“You need to visit Bas Uele and Haut Uele in the Orientale Province to see and know how the seventeen years of armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (RDC) has undermined the economy, devastated infrastructure and exacerbated the humanitarian situation in this country”.
– Leon Nkundwa, ECI’s Research and Outreach Officer
ECI’s Research & Outreach Officer, Leon Nkundwa, recently spent 15 days assessing and conducting due diligence on four potential ECI partners working in this remote region often threatened by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) – a Ugandan rebel group, led by Joseph Kony, that have terrorized villagers in the DRC and neighboring countries.
Since the 1990s, the Haut-Uélé and Bas-Uélé districts have been destabilized by a succession of armed groups, including the LRA from Uganda. Attacks by LRA rebels have internally displaced more than half a million people since late 2008. Prevailing insecurity has affected food security, agricultural production, trade and the social economy of communities. The province is already constrained by deteriorating road conditions that worsen during the annual rainy season.
Leon left Goma on April 10th traveling to Kisangani. As he recounts, “I only saw the beer and textiles companies working in this city of 1.8 million people. There were only two reasonable hotels in the area and poverty can be seen with the naked eye.” Visiting activities of one potential partner in town was a “life changing experience,” he said.
“We traveled through dense forests on extremely rough roads, often just a connected assortment of deep potholes and finally crossed a broad tributary stream of the Congo River by ferry. I thought that this was hard until I started my route to Buta in Bas Uele. Motorbikes are the only way of getting through,” explains Leon. “Not only I needed to rent the motorbike but also I had to find a driver willing to take the risk with me. It took me a day of searching around to find my driver.”
“On my way, I contemplated the beauty of the country – the fauna, the flora – God has blessed this country with abundant beauty”, he continued. “Communities along the way have made their homes along the banks of the river. Every house is a restaurant! You order your food and they have to go and fish for you while you wait. Great meal! From Kisangani to Bengamisa – around 60 km, we spent one day – the road is so bad, I was pushing the motorcycle through big pools of stagnant water most of the day.”
“Things become even worse from Bengamisa to Banalia. The night had changed the plan – a heavy tropical rainstorm had poured down all night and trees had fallen on the road northward. We stopped many times to clear the road, virtually by hand with axes and other tools, before we could continue on to Banalia.”
“Every few kilometers I was shown a diamond or gold mining carrier. It is amazing to see so many poor people sitting on precious minerals. I could not stop asking myself – what is going on in our country? Schools are in terrible condition, people are living in rough shacks, and children are malnourished. I then arrived in Buta – a colonial town with very old, dilapidated houses – our partner CAFEV – the organization currently working with former LRA kidnapped children. The organization has a psychological counseling clinic, a skills-training site for former LRA victims and a community reintegration program. Seeing these Congolese helping their fellows, I was satisfied and happy I had made it. I later returned to Kisangani. As an old man told me along the way, ‘the land has ears – that is why we don’t have food here. All the fishes have left the Congo side of the river because of continual gunshots and the presence of many rebels in the region. The land does not produce as it used to do as tribes have turned on each other – we need peace.”
“The next day I went to Dungu. I visited the Wagenia site, a beautiful fishing site where you could find it all. In the local market, as people come on canoes along the river and trade with one another, girls as young as 14 years old are working as prostitutes – the town has been ruined by war!”
“Finally the flight came and on the third day I left for Dungu. Here you see all kinds of international NGOs intervening and providing humanitarian aid. There are hundreds of organizations, however very few are providing long-term development programs. Local solutions to local problems are what is needed here.”
In all, Leon assessed four organizations.
“I am blessed to be part of ECI and changing lives. This is what our people are doing daily!”