Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Rumblings in the jungle

February 2nd

The situation in the Congo isn’t being reported at the moment in the European media, but is getting potentially dangerous. More and more Rwandan troops are being sent into the Congo; last weekend Joe reported lorry after lorry of soldiers heading towards the southern frontier at Cyangugu/Bukavu as he was travelling in the opposite direction for his and Tiga’s birthday party. We assume the soldiers are going to try a pincer movement with other Rwandan troops coming in from the north at Gisenyi. Officially the Rwandans are there as observers while the Congolese army sets about disarming the various militias, but the Rwanda forces are armed to the teeth and I can’t see them sitting idly by if there’s a chance to flush out old enemies. The situation is highly dangerous. The number of interahamwe still living who are known to have records of genocidal activities in 1994 is quite small. After fourteen years it’s difficult to distinguish between who’s a rebel and who isn’t. If there is serious fighting, then Rwanda will get embroiled in a never ending war. The rebels are adept at guerrilla tactics, and the terrain in eastern Congo is such thick jungle that you could hide tens of thousands of combatants without anyone ever finding them. And, as usual in these conflicts, if the rebels don’t agree to disarm we could be in for a long war with hundreds of thousands of displaced people.

The key to all the guerrilla activities lies in the mines they use to finance their operations. If either the Congolese army or the Rwandans could seize control of the minerals then the rebels would run out of cash pretty quickly.

There’s an awful lot at stake politically here, especially for the Congolese leadership. Congolese people hate the Rwanda army because they have invaded the place twice since 1994, and the Congolese are deeply suspicious about Rwanda’s motives for this third, invited incursion.

The BBC’s doing a pretty good job of reporting the news on its Africa page. There’s very little indeed at the moment in the Rwandan media.

Today I go in to the office and print off a load of statistics for Michael, Sally and Nicole; as the VSO who knows where everything is I feel it’s my duty to give them all the briefing papers they can use.

Then I set off on foot up the road to Biti school. Biti is lovely; a school built onto a paroisse. There is the usual semicircular church, and a block of six classrooms sandwiched between the church and the main road. Biti’s exam results are excellent; 11th out of 93 in this year’s concours. Gilberte, the head teacher, is alarmingly pregnant (it crosses my mind that this could be the first school visit I’ve ever done where the head goes into labour part way through my stay). She is a good administrator and very diligent with her timetabling; of all the schools I’ve visited so far she gives me the clearest indication of how difficult it has been to cover classes with the teaching hours available. As in some of the other schools, Biti has people on ridiculously high contact ratios.

I observe a really good maths class in which every single word – pupil as well as teacher – is in English. They’re also doing real maths – geometry. I enjoy this lesson, and help the teacher by going round and sharing the marking load with her.

At break time I speak to all the staff in the staffroom (yes, this school has a head’s office and a full-sized staffroom. They are rooms owned by the catholic church and built onto the rear of the church itself, and so can’t be requisitioned by Kigali to house a tronc commun section at the school). Gilberte and her PTA has even bought a parcel of land next to the school with an eye to building three more classrooms, originally for anticipated growth in the yrs 1-6 section of the school, but now crying out for a specialist block for tronc commun pupils. All it needs is a wealthy benefactor to stump up the building costs. (Don’t look at me, that’s what I say. I’ve had enough of building projects for a while).

After break I watch an English lesson. This is a highly experienced and trained male teacher. He has amazing energy, and starts with an action poem. He has all the children taking part in the lesson, which becomes a list of personal pronouns (subject and object). Unfortunately, when he sets exercises towards the end of the lesson the children patently haven’t learnt what he intended them to, and he’ll need to revise the whole lesson when I’m safely out of the way. He’s embarrassed about this, but there are just some lessons when, despite whatever preparation you do, you can’t win.

At lunchtime I meet up with Hayley, and Charlotte, and also Yelena who is a Serbian girl working for the YWCA. I’m supposed to be visiting Nyabisindu school in the afternoon, but the sky is inky black and it looks as though I’ll get soaked if I leave the office. I even take a moto back to the office because I’m sure if I try to walk all the way I’ll get drowned! So I stay put at the D O; in any case Claude wants me to help him with a report on the primary results for the mayor, and I’ve borrowed his modem to update my virus checker.

Late in the afternoon Nicole arrives; I’ve got loads of paperwork to give her and more to pass on to Sally. Claude is having difficulty trying to use the cut-down version of excel spreadsheets on my computer, and we go to talk to Sessie, the ICT girl in the office. She has back-up disks for windows vista and we think we can upgrade my laptop tomorrow. (Must remember to save stuff to my external hard drive tonight just in case of disaster). But I can’t go on for much longer with this silly apology for an excel package; I’m really cross with myself for not twigging that I was buying a cheap and nasty version.

Back home feeling rather sheepish – the expected storm never got beyond a gentle rain, but the clouds were absolutely inky at one stage. I’ve seen dire reports of snow and chaos back in England; apparently they’ve even seen the odd snowflake in Dorset which is a turn-up for the books! In the office our power’s been on and off all day; one good thing about my new laptop is that the battery life is pretty good and I can ride out all but the longest power cuts and keep working.

We use a recipe from the VSO cook book and make a huge batch of red lentil daal; Tom has some chappatis which can double as poppadoms if we dry fry them, and the result is a simply enormous meal.

No comments: