Local participatory governance in Kananga, Eastern Kasai; how some people go the extra mile to make their voices heard (June 2014)

It’s Sunday and I am making use of the few hours that I may have to myself today…..privacy is not something that I have easily enjoyed here in Kananga in Western Kasai,  and that, coupled with the lack of power to re-charge the computer battery as regularly as I probably should, have made time for personal reflection in written form difficult.

I opted out of church this morning—there would have been a French service at a Catholic Church round the corner but I felt a deep need just to be on my own with God this morning; to just talk to Him, pour out my heart; not be the focus of attention as the only white person in the building; just to be here, alone, with Him, at the foot of the cross, as His child, still. Because where else can I take all that is on my heart and make sense of it?

I cried this morning. Somehow I am reassured as it means that habit has not made me immune to injustice and suffering despite the many years I have now been doing this type of work. Sometimes I wish I could un-see all I have seen —-it would make living a comfortable and blessed life in the UK so much easier; would make it justifiable to say “no” to people just popping round to my hotel room all the time and wanting to talk to me, show me their arts and crafts, asking for money or to do things when all I need right now is time to myself. But knowing what I know, and feeling this deep love in my heart that I feel for the people here in DRC makes me leave all that aside and still greet people with a smile; give that child outside some money as he says he needs it for his school books; make time for them and put my own needs aside. If that is what it takes today, at this present moment, to be “a living sacrifice” for Jesus then that is what I will do; and moreover, I do it with joy. And that is the strangest thing—because I know that ability is not coming from within me. The source is from Him who is much greater than our own needs, desires and hurts. Yesterday morning, I begged God to give me the strength to manage 5 identical meetings with 5 community structures without a break with patience and joy, and to show each one of them the same interest, energy and love. I was tired, I was thirsty and there was not even time to go to the toilet—and yet I managed, and that is by His grace alone.  I am neither a patient nor steadfast enough person to achieve that by myself.

As expected, my heart welled over with emotion this morning as I prayed and read my Bible and I just sat for a while and cried and prayed before God about all I have seen, felt and experienced. All those moments, big and small. The pain I feel that Charlotte, Rose, Solange, Rachelle and Naomi, the lovely ladies here at the hotel who clean and cook for me each day, have never seen a mosquito spray before even though it is them who live, day in day out, with the risk of malaria and need it most; the hurt that I feel that their hands are rough from carrying water and washing clothes by hand –and all I can is offer them a one stop token of support by sharing by Neutrogena hand-cream with them (am I even thankful enough for these blessings?); the pain I feel that they have to work 7 days a week without a break because there are no laws protecting their rights to a rest—and yet at the same time the realisation that they are the lucky ones still as they at least have a job. I laughed and cried at the same time as I stood by the restaurant window the other night and watched 3 ladies and 2 little boys rushing back and forth between their front door and the drain pipe from the hotel roof with buckets, filling up one after the other and lugging them back, the rain drenching them to the skin—and yet they still had time to laugh and wave at me as they worked so hard. What I perceived as a chore would have been a joy for them-as it means not paying for the water at the main water tower where people can pay Maman Nicole for each jerry can they fill. Am I grateful enough when I turn on my tap in Watford and water comes out of it? Am I grateful enough for the job I have that gives me annual leave, toil and flexi time so I can be a person and a professional at the same time? Do I thank my parents enough  for paying for my education so that I have opportunities which the little boy playing out on the streets with a piece of wood, crying because his brother has now taken it away from him, will probably never have? I am ashamed to say the answer is “no”, and I repent of that as much as I do of the negative reaction I felt in my heart when one of the Local Participatory Governance Committees had a go at Christian Aid because our project did not pay for pencils and paper so that they could do their work………after all, what to me costs just a few pounds probably is well and truly unaffordable for many of them. I wish I could do more for all those people I have mentioned—and more……..and yet I feel showing them love is the most I can do in so many situations. I trust that that can make a small difference  can make a difference—if it does that for even just one individual each day, then I will feel I am achieving something after all.

We have had an eventful few days. I arrived here in Kananga, in Western Kasai, on Thursday after a very long trek on the UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) flight which stopped in Lubumbashi, Kalemi and, finally, in Kananga. In the time it took me to fly here I could have flown back to London J. At least I got a few good photos and did not have to risk my life like the locals here have to when they take local airlines.

