Walter James (SOS Femme en Danger – SOSFED): Walter graduated in 2006 from the University of Minnesota. Following college, he worked on international development in Haiti and Senegal, and studied human rights and international development in Senegal, Costa Rica, and Morocco. Walter first visited Eastern Congo as a 2009 Peace Fellow for The Advocacy Project, where he documented the work of civil society organizations such as SOS Femmes en Danger, Arche d’Alliance, and Tunza Mazingira. The following year, he graduated from the University of Maryland School of Public Policy with a Master’s degree in Public Policy.

How I learned to stop worrying and love the EU

18 Feb

I admire the European Union for many reasons: their strong currency, the ease of travel throughout Europe, the public transit, the certification of good food and wine that preserves time-honored traditions, the general collective spirit of social responsibility, the scarves that Dutch people wear while riding their bicycles. However, EU bureaucracy is giving me a headache at the moment.

Currently, AP and ifa-Zivik are trying to get Marceline to Berlin. ifa-Zivik is about to celebrate its 20th birthday, and so they are getting together some of their local partners from around the world for a workshop on peace-building. In order to get to Berlin, Marceline only needs to apply for a Schengen (short-term) Visa. The form and requirements for this visa work for any country in the EU (wonderful), and those on a Schengen Visa can go between member states with ease. In addition, the Schengen Visa application form is available at any embassy of any member state. Sounds great, right?

Hapana, bwana (no sir). We tried the Belgian embassy in Bujumbura, but the Belgians brusquely told us that they couldn’t process a visa for someone “from the Kivus”. They told us to try an embassy in Kigali. I sent an e-mail to the German Embassy in Kigali, and soon received a very polite reply telling me Marceline needed to go to the embassy in Kinshasa.

Go all the way to Kinshasa? That’s on the opposite end of the Congo. Good Lord, it took Henry Morton Stanley three bloody long years to cross the territory now known as the DRC. Kinshasa and Uvira are over 2,000 kilometers apart as the crow flies.

The Democratic Republic of Congo will soon be the second biggest country (territorially) in Africa, now that the Sudans are going to split (Algeria will be number 1). A straight-line overland route directly from Uvira to Kinshasa is virtually impossible (of course, you could take a boat on Congo River straight through all the way to the Atlantic, but doing that is like attempting to climb Mt. Everest on your knuckles). Fortunately, this modern age allows one to fly from Bukavu or Goma into Kinshasa, although at more than 800 dollars a pop, it is an expensive option.

Kinshasa is not only far away in distance, but it is also a bit culturally removed from the East, especially in terms of language. French is the unifying language of the Congo, at least for people that are educated. However, whereas in Eastern Congo a good foundation in Kiswahili will get you nearly everywhere, in the west the lingua franca is Lingala. Fortunately Marceline knows French, and she knows Lingala from being a refugee. Uniting the different regions of the Congo under one government in Kinshasa has always been somewhat of a struggle, from the mineral-rich regions of Kasai and Katanga to the Kivus to Equateur to Badundu to Maniema.

We are hoping that Zivik will be able to tickle some funnybones with the Deutsche Botschaft in Kigali so Marceline doesn’t have to go all the way to Kinshasa. Again, it seems strange that one cannot apply for a visa at an embassy just across the border because of their nationality. Of course, I am sure there is a bureaucrat somewhere who will wrinkle their brow and give a perfectly sound and reasonable answer why; rules are always there for a reason that makes sense to the persons that made them. Nonetheless, I still feel miffed, if at no one in particular. The Colonial Europeans divided up the “African Cake” according to their desires, modern nation-state boundaries follow the colonial borders, and now today an African is having a tough time getting a visa to visit Europe because the logistics of getting to the capital are so difficult. Ah, a tale of the post-colonial era.

SOS FED director Marceline Kongolo

SOS FED director Marceline Kongolo

One last note: when we got back home to Uvira yesterday, I found a large dead bug lying on its back on our patio. This bug was caramel-colored, about an inch and a half long, and kind of looked like a cockroach/beetle/cricket hybrid. It was hideous and succulent. I called Marceline over to take a look at it, this piece of local Congolese wildlife laying expired in our house. Marceline bent over to pick it up, whereupon the large bug started wriggling; it was not, after all, dead. Marceline took off a sandal, smashed it, and threw it into the mud outside. We stood there staring at it for a bit, and Marceline told me that these bugs can be cooked and eaten during the proper season.

Iko butamu? (is it delicious?) I asked.

Sana, (very much so) said Marceline, with a grin and a sigh, perhaps recalling some fond culinary memories.

Congolese wildlife

Congolese wildlife


Posted Feb 18th, 2011

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