An African Plea for Unity and Tolerance

The only written record in English of the teachings of Tierno Bokar (1875-1939) is found in this book by the Malian diplomat and intellectual Amadou Hampate Ba.

“May our love not be centered upon ourselves! May this love not incite us to love only those who are like us or to espouse ideas that are simililar to our own! To only love that which resembles us is to love oneself; this is not how to love.”

These are words spoken by the Malian mystic Tierno Bokar in the 1930’s. Known as Soudan during the era of French rule, Mali had been largely Muslim for centuries and Tierno was a disciple of the Sufi tradition of Islam.  The unity of all believers, like the unity of humankind, was basic in his teaching.  

“To believe that one’s race or one’s religion is the only possessor of the truth is an error. This could not be.  Indeed, in its nature, faith is like air.  Like air, it is indispensable for human life and one could not find one man who does not believe truly and sincerely in something.  Human nature is such that it is incapable of not believing in something, whether that is God or Satan, power or wealth, or good or bad luck.”

Tierno (pronounced ‘Chair-no’) Bokar grew up in a devout Muslim household surrounded by social conflict in Segou, a major town of southern Mali.  While periodic battles threatened the population, his mother, aunt and grandmother taught and lived the virtues of love and charity.  Following his father’s flight with one of the contending militias, Tierno and family settled at 18 in the village of Bandiagara where he lived the rest of his life.  As a man who exemplified modesty and humility, he taught that God bestowed faith and wisdom on all peoples regardless of their level of technological advance or education.  Although highly literate himself, Tierno’s humility along with his sensitivity and respect for those without education led him to teach through oral communication only.

Amadou Hampate Ba also published the African proverb “When an elder dies, an entire library burns.” He served on UNESCO’s Executive Committee and wrote many books including memoirs based on his long career serving as a “cultural ambassador for Mali and for Africa.

His leading disciple Amadou Hampate Ba wrote that Tierno had said, “Contrary to what usually happens, one should therefore not be surprised to find spiritual riches in someone from a people considered as backward, but one should instead be troubled at not finding them in civilized individuals who have long worked on developing their material lives.”  Ba urged us to remember that all of Tierno’s words “came out of a modest room of dried earth, in the heart of black Africa, in 1933”.  Amadou Ba’s 1957 record, published in French, of his master’s teaching was titled A Spirit of Tolerance: The Inspiring Life of Tierno Bokar in the 2008 English translation. 

After the Catholic Director of the colonial Office of Muslim Affairs read Amadou Ba’s transcript of Tierno’s words, he wrote,  

“These were words in their pure state, words spoken not to exalt man, neither speakers nor listener, but rather truly animating words, spoken with such sincere feeling for the other as to cause god to lie in the heart of the unbeliever, to vivify his faith, and to give a meaning to the lives of everyone.” 

At the age of 33 Tierno Bokar opened his school, or “zawiya”, in Bandiagara.  It was where Amadou Ba began his education.  After years of study in the colony’s French schools and university,  Ba spent six months in 1933 with Tierno, his first and foremost teacher.  His copious notes recording for himself and others what this master of wisdom and faith taught represents the only account of Tierno’s teachings.

Apart from his emphasis on tolerance and the unity of humankind, Tierno Bokar appealed to his pupils to find what God was trying to communicate to us through our senses and the “Book of Life”. As Jesus sought to do with the parables, Tierno often based his lessons on seeking the meaning of commonly shared experience. Amadou Ba’s book tells a moving story of his teacher repairing a bird nest and follows it with Tierno recounting an incident when his dog served him as an example of faithfulness. Ba comments, “For him, all of nature, animals and plants included, should be respected because they are not only our nourishing Mother, but they are, moreover, the great divine Book wherein everything is a living symbol and a source of teaching.”

During the six month sabbatical from his post in the colonial administration Ba asked Tierno whether it was good to study other religions.  The “sage of Bandiagara” replied,

“You will gain enormously by knowing about the various forms of religion.  Believe me, each one of these forms, however strange it may seem to you, contains that which can strengthen your own faith.  Certainly faith, like fire, must be maintained by means of an appropriate fuel in order for it to blaze up.  Otherwise , it will dim and decrease in intensity and volume and turn into embers then from embers to coals and from coals to ashes.”

