Traveling around Katanga province in Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

Katanga Provice, DRC, by Laura Elizabeth Pohl

A road in Katanga province, DRC

When you’re working in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), you have to leave plenty of time for getting around. Infrastructure is poor, bordering on nonexistent in some places. And since the country is the second largest in Africa – slightly greater than the combined areas of Spain, France, Germany, Sweden, and Norway, according to Wikipedia – it takes an extra long time to travel anywhere.

During a recent 10-day work trip to Katanga province in the far southeast, I spent nearly half the time on the road. It was a great way to see the country, actually, but it was tiring. We drove on sand roads for hours, rode in prop planes, and crossed a river via a car ferry made of two canoes lashed together and planks laid on top.

The DRC has an estimated $24 trillion in untapped mineral wealth in the eastern provinces. But due to weak governance, a succession of conflicts and outright plundering, that wealth hasn’t translated into paved roads, widespread electricity or comfortable living for ordinary citizens. It’s actually a much more complicated situation than the sentence I just wrote makes it out to be, so if you’re interested in understanding something of the DRC’s history and how it got to its current state, I highly recommend reading “Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa” by Jason Stearns.

This was my second work trip to the DRC, and quite enjoyable. I met wonderfully gracious people, heard some great stories (about pit latrines, no less!) and had some unforgettable experiences (see above: car ferry made of two canoes). The following pictures are not from those work stories, though. These photos are my iPhone pics from the places my fellow travelers/workmates and I saw over our 10 days together.

Joseph Kabila election poster in Manono,Katanga Provice, DRC, by Laura Elizabeth PohlPresident Joseph Kabila election poster in Manono, Katanga province, DRC. Kabila was elected for a second term in 2011. He has been president since 2001, when his father and former President Laurent Kabila was assassinated.

Katanga Provice, DRC, by Laura Elizabeth PohlCar trouble in Manono, Katanga province, DRC.

Katanga Provice, DRC, by Laura Elizabeth Pohl
Bathroom facilities (left) and my bed (right) at a guesthouse in Manono, Katanga province, DRC.

Katanga Provice, DRC, by Laura Elizabeth Pohl
Breakfast at a guesthouse in Kilwa, Katanga province, DRC.

Manono, Katanga Provice, DRC, by Laura Elizabeth Pohl
Manono, Katanga province, DRC.

Katanga Provice, DRC, by Laura Elizabeth Pohl
The bridge was too dangerous to drive across, so we drove around it during the journey from Lubumbashi, the capital of Katanga province, to Kilwa. The 345 km (214 miles) trip took seven hours, about five hours of it driving on sand and uneven packed dirt.

Handwashing station in Katanga Provice, DRC, by Laura Elizabeth Pohl
Handwashing station in the dining room of a guesthouse in Kilwa, Katanga province, DRC. I think these stations are genuis: they use very little water and they’re a visual reminder, right there in the eating area, that you’ve got to wash your hands before chowing down. Nothing like a little peer pressure to maintain hygiene.

Outside Lubumbashi Airport in Katanga Provice, DRC, by Laura Elizabeth Pohl
Outside Lubumbashi Airport in Katanga province, DRC.

Katanga Provice, DRC, by Laura Elizabeth Pohl
Mobile phone airtime vendor/money changer on a street corner in Lubumbashi. I exchanged about $50 for Congolese francs from this young man.

Katanga Provice, DRC, by Laura Elizabeth Pohl
Waiting area for the United Nations flight from Lubumbashi to Manono, Katanga province, DRC. The U.N. has been in the DRC either as observers or peacekeepers since late 1999. Most recently, one peacekeeper was killed and 10 were wounded during fighting in August in a province far north of Katanga.

Weigh-in before UN flight in Katanga Provice, DRC, by Laura Elizabeth Pohl
Since the U.N. flights carry only about a dozen people and their luggage plus fuel, people as well as bags are weighed to ensure the prop planes aren’t overloaded. One of my traveling mates said that once, his co-worker wasn’t allowed on a flight because he weighed too much. Ouch.

