Ahead of the presidential election in 2023, Kinshasa-based Ebuteli this month released “The Catholic Church in the DRC: A Neutral Arbiter or at the Heart of Protest?” As the leading institutional voice questioning the results of the 2018 election naming Etienne Tshisekedi as the Congolese President, the Church has continued its opposition to the ruling elite from the early days of Mobutu’s rule.
The National Bishops’ Conference of Congo (CENCO) deployed 40,000 monitors across the country during the 2018 election and vote counting. While the official count elevated Tshisekedi to leadership of Africa’s second largest nation, CENCO announced that its estimates showed Martin Fayulu had a decisive lead. The Archbishop of Kinshasa Cardinal Monswengo stated in a press conference, ” The bishops have clearly said that, according to their observers, Fayulu won the elections”.
Kinshasa-based Ebuteli notes in its report’s conclusion, “the struggle for democracy between 1990 and 2018 reveals a church that is largely invested in the promotion and consolidation of democracy”. It further credits the lay and clergy leadership for the Church’s relatively progressive political positions. “The dynamism of the Congolese church is most likely the result of strong leadership, but also of an invested lay community that remains inspired by the legacy of Cardinals Monsengwo and Malula (the first Congolese Cardinal), as well as the pre-colonial mystic Béatriced Kimpa Vita and the beatified martyrs Isidore Bakanja and Marie-Clémentine Anuarite Nengapeta.”
Celebrating its opening in February this year, Ebuteli described its work as research on the politics, violence and administration of the Congo. Executive Secretary Fred Bauma noted the name means “stairway” in Lingala which emphasizes the role of credible, reliable information in enabling the nation’s advance to a trustworthy democracy. “Our contribution consists in contributing credible research and information to the political discourse not only of the elite but the whole population” Bauma stated.
Partnering with Ebuteli in the current and in future reports is the Congo Research Group at New York University. Since its founding in 2015 the CRG has largely focused on the numerous rebel groups and neighboring countries fighting over and exploiting the population and resources of eastern Congo. The new partnership with Congolese based researchers, in preparation for next year’s election, represents an expansion of the CRG vision for benefiting Congo’s stability and self determination. Jason Stearns, director of CRG, commented on the significance of the first report, “The Catholic Church has been the bedrock of protest movements in the Congo since at least 1992, a moral authority and mobilization network.”
The writer of this blog is indebted to the Congolese Actualité.cd for its article dated Feb. 26, 2022 on Ebuteli’s founding and to the website of the Congo Research Group. You may read the English version of the 22 page report on the Congolese Catholic Church’s history of opposition to the Congolese state’s leadership here:
I want to address in this blog the view widely held among Congolese in the 1960’s of the United States as an anticolonial nation. In previous posts I have written how many Congolese bought into Mobutu’s description of the U.S. as a friendly superpower opposed to the further exploitation of their new nation by the former Belgian colonizers. Like others who had experienced European colonialism, Congolese remembered the colonial era as degrading, humiliating and undermining of their status as equal human beings. The U.S. provided grounds for hope as a colony of Great Britain that had succeeded in founding a strong independent nation. Some among the Congo’s leaders thought our leaders would readily identify with the 20th Century colonies’ struggles for independence. And with Congo’s vast potential given its wealth in natural resources, a trusting partnership with the U.S. held great promise.
As many African nations and a few in Asia gained independence in the 1960’s the U.S. could have enjoyed an image in international forums and politics as a champion and a model for the new nations. Unfortunately, the U.S. quickly squandered that opportunity as a brief look back at the year 1961 will reveal.
The year began with the assassination of Patrice Lumumba by Belgian officials with the complicity of the U.S. Embassy and Central Intelligence Agency operatives. That was followed in the spring by the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba by U.S. supplied and trained troops intent on overthrowing the Castro regime. And with little opposition in the Kennedy administration the number of American “advisers” in South Vietnam increased. In the closing months of 1961 the U.S. planned and the South Vietnamese army had begun implementation of the “strategic hamlet program”. This response to the guerrilla warfare tactics of the Viet Cong failed as did subsequent strategies to counter the Vietnamese people’s struggle for freedom from foreign rule.
