Kivu is the general name for East Congo (Kinshasa) and covers a very broad geographical area. It borders on Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and Lake Tanganyika on the east. Kivu is divided into three provinces, Nord-Kivu (North Kivu), Sud-Kivu (South Kivu), and Maniema. Primary production includes coffee, cotton, rice, and palm oil, and tin and some gold are mined too. For coffee the quality potential is high, but the political turmoil and power struggles make actual stable business practice a huge challenge.
Politics and Power Struggles
The Ruwenzori mountains, Kahuzi-Biega National Park, and part of Maiko National Park are part of this region. Most of Kivu was controlled (1961—62) by the breakaway regime of Antoine Gizenga, which was centered at Kisangani (then Stanleyville). Kivu was a base for various rebel groups in the 1990s. Later, a revolt against the central Congolese government at Leopoldville [now Kinshasa] broke out in Kwilu and Kivu provinces.
Since then the Kivu rebels have established a Revolutionary Government of the Eastern Congo with headquarters at Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi. (Part of the Congo problem is the direct involvement and support in turmoil sponsored by neighboring governments).
The Ruzizi Valley in Kivu is controlled by the rebels who claim to be led by Patrice Lumumba (who in fact was killed in 1961!!!). With recent elections in Congo, the hope for stability and the continuation of the cease fire is possible. But this is a tumultuous political scene, with rare earth mineral, gold and diamond wealth as inspiration to the various factions. Consequently, the Kivu area is directly affected.
How Coffee is Affected
Of course, smallholder coffee farmers are the first to suffer. So in a sense the export of coffee to the US is in itself a positive sign about East Congo stability. What I hope to see next is NGOs and others move in and try to firmly re-establish the coffee trade, rebuild mills, offer education toward specialty coffee production, and install a Fair Trade pricing model.
The fact is, Congo coffee is being exported on the cheap. The price is below fair trade level - the bare minimum we like to pay, with most of our lots offered at higher-than-fair-trade prices. And even though the coffee comes from Cooperatives, it's very difficult to verify how much money actually makes it back to the farmer-members. With a little help, we hope to see this change, keeping fair and transparent business practices as a primary goal. We have encouraging prospects in the DRC, and with overall quality potential being high, there is a lot of interest.