Unfortunately no photos, the assembly was a Skype conference...
Can’t hold it back anymore: On Sunday we held the constitutional assembly for ESF International (International Framework for Studies Without Borders). The registration process in Paris is still under way, but we voted on a statute and elected an “international executive committee” (which I have the privilege to chair)!
There are many challenges ahead, but there is also much making me looking forward: The new Zimbabwean group participated in the assembly, and the Kenyan group is about to register, our website is about to be (re-)launched, and I think the existing chapters feel that there is new energy coming…
The short trip to South Sudan was not without regretful situations. That is not to say that I’m not very happy that I had the chance to attend the birth of a country. I even could meet some student leaders who might be promising partners for Studies Without Borders and found a new friend in the musician Mario Bol (more on him in a later post).
But already at the border we got a taste of how much of the established practices need to change, if this young country wants to live up to its hopes. To obtain a visa, we were sent from one office to the next – to finally get a handwritten note, on which the impressively slow writing border official wouldn’t even bother to spell our names right, and which without a look landed in a box under the table in the next office that tellingly reminded of a dust bin.
Running out of money and needing a break to follow-up the results of the last five months I decided to go back to Germany for some time. I arrived two weeks ago, right in time for the ESF International Kick-Off conference in Berlin. This conference to prepare the start of the international framework of Studies Without Borders was not only another motivation boost, but also very productive in terms of getting important work and planning done. Besides it was just nice, for the first time SWB chapter members from Spain, Germany, France, and Canada discussed and worked directly together… What a beautiful first taste of how ESF International will look like as a vibrant global network of world saving students in the very close future.
I couldn’t stop thinking about the idea since Jeff the Canadian, who I already knew from discussing his travel plans to the DRC, mentioned to me that he would go and visit Juba for the independence celebrations of South Sudan. And so I rearranged my work with TI Uganda in Kampala to take the night bus to Juba on Thursday, two days before the celebrations. In Kampala I stayed in the backpackers, where many international travellers pass by, and it turned out that some others were planning the same.
This is not the bus we took, but possibly symbolic for the conditions South Sudan has to start with. Heavily war affected and poor, this new country has at the same time a colourful and thoughtful rich potential in its people. That's at least my impression. South Sudan Oyee!!
“Sorry, you can’t enter the country with this visa”. That was the message we were told when we arrived at the Congolese border in Goma at seven in the morning. Four days earlier, when I obtained my visa in Kampala, I had positively noted that the fees had to be paid into a bank account and the embassy proceeded the visa request only after handing in the payment receipt from the bank. The procedure seemed well organised and transparent (different to the Congo’s unfortunate reputation). But having followed the official procedure at the embassy obviously wasn’t enough.
Kindu's main street towards the Congo river
Kindu outside towncenter
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 six days in Kampala have been great! Not only is Kampala a vibrant, colourful, chaotic city with a friendly atmosphere, I also had the chance to hold discussions with a number of great young people (Thanks to Ivan, Gerald and Isabella!). And these discussions have been refreshingly clear and open.
Uganda is a country reigned by the dictator Yoweri Museveni, who started 1986 as a quite committed reformer who wrote himself critical articles on power politics in the 80s and 90s, but by now is “so power-drunk that he is – like any drunkard – unable to realise when it’s time to stop” and “after Gaddafi the next one to enter the exit room”. At the same time, it’s a country with a very young population that seems to be more and more fed up with the existing rules of the game. Meeting some of the active young people here was a privilege:
When I woke up for a moment, still before we reached the Ugandan border and long before dawn, I heard the rough looking bus driver quietly singing along to Roxette’s “It must have been love”. Once more on this trip I thought to myself how much I like humanity.
Otherwise, I normally say that one of the things I like about travelling is that there are always new little challenges coming up, for which one then has to find spontaneous solutions. But to be honest, I’m asking myself how often these challenges are self-created. Definitely in this case:
Morning views from the hill
With some regret but also looking forward to Kampala I will leave my cabin on the hill by Lake Naivasha tonight. The place I found here felt so mind freeing and productive that I stayed twelve days instead of the three originally planned. I really liked the simple, repetitive days here: Getting up with the sunrise, doing some workout and meditation, after a relaxed breakfast working and thinking until lunchtime, going down to the village for some Chapatis and Sukuma, walking over for an extended four hours tea at the relatively chique Fish Eagle Inn (where they have wifi :)), then back to the village for dinner, buying water and bananas and milk for breakfast, and up the hill again with the last rests of daylight.
Having read Michaela Wrong’s “It’s Our Turn To Eat”, I arrived in Kenya with rather sceptical expectations. This is one of the books with a title that wonderfully summarises the major point of the story: How a new political elite that replaced a corrupt regime based on an enthusiastic reform agenda and an explicit anti-corruption committment, silently installs its own structures of eating, i.e. exploiting Kenya’s population. With this in mind, I expected to find here rather cynical attitudes towards politics.