November 30, 2011

Watching Laurent Gbagbo on Television

I'm watching the French news before the generator is turned off this morning.

Laurent Gbagbo (ex president of Ivory Coast) is being tried in the Hague today, for crimes his supporters committed when he refused to accept election results in 2010. I hope this is not a harbinger of things to come here in DRC.

November 27, 2011

Loud Fabric - because I couldn't resist

Also, I took a minute to buy this fabric today. Even though before I left, I promised myself I wouldn't buy any more items to bring back from Africa (I could practically start a museum at this point).

Because honestly, how can you resist a blue/white flower pattern, overlayed with baby blue and baby pink glittery design? How?

I'm going to make a suit jacket and wear it at work. Yep, I'm that girl.

A Day Before Election Day in Congo

From an email to my sister:

Yes, I will be in the Province for the announcement of the results. I'm a little nervous about it, and don't know where I should be when they are announced (at the Independent Electoral Commission? At UN Headquarters? In my "Hotel"?).

Time drags on when you have no internet or TV. Thankfully it forces me to finish books I have on my kindle - but since there's no internet, I can't download more books. I just finished a pretty good books on vampires (nothing like the Bella series - a lot more post apocalyptic), and am going through the incredibly voluminous Emperor of All Maladies (an almost complete history of the diagnosis of cancer and the search for its cure), and also Journal of a Plague Year, a fictional account by Daniel Dafoe written around 1722 based on his interviews of people who survived the devastating effects of plague in London.

From an email to my friend:


I'm also a little worried about dying of boredom during the time between election day and results. I'm planning mostly work meetings, but also a trip to a tailor, buying local DVDs and finding a library in town. I pretty much begged a EU guy to take me along with him during his jogging. Today, I worked out to a borrowed Baywatch Beach Workout DVD. A couple of additional sessions and I'll be looking like Pamela Anderson in no time. Haha!

November 23, 2011

Return to Kananga and the politics of elections there

Dear family,

I am alive and well in Kananga, which is located somewhere in the middle of the Democratic Republic of Congo as an elections observer. I've been to Kananga before but I've never seen so many foreigners here before. There are observers from the Carter Center (a reputable NGO), from the EU, SADC and us.

The hotel room has no running water or electricity (as it never does in Congo) but the generator gets turned on in the evenings.

It started to rain here and oh miracle! the AC just came on which means that someone decided to turn on the generator! OK and now 10 minutes later, it's off again.

The elections should be interesting. The country is split between the incumbent Joseph Kabila who has been president for the last 11 years, and Etienne Tshisekedi who has been trying to be president for a looooong time. Kananga city seems overwhelmingly pro-UDPS (Tshisekedi's party).


Anyways, I'm stuck here for 17 days. The food is very repetitive and there's really nothing to do so I tend to go to sleep by 8 p.m.

I hope all is well with you. Wish me luck!
007 in Africa

November 12, 2011

Observing Elections in Kananga

I’m back in the Democratic Republic of Congo after being away for close to 6 years. I am in the country for 2 months for an election monitoring mission.  Some things have changed.  But most haven’t.

President Kabila built a shiny new 6-lane highway in the center of the Kinshasa, with traffic lights (that stay on), marked lanes and zebra crossings.  In the process, magestic old trees have been chopped up, but it has managed to regulate traffic downtown.  On the other hand, side streets in the upper neighborhoods still remain sandbanks, and traffic stays completely choked inside the dilapidated neighborhoods.

I spent a week in Kananga, which is the capital of Kasai Occidental Province (there are 10 provinces in Congo).  I knew it well 6 years ago, and sadly it looks the same today.  It is said that 10 miles of roads have been built in Kabila’s 10 year tenure, and electricity is now available to selected neighborhoods for 3 or 4 hours in the evening.  The town is a dust bowl, interspersed with grandiose Belgian buildings and large avenues - there once was meticulous concern of city planning.  The Belgians hoped to make it the capital of Congo, due to its location in the middle of the country.

Fortunately this time around, I travel using UN flights instead of the crazy Congolese airline ones and as a result, don’t have to deal with the hassle of the airport there.  I also represent a larger organization so meetings with Head Officials are easy to come by.

Kananga is a quiet Province, so it seems I have been blessed with an area that will experience few population clashes at the time of elections.  Elections are November 28, 2011.  I heartily wish good luck to DRC in its nascent democratic process!

I’m back in Kinshasa now, and enjoying hot showers of running water, and vegetables, yogurts and cheese.  I’ll be back in Kananga again from November 22 – December 8, 2011.

I do miss the crisp, cool air of autumn, and the smell of decaying leaves of Washington D.C.  And I wish I could be with family on Thanksgiving.  Please have an extra spoonful of stuffing for me.