The Real Results of the Congo Election

There are 80 million hectares of arable land in Congo
There are 80 million hectares of arable land in Congo

We are accustomed to reading about the violence on women and children in the eastern Congo but what about the deaths caused daily by the country’s “highest rates of malnutrition in the world”?   Consider these other facts from the IRIN (UN) News article published on February 17:

–      “90 percent: Proportion of arable land not cultivated, largely due to insecurity preventing access to fields and markets.

–      69 percent: Prevalence of under-nutrition in the DRC; up from 26 percent in 1990-92. Under-nutrition includes being underweight for one’s age, too short for one’s age (stunted), dangerously thin (wasted) and deficient in vitamins and minerals (micronutrient malnutrition).

–      Congo’s per capita daily protein intake is almost half the world’s average daily protein consumption.”

You can eliminate over population, ignorance, or any other factor that would point a finger at the rural majority of people in Congo.  According to the IRIN article, there has been a 544 drop in daily calories consumed per capita comparing 1992 and 2007 (2,195 kcal and 1,651 kcal, respectively).  Acute malnutrition caused by a “sudden, drastic decline in nutrition intake” is now experienced by over 10 per cent of the population in 53 of the Congo’s 87 “territories”.  The decline in food production and food intake since 1992 points to the state administration as impeding Congolese trying to grow their own food.

The primary factor behind children’s deaths and low life expectancy in Congo is the succession of

Civil Society is Weakened and Repressed in Congo; here a priest is arrested last week in Kinshasa
Civil Society is repressed and weakened in Congo; here a priest is arrested last week in Kinshasa

predatory regimes beholden to foreigners intent on exploiting the riches of the country. As the late Cardinal and Archbishop of Kinshasa Frederic Etsou declared just after Joseph Kabila’s first election in 2006, “,  “I say no to this exercise in imposing on the Congolese people a candidate whose sole mandate is to satisfy the gluttonous and predatory appetites of his foreign handlers”.  Until international donor nations withhold support for ruling administrations who directly and indirectly war on their own people, thousands of children in Congo will succumb to malnutrition before reaching the age of five.

In a powerful recent article from the Guardian Global Development Network (London) journalist Chris Bird describes one South Kivu family’s ordeal in a pediatric hospital.  Bird writes, “I quickly felt the child’s feet – icy cold. A careful look at Beatrice showed that all the curves and dimples of a healthy child’s face had shrunk, leaving the forbidding lines of a woodblock print. Beatrice was alert, but silent, which formed an ominous void amid the rheumy eyes that grew dimmer as she seemed to fall into it.

The nursing staff went into action. They gave her glucose to prevent low blood sugar, antibiotics through the drip to fight off infection; they advised her mother to keep her warm, as hypothermia takes the lives of many of these children at night. Careful fluid management and gentle refeeding was started: give too little and the child will succumb to dehydration and shock; too much and the child will die of heart failure.”

But Beatrice’s treatments began too late and Bird describes the parents reaction: “Beatrice’s mother sobbed as we wrapped her daughter in the green cotton cloth in which she was brought. Her father lifted her easily in his arms and left the hospital, his face immobile. Her mother walked, crying, behind him, stopping on the dirt road from time to time as she doubled up in grief. An elderly man going the other way, a Red Cross armband on his left arm, dismounted his bicycle and gave a formal salute to the family as they walked past.”

In an attempt to come to grips with what lies behind the death of Beatrice and countless childen in Congo today, Bird concludes, “Where I am in the east it is green and lush, but after years of war, insecurity and economic collapse, all the children in our tent are malnourished to some degree. It is this underlying weakness that determines how children respond to the infectious diseases that claim their lives with unrelenting regularity.”

While in Mbandaka, Equator Province, far from the fighting in the East, in the summer of 2010,  I asked my cook Papa Jean what happened to his brood of fifty plus chickens.  “They were all taken by the soldiers” he explained.  The Congolese army deployed to protect the citizens of the city of half million plus inhabitants had rioted three times in the years just prior to my Mbandaka stay.  The soldiers had not been paid because their commanders had pocketed the Army’s funding. Is this the kind of security for Congo we want to help provide with our $900 milllion in U.S. aid this year?

