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democratic republic of congo

situational analysis

Coffee & Landmine Victim Assistance in the DRC


The Republic of the Congo (DRC) gained independence in 1960 after more than half a century of colonial rule. It is about ¼ the size in area of the United States and has a population of approximately 81 million people. Political unrest enabled Joseph Mobutu to seize power in 1968 and he soon declared himself President subsequently changing the countries name to Zaire. Changing his name to Mobutu Sese Soko he served as head of a brutal regime for over thirty years until in 1997 when his government was overthrown by a rebellion backed by Rwanda and Uganda and led by Laurent Kibila who quickly renamed the country the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Laurent Kibila was assassinated in 2001 and his son Joseph Kibila became head of state.

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In 2002 Kibila negotiated the withdrawal of Rwandan forces from the eastern region and was elected President of the DRC in 2005. He was reelected in 2012 although election results were questioned. In 2009 a resurgence of violence and later formation of the armed group M23 along with several other armed non state actor militias have led to gross human rights abuses and mass migrations. Throughout these insurrections, the population of the DRC has suffered immensely, especially in the Eastern Congo Region. The DRC is a country rich in natural resources with gold, silver, diamonds, uranium, hydropower, and timber to name a few, yet the DRC is one of the poorest countries in the world. Ongoing conflict and government corruption have left its population without adequate health care, education, sanitation, and potable water. Nearly ¼ of children under five years of age are underweight. To add to the weight of the countries challenges the DRC has more than 1.7 million Congolese who are internally displaced. Men, women in children were caught in the crossfire between the Congolese Army and rebel groups in the eastern region. A history of violence and genocide in the region has resulted in thousands of refugees from neighboring Rwanda, Central African Republic, and Burundi. 


Coffee Landmines & Explosive Remnants of War (ERW)


 “In recent years one emerging glimmer of hope for the DRC is the revival of the coffee industry. DCR’s coffee industry is bringing peace, hope and better livelihoods to battle-scarred farmers living in the fertile highlands of the Lake Kivu region, just across Rwanda’s border.” Throughout coffee growing regions in the Kivu lake area, explosives and remnants of war often devastate the lives of coffee workers, their families, and their communities. Mines and ERW, not only kill or maim civilians, but also prevent farmers from accessing water and arable land.  Mines often limit travel and therefore impede farmers’ ability to bring their product to markets.  “UNMAS reported 47 mine/ERW and submunition casualties in DRC for 2014. As in previous years, children constituted the majority of casualties, with more than three-quarters (76%) of casualties being minors (36). All casualties were civilians, including 23 females (four women; 19 girls) and 24 males (seven men; 24 boys). This represented a significant increase from the 21 casualties recorded for 2013…” Between1964–2014 there 2,563 reported casualties. The number of casualties in the DCR is thought to be much greater due to insufficient or inaccurate reporting.

Tragically, in many mine/UXO affected countries around the world areas with the heaviest concentrations of landmine use overlap with the best coffee producing regions. The Lake Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is no exception. This was once a burgeoning coffee producing area, however, in the 1990’s the Rwandan genocide and the DRC’s civil war put an end to a promising industry. Even in the midst of conflict coffee farmers risked their lives crossing lake Kivu to smuggle coffee into Rwanda in an effort to earn money or barter for food. Thousands died trying to make this voyage.

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Lack of donor funding and ongoing conflict has forced a number of non-government organizations (NGO’s) to curtail victim assistance (VA) activities in the DRC. Therefore, it is essential that remaining resources are used wisely and that new creative strategies for meeting the needs of landmine/ERW victims are developed. Linking coffee with victim assistance can be an important strategy toward helping victims of conflict improve their livelihoods and to lead meaningful and productive lives within their communities.