Tierno Bokar then added, “That which varies in the diverse forms of Religion – for there can only be one Religion- are the individual contributions of human beings interpreting the letter with the laudable aim of placing religion within the reach of the men of their time.  As for the sources of religion itself,” he went on to say, “it is a pure and purifying spark that never varies in time or space, a spark which God breathes into the spirit of man at the same time as He bestows speech upon him.”

Founding his beliefs on love and humility, Tierno’s teachings on religious tolerance came naturally. A plea for the unity of all believers accompanied his teaching on tolerance:

“Brothers of all religions, let us in God lower the boundaries that separate us. Down with the artificial creations that pit human being against each other….. Let us fly as an eagle with powerful wings towards the union of hearts towards a religion that is not inclined towards the exclusion of other ‘credos’ but towards the universal union of believers, freed from their own selves and morally liberated from the appetites of this world.”

Tierno advocated respect and acceptance for Christian missionaries and colonial officials: “This religion, which Jesus sought to deliver and which was loved by Muhammad, is that which, like pure air, is in permanent contact with the sun of Truth and Justice, as well as with the Love of the Good and Charity for all.”

It is with excitement that I introduce most of you readers to the teaching of Tierno Bokar. I am looking forward to re reading Ba’s book again and expect it will soon fill with my scrawled notes and comments. The lessons of a heightened awareness of what is going on around us in nature, the animal and plant realms in particular, hold a special appeal for me as I approach three quarters of a century in age. I also plan to order the only other book I know of that treats Tierno’s insights on God’s presence. Published in 1984 it is by the author of the introduction to Ba’s book, Dr. Louis Brenner, and is titled West African Sufi: The Religious Heritage and Spiritual Search of Cerno Bokar Saalife Tall .

Tierno Bokar Saalif Taal (1875-1939)

Division Street in the U.S. South and North

Activists in the U.S. see the new Juneteenth federal holiday as an appropriate occasion to call attention to the country’s high rate of incarceration of U.S. black males. Although they make up only 13 % of the country’s population, at the end of 2017 there were 476,000 black inmates and 437,000 whites in federal and state prisons. (Getty Image)

Division Street remains the principal east-west residential artery in Atchison, Kansas.  The town is named after a leading defender of slavery who himself “owned” many slaves: David Atchison.  A powerful Senator in the pre-Civil War era, Atchison advocated founding the town on the west side of the Missouri River to bridge the Kansas territory with the pro slavery forces of the State of Missouri to the east..

There are signs of a metaphorical Division Street in all U.S. towns and cities, in the South and the North.  The multiple deaths of black men and women at the hands of law enforcement and the ensuing mass protests before and during the pandemic have called our attention to the signs of racial separation and conflict.  Let me take you to Indianapolis, Indiana my hometown, the capital of a “free state” prior to the Civil War.

When my family moved there in the mid-1950’s African Americans were virtually banned from purchasing homes north of 42nd Street.  Real estate agents would not show homes in my white neighborhood to potential black buyers; banks denied their mortgage applications.  I grew up with no African American neighbors and no black children attending my elementary school.  In the early 1960’s when support for racial integration and opposition to the City’s discriminatory practices and legislation grew, the neighborhood and City changed.   As black families moved into houses in the area, some realtors contributed to the view that they would bring a decline in neighborhood appearance and property values. This widespread expectation did create a white flight to northern Indianapolis suburbs along with increased profits for realtors. 

By the time I entered high school in 1960, many of my neighbors were African American.  Once the inevitable was accepted, integration took place quickly.  I learned that one of the black families on my paper route hosted Rev. Martin Luther King on his visits to the city.   My graduating class at the City’s premier public high school was half African American and included the School’s first black junior prom queen.

Fifty years after my high school graduation, I was dismayed to learn that not all of my class’ white students took pride in the School’s progress in adapting to a more racially diverse student body.  At the reunion in 2014, no reference was made in the program that we had been participants in historic change at the City’s oldest high school.  For some attendees, it was evidently no cause for celebration.

