UPDATE: Congo’s Health minister yesterday suspended roll out of the vaccination campaign due to concerns with the astra zeneca injections causing blood clotting in some persons.
As promised by COVAX, the international COVID vaccination alliance, the Congo received its first delivery of AstraZeneca vaccines March 2. Congo’s Health Minister announced the four provinces most affected by the pandemic will begin vaccinating by the end of March. With 75 % of the reported COVID cases, Kinshasa will see the most activity and provide a test of the vaccine protocol which calls for health and social workers to receive the first doses. They will be followed by those most vulnerable to the virus, with pre-existing conditions, and finally all persons over 55 years of age.
Subsequent vaccine deliveries from COVAX will supply Congo with a total of 6 million Astra-Zeneca doses developed in the UK but manufactured by the Serum Institute of India. COVAX has announced it is on track to provide 2 billion doses of COVID vaccines to 92 low income countries by the end of this year. All African nations should be capable of matching Congo’s vaccinations’ goal of vaccinating 20 per cent of the population in 2021. “We will only be safe anywhere if we are safe everywhere,” said Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of the COVAX international partner responsible for delivery of the vaccines.
Of the two vaccines first approved for use in the U.S., 40 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine will be distributed by COVAX in the first quarter of this year. This total is dwarfed by the AstraZeneca/Oxford jab of 336 million doses largely produced in India and to be administered worldwide by mid year. A half billion of the newly approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine are to be received by COVAX as well as the U.S. developed and soon to be approved Novovax doses which may result in 1.1 billion additional doses provided by purchases from U.S. companies.
After four years of the Trump administration’s rejection of international cooperation, President Biden announced at the February meeting of the G7 developed nations a U.S. contribution of $2 billion to COVAX. The commitment also includes another $2 billion conditioned on fulfillment of pledges by other nations in the G7 group.
Congo’s vaccination campaign continues the country’s effective COVID response begun after the first case was diagnosed the second week of March 2020. The Congolese President Tshisekedi declared a public health emergency by the end of that month enabling him to close schools and places of worship along with a ban on large gatherings and travel from Kinshasa to the rest of the country. An excellent article by human rights activist Pascal Kambale describes how the new President was also able to take advantage of the closure of Parliament and other pandemic related conditions to strengthen his political position vis a vis the formidable bloc of former President Kabila’s supporters. http://congoresearchgroup.org/impacts-covid19-on-democratic-process-in-the-drc/
As noted in the last posting on this site, Congo’s total number of COVID cases is far lower than in its trade partners of the industrialized world. With a fast growing population of over 91 million persons, the third largest in sub Saharan Africa, the Congo has reported 26,405 cases with 711 deaths due to the virus. In my home state of Missouri in the U.S., there have been 574,000 cases with 8,750 COVID related deaths among a population of 6.14 million persons.
“With health systems in even high-income countries still at risk of being overwhelmed by the pandemic, leaders would do well to heed the example of the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo).” This was the conclusion of the World Health Organization’s director general in a Guardian article announcing the end of the latest Ebola outbreak in Congo. Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus used the June 25 announcement to notify governments and health agencies of what measures were behind Congo’s success in turning back Ebola. “The Congolese people ended a devastating outbreak through an unshakeable commitment to science, data and community, and with international solidarity.”
The Congolese have benefited from the learnings and improvements in health infrastructure gained in stemming spread of Ebola in their response to the COVID virus. The latest WHO statistics on COVID in Congo speak for themselves: in a population of 90 million people there have been 11,052 cases and 303 deaths. These figures are way below those of other Central African countries. In the neighboring Republic of Congo there have been 5,156 total COVID cases with 92 deaths in a country with less than half the population of the DRC. Rwanda leads the DRC in most measures of economic and infrastructure development but has treated 383 cases per each million persons in its population compared to the DRC figure of 122 cases per million.