For some remote parts of the DRC, U.N. planes are the only flights and definitely the fastest transport for getting to a city. The flights are reserved for official use by U.N. workers, government officials, visiting dignitaries and NGOs, but judging by a letter I saw hanging in the Lubumbashi U.N. airport, there was/is abuse of this system. The letter warned that there would be repercussions for people trying to get their friends and family members on flights.

Passengers on U.N. flights pay for their seat just like on a commercial flight. However, all those payments don’t come close to covering the costs of operating the flights. Donations from countries including the United States help pay for operating costs. Interestingly, the U.N. planes I rode in were not owned by the U.N. but leased from a South African company. The pilots were South African, too.

Katanga Provice, DRC, by Laura Elizabeth Pohl
The plane I rode from Lubumbashi to Manono (left) and my boarding pass for the flight (right). That particular plane ride was incredibly bumpy for all 1.5 hours. I thought I might get sick, so I tried to focus on making pictures instead.

Manono, Katanga Provice, DRC, by Laura Elizabeth Pohl
Flying over Manono, Katanga province, DRC.

Manono airport, Katanga Provice, DRC, by Laura Elizabeth Pohl
The Manono airport terminal in Katanga province, DRC. Only U.N. planes land here.

Manono, Katanga Provice, DRC, by Laura Elizabeth Pohl
An evening at the pool hall in Manono, Katanga province, DRC. This place was attached to the small restaurant where my travel/workmates and I ate rice and beans the two nights we stayed in Manono.

Katanga Provice, DRC, by Laura Elizabeth Pohl
Crossing the Luvua River near Kiambi, Katanga province, DRC. This car/moto/people ferry consisted of two long canoes lashed together and laid across with wood and iron planks. The ramp for loading and offloading vehicles was not very safe: two long and wide iron planks hooked to the ferry and then laid in the sand near the river. I saw one vehicle drive trying to drive onto the ferry actually slip off the “ramp.” Somehow the car made it aboard, I don’t remember exactly how. I just remember thinking, “Am I about to see someone’s death or serious injury?” And then I hoped our vehicle would make it onto the ferry without incident. It did.

Transform Africa Summit 2013 in Kigali, Rwanda

posted in: Africa, Rwanda, Work | 0

Transform Africa 2013 summit in Kigali, Rwanda, Photo © Laura Elizabeth Pohl Over 1,000 attendees and pretty high energy marked the first day of the Transform Africa 2013 summit on Monday, Oct. 28. That afternoon there was an interesting panel discussion about using technology to eradicate poverty in Africa and create wealth, not just alleviate poverty. Jean Philbert Nsengimana (above, far left), Rwanda’s minister of youth, information, communications and technology, makes a point during the discussion.

Transform Africa 2013 summit in Kigali, Rwanda, Photo © Laura Elizabeth Pohl I was at the conference with Africa Digital Media Academy, where I’ve been volunteer mentoring for the past several months. A small group of ADMA students is livestreaming Transform Africa under the guidance of Alex Lindsay, ADMA’s founder, and Ryan Yewell, one of ADMA’s instructors. They’re working all hours of the day (arrived at 5:30 a.m. on the conference’s second day) and doing a great job.

Transform Africa 2013 summit in Kigali, Rwanda, Photo © Laura Elizabeth Pohl

Transform Africa 2013 summit in Kigali, Rwanda, Photo © Laura Elizabeth Pohl

Transform Africa 2013 summit in Kigali, Rwanda, Photo © Laura Elizabeth Pohl

Transform Africa 2013 summit in Kigali, Rwanda, Photo © Laura Elizabeth Pohl
The second day of the conference, Tuesday, was the day featuring seven African heads of state. The picture above is from several minutes before all the presidents arrived. Security agents marched in and looked all around the stage before taking their positions.

