting at 4pm are cancelled. So I just made myself a cup of tea and have a great day ahead:

  • With help from DFID, 3ie and IRC we are going to implement a very interesting behavioral measure in Eastern Congo (more on that later), and today I have to work on that.
  • Macartan is teaching game theory and today I've to transfer some slides from Powerpoint into Beamer.
  • Voix des Kivus (VdK) is expanding from four up to 100 villages throughout Sud Kivu, and today I will finish the computer code that randomly selects these new villages.
  • Today I will also write the contracts for our VdK field and technical coordinator.
  • And the icing on the cake: This evening we're going to watch The Tempest.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

On fieldwork.

I am clearly doing the wrong type. Please visit this link to read the whole article in the New Yorker.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Collapse Dutch government(s).

Just a few hours ago my government fell; it collapsed over disagreements on extending troop deployments in Afghanistan. Yes, a Dutch government fell yet again.
  • June 2006: the government falls after one of the governing parties withdrew its support for the coalition in the aftermath of the upheaval about the asylum procedure of Ayaan Hirsi Ali (instigated by the Dutch immigration minister Verdonk);
  • October 2002: the government falls after two ministers from one of the ruling parties (the LPF, founded by the maverick right-winger Pim Fortuyn) quit over a long-running personal feud. Their departure was not enough to salvage the divided three-party coalition;
  • April 2002: the government falls after a report on the 1995 fall of Srebrenica held political leaders partly responsible for failing to protect Muslims in a UN safe 'haven' in Bosnia;
  • May 1999: the government falls after the loss, in the upper house of Parliament, of a bill implementing constitutional changes (D66 had proposed that voters should be able to veto legislation through referendums).
Why? Is the Dutch many-party system conducive to government collapse? Most of the Dutch governments have consisted of at least 3 parties; and more parties means more possible diads for diasagreement.

But it is the Netherlands!? One could argue that - in contrast to many developing countries - we do not face issues that are important enough for a government to collapse. Or is this exactly it? That is, the Netherlands is so stable and it's institutions next to our elected executive are so well established that the collapse of the government does not lead to an increase of our debt's interest rate, a drop in GDP, or the outbreak of civil war. In other words the cost of a government collapse in the Netherlands is low. Consequently, a government collapse is therefore more likely to occur in the Netherlands. Who will say. For now I am just afraid for the election to come with right-wing Geert Wilders (unfortunately) going strong.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Last post again.

Last Sunday I arrived at Schiphol Aiport; 2 more days in the Netherlands and then back to New York City. So, hereby my last post on this blog for now.

It’s a small world

Last Saturday, after a six-hour drive through Rwanda, I arrived in hotel Beausejour. Later that evening, while I was working in the hotel’s common room, I heard “Peter: you here!?” It were Laetitia and Stefan; friends of mine who work for the IRC in Bukavu. We spent the rest of the evening in a great Italian restaurant nearby.

Leatitia and Stefan were coming from Kinshasa (Congo’s capital) and were heading to Bukavu (Congo’s 4th biggest city). The fastest way to do this (and I am not joking) was to fly to Nairobi, then to Kigali and then drive 6 hours by car to enter the Congo again.

Stefan told me another Congo-style story. Last week the IRC received for the first time post in Kinshasa. The mail was sent from Brazzaville; a city right on the other side of the Congo river (one can see it from Kinshasa). The letter was sent in... 2004! It gets better. The mailman, after delivering the letter, asked the IRC for some money to cover the transport costs.

The next day, early last Sunday morning, I was at the airport in Nairobi and again heard “Peter, you here!?” It was Mark, the TUUNGANE boss for Haut Katanga. About two weeks ago I spend several days at his office in Lubumbashi. It’s a small world, indeed.

It’s a scary world.

It’s also a scary world. When I arrived at Schiphol airport I walked towards customs. Shortly before taking the electronic stairs down, two Africans asked me in French “Sir. You came from Bukavu, no?”

I was shocked. I had never seen them before, and it is impossible for them to have had the same trip as me from Bukavu: 6 hours car, night in Kigali, flight Kigali -> Bujumbura -> Nairobi -> Amsterdam.

I asked them who they were, how they knew me, and where they were from. To the first two questions they only smiled. To the third they responded: "We live in Rwanda, right across the border, but we are Congolese." Before I could react, they had walked on.

So, Congolese intelligence? Probably not for two reasons. First, I am really not that interesting to be followed. Secondly, even if, Congo can't pay for a mailman, let alone have the money to buy plane tickets to Amsterdam. It scared the hell out me, though.

