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.
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 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.
“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”.
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.”
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.
Increased production of electric automobiles worldwide depends on supplies of cobalt from mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo. As sales of electric cars rise, the uncertainy of cobalt production in Congo with over 60 per cent of the world’s known reserves, is a major concern and may keep the cars’ cost beyond the reach of the mass market. First Cobalt mining company of Canada is exploring for cobalt in North America and another Canadian mining company recently cancelled its stake in supplying cobalt from Congo.
The lithium-ion battery in today’s electric cars carries 5 to 10 kilos of cobalt, with its cost accounting for 20 % of the cost of a Tesla Model S. 97 per cent of the world’s supply of cobalt comes from nickel and copper mining in Central Africa with Congo being by far the primary source. While Tesla and other companies are investing heavily in battery research which might bypass use of cobalt in the future, Tesla’s claim that in the meantime its cobalt needs will be met by North American mines is dubious. An article titled “No cobalt, no Tesla” in the journal Technology Crunch points out that Canada and the U.S. produce 4 % of the world’s cobalt, far short of what would be needed for manufacture of a half million Tesla Model 3 cars, the company’s stated short term goal.
Meanwhile, Congo’s political instability, the Western public’s heightened awareness of use of child labor in the country’s artisanal mines and corruption in the Congolese government-controlled mining have discouraged investment in Congolese cobalt production. In September, the Canadian First Cobalt Co. pulled out of an agreement to mine cobalt at seven different sites in Congo’s Katanga Province. According to the Creamer Media’s Mining Weekly , First Cobalt described the Congo sources as “very appealing geologically but its investment climate has deteriorated”. First Cobalt decided to concentrate its investments in Canada’s Cobalt Camp, where no cobalt has been produced to date. A UK analyst for a commodities trader in cobalt told Tom Wilson of the Sydney Morning Herald “The cobalt-supply dependency on the Congo is a risky situation”.
Chinese companies seem willing to take the risk. Today it is Chinese companies in Congo, Zambia and Central African Republic which supply 90 per cent of the cobalt used in lithium-ion batteries. Two Western companies holding a majority interest in Congo’s largest cobalt producing mine, the Tenke Fungurume mine, have sold their shares to two Chinese companies in what were the biggest investments ever in Congo. The head of the government mining company, Gecamines, Mr. Albert Yuma Mulimbi told London’s Financial Times he preferred partnerships with Chinese companies as past deals with the West often left Congo with a minority interest in the revenues.
For the near future, the Chinese will supply most of the refined cobalt for the electric car industry world-wide. They will not be the only ones to benefit from the “greening” of the automotive industry. Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates that demand for cobalt could increase 47 times by 2030 with one analyst estimating that Congo’s share of the world’s cobalt production might need to reach 73 % by 2025. Cobalt prices on the London Metal Exchange have more than doubled this year. As a result, a month ago Kabila urged the Congo legislature to increase royalty payments on cobalt production from 2 to 3.5 per cent. Shortly before Kabila’s efforts, Standard & Poors Global lowered its rating of Congolese debt and currency, citing the political instability in the country.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” Mt 5:43-45 (NRSV translation)
It rained all night. Sheets of rain coming down at 3 in the morning. In the morning, the rain gauge registered 5 inches at our place. Cars were submerged at the Toyota dealer where we take our cars for servicing. The normally peaceful, lovely Indian Creek where the mill stood for one hundred years burst its banks.
Like a magic carpet, the downpour transported me to the tropical rain forest and through the night I dreamed of Congo. One story after another. The one that stayed with me concerned a missionary who during the unrest following independence had told his family’s “houseboy” he had started a fund for educating the man’s children. Soon after the conversation, the missionary returned to the U.S. and lost contact with the family’s cook and housekeeper. Two or three decades later, he learned that leaders of the Church in Congo wanted to connect with him. What had happened to the fund he had created for his “houseboy” they wanted to know?
The former employee, now at the advanced age for Congo of 60, had been asking for a way to contact the missionary. Every morning he appeared at the entrance to the Church headquarters wanting to know if they had heard from him yet. It was urgent because the man’s wife needed to have an operation and their only hope to pay for it was the fund the missionary had talked about creating.
Whether going to a poor nation as an aid worker, a “missionary” or a tourist, we travelers from the north are advised these days not to make promises we cannot or do not intend to keep. On recalling the story, after the rain, that counsel came to mind and so did my learning from experience and from study of colonial and post colonial African history that our promises in Africa often do not coincide with what the African people need or want. Although the man’s children likely did not advance beyond the six grades of primary school, there was no call on the missionary to help pay for further schooling. Not surprisingly, the missionary’s help was called on when death threatened the household.
