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!

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:

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Joseph Conrad’s Congo Journey

Belgium’s King Leopold II by an unknown artist in Mark Twain’s satire King Leopold’s Soliloquoy: A Defense of His Congo Rule

Joseph Conrad began his journey up the Congo River that would inspire the writing of his Heart of Darkness only five years after Belgium’s King Leopold II took possession of the Congo as his personal estate at the Berlin Conference of 1885. The six months Conrad spent in Congo dramatically changed his life and led the sea captain to reflect until his death on “the vilest scramble for loot that ever disfigured the history of human conscience and geographical exploration”.

Eight years later, when in his new career as writer Conrad recreated his Congo experiences, King Leopold’s agents had almost stopped demanding tax payments of ivory in favor of the forced harvesting of natural rubber from the country’s vast rain forests. Leopold’s grand design, which first took shape on reading Henry Morton Stanley’s descriptions of a country of “unspeakable riches” waiting for “an

The “Roi des Belges” (King of the Belgians) “sardine can” that Conrad was trained to pilot on the Congo River in 1890.

enterprising capitalist” to “take the matter in hand”, was becoming a reality at the cost of unspeakable suffering of the Congolese people. By the time Conrad put his pen to paper, the country “had become a place of darkness” he wrote in A Personal Record .

It became a “place of darkness” not due to behaviors of the African population but due to, in the words of one literary critic, “the savage degradation of the white man in Africa” that Conrad witnessed. In setting out to describe the atrocities wrought by Leopold II’s grand design, Conrad was driven by “that glimpse of truth for which you have forgotten to ask”.

The writer’s discovery of the “truth” of Congo under Leopold’s rule was greatly aided by his brief contact with the Irishman Roger Casement soon after arrival in the country. Casement’s 1903 report for the British Foreign Service sparked worldwide condemnation of the “Congo Free State” and helped force Leopold’s eventual abdication of rule over the country. Among the many personal accounts of brutality included in Casement’s report was one from a Disciples of Christ missionary. A founder of the Disciples’ first mission station at Bolenge, Ellsworth Faris, recounted in his diary an 1899 meeting with “Free State” agent Simon Roi:

“Each time the corporal goes out to get rubber, cartridges are given to him. He must bring back all not used; and for every one used he must bring back a right hand! As to the extent to which this is crried on, (Roi) informed me that in six months they, the State, on the Momboyo River had used 6000 cartridges, which means that 6000 people are killed or mutilated. It means more than 6000, for the people have told me repeatedly that the soldiers kill children with the butt of their guns.”

Basankusu appears just above “Equateur” on this map of Congo. Click to enlarge.

The Bolenge mission Faris established was a long day’s boat ride from the Lulonga River’s flow into the mighty Congo. The village of Lulonga, at the confluence, was the last place name mentioned in Conrad’s Congo diary. “Lulonga passage….N by E to NNE. On the Port Side: Snags.” Not long after Conrad’s visit, the Anglo Belgian India Rubber Company, the first and largest company in the Free State’s grisly history, was established at Basankusu where the Lulonga River begins in today’s Equateur Province. Leopold’s own commission of inquiry into the human rights abuses in Congo singled out the ABIR Company’s tactics of rubber exploitation in the Basankusu Region as “the black spot on the history of Central African settlement”.

The Basankusu “micro credit” group was the first organized by the Disciples Church development office outside Mbandaka

The impact of Conrad’s imaginative tale of the rapacious exploitation of Congo’s resources has had more of an impact on Western culture than on the West’s political and commercial presence in Congo. In his post WW I poem “The Wasteland” TS Eliot’s original epigraph for the poem quoted Kurtz’s “cry that was no more than a breath – ‘The horror! the horror!’”. Although scrapped due to WW II concerns, a screen adaptation of Heart of Darkness was to be Orson Welles’ first film for RKO Pictures. And when Francis Ford Coppola sought to depict the madness and brutality of the U.S. War in Vietnam, “the greatest portrait in fiction of Europeans in the Scramble for Africa” (in Adam Hochschild’s words) was again adapted for the movie screen as “Apocalypse Now”. An outstanding example of the impact on the West’s intellectual dialog is the novella’s influence in the eminent Palestinian critic Edward Said’s thought. One of his biographers wrote that Heart of Darkness was “foundational to Said’s entire career and project”.

