Ché Gué

If you think living in Kinshasa seems exotic or a whole other world then this post will cure that fantasy. This post is also  not about Che Guevara’s attempt to organize guerillas in Congo for those that stumble upon this while googling. This post is just a regular tidbit on my quotidian life; it is about my Cat.

One night early on in this small feline’s street life, a crazy pair of Mudelés (white people in Lingala) came along  in a somewhat tipsy state and scooped her up outside a popular night club called Ibiza Bar in downtown Kinshasa. Despite being filthy she was absolutely adorable and totally happy and calm in my arms.

Instantly there were 3 or 4 Chégués claiming her as theirs. Of course one generously offered to sell her to me for only 10$, “No! She’s mine, you can have her for 5$” shouted another. “She’s actually mine and she 20$ whispers one in my ear”. My pleading eyes told my Mundelé to go negotiate and off he went to discuss this with the Security manager of the bar who seemed to have the most legitimacy. 

Image

Not a chihuahua

 10$ later we came home with a new addition to our urban apartment, an indoor cat!

The thing is that the cat is a Chégué or in her case, a Chécat. Chégué is the word used for street kid. I have heard an etymological explanation claiming it comes from the Hausa language used in Niger that means ‘bastard’. Congolese reject this saying it just means street kid…either way in Kinshasa alone there is an estimated 14 000 Chégués (the World Bank estimates some 40 000 in all of DRC according to its 2011 report).

Kinshasa has a large boulevard called le Boulvard de 30 juin (Congo’s independence day). This is the boulevard that us Mundelés take to and from work every day. This is a downtown 8 lane highway (I may have described this in a previous post). There are actually working traffic lights that manage to control traffic at times. Some might call this a government scheme (by government I mean Chinese construction company) to make alternative livelihoods accessible to young people. Others would call it just an indirect impact of development. Every time traffic stops Chégués slink between the lanes  tapping on all the car windows begging for money looking so hungry and sad, It depends on which stretch of the boulevard you’re on but closer to our office the kids are smallest, 8-13 yrs probably. As we near our house they tend to get bigger and bigger, tougher and tougher. Once they’re big you can imagine that its harder to have sympathy for them…but when they’re small they ‘do evoke a certain uneasiness that often gets me fishing around in my purse for some food. I have given out a few francs here and there but since they always say they’re hungry  I like to give cookies I save from UN flights I take (part time WFP distributer). Sometimes I give a half a sandwich or some fruit; not surprisingly this goes over very badly, as the child actually just wants money. 

This might start to sound like a TIA experience but I assure you the same scenario played out one time in Ottawa when I gave a young boy an apple when he told me he was hungry, he threw it back at me and I understood that what he really wanted was money by the look of his junky eyes probably for drugs or alcohol….

Image

Gnawing on my arm while I'm trying to write this blog

Often the kids here are working for their families or for big Chégués. These big Chégués can give you something to worry about; around them we Mundelés roll up the car window and lock the door. In our neighborhood they are often getting into fights, getting beat down by the police or acting all cool while smoking a bunch of pot and acting aggressive.

Which brings me to the point of this post, my Chécat, who still small, evokes feelings of uneasiness but as she is starting to grow she is beginning to evoke feelings of fear. She is not smoking pot as far as I can tell (although who knows what she does while we’re at work) but she is becoming very aggressive! My legs look like I’ve fallen on a rose bush and there seem to be permanent teeth marks on my arms. She is constantly eating garbage and I’m worried this is causing some serious intestinal problems…

The big question is, is this just how cats are or is this something to do with her being a Chécat? IS this an early cathood development issue? Personality disorder, social awkwardness, rage, turrets??? It begs the question. Can we save our Chécat or is she lost to the streets?

Post Conflict Election Post

Things have certainly quieted down since the November 28th Presidential elections. In 2006 the Joseph Kabila decided to legitimize his three year rule, with the help of MONUSCO (United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) the exercise was also flawed but with the huge amounts of money and support they were able to hold a run-off election for the presidential candidates and the provincial parliaments. During this period the then Vice President and ex-rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba (who know finds himself at the ICC) along with his personal army raised havoc in the capital setting off a violent stand-off between his supporters and President Kabila’s national guard. The fighting lasted months and killed over 600 people in Kinshasa alone.

This time around the DRC was completely unaccompanied in its second ever multiparty elections; and surprise surprise things went awry. The same folks who contested the 2006 elections reappeared but this time the main opposition Etienne Tshisekede had only an army of words and civilian supporters. He is an old  militant politico who has reached his 79 years and appears to have become senile…He has been trying to gain popularity since Mobutu’s time and now is living in a fantasy world where he declares himself president in his own home around 11 some cronies and PooF he’s in. However Joseph Kabila has an iron grip on the country and during the election period turned Kinshasa into occupied territory. Colleagues and friends who spent the electoral period here said they couldn’t leave their house for over two weeks and those who did found the streets deserted but for the Congolese army and police lining the streets. Any protests that manifested were immediately repressed with tear gas, water canons or bullets.

