Congo Leads Way in Response to COVID-19

On May 20 – 21 Congo’s Protestant denominations convened an interfaith conference to discuss religious practices and prevention of the spread of COVID-19. Members of the Church of Christ of Congo were joined by Catholics, Kimbanguists, Muslims and Orthodox leaders to share strategies. (Photo by Bryan Parrish, Mission Co-Worker with Disciples of Christ of Congo)

“With health systems in even high-income countries still at risk of being overwhelmed by the pandemic, leaders would do well to heed the example of the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo).”  This was the conclusion of the World Health Organization’s director general in a Guardian article announcing the end of the latest Ebola outbreak in Congo. Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus used the June 25 announcement to notify governments and health agencies of what measures were behind Congo’s success in turning back Ebola.  “The Congolese people ended a devastating outbreak through an unshakeable commitment to science, data and community, and with international solidarity.”

The Congolese have benefited from the learnings and improvements in health infrastructure gained in stemming spread of Ebola in their response to the COVID virus.  The latest WHO statistics on COVID in Congo speak for themselves:  in a population of 90 million people there have been 11,052 cases and 303 deaths.  These figures are way below those of other Central African countries.  In the neighboring Republic of Congo there have been 5,156 total COVID cases with 92 deaths in a country with less than half the population of the DRC.   Rwanda leads the DRC in most measures of economic and infrastructure development but has treated 383 cases per each million persons in its population compared to the DRC figure of 122 cases per million.

The tragically inept and chaotic response of the United States is evident in a comparison of the virus’ spread and mortality rate with the Congo’s (DRC).  There have been 680 deaths in the U.S. per each million persons and 25,538 cases per million in stark contrast to the Congo’s loss of 3 persons per million to the virus and 122 cases per million Congolese.  Even accounting for Congo’s challenges in tracking cases and deaths in remote areas and the country’s faulty data practices, the U.S.-Congo gap in the spread of the virus underlines crucial differences in the countries’ response to COVID.

Perhaps due largely to its experience with other deadly viruses, sub Saharan Africa was quick to respond to COVID.  A March 30 statement by the former President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, pointed to the international cooperation and reliance on science as decisive in her country’s battle with the Ebola virus which took 5000 lives during her administration.  Ms. Sirleaf described Liberia’s learnings with these words, “A mass mobilization of resources led by the UN, the World Health Organization, and the US followed. We defeated it together. As a result, today there are effective experimental vaccines and antivirals thanks to the collaboration of the best scientific minds around the world.”  Three months after this statement, the Trump administration declared the U.S. would leave the W.H.O., the only global health agency created by the United Nations.

In summing up Congo’s effective response to the Ebola outbreak in the country’s northeast, also plagued by civil conflict, the W.H.O. director general emphasized the important role of non-governmental actors.  “Engaging communities and influential figures, such as faith leaders and traditional healers, was critical. Communities should be respected as first responders, who can quickly detect cases and collectively work out how to isolate patients, even with minimal resources” Dr. Ghebreyesus wrote.  The example set by the leadership and health staff of the Disciples of Christ of Congo is noteworthy.  In the poorest province of the country, the DCC President Rev. Eliki Bonanga wrote three weeks after the first COVID case was detected on March 10 that the Church committed to “campaigning against COVID-19 through community education on what is COVID-19, how to contain it, how to avoid it, what to do in case the community identifies a suspect case.”



Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberian President 2005-17, at the Obama White House with leaders from Sierra Leone (l) and Guinea (r) who collaborated with her and the U.S. on defeating the Ebola virus in their countries

The Congo Disciples’ health services have greatly benefited from aid from partner churches in Germany and the U.S.  International aid and cooperation were highlighted in former Liberian President Ms. Sirleaf’s analysis of her country’s success against Ebola. Commenting on Africa’s readiness to combat COVID, Ms. Sirleaf explained, “what most encourages today, is the opening up of expertise and the fact that knowledge, scientific discovery, equipment, medicines and personnel are being shared”.  She concluded her message transmitted by BBC News on March 30 with this eloquent plea, “As we all hunker down in the next few weeks, I pray for the health and well-being of our global citizens, and I ask that everyone remember that our humanity now relies on the essential truth that a life well-lived is a life in the service to others.”

To End Mining of Cobalt by Congolese Children

Artisanal mining of cobalt involves children as young as 6 looking for rocks with cobalt
15 year old girl looks for rocks to fill her daily sack of cobalt (Guardian photo by Siddarth Kara)

Children as young as six are digging for cobalt in the Congo.  The essential element in the manufacture of lithium ion rechargeable batteries, cobalt is yet another of the “strategic” minerals uniquely found in Central Africa.  The continued production of electric vehicles by Tesla and other companies, and all other electronic devices, depend on the cobalt supply chains that originate with Congo mining.

