I walk into the office Monday morning amid smiles and “bonjours!” and I approach a huddle of staff to shake hands and find several sad faces.
“I know weekend is over but it’s barely 8am!?” I said. Awkward chuckles after they tell me their month-end salary hadn’t been cleared in their bank accounts. So much for work week kick-off.
I arrived to Lubumbashi a week ago and have been picking up bits and pieces of pending issues and everyday operations. We are an office of about 50 staff and life in Lubumbashi is pleasant and pretty expensive. Lubumbashi is DRC’s second largest city and capital to Katanga province, the country’s richest mining territory.
My main assignment for the upcoming months is to manage a massive reduction of personnel. During 2014, Lubumbashi oversaw three projects and was staffed accordingly. Nowadays, we only support one project in Katanga. The downsizing is no surprise not only because the noticeable work load reduction but also staff has been briefed that layoffs are coming in March. As a result, tension is in the air and, just my luck that upon arrival, payroll didn’t clear staff’s accounts in time (given, it was the bank’s fault, but one feels responsible nonetheless).
Outside of work, first week has already offered an impressive lyrical opera performance by Lubumbashi’s own Serge Kakudji (young and promising counter-tenor), A birthday BBQ with neighbouring MSF field staff including an evening game of pétanque (French version of bocce ball), and a visit to the local chimpanzee refuge – J.A.C.K. Not bad to start six months in the Congo.