In my wife’s Atchison, Kansas hometown, Division Street is a constant reminder of the conflict that continues to divide this country today. The Street’s name also describes the seated U.S. Congress. Republicans want to preserve the filibuster, a measure originated by southern congressmen to defend segregation and subjugation of the black population in the South.  In response to Republican legislation in many states to limit voting by persons of color, Democrats have now submitted a bill to protect and expand the right to vote .  Without ending the Senate’s filibuster procedure, however, the “For the People Act” has little chance of being approved.

Thanks to the intransigent solidarity of the Republic opposition, expansion of voting rights, substantive measures to reduce income inequality, reform of immigration policies and even urgently needed repair of the nation’s infrastructure will continue to be stalled or voted down.   Inoffensive gestures affirming citizens of color continue as the political strategy for the next elections.  There was near unanimous Republican approval of a national Juneteenth holiday this week in the Congress.  African Americans have for years celebrated the June 19, 1865 freeing of slaves in Texas when a Union general arrived at a State seaport and made the announcement, more than two years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.  But how many white U.S. citizens will be celebrating the holiday this weekend?

The spring Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered in Memphis, TN I had a college job in the national headquarters of one of the country’s leading retailers. There were dozens of low wage “key punch operators”, most of them black and Puerto Rican women, and I knew most saw King as a heroic martyred leader.  The day before the King funeral, I protested the company’s refusal to give us paid time off for the day and was promptly fired.  How many U.S. citizens still resent the national holiday in January celebrating his birth?  The King birthday did not become a national holiday until 1983 and did not become an official state holiday in all 50 states until the year 2000.

A ‘Radical Masterpiece’ on Colonialism and the Roots of White Supremacy

The film borrows its title from Swedish historian Sven Lindquist’s book who was quoting The Heart of Darkness’ Kurtz in his final delirium declaring “exterminate the brutes”.

Born in Haiti but raised from age 8 in the Congo, Raoul Peck has made a ground breaking documentary film on colonialism and white supremacy.  The filmmaker’s 1991 film “Lumumba” laid bare the facts surrounding the assassination of Congo’s first and only democratically elected Prime Minister.  He has now explored the ways widespread belief in the superiority of white Europeans and Americans led to genocide, the slave trade and colonial plunder and rule over five hundred years.  “Exterminate All the Brutes” is a four episode television series hailed by more than one reviewer as a master work and the pinnacle of Peck’s filmmaking career.  The popular U.S. news magazine Time called it a “radical masterpiece”.

Financed by the U.S. based HBO and now available only on their streaming service, the filmmaker calls his latest work an “origin story” for white supremacy.  In interviews focused on the film he emphasizes that his intention was not to point fingers or accuse but to contribute to making change possible.  Peck is dedicated to the conviction that armed with the truth, people’s collective action will bring about the changes needed to free us all from perpetual warfare and staggering inequality. “What must be denounced here” Peck has recently stated “is not so much the reality of the Native American genocide, or the reality of slavery, or the reality of the Holocaust; what needs to be denounced here are the consequences of these realities in our lives and in life today.”

Peck begins the series by demythologizing the history most citizens have been taught about the United States.  President Obama’s declaration that “America was not a colonial nation” is refuted by the film’s assertion that “America IS a colonial nation.”  The first episode retells the story of our “settler colonialism” requiring wars on the native American population and the appropriation of their lands and resources. Peck as narrator notes the word “exterminate” derives from the Latin words meaning, “drive out” and “boundaries”

The prevailing mythology of the U.S. as a beneficient nation of immigrants has been elaborated by those in power from the Pilgrim days to the present.  The film’s themes and analysis flow from a change in perspective.  “The whole vision of the film is based on changing the point of view of who is telling the story” Peck told one interviewer.  The first episode dramatizes the fatal encounter of the Seminole female chief Osceola with a commander of the troops assigned to displace the tribe.  “You steal land; you steal life; you steal human beings.  What kind of a species are you?” Osceola asks.

