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:
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.
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!