There’s a special kind of terrible lighting found in conference centers around the world. It’s not their fault. It’s hard to light a space for a thousand people, all of whom will be sitting, maybe taking notes, and likely looking at huge screens on one side of the room. But the Serena Hotel ballroom is an especially challenging light situation because of all the mixed lighting: 1) a couple gigantic window-doors were open the first two days; 2) the carpet is yelllow (which means light reflects off it yellow); 3) the huge screens are often turquoise – the conference theme color – which cast a turquoise glow on everything); 4) and the overhead fluorescent lights give off a reddish tint.

Transform Africa 2013 summit in Kigali, Rwanda, Photo © Laura Elizabeth Pohl

Transform Africa 2013 summit in Kigali, Rwanda, Photo © Laura Elizabeth Pohl

Transform Africa 2013 summit in Kigali, Rwanda, Photo © Laura Elizabeth Pohl From left to right: President Salva Kiir Mayardit of South Sudan; President Ali Bongo Ondimba of the Republic of Gabon; President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda (notice his trademark hat just peaking out from under his seat); President Paul Kagame of Rwanda; and President Blaise Compaoré of Burkina Faso. In all there were seven heads of state at Transform Africa. The picture below shows the other two not fully seen above: President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya (second from the far right) and President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita of the Republic of Mali (far right).

Transform Africa 2013 summit in Kigali, Rwanda, Photo © Laura Elizabeth Pohl

Transform Africa 2013 summit in Kigali, Rwanda, Photo © Laura Elizabeth Pohl

Transform Africa 2013 summit in Kigali, Rwanda, Photo © Laura Elizabeth PohlI love a good press scrum.

Transform Africa 2013 summit in Kigali, Rwanda, Photo © Laura Elizabeth Pohl

Kepler Kigali for The Chronicle of Higher Education

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Kepler Kigali Rwanda education © Laura Elizabeth Pohl

I was excited when The Chronicle of Higher Education photo editor Erica Lusk contacted me about documenting a day in the life of Kepler Kigali, one of Rwanda’s newest universities. Kigali’s a small town, so I already knew about Kepler, and their model intrigued me. Kepler uses massive open online courses (MOOCs) in conjunction with in-person teaching so students can earn an associate degree through Southern New Hampshire University. All the students are from disadvantaged backgrounds (they’re genocide orphans, come from very poor families, etc.) and for now, the university is free to its students.

Kepler Kigali Rwanda higher education photograph © Laura Elizabeth Pohl

Kepler Kigali Rwanda higher education photograph © Laura Elizabeth Pohl

I was sent to photograph during student orientation week. When I was an undergrad, I remember orientation covering topics like responsible drinking, how to register for classes, and where to access psychological services. At Kepler, the day’s orientation included a presentation on self-confidence and personal responsibility.

Kepler Kigali Rwanda higher education photograph © Laura Elizabeth Pohl

Kepler Kigali Rwanda higher education photograph © Laura Elizabeth Pohl

Kepler Kigali Rwanda higher education photograph © Laura Elizabeth Pohl

After the morning’s lectures, all 50 students broke for lunch. Everyone carried their plastic chairs from the lecture room to a tent outside, where they sat and enjoyed a hot lunch and drinks provided by Kepler Kigali.

Kepler Kigali Rwanda higher education photograph © Laura Elizabeth Pohl

Kepler Kigali Rwanda higher education photograph © Laura Elizabeth Pohl

The skies were clear and beautiful when lunch started. But this being rainy season, a tremendous storm poured down after about 30 minutes. I really felt like the tent might blow away. All the women scattered back into the orientation building as soon as signs of a storm appeared. Most of the men stayed under the tent until they absolutely had to leave. I stayed with them – good pictures, right? – and hoped they would go inside soon.

