As with war, As with love. It ends.

Over the past three years I have written on this blog, sharing my experiences in Congo, Haiti, Virginia, in work, life and in love. Not all of the posts have been good, or brilliant, or world-stirring, but to me, they have each been something special. Little trinkets of my life, my experiences, opinions, thoughts and my passions.

 But as with war, as with love, and as with all things in life really, everything at some point in time, must come to an end. 

 Thank you for reading the words I have placed onto my little crevice of the world and its correspondingly wide, wide web. Thank you for all of your comments and feedback, both positive and negative. I may return to the blogosphere someday, or I may not. On va voir.

There are many reasons, but there is none in particular. There are no lessons here. Maybe no especially wise words. Just a thank you for reading, turning of the page, and anticipation of the next chapter.


Amani Itakuya #9: Changing our approach to peace-building in DRC, committing to unraveling the roots of SGBV and the conflict

Often, I think on how the work that we do as SGBV actors affects, positively or negatively, the peace process in the DRC. Does it add to it, does it take away from it? Ultimately – the strongest SGBV response, is one that looks toward durable peace – and seeks to make ourselves (the SGBV actors/fire-fighters) obsolete.

christoph vogel

Changing our approach to peace-building in DRC, committing to unraveling the roots of SGBV and the conflict

Dominique Vidale-Plaza

Perhaps one of the largest stumbling blocks on the road to peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), has been the failure of peace actors to understand, acknowledge and incorporate in the peace-building process, the social dynamics that contribute to the multilayer, protracted conflict. IPS News Agency recently published an essay attesting that peace-building in the DRC has largely ignored existing local solutions, and that in order for it to be effective, ‘peace building requires intertwined processes and structures that run from the grassroots to the national level.’ This integration of the grassroots however, must go beyond simply inviting  the participation of civil society leaders, it also requires a commitment from all actors to understanding and addressing  the complex interplay among the range of social issues that comprise the conflict…

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Captivated – A Love Story

FEETWhen I fall in love, (and it is rare), it is hopelessly, madly, and deeply. It is with abandon, without qualification, fiery, passionate, out of this world, and most importantly, it is true.

Much in the same way I was stopped in my tracks by Haiti and my insane love for those memories of rain, motos, rivers and people, is the same way that Congo has unequivocally, captivated me.

Like most other fiery loves, Congo at first didn’t want me. When I first came across the words ‘Democratic Republic of Congo’ in a textbook or paper, my sophomore year in college, and decided that this is where I wanted to work, Congo resolutely shut me out. It was only after two or three years that he finally accepted my love, which had by no means waned, just sat quietly on the back burner, waiting to be ignited again.

And now, Congo, after patiently biding his time with me, giving our relationship false starts like a sputtering engine, or calculating man, has me eating out of his hand, and he knows it. Upon landing in Bujumbura or Kigali, my only thoughts are of the dusty road by the border, the rainy evenings, the tired soles, the mud at Panzi, the Meridien, sombé in town, starry nights and Mutzig at San Jacob, pizza and Primus at Lodge Coco, the sliding along the muddy roads into the interior, the spray of the Lake against my face headed North, whizzing too close past trucks, caramel yellow essence in water bottles, blanket wrapped AK-47s, the dirty green of uniforms, early mornings, late nights, the hum of generators, the glow of candles, the sting of mosquitoes, the third day no-shower smell, the buttery avocado, the jambo’s and the kwaheri’s.

Don’t get me wrong. In this case, love is not blind – it has given me hyper-vision. This love of mine, Congo – is not perfect. He is a bastard, and more often than not, I leave him more exhausted and drained than when I first came. I look a mess, I feel a mess. I’m usually not happy with him and more often than not, I am in a heated argument with Congo. Why can’t you behave? Why can’t you do this, do that, be more like there, be less like this? Why can’t this just work out perfectly?! Why can’t you just be what I want you to be?

Congo doesn’t ever fight back though. He stands back, smiling, with his vast plains, giant mountains, lush forest, still glass lake, mud and torment filled roads, waiting on me to stop shouting into thin air and come on home.

Like a child’s mother or dedicated spouse, I am quick to stand up for Congo and our relationship – because no one, unless you have lived here, understands him. Its impossible to speak about something you don’t know – or to talk about a problem with my Congo when you haven’t shared a Primus beneath the stars, woken up with spatters of mud on your feet, or looked out your window into a hazy, crowded city, awakened by the songs of the fishermen.

But my relationship with Congo, is terse. It is one of those loves that takes your heart on a roller coaster, plunges you deep until you think you are drowning, then releases you, just long enough to enjoy the blackness of the lake, the feel of the silken water, the beat of the sun, the music of the people, before it flings you and hurls you adrift.

And like all other fiery loves, I am constantly aware that my relationship with Congo, this insane, passionate and at times very unrequited love, has the power to destroy me. To rip my heart into shreds until I am unrecognizable as a human, as a being. I know it. We all do. We are not only drawn to Congo, we are compelled here. It is a dangerous, insane, vibrant, life-breathing, life-consuming captivation.

