The Accumulative Disadvantage of Congo

A friend gave me a cool collection of books yesterday. The first one I picked up to read is Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. Similar to another favorite, Freakonomics, it challenges long-held beliefs about how certain things have come to be, and provides surprising correlations among data. Economics made fun. In this case, the notion of “success” is challenged. Economists have uncovered certain phenomena that show a person’s potential for success has more to do with their family, birthplace and even birth date than “traditional” success factors such as natural intelligence and ambition.

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Likasi Visit

A few months after we moved here, Seb’s chief geologist and Congolese mentor Papa Nzita invited us to meet his family and have a look around his adopted hometown of nearby Likasi, about two hours east by dirt road. Built up by the Belgians who originally called it Jadotville, Likasi was once one of the crown jewels of this region, even considered a tourist destination in many travel books of the time. Fifty years later and you can still see the beauty of the place… if you look with Congified glasses. Ignore the potholes, the peeling paint, every third abandoned or crumbled building and you’ll discover the skeleton of a beautiful colonial capital. Wide tree-lined boulevards, grand art-deco buildings, and roundabouts with large fountains (some of them even with water!). Surprisingly, I’m taken by the place. If Seb’s job took him this direction, I’d be happy to settle in here. Continue reading

Moving to Congo!

Hello friends and family,

Well, we are charging forward with our Africa plans!  Sébastien arrived in Congo last week, where he’ll spend the next month transitioning into his new job as manager of exploration.  He’ll come back to join me at my MBA graduation on August 20, we’ll take the following week or so to pack up the house, and then we’re off!  We’re renting the house to a good friend, have one vehicle left to sell, and no idea when we will come back.  One year is the minimum target unless something goes south in the company’s current renegotiation with the Congolese government… but if we can handle it, we’d like to be able to stay for two or three.

We used to laugh at the idea of moving to the Congo, knowing it was a possibility given Seb’s background in exploration geology, not to mention being a native French speaker.  No way would we ever go there!  Congo* is at the bottom of the world rankings when it comes to corruption and transparency; it’s one of the worst places to do business.  (That the company went ahead and set up operations there anyway tells you something about the potential mineral wealth there.)  The people are the second poorest per capita in the world, and in decline since 1980 despite their vast natural resources.  The country has been in near-constant conflict since 1996.  If you google it, you’ll finds all kinds of frightening stuff, especially in the Goma and Bukavu regions in the east near Rwanda and Uganda. Continue reading