Action to prevent the mining process’ funding of armed conflict in eastern Congo has recently been superseded by legal action opposing children’s involvement in cobalt mining in the country’s southern provinces.  Last December, the U.S. based International Rights Advocates (IRA) filed a class action lawsuit against Apple, Alphabet (Google), Dell, Microsoft, and Tesla for complicity in forced child labor in Congo.  Plaintiffs in the suit are 14 “guardians of children killed in tunnel or wall collapses while mining cobalt in the Democratic Republic of Congo (“DRC”) or children who were maimed in such accidents”.  The lead attorney in the case, and Executive Director of the IRA organization stated, “In my 35 years as a human rights lawyer, I’ve never seen such extreme abuse of innocent children on a large scale. This astounding cruelty and greed need to stop”.

Also on the legal team is Siddarth Kara, a Harvard lecturer in government and public health whose research in 2018 provided ample evidence for filing the lawsuit.  After touring cobalt mining sites, buying stations and first stage refining complexes, Kara estimated 35,000 children dig for the cobalt bearing rocks for wages of slightly over $1 per day.  In her September 2018 article in The Guardian she introduces us to the life of 15 year old Elodie.

Elodie spends her days with her 2 month old son strapped to her back.  Both breathe the noxious brown air while she fills a sack with the heterogenite rock containing cobalt.  The work day ends with her washing the rock in nearby Lake Malo before she receives around 65 cents for the rocks of a lower grade ore.   After both her parents died from their “industrial” mining of cobalt, Elodie feeds her baby and herself with her earnings.

Children with sacks of rock containing cobalt ore near Lake Malo, southeast Congo (Guardian photo by Siddarth Kara)

Explaining her support for the lawsuit against a few of the world’s most profitable corporations, Professor Kara stated, “this lawsuit represents the culmination of several years of research into the horrific conditions of cobalt mining in the DRC…… I hope our efforts are worthy of the courageous families who shared their immeasurable torment with us, and that justice and decency will triumph over the pursuit of profit at any cost.”  Another volunteer on the lawsuit’s IRA legal team is Congolese national, Dr. Dr. Roger-Claude Liwanga.  Dr. Liwanga expressed his pleasure with the suit’s filing, “This is the beginning of the end of impunity for those who have been economically benefiting from child labor in the DRC’s mining industry.  He continued with, “DRC children also have an inherent and inalienable right to be protected from economic exploitation.”

To urge one or more of the companies, defendants in the lawsuit, to acknowledge responsibility and ensure improvement of conditions in mining cobalt in Congo , find various options here:

http://www.iradvocates.org/press-release/cobalt-mining-case/labor-day-please-contact-apple-alphabet-dell-microsoft-and-tesla

         **************                                     **************

For Prof. Siddarth Kara’s original article in The Guardian newspaper go to https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2018/oct/12/phone-misery-children-congo-cobalt-mines-drc

The Global Message of a Congolese Christian

Rev. Dr. Micheline Kamba Kasongo of the Kinshasa Presbyterian Community of the Church of Christ of Congo addresses a recent session of the World Council of Churches (Photo by Peter Williams/WCC 2016)

Having overcome self doubt and social stigmas due to her physical disability, Congolese professor and pastor Rev. Dr. Micheline Kamba Kasongo emerged as a spokesperson for the marginalized in Congo and worldwide as a leader in the World Council of Churches (WCC).  In response to her death in Kinshasa earlier this month, numerous tributes extolling her outspoken advocacy were shared by academic and church leaders in many nations.

Born February 16, 1968 in Kinshasa, with the help of the Congo capital’s Presbyterian Community, she completed college.  In 1998, the Church of Christ of Congo named her one of the Church’s delegates to the Harare Assembly of the WCC.  During that Assembly she joined other attendees with disabilities in creating the Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network. This forum enabled the Council’s member churches to enhance ministries with persons with disabilities in their work and that of the WCC.

At the 2013 Assembly of the Council in Korea, she shared the story of her awakening to her potential as a woman in leadership, “My experience as a young lady with disability influenced the most my spiritual life and my calling into the ministry. It was so difficult to be accepted as God’s creation. (…) I attempted many times to commit suicide but I had not succeeded.

One day my sister knew that and she came to me and said ‘my dear sister what you want to do is not a solution of your problems. Pray and ask your God what life means to you as a young lady with a disability and why God likes you to remain like this’. (…) My sister and I spent three days in fasting and praying so that God helps me. That time was really a healing time.

Since that time I have never prayed to God to heal me physically, because, I know as Paul recognized that ‘God’s grace is sufficient for you, His strength is made perfect in weakness’ (2 Corinthians 12:10). Then I took courage and I believed in what my sister told me; she was inspired by Holy Spirit and since that time I am accepted as a woman with disability and knew that God had a good plan for me; this was in 1984.

Today, I understand my vocation concerning encouraging those who have physical impairments like me to ‘raise up and walk’ spiritually so that they can be independent, full of life for the transformation of their situation, both in church and society.”

Following her participation in the 1998 Harare Assembly, the Council sponsored Dr. Kamba’s work on her PhD in South Africa. During her PhD studies, she became the coordinator of the WCC’s Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network (EDAN) for French-speaking Africa and in 2006 she began serving on the WCC Executive Committee.  That same year the Protestant University of the Congo (UPC) named her an Associate Professor in the School of Theology.  In that role, she created the Master’s in Social Transformation at the UPC and helped found a nationwide pastoral ministry for people with disabilities in Congo.