Luckily I, like many other NGO workers, fled the country to neighboring Rwanda. I have a lovely apartment in Kinshasa but staying in it for two weeks straight would undoubtedly driven my partner and I mad. Instead we followed the news via internet and through colleagues up until they blocked all text messages in Congo. Rwanda was a completely different world where order and efficiency rein. Since the Paul Kagame took over after the 1994 genocide he has held power and restored calm. Things there are indeed very calm, organized and clean. Kagame is often praised for turning the country around, developing infrastructure and industry and capitalizing on tourism. At the same time he is criticized for well, being a dictator. It has been 18 years…Here is a very interesting article by one of Kagame’s top advisers on why democracy in Africa just doesn’t work. TNT 14 Dec 11 High times on Democratization in Africa . One of his main arguments is the political violence that democratic elections bring about in Africa is not worth it.

In some ways the events in Kinshasa prove his point, 26 people were killed (much less than in 2006) but the confidence lost in the system here is huge (not there was ever very much). From what I have seen Congolese are very proud people but certainly with the continuation of unfair elections and essentially dictator after dictator they get discouraged.

The elections here are very complicated and not over yet, we await the announcement of the American ‘elections experts’ (I know, oxymoron, right Florida?) on the legislative results early this week. I only know what I’ve been reading in the news but for a more in depth and much more informed perspective check out Jason Stearns’ blog called http://congosiasa.blogspot.com/ .

A CEeS in Congo, Democratic Republic of.

The following is an article I wrote for the Oxfam Québec bulletin called “Inter Agir” or “Inter Acting” in English.

“On attend beaucoup de toi” was what the siege kept telling me during the pre-departure training. What exactly that means has become slightly clearer in my first few weeks in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

So far the job feels similar to a Masters degree in that I am doing so much research just to be able to wrap my head around the complexity of the status of women in this context. The DRC has been plagued by centuries of colonization, slavery, exploitation of both human and natural resources, dictatorship, war and sexual and gender based violence (SGBV).

Keeping all the intersections straight is going to be my challenge in the next year trying to put together a participative gender justice strategy. This strategy “est beaucoup attendu” especially given that in this vast country Oxfam Québec has two offices, one in the West, Kinshasa and one in the East in the town of Goma, plus four project sites in its environs. There are also three other Oxfams here; Great Britain, Solidarité Belgique and Novib all of whom await a harmonized strategy for their gender programming.

DRC has an area of 2,345,409 km2 an estimated population of 71,712,867 and as many as 250 ethnic groups. Since the Rwandan genocide there has been an influx of Rwandan and Ugandan refugees and armed forces killing approximately 5.4million people. Although it is considered ‘post-conflict’ rebel groups like the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), The Forces Democratique pour la Liberation de Rwanda (FDLR), Forces Armées du République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC), and the Mai-mai continue to terrorize civilians but cannot be blamed solely as even civilians (neighbors, local authorities, family members etc.) have become so traumatized and corrupted by war that just about anybody will commit a human rights violation.

The cycle of violence is continual and vicious and Women are suffering from SGBV at alarming rates, and with utter impunity; in South Kivu out of a documented 14 200 victims of SGBV a mere 287 accepted to stand before tribunal . People are very aware of the weakness of the judicial system and fear repercussions and stigmatization therefore the population remains vulnerable.

However, individuals and organizations are collaborating to build hope, power and resistance. Thousands of I/NGOs are spending/donating millions to reconstruct a semblance of ‘Peace and Security’; 1.5 billion USD per annum is pouring into the country for humanitarian efforts in DRC. Projects specific to VAW are among the most highly funded given the regions difficulties; 15 million USD goes directly to such projects from funders like the Pooled funds (of which Oxfam Quebec is a part of) and STAREC.

Two types of projects are going on here, humanitarian relief and development oriented. Oxfam Québec is implicated in both types, as are many other organizations.
One might begin to wonder why the situation for women remains so dangerous despite the presence of thousands of well intentioned folks like me…

To attempt to answer this question I have been looking at research that has been coming from Congolese academics and field researchers as well as NGO monitoring committees. OCHA and Care called for the Fenistein Centre to conduct a study of I/NGO practices in DRC. The Sex and Age Disaggregated Data (SADD) study called Sex and Age Matter criticizing NGOs for not collecting sex and age disaggregated data and in many cases no data at all. “They claim that many I/NGOs operate on analogies and observation only, that they are not founded in research.”

