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The following project has been approved for funding of $ 15,000 CDN

(equivalent to $US12,700) by Help the Aged Canada

“Support to the Aged in Western Kasai Villages”

Oct. 11, 2005

Read more about the work of Help the Aged in the Congo

General Background

Civil unrest in the Democratic Republic of Congo started in 1960 with independence. The country, and Kasai province specifically, has never known full peace since then.

In 1960, intertribal warfare in both Western and Eastern Kasai caused a huge internal migration from both Lulua and Baluba, with deaths of genocidal dimensions, leading to UN intervention.  One sequel of these events has been that ancestral lands were lost or are now far from people’s residence, often up to 30km away, while most continue to use them for cultivation. Thus, people still live with the consequences of past troubles, even though there has been reconciliation, and a pact of blood to maintain peace.

The period 1963-65 saw a number of secession movements, based on tribalism and regionalism, here in Kasai and Katanga again with forced migrations and killing. In response to the chaos and the confusion of attributions between the president, Kasavubu and the prime minister Patrice Lumumba, Sese Mobutu was able to take power in 1965, through a coup.

In 1971, he created a single party state opposing all “foreign” influence, with strong repressive powers reaching even to village level. He created an elite group, ONEL, which was officially above the law. He tried to create forced production collectives but these did not succeed. However, this created a situation of uncertainty regarding the availability of land for agriculture because the collectives have often not been disbanded officially. This situation puts good land off limits for the common man and woman.

After 1981-1982, civil servants were not paid. They were supposed to find their own income, so this started a period of open officious corruption and oppression, discouraging all initiatives to grow or stock food. In 1990, following civil unrest, generalized hunger in spite of the country’s mineral wealth, and under pressure from USA, France and Belgium, Mobutu accepted a semblance of multipartism.

In 1990, students were covertly and savagely killed in university dormitories in Lubumbashi. From these events emerged a movement at the end of 1990 to expulse from Katanga all people originally from Kasai. The biggest forced migration took place in 1992, with massive deaths before, during, and after the migration – a true genocide. This left most exiles in the Kasai with incomplete families and no resources for a new start.

Some refugees from Katanga have now been integrated in the province, but several tens of thousands skilled manual workers are still in settlements in and around Kananga. They have no agricultural tradition but depend for survival on the meagre fields they can develop.

This map shows where Kananga is located. Kananga is the capital of Western Kasai province.

In 1995, there was a severe famine where most of the population was well below 50% of needs. In many families children were divided in two teams eating one meal on alternate days.

In 1996, after dialogue with Mobutu and the political opposition had broken down, began the war of “liberation” with Laurent Kabila and the Rwanda and Uganda armies. These armies invaded and created insecurity in the villages.

This was followed in 1998 with a second war with a rebellion among Kabila’s allies In Western Kasai. Mutoto, Dembelenge, Benaleka and Kakenge were directly affected, and there was a large migration, leading to further neglect of agricultural fields. For example, in and around Mutoto, people have only started coming back since 2003-2004 and one third of the people have there for less than a year. They have no or little agricultural tools left, no seeds and little energy to work the land. Given that the official army also goes unpaid, ravaging fields has become a frequent event even recently.


Injustice provokes local conflicts, and the struggle to control valuable mineral resources leads to recurrent international conflict.


In 2004, genocide was committed against Congolese people living in Angola, and people again fled for their lives. Many people died, and those that survived arrived with nothing and are in unofficial settlements on the periphery of Kananga. Many lost their children or parents, don’t know their extended family, and are totally unsettled yet.

People fleeing the ongoing war in the East also arrive in Kananga usually without any ties to the local population. Even so, people try to help from the little they have.

As the Kasai is in the hinterland of main events, outside support to these waves of refugees has been minimal and often non-existent.

Western Kasai, especially the forested area around Mueka and Luiza, is traditionally the breadbasket for both Kasais and Katanga. People from these two provinces still come and buy maize and manioc in Western Kasai. The provinces of East Kasai and Katanga have a much higher economic level than Western Kasai, so people can pay higher prices. This has the effect of deepening the shortage of supply in the Western Kasai.