Three major failures of the post WW II U.S. foreign policy and all can be attributed to the Kennedy Administration prioritizing the singular focus of the Truman and Eisenhower Administrations’ foreign policies. Our U.S. “establishment” remained focused on countering Russian and Chinese influence with military intervention. They upheld the post-War image of the U.S. as the foremost defender of the western democracies and their former colonies threatened by Communist expansion.
In the middle of the fateful 1961, Kennedy had a verbal confrontation with Soviet Premier Krushchev and two months later the Berlin Wall was constructed. As a result, Soviet and Chinese Communism was feared even more as the greatest threat to world security and peace. Kennedy told the New York Times that year, “Now we have a problem making our power credible and Vietnam looks like the place.”
Rather than embrace its image as an anti-colonial model and “new” highly successful nation, we led the way in 1961 in siding with the European elites who benefited most from colonial rule. In Congo, Lumumba died in Katanga, the province rich in copper and led at independence by a Congolese elite already corrupted by the Belgians with mining interests. When Tshombe’s value to them waned, it was time for the lowly Colonel Mobutu to take control of the federal government and the marketing of the nation’s resources. Destroyed with his vicious murder were Lumumba’s hopes, shared by Fidel Castro and Ho Chi Minh, that the U.S. might want to preserve its anti-colonial legacy and pursue a mutually beneficial relationship with the new post-colonial leaders guided by their people’s vision of economic and political self-determination.
Many in the U.S. today are asking what went wrong with our political system to allow our civil and human rights to be gradually rescinded by the Supreme Court. How could one of the two major political parties be bent on establishing rule by a minority of the voters as an election strategy? One way to trace where the nation jumped off the track is to consider our resistance to the changes made possible by the new nations’ advances to self rule. Neither Nkrumah nor Lumumba nor most other African leaders were steeped in Communist theory or saw their nations as partisans of the Communist bloc. In the U.S. however, both major parties, the national media and a preponderance of our influential leaders identified authentic self determination of the former colonies as Communist-inspired. This justified spiraling expenditures on military defense in response to the world wide march of the majority of the world’s people. While Islamist terrorism has replaced the threat of Communist expansion, there remains little consideration of how our military presence defends the status quo and squelches the hopes and the rule of the majority of people in many nations today.
The enduring U.S. focus on military defense and security contrasts in a distressing manner with the Chinese emphasis on aid for African infrastructure construction. Most of the African nations have signed on to the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative and continue to welcome the benefits to marketing and trade of improved roads, ports and rail facilities. Meanwhile, the major U.S. aid for the continent over the last twenty years has been the development of the Africom military defense network to counter Islamist terrorism.
“Maman, we’re going to free this country” young Kinshasa slum dweller Christian tells his mother.
“Lumumba was going to free this country and he was killed” his mother responds and adds, “You think you’re going to do what Lumumba couldn’t.”
As we see in the one hour fifteen minute documentary film “Kinshasa Makambo” it is not Christian alone who will “free” the Congolese people. In the scenes following the dialog with his mother Christian shouts directions to a horde of other youth facing the troops loyal to the rule of Joseph Kabila. Christian is clearly a leader but he is not the only young leader featured in the Congolese Dieudo Hamadi’s film.
Ben has just returned from the U.S. to rejoin the struggle and Jean Marie has just been released from the notorious Kinshasa prison of Makala. We see in the film the reaction of their families to these three young men’s political activism. Though varied in tone and content each family’s response stops just short of the message that each should keep their distance. They are courting danger and proximity exposes family members to the danger. How different then are the celebratory greetings and embrace of Ben and Jean Marie when the two return to their brothers and sisters in the struggle.
