Artists and the flourishing Congo cultural scene emerge in our time as a vital front in the struggle to create a more just nation free of war. While there is ebb and flow in organizing political protest and resistance in the context of the government’s and ruling elite’s surveillance and harsh repression, Congolese artists continue to depict the brutal inequality of the nation’s current political economy and their vision of social change and a new order. A few non-Congolese artists of international renown have in recent years shown solidarity with Congolese “culture warriors” and sought to create a global platform for contemporary Congolese art.
The recent project of the British-Canadian photographer Finbar O’Reilly has succeeded in drawing attention to the work of a dozen Congolese photographers, half of whom are women. In an article for the Guardian newspaper, O’Reilly wrote, ”Dismantling the systems that have traditionally excluded African photographers from global conversations about their countries requires those of us in positions of privilege to understand that structural advantages have kept us in control”.
Awarded a sizable stipend by the French Carmignac Foundation to carry out a project of photographing Congo in 2020, when COVID closed borders O’Reilly and the Foundation agreed on an alternative plan. Congolese photographers were named and funded to create a portfolio focusing on selected themes of Congolese life. In the same article referenced above, O’Reilly described the selected themes:
“Raissa Karama Rwizibuka examined environmental issues in Virunga national park, and fashion and self-confidence in a post-colonial context. Arlette Bashizi captured the realities of confinement in a country with unreliable electricity. Moses Sawasawa looked at politics and insecurity caused by the ongoing conflicts, along with Dieudonné Dirole. Ley Uwera photographed Ramadan under lockdown, and the challenges of living through a pandemic where access to water is severely limited. When the Black Lives Matter movement turned the world’s attention toward global anti-racism protests, Pamela Tulizo examined aspects of our collective post-colonial psychology, but also ideas about African women and beauty.”
The International Criminal Court collaborated with O’Reilly and the Fondation Carmignac on Congo in Conversation. One of the Court’s judges explained their involvement, “Listening, learning and engaging with victims and other survivors is the first step to access to justice.”
In the photo gallery that follows photos from the project are featured along with the names of the Congolese photographers. They are all taken from the article written by Finbarr O’Reilly and Matt Fidler in The Guardian dated November 23, 2020.
After being exhibited in Paris and Antwerp, the photographs will be on public display at the Bronx Documentary Center in New York City from Sept. 8 -Oct. 12.
The Fondation Carmignac funded publication of two books of photographs that are now available for order at around $50 each:
Congo in Conversation and
Congo:Une Lutte Sublime Congo photographs by Finbarr O’Reilly
A year ago the advances toward equal opportunity and justice made by the Batwa indigenous people were met in Congo’s Tshuapa Province by a violent backlash. Although the attacks on the Batwa (called “Pygmies” since the colonial era) by neighboring Bantu villagers have gone virtually unreported in international and most Congolese media news, Human Rights Watch just released a report on February 9 with the aim of bringing the atrocities to light and calling on the government to act. The report cites the deaths of at least 66 Batwa and the destruction of over 1000 homes in Batwa villages.
Only the UN sponsored Congolese radio network, Radio Okapi, has over the past year reported on the rising tensions between Bantu of the Nkundo ethnic group and the Batwa living in and on the boundaries of the vast Salonga Nature Reserve, the largest preserve of tropical rainforest biodiversity in Africa. Assigned by the Congolese government to manage the Salonga Reserve, two international environmental non profits have seen and supported the Batwa as the guardians of the forest where they have lived before the Bantu migration to Congo many years ago.
Hired by the non profits to oversee protection of the reserve’s teeming life, Célestin Engelemba continues to warn Congolese government authorities of the potential on the reserve’s boundaries for continued conflict. Although M. Engelemba has been elected to the national assembly and serves on its Commission for the Environment, he has been frustrated in his repeated attempts to safeguard Batwa human rights and enlist federal intervention. “If something happens in Eastern Congo”, he notes, “everyone gets involved. The people in my territory have the same right to be protected”.
