Returning to Kinshasa, DRC to work toward improved access to justice

kmvula's picture
Congo (Kinshasa)

From June to October of this year, I have served as a Global Fellow for Tetra Tech DPK, in Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I applied for the fellowship after receiving an e-mail from the Payson Center advertising the opportunity and subsequently had interviews with Tulane and DPK.  The project being implemented was a USAID access to justice project named ProJustice. DPK, a consulting firm, conducts access to justice projects all over the world, and I was one among many fellows helping to build legal institutions across the globe. ProJustice has been implemented for 5 years across the DRC and was closing towards the end of my fellowship. The fellowship provided a unique opportunity for me, as I was born in the DRC and this was my first time back since I was very young.

Landing in the airport, Ndjili, and leaving to head to my apartment was a pretty unbelievable experience. One gets a sense of how large and under-developed Kinshasa is as soon as one sees the airport facilities. I arrived on a Sunday evening and on the road home, I  could see thousands of people walking or catching rides home after seeing family and friends living in other communes. Having left Kinshasa as a young child, this was probably the most striking way to return. The Congo and Kinshasa are often described as chaotic and that description was immediately affirmed. To be honest, it was constantly affirmed during my stay; to no end.

Beyond the day-to-day chaos, Kinshasa is a city known for its music and ambiance. Congolese music is well regarded in Africa and throughout the world, with concerts selling out in major European capitals. This cultural contribution is a source of pride for Congolese who see it as a mark of distinction despite all of the negative perceptions which the country often receives. While there, I was fortunate enough to see Koffi Olomide perform.

Because of how absent the state is in the DRC, people are forced to fend for themselves and find interesting means to cope with state failure. Kinshasa, with its massive population and severe lack of infrastructure, is not an easy place to live. But people find ways to survive by relying on their wits.

Working on a project at its close was a very interesting experience. While in Kinshasa, there was the final workshop to organize, a final evaluation to prepare for and a final report to produce, all on top of regular project activities. As a fellow, I also assisted with project marketing activities, to promote ProJustice efforts to improve the legal system in the DRC. As fellow, I was there to serve the needs of the project Chief of Party, who is the head of the project. Almost all of my colleagues were Congolese nationals, the deputy Chief of Party was the only other American with whom I worked on a consistent basis which provided for a rewarding learning experience.


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