Kongo Insider

Giving life is lifethreating to Congolese women

I wanted to write this quick blog following two field missions I was part of with an international NGO operating in the DRC in the child sector. Being a professional interpreter for English, French and a number of Congolese dialects, I often find myself at the forefront of activities that give a first-hand understanding of what is happening in the not-so-posh parts of the country. 

It also helps me properly contrast that unique knowledge with the disingenuous presentation made of the realities of the country from an urban-centric perspective.

The mission I am currently with aims to make a movie to create emphathy in West to support vaccination in the DRC. This leads us to tour of a number of medical facilities across Kinshasa in search of case studies that best encapsulate the dire conditions of childbirth. According to statistics, that claims the live of one out of ten women in the country.

So we go to this health centre located in Kindele. Those familiar with Kinshasa know that Kindele equates with the outskirts of Kinshasa where the benefits of modernity are seldom seen or enjoyed. It is a sample of poverty stricken parts of the mineral rich nation and a concentrate of human misery.

Upon arrival, there is a woman that has just gone into labour for her seventh baby. She visibly is in pain and despite her many efforts to push the baby out, nothing happens.

It turns out the baby is breached and the health centre is not equipped to conduct a caesarean section. Neither does it have an ambulance to swiftly relocate the ailing pregnant woman to the nearest, better equipped, clinic.

Although we came to actually film the birth and showcase the predicament that childbirth is to the majority of Congolese women, we end up converting our jeep into a makeshift ambulance.

She is hurried onto the back seat of the jeep where a plastic sheet was a few minutes earlier placed to prevent any infection.

As the baby is stuck with the umbilical cord around its neck, the doctor must literally keep it from strangling itself with the cord. He does so by maintaining his hand on the woman’s privates part throughout the trip to the better clinic.

I have never seen that, not even in the wildest movies.

The road to the clinic is bumpy and full of potholes. The traffic is so bad that it slows down at life saving evacuation. The longer it takes to reach the clinic the unlikelier for the baby and/or the mother to survive.

An hour or so later the “ambulance” reaches the clinic, but unfortunately only in time to save the mother. The baby choked to death.

Giving life in the DRC is a lifethreating business for Congolese women.

The flourishing business of death in Kinshasa

That people die a bit more in developing countries than is the case in developed ones seems to be unquestionable. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is definitely no exception. Mortality and morbidity rate in the country is amongst the highest on the continent.
But one does not need WHO granular statistics to arrive at that conclusion. The growing number of graveyards mushrooming  in the outskirts Kinshasa, the constant unavailability of room in the few morgues still functional in the capital, and the transformation of most open spaces into makeshift funeraria are a testament to death’s invasive presence.

But what in DRC was over decades a disorganised business, with no driving strategy behind, has now morphed into a very lucrative and well-structured income-generating activity: the ineluctable  business of death. A business we all will someday have to deal with.

In stead of the crowded cemeteries where burial space is hardly available, now the business offers graves with a variety of choices à la carte. you can be buried as cheap as five hundred US Dollars or as expensive as several thousands of US Dollars.

Interestingly enough, this all has taken on an entrepreneurial nature, with the profit motive being the ball game.

IL EST TEMPS DE FAIRE DU FAIR POUR LE PALMIER A HUILE EN RDC !

Palmiers du Centre Nganda, cadre de l'atelier

Palmiers du Centre Nganda, cadre de l’atelier

Le mardi 20 octobre 2015, alors que ma journée de travail tire à sa fin, je suis contacté par Madame Margot Bokanga d’OXFAM NOVIB me disant que son organisation cherche un blogueur consultant pour assurer la couverture d’un atelier important. Je suis évidemment intéressé et je marque mon accord sans hésiter.

