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Letter From The Congo 1

:: What you will read below is the first in a series of e-mails from a friend currently working on a UN peacekeeping mission in The Congo. Said friend has approved the posting of the e-mails, albeit anonymously. That said, I think you will find the observations worth the read(s). This entry was sent in late May. Note that any links below were added to the e-mail by me afterwards.- Randy

:: “Mbote! I am presently as close as it is possible to the center of the continent, at Kisangani. At one time this was quite a beautiful colonial town, but now presents an image of a frontier town having suffered for the lack of maintenance for the past forty years. The roads are either potholed, or the potholes have merged to the extent that the ways are dirt tracks lined with dilapidated buildings. The majority of the vehicles here are UN vehicles and the populace is left to either to hoof it on foot if poor, or to use bicycles if wealthy. The condition of the roads make the cyclists as unpredictable as the traffic in the capital Kinshasa, where the lack of rules and conventions make driving defensively a challenge. Yet, for all the image of being beyond the reach of civilization, I am presently sitting in the UN Welfare Club, typing on the Internet and able to watch MTV. Ten years ago this place would have been as inaccessible an remote as the South Pole.

Today I travel, hopefully, onward to Bukavu, having been already once to the check-in only to be told to come back later. Getting out may be very well as complex as getting into Kisingani, having landed at Bandaco airfield but having to collect our baggage at Cimi-Cimi, located 13 kms across town. To exit, check in and security is at Cimi-Cimi, boarding at the other field. This has more to do with local politics than anything else, the UN unable to centralize operations at one field until it undertakes to make ‘improvements’ to the main airport. All in all the work undertaken must be of a comprehensive nature: not only must the runways be resurfaced; local officialdom must also get their pockets lined.

As one travels one is again reminded that technology remains, to a large extent, misunderstood in Africa. I might have had concerns about passing security at Kinshasa while wearing my 4 inch folding blade knife it were not that the metal detectors were safely located within a steel clad portable room. My water filter, however, was seized for inspection…

One thing I am happy to report, is that the UN, in my opinion, has progressed considerably in its attempts to conduct peacekeeping missions, yet for the moment it remains largely reactive in its approach. This is because consensus on support for its operations, both locally and within the larger international community, is required before any particular issue is addressed, so until CNN gets on board, little is done. For example, the few thousands that died in the latest Iraq venture pales in comparison to the 3.5 million who have died here in the Congo during the past five years. Why did the few hundred who died last week in Ituri Province received less press coverage than the post war reconstruction efforts of Iraq covered at the same time? Such is reality in Africa.

Well I will try and send this now, having lost the previous one as the power failed. I have sent out a few emails, but I don’t know if any are getting to their destinations, so if you could send a brief message indicating receipt it would be appreciated. Plse feel free to forward this email to anyone interested.”

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