Even more than the scenes of demonstrations where the young Congolese defy Kabila’s troops and risk death, the effusive welcome reveals that the power of resistance and making change flows not from the individual but from those who join them in the fight. Lumumba is quoted once in the film:
“One day, the history of the Congo won’t be written in the United Nations, in Washington, Paris or Brussels but in the streets of Mbandaka, Kinshasa, Kisangani… It will be a story of glory and dignity.”
The attention and awards gained by the film maker’s later documentary “Downstream to Kinshasa” (2020) has generated interest in this 2018 film. Both were shown as a double feature on the streaming site MUBI last September and both can be rented on Amazon Prime Video. While “Downstream” was intended to memorialize victims of the forgotten conflict in Kisangani in eastern Congo, “Kinshasa Makambo” covers the popular uprisings bringing down the Kabila regime after father and son’s twenty year rule. In contrast to the support for the plea of victims of the forgotten Kisangani War, the earlier film pays homage to the courage, the leadership qualities, the Christian faith (in the case of Christian) and the resolve of the three young men the film focuses on.
Hamadi is not only a fine storyteller in this film. Many of the scenes are filmed and edited in a cinematic style that convinces this viewer he will continue to gain a larger international reputation. One can only hope that his importance as an artist respected internationally will also protect him and his role as a leading documentarian of the Congolese people’s ongoing progress in freeing their land and themselves from the plunder of their resources.
One of the most dramatic suite of scenes in “Kinshasa Makambo” takes us from Ben squatting in the center of a sea of empty plastic bottles to his home where he cuts select bottles into shape. Poised directly above Ben’s bent back, the camera lingers on the bottles and in the next shot on the bottles at his home awaiting their repurposing as Ben slices into one. We don’t miss the irony that many of the bottles are labeled either “American Water” or “Canadian Pure” in a land with the second largest river in the world flowing through it. In a later segment Ben is seen brushing his teeth with water he has purchased. Hamadi makes “message” films but the messages he communicates he leaves open to the viewer’s interpretation and attention to detail.
Only later in the film do we learn Ben’s water bottles will help demonstrators fend off the effects of the most potent tear gas fired by the police. Jean Marie instructs a group of demonstrators in proper use of the homemade gas masks and the film then moves on to a shot of masked and butter-smeared faces awaiting deployment to the streets.
Lumumba’s vision that the Congolese people will make their own history becomes contemporary reality as we watch the rally celebrating Etienne Tshisekedi, the leading opposition politician, on his return from abroad. Beginning slowly with almost painful restraint, Tshisekedi affirms the demands made by voices in the crowd culminating in his affirmation of the date of Kabila’s last day in power. Other than noting his commitment to non-violence and the long Congolese history of struggle against authoritarian rule, Tshisekedi issues no direction or instruction on mobilizing the people’s power that ultimately brings down the Kabila regime. As the film consistently and powerfully reveals, no elder, no single political organizer or spokesperson is leading this uprising. The filmmaker demonstrates with this film that it is in art as well as in politics that it is in immersing oneself in the people’s dreams, their struggle, sacrifices and achievements that the power of the artist, as well as the political leader, participates in making history.
To view the trailer for the film copy and paste in your browser the link below. The film can be rented on Amazon Prime Video for $2.99.
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.
The world’s supply chain for the cobalt now essential for the manufacture of electric vehicles is in the hands of China. China’s purchase of the largest and richest cobalt mine in the world, the southern Congo Tenke Fungurume mine, confirms its partnership with Congo in mining the country’s supply of two thirds of the earth’s known cobalt reserves. (See this blog’s 11/17 article “Congo’s Cobalt Powers Electric Cars” for more on cobalt) The second largest economy in the world now owns a controlling share of 15 of the 19 Congolese mines producing this critical raw material in the green revolution.