Two utterly random things.
  • After a month of cold bucket showers, last Sunday I took a shower with pressure and warm water. Amazing!
  • As I am sure you know, Gmail puts adds on your Gmail screen. These adds are adjusted to you. Last Saturday in Kigali, Gmail gave me the following ad: “Cabot Position on Coltan - - Cabot has not, and will not, mine tantalum in the Dem. Rep. of Congo.” Weird!
Two final things.
  • IRINNEWS had a news item on how IDPs in North Kivu are still being abducted by armed groups for forced labor.
  • I started my first post last January talking about money; how I would love to be a Congolese MPs and earn over $8,000 per month. Well, actually, I do not want to be that anymore. Now I want to be Mugabe’s bodyguard and earn around $5,000 dollar a day. How fucked up is this world?!

Last post for now.

Ok, so this is my last post for now. But no worries. First, I will continue on Africa and Columbia. Secondly, I should be back in the Democratic Republic of Congo in a matter of months; probably June or July. I’m already looking forward!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Into the field.

Last Wednesday I hired my own 4x4, a driver and enough petrol for a long day in the field with JP and Herman (see here). We were going to their birth village for two reasons.

First, although I have already read a ziljon pages on and visited tens of villages in Eastern Congo, I know very little about
the mundane issues of Congolese rural life. I thus wanted to sit down with villagers and ask basic questions: Where are you fields? What do you grow? Why? If IDPs arrive can they make use of it? Etc. Secondly, JP and Herman have a small project in their birth village (see here again), and I was interested in knowing more about it.

The car picked me up at 730am; one can’t leave earlier for security reasons. And after buying some water and bread for during the day and picking up JP, Herman and their mom, we left for the village Mushugula (localite Mushinga, territoire Mwenga,
province Sud Kivu). Because of bad roads and not knowing where the village is (JP and Herman normally walk to their birth village), it took us 4 hours instead of the expected 2 hours.

We did have great views, though:


Already in the car I started asking questions as the mother of JP and Herman is very old and she was very interesting to talk to. Btw, for most of the trip she sat crying in the back; being happy as she hadn’t been to her village in months. She also had some salt with her for her two cows. In brief, in 1996 her house was burned down by the RCD and she fled for Bukavu and has lived there ever
since. Now, although she wants to work on her fields, she is too old to return.

A friend of JP is mining in Fizi (another territoire of Sud Kivu) and walked three days to give him 25 dollars and a letter for his wife. I asked JP why his friend didn’t walk another day to be home. JP told me that because his friend has been mining in Fizi for over a year the family’s expectations are high; he can
only return if he has money and many presents.


There are many old women that lost their husband and although they own fields they have to beg to survive because they are too old to work on their fields. These old women have a "shameful life". This sounds utterly inefficient, and thus I was interested.

JP and Herman’s project is
to provide small amounts of second-hand clothing to young villagers to motivate them to cultivate the old women’s fields; so that her fields are used, the young people are happy, and the old lady does no longer have to beg. This sounds great, but still inefficient to me. I therefore spend a lot of time chatting with JP, Herman and many old women to understand what was going on. I have more than 30 minutes of video of us talking about this (hope to post that one day), but here two Q&As:
  • Me: Don’t the old women have any children that can help?
    Answer: Yep, they have children. But, the women leave as soon as they get married, and the men get a wife and children and then as Herman noted “do no longer think about their parents”. Also, it is already difficult to obtain enough food for your own wife and children.
  • Me: Why give the young people second-hand clothes? That is, why doesn’t the old lady say in the village “work on my field and of the 100 potatoes I get 20 and you keep 80”?
    Answer: Not only is there not much profit to be divided from a field, most young
    people are “too ambitious to work on a field that is not their own”. Also, they prefer to go to the mining areas to dig for gold. Only with second-hand clothing can they be persuaded.
During our talk we made use of much material to illustrate our questions and answers. Below, the piece of wood indicates a field, the leave an old woman, the pieces of branch are children, and the pieces of straw indicate the border of sub-fields:

All in all, I very exited about JP and Herman's project. Their project makes sense and it necessary. They call their project TKM or Tumaini Kwa Mukosefu, which means, in Swahili, "Hope for the people in need". Below is one of these people. I will write more on the project soon.

Heading back

My GPS device indicated that the sun would set at 627pm and therefore, for security reasons, I told the group we would head back at 2pm. Although JP and Herman told me the we needed only about 2 hours as there was a good road, I have by now spend too much time in the Congo to actually belief that. I was correct.