Polus Center Delegation

March 10th-20th, 2017 the Polus Center for Social & Economic Development conducted a “situational analysis” of the potential for landmine/unexploded ordnance (UXO) victims to find employment opportunities within the nascent specialty coffee industry in the Lake Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The purpose of this mission was to assess current victim assistance services and to evaluate how local farmers who became disabled by landmines/UXO might be able to return to coffee cultivation or be afforded other economic opportunities within the coffee industry. Many coffee farmers who suffer limb loss, psychological trauma or other disabling conditions due to mines, bullet wounds, and UXO are unable to maintain their farms. However, through physical and psychosocial rehabilitation people can return to their farms or work in other areas throughout the coffee industry value chain. Survivors that have experienced limb loss can often return to cultivating coffee with an appropriate mobility device. Well fitted prosthetic limbs and all-terrain wheelchairs can enable people to return to work and once again lead meaningful and productive lives. Returning to work also means increased family income and can lift people out of abject poverty. Given this burgeoning specialty coffee market, there is little doubt that job demand will increase. Helping victims of conflict to compete for these jobs in a country with 60% unemployment is a monumental challenge. However, a DRC civil society in partnership with the private sector that values inclusive communities that supports people with disabilities and victims of conflict can meet the challenge.

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Both national and international NGO’s partnered to provide subject matter experts in the specialty coffee industry, mine action victim assistance (VA) and international development. Partner organizations included Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI), Higher Grounds Coffee, Synergie Pour La Lutte Antiminex Et Bombes (SYLAM), Foundation Walking Unidos and the Polus Center for Social & Economic Development. ECI and SYLAM based in the DRC contacted landmine/UXO survivors; many of them were active coffee farmers until they were injured.

The Polus Center delegation visited local coffee communities and met with farmers who were landmine/UXO survivors in both North and South Lake Kivu Region to determine what their most pressing needs are.  Multiple teams traveled to survivor’s homes and heard directly about their daily struggles and learned how landmines/UXO that have affected their lives, families, and communities. The delegation also met with local coffee producers, coffee cooperatives and the Office National du Café (ONC) to learn about their production and marketing practices. The information gathered will help to assess ways of increasing coffee production and expanding market share. Expanding markets and improving coffee production will improve livelihoods for communities impacted by past and continued violence within the Eastern Congo Lake Kivu region.  The delegation visited coffee farmers in their homes and in larger venues where victims traveled from surrounding communities to meet with the Polus delegation. Visiting individuals where they live provides a much greater understanding of their social and economic status and the challenges they face in their daily lives. Teams conducted group interviews in three separate communities. In addition to meeting with people in groups, several individuals were interviewed in their homes. 

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Team members also visited Centre Pour Handicapes Physiques (CHP) in Goma. The Center has a prosthetic workshop where several bench technicians and one head prosthetist who is International Society for Prosthetics and Orthotics (ISPO) CAT II certified are employed. The workshop was well equipped and the hospital Director stated that the program produced approximately 30 prosthetic above and below knee limbs per month. They did not have the capability to produce upper extremity devices because of lack of training and the cost of components. The prosthetic workshop program is able to continue thanks to the support of the Catholic Franciscan Brothers.  Amputees are transported to CHP where they are able to stay while they are being fitted for prosthetic devices. The limbs and accommodations are provided free of charge. The lead prosthetist had a bachelorette degree and had studied in a reputable Tanzania training program where he obtained his CAT II certification. He indicated that their greatest need was more training and better quality prosthetic components.

CHP also produced wheelchairs at the facility. These chairs were made with bicycle parts and other local materials. While wheelchair manufacturing had potential much training was needed in both seating and chair design to improve the quality of the chairs. All of the chairs that were seen by the Polus Center delegation had wooden seats without any cushion or padding. Seats without proper cushioning can cause pressure sores that can easily lead to serious infection even resulting in death.

Key Actors


The Polus Center identified several key partners in the planning stages of the DRC visit. Chris Treter from Higher Grounds Coffee, a U.S. coffee roasting company, has also established an NGO called “On The Ground” that works toward developing a more equitable value chain in the coffee industry. It was only through Chris’ work with other local NGO’s over the past four years in the North and South Lake Kivu Region that enabled Polus Center to approach potential partners. These partners were of like-minded values toward social and economic inclusion of people with disabilities and victims of conflict.

Chris introduced the Polus Center to the Eastern Congo Initiative, a grant-making organization dedicated to supporting people in the eastern Congo. The organization is based in Goma and advocates a community-based approach toward creating economic and social development opportunities that benefit the people in the eastern Congo particularly around the Lake Kivu area. ECI helps to promote coffee as a means of improving livelihoods for Congolese in the region and was instrumental in coordinating the Polus Center’s visit to assess the relationship between coffee and improving livelihoods of landmine/UXO victims in the region. Mr. Baraka Kisali, ECI Country Director and his staff coordinated all the delegations in-country travel arrangements. Synergie Pour La Lutte Antiminex Et Bombes (SYLAM) a mine action organization that has been doing mine risk education (MRE) and non technical survey (NTS) work in the region for several years was instrumental in helping the Polus delegation to meet with landmine/UXO victims in local communities in both the North and South Kivu region. SYLAM also accompanied Polus Center and ECI staff on visits with conflict victims. All victims seemed to be familiar with SYLAM who paved the way.

