“Downstream to Kinshasa”: Congo’s Documentary Film with Potential to Heal Trauma

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.

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I acknowledge my appreciation for the fine Jeune Afrique  article on “Downstream to Kinshasa” and Dieudo Hamadi which can be found at:

https://www.jeuneafrique.com/1241152/culture/dieudo-hamadi-ou-que-je-place-ma-camera-en-rdc-je-filme-linjustice/

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How to View the Film:

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.

Kansas City Auto Workers Pay the Price for U.S. Ceding Access to Congo’s Cobalt

Apart from its use for manufacture of computer chips and semiconductors in gas powered autos, Congo’s cobalt has supplied most of the essential element used in batteries for the electric auto industry. (Photo by Tesla)

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:

  1. The defense industrial base
  2. Public health and biological preparedness industrial base
  3. Information and communications technology (“ICT”) industrial base
  4. Energy sector base
  5. Transportation industrial base
  6. 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. 

Researchers at a Silicon Valley start-up are working on production of batteries for electric vehicles that will be easier to recharge, cheaper – and less dependent on cobalt (NYT Photo by Gabriela Hasbun)

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.

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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”

Congo’s COVID Vaccination Campaign

Received by Health Minister Eteni Longondo, the delivery of 1.6 million doses to Congo is part of the largest vaccine procurement and supply operation in history.

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/

After the year long closure, Congo’s National Assembly is due to reconvene this month.

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.

To End Mining of Cobalt by Congolese Children

Artisanal mining of cobalt involves children as young as 6 looking for rocks with cobalt
15 year old girl looks for rocks to fill her daily sack of cobalt (Guardian photo by Siddarth Kara)

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.

Children with sacks of rock containing cobalt ore near Lake Malo, southeast Congo (Guardian photo by Siddarth Kara)

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:

http://www.iradvocates.org/press-release/cobalt-mining-case/labor-day-please-contact-apple-alphabet-dell-microsoft-and-tesla

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For Prof. Siddarth Kara’s original article in The Guardian newspaper go to https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2018/oct/12/phone-misery-children-congo-cobalt-mines-drc

The Global Message of a Congolese Christian

Rev. Dr. Micheline Kamba Kasongo of the Kinshasa Presbyterian Community of the Church of Christ of Congo addresses a recent session of the World Council of Churches (Photo by Peter Williams/WCC 2016)

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.

Dr. Kamba in 2006 when appointed to the Faculty of Theology at the Protestant University of the Congo (UPC) in Kinshasa

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”.

The obituary on the WCC web site (https://www.oikoumene.org/en/press-centre/news/wcc-grieves-passing-of-rev-dr-micheline-kamba-kasongo

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.

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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.

Reparations for Belgian Colonial Rule??

Photo from the era of colonial rule in Asia. The white man being carried could be British, French, Spanish, Dutch, German. As Martin Luther King once noted: “Racism is no mere American phenomenon. Its vicious grasp knows no geographical boundaries. In fact, racism and its perennial ally – economic exploitation- provide the key to understanding most of the international complications of this generation.”

It took sixty years for Belgium to express officially “deepest regrets for these wounds” caused by the nation’s 75 years of colonial rule in the Congo.  King Philippe’s letter to the Congolese President Tshisekedi differs considerably from the view of his predecessor’s speech at Congo’s Indpendence Day ceremony sixty years ago. In that speech on June 30, 1960, King Baudoin declared Congo’s independence to be “the crowning of the work conceived by the genius of King Leopold II undertaken by him with firm courage, and continued by Belgium with perseverance”. The King also paid tribute to the “best of Belgian sons” who served in the administration of the Belgian colony and “who deserve admiration from us and acknowledgement from you (his Congolese audience)”.

The paternalistic tone of the entire speech reached its height when the King suggested Belgium had benevolently granted independence to the vast nation, “It is your job, gentlemen, to show that we were right in trusting you”.  Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba responded with a speech, not listed on the day’s official program, which emphasized his people’s long history of struggle to secure their human right to self determination. Refraining from revisiting the staggering loss of Congolese lives during Leopold II’s Congo Free State and the subsequent Belgian colonial rule, Lumumba did refer to specific “wounds” which King Philippe’s letter 60 years later briefly acknowledges.  The undisputed, overwhelmingly elected leader of 1960 Congo noted, “We have been the victims of ironic taunts, of insults, of blows that we were forced to endure morning, noon, and night because we were blacks.”

Lumumba’s speech alarmed international guests from Europe and North America and the Belgian King nearly departed immediately after for home.  Even the liberal Guardian newspaper described the Prime Minister’s words as “offensive” and praised the King for displaying “great dignity” throughout his stay.  Belgian historian David Van Reybrouck in his 2010 history of Congo described the speech as “one of the great speeches of the twentieth century” while concluding it was “a problematical one in terms of its effect”. 

