DR Congo

CELPA: a local response to Congo's conflict

This report by Sadiki Byombuka
23 December 2002 (HPN) - Sadiki Byombuka describes how one local organisation is working to bring relief to victims of Congo's war.

The Communauté des Eglises Libres de Pentecôte en Afrique (CELPA) has worked in the DRC since 1922. Its activities include missionary programmes, education and community development and humanitarian aid. Its leadership is entirely African, though it works in collaboration with Norwegian churches, has received support from the Norwegian Foreign Affairs Ministry and benefits from advice and regular visits by a Projects Coordinator based in Oslo. CELPA is also active in missionary work in Niger, Rwanda and Tanzania. Financial support comes from the Pentecostal Churches Mission in Norway (PYM), as well as from local churches and individual CELPA members. CELPA also works in partnership with international bodies, such as Norwegian Church Aid, the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Christian Blind Mission, and is a member of a network of Protestant churches in DRC known as the 'Church of Christ in the Congo'. As a missionary church organisation, CELPA's members are its faithful, namely Christians, and most of the people who work for it are Christian. However, its humanitarian work aims to benefit entire groups without distinction of race, religion or belief. In all, CELPA runs 179 schools, one hospital, 50 health centres, a rural development programme and peace education and humanitarian aid projects.

The Humanitarian Aid Project

The first phase of CELPA's Humanitarian Aid Project (PAH) for war-affected people in DRC began in 1997. A second intervention was undertaken in 2000, and a third was completed in May 2002. In each case, work was carried out in South Kivu, North Kivu and Maniema, in Eastern Province and in the capital, Kinshasa. Projects were coordinated at CELPA headquarters, in Bukavu in eastern DRC, now controlled by rebels of the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD). Under the PAH, CELPA has provided medicines and equipment for health centres; seeds and agricultural tools to get farming going again; food and essential goods for war-displaced people and help for them to return home; loans to help women undertake small productive activities; assistance with schooling for displaced children; rebuilding damaged schools; and psychosocial work.

Over the three phases of the project, CELPA helped thousands of war-affected people. Some 150,000 directly benefited from food and non-food aid items like household goods, clothing and salt during each phase. Eighteen thousand kilos of seed were distributed to some 4,500 families, and 20,800 agricultural tools supplied. Nearly 5,000 displaced children and orphans received help with their schooling, 65 health centres received medicines and equipment, and 63 schools were repaired. Loans were advanced to nearly 300 women, helping them to provide an income for their families.

Challenges and benefits

Overall, the PAH broadly met its objectives, and an external evaluation for the PYM in October 2000 expressed full satisfaction with the work being done, and its impact on beneficiaries. However, CELPA faced a number of problems in implementing its humanitarian programmes. The main difficulties stemmed from the war and general insecurity in the country, and funding problems. CELPA has found it difficult to access funds from UN and major international bodies, and its insufficient range of partners means that it will be difficult to continue once Norwegian funding runs out. CELPA has also found it hard to secure training in, and information on, technical areas of work.

The volatility of the local environment meant that, at times, plans had to be changed. A massive influx of displaced people into Kisangani and Bukavu, for example, entailed spending more funds than had been initially allocated to helping displaced populations in these areas. New activities sometimes had to be developed; in Bukavu, assistance with schooling for displaced children was expanded to include supervision for these children for four months in 1998 and 1999.

These difficulties aside, the main lesson of the PAH is that CELPA could reach remote or insecure areas where there was no UN or other international relief presence. Access difficulties often mean that the major relief agencies do not go further than the main towns; in South Kivu, for example, international bodies stay within 50 kilometres of towns because of poor roads and security concerns. Yet a significant number of people have taken refuge in the bush and in isolated villages, sometimes hundreds of kilometres from urban centres and only accessible on foot.

CELPA's strategic choice to favour the most damaged areas and ones which were not being served by other agencies meant that transport costs for bringing in aid were considerable, and logistics complicated. Sometimes aid had to be transported in small aircraft chartered from traders, and then carried on foot to the final destination in the bush. Poor security also incurred costs; those few brave traders willing to transport goods by lorry included insurance coverage in their haulage charge.