In a later episode the film tells the story of the Haitian slave rebellion and the founding in 1804 of the first nation in the Americas to free all human beings on its soil.  Peck reminds us that the example of the Haitian revolution and former slaves’ democratic rule in Haiti was widely feared in the U.S. In response the U.S. opposed recognition of the new nation until 1862.  Some U.S. political leaders continue to portray Haiti as a “s….hole country” while their powerful northern neighbor  continues to corrupt and manipulate Haitian politicians to the present day. 

This film represents a powerful tool for those who are committed to this era’s project of truth telling that connects the dots of colonial expansionism with current systems that seek to maintain white supremacy and white privilege.  Republican political leadership in the U.S. is mobilizing in defense of  the country’s obstinate but obsolete mythology.  Confronting truths long suppressed is considered a threat to their power.  On April 30 Senate Minority Leader McConnell warned the new administration’s Secretary of Education  that “powerful institutions increasingly subject Americans to a drumbeat of revisionism and negativity about our nation’s history and identity”.

Contrary to McConnell, there is widespread agreement in the U.S. today that if the nation is to progress in creating the multi-racial society we have envisioned its citizens must come to grips with the legacy of slavery and the expropriation and elimination of native Americans. Decades ago, James Baldwin, the subject of Peck’s previous documentary “I Am Not a Negro”, described well the film’s importance.  “Not everything that is faced can be changed” Baldwin stated.  “But nothing can be changed that is not faced.”

The two minute trailer for the film can be seen here:

https://www.hbo.com/exterminate-all-the-brutes

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”

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.

2018 Nobel Peace Prize Dr. Denis Mukwege’s Speech in Oslo

Dr. Denis Mukwege of Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, DRC shared the Nobel Peace Prize of 2018 with Nadia Murad of Iraq. Photo from WHO

Dr. Denis Mukwege spoke on December 10, 2018 in Oslo, Norway on being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. What follows is an edited version of his speech.

“In the tragic night of 6 October 1996, rebels attacked our hospital in Lemera, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (RDC). More than thirty people were killed. Patients were slaughtered in their beds point blank. Unable to flee, the staff were killed in cold blood.

I could not have imagined that it was only the beginning.

Forced to leave Lemera in 1999, we set up the Panzi hospital in Bukavu where I still work as an obstetrician-gynaecologist today.
The first patient admitted was a rape victim who had been shot in her genitals.

The macabre violence knew no limit.

Sadly, this violence has never stopped.

One day like any other, the hospital received a phone call.

At the other end of the line, a colleague in tears implored: “Please send us an ambulance fast. Please hurry”
So we sent an ambulance, as we normally do.
Two hours later, the ambulance returned.

Inside was a little girl about eighteen months old. She was bleeding profusely and was immediately taken to the operating room.
When I arrived, all the nurses were sobbing. The baby’s bladder, genitals and rectum were severely injured.

By the penetration of an adult.

Rape survivors learn practical skills while recovering at Panzi Hospital in Bukavu in eastern Congo in 2009. RNS photo by Fredrick Nzwili

We prayed in silence: my God, tell us what we are seeing isn’t true.
Tell us it’s a bad dream.
Tell us when we wake up, everything will be alright.

But it was not a bad dream.
It was the reality.
It has become our new reality in the DRC.

When another baby arrived, I realized that the problem could not be solved in the operating room, but that we had to combat the root causes of these atrocities.

I decided to travel to the village of Kavumu to talk to the men: why don’t you protect your babies, your daughters, your wives? And where are the authorities?

To my surprise, the villagers knew the suspect. Everyone was afraid of him, since he was a member of the provincial Parliament and enjoyed absolute power over the population.

For several months, his militia has been terrorising the whole village. It had instilled fear by killing a human rights defender who had had the courage to report the facts. The deputy got away with no consequences. His parliamentary immunity enabled him to abuse with impunity.

The two babies were followed by several dozens of other raped children.

When the forty-eighth victim arrived, we were desperate.

With other human rights defenders, we went to a military court. At last, the rapes were prosecuted and judged as crimes against humanity.

The rapes of babies in Kavumu stopped.
And so did the calls to Panzi hospital.
But these babies’ psychological, sexual and reproductive health is severely impaired.

