Across this week the streets of Bukavu through to Kalambo will be heavily occupied with the arrival of many honourable guests, ranging from former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, to Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta, the former Congolese President Joseph Kabila and the incumbent President Felix Tshisekedi.
The purpose of their arrival is to celebrate the opening and naming of the new International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) Research Campus in Kalambo, South Kivu. Through agricultural innovation, IITA aims at combatting Africa’s most pressing challenges of hunger, malnutrition, poverty and natural resource degradation. The opening of the Research Campus is a huge feat for IITA and an important occasion for the Democratic Republic of Congo for several reasons.
Firstly, this new Research Campus opens five years after IITA initially established a science facility in Kalambo. To then add a research campus station conveys that IITA is confident their establishment is secure within the Kivu region, and by extension the Democratic Republic of Congo. In addition, the opening of the President Olusegun Obasanjo Research Campus contributes to changing the discourse on the Democratic Republic of Congo in a positive narrative. By demonstrating their confidence in expanding facilities in Kivu, IITA emphasises the existence of an abundant untapped potential in DRC to other governing institutions, organisations and individuals.
Secondly, the presence of employees from across the African continent and the naming of the building in celebration of the work President Obasanjo has done may facilitate broadening Congolese imagination beyond the local, beyond the national and into a continental (perhaps even a Pan-African) imagination. The constant exposure to other cultures by the presence of other nationalities working within the Kivu community, will undoubtedly lead to many learnings that may not be readily available to everyone on a daily basis. In doing so, it opens the thinking of some to become inclusive of the larger global society, in a way that may not have been possible for them if not for the direct exposure to the work of IITA. IITA joins many other different efforts and platforms that have been encouraging the utilisation of the untapped potential within the DRC. Congolese based organisations like Action Sociale et d’Organisation Paysanne (ASOP) have worked closely with Congolese youth to boost their efforts within the agriculture sector through youth platforms like YouLima that hosts a variety of programs such as workshops to help agripreneurs improve their ventures.
Thirdly, the installation of this campus provides platforms for employment and inspiration. The campus will require management and therefore require staffing, which would mean that IITA has opened employment opportunities for Congolese and many across the African continent. At the same time, by taking the bold step of building a campus alongside a research facility with updated technological resources, and the approval of it by many leaders – including former and incumbent Congolese presidents-, IITA does not only reflect the importance of the agricultural sector in Congo and across the continent but also creates a landmark that may inspire more individuals to partake in agriculture at a deeper level. By being able to physically witness the resources that can be made available to them and the impact of it to agricultural production, profit and communal lifestyle many more people will be inspired and motivated to pursue a career in the agricultural sector.