L’atelier a lieu huit jours plus tard  i.e. du 28-29 octobre 2015 et les termes de référence que m’envoie Madame Margot renseignent sur son thème:  “Croissance Verte et le Partenariat Gagnant-Gagnant dans le Secteur de l’Huile de Palme : Quelles perspectives pour la RDC? En termes moins savants, l’atelier se propose de dégager des pistes de solution pour un double objectif: une exploitation palmier à huile qui soit plus juste pour les petits cultivateurs de l’Est de la RDC où intervient OXFAM NOVIB, d’une part, et qui tienne compte des enjeux environnementaux, d’autre part. Fort à propos, l’atelier  se tient au Centre Catholique Nganda qui, sans ses différentes salles de réunion et auberge, serait simplement une palmeraie.

L’atelier réunit environ trente six participants constituant un vrai échantillon d’intervenants dans la chaîne de l’huile de palme.

Une vue de la diversité des participants

Une vue de la diversité des participants

Il s’agit notamment des acteurs de la société civile;  fabricants des machines transformatrices pour l’extraction de l’huile de palme;  gestionnaires des coopératives; personnalités du monde scientifique; représentants des quelques bailleurs des fonds et autres organisations non-gouvernementales internationales ainsi que les représentants de certaines entreprises du secteur.

Les trois jours de l’atelier sont pour mon esprit moins agriculteur l’occasion de plonger dans l’univers du vert par le biais du palmier à huile. J’en apprends tellement de choses sur la plante que je commence à saisir son importance stratégique, bien au-delà de son importance culinaire.

Etant congolais, je sais que l’huile de palme extraite de ses graines est un ingrédient essentiel de la cuisine africaine, notamment pour la préparation du succulent poulet à la moambe.

Mais ce que j’ignorais c’est que l’huile de palme c’est de l’or vert: elle peut être utilisée comme un bio-carburant à haut rendement. L’autre produit du palmier est l’huile de palmiste. Elle s’obtient en en broyant les amandes des noix de palme, ce qui génère encore un autre produit,  en l’occurrence les tourteaux pour le bétail. Il faut également noter que cette plante produit le vin de palme, ses feuilles servent à la construction des toitures des huttes et cases et son tronc renferme le chou du palmier très prisé en Afrique et au-delà. Sur le plan industriel, l’huile de palme est un ingrédient essentiel pour la production du savon et différents autres produits cosmétiques.

Je comprends alors pourquoi le palmier à huile est considéré comme l’épine dorsale de l’économie rurale par les cultivateurs artisanaux de l’Est de la RDC.

Mais je ne peux m’empêcher de me poser la question de savoir pourquoi OXFAM NOVIB intervient dans le secteur du palmier à huile en RDC. Madame Joana, responsable de l’institution en RDC, y répond dans son allocution d’ouverture en déclinant les trois objectifs visés par l’intervention de cette organisation néerlandaise:

  • contribuer à une vision stratégique et établir un partenariat gagnant-gagnant pour l’huile de palme ;
  • assurer un développement plus responsable et une exploitation durable de  l’huile de palme ; et
  • lutter contre le changement climatique, qui aggrave la situation déjà précaire due à plusieurs années de conflits en RDC.

En effet, présente en RDC depuis les années 1980, l’organisation néerlandaise justifie d’une expérience de plus de dix ans acquise en Indonésie et en Malaisie dans le domaine du  palmier à huile. Notons que ces deux pays produisent, à eux seuls, plus de 80% de l’huile de palme mondiale.

Face à la forte croissance de la demande sur le marché national et international, la RDC offre des  opportunités certaines pour le développement de grandes plantations de palmier. Le pays se trouve en effet à la croisée  des chemins entre les vagues d’acquisitions des plantations et d’investissements par des entreprises d’huile de palme.

Cependant, l’expansion incontrôlée de la culture industrielle et des projets de monoculture à grande échelle du palmier à huile peut s’avérer catastrophique à deux volets. Premièrement, pour l’environnement, cette exploitation  accélère le changement climatique par une déforestation effrénée.  Deuxièmement, à cause des expropriation des terres, cette exploitation risque d’aggraver les problèmes sociaux et économiques déjà amplifiés par une décennie de conflits armés en RDC.