The tragically inept and chaotic response of the United States is evident in a comparison of the virus’ spread and mortality rate with the Congo’s (DRC). There have been 680 deaths in the U.S. per each million persons and 25,538 cases per million in stark contrast to the Congo’s loss of 3 persons per million to the virus and 122 cases per million Congolese. Even accounting for Congo’s challenges in tracking cases and deaths in remote areas and the country’s faulty data practices, the U.S.-Congo gap in the spread of the virus underlines crucial differences in the countries’ response to COVID.
Perhaps due largely to its experience with other deadly viruses, sub Saharan Africa was quick to respond to COVID. A March 30 statement by the former President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, pointed to the international cooperation and reliance on science as decisive in her country’s battle with the Ebola virus which took 5000 lives during her administration. Ms. Sirleaf described Liberia’s learnings with these words, “A mass mobilization of resources led by the UN, the World Health Organization, and the US followed. We defeated it together. As a result, today there are effective experimental vaccines and antivirals thanks to the collaboration of the best scientific minds around the world.” Three months after this statement, the Trump administration declared the U.S. would leave the W.H.O., the only global health agency created by the United Nations.
In summing up Congo’s effective response to the Ebola outbreak in the country’s northeast, also plagued by civil conflict, the W.H.O. director general emphasized the important role of non-governmental actors. “Engaging communities and influential figures, such as faith leaders and traditional healers, was critical. Communities should be respected as first responders, who can quickly detect cases and collectively work out how to isolate patients, even with minimal resources” Dr. Ghebreyesus wrote. The example set by the leadership and health staff of the Disciples of Christ of Congo is noteworthy. In the poorest province of the country, the DCC President Rev. Eliki Bonanga wrote three weeks after the first COVID case was detected on March 10 that the Church committed to “campaigning against COVID-19 through community education on what is COVID-19, how to contain it, how to avoid it, what to do in case the community identifies a suspect case.”
The Congo Disciples’ health services have greatly benefited from aid from partner churches in Germany and the U.S. International aid and cooperation were highlighted in former Liberian President Ms. Sirleaf’s analysis of her country’s success against Ebola. Commenting on Africa’s readiness to combat COVID, Ms. Sirleaf explained, “what most encourages today, is the opening up of expertise and the fact that knowledge, scientific discovery, equipment, medicines and personnel are being shared”. She concluded her message transmitted by BBC News on March 30 with this eloquent plea, “As we all hunker down in the next few weeks, I pray for the health and well-being of our global citizens, and I ask that everyone remember that our humanity now relies on the essential truth that a life well-lived is a life in the service to others.”
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.
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 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!”
We celebrate the co-awarding of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to Dr. Denis Mukwege of Panzi Hospital in eastern Congo. See this blog’s 2016 post on Dr. Mukwege’s call for political change in Congo titled “From ‘Beyond Vietnam’ to Congo 2016” and found below here:
The Ebola outbreak that killed 11,000 people in West Africa three years ago has ended its threat in the Equateur Province of the Congo (DRC). The relatively low death toll of 29 during this most recent crisis can in part be attributed to Congo’s past experience in countering 8 prior outbreaks in the country. This was, however, the first instance of Ebola’s spread in Congo to an urban center, Equateur Province’s capital of Mbandaka with 1.2 million people. The organizing of an international campaign and the crucial contributions of local Mbandaka partners are highlighted in the following article by the DRC’s Minister of Health that appeared July 25 in The Guardian newspaper of the U.K.
“We’ve halted the spread of deadly Ebola in Congo – so what went right?”
by Oly Ilunga Kalenga, Minister of Health, Democratic Republic of the Congo
“The ninth and latest outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is now over. I did not think I would be able to utter these words so soon after it all started on 8 May. This outbreak, the most challenging the country has ever faced, had all the makings of a major crisis.
Ebola surfaced simultaneously in two remote rural zones, with health workers among the confirmed cases. The virus quickly spread to Mbandaka, a city of more than 1.2 million inhabitants on the Congo, a heavily used transportation corridor. It could have spread to other major cities including Kinshasa, our capital, where more than 12 million Congolese live, and neighbouring countries, but it did not.
