Ned and I recently returned from a short trip to Bukavu, trying to secure living arrangements and such for an Advocacy Project fellow that will be working there this coming month. Bukavu is a larger city north of Uvira that sits on Lake Kivu. There is but one good way to get from Uvira to Bukavu: taking a minibus, or agence. The agences have colorful, distinctive names, such as Okapi, Arc-en-Ciel (rainbow), and Colombe (dove).
If you take the safer, less scenic route from Uvira to Bukavu, you travel through Rwanda for a short distance. The differences once you cross the border into Rwanda are startling; in Rwanda, all the roads are paved and lined with cement drainage ditches. Most of the rural towns have shiny new electrical wires running to all the houses. Thus is the plunder of the Congo.
By the way, a visa to Rwanda is free for American citizens, but it seems that citizens of European francophone countries have to pay $60 to even get a transit visa through Rwanda. My interactions with Rwandan border and immigration officials were cordial once they saw the American passport. On a larger geopolitical scale…
After driving through Rwanda for about half an hour, you arrive back at the Congolese border and into Bukavu. Once in Bukavu, the world descends into chaos. Since it is the dry season, it is incredibly dusty, and a lot of things just do not work (electricity, roads, water). Nonetheless, Bukavu is blessed with a mild climate from Lake Kivu. If you squint just right, the hillside surrounding the lake looks like it belongs in Italy, and the houses look like idyllic villas. There are also an abundance of natural gas deposits in the DRC-side of Lake Kivu. The DRC extracts the natural gas and sells it to Rwanda; proceeds from the sale go to pad the pockets of the people in charge. Thus, Bukavu is yet another city where you will not see the riches of the Congo.
Recommended reading: Africa’s World War by Gérard Prunier. In his book, Prunier neatly dissects the conflict that has engulfed Central Africa since the Rwandan genocide of 1994. Prunier’s book is very up to date (published in 2009) and gives comprehensive background information on all the countries involved in the conflict. I find Prunier’s book to be an excellent and well-rounded resource to catch up with this conflict that the mainstream American media has largely ignored.
Posted By Walter James
Posted Jul 1st, 2009