Howard University Graduate School

HUGS Research Magazine
and Graduate School Research Archive

ARTICLEIssue 017

Friends of the Congo

By Gwendolyn S. Bethea, Ph.D.

DC I-Corps
Participants in Friends of the Congo Visit to Howard University

Gary L. Harris, Ph.D
Gary L. Harris, Associate Provost, Research and Graduate Studies, with Samuel Yagase, founder of NGO GOVA (Group of Village Organizations for Self- development)

On March 6, 2017, the Graduate School, along with Friends of the Congo, presented Samuel Yagase, the founder of the NGO GOVA (Group of Village Organizations for Self- Development ).

Yagase's group promotes local initiatives and leadership and takes the position that development aid has virtually failed. Creating self-sustaining communities, his group emphasizes, involves utilization of local assets, helping the population to be the masters of their situation by mastering their agenda. This approach provides lasting solutions for change in the DRC.

Yagase is committed to improving local governance in the DRC. He is interested in fighting against injustice (especially traditional customs that discriminate against women) and fighting for the promotion of human rights. His group is a key player in mobilizing rural communities for local development mainly in Tolaw, Isangi Territory, Orientale Province in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In addition, Yagase works on promoting dialogue and collaboration between the traditional and modern medicine. He is the initiator of the Solidarity Fund for the fight against sleeping sickness in Isangi.

For more information, contact Friends of the Congo, 202 580-2944 or info@friendsofthecongo.org.

congo-map.jpg

Neighbors: The Congo is bordered by nine countries
Population: Approximately 70 million
Ethnic Groups: Over 200 ethnic groups
Major Languages: Lingala, Kikongo, Tshiluba, Swahili, French
Size/Area: 2,345,410 sq km or approximately the size of Western Europe or slightly less than one fourth the size of the United States
Income: $200 per year for an individual Congolese

Key Natural Resources: Diamonds, Gold, Coltan, Uranium, Copper, Tin, Silver, Cobalt, Niobium, Timber, Hydro Power, Manganese, Petroleum
Life Expectancy: 51 years
Religions: Roman Catholic 50%, Protestant 20%, Kimbanguist 10%, Muslim 10%, Other 10%
Capital: Kinshasa
Provinces: Eleven (the new constitution provides for 26 provinces)
Colonized: The Congo was Colonized by Belgium (80 times smaller than the Congo) in 1908 after 23 years of personal rule by King Leopold II. King Leopold ruled the Congo as his own private property from 1885 - 1908, a brutal period during which anywhere from 10 million to 15 million slaughtered Congolese were casualties of his quest to enrich himself.
Independence: The Congo gained its independence from Belgium on June 30, 1960. Independence hero, Patrice Emery Lumumba was elected as Congo's first Prime Minister.

Friends of the Congo Connect Youth Project
Friends of the Congo Connect Youth Project

As a follow-up to the Howard visit, the interview below further details some of the major programs of Friends of the Congo.

Bethea: Could you elaborate on your initiative to fight against the customs that discriminate against women?
Yagase: The village leaders have a historically prescribed role and place for women which revolves mainly around taking care of the children and home affairs. When our organization (GOVA) began working with the villagers they insisted that we leave the women out of the process. Although we did not agree with them, we did not push back. We remained patient. The opportunity finally arose for the women to be permanently included in the development process. The community had launched a project to finance the education of our youth who were on their way to university. In order to finance the youth education, we needed the money from the women who controlled the income generated from the sale of corn. The village elders recognizing this reality commissioned us to approach the women for their financial support. The women immediately responded in the affirmative; they remarked that these are our children, of course we will support them. However, they sent us back to the elders to let them know that in the future no important decisions should be made without their inclusion. The lesson learned for us was to respect the existing customs but seize the opportunity for change and advances when they arise.

Bethea: What progress have you made in mobilizing the rural communities for local development, particularly the youth?
Yagase: The greatest progress we have made is in the area of academic training of young people from the community. The village bought a house in Kisangani (Closest major city) for students whom we will send to university. We organized collections of field products to finance the students' studies in Kisangani. Once the students complete their studies, they return to the village to help the developmen to the community. For example, the director of radio Mabele in Tolaw is a student whom we assisted with his studies. Those students who complete their studies and remain in the city contribute money to the village fund - this is their way of giving back. Young people are very active in the community (pressing bricks to build schools, Health centers, guest house, etc). They play an enormous role in security by fighting harassment ... Young people contribute to the village solidarity fund and are proud to belong to this community.

Bethea: What are some of the problems and how are you addressing them pertaining to traditional versus modern medicine?
Yagase: One big problem is that traditional medicine is often neglected and sidelined by modern practitioners. Yet, more than 75% of people in rural areas go to traditional practitioners who practice traditional medicine. The second problem as it relates to traditional practitioners is the dosage of the medicines they use. A third challenge is that there are no preliminary examinations before care. It is here that collaboration with modern medicine remains essential. In the final analysis, there must be a collaboration between the traditional and modern medicine. We aim to take up this task of marrying the traditional with the modern to better serve the people.

Bethea: Thank you.

Friends of the Congo's Executive Director, Maurice Carney notes that "GOVA's model which is grounded in self-sufficiency and self-determination is vital not only for the future of the Congo but Africa as a whole. If this model of self-sufficiency can be implemented throughout the African continent, it could very well be the greatest advance of development we have seen in Africa since independence"

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