Dr. Kamba in 2006 when appointed to the Faculty of Theology at the Protestant University of the Congo (UPC) in Kinshasa

Her Master’s program at the UPC now includes classes in  leadership, human rights and gender violence.  Dr. Kamba described its aims for U.S. supporters of the UPC, “This Master’s program will change how people view their environment.” The Professor and ordained minister continued, “Kinshasa is not disabled-friendly. We must change attitudes towards people with handicaps, because all people have value.”

Dr. Kamba’s design for the Master’s at UPC also aims to change how Congolese and all of us view women and members of minority groups who have been subjugated and suppressed by thought patterns, customs and legislation.  Rev. Dr Kuzipa Nalwamba, WCC program executive for Ecumenical Theological Education described the UPC Masters in Social Transformation as “an admirable demonstration of the deep passion and concern she had for her people”.

The obituary on the WCC web site (https://www.oikoumene.org/en/press-centre/news/wcc-grieves-passing-of-rev-dr-micheline-kamba-kasongo

was made lengthy by the multiple tributes.  “Her voice was essential to our work to bring about justice and peace” the acting head of the WCC, Rev. Dr. Ioan Sauca, wrote about Dr. Kamba. The former general secretary of the WCC, Most Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, also praised her leadership,  “Our dear sister Micheline was a remarkable, brave women contributing to the Church and the ecumenical movement in so many ways”.  Micheline’s PhD chief advisor wrote from South Africa,  “As a student she highlighted a biblical perspective of the challenges of African women living with disabilities.. . The legacy she has left through her writings, sermons and the program she established will outlive her.”

In a paper she wrote for a 2018 WCC Conference on Evangelism, Rev. Dr. Kamba reflected on the Acts passage (Ac3:1-10) which describes the healing of the lame beggar at the temple gate.  Her words conclude the essay’s appeal to view healing of the lame, of ourselves and of society in a more holistic way.

“I speak as a person with a disability who has experienced failed physical healing. I demonstrated in my reflection that physical healing is not the only form of healing in this text, though initially, this story, in the Acts of the Apostles, aimed to supply many signs and miracles performed by the apostles. There are other forms of healing (emotional, social, and psycho-spiritual) that I described above which challenge people with disabilities as well as leaders of the Christian church, who think that when a person with a disability is not healed, he or she is being denied fellowship with God and fellowship with other people

 In conclusion, my reading of this text is as a church leader for effective awareness of the integration of persons with disabilities in church. I should recognize that they need assistance to discover their real identities so they can take leadership in their respective communities for a transformative church.”  When she wrote these words in 2018, Dr. Kamba had become more aware of how her work on behalf of the disabled was also a call to respect the dignity and worth of all members of society.  Her holistic view of healing of the disabled had led her to a vision of how her faith could heal and transform the whole social order.  “Social transformation” was an apt description of what her MA program at the Protestant University of Congo (UPC) prepared students for.

              *************                                     ************

NOTE: I am indebted to Ms. Linda James, consultant in the Development and Alumni Relations office of the UPC for her assistance in the writing of this post.

Reparations for Belgian Colonial Rule??

Photo from the era of colonial rule in Asia. The white man being carried could be British, French, Spanish, Dutch, German. As Martin Luther King once noted: “Racism is no mere American phenomenon. Its vicious grasp knows no geographical boundaries. In fact, racism and its perennial ally – economic exploitation- provide the key to understanding most of the international complications of this generation.”

It took sixty years for Belgium to express officially “deepest regrets for these wounds” caused by the nation’s 75 years of colonial rule in the Congo.  King Philippe’s letter to the Congolese President Tshisekedi differs considerably from the view of his predecessor’s speech at Congo’s Indpendence Day ceremony sixty years ago. In that speech on June 30, 1960, King Baudoin declared Congo’s independence to be “the crowning of the work conceived by the genius of King Leopold II undertaken by him with firm courage, and continued by Belgium with perseverance”. The King also paid tribute to the “best of Belgian sons” who served in the administration of the Belgian colony and “who deserve admiration from us and acknowledgement from you (his Congolese audience)”.

The paternalistic tone of the entire speech reached its height when the King suggested Belgium had benevolently granted independence to the vast nation, “It is your job, gentlemen, to show that we were right in trusting you”.  Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba responded with a speech, not listed on the day’s official program, which emphasized his people’s long history of struggle to secure their human right to self determination. Refraining from revisiting the staggering loss of Congolese lives during Leopold II’s Congo Free State and the subsequent Belgian colonial rule, Lumumba did refer to specific “wounds” which King Philippe’s letter 60 years later briefly acknowledges.  The undisputed, overwhelmingly elected leader of 1960 Congo noted, “We have been the victims of ironic taunts, of insults, of blows that we were forced to endure morning, noon, and night because we were blacks.”

Lumumba’s speech alarmed international guests from Europe and North America and the Belgian King nearly departed immediately after for home.  Even the liberal Guardian newspaper described the Prime Minister’s words as “offensive” and praised the King for displaying “great dignity” throughout his stay.  Belgian historian David Van Reybrouck in his 2010 history of Congo described the speech as “one of the great speeches of the twentieth century” while concluding it was “a problematical one in terms of its effect”. 