Raison pour laquelle une tripartite impliquant la société civile, le gouvernement et les entreprises du secteur de l’huile de palme s’avère nécessaire pour assurer un équilibre sain entre exploitation, autonomisation économique et protection de l’environnement. Ce partenariat doit être FAIR (Freedom of choice, Accountability, Improvement of benefits, Respect of rights).

Sous Freedom of choice (liberté de choix), ce partenariat exige plus de justice en matière foncière entre propriétaires des terres et exploitants. Toute acquisition de terre doit faire l’objet d’un libre consentement préalable informé par les propriétaires. Ce qui n’est pas toujours le cas lors de nombreuses expropriations par les exploitants industriels.

Sous Accountability (redevabilité), ce partenariat exige de l’alignement interne, de la transparence et la mise sur pied des mécanismes de résolution des conflits.

Sous Improvement of benefits (meilleurs avantages), ce partenariat exige une création des valeurs partagée, la responsabilité environnementale, la productivité et les investissements dans les infrastructures.

Et sous Respect of rights (respect des droits), le partenariat exige une meilleure prise en compte des droits fonciers, droits en matière d’emploi et l’égalité de chance pour les opportunités disponibles.

Élabores par OXFAM et testés avec succès en Indonésie et en Malaisie, les principes FAIR doivent être contextualisés à la situation de la RDC pour un secteur du palmier à huile plus juste et gagnant-gagnant.

En finançant un projet pilote mis en oeuvre par Centre d’Action Culturel pour le Développement de Kibambu (CACUDEKI) dans la province du Nord Kivu, OXFAM vise précisément à tester l’applicabilité contextualisée des principes FAIR en RDC. Une expansion à l’échelle permettra au pays de graduellement se repositionner sur l’échiquier mondial du palmier à huile où jadis il occupait le rang de premier producteur mondial de l’huile de palme, avant de dégringoler à la quatorzième position qu’il occupe aujourd’hui dans le secteur.

L’intervention d’OXFAM et une application intelligente des principes FAIR feront du palmier à huile une plante miracle pour l’économie verte en RDC.

Et l’exemple du palmier pourrait inspirer des interventions similaires dans le secteur d’autres plantes stratégiques dont regorge le pays.

Marking DRC’s 54th anniversary of independence, Kabila addresses the nation following months of silence

So it is 30 June 2014, 54 years after the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) became independent. The traditional speech (French audio here) was delivered by Kabila on the eve of day. Here is my quick take on points Kabila tried to drive home.

DRC armed forces:  over-praised and oblivious to UN’s vital support to defeat M23

Kabila showered all the praises and recognition on the country’s armed forces by dedicating the day to what he termed “an army rising in power”. Hardly did he mention the fact that the demise of the defunct M23 was partly (centrally?) attributable to the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) International Brigade. He stated that DRC’s entire territory is now fully controlled by the Congolese army. But this still remains questionable as it is an open secret DRC’s army is yet to undergo a full reform process coupled with effective DDR and DDRRR. But it is understandable Kabila is giving all the credit to the national army, more so as he promised the military solution to the M23, if the diplomatic solution failed. In actual fact, the shift of recent dynamics in the Great Lakes region is increasingly entrenching peace through a combination of regional and international efforts.

Government of national unity heralded since 23 October 2013: Kabila is not in a hurry 

It was expected Kabila would hint at the imminence or at least give an indication as to when the government of the much-awaited national unity will be formed. After all, this new cabinet was announced on 23 October 2013, following the national consultations. However, the only allusion to this was when Kabila mentioned the need to implement all the recommendations from these consultations. Without any haste. It is unlikely the country will have a new cabinet any time soon. In fact, the conditions that dictated a reshuffle have so changed in the time between the announcement and now that the very purpose of that government is defeated. A now stable eastern DRC and M23 out of the picture, makes it irrelevant for the regime to bring some parts of the opposition to the helm of the country. On the other hand, donors and the international community seem to like the current, reform-minded, government better. So obviously, there does not really seem to be any haste in removing Prime Minister Matata.