In response to pleas by Engelemba, the Governor of Tshuapa Province (one of four provinces today produced break up of the Equator Province) in September did succeed in having household and farming implements sent to affected families. Despite this gesture of support, Deputy Engelemba called attention to the schools, churches and health clinics destroyed in the attacks. There are also over 10,000 Batwa left without proper shelter.
In this remote Tshuapa River region accessible only by boat, the Protestant Disciples of Christ Church has been more active than the public authorities in building schools and health facilities for more than one hundred years. The Church has also defended Batwa rights, Engelemba was educated in Disciples schools, and the Church supports many Batwa churches. The growing Bantu-Batwa conflict in the area of the Salonga Reserve and its potential to spread elsewhere in the “Grand Equateur” Region presents a formidable challenge to the Church.
Further complicating the situation is the attraction of the Region’s abundant resources to foreign capital eager to exploit the second largest rainforest in the world. Mahogany, teak and other relatively rare timber from “Le Grand Equateur” forests have become a prized commodity for European furniture makers. After a 2020 tour and dialog with persons throughout the Equateur Region, Deputy Engelemba declared himself in favor of a proposal to send water from the Ubangi River in the north to the drought stricken Lake Chad. “I am for that project as long as it commits profits to the uplift of our Region’s population” he stated.
The progress made in acceptance and understanding of the Batwa by the Bantu Nkundo was obvious in my 2010 visit of Congo. In contrast to the exclusion of Batwa from the Equateur village of Ikengo where I worked in 1970-71 fifty years later they were numerous and visible. The director of the agricultural center supervised a largely Batwa staff and had helped start a human rights organization with a young Batwa in Mbandaka. A year after my visit the first Batwa, a teacher, was elected to the Equator Provincial Assembly and after months of deliberations by its members they consented to seat him.
As there are several lokoleyacongo.com posts on the origins of Bantu-Batwa conflict and on Disciples support for the Batwa throughout the Region of “Le Grand Equateur” those interested can enter “the pygmie people” in the Search window. For a fascinating interview with the author of a PhD thesis on the original inhabitants of the Congo rainforest and the myths used to justify Bantu exploitation and scorn of them enter “Dr. Bijoux Makuta” in the blog Search engine.
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:
Africa Renewal: A Prayer of Gratitude, Repentance and Commitment
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.
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.
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!
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” Mt 5:43-45 (NRSV translation)
It rained all night. Sheets of rain coming down at 3 in the morning. In the morning, the rain gauge registered 5 inches at our place. Cars were submerged at the Toyota dealer where we take our cars for servicing. The normally peaceful, lovely Indian Creek where the mill stood for one hundred years burst its banks.
Like a magic carpet, the downpour transported me to the tropical rain forest and through the night I dreamed of Congo. One story after another. The one that stayed with me concerned a missionary who during the unrest following independence had told his family’s “houseboy” he had started a fund for educating the man’s children. Soon after the conversation, the missionary returned to the U.S. and lost contact with the family’s cook and housekeeper. Two or three decades later, he learned that leaders of the Church in Congo wanted to connect with him. What had happened to the fund he had created for his “houseboy” they wanted to know?
The former employee, now at the advanced age for Congo of 60, had been asking for a way to contact the missionary. Every morning he appeared at the entrance to the Church headquarters wanting to know if they had heard from him yet. It was urgent because the man’s wife needed to have an operation and their only hope to pay for it was the fund the missionary had talked about creating.
Whether going to a poor nation as an aid worker, a “missionary” or a tourist, we travelers from the north are advised these days not to make promises we cannot or do not intend to keep. On recalling the story, after the rain, that counsel came to mind and so did my learning from experience and from study of colonial and post colonial African history that our promises in Africa often do not coincide with what the African people need or want. Although the man’s children likely did not advance beyond the six grades of primary school, there was no call on the missionary to help pay for further schooling. Not surprisingly, the missionary’s help was called on when death threatened the household.