The participatory governance project we are visiting here is seeking to establish better linkages between the authorities, elected representatives of civil society and people living in the communities. It works through Local Participatory Governance Committees (CLGPs) and Provincial Participatory Governance Committees (CLPPs) across the country who work together to define the needs of the population and prepare advocacy petitions for submission to commune level mayors and the municipal mayors, sometimes channelling the petitions further up if a resolution cannot be found. The CLGPs, in turn, consist of local community leaders (each commune is divided into further sub-communities (quartiers) where they are charged with collecting information on the challenges of the community. Once the CLGP members have collected the information, the CLGP meets, prioritises actions to take and then prepares the documentation for discussion and submission to the CLPP who, in turn, takes charge of sharing it with the authorities.  Our entire visit so far has been accompanied by 3 members of the CLPP: J Paul (animator), Abe Gabriel (general coordinator) and Agnes (secretary).

Yesterday we met up with 5 of the CLGPs which was inspiring. They shared with us how they work, showed us some of their petitions and also expressed some disappointment about progress. Advocacy is one of the most frustrating activities as results can take time—hard to stomach when people’s requests revolve around access to drinking water, electricity (supply here is terrible, even here in my hotel we only get about 1 hour or so per day of city power….) , soil erosion near schools putting children at risk or even corruption cases: in one community , the main concern of families is that individual teachers ask their children to bring money to them every day—anything from between 50 cents and 1 dollar—for no apparent reason at all. A typical case of corruption, which is costing people money and forces some kids out of school—after all, if every teachers does that every day, and a family has 5 or more kids, how can they possibly afford that?


CLGP Katoka group photo


On Friday we met up with the authorities: the mayor, the local and municipal mayor and also the director of the local water treatment plant who took us for a visit around the premises. The aim was to advocate for better water provision for the communities—and I expect the director wanted to show us the cost of providing water to the local community and the impact it has when people don’t pay their bills. As the Congolese government regulates prices, the company is not able to charge what it really costs to clean and provide the water –and if people don’t pay, then it makes matters worse. As it is, the plant is not operational every day: when we visited, the machines lay silent, the staff were hanging around under trees doing nothing but a tiny bit of maintenance. The diesel to run the generators needed for the machinery is too expensive, and city power is not forthcoming.  It seems as if the problem is a bit of a “Catch 22”: the water plant has no money and cannot pay the cost of connecting everyone on the one hand; on the other hand the supply is poor so some people prefer to do what the ladies did in the rain, or to go to the local water tower and buy the water jerry- can by jerry- can.

Well, my little session earlier got interrupted after all—F., my local colleague, got back from church and we chatted for a while and had some bananas and biscuits for lunch, and by the time that was over, it was time to meet Papa R. and his wife. It was so sweet—they arrived with their three little granddaughters and they and Papa R’s wife all squeezed onto one motorbike together to go to the place where we ended up meeting. Sadly I was not able to share in the joy and Frederic, Papa R. and I walked there….it’s not safe enough to go on a motorbike, both as regards local driving and crime, even though Kananga is so much safer compared to other places in the DRC.  It was actually nice to use the old legs despite the scorching heat (I looked like a right old silly expat in my hat and sunglasses though) –we have to drive everywhere all the time and I miss getting exercise and being out and about. Plus I finally got a picture of the old railway line here in Kananga —which is functional but only for freight. We had a nice time with them—the 3 little granddaughters were very sweet but did not know what to make of the muzungu  (“white person” in Swahili, though here in the local language of this area, the corresponding word is “Mutoka “—I only know that because kids shout it as soon as they see me, so it did not take long to work that one outJ). After that we had a meeting with the CLPP, which went well—good to get some more time with them and have an opportunity to explain to them that getting proper receipts is as much part of good governance as fobbing off annoying journalists who gate crash meetings without being asked and then request money from us for a service which we never asked for in the first place……….

It’s time for bed. Who knows if I will be able to finish this before the generator is turned off—the little fan in my room is spinning wildly as if it knew that it will soon be silenced again, leaving me to another hot night under my mozzie -net, grateful for having bought it as despite the high number of malaria cases in the country, hotels still often don’t provide nets

I go to bed with a grateful heart. I have so much; I wish I could give more to others