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Saturday, April 19, 2008

On the DR Congolese border! Wee Cheng in Gisenyi, Rwanda

Gisenyi is a Rwanda city on the border with Congo (DRC). The DRC city of Goma is just across the border ¨C both cities are almost twin cities side by side on the northern shore of Lake Kivu, which is ringed by tall volcanoes. Together with Toshi and Yuri Mito, I went to the border post and observed border traffic for a while. It certainly looked very relaxed and hardly looked like a border with past and present conflicts. We even chatted to immigration officials for a while.
I sat with a Congolese businessman on my Entebbe-Kigali flight a few days ago and he told me the situation in Goma region is still fluid. Although the city is under the control of the Congolese government, rebels and all sorts of rival militia and local bandits control parts of the countryside. In fact, Congolese government soldiers are sometimes robbers themselves. They often demand lots of money from people who cross the border and sometimes stage kidnappings for ransom as well. So foreigners are not advisable to cross the border.
We drove along the beaches of Gisenyi along the shores of Lake Kivu. Wealthy Rwandans have built beautiful mansions along the lake (the Congolese shoreline in Goma has quite a few fancy mansions too) and there were many people suntaning and playing beach volleyball on the beach. We had late lunch at 5-star Hotel Lake Kivu Serena where rooms start from US$150. The Rwandan elite and white-as-snow Western expats (probably NGOs and diplomats on a break from humanitarian missions ¨C what irony!) sun-tan on the hotel¡¯s private beach front and a few Mainland Chinese businessmen were sipping cocktail at the poolside bar. In the lake itself, we saw the newly constructed methane rigs that are supposed to extract methane from the lake¡¯s bottom for use as energy (the methane gas, if released suddenly onto the lake¡¯s surface, could potentially poison to death all the inhabitants of Gisenyi and Goma). In the horizon were the greenish-blue silhouette of mountains in the Congo where the civil war still rages on. It is surreal that peace and fighting take place so near to each other, on the separate banks of this narrow lake.
As we left the area in early evening, we saw the glowing light of lava flowing from the summit of Mt Goma, a volcano which destroyed half of Goma city a few years ago. This week, a plane crashed in Goma killing many, and some blamed that on the fact that the runway of Goma airport is now only 0.8km, as 2km of the runway was covered by volcanic lava and has never been rebuilt. Alas - How do you expect a government deeply corrupted and engaged in fighting a civil war to bother about rebuilding a civilian airport runway? One would have thought they would need the airport for military purposes too, but well, Africa behaves in strange ways.

1 comment:

Trygve said...

Sorry you were not able to go to Goma. I was able to cross the border in June of 2005 and spent the day in Goma. It was surreal to walk on the lava bed that filled the downtown area. Back then it was a bit more stable, but still changing on a day-to-day basis.