It also occurred to me on awakening after the rain that the story of the missionary speaks to the failure of the U.S. and Congolese governments to serve the Congolese people. Neither State’s investments in Congolese economic development reflect respect for the people’s vision for the country’s future. Massive foreign-financed projects like the Inga Dam stir hopes and make for good media stories, but in what way do they represent progress in realizing the people’s vision?
The speeches of the first and only fairly elected President of the Congo, Patrice Lumumba, articulate that vision clearly and powerfully. “We are going to see to it that the soil of our country really benefits its children” Lumumba declared on June 30, 1960, Congo’s independence day. Despite the Congolese State’s intense, continual repression of dissenting voices, politics in Congo have time and again given voice to this vision of the people sharing in the wealth of the country’s natural resources.
U.S. government aid for Congo has seldom supported the people’s vision. In the first years following Belgian colonial rule, when Congolese saw the U.S. as their best friend, it was the threat of Communist rule and more recently it seems to be unimpeded extraction of Congo’s vast resources that makes the Congolese State’s stability and security the priorities of U.S. Congo policy. It now seems possible that U.S. government aid will never reflect recognition and respect for the enduring vision of the Congolese people.
During the same speech on the day Congo’s independence was celebrated, the now venerated Congolese leader added to his written text this commentary: “The independence of the Congo represents a decisive step toward the liberation of the entire African continent.” Today, with Congo being the most blatant and distressing example, the “soil” primarily benefits a very small elite of many African nations. When will Congo, when will Africa, become truly free and independent? When will justice “roll down like the waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” on Congo and on all of Africa? When will the abundance of the creation uniquely on display in Congo lead to improved health and well being of the Congolese people? The rain assures us that some day it will be so.
Experience the force and the message of the rain in the Congo rainforest by clicking below (and turn up your volume if you dare!):
At the end of 2016 two separate investigations revealed the extent to which Congo’s President Joseph Kabila and family have profited from business dealings and bribes during the Kabila administration. In a country where the average daily income was figured to be $1.90 last year, its President has wielded his authority to build a lucrative business empire managed by his wife, his children and siblings. Recently released reports confirm that the “kleptocracy” under Mobutu’s 32 years as the executive head of Congo’s government has been preserved by his young successor.
The first source of evidence of massive corruption focuses on bribes paid out to officials of the Kabila administration. In an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice signed the end of September 2016, the Och-Ziff Capital Management Group corroborated the payment of over $100 million in bribes between 2008 and 2012 to Congolese officials and the U.S. based hedge fund accepted a fine of $413 million for violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Further, the legal document detailing the agreement reports on $10.75 million paid out to a “DRC official 1” who NYU’s Congo Research Group reports is “most likely Joseph Kabila”.
The second source results from extensive research by staff of the Bloomberg News on the Kabila family business holdings in Congo. In the December 2016 article titled “With His Family’s Fortune at Stake, President Kabila Digs In”, three Bloomberg reporters write, “Joseph Kabila and his relatives have built a network of businesses that reaches into every corner of Congo’s economy”. Based on review of court filings, company documents and interviews with Congolese business persons, the Kabila family now own at least 70 companies in Congo.
One of the first actions of the new U.S. Congress was to help hide future deal making by the Congo President and the rest of the Kabila family. Less than two weeks after the Trump inauguration, the House struck down the Cardin Lugar Section 1504 “Transparency Amendment” of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act. This means the payments by U.S. companies, such as those made by the hedge fund Och-Ziff, to foreign officials would no longer have to be disclosed. Should the Senate approve repeal of the Cardin Lugar measure aimed at helping protect countries burdened by the “resource curse”, bribery by U.S. multinationals of Congolese officials would remain business as usual.
While doubt rises regarding the Kabila administration’s commitment to the President election agreement of December 31, 2016, we take a tour of one of Congo’s poorest and most remote regions with Théodore Trefon. The tropical rainforest, our earth’s second largest, in Tshuapa and Equateur Provinces is where schools and health clinics maintained and supervised by staff of the Disciples of Christ Community of the Church of Christ of Congo offer the only social services.