For Conrad himself, the six months in Congo resulted in a political awakening that shaped the rest of his life and his writing career. When he left for Africa he was persuaded that although Leopold’s enterprise aimed to make a profit it was a noble and ‘civilising’ mission. Years after his Congo journey, Conrad declared to the literary critic Edward Garnett that at the time he had had “not a thought in his head”.

Since Conrad’s day, Congo has experienced political change but the basic pattern of the exploitation of the nation’s vast resources primarily for the benefit of foreigners has not changed. This spring’s kidnapping and murder of a U.S. and Swedish UN investigator

Rudyard Kipling said of Conrad, “with a pen in his hand he was first amongst us”.

inquiring about the recent outbreaks of violence in the Kasai constitutes recent evidence that rule of the Congo is still marked by brutality and impunity. The primary difference in Congo’s politics of our time is that “the vilest scramble for loot that ever disfigured the history of human conscience” has coopted and now enriches a tiny elite of Congolese nationals “to tear treasure out of the bowels of the earth…..with no more moral purpose in back of it than there is in burglars breaking into a safe” (Heart of Darkness).

Lights in the Heart of Darkness

The Equateur and Tshuapa Provinces on the map are the heart of Congo's Equatorial Rainforest
The Equateur and Tshuapa Provinces on the map are the heart of Congo’s Equatorial Rainforest

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

Moringa at Ikengo

Ikengo Farm Director Rio Bosala and visitors next to the Farm's Moringa grove

“And the leaves were for the healing of the nations…..”   (Rv 22:2)  Ten years ago Church World Service’s West Africa Director Lowell Fuglie began promoting the growth and use of the moringa leaf to combat malnuturition.  Today the tree is widely know across Africa as a drought resistant, fast growing tree used for treating a variety of ailments, including malnutrition.  A recent article on the properties of moringa observes, “It is commonly said that Moringa leaves contain more Vitamin A than carrots, more calcium than milk, more iron than spinach, more Vitamin C than oranges, and more potassium than bananas, and that the protein quality of Moringa leaves rivals that of milk and eggs.”

The bark, seeds and pods of the moringa are also used with the seeds providing a low cost water purification technique. According to the same article, “ The journal Current Protocols in Microbiology published a step by step extraction and treatment procedure to produce “90.00% to 99.99%” bacterial reduction. The seeds are also considered an excellent source for making biodiesel.”

Two or three years ago someone brought some moringa seeds with them on a visit to the Disciples farm at Ikengo.   The

Ikengo's malnourished infants may soon be given daily doses of moringa powder

resulting moringa grove caught the eye of Equateur Province’s Governor who exclaimed that he uses the moringa leaf for his diabetes.  And the Provincial health ministry is now interested in obtaining leaf powder for treating malnourished infants. 

A Mbandaka native son now Professor of Biology at the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris was fascinated by moringa’s water purifying capacity.  Wanting to see the trees, M. BOETSA accompanied me on my return to the Ikengo farm this past summer. More about the reason for his return to Mbandaka in the next posting.  For now, those interested in more on the amazing moringa tree can go to the Wikipedia article at:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moringa_oleifera

Vachel Lindsay’s “The Congo”

 

  “This poem, particularly the third section, was suggested by an allusion

  in a sermon by my pastor, F. W. Burnham, to the heroic life and death

  of Ray Eldred.  Eldred was a missionary of the Disciples of Christ

  who perished while swimming a treacherous branch of the Congo.