The Belgian Parliament just formed a “truth and reconciliation commission” to revisit their country’s colonial history.  “As with other European countries, the time has come to embark on the path of “research, truth and memory” in the words of the current Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Willems. Many Parliament members and Belgian citizens will feel obligated to defend and whitewash their rule in Africa.  King Philippe’s younger brother Prince Laurent disputed his brother’s June 30 letter.  In defense of the source of much of his royal family’s wealth, the system of extraction of resources which took an estimated ten million Congolese lives, Prince Laurent noted that King Leopold II had never set foot in Africa.

Ten years before Leopold was forced to cede his brutalizing Congo Free State network of control and create the colonial administration, Conrad’s narrator in the 1898 novella The Heart of Darkness condemned the King’s rule.  He emphasizes features characterizing other European colonies in Africa:

“They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force – nothing to boast of, when you have it, since since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others.  They grabbed what they could get for the sake of what was to be got.  It was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and men going at it blind – as is very proper for those who tackle a darkness.  The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much.”

Anti racist protestors have succeeded in forcing the removal of statues honoring King Leopold in Belgium but their call for reparations for the Congo will meet stout opposition.  As in the United States, there is profound discomfort and sensitivity among whites of all political leanings when faced with the truth of their complicity with and benefit from the endemic racism of their society.  Thanks to the continued protests there is however serious scrutiny for the first time of how even avowedly anti-racist whites participate in preserving the structures of racism in the U.S. and in Europe.  Responding to the protests, movies, books, podcasts, etc. are challenging whites to consider previously neglected personal traits of “white fragility” and “white privilege”.  Widespread recognition of the disparities in how people of color are treated in the U.S. criminal justice system lays a foundation for significant change. Whether continued calls for reparations to address the vast gulf between black and white families’ wealth and income will lead to a U.S. “truth and reconciliation commission” is more open to question.  Progressive U.S. religious leaders, notably Dr. King among them, have for years declared the nation faces a moral and spiritual crisis, a struggle to heal the soul of America. It is worthy of note that the social scientist Michelle Alexander whose book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness concludes:

“I think that racial justice in this country will remain a distant dream as long as we think that it can be achieved through rational policy discussions….I think we’ll just keep tinkering and tinkering and fail to realize that all of these issues really have more to do with who we are individually and collectively, and what we believe we owe one another, and how we ought to treat one another as human beings.  These are philosophical questions, moral questions, theological questions, as much as they are questions about the costs and benefits of using one system of punishment or policing practice over another.”

The poem which follows was written on the 60th Anniversary of Congo’s Independence June 30 this year. In addressing the moral and spiritual questions raised by European and American colonial rule and continued economic exploitation of nations and their people of color, it represents a call for repentance as a prelude to consideration of reparations or any other form of redress of the global status quo. It can also be read as a written response to “lectio divina” meditation on the above photo from the colonial era.

“What Is Carried” – June 30, 2020


At the first turning of the century past,
         the one we survived,
We can be sure
         that dark folk
Walked where the white rode.
 
Whether it was sedan chair
         Rickshaw or the
Stooped dorsal fin
         Under the pith helmeted
White swatting flies above the sweat -
 
Released criminals, dregs and the exiled
         Drank imports,
Whips in the free hand
         ordering “boys”
Around heedless of age or size
 
Until the ice melted enough to reveal
         The ancient light
Too bright for any devices
         Invented to defend
Centuries of savagery.
 
Howl now at Voltaire’s tracts on race
         His ghost dancing
To Agassiz’s science of humankind
         The bilge smelling
From huge minds infected
 
By tropical fevers of ancestors
         Carried so long
Through sweltering days
         Of harvesting
The bodies of the ones who walked.

The Pandemic Unites Diaspora Africans in Concern for “Mama Africa”

Vital to the prevention and public education of Congolese especially in isolated rural areas will be nurses and doctors of churches.  Here a public health team of t he Disciples of Christ of Congo head to the Tshuapa Region of Equator Province.
Leading the fight against the Ebola epidemic in many hard to access regions of Africa has been public health staff of churches. In the photo a team of evangelists, health educators and nurses of the Disciples of Christ of Congo are on their way to remote villages in Equator Province of the Congo (DRC).

We are thankful that as of now the continent of Africa has not been stricken with the global pandemic of COVID-19 to the degree of other continents.  Instead East Africa has been battling the worst swarming of locusts in years as well as widespread flooding, one of the recurrent effects of the climate crisis across the beleaguered continent.  Rampant, relatively unregulated extraction of Africa’s resources essential for a multitude of high-tech products driving expansion of capitalism’s profits and growth continue to plague Africa like no other region of the world.

Members of the African diaspora in the U.S. unite in concern as Mama Africa faces the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic’s spread on the continent. In response to this concern, the Africa Faith and Justice Network (AFJN) based in Washington, D.C. helped organize an international prayer gathering the morning of Memorial Day in the U.S.  AFJN has become the leading faith-based organization in the U.S. lobbying for well-informed, compassionate U.S.-Africa relations.  The organization’s staff and board are Catholic lay members and clergy who have studied Africa and worked there.  The Executive Director hails from Nigeria and the chief AFJN policy analyst is Congolese.