With the photos below, we are again led to marvel at the resourcefulness, resilience, strength and beauty of the Congolese people. In spite of mounting evidence of Congo’s rule by a government dedicated to the most abject greed and self dealing, the people carry on their lives in what is one of the richest, most awe inspiring environments on the planet. For 25 years, Trefon has focused his research on Congo and now this U.S. born political scientist works at the Museum of Central Africa in Tervuren, Belgium. The photo gallery below is from pictures displayed at http://congomasquerade.blogspot.com/
which is also the name of his latest book.
For a larger view of the photos in a slideshow format click on the first picture and scroll horizontally
Dr. Bijoux Makuta’s doctoral thesis “Evangelism of the Pygmy People: Mysticism and Missiological Challenges in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)” takes on global importance when we consider the role of the Congolese rain forest in absorbing the carbon dioxide we produce. For centuries it is the Pygmy people who have co existed with and protected their rainforest home.
In the interview below she describes her childhood experience of schooling with Pygmy children as a prime motive in study of the topic. Enlisting the aid and participation of Pygmy leaders is crucial, in Dr. Makuta’s view, in the Church’s mission of protection of the natural environment. She has founded, with the help of her students at the Protestant University of the Congo and other faculty, a non profit Imago Dei to provide scholarships and other forms of support for the education of Pygmy children and youth. For information on Imago Dei and how you can support its efforts write Douglas Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You are a child of the Disciples of Christ Community of the Church of Christ of Congo, the CDCC. How has this Community participated in your formation as a modern woman and as a servant of the Church?
Born at the Disciples’ first mission post at Bolenge, the ninth of eleven children, our father Rev. André Makuta Bololo and our mother Ida Likombe Mamongo have served the Lord Jesus Christ all their lives as servants of the CDCC. So in the first place, throughout childhood we all benefited from schooling in the Church’s schools. To cap it all in my case, our mother Church would recommend me as a student of Theology at the Protestant University of the Congo, UPC, and then for a DEFAP (Protestant Mission of France) scholarship to enable completion of my Phd thesis in Paris.
Again with the recommendation of my CDCC Community, since 2007 I’ve been working at the UPC as professor of Missions, Ecumenism and World Religions. I am one of six Disciples who have achieved the doctorate degree and among the three who now serve at the UPC: Ngoy Boliya is the current Rector of the UPC, the Dean of the Faculty of Theology is Ekofo Bonyeku, and I represent the first Disciple woman PhD to teach at the university. Three others served the Disciples Community as President and Legal Representative and although now deceased must be mentioned: Boyaka Inkomo, Elonda Efefe and Ngili Bofeko Batsu. My Community, in making possible my formation at this level of study, has placed me in the debt of these great men and distinguished servants in the history of our Church and our nation and I am proud to be the first Congolese woman doctor of Theology while recognizing the weight of the responsibility this brings to my shoulders.
How did you choose this topic for your thesis: “The Mission of Evangelism among the Pygmy Peoples”?
It comes out of my life story which is in part a mea culpa with origins in the complexity of our Bantu culture’s responses to relationships with the Pygmies in the Democratic Republic of Congo (RDC). Several personal experiences have led me to devote my doctoral thesis to the mission of evangelism on behalf of the Pygmy people.
In the first place, you should know that I lived and studied with Pygmy children who were certainly more intelligent than I, but did not have the financial means to progress in a neglectful education system. Secondly, from my childhood on I participated with my thoughts and behavior in the continued marginalization and stigmatization of the Pygmy population. It was only with my ordination as God’s servant that I took account of the evil treatment of the Pygmy and I committed myself to defend their cause while seeking to understand why we Bantu don’t like this people who are like us imago Dei.
I then stumbled on the legend of Elshout which recounts how Pygmies and Bantu are descended from two brothers. The older brother is the Pygmy ancestor who was disinherited by the father for not following tradition in dividing up an antelope he had killed. In sum, the father did not receive the choice portion which was his due according to custom. Despite the father’s pleas, the elder son didn’t change his ways and the father transferred all his rights to the younger son, the Bantus’ ancestor.