The Virunga Alliance, an economic plan to develop renewable natural resources from the Virunga National Park was spearheaded by Emmanuel de Morode the parks Chief Warden. Emmanuel invited the Polus Center delegation to visit a major Virunga Alliance development project - a hydroelectric plant in Itchure on the periphery of the Park. Funded by the Buffet Foundation the plant was an impressive facility that is clearly a catalyst for enticing business development in the region.  On the grounds of the hydroelectric station, there were also a carpentry and welding shop where ex-combatants learned new skills and were gainfully employed. A palm oil plant and papaya enzyme extraction project has already been established thanks to the electricity being provided by the hydroelectric plant. These and future projects will create jobs for people whose daily lives are characterized by abject poverty, lack of education, inadequate health care and constant fear of rebel groups that rape and pillage. These groups rely on the illegal production of charcoal within Virunga’s National Park to help sustain there illicit activities including the poaching of park animals, including the parks main to tourist attraction – the mountain gorillas.  

Chris Treter, On the Ground, Michael Lundquist, Polus Center, and Emmanuel de Morode, Virunga Alliance discussed an initiative to build a coffee wet mill in the Rutuchure area of South Kivu province.  The Mill will further the Virunga Alliance’s mission to develop a business that will provide economic opportunity and create jobs that offer alternatives to joining rebel groups, especially those that undermine the Parks environmental and ecological interests. Chris Treter presented his vision of the importance of a more equitable coffee industry that provides an equal voice to each element throughout the coffee value chain - from the farmer, producer, roaster to retailer. Michael Lundquist reiterated the Polus Center’s mission to improve livelihoods of landmine/UXO victims by providing meaningful employment throughout the coffee industry. The new mill could not only employ people with disabilities but also raise awareness about disability. It would have tremendous potential to demonstrate how people disabled due to conflict with proper rehabilitation, improved access and support can be productive and valued members of their communities. Universal design principles in its construction that promote access not only for disabled but for everyone could add value to all the partners’ collective vision.  

Polus Center Methodology  

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The Polus Center’s Situational Analysis in the DRC was based upon rigorous Model Coherency Program Planning and Design Strategies that are predicated on three fundamental questions.

1) Who are the People (potential service beneficiaries)

2) What do they need? 

3) How do you get the right services to the right people in the right way?

The process of coherent program analysis, development and planning begins by interviewing landmine survivors and their families. Through extensive team interviews, important information beyond the immediate direct service need is ascertained. Assessing a landmine survivor/victim’s social and economic status, their ability to access community services, and their existing support network is essential in developing a holistic victim assistance program that addresses a full range of rehabilitation needs. Victim assistance rehabilitation frequently extends beyond immediate medical and prosthetic services to also include the need for increased economic opportunities through formal and informal education and vocational training; psychological services related to post-traumatic stress disorder; social integration, self-advocacy, and increased community access. 

The gathering of pertinent information by interviewing landmine victims is used to help design the “ideal VA program” While it is understood that many constraints, such as limited financial and human resources and a myriad of competing interests, will prevent achieving the ideal, it is nonetheless important to begin by describing a program service that would address all need areas in the most effective manner. In addition to providing valuable information relevant to program design, face to face interviews give those interested in implementing VA programs the opportunity, at least momentarily, to identify and empathize with landmine survivors who are in desperate need of rehabilitation services. This experience can help service designers/evaluators to better understand some of the struggles that landmine victims face on a daily basis.

When victim assistance program design begins with landmine survivors describing what service would be most helpful and relevant, competing interests are less likely to negatively impact the quality of a VA program. This process results in a VA program service design that is coherent with what victims actually need. With clearly defined need, it is then possible to propose a VA program that ultimately reaches the right people in the best way. Well designed services are essential for the development of an organizational mission, guiding principles and an overall effective landmine victims assistance programming.


