The MONUC (UN) compound is in an old hotel just outside of
Kisangani. There one presents one's papers, properly stamped
and initialed by senior UN staff in Kinshasa, indicating one has the
right to a hard bench seat inside a noisy C130 transport to Goma.
Our plane carried a full load of empty wooden pallets and of course
the luggage of the 20 or so official passengers. Our Filipino crew
spent a good part of the trip counting the pallets. A small frog
wandered about among the slats, presumably aware that she was
climbing from the central lowlands to Congo's Eastern Highlands
and Africa's Great Lakes.
Goma sits at the northernmost end of Lake Kivu at an elevation of
about 1500 meters, nearly a mile high, about the same as
Kampala, and a bit lower than Nairobi. The Nyira Hotel is a cut
above the Palm Beach in Kisangani, with gardens carefully tended,
and flowers of every possible variety. The food is excellent, and
the drinks are cold.
The only drawback of the Nyira is the incessant "TV Cinq" blaring
from a large television on the terrace. A French-speaking
gentleman who seemed to be a longer-term resident of the hotel
apparently enjoyed it very much, and personally controlled the
remote control, raising the volume from time to time as it suited
him. His other amusement was to berate the waiters about the
rancid taste of the butter. Personally I found the butter to be
delightful, locally made along with an excellent local cheese.
I was fortunate to arrive in Goma a mere two weeks after the grand
opening of the Goma Internet Zone at the central traffic circle
downtown. I say "fortunate" in the sense of having something
interesting to see, as opposed to "fortunate" in the sense of being
able to upload and download my mail. My attempt to upload mail
was entertaining and educational, but not particularly filled with
The system adminstrator was quite accomodating, permitting me
to attach my laptop to his Ethernet. No good. Some kind of proxy
configuration perhaps? Web browsers could resolve host names
without a problem, but nothing could be pinged and my SMTP
mailer could not find its host even after I typed in the IP number
I gave up, proceeding then to open a Hotmail account -- a process
that took about 1 hour, each page taking approximately 60
seconds to load.
The system administrator seemed not terribly inclined to showing
me his deepest secrets on this first visit, and so I only walked
quickly through his server room without inspecting any of the
equipment. He did permit me to walk outside and have a look at
his antenna on the roof, presumably because he realized I could do
that without his permission. I did respect his request not to
What a curious antenna. Imagine a golf ball about 75 centimeters
in diameter sitting on a wooden golf tee. That was it. Not at all the
VSAT dish I was expecting to see. The administrator claims his
system operates via Intelsat.
In Goma I recommend the Chalet. The food is nothing special, but
the view of the lake, the volcanos, the fishing boats -- spectacular.
If you look to the right, you can just make out the hills where the
shoreline turns south toward Bukavu. I travelled along that road,
past the infamous Rwandan refugee camps, now abandoned, with
very little left to mark the passing of so many lives.
My car turned back at Sake, just at the lake's corner, the road
beyond being simply too dangerous to traverse. I heard one
prominent NGO leader in Goma talk about the small towns farther
south along that road, effectively cut off even from Goma. She
wanted desperately to communicate with them, to hear their
stories, and to broadcast their plight to the world.
A recent International Rescue Committee report, which I'm told was
mentioned by the Washington Post, recounts the 75 per cent of
children born during this war who have died or will die before their
second birthday. That's the story they want to tell.
What about those Black Boxes used by VITA to access email via
low earth-orbiting satellite? Would local authorities permit their
installation? Would the bizarre antennas attract attacks? Could
local technical support be found to help with installation?
From my TMK flight to Bukavu I could easily see the road we
travelled, and the towns beyond. But from the air I could make out
only bananas on land and the ripples of the lake, no people. From
far away, one could easily imagine that nothing had happened, that
nothing is happening.
Jeff @ Bukavu
Internet Center for Development, USAID/M/IRM/CIS RRB 2.10-031
1300 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20523
Tel +1 (202) 712-1956, Cell 607-7961, Fax 216-3380
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