In rural areas, personal transportation is mostly on foot or on bicycle, along dirt roads that are often impassable.

As transport and marketing is very deficient, prices within the province are very different. They are lowest in Mueka and in the town of Kananga, which have a direct train link and inversely proportionate with the distance to town as the transport to the far off villages is done on bicycle and foot and prices double roughly every 30km. The worst hunger paradoxically is in the remote rural areas.

FAO has studied this pattern, and UNICEF figures confirm the depth of the crisis, with most people eating only once a day and many eating only once every so many days. The most vulnerable groups are the children and the elderly, as well as people who have migrated recently.

One can confidently say over 70% of population are absolute poor caught in a vicious circle of lack of food production causing lack of access to seeds and lack of enough workforce. It is a cumulative effect of the many crises and the present lack of meaningful governance.

Situation of the Aged


The above general situation has led to the breakdown of the social protection both of the aged and the children. Most elderly people are single, widowed or left behind at a younger age. Over 90% of elderly people are no longer able to rely on their children either for financial or other help as the younger people have migrated, either as a direct result of the unrest, or in response to their own the poverty or have died in the events or as a result of the general deprivation and AIDS. Most elderly women are left in charge of little children, orphaned or just left behind.

Elderly people in Western Kasai are almost all absolute poor, lacking any semblance of food security, and depending on irregular charity of neighbours. Many have no independent housing and take refuge where they can. Those who have a hut tend to lose it in the big storms as they cannot maintain the roofing. Clothing is also a big problem. Currently, most elderly are malnourished and are well below BMI 18.

For some, the only means of survival is through begging.



Last year, Butoke undertook a limited food security action in Mutoto, Lubondai , Ndesha and Tshikaji. We distributed agricultural tools and seeds with great success to about 20 associations and 1400 individuals, many walking 30km and more to find seeds.

This year, with support from ADRA Canada, we have undertaken a new food security action in Western Kasai covering 185 associations and an area of about 180 ha under peanuts and beans. We also supported 700 individuals, mostly elderly widows working small plots of land, and covered perhaps 20 ha more this way, mostly under beans. The program was decentralized, serving the most distant villages first.

Again, we find that people are walking great distances to demand help, either for associations or for their own families, this time, 60km and more. These people, often elderly, are driven both by hope and by the depth of their distress at being unable to find enough seeds to survive with dignity.

Butoke also has a program of nourishing malnourished children and occasionally elderly and to provide support medical services. We want to augment and systematize our help to the aged.

Women traditionally do most of the farm work. They carry heavy loads on their heads. This woman is preparing to walk home 35 km (25 miles) will the seeds provided by Butoke.


Our first priority under this project is to develop ways of increasing food security for the elderly through a variety of means in the context of Butoke’s larger Food Security and Nutrition program. Measures to achieve this will include the following:

·        Ongoing support to village associations that include elderly people capable of participating.

·        Special incentives and measures to encourage the participation of elderly people willing to participate in such associations, but unable to reach the average level of effort.

·        Special associations of the elderly for which younger help can be hired.

·        For those unable to work the land a regular food subsidy, especially in pilot communities such as Nganza and Tshikaji.

Resources permitting, these activities will be complemented with the following:

·        Development of primary health care for the elderly to take care of frequent conditions, such as presbyopy, gastritis, tuberculosis and chronic bronchitis, anemia, diabetes, hypertension, hypotension, parasitosis, malaria, aches and pains, avitaminosis, skin diseases especially scabies and mycosis. Emphasis will be on pilot communities such as Tshikaji, Nganza where the elderly migrate.

·        Repair housing for those who have still a house (zinc roofing and strengthening Adobe)

·        Develop a program on healthy aging open to anyone over 40 years old

Stimulate the formation of youth groups to assist the elderly.

Budget (in US$)


Labor for production of food

Repair of housing 

Primary Health Care

Health aging 

Stimulation of support by youth groups