It also occurred to me on awakening after the rain that the story of the missionary speaks to the failure of the U.S. and Congolese governments to serve the Congolese people. Neither State’s investments in Congolese economic development reflect respect for the people’s vision for the country’s future. Massive foreign-financed projects like the Inga Dam stir hopes and make for good media stories, but in what way do they represent progress in realizing the people’s vision?
The speeches of the first and only fairly elected President of the Congo, Patrice Lumumba, articulate that vision clearly and powerfully. “We are going to see to it that the soil of our country really benefits its children” Lumumba declared on June 30, 1960, Congo’s independence day. Despite the Congolese State’s intense, continual repression of dissenting voices, politics in Congo have time and again given voice to this vision of the people sharing in the wealth of the country’s natural resources.
U.S. government aid for Congo has seldom supported the people’s vision. In the first years following Belgian colonial rule, when Congolese saw the U.S. as their best friend, it was the threat of Communist rule and more recently it seems to be unimpeded extraction of Congo’s vast resources that makes the Congolese State’s stability and security the priorities of U.S. Congo policy. It now seems possible that U.S. government aid will never reflect recognition and respect for the enduring vision of the Congolese people.
During the same speech on the day Congo’s independence was celebrated, the now venerated Congolese leader added to his written text this commentary: “The independence of the Congo represents a decisive step toward the liberation of the entire African continent.” Today, with Congo being the most blatant and distressing example, the “soil” primarily benefits a very small elite of many African nations. When will Congo, when will Africa, become truly free and independent? When will justice “roll down like the waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” on Congo and on all of Africa? When will the abundance of the creation uniquely on display in Congo lead to improved health and well being of the Congolese people? The rain assures us that some day it will be so.
Experience the force and the message of the rain in the Congo rainforest by clicking below (and turn up your volume if you dare!):
Have you no shame Robert Dole? The former Senator from Kansas and ex contender for the U.S. Presidency Bob Dole has exposed himself as one of those mired in the swamp that Donald Trump pledged to drain in his campaign for President. As Trump himself reaches out to autocratic rulers in the Philippines, Turkey and Russia, Bob Dole just signed on to the budding campaign to improve the ties and the image of the Congo’s Kabila government in Washington, D.C.
When his law and lobbying firm office in D.C. contracted with Mer Security and Communications of Israel to further the foreign policy aims of Mobutu’s successor, it was Sen. Dole who signed the $500 k deal. Why the Congolese sought out an Israeli international security corporate power to gain influence and support in the U.S. is likely due to the moves under the Obama administration to penalize and pressure Congo’s elite to hold presidential elections as called for by the country’s constitution.
In a stunning reversal of the former administration’s policies vis a vis the Congo, less than two weeks after his inauguration, Trump’s administration had succeeded in getting both House and Senate to repeal the “Anti-Corruption” ruling of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission as called for by the Cardin-Lugar Section 1504 of the Dodd-Frank legislation . Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md) lamented the repeal vote in a statement noting that Section 1504 required “domestic and foreign oil, gas and mineral companies traded on U.S. stock exchanges to publish the payments they make to foreign governments”. He went on to state, “Big Oil might have won the battle today, but I’m not done fighting the war against entrenched corruption that harms the American people’s interests and leaves the world’s poor trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty while their leaders prosper.”
The corruption in Congo and the “vicious cycle of poverty” there was specifically mentioned as the target in the discussions before passage of Section 1504. EXXON’s then CEO and current Secretary of State Rex Tillerson were among the leading opponents of that congressional action back in 2010. With the quick repeal of the Cardin-Lugar “anti-corruption” measure, Congo’s current leaders could expect further support of the status quo by the Trump administration. The threats by Trump’s UN Ambassador Nikki Haley to curtail U.S. funding for the UN Congo peacekeeping mission can now more clearly be seen as a pretext for realizing the neoconservative desire to weaken the UN and jeopardize U.S. funding of the international body and not in any way intended to undermine Kabila’s government. Haley’s chief adviser at the UN, former Heritage Foundation staff member Stephen Groves, assisted the most extensive congressional investigation ever of the UN in what became known as the Iraq “oil for food scandal” in the late 1990’s.
It is increasingly accepted that one of the UN’s principal aims in Congo, the facilitating of a free and fair presidential election, is now being countered on multiple fronts by the country’s ruling elite. In a blatant violation of the December 2016 agreement between the Kabila government and the opposition leadership, the current administration named a new Prime Minister on its own in April and thereby succeeded in further dividing the opposition’s coalition. Weakening the resistance to Kabila’s rule through naming of opponents to more than 50 cabinet level posts in the governing bureaucracy, violent repression of anti government demonstrations and the closing of non partisan and opposition media outlets outline the government’s plan to prolong indefinitely preparations for the elections in what is widely referred to as the “glissement” (slipping away) strategy.