The Belgian Parliament just formed a “truth and reconciliation commission” to revisit their country’s colonial history.  “As with other European countries, the time has come to embark on the path of “research, truth and memory” in the words of the current Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Willems. Many Parliament members and Belgian citizens will feel obligated to defend and whitewash their rule in Africa.  King Philippe’s younger brother Prince Laurent disputed his brother’s June 30 letter.  In defense of the source of much of his royal family’s wealth, the system of extraction of resources which took an estimated ten million Congolese lives, Prince Laurent noted that King Leopold II had never set foot in Africa.

Ten years before Leopold was forced to cede his brutalizing Congo Free State network of control and create the colonial administration, Conrad’s narrator in the 1898 novella The Heart of Darkness condemned the King’s rule.  He emphasizes features characterizing other European colonies in Africa:

“They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force – nothing to boast of, when you have it, since since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others.  They grabbed what they could get for the sake of what was to be got.  It was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and men going at it blind – as is very proper for those who tackle a darkness.  The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much.”

Anti racist protestors have succeeded in forcing the removal of statues honoring King Leopold in Belgium but their call for reparations for the Congo will meet stout opposition.  As in the United States, there is profound discomfort and sensitivity among whites of all political leanings when faced with the truth of their complicity with and benefit from the endemic racism of their society.  Thanks to the continued protests there is however serious scrutiny for the first time of how even avowedly anti-racist whites participate in preserving the structures of racism in the U.S. and in Europe.  Responding to the protests, movies, books, podcasts, etc. are challenging whites to consider previously neglected personal traits of “white fragility” and “white privilege”.  Widespread recognition of the disparities in how people of color are treated in the U.S. criminal justice system lays a foundation for significant change. Whether continued calls for reparations to address the vast gulf between black and white families’ wealth and income will lead to a U.S. “truth and reconciliation commission” is more open to question.  Progressive U.S. religious leaders, notably Dr. King among them, have for years declared the nation faces a moral and spiritual crisis, a struggle to heal the soul of America. It is worthy of note that the social scientist Michelle Alexander whose book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness concludes:

“I think that racial justice in this country will remain a distant dream as long as we think that it can be achieved through rational policy discussions….I think we’ll just keep tinkering and tinkering and fail to realize that all of these issues really have more to do with who we are individually and collectively, and what we believe we owe one another, and how we ought to treat one another as human beings.  These are philosophical questions, moral questions, theological questions, as much as they are questions about the costs and benefits of using one system of punishment or policing practice over another.”

The poem which follows was written on the 60th Anniversary of Congo’s Independence June 30 this year. In addressing the moral and spiritual questions raised by European and American colonial rule and continued economic exploitation of nations and their people of color, it represents a call for repentance as a prelude to consideration of reparations or any other form of redress of the global status quo. It can also be read as a written response to “lectio divina” meditation on the above photo from the colonial era.

“What Is Carried” – June 30, 2020


At the first turning of the century past,
         the one we survived,
We can be sure
         that dark folk
Walked where the white rode.
 
Whether it was sedan chair
         Rickshaw or the
Stooped dorsal fin
         Under the pith helmeted
White swatting flies above the sweat -
 
Released criminals, dregs and the exiled
         Drank imports,
Whips in the free hand
         ordering “boys”
Around heedless of age or size
 
Until the ice melted enough to reveal
         The ancient light
Too bright for any devices
         Invented to defend
Centuries of savagery.
 
Howl now at Voltaire’s tracts on race
         His ghost dancing
To Agassiz’s science of humankind
         The bilge smelling
From huge minds infected
 
By tropical fevers of ancestors
         Carried so long
Through sweltering days
         Of harvesting
The bodies of the ones who walked.

A New Congo, A New Africa

Since 2008 the mid October commemoration of Congo Week has sought to inform and educate people world wide on the ongoing crisis in the Congo.  More recently an excellent thirty minute film has been produced which offers an overview of Congo’s tragic five hundred years of foreign exploitation and control.  You can view and share the documentary “Crisis in Congo: Uncovering the Truth” by going to the web address at the bottom of this introduction.  In 2019 Friends of the Congo organizers at www.friendsofthecongo.org have set October 12-19 for Congo Week events.  But they urge us all to show the film at gatherings and share other materials from their web site at any time.

Former President of South Africa Thabo Mbeki noted, “There cannot be a new Africa without a new Congo”.  The nation at the heart of Africa rivals and many say surpasses South Africa in the wealth represented by its natural resources.  The U.S. was the first nation to recognize King Leopold of Belgium’s creation of the Congo Free State in 1885.  And Congo became the focus of U.S. Africa foreign policy since the highest grade uranium used in the first atomic bombs was supplied by a mine in Congo.  President Barack Obama declared, “If Africa is to realize its promise, the problem of the Congo must be resolved.” 

