Walter James

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.

Moving the mountain

01 Jul
Congolese posters in French and Swahili demanding for an end to corruption

Congolese posters in French and Swahili demanding for an end to corruption

Tous les gens sont terrorizés

(All the people are terrorized)

This is what the reggae singer is screaming through Radio France International. I am writing this as my neighbors and I settle in for the night. You are not supposed to go out at night; you should not go to the bar. If you go to the bar in town, there will be soldiers there. Soldiers usually mean trouble. Back in the days of Mobutu, the soldiers complained to their supreme leader that they were not being paid for their service. Mobutu replied that their gun was their salary, their wife, their mother, their means for feeding themselves and taking whatever they wanted from the civilian population. Although Mobutu is gone, his statement is echoed in the actions of every armed faction running around Eastern Congo. Just about everyone you meet has been affected, everyone has a relative who has died in a massacre, at the hands of bandits, or from starvation or illness directly caused by the displacement of war.

This past week, an officer from the DGM (the Congolese immigration bureau) has been storming around Uvira with a policeman, looking to arrest me because I had failed to grease his palm. As I wrote about earlier, I was already forced to pay off the ANR to get my passport back, and I had registered legally with the DGM when I crossed the border. So, now I was forced to play cat-and-mouse because some fat bureaucrat wanted his beer money from the mzungu. I decided to go to the DGM and face the music, but thankfully Arche d’Alliance sent someone from their legal team with me. I was not arrested, but I had to fill out some more forms and pay a “paperwork” fee of $40. However, there is no future guarantee of protection, and the DGM might come after me again for more money. There is zero accountability, and the government in Kinshasa is deeply corrupt, so local officials feel they have a carte blanche to make up the rules to line their pockets. However, one must remember that no matter how bad things get for me, it is still a lot worse for the ordinary Congolese citizen. This is why the work of organizations such as Arche d’Alliance is so important.

If you are trying to rebuild civil society in Eastern Congo, you are indeed a brave individual. Creating a world of law, order, and harmony in an environment filled with bloodshed and corruption is indeed a daunting task. I greatly admire these people that are trying to move the mountain, one pebble at a time.

Posted By Walter James

Posted Jul 1st, 2009


  • Helah Robinson

    July 3, 2009


    Very well put. And nice posts, you’re really giving little glimpses of what life is like there and what needs to be done.

  • Stacy

    July 6, 2009


    Your post reminds me of the words another AP partner used to repeat over and over again. This organization, which I won’t name, is not in a position to be able to advocate openly for human rights. If they did, the government would have made their lives (as individuals as well as an organization) extremely difficult. Jail was a possibility the director reminded us of frequently. She used to say that in her country, you couldn’t move the mountain, or break it down, or climb it. Instead, she was always looking for subtle ways to accomplish her important work without antagonizing the authorities. “We walk around the mountain,” she would say. Brave woman. It’s a long walk. –Stacy

  • Daniel Carawan

    July 8, 2009



    I greatly admire what you’re doing in Africa. I can’t say I would have the courage to move the peddles myself.
    The stories you tell are of course of great importance to me and many others concerned about affairs in Africa, those of us who are unfortunately not intimate with the everyday details such as living in Africa can only bring.
    Your optimism is refreshing, especially under the weight of so much pessimism regarding the future of Africa as a whole. What would you say to someone who would call your attempts at moving the mountain futile? How do you keep the sincere hope alive that somehow, the scenario will change? I do not mean to compound Africa into one big amalgam, but I hope for the sake of this comment, you will excuse me. -Daniel

  • Carl-Henri

    July 9, 2009


    Very interesting Walter, I can actually draw some parallels with Haiti. As Mobutu did, Papa Doc said the same thing to the Tonton Macoutes

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