Having been the world leader in processing cobalt for years, China has succeeded in replacing the U.S. as Congo’s foremost foreign partner in mining the country’s reserves of the element and other strategic metals and minerals. The U.S. foreign policy and corporate establishment have largely ignored the few voices raising the alarm over the potential loss of access to Congolese supplies for powering electric vehicles and for semiconductor and chip manufacturing. As the New York Times reported in a series of articles in November the 2020 sale by a U.S. company of a second Congolese mine rich in unexploited reserves of cobalt went virtually unreported in leading U.S. news media and caused little to no concern in the U.S. establishment.
Although both the Obama and Trump administrations created bodies to study and protect the country’s supplies of vital resources for the nation’s economic growth, neither mounted opposition to purchase of the mines by China Molybdenum from Arizona based Freeport-McMoRan. According to the Times investigators, the Arizona based company had invested heavily in fossil fuel extraction shortly before the 2010’s plunge in oil prices and thus needed a massive infusion of capital to remain viable. Its sale in 2016 and 2020 of the two cobalt mines in Congo brought in over $3 billion.
Considering the decades of U.S. infusions of development and security aid, all with the declared intent of securing control of Congo’s vast reserves of vital raw materials, the country’s relinquishing the mining partnerships to China is perplexing. When the superpower wrested Belgium’s mining interests in southern Congo from the former colonial power it was considered a foreign policy coup for the U.S.. But has the U.S. ceding dominance of Congolese mining jeopardized the Congolese people or their economic future? There is convincing evidence that it has not.
When Freeport-McMoRan replaced another U.S. company as owner of the Tenke Fungurume mine in the early 2000’s, the property lay in ruins and overgrown with vegetation. Congo’s challenges to the organizing of an efficient, productive mining operation, including the area’s periodic civil unrest, discouraged and finally overwhelmed the U.S. overseers. Following its ouster of the Mobutu dictatorship, the Kabila administrations of father and son were eager to benefit from a transfer of ownership to a different U.S. company. That partnership with another U.S. mining firm ended with the Freeport sale of its mines to China Molybdenum. The U.S. company’s cash deal with the Chinese in the final months of the Obama administration preceded the end of the Kabila “kleptocracy” in December 2018. It also coincided with the boom in production of electric vehicles and the rising prices for cobalt.
The sale also came almost ten years after China had signaled its aim to become the leading foreign partner in Congolese mining with the signing of a 2008 agreement. In that agreement China committed to invest $3.6 billion to build roads, river transport, hospitals, universities and mining infrastructure in Congo. A dam supplying electricity to a mining partnership of the two countries has now been built and is operational at a cost of $656 million. While the agreement with China, called the “contract of the century” by the current Congolese Minister of Mines, was signed the same year Freeport McMoRan took over the Tenke Fungurume mine, no comparable aid package from the U.S. private or public sectors accompanied the purchase.
At the beginning of 2021, China cancelled $24 million in debt repayments by Congo and pledged aid of $17 million for development projects in the country. In return, the new Congolese President Tshisekedi signed on to the staggeringly ambitious Chinese Belt and Road Initiative for Asia, Central Asia and Africa. A comparison of the eras of U.S. and now Chinese dominant influence in foreign aid for Congo does not favor the outcomes of western development and military aid.
During my two years in Mbandaka from 1969-71, the U.S. replacement of Belgium as the leading foreign presence brought hope to the Congolese intelligentsia and the populace as a whole. Visions of sharing the country’s incomparable resources were supported by the burgeoning investments of U.S. companies and our government’s aid to Mobutu. The fall of copper prices in the mid 1970’s awakened some Congolese to the reality of a new neo-colonial economic order. Along with the increased brutality and open corruption of the Mobutu rule, insurrections threatened resource extraction in Congo’s East and South where the riches lay.
By January, 1976, the Tenke Fungurume mine, had been abandoned by its U.S. overseers. In effect, the company had declared defeat. The recent NYT article notes that Henry Kissinger helped write a cable apologizing to Congolese authorities for the “mothballing” of the mining project in southern Congo. Despite the huge investment in making a cobalt-free battery to power electric vehicles, continued growth of production at the TF mine today appears to be a safe bet.