To download and view “Crisis in the Congo: Uncovering the Truth” one of the two avenues below should take you there. Do respond with a comment to this blog post if you have any trouble.

http://www.congojustice.org

New Congo-U.S. Partnership Celebrated at the Andree Blouin Cultural Center

Public invitation to the opening of the new Andree Blouin Cultural Center in Kinshasa

Non profit activists in the U.S. and Congo are collaborating in a new effort to shepherd Congolese youth who will honor the legacy of Patrice Lumumba. The opening of the new Andrée Blouin Cultural Center in an upscale residential neighborhood of Kinshasa could mark a significant strengthening of ties with civil society supporters in the U.S. A short distance from the Nelson Mandela Plaza in the Congolese capital, the new Cultural Center building will house workshops, conferences, cultural programs as well as house offices managing the leadership development programs.

Exterior of the new Centre Culturel in Kinshasa
In addition to cultural exchanges and opportunities to travel throughout Africa and beyond, the Center is now taking scholarship applications from Congolese students. U.S. donors particularly in the areas of Washington, DC and New York City have generously supported the scholarship program. Applications for a scholarship may be found at this Facebook address maintained by a leading organizer of the U.S. assistance.

The new Cultural Center gala opening was celebrated on July 2, Patrice Lumumba’s birthday. U.S. friends of the Congo attending the event noted that civil rights leader Medger Evers was born on the same day as the leading Congolese advocate for self determination and national unity. Lumumba’s speeches often highlighted the equal rights of women and his Chief of Protocol Andrée Blouin was a leader in organizing women for the independence movement.

Naming the Center for Blouin will hopefully deepen appreciation for a Congolese woman who played a prominent role as advisor and

Ghost written by Jean MacKellar publication of the book My Country, Africa: Autobiography of the Black Pasionaria was not approved of by Andree Blouin
organizer for Sekou Toure in Guinea before her return to Congo in 1959-60.

We can hope that the new Cultural Center in Kinshasa will also help fill in the story of a notable female leader in the African independence movement while further educating young Congolese on the legacy of the man who was called the 20th Century’s most significant African political figure by Malcolm X.

Thumbs Up to Congo; Thumbs Down to Venezuela

The Congo’s Election Commission (CENI) declared Felix Tshisekedi President despite leaked vote tallies showing opponent Martin Fayulu the landslide winner. Tshisekedi and Vital Kamerhe pulled out of November agreement tapping Fayulu as the opposition coalition candidate.

In a brief two paragraph press release on Jan. 23 the U.S. State Department endorsed the results of the Congolese elections of December 30, 2018. Without any reference to the conviction of the Catholic Church’s 40,000 observers that opposition candidate Martin Fayulu had decisively won the Presidential vote, the U.S. now officially recognizes Felix Tshisekedi as the nation’s elected leader. The statement for the press concluded with, “We also recognize outgoing President Joseph Kabila’s commitment to becoming the first President in DRC history to cede power peacefully through an electoral process.”

The endorsement of the announced results surprised many Washington policymakers including some who were involved in writing the original draft. A February 1 article in the journal Foreign Policy reports on speaking with “nearly a dozen current and former U.S. officials and experts briefed on the internal deliberations” behind the statement. The original statement, according to the informants, referred to the elections as “deeply flawed and troubling”. One policy maker in a former U.S. administration stated he had learned from current officials that “Everyone knew the elections were crap, but … they thought they had to accept [Tshisekedi], [that] they had no other recourse here”.

Eight days before the U.S. took sides in the controversy, the UN Security Council congratulated Congolese officials and the public for the peaceful electoral process. Despite hearing the report of the Catholic Church’s observer corps, the Security Council urged “concerned parties” to “respect the results of the vote, defend democratic rule and preserve peace in the country”.

At present, the principal foreign policy objective of the Tshisekedi administration seems to focus on relations with the European Union. In a meeting last week with European diplomats, the new Congo President expressed the desire to “reenergize” the relationship with the EU which maintains sanctions against leading members of the previous, Kabila, administration. Paving the way for the EU dropping of the sanctions and the new Congolese administration improving relations with the EU, a leading Belgian commentator on Congo politics, Colette Braeckman, recently dismissed Martin Fayulu’s challenge of the announced election results. Following the Congo’s Constitutional Court’s approval of the results, and describing a lack of public demonstration of support for Fayulu, Braeckman denounced Fayulu as supported by “foreign sponsors”.