Elections: foreign interference vs. national sovereignty

In a thinly-veiled reference to the full electoral calendar being more and more demanded by both the opposition and the international community, Kabila said the Congolese people should not give in to any blackmail. He stressed that the onus was exclusively on the electoral commission to present us all with roadmap for the elections. We can therefore speculate that DRC sovereignty will continue to be invoked whenever the international community makes rightful demands that do not “please” the regime. 

Expulsion of DRC nationals from neighbouring Congo-Brazzaville: a belated presidential reaction?

Kabila lamented the massive expulsions of Congolese nationals from Congo-Brazzaville, after remaining silent throughout the degrading ordeal both to the DRC and to those expelled. He took the opportunity to encourage all Congolese living abroad under harsh conditions to come back home. It is unlikely his clarion call will be heeded, as most of those in the Diaspora left the country inter alia in dissidence to the current regime and/or for unresolved economic issues. Why is Kabila speaking out on this situation only now; months after the expulsions have happened is a mystery. But better late than never.

So, all in all, the political future still retains much of its recent grey areas. No government in any foreseeable horizon. Unlikely the full electoral calendar will be charted. And the euphoria of M23 defeat might/will derail any efforts to reform the army, leaving the country unprepared the next M23-esque adventure. 

 

 

Katanga Business Meeting: Africa, my land of opportunities!

On 29-31 May 2014 Lubumbashi hosted the first ever business meeting of the mineral-rich province of Katanga. The event brought an estimated 120 businesses, ranging from global multinationals like JCB, Caterpillar and Samsung to domestic companies such as mining giant GECAMINES and a host of other small and medium enterprises. More than five thousand visitors stormed the Lubumbashi Parliament Building where the gathering was held. 

 

Was the wait for Kabila’s speech whorth its while?

On 23 October 2013, DRC President Kabila made an hour-long speech to both houses of Parliament, diplomats and anyone who is someone. The much-awaited speech came following a national dialogue held a month ago and meant to make recommendations to, as it were, reboot the country.

Main changes

Amongst key changes announced by Kabila is the impending formation of a new government termed “national cohesion executive”. It will incorporate members of the opposition and the civil society into what was until now the preserve of the regime.

Further, a committee tasked with following up the implementation of the 674 recommendations stemming from the dialogue is also expected to be put in place. The body will start off with a one-year term of office which is likely to be extended, depending on how rapidly it operationalises these recommendations.

Other salient points include the repatriation of former Mobutu’s remains from the dictator’s Moroccan grave and those of independence-time dissident Prime Minister Moise Tshombe from Algiers.

Reference was also made to Congolese citizens standing trial at ICC with thinly-veiled allusion to Jean-Pierre Bemba. Kabila tasked the yet-to-be-formed executive to follow up their cases. Does that mean a genuine interest from Kabila to see Bemba released or is this merely a bone he threw to MLC, Bemba’s political party?

Hours before the speech was delivered, Kabila signed a decree granting presidential pardon a certain number of political and military inmates. These measures, he said, would help cement national cohesion.

To restore credibility to elections and ensure democracy is further entrenched, Kabila stressed that a population census (last held in the country in 1984) would have to be conducted and left-over local and as would municipal elections from previous electoral cycle.

On the M23 crisis prevailing in eastern DRC, Kabila lamented the lack of tangible progress of the Kampala talks and warned that failure of a political settlement will leave the DRC no choice but the military avenue. He nevertheless said he remained open to any constructive negotiations that could give peace a chance, as long as these did not rewarded gross human-rights abusers in M23 with amnesty and impunity.

What’s next?

It seems as though every time Kabila makes a makes speech, more questions are raised; innumerable grey areas are painted than are expected answers.