With the signing of the huge $5.6 million contract with a term of December 8, 2016 to December 31, 2017, the ruling elite’s campaign to gain international acceptance is seriously under way. In the contract, Mer Security pledges to “represent” Congo’s government and advise on “U.S. policy and political concerns regarding African security issues”. Replying to an inquiry from the U.S. Center for Public Integrity, Mer Security’s CEO said in an email the firm was hired “to explore opportunities through which the U.S. government can support the DRC government in its efforts to bring peace, stability and prosperity to the Congolese people.”
Sen. Dole, and his Alston & Bird firm, will not be alone in his work on behalf of close relations for Congo’s elite with the current U.S. administration. Adnan Jalil who served as the Trump campaign’s liaison with the House of Representatives in 2016 has already received $45,000 from Mer Security for his Congo lobbying. Other than his work for Trump and as staffer for Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-North Carolina), Jalil has no experience in Congo and no background with political issues there. He stated, “the Congolese people, their safety and human rights can only improve if the United States takes an active and engaging role in the largest country in Africa”. In a deal that may be separate from the Mer Security agreement, the Kabila administration has also contracted with Cindy Courville, an Africa analyst for the Bush 2 administration, to “develop branding and public relations strategy” in the U.S. Her consulting firm will be paid $8000 per month under the contract terms.
In the United States, we are all trying to decipher the messages sent us by the resounding election victories of Donald Trump and the Republican Party. While the election’s handwriting on the wall will continue to be interpreted in different ways as in Daniel chapter 5, one area of the message is certain. As much as we try to ignore or put it behind us, mistrust, fear and abuse of the Other (persons of other races and nationalities) continue to threaten the rule of democracy in the United States.
Here in Kansas City, the Negro Leagues Baseball Hall of Fame celebrates the African American baseball players who never made it to the major leagues of the “great American past time” not because they didn’t have the talent but because of their exclusion from U.S. professional teams until the year 1947. The Kansas City museum also honors the memory of those white players who in the winter off season during the years of segregated baseball played on teams outside the country with black players.
Surprisingly, some of those white players, like the brothers Paul and Dizzy Dean, had grown up in the fiercely segregationist southern states which enforced separation of the races in their territory. For some of the whites like the Dean brothers, the wintertime move to Mexico, Cuba and other nations of the Caribbean was motivated by the desire to play baseball against and with the best U.S. players, whether black or white.
For the African American players, leaving their home country to play baseball brought benefits the whites took for granted in the U.S. As the black player Willie Wells said of playing ball in Mexico, “We live in the best hotels, go to the best restaurants, and can go anywhere we care to. We don’t enjoy such privileges in the United States.” In short, Wells and the other African Americans found “respect, freedom and democracy. In Mexico.”
Today of course, professional sports teams in the United States are fully integrated and black players excel. But the recent election provides additional evidence of a strategy to restrict if not suppress the rights and the impact of African American and other voters in U.S. elections. Anti- democratic voiding of the ballots of several thousand black voters in Florida in the 2000 presidential election put us on notice. Since then we have learned of defective voting machines, closing of polling places, new voter identification requirements, redrawing of voting districts in the states, and new voter registration procedures all implemented within states, in the south and the north, controlled by Republican legislatures intent on limiting the impact of the increased numbers of persons of color in American elections.
One of the most troubling aspects of the past election is summed up by the observation made by one U.S. political scientist who said, “this is the first election held in this country without the full protections of the U.S. Voting Rights Act of 1965”. One way to better understand the importance of this statement is offered by viewing the 2014 film “Selma”.
This film recounts the history of the struggle for African Americans’ right to vote in southern states. For decades since the Civil War southern politicians had devised various ways to deny African Americans the right to vote. Now in our day, the 1965 Act that prohibited such practices has been weakened through devious legislative maneuvers in many states of the U.S.
What might the long term effects on American democracy be if such practices continue and a wall is built between persons of color and the U.S. polling place? Let me share a story, a kind of parable, that suggests what we might be in for.
In the mid 1970’s a friend here in Kansas City played basketball for one of Kansas’ community colleges. The team had black and white players on it and had a couple of games against teams in the southern State of Texas. When they got to the small town’s biggest restaurant the black players were told, and this only forty years ago, that they would be served in the room behind the kitchen.
My friend and the other black players went to the back room and enjoyed meeting the entirely black kitchen staff and eating what they cooked for them. Their portions were more than ample and the kitchen help offered to make the leftovers into sandwiches for the team’s trip north. That night some of the white players got to sample what their black teammates had eaten. When they returned to the same restaurant after the next day’s game all the white players told the coach they wanted to eat the better food and bigger portions provided in the back room too.