The Polus Center for Social & Economic Development, working in partnership with the Department of State PM/WRA on a Victim Assistance (VA) program in the Lake Kivu region of the Eastern Congo in the DRC that will address four main areas of mine action over a 4-year period:

  1. Mine Risk Education (MRE)

  2. Victim assistance capacity building (workshops and training programs)

  3. Physical rehabilitation – (Prosthetics training and direct services)

  4. Economic development through vocational training and competitive employment within the coffee industry value chain.

The goals of the project are 

  • Improve the mobility of landmine survivors through training of prosthetic technicians and fabrication of prosthetic limbs

  • Support leadership development and peer support associations among landmine/UXO victims in the Lake Kivu Region

  • Help shift the organizational cultures of partner NGOs to be more inclusive of landmine victims and people w/disabilities

  • Raise awareness about the dangers of landmines/UXO

  • Provide vocational opportunities within the coffee industry for landmine/UXO victims in the Eastern Congo Region of Lake Kivu

A Three-Phase Plan

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Phase I

During phase I, the Polus Center will improve mobility for landmine/ERW survivors through the fabrication of prosthetic limbs. The Centre Pour Handicapes Physiques (CHP) in Goma has a prosthetic workshop where several bench technicians and one head prosthetist who is International Society for Prosthetics and Orthotics (ISPO) CAT II certified are employed. Polus Center will provide prosthetic subject matter experts to train staff technicians at the Centre Por Handicapes Physiques Rehabilitation Center in Goma. Both upper and lower limbs will be produced. The program will also introduce improved prosthetic components and materials that upgrade the quality of devices typically found in the DRC. Introducing these new materials and components will raise O&P technician’s prosthetic knowledge and expertise and will ultimately increase mobility and employability of landmine/ERW survivors.

Phase II

In March of 2017, the Polus Center delegation and partner organization met with ERW victim groups in both North and South Kivu region. Each group expressed that this was the first time that victims had come together to hear each person’s concerns and individual challenges that they face on a daily basis. All groups expressed how important this experience was and that they would welcome the opportunity to meet on a scheduled basis to share their experiences. Forming victim associations can combat discrimination and empower vulnerable citizens by forming constituencies that can ultimately drive public policy. In Phase II the Polus Center will work with Synergie Pour La Lutte Antiminex Et Bombes (SYLAM) to support Mine Risk Education activities and to help victims share their experiences and to develop organizational and self-advocacy skills.

All partner organization expressed interest in learning more about Polus Center’s “Person-Centered Holistic Approach to Victim Assistance” program planning and design, which will also be included in Phase II. This presents a unique opportunity to introduce key VA/disability concepts that can positively impact organizational culture and focus attention on inclusive disability practices in all aspects of program planning and implementation.

Phase III

Plus Center and partners will develop a comprehensive program that cultivates, processes and commercializes coffee grown on the outskirts of Virunga while helping to preserve the park’s natural resources. The project will improve the livelihoods of Congolese coffee producers who are landmine/UXO victims and ex-combatants by providing them with rehabilitation services, vocational training and new opportunities to process and sell their coffee while at the same time preserving the ecosystem in which they live.

A comprehensive vocational training program will focus on helping victims of conflict return to coffee production and/or develop other job skills that will aid them in finding employment within various sectors of the coffee industry value chain. These skills will help individuals to become “cuppers”, co-op managers, maintenance workers, and dry mill machine operators. Collaborative efforts are already underway among partners and local communities to build and expand coffee production in the South Kivu region. On the Ground and Virunga will partner with the Polus Center to build a Coffee Mill/Cupping Lab in South Kivu on the periphery of Virunga National Park.

This provides a unique opportunity to create employment for conflict victims in the coffee industry and also has enormous potential for people with disabilities/conflict victims to receive training and competitive employment. Some individuals may choose to return to coffee farming due to increased demand for specialty coffee. Others may want to learn to be co-op managers, cuppers, roasters or retailers. People with disabilities can also be involved in the construction and “Universal Design” of the coffee mill. Another important benefit of the coffee mill is that it can provide alternative livelihoods for members of rebel groups, especially those that participate in the illegal charcoal industry within the Virunga National Park, with revenues currently being used to sustain rebel groups operating within the park. This strategy falls in line with PM/WRA’s mandate to reduce small arms/light weapons.

photo by Adrien Nzuzi

photo by Adrien Nzuzi