It’s a somber beginning to the new year in Congo. The hope for political change brought on by the nationwide election has been met by the repression and chicanery of the current administration. Cries of protest against the conduct of the election and the vote count have been muffled if not silenced by brute force. The leading opposition candidate for the presidency in the 2006 election (Jean Pierre Bemba) remains on trial in the International Criminal Court and the current opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi languishes under virtual arrest in his home in Kinshasa.
What will come out of the vote count, assisted by British and U.S. delegations, to seat the national legislature would seem to promise little for the economic prospects or the civil rights of the Congolese people over the next five years. Two widely circulated recent studies rank the Congo dead last on important scales of well being. The U.N. Human Development Index ranks the Congo 183rd among 183 of the world’s nations. And a grim article in The New York Times of January 2 reports on the International Food Policy Research Institute finding that hunger is widespread in Kinshasa and the country as a whole.
The Institute found that the Congo is the only country where the food situation worsened from “alarming” to “extremely alarming” in the last year. Half the people in the country are under nourished. In reading The Times article focusing on hunger in Kinshasa, I kept thinking about Mbandaka Disciples pastor Frederic Lombe (featured in the last blog) telling me his one meal of the day comes in the evening.
Agricultural development is neglected by the Congo’s government concluded the Institute. Its report noted that only one percent of the national budget is devoted to agriculture and the country now imports beans and other food that could be grown in Congo. The government’s priority has long been development of the nation’s minerals’ extraction operations.
The current food shortages throughout Congo, read the entire Times article at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/03/world/africa/in-congolese-capital-power-cut-applies-to-food.html?_r=2&emc=eta1,
present a stark background to the Disciples and other church bodies’ agricultural development projects. Projects like the Disciples Ikengo project, started in 1970, the palm oil plantation near Bokungu and the communal fields sponsored
by many Disciples parishes are critical sources of food for the population in the surrounding area. For the parishes, sale of food grown is a leading source of funds for the education and health services of the parish.
In the context of government neglect, the Church’s role in micro-economic development is also highlighted by the contributions of Church microcredit organizing to household budgets. A recent posting by Disciples Communication Director Nathan Weteto reported that many Church organized microcredit groups distributed earnings in November and December which enabled members’ households to celebrate the new year. A sum of $18,437 was shared at year’s end by the thirty plus members of the Mbandaka Disciples pastors’ wives group. This brought joy “in spite of the tumultuous situation in the country” in M. Weteto’s words.
M. Weteto’s report last month of a new microcredit group in rural Boyeka projecting earnings of $2100 in six months and recent postings on building projects in two Mbandaka parishes remind us that there are in fact two Congos. There is a Congo struggling with despair and a Congo charged by hope and faith. There is a Congo riven by greed and conflict and a Congo united by a vision of sharing the abundance of a lavishly blessed land. There is a Congo weighted with doubt and a Congo celebrating the seeding of a new day.
We also are reminded of the importance of our prayers and solidarity with Congo by the Christmas and New Year’s greetings written by Disciples President Rev. Eliki Bonanga. Rev. Bonanga writes on M. Weteto’s blog:
“We remember with appreciation those of our friends who follow our news reported on the blog www.natana.tumblr.com and are moved by their prayers for our Church and for the nation as a whole. We cannot forget those who have responded every time we have needed help. Our prayer then is that God who reigns over all might continue to bless them through their compassion.”
Text messaging may be banned today in Congo but there are some important messages that cannot and will not be silenced even in Congo.