So what went right? The global community’s ability to contain the spread of the Ebola virus has greatly improved since the 2014 west Africa Ebola epidemic. With our partners, we applied many of the lessons learned from our experiences in both west Africa and DRC.
Local ownership remains the cornerstone of a successful response. The Ministry of Health stepped up to lead the efforts on the ground. By the time international support arrived in DRC, the major elements of a full-blown response were already in place and functioning.
Swift mobilisation of finances is another key factor. The government’s $56.8m (£43.3m) three-month action plan was fully financed within 48 hours of it being released, starting with the DRC government putting forward $4m. International partners including donor governments and the World Bank also stepped up – the latter triggered its newly operational pandemic emergency financing facility for the first time and swiftly repurposed funds through its existing health programme in DRC to support the effort. This is in stark contrast with west Africa, where it took months to raise the necessary funds, while the death toll kept rising and finally reached 11,000.
The use of the Ebola vaccine, which proved highly effective in a clinical trial in Guinea in 2015, was one of the most innovative components of this response. The new vaccine has not just proved safe and effective against Ebola; it also changed community perceptions of the disease, which is now seen as treatable. Throughout the outbreak, more than 3,300 people were vaccinated. I was vaccinated myself to show the vaccine’s safety and break the stigma around it.
I learned that working with the community, especially on public health information campaigns, will get you a long way. Church and traditional leaders are your best allies to carry public health messages that require communities to change age-old habits and challenge their traditions. In Mbandaka, our strongest health advocates became the 4,000 motorcycle taxi drivers, whose daily work put them at risk of transporting infectious people. They started promoting vaccination and hygiene messages on local radio.
The pan-African nature of this response was quite exceptional. Epidemics do not stop at national borders. The importance of regional cooperation for outbreak prevention and management cannot be overstated. Health responders from Guinea participated in the vaccination efforts, epidemiologists from the newly created Africa Centres for Disease Control and the African Field Epidemiology Network worked with our experts on surveillance. This regional collaboration sends a strong signal that Africa is willing to take the driver’s seat in solving its problems.
While Ebola remains a formidable challenge for DRC and the rest of the world, we raised the bar on our own ability as a country to detect and respond effectively to outbreaks despite highly challenging circumstances. We must continue to improve our capacity to contain diseases and prepare for Ebola outbreak number 10, which we know will happen.
This ninth Ebola outbreak in DRC was unlike any other, but the lessons learned here can be applied anywhere in the world. With increased levels of global trade and travel, there is a higher risk of outbreaks increasing in frequency and spread. In this respect, all countries are equally vulnerable, and it is in our common interest to achieve global health security. The firs step is to learn from each other and take responsibility by improving our capacity to detect and respond to any outbreak that starts within our national borders.”
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The Guardian newspaper also featured Mbandaka in its “Cities in the Spotlight” series on June 27. The article by
the Mbandaka director of a local radio station, Peter Gbiako, was titled “Mbandaka has fought off Ebola – but can the DRC’s equator city recover?” The entire article with accompanying photos and videos can be found at:
A recent visitor to our home prompted me to take out for the first time in twenty plus years the python skin from Congo. It was brittle and a few of the scales fell as we rolled the skin out on the living room floor; forty years out of the rain forest in our relatively dry atmosphere will do that. We took out the tape measure and no one marveled at the length more than I: eighteen feet. I had estimated it to be between eight and ten feet.
The python skin along with pre-ban ivory figurines are among the tangible possessions I carried away from two years in Congo 1969-71. Rarely in the forty years since have I stopped to admire the delicately carved ivory figurine of a woman’s head or the design on a three foot iron “executioner’s” knife. But the tangible artifacts from Congo serve as occasional reminders of the lasting impact on my life of those two years. And their display in my home represent a public testimony that the Congo experience shaped my life in decisive and indelible ways. They are clues to who lives inside the house and who I am. They help others get to know me as they help me understand myself.
