Which is not dark at all. Spread along the Congo river, the quiet, albeit not small town Kindu welcomed me for the third time now. Kindu’s lush green rural face and its friendly inhabitants reminded me once more of how much I like the “Democratic Republic” of the Congo. After Nairobi, Kampala and Goma finally a place where you can walk around at night without worrying about your safety, where no vehicle noises and few artificial lights disturb the warm night atmosphere.
Still, Kindu is an isolated place, only to reach by plane. Since almost nothing is produced locally, high poverty levels meet absurd price levels here. Not a very nice combination. Nevertheless, one can sense an economic potential, namely in agriculture. Endless miles of fertile land are surrounding Kindu, and people pay much for imported rice, mais and chickens…
The five days in Kindu were packed with work though, as I came on the mission to evaluate the Studies Without Borders’ local scholarship programme. And of course the whole trip through the Congo didn’t lack its share of absurd administrative hassle – it’s still the DRC after all… But this deserves an own post later.
On the way back I passed for the first time through the formerly beautiful and still nice town of Bukavu, from where I took a boat across the Kivu Lake. At 1500m altitude and with wild looking shores this lake is very beautiful. After the heat of the Congo bassin, it was good to just sit and see things passing by.
Back in Goma we started the next morning into the Masisi, first by bus, then by motorbike. Fightings have stopped here after the Rwandan troops have been chased out last year and the route to Mweso is safe to pass. But sitting on the back of a motorbike is a particular experience in this area, where many roads consist of rough-shaped uneven lava stone. And thirty kilometres further down the road starts the realm of the FDLR, a “rebel” group of Rwandan refugees (part of them where perpetrators in Rwanda’s 1994 genocide), who among other groups are responsible for horrible atrocities in the region.
Mweso is the site of the second scholarship programme of Studies Without Borders in the Congo, where we support students with their studies at the ISEA (Institut Supérieur d’Études Agronomiques). I met our fellows for the first time and have been honestly impressed. Different to their colleagues in Kindu, the projects envisioned by these becoming agricultural ingeneers seemed much more realistic and much less dependent on the hope of finding external support. As I understood later, this is due to our excellent local partner CADEP (Comité des Agriculteurs pour le Développement Participatif) who emphasized again and again the importance of being able to take one’s fate in one’s own hand.
Since I’ve last been here two years ago some visible progress seems to have taken place. CADEP is renovating an old colonial building on a hill above Mweso to give the ISEA a new and more functional home. There is still much work to be done, but I could already see the vision of change coming with the new building, which has a wonderful view over the town and offers space for three offices, a little library and three lecture halls. And the nearby tea factory is back to function. Yet, as beautiful it was to see the endless tea plantations spreading across the hills, it was less nice to learn that the working conditions there are much criticized among the locals. The three private investors, two Congolese and one Belge, apparently do not care too much about remunerating their workers.
Already on the third day we took the lava road back to Goma and from there I went on to Kigali. But not before spending a recreating day at the warm and welcoming house of Viateur, Clémentine, little Odile and little Nathan. And besides a chunk of cheese I brought from the hills of the Masisi a restrengthened determination. The picture that restored my motivation as described in my first post was taken in Mweso. Again this place had a motivating effect on me. It’s time to go on and to go on with faster pace. Things need to change and they won’t if we don’t change them.
The discussions with local people also reinforced my theory about the root causes of what goes wrong in the Congo. More on this in a separate post, but to say something: I don’t think that this seriously sick country will get back on its feet until there is democracy in Rwanda in a meaningful sense of the word and the “international community” stops pouring money into the wound.