The story suggests what this country will lose if the campaign continues to limit or exclude the human rights of segments of the population. Not only will citizens of the nation, of all ethnic backgrounds, be deprived of the best a democracy offers. The image of the U.S. as a bastion of democracy world wide will be malnourished. And this means we all will suffer the consequences.
“I know that beating George Foreman and conquering the world with my fists does not bring freedom to my people. I am well aware that I must go beyond all this and prepare myself for more. I know,” said Muhammed Ali, “that I enter a new arena.” So spoke Ali summing up the significance for himself of reclaiming the Heavyweight Championship just hours after the 1974 fight held in Kinshasa, capital of the then Zaire.
Before the long awaited match of the powerful, younger Foreman and the cagey former champ, Muhammed Ali had reflected publicly on the larger role he assumed with his conversion to Islam and refusal of induction to the Army. “If I win”, he declared, “I’m going to be the black Kissinger. It’s full of glory, but it’s tiresome. Every time I visit a place, I got to go by the schools, by the old folks’ home. I’m not just a fighter, I’m a world figure to these people.”
During the month-long delay of the fight, Ali had plenty of time in Kinshasa to carry out and describe further his mission as a “world figure”. As the excitement mounted, a few days prior to the bout he said, “Nobody is ready to know what I’m up to. People in America just find it hard to take a fighter seriously.” He then issued an alert, “They don’t know that I’m using boxing for the sake of getting over certain points you couldn’t get over without it. Being a fighter enables me to attain certain ends. I’m not doing this,” he revealed, “for the glory of fighting, but to change a lot of things.”
In his interpretation of the pronouncements and ever expanding persona of Ali before and after the Foreman fight, Norman Mailer wrote, “Was he still a kid from Louisville talking, talking, through the afternoon, and for all anyone knew through the night, talking through the ungovernable anxiety of a youth seized by history to enter the dynamos of history? Or was he in full process of becoming that most unique phenomenon, a twentieth century prophet, and so the anger and the fear of his voice was that he could not teach, could not convince, could not convince?”
Reading Mailer’s account in The Fight of his grappling with Ali’s meaning to people in Congo and the rest of the world, this reader felt the writer had come closest to the measure, the legacy of the recently deceased champ. Mailer wrote, “One only had to open to the possibility that Ali had a large mind rather than a repetitive mind and was ready for oncoming chaos, ready for the volcanic disruptions that would boil through the world in these approaching years of pollution, malfunction and economic disaster.” It seems Mailer had to go to Congo to learn to understand and accept that this “prophet” had been shaped and prepared by his Muslim faith and co-believers.
Mailer confessed in his book, “He (Mailer) had implicitly kept waiting for some evidence that Ali was not a Black Muslim, not really, and that was absurd. It was time to recognize that being a Black Muslim might be the core of Ali’s existence and the center of his strength. What was one to do about that?” On his flight back to the States Mailer was confronted by stunning evidence that the Muslim world claimed Ali as one of them.
Before landing in Dakar, capital of largely Muslim Senegal, the pilot announced they would divert to a remote airport runway to evade the couple of thousand persons waiting for the chance to greet what they thought was their champ’s plane. Undaunted, the crowd surrounded the plane and were persuaded to disperse only after a few were allowed to search thoroughly for Ali inside the aircraft.
In a time when Christians especially in the U.S. need greater understanding of Islam and its approximately 1.5 billion followers, it is unfortunate that very few obituaries paid homage to the depth and profound influence of the man’s faith. Prior to the fight in Kinshasa he had noted referring to his projected earnings, “I’m left with a million three. That ain’t no money. You give me a hundred million today, I’ll be broke tomorrow. We got a hospital we’re working on, a Black hospital being built in Chicago, costs fifty million dollars. My money goes into causes.” With little understanding of Islam, Mailer cannot escape the insight that Ali’s courage and integrity were founded on the bedrock of his Muslim faith.
In the end, it was that courage and integrity that won over his most bitter foes. In 1981 George Foreman reconciled with the man he had loathed since losing to him. Much later he recalled, “In 1981, a reporter came to my ranch and asked me: ‘What happened in Africa, George?’ I had to look him in the eye and say, “I lost. He beat me.”
Following that interview with the reporter, Foreman softened. “Before that I had nothing but revenge and hate on my mind, but from then on it was clear. I’ll never be able to win that match, so I had to let it go.” Foreman eventually concluded, in 2003: “[Ali is] the greatest man I’ve ever known. Not greatest boxer that’s too small for him. He had a gift. He’s not pretty he’s beautiful. Everything America should be, Muhammad Ali is.”  In response to Foreman’s statement we citizens of the U.S. in 2016 are left with the question, “What was one to do about that?”