What a joy to find on my return to Congo that my presence forty years before had not been
forgotten by the Congolese. Joseph Ikete, the bright, dignified youth leader of 1969, met me at the airport in Mbandaka and we laughed about the photo I had taken of him and his wife at their home in 1971. A couple of weeks after my arrival in June, 2010, we dined in his home again, but this time daughter Christine and husband joined us. She now serves as the Director of the Women’s Department of the Disciples of Christ community.
What a joy it has been to share the 2010 experience in Congo with you readers of this blog. That I have continued these postings for two years has helped me understand the place of Congo in my life, how it has shaped who I am and especially its role in shaping my faith. If we accept Augustine’s definition of theology as “faith seeking understanding”, theology has been the overarching theme/tag/category of every posting.
So as wife Kate Moyer and I prepare for a two year assignment with Disciples and UCC churches in Mexico, beginning this fall, I want to wrap up my lokoleyacongo blog postings with some questions that have guided and will guide my future theological reflections on what is going on in Congo.
How could the richest nation in Africa with an incomparable wealth in strategic minerals and other natural resources rank at the bottom of the world’s nations on the UN Development Index (number 187 out of 187 countries ranked)?
How could the nation considered a priority for African development aid by the United States have failed so miserably at the task of nation-building and forming a government which is held accountable by the people?
What is the responsibility of the Church in the U.S. and in Congo in upholding the human rights of the Congolese people? When will the unified Protestant Church, the Church of Christ of Congo defend the fundamental right of one person one vote and the nation’s right to hold free and fair elections?
When will the weak and corrupt regime in Kinshasa be seen as the primary source of continued conflict in eastern Congo – which an article in the National Geographic called the richest tract of land on earth? And when will Congo be permitted to form a government made up of persons committed to serving the people?
There is little doubt that Congo is a tough assignment. The questions above will perplex and bedevil anyone who goes there. But I hope this blog has succeeded in highlighting some of the rewards awaiting anyone who makes the effort to live and celebrate life alongside the Congolese. One of those rewards comes from the insight that Congo and what happens there is at the front line of African and, indeed, of human liberation.
Since my return to the States in 1971, we have celebrated the end of Portuguese colonial rule in Africa and the end of apartheid rule in southern Africa. There has even been progress in Sudan with the formation of an independent South Sudan in 2011. Among the new nations of Africa, only in Congo has there been retreat from the people’s aspirations in 1960. Only in Congo has the government failed to protect and further the rights of the people to such an extent they now proclaim the Mobutu era as the good old days.
At the same time, the Protestant churches of Congo have carried out ministries we in the States have had a hand in and can be proud of. Among the sixty plus Congolese Protestant denominations, the Disciples of Christ played a leading role in the creation of the unified Church of Christ of Congo and the Disciple Rev. Itofo Bokambanza Bokeleale served as its first President for 30 years. In many areas of the country, Protestant churches are the lone providers of health, education and community development services. While the government often fails in its promise to support these services in urban and rural areas, the churches and its leaders help raise the funds to keep them going. In the fields of public service, the churches both Protestant and Catholic lead the way.
In the midst of the decline in the country’s roads and other infrastructure, the growth of the Protestant movement in Congo challenges our imaginations. The Disciples community has grown from around 25,000 members in 1960 to more than 650,000 today. With missionary zeal, Congolese Disciples have planted new churches throughout Congo and the neighboring Congo Brazzaville. The honor and respect accorded the U.S. missionaries who first planted the seeds extends to those fortunate enough to visit and represent the U.S. Church in our day.