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The New York Times revised version of the article “How the U.S. Lost Ground to China in the Contest for Clean Energy” was published December 7, 2021. It was the lead in a series of articles written by three journalists focusing on the U.S.-Congo and China-Congo history of partnership and accompanied by Congo photos taken by Ashley Gilbertson.
For more on the consequences of a dearth in cobalt supplies see this blog’s April 2021 article “Kansas City Auto Workers Pay the Price for U.S. Ceding Access to Congo’s Cobalt”.
The Congolese film “Downstream to Kinshasa” (in French “En Route Pour le Milliard”) was one of only three documentaries selected for screening at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival in 2020. The stars of the film are members of a Kisangani theatre group: “The Kisangani Zombie Theatrical Troupe”. And they are all amputees. Maimed by the “Six Day War” of Congolese proxy armies armed and funded by Uganda and Rwanda, they are not, however, “victims” except in the minds of those to whom they appeal for respect and the compensation promised but never delivered since the year 2000 conflict. In their troupe performances, crafted from the nightmarish scenes they suffered, and their persistence in claiming what is due them as human beings, they rise above their fates with dignity and power.
This film puts on our screens the harsh conditions of Congolese life along with the exuberance and vitality of a people for whom dance, music and performance are not just “art” or “culture” but the source of a spirit-driven life itself. We accompany several members of the theatre troupe on a pilgrimage to Kinshasa to claim the justice due the thousands of survivors wounded by the War. Using a hand held camera, the young filmmaker Dieudo Hamadi masterfully disappears in filming the arguments, the joshing, the singing, the distress of the group on their 1700 km plus journey. Anyone with experience of Africa will appreciate the authenticity and truth of this portrayal of contemporary life in Congo, and anyone with a heart will thrill to its intimate portrayal of the human spirit at its strongest and deepest reaches.
Prior to its official premiere in Paris last month, the reviewer in the film magazine Cahier du Cinema wrote, “Hamadi captures at the same time the constant suffering and endurance of his subjects, giving them with his lighting and framing the tormented power of August Rodin’s group sculptures”. Although delayed by the pandemic, the film’s screenings this year are likely to earn the filmmaker the praise and international recognition he has already experienced in Africa. In a recent Jeune Afrique article he was hailed as the most talented documentary filmmaker of Subsaharan Africa.
The 37 year old Hamadi, often working alone, has turned his camera on the Congo’s women’s healthcare, the nation’s electoral process and education system as well as the scourges of child abuse and sexual violence countered by the civil society’s attempts to make a difference in the context of severe repression. In an interview with Jeune Afrique the filmmaker was asked if he considered himself an “engagé” (activist) filmmaker. “Wherever I focus my camera in Congo,” he responded, “I film injustice, inhumane things going on, revolting social problems.”
In the same interview, he explained what was behind his decision to leave his pre-med studies for a career in film. “Through film you can communicate everything that is moving, on the one hand tragic but also positive in my country.” He then elaborated in eloquent fashion, “In spite of 80 years of colonialism, a 32 year dictatorship and all the atrocities that you have lived and seen, such as the ones described in my latest film, the country still exists and holds on. And as you can also see in the film, the courage of the people, their dignity, and their strength of character enable them to continue to believe in the future.” When the journalist commented that he could be said to aspire to heal his country with his art he remained down to earth. “I heal myself above all. When one has grown up in a country like mine, one cannot avoid suffering some trauma.”
Hamadi was a 16 year old living in Kisangani when the Six Day War took 1000 lives, injured thousands and destroyed hundreds of buildings. While making his film “Maman Colonelle” in 2017 in Kisangani he knew, “I just had to return to what people in that film cannot forget, the stigmata of this war that they carry in their flesh.” Another strong motivation was the fact that most youth and adults in the capital of Kinshasa and the western half of the country had no memory of the horrors suffered by Kisangani residents in the East.
