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En Mission

August 1, 2011
by
Me and my collegues

Me and my colleagues

Several weeks ago I got to go “en mission” for the first time (= go on a work trip)! CICOS has just finished their Strategic Action Plan, which basically lays out all of the projects that they would like to see realized within the Congo Basin. It’s basically a big wish list of projects that they are going to take to a meeting of potential donors next week, like the World Bank, the African Development Bank, etc… and try to get funded.

In support of this plan, CICOS realized that it would be a good idea to formalize a framework for how exactly the implementation of an international project (for example, a big huge dam) would work. This includes creating a formalized partnership, procedures for neighboring countries to notify and/or approve future projects (that would have significant trans-boundary effects), and procedures related to preventing and managing any future disputes/conflicts related to water resources development.

As a first step, me and two of my colleagues, a lawyer and a hydrologist, traveled to the Central African Republic and Cameroon (two of the countries located in the Congo basin and part of CICOS) in order to figure out who the major stakeholders are, what the current process for the execution of any large water infrastructure project, and collect the legal documents surrounding such a process and the interventions of particular organizations.

Originally, I thought that this type of document collection was something that, with the marvelous invention of the internet, could be done from the comfort of our offices (not that I’m complaining about getting to do a bit of traveling). However, as I learned from my trip, there was good reason to go in person.

The details of why it wouldn’t have been possible to collect the information using telephones and the internet would require an entire post devoted to the subject (lack of human capacity, material resources, pressure, motivation etc…)

In Yaounde eating lunch

In Yaounde eating lunch

It was fascinating to see how the different ministries, state agencies, civil society organization, and NGOs in each of the two countries functioned. One of the things that was the most difficult for me to get used to was the strength of the hierarchy, particularly within government agencies. There is no questioning the actions of your superiors, even when you have solid grounds to do so.

Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic was my favorite. Although it is considered to be less ‘developed’ than any of the other member countries, the people were nicer, there were pretty parks in town that people would actually hang out in, there were fewer large piles of burning trash in town, people followed road rules, and even the dirt roads were in better condition than most of all the paved roads in Kinshasa.

Downtown Yaounde

Downtown Yaounde

Bangui was also right on the Congo River, which was a nice touch (not that I don’t get that here in Kinshasa). And, I found a restaurant with the best steak kabobs I’ve ever had.

Really, no joke, the best meat I’ve ever tasted.

Cameroon was also really nice, but had much more of a big city feel. In Cameroon, our time was split between Yaounde and Douala. Douala is where you have to fly into and is the commercial hub of the country. But, Yaounde is the capital and where all the ministries are, and thus, where we spent most of our time.

The bus ride in between Douala and Yaounde was great. There were street hawkers who would run alongside the bus whenever it was passing though a roadside town selling plantain chips and coconuts and what not. It brought back strong memories of my Central American and SE Asia trips and a smile to my face.

Yaounde #2

Yaounde #2

It was in Yaounde that one of my colleagues, who both have “family” in all of the member countries (their definition of family is pretty loose), first invited me out. It was really nice to feel included and like I was making a connection with them. Plus, locals know all the interesting places to go and see and eat.

While most of my time was spent working we did get one “night out” in Douala. It had just so happened that a couple of friends from Kinshasa were in Douala at the same time I was there and were staying at the same hotel.

They invited me to go out with their colleagues to a cabaret. Now when I think of a cabaret, I think Vegas. But no, a cabaret in Cameroon is when a band plays music for many different singers. It’s like a live band karaoke in that there are multiple singers, but it’s not like Karaoke in that the singers are pre-determined, and are good.

View from the hotel

View from the hotel

All in all, the trip was a great learning experience and the subject matter, to me, was fascinating. Since then I’ve also crossed the Congo River to Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of Congo (different from the Democratic Republic of Congo), continuing the same mission. Eventually we’ll do the same thing in Kinshasa.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Aunt Melodee permalink
    August 2, 2011 6:19 am

    Thanks for a great post, Jamie. I always learn so much from you and Katie, I almost feel like I am traveling with you. Love, Aunt Melodee

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