It is also said that the Pygmies became people of the forest because the older son took his sister into the forest and on their return she was pregnant. To flee the shame of incest, they would forever hide away like animals in the forest. And they would be called Batwa or “nomads”, from the Bantu root cwa or tswa meaning “to go”.
And so it was that the Bantu, as the heirs of the father, according to the Elshout legend, became the heirs of the whites while the Pygmies, as the disinherited, were again dispossessed of their lands by colonialism for the benefit of the Bantu. It was the same within the Church when the autonomy of Congolese Disciples came in 1964 and the responsibility of educating the Pygmy was handed over to the Congolese leadership. It is at that time that the Bantu responded in a self serving manner depriving the Pygmy of proper attention and the power and resources that came with the transition.
Yet a third reason for my interest in the topic derives from the mystical beliefs of the Pygmy people. In effect, it seemed to me important that with the tools of research light be shed on the consequences of the Pygmy practice of regular communication with their ancestors. When they go there to ask their blessing of a harvest, their fishing or a hunt, there is no problem. But when it has to do with a marriage, a birth, conflicts over land, life and death matters, the reliance on the ancestors’ counsel serves to perpetuate the conflicts between the Pygmy people and the Bantu. As God calls every human being to undertake a holy mission which leads to eternal life, the white man, the Bantu and the Pygmy need to bury the hachet to save ourselves from our sinful nature and work for each other’s salvation.
Tell us how the Protestant churches of Congo have done in their evangelization of Pygmies and what are the primary challenges in carrying out the mission.
It’s not a positive report to share about what the Protestant churches in general have accomplished in this mission. We wouldn’t want you to think there haven’t been efforts to evangelise the Pygmy population. However, when we take account of how political history evolves, we must recognize that in one setting or another all liberation struggles must consider how the tensions and bad blood in daily interactions bear on the relationships of the dominated people with the dominant population.
While there is not much progress in the evangelistic efforts, it is not due to atheistic disbelief among the Pygmies. It rather has to do with the complex situation of the modern Pygmy. We must remember that Christianity is a religion of the book and the statistics tell us that the low level of educational advance puts the Pygmy more than two centuries behind. Hence, there is the urgent need to help educate the population and then embark on other aspects of their formation. Educational efforts are however impeded by the fact that most Bantu still consider the Pygmy their slaves, like a resource they can use up and dispose of.
As a result, the evangelism among the Pygmy is compromised at the outset by an approach which fails to consider the collective and individual consciousness which doesn’t permit a sincere opening by people who are yet considered as the source of all Pygmy misfortune and the offspring of those who have occupied and seized their land. The thesis notes that the Pygmy population have a long memory. Conversation about the healing of souls always submits to the word of God all the ethical, moral, psychological and sociological domains of human interaction.
To the extent that the Pygmy-Bantu conversation always puts the Bantu on the defensive, that one becomes preoccupied with proving he or she is justified by God’s judgment. The cure of the other’s soul in that context only can take place through the other asking for pardon of the Bantu as preliminary to asking God for pardon of oneself. This is the condition placed on accepting the truth that all is grace since everyone who wishes their life to be valued must also value the life of the other in an act of grace bestowed on the world.
Give us please some idea of the gifts of Pygmy culture that you foresee will be a blessing to the Protestant churches of Congo when they take part in the Church’s mission in the future.
The Church must be served by all its members and, notwithstanding their oppressed status at present, the Pygmy is called according to their gifts to serve as pastors, prophets, evangelists, elders and deacons as well as to be beneficiaries of scholarships to study at the college and post college levels so that they may also serve as intellectuals, professors, counselors, administrative leaders, and governmental leaders. I can testify that both the Church and the State owe themselves what the Pygmy can contribute to their work from the learnings of their culture.
There is no question that their culture offers a whole host of knowledge regarding protection of nature and the conservation of species that are threatened today. Let it be said that the Church needs their expertise in carrying out its responsibility to help protect the environment which nourishes us and without which we will perish.