The “buzz” surrounding the “Downstream to Kinshasa” Cannes screening has stirred Congo’s Department of Human Rights to some action. They have finally taken an interest in the Kisangani protestors. Some have been assisted in returning to home and a fund is growing for those who remain in Kinshasa. Most significantly, the International Court of Justice has resumed hearings on Ugandan compensation payments for its role in the conflict. Meanwhile, this documentary will continue to touch viewers around the world with its powerful witness of the strength and beauty of some extraordinary human beings.
I acknowledge my appreciation for the fine Jeune Afrique article on “Downstream to Kinshasa” and Dieudo Hamadi which can be found at:
You will need to open an account on vimeo.com . Once you are registered with them, go to the search box and enter “Downstream to Kinshasa”. There you have the option of renting for 48 hour viewing at $4.99 or purchasing the film at a bargain price of $9.99.
What do the layoffs of thousands of Kansas City’s GM and Ford auto workers have to do with Congo’s vast reserves of cobalt? Plenty it turns out. A new car hasn’t rolled off the line of General Motors’ sprawling Kansas City, Kansas, factory in more than two months. According to an April 13 article in the Kansas City Star the shutdown at the plant where workers make the Chevy Malibu sedan and a Cadillac SUV model is due to the shortage of semi conductors. Now essential in manufacture of today’s automobiles, both semi conductors and and powerful industrial magnets for the engines rely on cobalt and other rare earths found in Congo.
Congo’s soil holds 51 % of the world’s cobalt reserves according to the U.S. Geological Survey and cobalt originating in Congo accounted for 70% of the world’s production of the element in 2019. Access to supplies of cobalt and other rare earths is now seen as a national security priority of the U.S. Last year’s Bloomberg Opinion article by former Secretary of Defense James Mattis and others stated “U.S. supply chains — both military and commercial — are almost wholly dependent on China for processed rare earths for our advanced weaponry and microelectronics”. Although China accounts for “between 25% and 45%” of the world’s rare earth reserves more troubling to the article’s authors is the fact that “Nearly all the rare earths mined anywhere in the world, including the U.S., are processed in China”.
Congo’s contracts with China for processing of its cobalt and other rare earth elements reflects the U.S. rival’s success in controlling the supply chain for these critical minerals. While China now extracts over 40 % of Congo’s cobalt, it has also signed agreements with multi-national mining companies active in the country to refine and process most of the strategic mineral.
The Biden Administration has already begun the strengthening of the U.S. supply chain of rare earths and critical minerals in general. Following the previous administration’s failure to accompany tariffs on China with creation of an alternative supply chain, President Biden issued and executive order to review our current access to rare earths . The Order highlights the importance of strategic minerals in these vital industrial sectors of the U.S. economy:
The defense industrial base
Public health and biological preparedness industrial base
Information and communications technology (“ICT”) industrial base
Energy sector base
Transportation industrial base
Agricultural commodities and food production
The Administration singled out four key products of these sectors with semiconductors and large capacity batteries at the top of the list. Both of these areas now rely on cobalt and other rare earths mined in Congo. As former Defense Secretary Mattis and the other authors of the Bloomberg article note, “Breaking China’s monopoly (of rare earth supplies, Lokole ed.) will require development of processing plants and supply chains outside Beijing’s control”. The article notes that consumption of rare earths will nearly double by 2030 and that China’s current dominance in their production “cannot be accomplished without a White House that ensures accountability and progress”.
It is unlikely that the U.S. strategizing with its allies on vital supply chains will include sharing or taking over China’s import of Congo’s cobalt and other rare earths. China’s partnership with Congo has been built by the world’s second leading economy replacing the U.S. as the leading aid donor for all of sub-Saharan Africa and Congo in particular.
In recent years, the U.S. Africa policy has not maintained the close ties with Congo that enabled use of the country’s high grade uranium ore for production of the first atomic bombs. The new U.S. administration is intent on creating an alternative supply chain for critical minerals One of the first steps taken by the Biden Defense Department was the awarding of a contract to Lynas Rare Earths Limited, the world’s largest rare earth element mining and processing company outside of China. The $30 million contract is for development of mining and refining at a Texas mine that holds the most promising rare earth deposits in the U.S.