What happened in Kavumu and what is still going on in many other places in Congo, such as the rapes and massacres in Béni and Kasaï, was made possible by the absence of the rule of law, the collapse of traditional values and the reign of impunity, particularly for those in power.

Rape, massacres, torture, widespread insecurity and a flagrant lack of education create a spiral of unprecedented violence.
The human cost of this perverted, organized chaos has been hundreds of thousands of women raped, over 4 million people displaced within the country and the loss of 6 million human lives. Imagine, the equivalent of the entire population of Denmark decimated.

United Nations peacekeepers and experts have not been spared, either. Several of them have been killed on duty. Today, the United Nations Mission is still in the DRC to prevent the situation from degenerating further.

We are grateful to them.

However, despite their efforts, this human tragedy will continue if those responsible are not prosecuted. Only the fight against impunity can break the spiral of violence.

We all have the power to change the course of history when the beliefs we are fighting for are right………..

My name is Denis Mukwege. I come from one of the richest countries on the planet. Yet the people of my country are among the poorest of the world.

The troubling reality is that the abundance of our natural resources – gold, coltan, cobalt and other strategic minerals – is the root cause of war, extreme violence and abject poverty.

We love nice cars, jewellery and gadgets. I have a smartphone myself. These items contain minerals found in our country. Often mined in inhuman conditions by young children, victims of intimidation and sexual violence.

When you drive your electric car; when you use your smart phone or admire your jewellery, take a minute to reflect on the human cost of manufacturing these objects.

As consumers, let us at least insist that these products are manufactured with respect for human dignity.

Turning a blind eye to this tragedy is being complicit.
It’s not just perpetrators of violence who are responsible for their crimes, it is also those who choose to look the other way.

My country is being systematically looted with the complicity of people claiming to be our leaders. Looted for their power, their wealth and their glory. Looted at the expense of millions of innocent men, women and children abandoned in extreme poverty. While the profits from our minerals end up in the pockets of a predatory oligarchy.

For twenty years now, day after day, at Panzi hospital, I have seen the harrowing consequences of the country’s gross mismanagement.
Babies, girls, young women, mothers, grandmothers, and also men and boys, cruelly raped, often publicly and collectively, by inserting
burning plastic or sharp objects in their genitals.
I’ll spare you the details.

The Netflix documentary “City of Joy” tells the story of Dr. Mukwege and Panzi Hospital.

The Congolese people have been humiliated, abused and massacred for more than two decades in plain sight of the international community.
Today, with access to the most powerful communication technology ever, no one can say: “I didn’t know”………………..

With this Nobel Peace Prize, I call on the world to be a witness and I urge you to join us in order to put an end to this suffering that shames our common humanity.

The people of my country desperately need peace…………………

Finally, after twenty years of bloodshed, rape and massive population displacements, the Congolese people are desperately awaiting implementation of the responsibility to protect the civilian population when their government cannot or does not want to do so. The people are waiting to explore the path to a lasting peace.

To achieve peace, there has to be adherence to the principle of free, transparent, credible and peaceful elections.
“People of the Congo, let us get to work!” Let’s build a State at the heart of Africa where the government serves its people. A State under the rule of law, capable of bringing lasting and harmonious development not just of the DRC but of the whole of Africa, where all political, economic and social actions will be based on a people-centred approach to restore human dignity of all citizens.

Your Majesties, Distinguished Members of the Nobel Committee, Ladies and Gentlemen, Friends of peace,

The challenge is clear. It is within our reach.

For all Sarahs, for all women, for all men and children of Congo, I call upon you not only to award this Nobel Peace Prize to my country’s people, but to stand up and together say loudly: “The violence in the DRC, it’s enough! Enough is enough! Peace, now!”
Thank you.”

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”.

Mark Twain’s Defense of Human Rights in Congo

Mark Twain’s booklet published in early 1905 contributed to the international human rights campaign that ended King Leopold of Belgium’s personal rule over the Congo.

“We have gone there to conquer, not to redeem…. And so I am an anti-imperialist. I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land.” So stated Mark Twain in an interview published in The New York Herald in 1900. As U.S. business and military figures settled in the Philippines, the most widely read American writer at the time increased the fury of his attacks on the U.S. occupation of the Islands. In 1901 Twain proposed a new flag that would be fitting for the U.S. “Philippine Province”: “We can have just our usual flag, with the white stripes painted black and the stars replaced by the skull and cross bones.”