Congo, you have captivated me.

Amani Itakuya #1: La construction de la Paix dans l’Est de la RDC – les opportunités et les obstacles

An essay series I had the great pleasure of contributing toward, touching on some hard hitting issues around peace in the DRC. I’m looking forward to reading the next few essays to come, as the bloggers and authors reflect on the long-sought after peace for the Congolese people.

christoph vogel

La construction de la Paix dans l’Est de la RDC – les opportunités et les obstacles

Josaphat Musamba

La République Démocratique du Congo, si l’on s’en tenait à son histoire politique connait toujours des problèmes en commençant par des crises qui l’ont secouées et qui l’on cisaillées voire même coupée en plusieurs parties. A travers les efforts des ses citoyens elle parvient encore à se réunifier mais la déstabilisation continue toujours après un certains temps le plus souvent dans la partie Est du pays. Il faut aussi à ce sujet dire que depuis l’avènement de l’AFDL en passant par le RCD au CNDP pour cheminer vers le M23 tout en scrutant vers la question des nébuleuses Mayi-Mayi (groupes armés locaux) et ceux étrangers on peut se rendre compte que la RDC connait un sérieux problème. La question centrale à laquelle nous allons tenter de répondre est la suivante : Quelles sont les…

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Ragging on the #BSFiles


Say what now?

As tired as I am of the quintessential white-savior complex, that allows WFP, UNICEF and others to carry on their asinine tradition of celebrity ambassadors and forced celebrity trips to ‘wartorn’ countries – I am getting just as tired of reading over and over again, some no doubt very intelligent, very right in my opinion, person, then instantly release fiery rage on said celebrity, for being involved in the circus act.

My feelings are torn.

I don’t think that Christina Aguilera visiting Kigali, Rwanda did anything to alleviate the plight of the Rwandese children, except perhaps, they got to miss out on some of their chores to go sing and dance with the nice white lady. I don’t think that this agency-accepted tradition of bringing in big names, does anything to serve the greater ’cause’, besides reinforce that idea – that we (the West) are big and shiny and flawlessly made-up, and here to save you, you, you poor African soul. It IS a classic neo-colonialism strategy. It is. NO doubt about it.

Additionally, if we look at how that whole celebrity circus act, affects the development field as a whole – you would see even more, how it disempowers not only local individuals and communities, but also local activists, local NGOs and even international but smaller NGOs sans celebrity backing, who are perhaps creating an even bigger impact on the ground and in people’s lives – than the big boys sitting around the round-table.

So instead of learning about the awesome and fantastic locally driven and owned initiatives -on the ground, that the Rwandese came up with, on their own, the average American will look at WFP’s ad, and think that they must devote their monthly charitable giving to that organization, not knowing really how much of it goes into teaching a family how to farm, and how much of it pays their employees to live in snazzy digs and eat out at Euro-toque restaurants every night.

All that being said, as I read this morning’s #BullshitFiles, (yes, this is my Sunday morning reading) I couldn’t help but feel, maybe, just maybe, the blogger is a bit harsh on Christina here. This is bitter to the taste as I write it, but you know what, Christina is, I’m sure, just a sweet blond woman, who got asked by WFP to use her celebrity status to do something about hunger, and she not being a development aficionado by any means, decided that this was her chance to make a difference. No one can blame her for her misplaced good intentions – no one can blame her for wanting to do more with her life, and leave a legacy other than Moulin Rouge.  She probably doesn’t know anything about Africa, I mean really, describing Kigali as war-torn is a bit of a stretch, and you know what she probably never will because she has not been to Rwanda or to Africa, Rwanda has been handled for her, a version of Rwanda that is tear-jerking, but not too rough, just rough enough has been prepared for her, and for the audiences she will generate.

I’ve had the great honor, ie displeasure of coordinating a celebrity visit before. Weeks of preparation for twenty minutes to host this unnamed celebrity, who only waved nicely at the singing children she had kept waiting for hours on her. I learned from that experience though, that it is generally not the celebrity’s fault – it is her handlers. It is the fault of the agency that coordinates things like that for them. It is our own fault, for perpetuating the need for a familiar face to make ‘Africa’ palatable. We make it okay.

We make it okay for the handlers to be the ones who orchestrate the crowds of singing children, the photo-ops, the well-staged smiles, the perfect moments in time. They do it all, for us. For the average members of the international community. They do it, because they KNOW that a celebrity backing a cause means big money – whoa…Christina went to Rwanda…they must really be suffering there…

Ultimately, when it comes to, the global ignorance of real issues, the real Africa, and the real struggles there, when it comes to people’s inability to think critically about development, poverty, war, aid even – is it even their own fault? Because all the big guns do – is fuel that ignorance – is fuel that simplistic understanding of Africa, and the ‘big issues’.