The UN office charged with monitoring the health of the earth’s environment has just issued a warning of what is at stake in how Congo’s resources are used in the future. Some of the report’s findings starkly highlight the need for more sustainable use of the country’s vast wealth in natural resources:
1) With 80 million hectares of arable land,the DRC has the potential to be Africa’s granary but only around 3 percent of this land is presently under cultivation, mainly by subsistence farmers. Consequently, the DRC has the highest level of food insecurity in the world, with an undernourishment rate of nearly 70 per cent.
2) The Congo basin has the highest fish diversity of any African river and supports the largest inland fisheries on the continent, with an estimated potential production of 520,000 tonnes per year. While at the national level this resource is under-exploited with imports accounting for around 30 percent of fish consumption, uncontrolled exploitation has led to serious overfishing pressures at the local level.
3) Over half of Africa’s water resources and 13 percent of global hydropower potential flows through the DRC. Yet, only an estimated 26 percent of the DRC’s population has access to safe drinking water, one of the lowest supply rates on the continent. Similarly, access to electrification is estimated at 9 percent in a country with vast energy resources.
4) As the tropical world’s second largest forest carbon sink, the DRC’s forests are a critical global ecosystem service provider. The rate of forest loss estimated at 0.2 percent per annum remains relatively low, but is a growing problem in certain areas.
5) Its considerable untapped mineral reserves are of strategic importanceto the global economy (estimated to be worth USD 24 trillion). Yet the legacy of a century of mining in various parts of the country,and particularly in Katanga, has created considerable environmental liabilities and a new modern approach to mining is required. Currently, the DRC has the largest artisanal mining workforce in the world – around two million people – but a lack of controls have led to land degradation and pollution
6) The DRC has the highest level of biodiversity in Africa, yet 190 species are classified as critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable. Up to 1.7 million tons of bushmeat (mainly antelope, duiker, monkey and wild boar) are harvested annually from unregulated hunting and poaching, contributing to species depletion.
The UN report also calls attention to the impact on the Congo’s environment of 15 years of occasionally intense fighting in many areas of the country. Most significant in this regard according to the report is the presence of landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) “that still dot the landscape”. The international Mines Advisory Group announced this year that it had cleared 4 mine fields with 41 mines in the Disciples post of Ikela on the Tshuapa River.
With the release of this report, the UN Environmental Program hopes to stimulate a sizable increase in funding of sustainable development practices by international funders and the Congolese government. A doubling of aid is called for, including an increase of $200 million per year in funding for preservation of the environment. The report concludes with a summary call to action:
“The imperative for the DRC to overcome entrenched poverty and recover 20 years of lost development is immense. Long-term support and commitment from the international community to assist the DRC realise its massive potential as one of Africa’s richest countries and key engines for economic growth is essential.
To see the full report of the UN Environmental Program’s “Post Conflict Environmental Assessment of the DRC” go to : www.unep.org/drcongo.
Originating in Africa, the oil palm now leads soy as the most widely grown and widely used oil producing agricultural crop in the world. Major producers of palm oil are hot, wet tropical lowlands with five to seven hours daily of sunlight, at least 4 inches of rain each month and a yearly rainfall of at least 6 feet. With Asia now leading in palm oil production and Congo an importer of palm oil, U.S. missionary Ed Noyes at the Lukesele Community Action for Integrated Development (ACDI) is among those promoting family palm oil production in Congo.
In his blog (http://noyescongo.blogspot.com) of February 10, 2010, Noyes explains, “A family cultivating as little as eight-tenths of an acre (.32 hectare) could boost family annual income by $200, enough to cover most (if not all) health and education expenses for a typical family.” According to Noyes, since 2002 the Lukesele ACDI agricultural extension program has “has aggressively promoted high-yielding oil palm varieties to replace worn-out family plantations or diversify traditional shifting cultivation”.
Supplementing the advice of ACDI agricultural agents periodically visiting the 1100 families now growing palms for oil production in the central Kwilu area of Congo, a fine oil palm grower’s booklet has been translated into simple French. Originally published in English by the agricultural unit of the U.N., the manual “ has been adapted to the particular needs of small-scale Congolese growers with very limited cash resources”. Highlighted by Ed Noyes in last year’s blog are the “extensive diagrams, pictures (most in color) and informative tables to illustrate the key practices for managing a successful smallholding”.