To those who might consider a longer visit to Congo in a missionary assignment today, I can assure you that your presence there would be answering the Congolese Disciples’ prayers. It has been many years since someone from the U.S. served with the Disciples in Congo in a longer term assignment. For several years, the office of Global Ministries (www.globalministries.org) has been seeking to fill the two fully funded positions described on the website. The need for French skills and the high humidity in Equateur Province have ruled a Congo assignment for Kate and me but I would welcome contact with anyone considering the call to serve there. You may reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
“WE have learned from various sources and confirmed with our doctor in charge of public health in Monieka that malaria has recently taken 406 lives, two thirds of them children under five years of age.” So we read in a February letter from the Disciples “Communaute” in Congo which appealed for prayers from the partner churches in the U.S. and Germany.
After deciding this grim news had to be shared, I contacted Dr. Gene Johnson who served as the lone doctor in the Monieka hospital from 1957 to 1964. As to what might have caused a sudden flare up in deaths from this disease, so common in tropical areas with high rainfall, Dr. Johnson responded, “I suppose there has been the development of a new strain
of resistant malaria, though I would guess that most people don’t have access to medication, and die untreated. Resistance to the medications that once worked well has become common. It is particularly hard to treat small children.”
One fifth of the children born in Congo die before age 5. According to the most recent figures, malaria accounts for 21 per cent of those deaths. While adults in Congo regularly experience “the fever” brought on by malaria and consider the illness no more serious than we do a common cold, for children with no resistance it is often fatal. “When a child is born he has no resistance to malaria, and as soon as he is bitten by an infected mosquito will become symptomatic. If lucky enough to survive the first episode there will be a certain amount of resistance.” So wrote Dr. Johnson in response to my inquiry.
We don’t know what might be behind the current rise of malaria deaths in Monieka. What we know is that the tragic consequences of the disease can be countered by vigorous, well funded preventive measures. What we do know is that neighboring Rwanda, whose government spends twice what Congo spends on public health, is among the eleven African countries where child mortality and malaria deaths are in significant decline. We know that the under five mortality rate in Rwanda is less than half the figure for Congo and that more inpatient deaths from malaria were recorded in Congo in 2009 than anywhere else in the world.
And we know Dr. Eric Bosai continues his work as the only doctor at the Monieka Hospital. Dr. Bosai follows in the footsteps of the 1918 founder of the Hospital, pioneer Disciples missionary doctor Dr. Louis F. Jaggard. Since Dr. and Mrs. Jaggard retired in 1944, Monieka has remained an isolated Disciples mission post providing the only health and education service for a large area.
With their four school age children, Dr. Bosai’s wife lives in Mbandaka, a day’s journey from her husband. The monthly government subsidy amounts to less than $50 per month so most of Dr. Bosai’s salary is paid by a grant from the Global Ministries Department of the U.C.C. and Disciples churches in the U.S.. Eric Bosai’s father, Rev. Thomas Bosai, headed the Disciples’ youth ministries before planting churches in the remote area of Opala, the first Disciples mission outpost in Orientale Province. I lunched in Mbandaka with Thomas’ widow and their son and family in July, 2010. Son Eric’s determination to provide medical services for Monieka and lead that deprived population’s struggle against malaria and other diseases is worthy of our prayers and support.
Microcredit organizing has already boosted the income of many Disciples households and some congregations and
provides further evidence that the “social economy” can help drive economic development in Congo. “Mobilising microfinance is critical to the success of social enterprises including through savings and credit cooperative organizations” observed the recent U.N. Environment Program “Post Conflict Environmental Assessment Synthesis for Policy Makers”. The UN report touts microfinance as a means to generate employment and allow Congolese to “deal pragmatically with their own development priorities”.
But as is typical of Congo culture, microcredit Congo style is often different from the pattern followed in other countries and often varies from group to group. While some groups begin with seed funding, the Microcredit Union of women in Mbandaka’s Besenge parish began with no funding other than what was brought by members of the group. Twenty five women divided into two groups and met twice a month, each member bringing at least 1000 Congolese Francs (about $1.20) to the meeting. One group of women is invited to take a loan on the 10th of the month, according to group leader Mama Micheline Mwami, and the other on the 25th of the month. The next month the women return the amount taken out plus 10 per cent interest. Some women bring more than the minimum contribution from month to month to enable larger loans and larger profits for the group. Within a year, the Besenge group distributed among the 25 women, proportionate to their “investments”, savings and profits of just under $1900.