This insight struck me as extremely important for me to incorporate both theory and practice or praxis into my planning, I have thus drawn on articles such as Desiree Lwambo’s (2011) “Men and Masculinities in Eastern DR Congo, before the war I was a man’. This article has given me hope that we can break the cycle of violence by changing our approach from humanitarian and development programmes destined solely for women and sometimes children to one that takes a community approach and fosters the renewal of gender relations.

The article produces glaring results showing that men who receive no or less assistance than the women in their communities become jealous, resentful, and feel abandoned and uselessness. This ultimately leads to the loss of their masculine identity. Often the only way they can manage to regain any control or ‘respect’ is from violent domination of women and resistance to ‘social change’ that helps to advance women’s status. Heal Africa contributed to Lwambo’s research on men’s perceptions of Gender sensitization programs:

Promoting women’s economic activities without combating men’s unemployment or even responding to their feelings of disempowerment is a recipe for male resistance against “gender sensitive programs”. Moreover, male respondents stressed that they, too, were victims of wartime and other forms of violence and needed protection as well as psychosocial and medical help.

Lwambo goes on to say that many of men’s perceptions of gender programs is subjective and not validated by their research but the fact that there is such a resistance is exactly why it should be taken seriously.

In many conversations I’ve had with Congolese colleagues and acquaintances so far have stressed that not enough is being done for men by I/NGOs. Frequently I will introduce myself as the Conseillère en matière d’Egalité entre Femmes et les Hommes and they get all excited saying ‘Yes! It has to be for both women AND men”.

It would seem that according to Lwambo very few other organizations here are doing anything based on men’s needs or on repairing the relationships between men and women. I see this as a great opportunity for Oxfam Québec to take the lead in gender justice in an avant-garde way that will ensure a more community based approach and hopefully a more durable one.

References:

ACORD, 2010. La protection et la réparation en faveur des victimes des violences sexuelles et basées sur le genre en droit Congolais. pg7.

Agama, M., 2008. Legacy of War: An Epidemic of Sexual Violence in DRC. UNFPA

Lwambo, D., 2011. “Men and Masculinities in Eastern DR Congo, before the war I was a man’. p.21

DASH 8

Flying across the DRC, a distance of 1572 km, in a 28-seater plane.

Today is really the first time the human smells of African public transport have visited my olfactory system since arriving 5 weeks ago (by now its 6 weeks and I realize that I have eaten and drank enough local food that my body exudes lovely smells too)! Mostly our mobility has been in the form of 4×4 s and by way of our cherished chauffeurs who smell of soap.

We’re on our way to Goma the capital of Nord Kivu, a city well known for rebel insurgence and rape. The sad reality is that there were 150 rapes here just in the month of October. IT is also well known for its beauty, its climate, mountains, volcanoes, gorillas and huge Lake Kivu.

Our flight is at least 2.5 hours late but the actual flight seems to be going rather smoothly. I have been very nervous knowing that the security conditions of the planes are not up to international standards (ex Czech and Soviet planes banned in international airports). I have been praying to the Goddess and sleeping.

Looking out the window I am in awe of the massive Equatorial Rain Forest, it has been the only thing in sight for the past two hours! I can understand why they call it the 2nd lung of the world. Green, unending jungle as far as the eye can see (from way up here)! In amongst the trees we can also watch the famous Congo River snake along the country in the most amazing pattern.

Looking now at this massive jungle I feel much less nervous; its beauty is truly complex. Knowing that such a dense beautiful forest has and still does contain some of the darkest realities of the world is amazing and disquieting. Unquestionably it is home to some of the most deadly animals, insects and humans in the world. It has a dark and hideous history of slavery, caravans, rubber extraction, torture and war. It is now home to millions of displaced civilians surviving off of grubs and plants. At the same it hides the thousands of rebels and guerilla soldiers raping and pillaging every farmer and villager they come across. It is unpleasant to say but the Congo River here (near Kindu the flight attendant tells me) is almost the colour Red, perhaps from the long history of blood shed.

How do we clean up these wild waters?

Opposés contradictions

Take one, Take two. This scene is full of opposites and contradictions.

Driving along the large 8 lane boulevards I double take because at any given intersection cars circulate in all directions…Traffic lights have been installed within in the last few months but as our driver Papa Alfonse says: people don’t respect them; they have to learn. As a passenger I always let my eyes wander and inspect each passing car, I check out the driver, the car model, the funny fur dash boards…everything is pretty normal, SUV, shitty bus, SUV, taxi, SUV…Except until l notice that every other car is a right sided steering wheel…Its fascinating because really anything goes in Kinshasa and apparently cars from Dubai are newer, nicer, cheaper and righty steering wheels (as opposed to those whiney Peugeots from Europe). Apparently its not confusing, just a question of habit.

DRC is considered central Africa and so is not part of the oh so stable CFA, here they have the Congolese Franc one that has fluctuated so much that there was a time when you needed a bucket load of bills just to buy some bread. So to stabilize the economy the generous United States of America has lent their currency so that Congo is a bilingual financial market. Any given bill or price tag can come in dollars or francs, you can pay in one or the other or a combination of them both. Paying in dollars is always at a loss of a few hundred francs though, yet impossible to avoid.