Let’s not blame poor Christina too much okay, she’s just a cog in a very well-oiled sensationalism, let’s ‘glitz up Africa’ machine.

Where are the interesting thinkers?

I came across this little gem in my reading today : Where are the interesting aid thinkers? from the blog, Blood and Milk, which is a good, mind-tingling read from time to time. 

The blogpost is essentially a transcript of an interview with Paul Currion who had written an article posing that same question – where have all the interesting thinkers in aid gone? Surely they are no longer doing aid work, they have gone on to doing better and bigger things, in contexts perhaps a bit friendlier to new and innovative thinking, than the archaic but hallowed halls of “development”.

The blogger behind Blood and Milk sought out Currion to carry on this discussion and raised a few very good points, one of which particularly hit me – ‘ you don’t make it far in development if you’re not a “team player”.

What’s a team-player? Someone who doesn’t go against the grain, step on too many toes, someone who follows the instructions, listens to the policies and who toes the party line, skips to the beat and doesn’t rock the boat. The two authors discuss how, the development and aid industries don’t encourage interesting thought that goes against the grain, or even too loudly spoken criticisms. Frontline workers are rarely listened to, and the whole industry is shaped from the higher echelons – the UN systems, the board-rooms, the places and persons with power – where someone who is not a team-player has a very slim chance of getting to. Those who are outspoken, daring and critical, more often than not, have to do so, knowing they are killing their careers with a sledgehammer, after all, what respectable aid organization wants to hire a troublemaker over a team-player?

This all got me thinking critically into this whole idea of the development and aid industries, structurally suffocating innovation, critical thinking and daring, exciting moves – choosing instead to go the way of ‘once the donor’s happy, my butt is safe in a cushy chair, and my bank accounts are well-padded, it’s all good.’. 

I’ve seen in my own experiences how this is true, the development world, while it should be so exciting, so daring, so cutting-edge, so intuitive, flexible, passionate and all-or-nothing, (after all, we deal with humans, the most dynamic, constantly changing clients there could possibly be), we are anything but these. We are slow to respond, archaic in our practices, we don’t respond well to change, we are academic, calculated, self-seeking, we are the self assured teenagers who don’t want to receive any criticism, and we’re boring. 

Over and over again, we have the same ideas, repackaged with slightly different branding or champions. We recycle age old thoughts, we’re stuck in a rut from decades ago. We’re boring, and it seems like we’re content with that.

Interesting would mean us doing something different, interesting may mean, we no longer have the budgets to run around in shiny ATVs, interesting might be scary, interesting may mean, we work closely with local people, interesting may take longer, interesting may actually mean time in the field (long-drops and hot beers) interesting may be dirtier, it is riskier, it is harder, and interesting may label us as failures. Because it doesn’t always work, to try something new, or to be someone new.

Interesting ideas in development though, rarely even make it that far, they are more often than not, shut down, long before they even gain any traction. We only talk about it, we share the ideas, we post new theories, we say this, we stand for this, maybe even a few of us implement it, but on a large, industry-wide scale – interesting hasn’t been taken up yet. Interesting is still just the weird, left of center, stuff we blog and rant on Twitter about, till our throats are raw. 

So where are the interesting thinkers in aid? They are behind computer screens blogging for free. They are working, on their own, deep in villages, jungles and warzones. They are interviewing soldiers and rebels with freelance identification tags. They are drinking hot beer and eating foufou on roadsides. They are sleeping beneath torn mosquito nets in sweltering heat. They are riding in rickety CAA aircraft, holding onto dear life. They are studying native languages and alphabets by candlelight so they can communicate the next day. Their sunglasses are side of the road designer. They are the doing things differently. Their ideas can’t fit into log-frames.

They are frontline, but they are unheard. Because the higher echelons don’t want interesting right now, they don’t want new, they don’t want daring, they don’t want their livelihoods to change, they just want to continue. Development and aid…have become industries of continuance, not of breakthroughs, or of solutions, just a boring, continuing thing. 

Forget about roots and embrace the webs: What complexity means for our traditional views on causality

Some good thoughts on applying a lens of complexity to issues. Such interconnected and deeply rooted issues like conflict and SGBV in DRC cannot necessarily be explained linearly or even simply. They are complex, interconnected and a mashup of all sorts of ideas, challenges, narratives and constructs.

Looking for Dave Algoso's Praxis blog?

Our tools for identifying cause-and-effect in the world are matched by a particular view of how causality works. Ideas from complexity theory are forcing us to update our views on causality, so our tools must be updated as well. Before getting to the updates, I want to start with some of the tools used under a more traditional, linear, and simple view of causality.

Old tools 1: Root causes and growth diagnostics

There’s a process used by many consultants called root cause analysis. The basic structure works like so: Start with whatever problem you want to solve, then break it into constituent parts and causes. Go down another level, breaking those causes into their own causes. Keep going until you hit the “root cause” — and you’ve found the thing you need to address.

Many years ago, I worked for a consulting firm that applied this analysis to particular organizations…

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