What does a government of national cohesion mean? An executive led by a political figure from the opposition or sharing significant number of ministerial seats with the opposition while maintaining the premiership? Would that mean that the parliament majority (which constitutionally should dictate the choice of a prime minister) revisited?  How? How in that case would the classical democratic rules apply? How does the civil society fit into the executive, a political body of the highest order? And which civil society is this about, in a country with a level of civil society politicisation seldom seen elsewhere?

What about the military option to end the M23 crisis while it is an open secret that DRC has yet to endow itself with a professional, well paid and equipped military? And how does this bellicose narrative sit with the rationale behind the Peace, Security, and Cooperation Framework agreement which advocated for a non-military settlement of the crisis?

These questions lead to another more pressing one. What becomes of Kabila when second and LAST term of office lapses in 2016?

Answers to most of these questions would require one to square the circle.

But the knowns of the equation at the moment are few in numbers. The national cohesion government Kabila has heralded could only be interpreted as a power-sharing dispensation that de facto ushers in a new transitional political order. The aim of that political order would be twofold: (i) lastingly disrupt the democratic process that started entrenching in the country at all levels, replacing by a consensual mode of governance  which would (ii) sail Kabila past 2016 as still president of the DRC.

This can be substantiated by the fact that holding the census, completing the remaining local elections, and militarily overcoming M23 are, each, tasks that can hardly be achieved by 2016.

In other words, the national dialogue, the resulting recommendations and the implications of today’s speech all converge to one target: no prospects for a better managed, peaceful and prosperous DRC.

National dialogue: will the quest for new political order in the DRC be successful?

A quick roundup of all that is being is said and/or done around the national dialogue in the Congolese political class inevitably leads pundits to highlight two facts.

On the one hand, the dialogue is a proof enough that 2011 presidential elections failed  to usher in a legitimate dispensation. Rather than materialise voters resolve for change, it is believed by most Congolese and was underscored by various electoral observation missions fielded to the DRC that polls results were not reflective of the people’s choice. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be any need for the forum. On the other hand, the dialogue seems to be a belated (retrospective?) panacea proposed by the international community to reboot the DRC, as it were. This idea formed part of the recommendations made in the Addis Ababa Peace, Security, and Cooperation Framework  agreement signed on 24 February 2013.

But previous attempts to bring the regime, the opposition, and the civil society together in a forum to deliberate on the future of the DRC have often yielded, at best, power-sharing governments or, at worst, an even more fractious society. In the early 1990s, the National Sovereign Conference was a national dialogue meant to help DRC transition from dictatorship to democratic rule. All it succeeded in achieving was pit the opposition against the regime, and politicise the civil society more in the process.

Many years of instability ensued, leading yet to another dialogue i.e. the Sun City Inter-Congolese Dialogue which, unlike the National Sovereign Conference, culminated in a power-sharing Global Agreement. This agreement ushered in a zero-sum dispensation whereby the nuisance capacity of each component, far more than concensus, maintained the whole superstructure in place.

This lasted until first general polls in 2006 which created an East-West split in the country, pitting the Swahili-speaking (East) part of the DRC which massively voted for Kabila, against the country’s Lingala-speaking part (West), which voted for Jean-Pierre Bemba.

And then came 2011….with an election that left the country and international observers uncertain, if not skeptical, of the outcomes.

Does all that mean that the DRC desperately needs a new political order, the foundation of which should be genuine dialogue in an unconstrained forum? If so, what should be the rules of the game, and above all, how can a level playing field be guaranteed?

In response to this question, the regime decreed the sanctity of the institutional order from 2011 polls. So, Kabila has recently signed a decree setting the rules of the game and defining what appears to be a very unlevel playing field. The opposition reacts by questioning the regime’s initiative to steer the process and wants everything to be debated….including the institutional order, and international oversight.

The process seems headed to a deadlock. It hasn’t stalled yet though.

Unlike past iterations of the dialogue, this time round the opposition apparently is not interested in a power sharing government. They want assurances that democracy is entrenched in the country. At least so it seems.

Whether the foundations of a new political order will be laid or stem from the dialogue remains to be seen. If the dialogue were held….that is.