Ennock Bigumba is a driver for WFP in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. He also works as a translator for WFP’s international staff on the ground. Caroline Hurford traveled with him on a recent mission for WFP.
Ennoch was concentrating on driving as fast as possible along the bumpy track through the tea plantation. He once worked here as head of personnel. He would be up at 4am each day, because the pickers would start work at 5am. They would bring their baskets to be weighed and the leaves sorted in vast sheds. Ennock’s eyes still twinkle with pride at the memory of the top quality tea produced on the estate.
The plantation is now contested territory. The UN peacekeepers at the nearby MONUC base told us they couldn’t escort us through it because they lacked the vehicles. But they did not actively advise against continuing, so we drove on, with Ennock leading the way in the first car. We still had some IDP (Internally Displaced Persons’) camps to visit before nightfall.
Concern emanated from Ennock as he helped me with translation among the IDPs in Katsiru, a small town about 15 km from the plantation. Two former tea employees greeted him - their supervisor - with joy. They had finally left the plantation during the latest bout of fighting. Ennoch had urged them not to lose hope.
Since the end of August 2008, fighting in North Kivu, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, has caused upheaval and extreme hardship for more than 700,000 people. Most of them have already been on the move at least once in recent years – with some forced to flee for even a fifth time.
Ennock himself had a lucky escape from the plantation in 2005. He had been on leave with his family in Goma, some two hours’ drive south, when his house on the estate was pillaged by marauding rebels. He lost all his possessions, including some old photographs of the tea estate in its heyday.
During his time on the tea plantation, Ennock often had to intervene in disputes between the rival tribes. “My brother and I were in the five percent of some 5,000 employees who were not local – we’d come from Maniema Province, down south, and I think this distance from the Hutus and Hundis gave us an impartiality… when trouble flared.”
“No one earned high wages, especially the pickers, so I encouraged our director to provide them with a meal at the end of the working day (around 3pm) – this definitely boosted morale and raised productivity!”
Ennoch says that what he enjoyed most about his work then – and still does now that he works for WFP – is contact with people. Although he describes the gulf between some of Congo’s tribes as “implacable – like cats and dogs”, he maintains an optimism that eventually, with the right leadership, humanity will win through.