The prayer printed here below represents one feature of the world wide commemoration of African Liberation Day on May 25, the date of the formation of the Organization of African Unity in 1963.  While the prayer invokes God’s help in the continent’s response to th e pandemic, Africans abroad hope this crisis will call attention to the need for African unity in the ongoing struggle for liberation of Africa. To this aim, the Coalition for Africa’s Liberation and Restoration (CALAR) was created with the support of the AFJN in the U.S.  Among the Coalition’s leaders is Kambale Musavuli, a U.S.- based activist with Friends of the Congo.

There are three ways readers can now show their solidarity and support for the expansion of global actions on behalf of African unity and liberation. First, you can read and contemplate the petitions made and suggested in the prayer.  Second, you can sign the Declaration of the CALAR coalition of African diasporas at this site:

And third, you can made a monetary contribution to the Africa Faith and Justice Network for its lobbying of the U.S. Congress on Africa policy.  Go here to make a donation:

https://afjn.salsalabs.org/supportourworkdonate/index.html

Africa Renewal: A Prayer of Gratitude, Repentance and Commitment

Thanksgiving

We give thanks to God our Creator for abundant blessings bestowed on Mama Africa and her children, rich fertile lands, mineral resources, diverse plants and animals, and lush tropical climate. We give thanks for the resourcefulness of Africans, for vibrant cultures and peoples. We thank God for the wisdom of our ancestors who recognized that we are custodians of the earth and the importance of family and unity. Your blessings upon us are too numerous to count.

Repentance

We ask for forgiveness for our failure to appreciate God’s abundant blessings upon us, to cherish our uniqueness and the distinctive place of Mama Africa in human history; the land of abundance that has sustained most of the world for many millennia and continues to provide vital resources for humanity. Forgive us for rejecting ourselves and the liberators you send to us, our lack of unity, and our contributions to undermining our development. Forgive our leaders for their failures to work for the common good, for mortgaging the heritage of Africans to dishonest exploiters; for embracing policies that cripple Mama Africa and drive her children to perilous ventures in search for greener pastures, drowning in the Mediterranean, trapped in slavery, deprived of their dignity, treated as disposable goods and slaughtered for their organs.

Commitment

We declare the dawn of a new day as we commit ourselves to work as a united family for a better Mama Africa; to celebrate who we are as a people on the continent and in the Diaspora, to cherish our gifts and talents, and to appreciate the many blessings creation has bestowed on us. We commit to looking within to harness our talents and our abundant resources for the integral development of Mama Africa and her children. We commit to mental decolonization and the eradication of the dependency mindset. Standing on the shoulders of our ancestors, we commit to building a true Pan-African Family where every African man, woman and child feels at home regardless of ethnicity, language, or religion. We commit to deepening our faith in our creator, in our abilities and in each other. We call upon our ancestors to accompany us in this undertaking and may the Spirit of our Creator inspire and guide us. Amen!

A New Congo, A New Africa

Since 2008 the mid October commemoration of Congo Week has sought to inform and educate people world wide on the ongoing crisis in the Congo.  More recently an excellent thirty minute film has been produced which offers an overview of Congo’s tragic five hundred years of foreign exploitation and control.  You can view and share the documentary “Crisis in Congo: Uncovering the Truth” by going to the web address at the bottom of this introduction.  In 2019 Friends of the Congo organizers at www.friendsofthecongo.org have set October 12-19 for Congo Week events.  But they urge us all to show the film at gatherings and share other materials from their web site at any time.

Former President of South Africa Thabo Mbeki noted, “There cannot be a new Africa without a new Congo”.  The nation at the heart of Africa rivals and many say surpasses South Africa in the wealth represented by its natural resources.  The U.S. was the first nation to recognize King Leopold of Belgium’s creation of the Congo Free State in 1885.  And Congo became the focus of U.S. Africa foreign policy since the highest grade uranium used in the first atomic bombs was supplied by a mine in Congo.  President Barack Obama declared, “If Africa is to realize its promise, the problem of the Congo must be resolved.” 

To download and view “Crisis in the Congo: Uncovering the Truth” one of the two avenues below should take you there. Do respond with a comment to this blog post if you have any trouble.

http://www.congojustice.org

New Congo-U.S. Partnership Celebrated at the Andree Blouin Cultural Center

Public invitation to the opening of the new Andree Blouin Cultural Center in Kinshasa

Non profit activists in the U.S. and Congo are collaborating in a new effort to shepherd Congolese youth who will honor the legacy of Patrice Lumumba. The opening of the new Andrée Blouin Cultural Center in an upscale residential neighborhood of Kinshasa could mark a significant strengthening of ties with civil society supporters in the U.S. A short distance from the Nelson Mandela Plaza in the Congolese capital, the new Cultural Center building will house workshops, conferences, cultural programs as well as house offices managing the leadership development programs.