To read Chris Bird’s article “The Silent Cost of Child Malnutrition” go to:

Catholic Clergy Calling for Mass Civil Disobedience in Congo

Archbishop of Kinshasa  Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, 71 years old
Archbishop of Kinshasa Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, 71 years old

Messengers of good news for the poor, some Roman Catholic clergy in Congo are calling for civil disobedience to protest the election results and the lack of response by the Kabila regime to the widespread charges of fraud.  Leading the charge for resolution of the post election crisis and respect of the people’s will in Congo, the Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Kinshasa has issued a call for widespread civil disobedience.  In a Kinshasa parish mass celebrated on January 7, Bishop Albert Kisonga declared, “under normal conditions, political power deserves to be honored. But under current conditions in the DRC where power was installed by cheating, it does not deserve to be honored”.  In his homily , Bishop Kisonga described the current Kabila administration as a ” power of oppression and unresponsive to the will of God”.  His remarks followed the fierce condemnation of the conduct and official results of the election by the leading Catholic prelate in Congo, Archbishop Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya.

“The results announced by the CENI [Independent National Electoral Commission] on December 9 comply with neither truth nor justice,”  Archbishop Monsengwo told journalists the day after Joseph Kabila was announced to have won the presidency by a wide margin.  While Archbishop and now Cardinal Monsengwo has continued to denounce the Kabila regime’s manipulation of the election

Archbishop Monsengwo became Cardinal Monsengwo in 2010
Archbishop Monsengwo became Cardinal Monsengwo in 2010

, the conference of Bishops in Congo, CENCO, also issued a statement rejecting the election results.  In a message titled “The Congolese people are hungry and thirsty for justice and peace”, Congo’s Catholic Bishops proclaimed that “one does not build a state of law in a culture of cheating, lies and terror, of militarization and flagrant attacks on the freedom of expression.” This solidarity of the leading Catholic clergy in the country is a new development in the tradition of Catholic opposition to  authoritarian rule in Congo.

Cardinal Monsengwo’s predecessor, also Cardinal and also Archbishop of Kinshasa, Frederic Etsou Nzabi-Bamungwabi upbraided the Catholic priest heading the Electoral Commission which declared Kabila the victor in the 2006 election.  “Abbot Malu Malu must respect the outcome of the polling” Cardinal Etsou declared and continued with a bold dismissal of the legitimacy of Kabila’s rule,  “I say no to this exercise in imposing on the Congolese people a candidate whose sole mandate is to satisfy the gluttonous and predatory appetites of his foreign handlers”.  Within two months of this statement Cardinal Etsou had died in Belgium, amidst rumors of his being poisoned before leaving Congo.

While now reigning Archbishop of Kinshasa, Cardinal Monsengwo has made it known that he is ready to sacrifice himself for “truth and justice”, others believe he is destined for even greater earthly authority.  In a 2009 National Catholic Reporter article speculating on front runners to succeed the current pope, Cardinal Monsengwo was one of three leading candidates mentioned.  The author argues for Monsengwo’s chances to become the first African pope since Gelasius in the fifth century by noting, “two-thirds of the 1.1 billion Catholics in the world today live in the Southern Hemisphere, and nowhere is Catholicism more vigorous than in Africa”.  It could also have been noted that Congo’s Catholics outnumber those of any other African country and that Pope John Paul II visited the country twice during his papacy.

Whether Cardinal Monsengwo will restrict his future statements to calls for fair upcoming provincial and municipal elections, as most

Cardinal Monsengwo was formerly Archbishop of Kisangani where he met Kabila in this Photo
Cardinal Monsengwo was formerly Archbishop of Kisangani where he met Kabila in this Photo

of the foreign donors are now doing, or will continue to support calls for mass opposition to the current regime will soon be revealed.  Twenty years ago, on February 16, 1992, the largest demonstration during Mobutu’s rule was led by Protestant and Catholic clergy.  Following Sunday worship on that day, Christians marched with candles to gather in calling for the reconvening of the Sovereign National Conference (CNS).  Police broke up these rallies and 30 protestors were killed in Kinshasa.  St. Joseph’s Parish in Limete district Kinshasa, where Bishop Kisonga denounced the Kabila regime last month, led in organizing the demonstrations twenty years ago.  On February 16 this year, many Congolese Christians and their compatriots will want to honor the memory of those who gave their lives twenty years ago for the vision of a nation ruled by and for the Congolese people.  How we in the U.S. might be involved in honoring their memory and supporting the realization of their vision will be considered in future postings here.