Monday, July 8, 2013

DR Congo: The Bastards of Belgium...amongst others.

International Rivers reports

Community History of Inga 1 and Inga 2

                                                                    Camp Kinshasa.

According to Mr. Simon Malanda, representative of the displaced communities, the Inga site was inhabited by families from six clans who were forced to leave the site in 1920 under Belgian colonial orders. However, the project did not move forward for more than 30 years. In 1954-55, the Belgian authorities undertook a population survey of the site in order to know if people were still living in, or had returned to, the site.

It is difficult to believe in today's context that such a inhumane decision could be made. Destroying the security, lively hoods and a community for no reason what so ever.

Mr. Malanda’s uncle, Mr. Ferdinand Sona, was recruited by the project planners to assist in the survey. After the survey was completed, Mr. Ferdinand led a community effort seeking compensation for the displaced communities. In 1958, an agreement with the Belgian colonial authorities was reached for a lump sum of 781,000 Belgian francs to be paid to the displaced communities. This was not paid prior to Congo's independence. Since independence neither the Congolese government nor SNEL, the state utility which oversees Inga, has paid any compensation to the communities. The communities report having never received any financial or in-kind compensation.

I don't have the 1958 exchange rate for a Belgium franc but the 1999 conversion would be Euros  20,000. Looking at British inflation figures it would  seem to be reasonable to assume the original 781,000 francs would have devalued in the area of 400-500 % so lets say
20 000 Belgium francs in today's terms except that for the last 14 years the franc has been extinct so we are back to 1999 figures giving us in 1999 terms a compensation package of around Euros 500 for the effected communities. Lets bring that back to today's terms and we are at about 16,000 Euros, less than the average wage for a Belgium worker. This I concede is a very rough piece of mental arithmetic on my part should come as no surprise I called this the Bastards of Belgium. 

When Mr. Sona died, Mr. Malanda took over efforts to have the community claim fulfilled. Several correspondences with SNEL dating back to 1970 show a history of discussion regarding the claim and desire by the communities to ensure that the compensation was paid and that a revenue sharing scheme was put in place.

SNEL ( Société nationale d'électricité ) is the national electricity company of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It si worth reflecting on over 40 years of discussions and what that means from a perspective of " good faith bargaining ".  Even worse is a quick look at the ownership of SNEL .

The government has a broad involvement in the energy sector. It holds part ownership in all energy enterprises, including the National Electric Company Société Nationale d'Électricité--SNEL

In 1970, SNEL wrote to Mr. Malanda that the claim would be included in the 1971 budget. SNEL did not fulfill its agreement. The communities twice engaged a lawyer on their behalf, in 1975 and more recently in 2006. In 1975, a lawyer for the communities submitted their claim to the high court in Kinshasa, but SNEL persuaded the lawyer to withdraw the claim and settle out of court. Yet no settlement was made. In 2006, SNEL undertook a one-day investigation of the situation, but no follow up was done to the knowledge of the communities. In 1994, the communities wrote seeking connection to the electricity grid. But to this day, none of the villages, including Manzi located just 3 kilometers from the grid, are electrified. In 2008, Mr. Malanda took the communities’ claim to the Provincial governor and to the national parliament to again seek government intervention and a resolution. Mr. Malunda has also submitted the renewed claim to government officials, SNEL, and MP Ngoma (who is invited to the London meeting).

It reads like satire but unfortunately it isn't. This is a tale of  colonial, neo colonial and post colonial abuse inflicted on a community that can't fight back.

The six clans were absorbed into 12 pre-existing villages and one new village (Lubwaku, meaning “thrown away”) around the area. In addition, Camp Kinshasa, the former workers’ camp, is now inhabited by a mix of displaced families from the six clans, and by former project workers or children of former workers. This camp is located on land taken by SNEL for the projects, and in 2006, the population, an estimated 9,000 people, were told to abandon the camp. However, after intervention from local and international NGOs, the authorities indefinitely ceased their order to communities.

As late as 6 years ago in other words the abuse was still being inflicted on these communities.

The population of Camp Kinshasa has grown over the years. However, the residents are not allowed to build on the site, so 3-4 families are cramped together in each house. There are no sanitation facilities, so residents use the boundaries of the camp to relieve themselves. There is only one water pump connected to the camp, but this is connected by a pipe to the SNEL personnel community located nearby, and the water pressure is too low during the day, allowing the community to draw water only at night time. During the day, residents must walk to the nearest stream. Camp Kinshasa is the only area where displaced communities have access to electricity.
The affected communities have organized themselves into two committees. There is a committee of the 6 clans and a second committee which embodies the 6 clans plus the community of former workers now settled at Camp Kinshasa.

Remember we are now some 93 years on from the original evictions.

The claims of the communities include the following:

 1. Payment for the displacement compensation (the amount would need to be negotiated to consider that the original amount was probably inadequate at the time, inflation, rise in property value, and possibly a penalty for not paying compensation at the original time)

2. Preferential access to jobs for community members

3. Electrification of all affected communities (this is complicated by more resettlement)

4. A benefit sharing mechanism which would provide an annual dividend to the communities

5. A “modern city” with schools, health care, roads, internet and other infrastructure.

It would also seem reasonable to hold the government of Belgium responsible as the advocates for this sort of solution to be organised. Belgium you are ultimately to blame you are responsible. Redeem your honour. Keep faith with the people upon who's backs you became one of the richest nations on earth. You owe them and all Congolese that.


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