In the urban setting, many of the women participating in a Disciples organized Microcredit Union begin small businesses with their loans. By contrast, in the rural setting of Bonsombo (Lofoy is its “mission post”), ten families decided to pool their funds and buy seed and tools to cultivate ten hectares of land, agriculture being the primary source of cash in their experience. In the cash economy of Equateur Province’s capital of Mbandaka, the potential for larger investments and earnings is much greater.
Aided by $1400 in seed funding, the Mbandaka pastors’ wives group enabled group leader Mama Lombe to receive a total of $100 the first three months from her Union’s fund pool. She set up a table on a downtown Mbandaka street and began selling children’s underwear, soap, tomatoes and biscuits and returned $105, 5 % interest being the group profit on the loan. After the “Emmanuela” group’s first six months, $2417 was distributed among the members. More recently, after two years of the growth of the group and of the participants’ small business ventures, $12,000 in savings and earnings was shared by group members.
With no banks now providing credit to the 750,000 persons of the city of Mbandaka or anywhere else in Equateur province, the Microcredit Unions have rekindled the “social economy”, the UNEP report’s term, and
entrepreneurship in urban areas where groups have been organized. Enthusiasm among Disciples for the Microcredit organizing has led to Pauline Ngoy presenting for students at the Bolenge Protestant University of the Equateur a lecture on “Microcredit and Evangelism”.
You can contribute to the Microcredit Union organizing by the Disciples in Congo by sending a check designated for “Microcredit in Congo” to Global Ministries, P.O.B. 1986, Indianapolis, IN 46206-1986. You can also make a gift online by going to:
A contribution of $150 will enable purchase of a group’s “kit” – a wooden box with calculator, notebooks for each group’s three “accountants”, pens and pencils. The more contributions received by Global Ministries, the more groups will be started with some “seed” funding as well as the “kit”.
Follow new developments in the Microcredit organizing on Nathan Weteto’s blog; English translation can be accessed at:
Africa has lost one of its warriors in the ongoing battle against the AIDS epidemic. Because he waged a courageous, public struggle to help stem the spread of the HIV virus among the Congolese people, Augustin Belanoljo Bolankoko could not be described as a victim of the disease. When I met him in July 2010, I met a man illuminated by the conviction that he had found his true calling.
In Congolese terms, Augustin Bolankoko had become a wealthy man thanks to employment in the accounting office of a multinational corporation in Kinshasa. When he was diagnosed with the HIV virus in the year 2000, he gave up his large salary and became the Treasurer of the Disciples’ “Communaute” of the Church of Christ of Congo. He returned to Mbandaka in his home province of Equateur but his frequent treatments in Kinshasa and the illnesses that beset him forced his resignation as Treasurer. So in 2006, he began the work he will always be remembered for among members of the Disciples Community of the Church of Christ of Congo and among many others in Congo.
The Disciples office of AIDS programming opened in 2004 following the training of its Director Rev. Alain Imbolo Lokalamba, previously Director of the Community’s Youth Department. Supported by a grant from the UN
Development Program, Rev. Lokalamba shepherded the writing and publication of an AIDS education booklet (“Linga Kasi Keba” or “Love But Take Caution”) in comic strip format that gained wide circulation. The staff of two in the Disciples AIDS office made “I’m Not Passing On AIDS” the motto of their campaign and focused on testing, abstinence or condom use as the cornerstone strategies for preventing transmission of the virus.
Today, there are 8 virus testing centers in Equateur Province, with 5 located in Disciples clinics or hospitals. With community education as another key element of their prevention strategy, Rev. Lokalamba with Augustin Bolankoko’s assistance has trained a Director of AIDS Education and Prevention for each of the 22 Disciples’ regions. Every Disciples Regional Minister has been trained in “accompanying” their ministers and lay people stricken by the virus. Doctors, lab technicians and nurses in the 6 Disciple hospitals and many of the clinics have been trained in the diagnosis and treatment of the virus and its development into full blown AIDS.