Kepler Kigali Rwanda education photograph © Laura Elizabeth Pohl

Back inside, one young woman laughed at another who had left a banana on a seat for her friend. Even though the students had just met a few days earlier, they all seemed like fast friends, all happiness and excitement. I talked with several students who were beyond thrilled to be going to college – they hadn’t thought it would really be possible for them due to the financial burden. One of the Kepler administrators I spoke with said it will cost about $1,000 per yer to educate each student.

Kepler Kigali Rwanda higher education photograph © Laura Elizabeth Pohl

Kepler Kigali Rwanda higher education photograph © Laura Elizabeth Pohl

During an orientation workshop earlier in the week, students wrote down the names of their male and female role models. Among the most popular? Nelson Mandela and Jeannette Kagame, the First Lady of Rwanda.

Kepler Kigali Rwanda education photograph © Laura Elizabeth Pohl

The actual classroom space was still under construction when I visited, so I spent some time documenting the progress. In the picture above, a welder constructs a table. All furniture for Kepler Kigali is custom-made because it’s about the same price or slightly less expensive than importing it.

Kepler Kigali Rwanda education photograph © Laura Elizabeth Pohl

Kepler Kigali Rwanda education photograph © Laura Elizabeth Pohl

20130611Kepler Kigali Rwanda education photograph © Laura Elizabeth Pohl_Kepler_32_blog

Kepler Kigali is the brainchild of Generation Rwanda, a nonprofit that has been offering university scholarships to underprivileged Rwandan students since 2004. A Generation Rwanda graduate made and gave this token of thanks to the program’s staff. He graduated from a Rwandan university in 2012 with a civil engineering degree.

Exploring Musanze Cave in northwestern Rwanda

Musanze Cave entrance © Laura Elizabeth Pohl
All photographs © Laura Elizabeth Pohl. No use without permission.

When you’re just outside Musanze town, the signs to Musanze Cave seem clear: “xx KM MUSANZE CAVE” and an arrow pointing to the right. Don’t turn right. Keep driving. Don’t let the descending distances on multiple, consecutive signs lure you into turning, not until you get to a sign that simply says “MUSANZE CAVE” and an arrow pointing to the right. Those previous signs? The arrows should point straight ahead. Yes, it’s a little confusing, but worth it.

Not that the road leading to Musanze Cave inspires confidence you’re heading to one of Rwanda’s newest tourism sites. There’s a dirt and rock path, and then a soccer pitch with concrete school buildings and a light forest around the perimeter. The day Mr. P and I visited with our friends J and J, we couldn’t see an obvious path to drive on, or a cave entrance. Kids were playing soccer, so Mr. P maneuvered to the far side of the pitch. That’s where we saw the entrance: about 3m of white ticker tape strung between two wooden posts amongst scraggly bushes and uneven ground. A sign laid out caving rules, including “Any caving activity must be guided.” We wondered where we’d find a guide. We needn’t have worried, not when there might be money involved.

After we parked between some trees, a man in a blue jump suit appeared. He didn’t speak English well and he didn’t look like a guide to me. He certainly didn’t have any official identification. But he safely led us through the caves for an hour and made a handsome profit – 5,000 francs for each of us, a total of about $30. Was this a fair price? Should we have been charged at all? And was this man a guide or an entrepreneurial local who knew his way around the cave? No idea.

There are actually two caves, and both were pitch black and completely dry. We all used flashlights and iPhone apps to see around us. The Rwandan government has done a pretty good job clearing walking paths, but I still felt around with my feet to ensure I wasn’t about to tumble over a wall. We saw some breathless sights, including a portion of collapsed roof overgrown with vines reaching toward the sky (see picture below). We also saw one little bat. And some kind of animal teeth. At least we hope it was animal teeth; apparently there was a massacre here during the 1994 genocide, though I could find only one source that said this.

Overall, the lack of artificial lighting made it hard to discern the shape and depth of the caves and their wonders. And since we didn’t speak the same language as our guide, we couldn’t learn much about what little we could see. Still, I enjoyed exploring in the dark and having the caves to ourselves for one hour.

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