Exterior of the new Centre Culturel in Kinshasa
In addition to cultural exchanges and opportunities to travel throughout Africa and beyond, the Center is now taking scholarship applications from Congolese students. U.S. donors particularly in the areas of Washington, DC and New York City have generously supported the scholarship program. Applications for a scholarship may be found at this Facebook address maintained by a leading organizer of the U.S. assistance.

The new Cultural Center gala opening was celebrated on July 2, Patrice Lumumba’s birthday. U.S. friends of the Congo attending the event noted that civil rights leader Medger Evers was born on the same day as the leading Congolese advocate for self determination and national unity. Lumumba’s speeches often highlighted the equal rights of women and his Chief of Protocol Andrée Blouin was a leader in organizing women for the independence movement.

Naming the Center for Blouin will hopefully deepen appreciation for a Congolese woman who played a prominent role as advisor and

Ghost written by Jean MacKellar publication of the book My Country, Africa: Autobiography of the Black Pasionaria was not approved of by Andree Blouin
organizer for Sekou Toure in Guinea before her return to Congo in 1959-60.

We can hope that the new Cultural Center in Kinshasa will also help fill in the story of a notable female leader in the African independence movement while further educating young Congolese on the legacy of the man who was called the 20th Century’s most significant African political figure by Malcolm X.

2018 Nobel Peace Prize Dr. Denis Mukwege’s Speech in Oslo

Dr. Denis Mukwege of Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, DRC shared the Nobel Peace Prize of 2018 with Nadia Murad of Iraq. Photo from WHO

Dr. Denis Mukwege spoke on December 10, 2018 in Oslo, Norway on being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. What follows is an edited version of his speech.

“In the tragic night of 6 October 1996, rebels attacked our hospital in Lemera, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (RDC). More than thirty people were killed. Patients were slaughtered in their beds point blank. Unable to flee, the staff were killed in cold blood.

I could not have imagined that it was only the beginning.

Forced to leave Lemera in 1999, we set up the Panzi hospital in Bukavu where I still work as an obstetrician-gynaecologist today.
The first patient admitted was a rape victim who had been shot in her genitals.

The macabre violence knew no limit.

Sadly, this violence has never stopped.

One day like any other, the hospital received a phone call.

At the other end of the line, a colleague in tears implored: “Please send us an ambulance fast. Please hurry”
So we sent an ambulance, as we normally do.
Two hours later, the ambulance returned.

Inside was a little girl about eighteen months old. She was bleeding profusely and was immediately taken to the operating room.
When I arrived, all the nurses were sobbing. The baby’s bladder, genitals and rectum were severely injured.

By the penetration of an adult.

Rape survivors learn practical skills while recovering at Panzi Hospital in Bukavu in eastern Congo in 2009. RNS photo by Fredrick Nzwili

We prayed in silence: my God, tell us what we are seeing isn’t true.
Tell us it’s a bad dream.
Tell us when we wake up, everything will be alright.

But it was not a bad dream.
It was the reality.
It has become our new reality in the DRC.

When another baby arrived, I realized that the problem could not be solved in the operating room, but that we had to combat the root causes of these atrocities.

I decided to travel to the village of Kavumu to talk to the men: why don’t you protect your babies, your daughters, your wives? And where are the authorities?

To my surprise, the villagers knew the suspect. Everyone was afraid of him, since he was a member of the provincial Parliament and enjoyed absolute power over the population.

For several months, his militia has been terrorising the whole village. It had instilled fear by killing a human rights defender who had had the courage to report the facts. The deputy got away with no consequences. His parliamentary immunity enabled him to abuse with impunity.

The two babies were followed by several dozens of other raped children.

When the forty-eighth victim arrived, we were desperate.

With other human rights defenders, we went to a military court. At last, the rapes were prosecuted and judged as crimes against humanity.

The rapes of babies in Kavumu stopped.
And so did the calls to Panzi hospital.
But these babies’ psychological, sexual and reproductive health is severely impaired.

What happened in Kavumu and what is still going on in many other places in Congo, such as the rapes and massacres in Béni and Kasaï, was made possible by the absence of the rule of law, the collapse of traditional values and the reign of impunity, particularly for those in power.

Rape, massacres, torture, widespread insecurity and a flagrant lack of education create a spiral of unprecedented violence.
The human cost of this perverted, organized chaos has been hundreds of thousands of women raped, over 4 million people displaced within the country and the loss of 6 million human lives. Imagine, the equivalent of the entire population of Denmark decimated.

United Nations peacekeepers and experts have not been spared, either. Several of them have been killed on duty. Today, the United Nations Mission is still in the DRC to prevent the situation from degenerating further.

We are grateful to them.

However, despite their efforts, this human tragedy will continue if those responsible are not prosecuted. Only the fight against impunity can break the spiral of violence.

We all have the power to change the course of history when the beliefs we are fighting for are right………..

My name is Denis Mukwege. I come from one of the richest countries on the planet. Yet the people of my country are among the poorest of the world.

The troubling reality is that the abundance of our natural resources – gold, coltan, cobalt and other strategic minerals – is the root cause of war, extreme violence and abject poverty.

We love nice cars, jewellery and gadgets. I have a smartphone myself. These items contain minerals found in our country. Often mined in inhuman conditions by young children, victims of intimidation and sexual violence.