Like manyAfrican nations the beers here are very large and not very good. A regular sized beer is 720ml and is usually a dollar but can cost up to four depending on the bar. A lovely been called Mützig is only available in small bottles (considered regular size by Canadian standards) but is the same price as the big ones. So drink less, pay more.

Ordering grilled fish turns out to be deep fried fish…One four local yogurts costs 500F (.50cents) and four imported yogurts cost $9.00. Local tomatoes cost anywhere from 200F to 2000F depending on where you buy them.

Rent costs on average two to three thousand dollars per month yet the majority of people make no more than a couple hundred dollars a month. DRC is one of the most resource rich countries in the world and yet one of the poorest.

King Leopold reigned over this country for decades and yet never set foot here; the contradictions persist.

In The Kin

After 36 hours of travel we arrived in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital city. We arrived precisely at 18h05 the expected time but of course some of our bags did not complete the journey with us. While waiting to take off in Paris I diligently watched as Steffen’s back pack was left ignored on a trolley. All the other bags were loaded into the underbelly of our Air Bus but not his…the flight attendant assured me if would surely be loaded. After two hours of increasing jittery jostling people began sticking their anxious heads out the baggage conveyer belt flaps to locate their belongings (suspected stolen or tampered with). Both of us got one bag and we finally filed our claims and resolving to come back Saturday. Our boss Papa Noël picked us up and pretended he didn’t mind the wait although he had worked all day and worked his way through some traumatizing traffic.

We found our hotel, a meal and a bed, not to stir for 12 hours. We of course were picked up no later than 13h to go to work for the afternoon…sounds horrible but we supposed it was better than lying in bed all day. The office is conveniently located next to the President Kabila’s private office…this is quite something given that the election is in two months from now. There seems to be an excellent security plan in place which consists of floating us across to Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of Congo (not to be confused with the Democratic one in which I find myself).  However the whole security issue seems like it still needs to be panned out. Upon pressing P-N for info regarding who to call in case of emergency he explained everything and said he’d have the contact info for us before he leaves for Montreal next week.

Over the weekend we were meant to be taken on a tour of the city and then to see the Bonobos but after about 3 hours in the truck (we had recuperated our bags no problem) we were then sent to pick up the boss’s son at the airport. Why we had to go along is a mystery but it did give us a chance to be traumatized by the midday traffic. All in all we spent 9 hours in the car. Granted we ended up having a lovely dinner on the Congo River, but it was not exactly how you would imagine your first Saturday in Kinshasa.

However, we are quick learning that spending a day in a car here is quite typical; this city is crawling with SUVs, mini pick up trucks, vans and buses. There are giant 8-lane boulevards with street lights and traffic lights that count down from 88. Walking this evening we were nearly run down twice, of course they swerved but there was definitely the feeling that it was intentional…The feeling of white supremacy and colonialism is still extremely present and the separation is devastating. It is as though since independence there has been no integration of blacks and whites that resulted in anything but big walls with barbed wire. People seemed shocked to see us walk to the super market—it’s not dangerous in broad daylight and a block away from our hotel—but it’s simply not done. In fear of my legs turning to rubber and perhaps some habits from Cameroon I refuse to call our chauffeur for such a task.

We have already found the Kin Market where no white people shop and the prices are slightly more reasonable—note this city is far more expensive even than London England! Rent is around $2000/mth, a box of Bran cereal is $20 and gas is the same as in Toronto.

So far we feel excited to be here, pleased with the office, confused with many things and cooped up in a shitty little hotel room that regularly has water and power loss…Luckily we love each other’s company and know that things can only improve!

Vive la coopération!

Refresher

After many moons and quiet starry nights I fled to the city of Toronto and felt that perhaps I didn’t have time for blogging while trying to complete my Masters…well its done now so I’m back!

The newest adventure set to commence on Wednesday September 28th, off to the Congo I go! Kinshasa that is, Democratic it says. I will be working for Oxfam Quebec as the Gender Justice Advisor.

*Disclaimer* None of the content seen in this Klog represents the views of Oxfam Quebec and is in no way related. It is my own knowledge and experience that will clog these pages…

FYI Klog is not a knowledge management system, it is a Kongo Blog. Simple.

So off I go but in the meantime I am having an incredible time out on Vancouver island crossing things off my pre-departure list (only 123 items long)! The only important thing left is Bug spray…fairly crucial as I hope to avoid the whole repeat malaria scenario. Oh right and my passport which is still in the mail…No worries though, off we go (we being my partner Steffen and I, Youpiee)!

So hopefully this has revived and refreshed a little bit, I will do my best to keep it up!

Previous Older Entries