Of course we only left around 230pm. But ones we were driving I thought it would actually take only 2 hours as the road was, surprisingly, good. Then after 30 minutes on the road, of course, a 1.5 meter high pile of dirt was covering the road from left to right. Right behind the pile several Congolese had dug a 1.5 meter deeper hole so that an irrigation pipe could be placed below the road. Of course instead of first doing the left side of the road (so that cars can pass on the right) and then vice versa, they had done the whole road.

Not only did we have to drive those 30 minutes back, we subsequently had to take roads of utterly bad quality. We
arrived in Bukavu only shortly before dark. It was yet another absolutely great day though!

Randomly selected foodcrops in the Congo.

Quinine is the plant with antimalarial properties, making the colonization of Africa possible after it's discovery in the 1850s. It goes well especially with gin (ie when it comes as tonic):

Sweet potato
is native to
tropical parts of South America, but now also in the DRC:

is an important food crop in Africa. One can make bio-fuel like ethanol out of it and, important, also liquor (eg the
"maotai" in China). In the DRC they only eat it:

Manioc (or cassava) is also native to South America, but it is the most important food source in Eastern DRC. One eats the roots (one dries them, mashes them and makes foufou out of this) and the leaves (one cooks them and has pondu):

, like tea, is present in many parts of the DRC.
There are two main species of coffee in world; arabica coffee and robusta coffee. The latter tends to be bitter and have less flavor but better body than arabica. The Robusta strain was first collected in 1890 from the Lomani, a tributary of the Congo River:

Just like coffee,
the Congo does not have the capability to process tea. The processing plants that once existed were not maintained after the Belgians left, and do not operate anymore. Congo, therefore, mainly exports these crops raw and thus at a very low price. As with their other natural resources (diamonds, coltan, etc.) it are thus especially non-Congolese that earn money of it:

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Research in the Congo.

Doing research in the Congo is challenging. Let me give one out of many possible examples. The country is divided (from large to small) into:

* Country
** Districts
**** Territoires
***** Chefferies
****** Groupements
******* Localites
******** Villages
********* Sousvillages
********** Quartiers

A province consists out of several territoires, a territoire consists out of several chefferies, etc. Although the above list is long, it sounds quite organized and simple for a country the size of Congo; doesn’t it? Trust me, it is not. Here we go:

People just don’t know

It happens regularly that Congolese themselves don’t know. Last summer I was in the territoire Kipushi in the province Haut Katanga and when asking two different people (living in the same village) for the name of the village I received two different responses. This is just one example. For our 2007 baseline survey we surveyed in each village 5 households and the chief; often we receive different information on their village name.

Last Wednesday I went to a friend's birth village about a four-hour drive away from Bukavu (this story will be posted soon). I asked him how many people lived in his village; he said 800. I didn’t belief him as I saw many houses. After pushing him on this point he told me that “of course” he only counted the people that were actually parents and married.

Also, of many villages we don’t know their existence; the Democratic Republic of Congo is just really big. For example, the best source for villages' location are the big maps that OCHA and MONUC produce. I have these maps, both in paper and digitally (as shapefiles). Interestingly, almost all the villages of which the geo-location has been taken are located next to or very close to the big roads. Are there really no villages of the road? I am sure there are; but one just really doesn’t want to walk for tens of hours to take a geo-location.

Things change

When several hundred IDPs settle in a new place often a new village with a new name is created. Similarly, if rebel groups come and burn down the houses in a village and all the people flee, the village is gone. Unfortunately, due to the conflict this happens a lot in Eastern Congo.

Different people use and create different entities

The differences between the entities is not always clear. For example, after the draft resolution of the constitution was approved in 2005, the Congolese government started a process of decentralization going from 11 districts to 25 provinces. The decentralization is far from complete and now the people use the term and the names of the district and provinces interchangeably.

In addition to the above-given list there are several more entities going around. Some days ago I saw the word ‘secteur’ on a United Nations’ map; it seems to be the same as a chefferie. The day before yesterday I was in Kadutu and heard it was a 'commune'. It seems that the village of Bukavu is separated into communes (of which Kadutu is one) and then those communities are again divided in quartiers.

The IRC, which is the NGO we do the impact evaluation of TUUNGANE for, artificially created so-called CDVs and CDCs at the start of TUUNGANE. In brief, a CDV is an entity of around 1,200 people (it can consist out of several villages if these villages are smaller than 1,200 people, or out of quartiers if the villages are bigger than 1,200). A CDC is a grouping of CDVs. Not only where these new entities created many CDVs and CDCs received the name of the largest village or quartier, and therefore at the moment the IRC uses the CDV and CDC names interchangeably with the names of the natural units.