Meanwhile, China continues to develop its partnership with Congo. Back in early January, China announced that it would cancel an estimated $28 million of loans to the DRC, repayment of which were due by the end of 2020, and would provide $17 million in other financial support to help the country overcome the sanitary crisis caused by the covid-19 pandemic.
Escalation of U.S. tensions with China and the delays of previous administrations in securing other sources of critical minerals may well portend additional losses for the U.S. economy and its workers. One of Ford’s largest plants in the world, located on Kansas City’s outskirts, has periodically furloughed production line workers over the last year and in mid April shut down its Transit van production line. Anticipating success in stocking up on semiconductors and computer chips, Ford announced at the same time they would not close its Kansas City plant for the customary summer vacation. The U.S. auto industry is expected to lose upwards of $60 billion this year due to the shortage of microelectronic components.
The April 13, 2021 article by Kevin Hardy in the Kansas City Star inspired this posting. The article is titled “Parts shortage forces months-long layoffsfor thousands at Kansas City Ford, GM plants”
UPDATE: Congo’s Health minister yesterday suspended roll out of the vaccination campaign due to concerns with the astra zeneca injections causing blood clotting in some persons.
As promised by COVAX, the international COVID vaccination alliance, the Congo received its first delivery of AstraZeneca vaccines March 2. Congo’s Health Minister announced the four provinces most affected by the pandemic will begin vaccinating by the end of March. With 75 % of the reported COVID cases, Kinshasa will see the most activity and provide a test of the vaccine protocol which calls for health and social workers to receive the first doses. They will be followed by those most vulnerable to the virus, with pre-existing conditions, and finally all persons over 55 years of age.
Subsequent vaccine deliveries from COVAX will supply Congo with a total of 6 million Astra-Zeneca doses developed in the UK but manufactured by the Serum Institute of India. COVAX has announced it is on track to provide 2 billion doses of COVID vaccines to 92 low income countries by the end of this year. All African nations should be capable of matching Congo’s vaccinations’ goal of vaccinating 20 per cent of the population in 2021. “We will only be safe anywhere if we are safe everywhere,” said Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of the COVAX international partner responsible for delivery of the vaccines.
Of the two vaccines first approved for use in the U.S., 40 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine will be distributed by COVAX in the first quarter of this year. This total is dwarfed by the AstraZeneca/Oxford jab of 336 million doses largely produced in India and to be administered worldwide by mid year. A half billion of the newly approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine are to be received by COVAX as well as the U.S. developed and soon to be approved Novovax doses which may result in 1.1 billion additional doses provided by purchases from U.S. companies.
After four years of the Trump administration’s rejection of international cooperation, President Biden announced at the February meeting of the G7 developed nations a U.S. contribution of $2 billion to COVAX. The commitment also includes another $2 billion conditioned on fulfillment of pledges by other nations in the G7 group.
Congo’s vaccination campaign continues the country’s effective COVID response begun after the first case was diagnosed the second week of March 2020. The Congolese President Tshisekedi declared a public health emergency by the end of that month enabling him to close schools and places of worship along with a ban on large gatherings and travel from Kinshasa to the rest of the country. An excellent article by human rights activist Pascal Kambale describes how the new President was also able to take advantage of the closure of Parliament and other pandemic related conditions to strengthen his political position vis a vis the formidable bloc of former President Kabila’s supporters. http://congoresearchgroup.org/impacts-covid19-on-democratic-process-in-the-drc/
As noted in the last posting on this site, Congo’s total number of COVID cases is far lower than in its trade partners of the industrialized world. With a fast growing population of over 91 million persons, the third largest in sub Saharan Africa, the Congo has reported 26,405 cases with 711 deaths due to the virus. In my home state of Missouri in the U.S., there have been 574,000 cases with 8,750 COVID related deaths among a population of 6.14 million persons.
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.
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:
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.
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”.
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.