20.05.2011 37 °C
I have been in Gemena for 7 months now and I can quite honestly say I have never experienced anywhere like it before in my life......
Equateur Province is almost the same size as France and the River Congo divides the province into roughly half. Gemena is the capital of the Northern half but a small town by African standards and a small village by Western standards. There is nothing to do and nowhere to go. So much so that the Welfare Committee of the MONUSCO Gemena contingent held a BBQ on Friday night to try to stop all their employees from going insane. We felt such a sense of relief that we were not alone that we re-created a second BBQ just 48 hours later just to make sure the ‘club’ was firmly entrenched in the Gemena social calendar. [It was here that I learnt of a plan to start monthly chicken deliveries brought from Kinshasa to Gemena on the MONUSCO flights by a chicken delivery boy using two cool-boxes of frozen chicken thighs as his carry-on hand-luggage.......so that’s where all the UN money goes......]
North Equateur [Gbadolite] was the home of Mobutu and his strong-hold until his very last days in power but his fierce brand of patrimonialism lives on, and Gemena is home to opposition party leader Jean-Pierre Bemba who’s very public political battles with President Kabila have barely diminished since his war crimes trial at the International Criminal Court began last November. Add to the mix 2 small-scale rebellions in Dongo at the end of 2009 and Mbandaka in April 2010 and it’s easy to see how this is the poorest and most under-developed province in DRC – and thus home to some of the poorest people on the planet.
And with elections scheduled for the end of this year Equateur’s fortunes are unlikely to change any time soon. A few token and under-funded road rehabilitation projects have been started and I have spotted the odd pailotte encouraging voters to register for up-coming elections around Gemena town, but the de-prioritisation of the Province extends even to the international community. Once blinded by the enormous numbers of refugees and internally displaced fleeing rebel fighters and the subsequent FARDC response, donors are now under-whelmed by soaring malnutrition and complete lack of even the most basic healthcare or infrastructure.
Where international aid should be flocking the number of agencies and projects is actually diminishing. All but a few have stayed to support the handful of NGOs and UN agencies trying to overcome numerous logistical hurdles and structural malfunction at almost every level to make the population feel a little less ignored – which is crazy because here just a little bit makes such a difference in a country where ‘value for money’ is almost a standing joke.