When you drive your electric car; when you use your smart phone or admire your jewellery, take a minute to reflect on the human cost of manufacturing these objects.

As consumers, let us at least insist that these products are manufactured with respect for human dignity.

Turning a blind eye to this tragedy is being complicit.
It’s not just perpetrators of violence who are responsible for their crimes, it is also those who choose to look the other way.

My country is being systematically looted with the complicity of people claiming to be our leaders. Looted for their power, their wealth and their glory. Looted at the expense of millions of innocent men, women and children abandoned in extreme poverty. While the profits from our minerals end up in the pockets of a predatory oligarchy.

For twenty years now, day after day, at Panzi hospital, I have seen the harrowing consequences of the country’s gross mismanagement.
Babies, girls, young women, mothers, grandmothers, and also men and boys, cruelly raped, often publicly and collectively, by inserting
burning plastic or sharp objects in their genitals.
I’ll spare you the details.

The Netflix documentary “City of Joy” tells the story of Dr. Mukwege and Panzi Hospital.

The Congolese people have been humiliated, abused and massacred for more than two decades in plain sight of the international community.
Today, with access to the most powerful communication technology ever, no one can say: “I didn’t know”………………..

With this Nobel Peace Prize, I call on the world to be a witness and I urge you to join us in order to put an end to this suffering that shames our common humanity.

The people of my country desperately need peace…………………

Finally, after twenty years of bloodshed, rape and massive population displacements, the Congolese people are desperately awaiting implementation of the responsibility to protect the civilian population when their government cannot or does not want to do so. The people are waiting to explore the path to a lasting peace.

To achieve peace, there has to be adherence to the principle of free, transparent, credible and peaceful elections.
“People of the Congo, let us get to work!” Let’s build a State at the heart of Africa where the government serves its people. A State under the rule of law, capable of bringing lasting and harmonious development not just of the DRC but of the whole of Africa, where all political, economic and social actions will be based on a people-centred approach to restore human dignity of all citizens.

Your Majesties, Distinguished Members of the Nobel Committee, Ladies and Gentlemen, Friends of peace,

The challenge is clear. It is within our reach.

For all Sarahs, for all women, for all men and children of Congo, I call upon you not only to award this Nobel Peace Prize to my country’s people, but to stand up and together say loudly: “The violence in the DRC, it’s enough! Enough is enough! Peace, now!”
Thank you.”

The Language of the Lokole Drum

Used for communicating over great distance by Africans for millenia, the
acoustic language of the lokole drumming is losing out to non-African written languages. Photo by Douglas W. Smith

“No consideration of the language of Central Africa would be complete if it neglected the highly developed ‘drum language’ used for purposes of communication from village to village” wrote E.R. Moon, U.S. missionary to Congo in the early twentieth century. Variously referred to by foreigners in Congo as the “talking drum”, “bush telegraph” and other terms, the “lokole” of the Mongo people of the Congo rainforest has served communities in many ways. Moon described its many uses in his book I Saw Congo, “The drum is thus telegraph, radio, telephone, orchestra, religious instrument, all in one. I have even heard men quarrelling by use of drums over a distance of several miles.” By the mid-twentieth century, the “drum language” of African cultures all over the continent was more widely recognized as the African form of “writing” and a transmitter of wisdom and history.

In his 1961 book Muntu, Jahnheinz Jahn affirmed, “Both western and African culture possessed writing, one an alphabetical script, the other a drum script.” Jahn went on to describe the relative advantages of each, “the alphabet can be used to preserve information longer, and the drum script can spread it more quickly.” Summing up the critical place of the drum and drum language in the cultures of West Africa Jahn states, “The official drummers were the historians of Africa”. Like other observers of African social change in the last century, Jahn laments the growing neglect of drum language instruction due to the new focus on learning the Western written script. An ironic testimony to the past importance of the “talking drum” in transmitting the history and wisdom of the ancestors is shared by Jahn in concluding his comments on the “acoustic” record keeping of the lokole. In Cameroun, Jahn notes, children refer to the blackboard as “that black wall where one speaks with the dead”.

It is a curious fact that even for Europeans fluent in the languages of West and Central Africa, interpretation of the drum’s messages has remained a mystery. A U.S. missionary to Congo, John Carrington, who devoted himself to learning drum communication and wrote several books on the topic never perfected his use of the drum language. Although Africans considered Carrington to be a black man reincarnated as a white, they attributed his drumming mistakes to his white upbringing. E.R. Moon, his fellow missionary of an earlier date, simply concluded, “This drum language is quite an enigma to the white man.”

Other Western travelers and expatriate residents of Congo marvel at the many uses and benefits of the lokole while conceding failure to understand how it communicates detailed information. Many writers content themselves with a description of how the drum is made. Moon, the Disciple of Christ builder of churches, schools and hospitals wrote, “(the lokole) is made from a section of a solid hardwood log. It may be two feet in diameter and about six feet in length. A slot an inch and a half or so in width is cut in the top side, running almost the entire length of the section of log. The ends are left solid, and through this one opening the inside is hollowed out. By cleverly shaping the cavity and leaving one lip thicker than the other, the drum is made to give two distinct tones as it is struck alternately on the two lips near the center of the drum.” As for its placement in the Mongo villages of the equatorial rainforest, Moon tells us, “a large drum is always to be found near the chief’s place, and a lesser drum in each section of the village.”