An impartial observer has to wonder if Braeckman considers those who have leaked the actual election results among the “foreign sponsors” of the Fayulu candidacy for President. Reporting the leaks in an article titled “Who Really Won the Congolese Elections” the U.S. based Congo Research Group provide evidence that Fayulu won the Presidency by a wide margin . Contradicting the results announced publicly, the leak from the official Congolese election agency, the CENI, “puts his share of the vote at 59,42%, followed by Felix Tshisekedi with 18,97% and Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary with 18,54%.” Results reported by the Catholic Church’s team of observers totaled for the three leading candidates, “62,80% (Fayulu), 15,00% (Tshisekedi), and 17,99% (Shadary). For the complete article on the leaks of the vote totals, go to http://congoresearchgroup.org/congolese-election-leaks/ .

U.S. official response to Congo’s election contrasts starkly with the clamor to unseat President Maduro in Venezuela. It appears official judgment of a regime’s “legitimacy” has little to do with actual election results and professed support for democracy and national soverignty. The U.S. approval of the Tshisekedi-Kamerhe rule also leads us to question which of the Congo candidates for President continues to enjoy the backing of “foreign sponsors”.

Congo Votes for Change

December 30 polling place in Mbandaka III church school grounds. Mbandaka remained peaceful throughout election day.

The fact there has been an election at all is a victory for and of the people of Congo. They demonstrated. They marched. They were arrested, beaten, shot. Some died and some are still in prison. As a result, the President of the country was forced to stop his efforts to change the constitution and campaign for another term. Then, when he maneuvered to delay them, the marches and the protests continued and he was forced to schedule the elections that just took place.

So regardless of the outcome, that there was an election, not just for President but for provincial and legislative offices as well, is a victory of and for the Congolese people. The December 30, 2018 election is yet another step in the long march of the Congolese toward self rule that began with the 1950’s struggle for independence from Belgium. It continued during thirty plus years of self dealing dictatorship followed by twenty years of plunder of the country’s vast strategic minerals resources by neighboring African countries and their foreign allies who have controlled Congo’s economy since independence. The faith, hope and courage demonstrated by the people over the sixty year long march toward self rule is represented for me by a small, heavily wrinkled woman I met in Congo in 2010.

She had walked over one thousand miles from her homeland in Bunia, Eastern Congo to Mbandaka, Equateur Province, where I met her. She had changed her name to Marie Sauve Vie or Mary “who saves life”. In an attack on her village, she was the only member of her family who survived. In Mbandaka she met the female Disciples of Christ pastor who had organized aid and a support group for women displaced from the East. When a Red Cross boat offered her and the others a return to their homeland she elected not to accept. There was nothing and no one there she wanted to return to. She had been able to survive in Mbandaka through sales of the mats she wove by hand. They are just the right size for doing yoga and remind me of Marie every time I use mine.

Marie Sauve Vie holds grass mats she has made with support of Revde. Madeline Bomboko next to her

The people of Congo will continue their march. They have not reached their destination. There remain many obstacles on the way to achieving a stable, effective government that serves the people. There remain formidable structures of power barring the way to the country’s control of its many, so much sought after resources. But the hope, the strength and the resolute will to live in safety and dignity that carried Marie from Bunia to Mbandaka has already brought change to all of Congo and the people’s long march will continue and bring about more and greater change some day.

The election was not the only victory for the Congolese people in 2018. There was the truth telling sermon of the Protestant pastor before the presidential family and entourage at the beginning of the year. In the packed national Protestant Cathedral, Pastor Francois David Ekofo stepped from his place on the long march to declare it was time for governmental rule that promised true progress and would make the people proud. In October, a Congolese Doctor was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his dedication to healing women horribly violated by the chaos in Eastern Congo. Before the elections, the unified Protestant Church of Christ of Congo leadership joined the Catholic Council of bishops in calling for a fair, transpararent voting process. Forty thousand “observers” were deployed by the Catholic Church to polling places throughout the country. It was the only nationwide oversight, domestic or international, of the electoral process. That it took place without widespread government interference or opposition can also be considered a victory.

There are signs that international pressures on the current administration are also having an effect. The government expelled the Ambassador of the European Union two weeks before the national voting. This move was undoubtedly intended to avoid greater foreign condemnation should the President’s choice of a successor win the election. His chosen, Emmnganuel Ramazani Shadary, former Minister of the Interior, is now on a list of aides who are banned entry to the EU for violating the human rights of their fellow Congolese.

Pre-election polling and initial reports from the polls have former Exxon Mobil executive Martin Fayulu, of the Lamuka Coalition, holding a sizable lead in the Presidential race. M. Fayulu posted to Twitter shortly after the polls closed, “After the three soundings yesterday, I would like to heartily congratulate all my countryfolk for their clear desire for change. We are going to begin a new era, one which will enable our country to regain its dignity and experience prosperity. Let us meditate on Ph 2:13.” The verse cited from Paul’s letter to the Philippians reads, “for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure”. M. Fayulu might have also cited the verse from the Book of Revelation often quoted in the first years of Congolese independence, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Rv 21:5).