Sunday, April 16, 2006

Moving, working and KFC

I wish I had more time to write about the interesting move to Lubumbashi. It's been a whirlind - packet up my bags, had a couple good-bye parties and left Kindu in a four-day period. The Indians, my South African friends, and my best friend Anja saw me off at the airport. After two days in Kinshasa I boarded another plane to Lubumbashi. As usual, the Congo traveling experience involves officials trying to open my bags at the airport, baggage handlers bickering over who carries by bags, chaos as planes board with no announcements to which flight it is, and grouping en masse on the runway (lines are impossible) to board the plane. It's no Delta.

Arriving in Lubumbashi, Katangaq, I feel like I am in a different country but can't put my finger on why I feel this way. The temperature is nice - in the upper 70s and lower 80s. The city has an open feel to it and lacks the grit and dirt that defines Kinshasa.

And in many ways, this is a different country. It's definitely tried to be, with successionist attempts that were actually supported by Belgium troops right after independence (later US and european troops were sent to quell a rebellion attempt). Now there is still the issue that the vast mineral wealth of Katanga province is perceived as being channeled to Kinshasa.

Katanga is known as "the forgotten crisis" in Congo. While Ituri and the Kivu provinces are well known for their problems, Katanga has been slowly going from bad to worse. Local groups that were originally supported by the Kinshasa government to fight Rwandan troops in the late 1990s got out of Kinshasa's control a while back. The "give some guys arms and money" technique of fighting your opponent tends to backfire once they realize that guns = power, so why back down? The government decided to head after the leader by staging a military operation. Congolese military are underpaid and not very disciplined, so populations have been getting the heck out of the way to avoid both the rebel movement and their own soldiers. As military operations have shifted, so has the population movement. Next week we will be going to check out some of the areas where people have gathered to get a good idea of how many are around, principle problems and possible solutions.

Last night colleagues and I spread out maps at a local restaurant and planned a field mission with another organization. We discussed which areas were secure, which roads were passable, where the military was, and what we knew about certain areas. I'd be lying if I said that I was not being drawn in to the sense of urgency that accompanies this's exciting and exhilarating.

There are many steps we take to stay safe. The first is information on the ground. We find organizations that are/have been in these areas and talk with them. Second is communication - we have satellite phones and radio networks. Third is common sense - no need to be cowboys, if people say an area is not secure, we do not go. The security strategy of most humanitarian organizations is based on acceptance, and the one that I work for is no exception.

The best part - Lubumbashi has two KFC restaurants (Katanga Fried Chiken). No lie.


Blogger TheMalau said...

I remember those three safety rules, and the threat assesment levels, etc...

Katanga will never cease to amaze. Katanga Fried Chicken... et puis quoi encore! Oh well, the one thing that was very different there, in Lu'shi, was that people actually lined-up for taxibuses and buses, and stopped when the seats were full.

Oh that, and the near-cult around Gecamines, the Mining Giant the Congo inherited from the colonizer; and the care that people have to ensure that their city measure-up/surpass Kinshasa (my hometown) in prestige (which they have succeeded to do, at least as far as cleanliness and order is concerned). Oh, and at Rawbank, you can actually use an ATM :)

2:49 PM  
Anonymous Kurt Wayne said...

As if on cue...the BBC is getting its news from you, ma'am.

Interesting comments both by you and the "Beeb" reporter on the differences between Lubumbashi and K. (I keep seeing web references to the Lubumbashi post office.)

A question and a comment:

Would the DRC be ripe for carving a capital out in the center of the country, a la Brazil and Nigeria? I wonder if that could help things in the long run any?

As for the comment, Sarah, could you send me an e-mail at (I've a question to ask...if you're uneasy e-mailing me I'll be glad to ask it here but I'd rather use's about the pictures you're taking.)

9:56 PM  
Anonymous Congogirl said...

Farees asked me if I had been, a number of times, and no matter how many times he asked, I still had not been there. But he went for work at least one time, and KFC always came up.

Also, it sounds like a different country both for the reasons that you mention and perhaps because it borders Zambia. Kinshasa has some things in common with Congo-BRZ, Bukavu and environs with Rwanda, do you think Gbadolite is like CAR?

8:26 PM  
Blogger Sahara Sarah said...

I guess KFC is famous! It reminds me of the restaurant described in A Bend in the River. Is there seriously an ATM?? That would be just too much. Thanks for the link, I have heard about the BBC to see the article.

Congogirl, when the heck are you coming out here? My kindu email account is no longer valid, so apologies if you have sent emails there.

12:30 PM  
Anonymous Mike Newberry said...

I ate at the KFC near the Park Hotel at the beginning of July this year. Took some pictures of it with my cell-camera. I don't know if they were the owners but the two "chefs" that we met were Lebanese and a Pakistani minister that was with us had them cook some middle-eastern dishes for him-fried lamb's brains etc. The chicken shwarmas were excellent. The fried chicken was pretty good too! I love the chicken "memorial" outside the restaurant too!

5:27 AM  
Blogger karibu said...

Breaking Hearts in the Heart of Darkness can be a nice title of a novel/book.Are you still in COngo?

3:26 PM  
Blogger karibu said...

Breaking Hearts in the Heart of Darkness, nice title for a novel/book onf your long journey in Congo. Did you start writing a book?

3:27 PM  

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