The lokole here began summoning Longa villagers to worship in 1910. Photo by Douglas W Smith

One of the earliest travelers in Congo, the Englishman Herbert Ward, adds that river side villages take their drums to the water’s edge to take advantage of water’s ability to transmit sound a greater distance. Ward also offers the important information, given Congolese rubber’s contribution to the growing automobile industry at the turn of the 20th Century, that the Congolese used the sap from the rubber tree primarily for wrapping the ends of the lokole drum sticks.

Ability of the Congolese to communicate over considerable distances by means of the lokole astounded many long term Western residents in the early twentieth century. In her memoir recounting her Congolese upbringing as the first child born to Disciples of Christ missionary parents, Polly Dye attributes her survival to lokole drumming. Her gravely ill condition was transmitted by drumming one village to the next from the Bolenge mission station to the older, better provisioned Baptist station over three hundred kilometers away. Shortly after the message had been delivered, the necessary treatment was on its way to save the infant Polly.

We will conclude this post by sharing the Congo drumming scene in the 1959 film “The Nun’s Story”. Unfortunately, the clip you will see below does not include the shots of the young men playing two or three lokoles in unison at a Kisangani mission station. You will have to rent the movie to see the entire segment, but the sounds of the drumming and their interpretation accompany the new missionary’s arrival (played by Audrey Hepburn). Go to this link for the brief segment:

h

Thumbs Up to Congo; Thumbs Down to Venezuela

The Congo’s Election Commission (CENI) declared Felix Tshisekedi President despite leaked vote tallies showing opponent Martin Fayulu the landslide winner. Tshisekedi and Vital Kamerhe pulled out of November agreement tapping Fayulu as the opposition coalition candidate.

In a brief two paragraph press release on Jan. 23 the U.S. State Department endorsed the results of the Congolese elections of December 30, 2018. Without any reference to the conviction of the Catholic Church’s 40,000 observers that opposition candidate Martin Fayulu had decisively won the Presidential vote, the U.S. now officially recognizes Felix Tshisekedi as the nation’s elected leader. The statement for the press concluded with, “We also recognize outgoing President Joseph Kabila’s commitment to becoming the first President in DRC history to cede power peacefully through an electoral process.”

The endorsement of the announced results surprised many Washington policymakers including some who were involved in writing the original draft. A February 1 article in the journal Foreign Policy reports on speaking with “nearly a dozen current and former U.S. officials and experts briefed on the internal deliberations” behind the statement. The original statement, according to the informants, referred to the elections as “deeply flawed and troubling”. One policy maker in a former U.S. administration stated he had learned from current officials that “Everyone knew the elections were crap, but … they thought they had to accept [Tshisekedi], [that] they had no other recourse here”.

Eight days before the U.S. took sides in the controversy, the UN Security Council congratulated Congolese officials and the public for the peaceful electoral process. Despite hearing the report of the Catholic Church’s observer corps, the Security Council urged “concerned parties” to “respect the results of the vote, defend democratic rule and preserve peace in the country”.

At present, the principal foreign policy objective of the Tshisekedi administration seems to focus on relations with the European Union. In a meeting last week with European diplomats, the new Congo President expressed the desire to “reenergize” the relationship with the EU which maintains sanctions against leading members of the previous, Kabila, administration. Paving the way for the EU dropping of the sanctions and the new Congolese administration improving relations with the EU, a leading Belgian commentator on Congo politics, Colette Braeckman, recently dismissed Martin Fayulu’s challenge of the announced election results. Following the Congo’s Constitutional Court’s approval of the results, and describing a lack of public demonstration of support for Fayulu, Braeckman denounced Fayulu as supported by “foreign sponsors”.

An impartial observer has to wonder if Braeckman considers those who have leaked the actual election results among the “foreign sponsors” of the Fayulu candidacy for President. Reporting the leaks in an article titled “Who Really Won the Congolese Elections” the U.S. based Congo Research Group provide evidence that Fayulu won the Presidency by a wide margin . Contradicting the results announced publicly, the leak from the official Congolese election agency, the CENI, “puts his share of the vote at 59,42%, followed by Felix Tshisekedi with 18,97% and Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary with 18,54%.” Results reported by the Catholic Church’s team of observers totaled for the three leading candidates, “62,80% (Fayulu), 15,00% (Tshisekedi), and 17,99% (Shadary). For the complete article on the leaks of the vote totals, go to http://congoresearchgroup.org/congolese-election-leaks/ .

U.S. official response to Congo’s election contrasts starkly with the clamor to unseat President Maduro in Venezuela. It appears official judgment of a regime’s “legitimacy” has little to do with actual election results and professed support for democracy and national soverignty. The U.S. approval of the Tshisekedi-Kamerhe rule also leads us to question which of the Congo candidates for President continues to enjoy the backing of “foreign sponsors”.