Copies of the manual can be purchased directly from Lulu Press (click here) at $23.99. (A download copy is available for $3.99.) Mr. Noyes and his colleagues at ACDI expect the manual “will be the kind of resource that helps our small growers move one more step toward independence and responsible stewardship of what God has given them.”
After massive deforestation of the Amazon and Indonesian rainforests due to plantation agriculture, economic growth in Congo is being stymied by some environmental groups’ opposition to any rainforest agriculture there. Palm oil production in particular has been held back in Congo by the debate now raging over any new large scale projects for biodiesel or other uses.
In 2007, soon after the election of President Joseph Kabila in Congo, the Chinese company ZTE announced their investment of $1 billion for the cultivation of palm oil trees on 3 million hectares of Congolese soil. By 2009, the company had reduced the plan to one million hectares, with 90 % of the palm oil produced slated for biodiesel fuel. To date ZTE has not explained this considerable scaling back of their plan and has been slow to indicate how they will produce palm oil in Equateur, Orientale, West Kasai and Bandundu provinces.
In the first half of the last century, Unilever pioneered in the production of palm oil with their Belgian Congo processing plants and plantations. They have now pulled out of Congo entirely. Apparently the largest producer of palm oil in the world plans to rely on its supplies in Malaysia and Indonesia, the two nations with 80 % of the world’s output today. The Cambridge World History of Food pays tribute to Unilever for maintaining its Congo operations through the turbulent post-independence years with the words, “Unilever managers remained in place following nationalization in 1975, and the company was allowed to take back full control of the estates two years later (Fieldhouse 1978: 530—45). But at a national level, the research effort was decimated, and new planting was very limited after 1960, in marked contrast to developments at the same time in Southeast Asia.”
A stark sign of the decline of Congo’s agricultural sector is the fact that the country imported 15,000 metric tons of palm oil in 2007, the year the first ZTE China plan was announced. Imported, manufactured vegetable oil is now cheaper and more widely used in Congolese cooking than locally produced palm oil. Myself and others who return to Congo after many years are disappointed by how rare “moussaka”, the palm oil sauce, is now used for flavoring of chicken, fish and manioc leaf dishes.
All who are concerned about the preservation of the Congo rainforest need to keep in mind two facts about Congo’s palm oil production. First is the fact that there are thousands of hectares of abandoned palm oil plantations in the country. No cutting of the rainforest is needed for the revival of the industry in Congo.
The second fact about palm oil cultivation in the country is the contribution of small householder plots to the historic growth of the crop in Congo and elsewhere. According to the Cambridge World History, at the close of the Belgian colonial era, smallholder plots under palm oil cultivation totaled 98,000 hectares while plantations covered 147,000 hectares. Today, Indonesia produces one third of the world’s palm oil and half of it comes from farmers cultivating fewer than 5 hectares.
Greenpeace International, whose Kinshasa office has led in opposing illegal logging of rainforest timber in the country, backs smallholder and plantation cultivation of palm oil in Congo on land that has already been cleared. With only 4 per cent of cleared land in Congo now under cultivation, the country has the potential to produce palm oil for foodstuffs and biodiesel as well as preserve the most pristine, least “developed” rainforest in the world.
We can applaud and should support the Congo Disciples plan to convert its coffee plantation in Bokungu to 20 hectares of palm oil production and the Boyeka post‘s palm oil project which is intended to fund education and health programs of the Church. For several years now, the Baptist community of the Church of Christ of Congo has been promoting palm oil cultivation with provision of seeds and training near their historic post of Vanga.
For the six million people who have died due to the wars in Congo since 1997. For the future of the youth and children of Congo. For a peaceful and just Congo, spend twenty six minutes of your time and watch the newly released film “Crisis in the Congo: Uncovering the Truth” by going to this web site: