SCPCNK: Coffee for Peace

The Kivu Lake traditionally forms the border between the DR Congo and Rwanda. Heavy conflicts have been occurring at this border for decades. The complexity of the conflict is partly difficult for outsiders to comprehend. Various ethnicities live in the mountain rainforest and the cities around the lake, which at different times – especially during colonization – have been differently favored or disadvantaged. The tensions around Lake Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo are closely linked to the genocide in Rwanda and the three Congo wars. The genocide of the Hutu against the Tutsi in 1994, with up to 1 million dead in 100 days, still shapes the region today as a shocking trauma and is considered one of the worst humanitarian crises of the late 20th century. The event led to an escalation of ethnic tensions and violence. Subsequently, the first and second Congo wars further escalated the conflict, as neighboring countries like Rwanda and Uganda were involved in the dispute and armed groups fought for territorial control and resources. Lake Kivu and its surrounding areas became a hotspot for violence, displacements, and exploitation of resources such as gold, coltan, and other minerals. This led to further conflicts and an ongoing humanitarian crisis in the region. Despite efforts for peace and stability, the conflict around Lake Kivu remains a complex challenge that requires a comprehensive political solution to address the underlying causes and achieve long-term peace.

Beforehand, coffee was introduced as early as 1940 by Belgian colonialists, who recognized that Bourbon thrived splendidly in the local climate. However, with the three Congo wars, Congolese coffee production has declined sharply since the mid-1990s. In 2011, shortly before the outbreak of the second Congo war, Gilbert Makele founded the “Cooperative des Planteurs et Negociants du Cafe au Kivu” on Idjwi Island, the cooperative of coffee producers and traders from Kivu. His goal is to save lives, fight poverty, and protect species through his work. Today, the cooperative is a valued partner for raw coffee in premium and specialty quality far beyond national borders. Every year, the cooperative exports around 3 containers each of 20 tons. Over 2,000 employees, including 317 women and 278 former rebels, have found a new perspective in the cooperative. Gilbert is a luminary of the region: as a committed pacifist with a B.A. in geology and agricultural training in Germany, he has been shaping regional society positively for almost two decades.

Figure 1: Exportable Coffee Production in DR Congo from 1990 to 2017 (Global Press Journal, 2018. Figure from ICO. Online available here)

The island of Idjwi on Lake Kivu and the work of Gilbert and the cooperative members stand for hope. We in Europe can hardly imagine the harsh living conditions of the people in Kivu. After decades of terrible violence in an eternal cycle of blood revenge, SCPNCK gives rebels an exit opportunity and refugees the chance for a peaceful existence. To this day, Idjwi Island is not of great strategic importance for the parties to the conflict around the lake, which is why the island is spared from war. However, this remoteness, which maintains peace, also brings forth great challenges for coffee producers: all goods must be brought expensively by boat, the island economy is largely cut off from the mainland, there is high unemployment and poverty, and there is too little electricity (although small hydropower plants improve this situation).

Gilbert continues to believe in his mission. For this, he conducts sophisticated diplomacy: he manages the cooperative, consults with local politicians, serves as a contact person for government and non-governmental projects, travels to coffee festivals, and much more. We are delighted to be part of this inspiring work and proudly present the coffee from SCPNCK – an organic certified specialty coffee that creates hope and peace in the troubled Kivu region.

*For this article, we relied on the work of our intern Leona Uetz, who completed a 6-week internship at cumpa as part of her studies in Empirical Cultural Studies and French in 2021. During this time, she conducted interviews with employees of SCPCNK and researched topics related to Kivu and coffee.

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