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.

The CTLVS and a lesson in economics

01 Apr

On March 23, I attended my first CTLVS (Commission Territoriale sur la Lutte contre la Violence Sexuelle) meeting at OCHA headquarters. Up until that day, the Uvira CTLVS had 25 member organizations; however, my presence at the CTLVS meeting added SOS FED to the roster, making the final total 26.

The CTLVS is meant to be an official entity that coordinates the efforts of local NGOs working on SGBV (Sexual and Gender-based Violence) in Uvira and Fizi Territories. There are four sub-clusters under CTLVS, each headed by a member organization that specializes in that area:

-Judicial (Arche d’Alliance)

-Medical and Health (l’Hôpital d’Uvira)

-Psychosocial Assistance (PSVS)

-Socioeconomic Assistance (ASJPED)

Currently, the CTLVS is collaborating with UNFPA on a data-mapping project, trying to get a clearer picture of incidents of sexual violence in South Kivu, so better response efforts can be coordinated. One member organization, Arche d’Alliance, is charged with collecting information on incidents of sexual violence recorded by each member organization. However, it was clear at the meeting that this information was not being given to Arche, even when someone was sent around to each member organization’s office to collect it. The CTLVS director, Mme Bernadette Ntumba, expressed her frustration at the lack of cooperation. The reason given by some of those present at the meeting was “on n’a pas des moyens” (“we don’t have the means”).

Two days prior to the main CTLVS meeting, I attended a scheduled meeting for the sub-cluster concerning psychosocial assistance, at the headquarters of PSVS. I was surprised at the low attendance; besides a PSVS staff member and a secretary for another local org called AJID, I was the only other person in attendance. When I inquired why so few were attending a scheduled coordination meeting, Ms. Aimée Birindwa, the PSVS focal point, told me that it was hard to motivate member organizations to send people to meetings. Why weren’t the other local organizations motivated enough? She told me what I have heard from countless organizations: “on n’a pas des moyens” (“we don’t have the means”). The story over and over again in South Kivu is one of missing financing, not enough money to keep things running. However, there is never a shortage of NGOs that work on building peace, assisting victims of sexual violence, educating communities on SBGV, and building economic activity. Quite a few of the directors of these NGOs have bulging waistlines, travel on enormous per diems, and are building three-story houses in Uvira. Who am I to believe?

Perhaps this warrants a closer look at the economics at work in South Kivu.

Since Mobutu’s “Zairieanisation” in the 1970s, the economy of Zaire/Congo has been in a state of rapid decay. The war starting in the 1990s shattered what remained of economic activity and security in places like South Kivu. Most people in South Kivu have been poor and oppressed since colonial times, but the war and continuing insecurity means that there is little hope at the end of the tunnel. It is a little astounding to hear older people talk about how things were “better” during the Mobutu Era.

Even today, peasants flee their fields at the sound of gunfire. Internal displacement and the disruption of agricultural activity have had severe effects on public health and food security. The education system is in shambles and the roads are non-existent. Mineral extraction and smuggling has enriched the pockets of fat politicians and generals from Kinshasa to Kampala to Kigali and back, while fighting over these mineral resources continues to breed insecurity in the regon.

So, what is one source of income that continues to trickle into South Kivu? Aid money, development money, financing for humanitarian assistance. Granted, the deep humanitarian crisis in Eastern Congo merits attention, and I believe we have an obligation to help alleviate suffering and fight for social justice in one of the most troubled regions of the planet. However, it appears that money coming to South Kivu from international donors seeking to help the Congolese has created an atmosphere rife with competition, corruption, and deception. There is amazing work done by dedicated individuals in South Kivu, but there are also those who only seek to line their own pockets, whether out of desperation or greed.

Thus, you have two stories: NGOs that do little more than serve as ATMs for their corrupt directors, and NGOs that have decent projects but can’t find the financing to sustain them. There are many shades of gray between these two extremes; some organizations are very functional and do decent human rights work, but still use some of their financing and resources in ways that are improper and somewhat unethical. Some of the local NGO elite, especially up in Bukavu, are internationally recognized for their previous work and are therefore well-financed, but when the mzungus aren’t looking, they engage in some fairly dirty tactics to make sure that other local NGOs do not cut in on their action. Some organizations have good projects and some financing, but refuse to cooperate with other organizations doing similar work.

So, NGO work has become a business in South Kivu, at least for some. The sad reality is that such corruption and disregard for ethics from some NGOs are what discourage a lot of international organizations from taking a chance on good NGOs in South Kivu. Conversely, some local NGOs want the financing from abroad, but none of the required oversight that may accompany it. Since there are many local NGOs and few sources of funding, competition and jealousy overpower most efforts at cooperation. There is a corrosive mutual distrust, which ensures confusion and inefficiency. This is not a condemnation of either all Congolese NGOs or all foreign donors. The aid game is tricky, and all of us in the humanitarian assistance/international development community are still trying to figure out a better way of doing things. The history and simple economics of a place like South Kivu have created such a situation, and it is our job to be better informed and keep up the work, not to give up.

This is not new news to me; Ned Meerdink had to deal with the machinations of the bad NGOs for years, including when I was here in 2009. In Haiti, I had plenty of exposure to the corruptions of even the most well respected NGOs and religious organizations. With my background and experience, I think I can objectively state that SOS FED is not one of the “bad NGOs”. However, it is always tough to remain on the straight-and-narrow in a place where the good guys often finish last.

This is not a diatribe against anyone in particular; in this forum, at least, I will refrain from naming names. This is also not meant to be a grand commentary on the state of international development and humanitarian assistance. For that, you can go talk to high-minded economists like Bill Easterly, Jeffrey Sachs, Paul Collier, and Dambisa Moyo. In the meantime, here at SOS FED we will start faithfully submitting our monthly data to the CTLVS.

Uvira, South Kivu, DRC

Uvira, South Kivu, DRC


Posted Apr 1st, 2011

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