Twain deplored his country’s imitating the European pattern of foreign imperial rule and joined in denouncing the European and American suppression of the Boxer Rebellion in China. “My sympathies are with the Chinese” Twain wrote. “They have been villainously dealt with by the sceptered thieves of Europe, and I hope they will drive all of the foreigners out and keep them out for good”. But Twain’s fiercest denunciation of the exploitation of another people by a Western power was directed at Belgium’s King Leopold and his Congo Free State’s systems of extracting ivory and then rubber from the heart of Africa.

The celebrated writer’s 1905 treatise detailed the horrors perpetrated by the agents of a King “whose mate is not findable in human history anywhere, and whose personality will surely shame hell itself when he arrives there.” So wrote Twain in his journal a year after he published King Leopold’s Soliloquy as a small book benefitting the Congo Reform Association. The principal organizer and founder of the CRA, Edmund Morel, supplied Twain with photos of Congolese whose hands had been cut off for insufficient harvesting of rubber. In the writer’s view, the photos would counter the whitewashing by most of the American press of the Congo Free State’s depredations.

The Congo photos taken by British and American missionaries greatly agitated the Belgian King. Leopold, in Twain’s words, mutters to himself, “Ten thousand pulpits and ten thousand presses are saying the good word for me all the time and placidly and convincingly denying the mutilations. Then that trivial little Kodak, that a child can carry in its pocket, gets up, never uttering a word, and knocks them dumb.” The “incorruptible Kodak” was deemed an indispensable aid in countering the Belgian despot’s campaign to portray himself in the U.S. as “the benefactor of a down-trodden and friendless people”.

Providing evidence of the Congo Free State’s common practice of cutting off hands of unproductive rubber harvesters is a missionary of the Congo Balolo Mission. From the collection of the Centre for the Study of World Christianity, Edinburgh.

Twain’s considerable efforts to shed light on conditions in Congo and bring about change were driven in part by the U.S. 1884 official endorsement of the Congo Free State, the first foreign power to do so. He imagines Leopold gloating over his sales job, “Possibly the Yankees would like to take that back now, but they will find that my agents are not over there in America for nothing.” The U.S. President’s Order of Recognition brings a “mocking smile” to the King’s face as he reads, “the government of the United States announces its sympathy with and approval of the humane and benevolent purposes of my Congo scheme”. The guile deployed in establishing his Congo Free State brings another smile as he reads the report from Congo of the American missionary Rev. W.H. Morrison, “Our government would most certainly not have recognized that flag had it known that …..having put down African slavery in our own country at great cost of blood and money, it was establishing a worse form of slavery right in Africa” (author italics, ed.).

Once the U.S. President approved the Belgian King’s rule over the vast Central African territory, leading American businessmen, among them John D. Rockefeller and the Guggenheims, were granted concessions in Congo. Adam Hochschild in his book King Leopold’s Ghost quotes one of the King’s public relations agents in the U.S. as advising the King, “Open up a strip of territory clear across the Congo State from east to west for benefit of American capital. Take the present concessionaires by the throat, if necessary, and compel them to share their privileges with the Americans.”

Always a savvy manipulator of the media of his day, King Leopold sponsored publication of this defense of his Congo rule soon after release of Twain’s booklet

Once Leopold was forced to relinquish his rule of the territory in 1908, U.S. businessmen and government officials developed even closer ties with the agents of Belgian colonial rule. The U.S. business and financial sectors’ heightened involvement in the extraction of Congo’s unmatched strategic mineral reserves led to use of the country’s uranium in the creation of the atom bombs dropped on Japan. At independence in 1960, the international concessions holding the rights to most of Congo’s mineral wealth included a substantial U.S. share. Like the U.S.in the past, China today seems to value access to Congo’s mineral wealth above the human rights and living conditions of the country’s people. Its two billion dollar commitment to the country’s development projects places China in the position of being the leading ally and supporter of the present-day Congolese administration and its defiance of the country’s constitution and those defending its authority.