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.