CELPA was the only agency bringing aid to areas such as Muhuzi, Malanda, Kilimbwe, Luhago, Kitibingi, Lweba, Magunda and Kalole in South Kivu; to Samba, Wamaza and Kailo in Maniema; and Weko, Yatolema, Yabaondo, Yalolia, Mombongo and Basoko in Eastern Province. CELPA's local knowledge was also a benefit in securing wider access than that open to international agencies. In eastern DRC, CELPA was able to deal even with local militia groups, called Mayi-Mayi, in villages like Kitopo, Ngomiano, Mboko and Kilembwe, gaining access to previously-unreachable populations in areas not under the control of the Rwandan army or the RCD. No international organisation had achieved this.

One of the key characteristics of CELPA's work was that, as a church organisation, programmes were implemented largely by volunteers drawn from its congregations and clergy. Services covering areas like agricultural and health training, loans and education already existed within CELPA, and staff were able to integrate activities associated with the PAH into their ordinary work. By operating through existing church structures, there is, however, a risk that CELPA is seen as partisan, favouring certain sections of the population over others. And as locals, staff may favour members of their own tribe and village. These local pressures are perhaps less felt by international organisations.

Conversely, CELPA's status as a church organisation offered benefits less easily available to international relief agencies. Staff are strongly motivated by their Christian beliefs, and provide a large number of services voluntarily. CELPA's workers have been prepared to take significant risks to help their fellows, whereas international staff may be more concerned for their own safety. Additionally, the use of existing staff and structures - schools, health centres and churches for storing and distributing goods - meant that administrative costs were kept to a minimum, and most of CELPA's humanitarian budget went directly to assisting war-affected people. In the third phase of work up to 2002, for instance, only $18,000 or around 4.5% of the total fund of about $400,000 went to project administration.

Compared with international organisations working in DRC, CELPA's humanitarian work has both strengths and weaknesses. Its strengths stem from its position as a local organisation, with access to a network of existing facilities; significant resources of commitment and faith in its work; the capacity to treat with factions beyond the scope of international agencies; and the ability to reach populations in isolated rural areas, where there is no international assistance. Yet paradoxically, this strength is also CELPA's weakness. The decision to help people far from main centres and out of view of the international agencies means that CELPA's work has attracted very little outside publicity and attention. Although CELPA has done a considerable amount of work and is much appreciated by the population, it is often little known nationally or internationally, and the struggle for funds continues.

Africa's world war

The latest conflict in the DRC erupted in August 1998, when rebel forces backed by Rwandan and Ugandan troops advanced towards the capital, Kinshasa; troops from Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola intervened and the rebels were pushed back to the east of the country. Peace talks followed in the Zambian capital Lusaka, and in 1999 the six governments involved, along with the rebel Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC) and Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD), signed a peace accord. Fighting continued, and in early 2000 the UN authorised a 5,000-strong force monitoring force. Tensions persisted, and in January 2001 President Laurent Kabila, leader of the Rwandan-backed rebel group that ousted long-standing head of state Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997, was killed. His son Joseph took his place. Despite troop withdrawals and statements of support for the peace process, a UN panel reported in November that the warring parties were prolonging the conflict in order to plunder the country's mineral resources. Meanwhile, a US-based refugee agency estimated that around 2.5 million Congolese had died in fighting since 1998. By 2002, a power-sharing agreement was agreed between the Kinshasa government and rebels backed by Uganda, and a peace agreement concluded with Rwanda. Troops from neighbouring countries began to pull out, but there was little sign of a settlement between the various Congolese factions.

Sadiki Byombuka is Projects Coordinator for CELPA. His email address is sadikibyo@yahoo.fr.

References and further reading

International Rescue Committee, 'Mortality in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo', 2001. Available at http://intranet.theirc.org/docs/mortII_report.pdf.

Ian Smillie, Patronage or Partnership: Local Capacity Building in Humanitarian Crises (Bloomfield, CT: Kumarian Press, 2001).

International Crisis Group, 'Storm Clouds over Sun City: The Urgent Need To Recast the Congolese Peace Process'. Report No. 44, 2002. Available at www.crisisweb.org.

Human Rights Watch, 'Eastern Congo Ravaged: Killing Civilians and Silencing Protest', 2000. Available at www.hrw.org.

Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, The Congo From Leopold to Kabila (London: Zed Books, 2002).