Through the trainings and other public outreach efforts of the Disciples, Augustin Bolankoko shared his own story widely. Clearly a man with a mission, his proud dignity and the strength of his conviction made it difficult if not impossible to maintain an indifferent or scornful attitude with respect to others with the disease. Nathan Weteto of Disciples headquarters in Mbandaka wrote in announcing his October death, “He did not spare himself in his efforts to convince the populace to be tested for the virus and to train those suffering from AIDS in the formation of micro credit savings groups to generate income for their treatments.”
Augustin was eager to tell me his story during my Mbandaka stay in the summer of 2010. He was aware that he was part of a world wide movement to turn back the spread of AIDS and I believe he wanted people in the States to know Congolese and in particular Disciples in Congo were doing their part to wipe out this scourge. I know he would have wanted me to thank Disciples here for funding of the trainings and the German VEM Church for funding the opening of the Disciples AIDS office. I believe he knew that in spite of the setbacks – the presence of UN troops in Ikela led to half the middle aged adults contracting the virus – the world’s battle against AIDS would be won some day.
While the prevalence of AIDS in Congo has been as high as 7 per cent of the population, Rev. Lokalamba noted there has been a decline to 5 per cent more recently. Given the associated scourges of warfare and abuse of women in Congo in the past fifteen years, the decline must be in part attributed to the work of people like Augustin Bolankoko. So we join Congolese Disciple Nathan Weteto in praying, “May our Lord acknowledge his efforts and may his soul rest in peace”.
Following the decrease of rebel activity in the Congo’s Equateur Province, UN troops and service agencies now battle random banditry, poaching, a cholera epidemic and other effects of dire poverty in the vast rainforest province of the Congo. In this post we share some highlights of the UN efforts as reported on the mission’s web site http://monusco.unmissions.org.
With the extension of the mandate for the world’s largest UN peacekeeping force for another year, there’s a much better chance that legislative and presidential elections will be held in late November this year. On a recent visit to the still ungoverned eastern Congo, MONUSCO’s (the UN mission’s official name) chief staff person Roger Meece declared, “I can assure you that everything is in place to provide security for the
upcoming elections.” Security as the priority for the UN was further signaled by Meece’s commemoration on September 18 of the 50th anniversary of UN Secretary General Dag Hammarsjkold’s death in a plane crash during the early period of post independence conflict in the Congo.
In a now peaceful Mbandaka, the UN’s anti mines unit recently organized and funded the scanning of an area around the Mbandaka airport for buried ordinance. Having declared the land safe, MONUSCO announced on September 6 that construction would begin on the construction of a new terminal for Mbandaka.
Banditry and looting by armed former rebels continue to plague some parts of the province and UN investigators have accompanied Congolese police in efforts to maintain law and order in the villages of Ilenga and Bosenga not far from Mbandaka. To the south, poachers hunt elephants and prey on villagers in the remote Salonga National Park and surroundings despite deployment of the Congolese armed forces (FARDC) with UN advisors.
On the health front, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that Equateur was hit hardest by the cholera outbreak in Congo this year. While cases are now on the decline, WHO figures show 1981 cases were treated in Equateur with 119 deaths in 8 of the province’s 20 health zones.
On the opening of the new school year in September, UNICEF promised to push Congo’s Ministry of Education to improve furnishings in primary school classrooms of those provinces where enrollment is below 75 % of the school age children. According to UNICEF figures, 1.2 million children have been newly enrolled in primary school in the six targeted provinces, with Equateur still having the lowest rate of enrollment in the country. One can hope that UNICEF’s efforts may also result in more regular payments for teachers in Equateur Province as well as outlays for classroom furniture. Currently, Equateur parents have to contribute to a fund in each school to keep teachers in the classroom.