One illustrative example

Let me give one more example. After talking with a friend last week I wrote in a previous post that the Mwami traditionally allocates land. I noted that the mwami is "the king often at the localite level (a level higher than the village)”. That friend was Congolese so I thought 'he knows'.

Then last Monday I met the son of the Mwami of Shabunda. He noted that his father is the king of the territoire of Shabunda. His dad actually is the Mwami so I thought 'he must know'.

Then today I was reading the 2005 “Monographie de la Provence du Sud-Kivu”; a document created by the Minister of Planning in cooperation with the World Bank. This document noted that “A côté de l’autorité administrative, il y a les autorités coutumières. Ainsi à la tête de chaque collectivité, il y a un chef de collectivité communément appelé Mwami (roi).” This is the government itself talking; you would expect that 'they know'.

Combining the above with the fact that: there are hundreds of different tribes and languages, traditional and administrative structures overlap, security issues are always present, good infrastructure is absent and distances are enormous, and a hundred other things; I think it is not exaggerated to say that doing research here is quite a challenge.

Importantly, though, this also all makes the Congo extremely interesting!

Hello from Kigali.

Since earlier this morning I am no longer in the Congo.

The plan was to cross the Congo - Rwanda border at Ruzizi at 9am (taking a bit of extra time because of the state of my passport) and then to take a local bus at 10am to Kigali; something like a six-hour drive.

Early this morning, however, I got a ring from IRC's logistics officer who heard I was going to Kigali and he told me an IRC car was going there as well. I could join.

So, after a great five-hour drive through Rwanda - crossing a national park, learning Swahili words from the driver,* seeing monkeys and talking a lot with the driver about the Great Lakes - I arrived in hotel Beausejour.

At 1am a taxi will pick me up for the airport and I'll be heading to Nairobi, and then to Amsterdam. Although I am looking forward to a Dutch glass of milk, I am also a bit sad to leave the Congo already after one month.

* Shame on me, but I only found out know that the Lion King's "Hakuna matata" is Swahili for "No worries".

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Amazing afternoon.

A few weeks ago I got to know Alain who told us about the difficult conditions under which the 2007 baseline survey was collected (see here). He also told us that he works in the natural resource business. I am intrigued by the latter and asked him whether I could join him to work one day; I did so last Monday afternoon.


We first went to Alain’s house in Kadutu; a large neighborhoud of Bukavu. After meeting his wife, whom he met thanks to the survey in 2007 (see here), we talked. In brief, Alain works for CAMIKIN, which is a cooperative of several thousand miners in Shabunda (one of Sud Kivu's territoire). Each week they send three planes filled with gold, casserite and coltan to Bukavu. Alain’s job is to sell this; often to foreigners. In contrast to BANRO, a big Canadian-based mining company who also operates in Shabundu, CAMIKIN’s miners use their hands and some spades to mine.


After an hour we went to ISTM, one of the larger universities in Bukavu, to see Alain’s office. While Alain is actually an employee of ISTM he also works for CAMIKIN as the first job doesn’t earn him much. The big ISTM building is close to falling apart. That is, like most big buildings in Congo, it was build by the Belgiums and it hasn’t been maintained after independence. Interestingly, during our few minutes there, I met Vincent who worked for Simon and me over the summer. He is now professor at ISTM. It is a small world.


The highlight of the day was to visit the market where the buying and selling of natural resources takes place. There are 152 of those markets in Bukavu. Unfortunately, it is not possible for an ‘mzungu’ (‘white man’ in Swahili) to walk in. Luckily, Alain is friends with Sud Kivu’s Speaker of the House; a very important chap here in Bukavu. With the three of us we visited the market where I saw piles of especially coltan and casserite, resources being cleaned and separated, and I talked with lots of people. After that we had dinner at the Speaker of the House’s place – ie big and over the top Congolese police protection – and we talked even more, also about Sud Kivu’s politics.

Gold and diamonds

We had one more appointment later that evening in Café Belvedere with the son of the Mwami (ie the king) of Shabunda. He had brought gold and diamonds with him. Just 10 grams of gold is already worth 437 dollar, and each of the small diamonds he had with him (and he had quite a few) was worth several hundreds of dollars. Although it was a bit shady, it was also interesting as I asked him many questions; also about the role of the mwami.