  See “A Master Builder on the Congo”, by Andrew F. Hensey,

  published by Fleming H. Revell.

LOnga sanctuary, built by Ray Eldred, is still the center of Longa church life

So wrote the poet Vachel Lindsay in a footnote to his most famous poem “The Congo” . The sermon which inspired the poem was preached in his hometown First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Springfield, IL in October, 1913.  The preacher had been a friend of the Congo missionary Ray Eldred before his pioneering service in helping found the second Disciples mission station in Congo at Longa.  According to Hensey’s book mentioned above, Ray Eldred perished while trying to ford a small tributary of Longa’s Ruki River.

The poem, while a startling reflection of the ignorance about Africa and the racism prevalent in the U.S.  fifty years after the Emancipation Proclamation, made Lindsay famous and still appeared in most American poetry anthologies in the 1950’s and 60’s and may still

"Witnesses to the Resurrection":on the gravestone of Lillian Byers Eldred, d. 1912, and Ray Eldred, d. 1913, in Longa

appear.  Lindsay’s performances of this poem made him a public figure in the tradition of Walt Whitman and Allen Ginsberg.  He was a wandering minstrel, twittering his verses for all within hearing distance and the Wikipedia article on the controversy of “The Congo” , on Lindsay’s championing of the poet Langston Hughes and other highlights of his fascinating life is a good introduction to him.  See it here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vachel_Lindsay

I strongly suggest reading the article on Lindsay’s life before the shock of reading the poem.  Keeping in mind the cultural context and history of the times –early in the 1900’s Springfield was the setting for one of the worst race riots and lynchings in U.S. history-  Lindsay’s claim of promoting the advance of “the Negro” by writing the poem seems more credible.

Read the poem at:

http://www.tnellen.com/cybereng/poetry/poems/congo.html

New Drumming on the Tshuapa River

 

Ceremony of Ordination of Rev. BOOLA

The Congo Disciples blog (read it in French at http://weteto.tumblr.com ) notes that women in the pastorate have brought gender role changes in aspects of the traditional culture as well as in the life of the church. Rev. Regine BOOLA of Bokungu, drumming in the picture above, and Rev. Suzanne INGOY of Boende were ordained last month in their home parishes with the Disciples President Rev. Eliki BONANGA presiding.

 Blog editor Nathan Weteto wrote this week: “according to tradition, only men can sound the “Lokolé, an instrument formerly used for communicating between villages (such as the telephone today)”.  Weteto tells us that churches in Congo have in recent years adopted use of the lokole.  And so an increasing number of women like Revde. BOOLA, “play the Lokolé as pastors in their parishes to call the faithful to worship”.

It is also cause for celebration during this special week that the photos accompanying this blog were received the day after they were shot in a remote area of the Congo.  I was astonished last Monday on seeing that Weteto was able to post them to his blog

Palm Sunday Yalusaka Parishoners Greet the Visiting Pastors After Worship

following the Palm Sunday worship at Yalusaka, by his estimate some 1000 kms. from Mbandaka.  The remote village is in the Mondombe Disciples’ post region, one of several posts on the Tshuapa River. All the Disciple posts along the Tshuapa have been pillaged and terrorized by successive waves of rebel armies using the River to make their way from eastern Congo to Kinshasa.

 The rebel looting has accentuated the importance and the difficulty of the Disciple posts’ providing the only medical and the only education services, both primary and secondary schools, for the people living along the Tshuapa. Surely Rev. BOOLA and Rev. INGOY’s ordination in two posts of the area promise an even stronger response to the church’s call to the local population to build more schools, clinics and hospitals.

Footnote to this posting:  Dr. Gene Johson, translator of the Weteto blog postings and responsible for Disciple medical services in the Tshuapa region for several years in the 1960’s and 70’s, informed me that Bokungu, nearest Disciple “poste” to Mondombe, has a cell phone tower and therefore may well offer internet service also.