So, last Monday I got to know and experience a bit of Eastern Congo’s natural resource business, became best buddies with Sud Kivu’s Speaker of the House, and I got to see cassiterite, coltan, gold, amethiste, tourmaline, red ganet, red ligt, topaze, corindo ruby, corindo saphir, aquamarine, corindo, diamant, ruby, saphir, and emeraude. For an academic interested in natural resources and a stone freak since a very young age, this was yet another awesome experience!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Amazing morning.

Yesterday I had an amazing morning. At 10am I met up with JP and Herman; the first is a security guard whom I befriended last summer, the latter is his brother and a pastor. JP and I talked a lot last summer; about his difficulties to pay tuition fees for his children, the artisinal mining of gold and coltan he did in Ninja, him fleeing to South Africa several years ago, etc. Yesterday we finally met again and talked for over 4 hours; hereby just a few of many things we talked about.


Among others we talked about money. JP earns 125$ a month and his wife earns a little bit as well by selling second-hand shoes. His expenses are as follows:
  • Rent (per month): 25$.
  • Food (per day): between 3 and 5$. A chunk of foufou costs around 1$ and they are with 6 people so need around three of them to dinner and leave a little bit for breakfast.
  • Education (per year): 90$ for the first who goes to high school, $20 for the second you goes to primary school that is $20, and $10 each for the two youngest who go to the creche.
  • And all this is not even talking about transport costs (JP walks over two hours to get to work and back each day), clothing, water (JP doesn’t have running water at home and no place nearby to get water so he has to buy this), etc.
Doing some adding and subtracting gives that this is not an easy life.

JP and Herman are originally from the village Mushugula in Sud Kivu’s territoire Walungu and they still own some land there. We talked about this as well.

Property rights.

Decades if not centuries ago the Mwami – the king often at the localite level (a level higher than the village) – allocated plots of land to families. These days people still give small gifts each year to the Mwami for this.

Although JP and Herman don’t cultivate their land, they are not afraid somebody will take their land. The reason is that the villagers there know that it is JP's and Herman's property. Social pressure would do the job, and if it doesn't there is the village's "council of wise men" who would rule.

Other people can use the land if they want, but they first have to ask JP or Herman. So, being Western, I said this was a good idea because the person that cultivates the land can pay JP and Herman some rent for using the land. JP and Herman told me that this was absolutely not done in the Congo, because it is the “energy that gives you food”.

We also talked about IDPs and whether they can easily obtain pieces of land. The answer often is yes; they can either help cultivate others' pieces of land, or they can obtain land that is not yet owned or cultivated.


For the Bashi - the largest ethnic group in Sud Kivu and also the tribe of JP and Herman - an inheritance (the house, the fields, etc.) is not split equally among the (male) children, and it does also not go to the oldest (male) child. Interestingly it goes to the oldest and the youngest man. To be clear they illustrated this by making use of their table and 3 empty coca bottles. Was really nice.

Lots of kids. Good/bad.

The topic "children" is an interesting one in the Congo. We had a walk through Herman's neighborhood Nyalykemba and visited the Ruzizi river that separates Congo from Rwanda.

On our way we met another pastor who invited us in and started bragging up about the fact that he had 11 children. I asked him "why?" because children have to eat, one has to pay schoolfees, etc. We got into a heated argument as both JP and Herman stopped purposefully at 4 children because they can’t afford more. The pastor, on the other hand, argued that "Jezus will feed my children" and that what JP and Herman was doing was the work of the anti-Christ. It was fun!


Since a few months JP and Herman have a project running in Mushugula (their village that is located in the localite Mushinga). In brief, there are many old people that have land but do not have a husband or children and therefore can’t cultivate it. Consequently, although they have land they go hungry and often have to beg. Via Herman's church their project provides second-hand clothes to young people in Mushugula in exchange for their work on the fields of these old people, so that the full profits go to the latter.

Note: If this project was already in place some years ago, the parents of JP and Herman would not have left their village (they now live a difficult live in Bukavu).

It's a great project I think. Of course, I do have more questions. How big is the problem of old people without help? What is the incentive for these young people to do a good job on the fields? Also, why doesn't the old person just say "any person that cultivates my field can keep half, and I keep the other half"?

Anyhow, they got me interested, I would like to help them one way or the other and having some pictures and some video material would help to raise some money, and from a research perspective I am interested in all the above discussed points. So, I hope to hire a car for this Wednesday and together with JP and Herman we're going to visit their village.

Finally, Herman also gave me the book “Trois siecles chez les Bashis” ("three centures with the Bashis"); this seems to be a great book on the Bashi tribe. Also, shortly after I got back home I received an sms from Alain; the man who works in a buying/selling company for precious minerals. Today I will join him for a day to see how all this works. All in all, two days of absorbing information; awesome!