What Makes Kinshasa Tick

One man pushes 18 empty oil drums on a "pousse pousse" cart down a Kinshasa street.
One man pushes 18 empty oil drums on a “pousse pousse” cart down a Kinshasa street. Photo by Cindy Shiner.

For most travelers to the Congo, the dusty, chaotic capital city of Kinshasa will shape their first impressions.  This is unfortunate on many counts but foremost for the reason that Kinshasa can overwhelm in ways that threaten to challenge appreciation of the overall Congo experience, including the experience of life in the more serene settings in the interior.  A similar challenge would be faced by those entering the country via the war torn cities of the eastern Congo, Bukavu and Goma.

The following article on Kinshasa by journalist Cindy Shiner represents an attempt to describe how ten million people survive the degraded economic and environmental conditions of the capital city. It will, I hope, serve the reader in facilitating understanding of the order underneath the chaos and perhaps enabling an appreciation of the courage and vitality of a population struggling for a better life for themselves and their children.

By Cindy Shiner from All Africa. Com  11 June 2012 “Staff Blog”

Titled “Congo-Kinshasa: A City’s Modern March of Hope”

Kinshasa — It begins at twilight, just as the roosters begin to crow, before the sky reclaims the overnight rain. At first there are only a few hundred – the earliest risers, the ones hoping to get ahead of the traffic, those wishing for a jump on the competition. By dawn, the steam rising from the rain-soaked ditches and potholes, the people along the Boulevard Lumumba number in the thousands.

Once the mini-buses, trucks, motorcycles and car taxis have jammed the road, the masses of people heading into town have swollen to the tens, if not hundreds, of thousands: walking, jumping into trucks, tying things down, hoisting them up, holding them in place, limping, carrying, balancing, navigating, shifting a baby on their backs, holding a child’s hand, peering through the cassava leaves bundled on top of their heads, urban cowboys yelling from taxi buses, cash blooming in their fists, a man dressed up in a chartreuse shirt and polka dot tie, carrying a portfolio, another holding an umbrella in case there is an afternoon thunderstorm. Footsteps sound on pavement; mud sucks at shoes.

Twenty years ago, a pro-democracy demonstration called the March of Hope brought thousands onto the streets of Kinshasa. Now, a march of a different sort plays out six days a week in this city of 10 million, as masses of people head downtown to earn a living or seek a means to do so.

It is, in a sense, another kind of march of hope – one that has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with survival. To a returned visitor, however, it has everything to do with politics. Because it is poor governance – the lack of urban planning, corruption, neglected infrastructure – that is responsible for Kinshasa’s millions of poor people and the state they’re in.

I first came to this capital city in January 1992, a few weeks before what was formally organized by church leaders as the March of Hope. I lived in the city for five months and then returned intermittently throughout the 1990s while based in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, as a freelance journalist. My last trip to Kinshasa was in 1997 for the end of Mobutu Sese Seko’s 32-year despotic rule. Known as Zaire under Mobutu, the country became the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

I recently had the chance to return to Congo, on assignment for AllAfrica to do a story on maternal health, and I jumped at it. I wanted to see how much had changed in the past two decades. Demonstrators in 1992 were marching for democracy and the better life they thought it would bring. Where, I wanted to know, was Kinshasa’s hope now?

I didn’t find the answer on the rehabilitated Boulevard 30 Juin – an eight-lane highway that drivers treat like a speedway. (Just ask the head of the emergency department at the main hospital.) I didn’t find it in the many new hotels and high-rises in the city or in the brand new western-style supermarket downtown. I didn’t find it on the giant billboard advertizing the new Justice Ministry offices that are to be built with the help of foreign aid. I didn’t find it with the recognition that all the calendars I saw in government offices were for 2012, unlike previous visits when they were often out of date, serving mainly as artwork. I didn’t find it discussing the most recent, problematic elections. And I didn’t find it around the new fountain downtown or the one near the stadium, as aspirational and refreshing as they looked.

On the "shoulder" of Kinshasa's Boulevard Lumumba on the way to town from Ndjili Airport
On the shoulder of Kinshasa’s Boulevard Lumumba on the way to the city center from Ndjili Airport

No, the hope I found was in an unlikely spot: on the Boulevard Lumumba.

The morning bustle on the boulevard is the audible manifestation of se débrouiller – the French word that means “to get by” or “to manage”. The Kinois, as the residents of this city are known, are experts at it. And as these things go, it is both their greatest strength and their greatest weakness. Perhaps if they hadn’t been so good at getting by and making do, they would long ago have gotten rid of the corrupt leaders who forced them to rely on theirdébrouillardise, or resourcefulness.

Eighty percent of the country’s workforce labors in the informal sector. Ask them how they deal with the many problems they face – joblessness, conflict in the east, endemic malaria, scant running water, poor sanitation, health and education they can barely afford, the rising cost of food and transportation – and they’re like to say, “Je me débrouille.” I get by; I manage.

But it’s more than that isn’t it? I get by wearing 10-year-old sandals. I manage the household budget (or I’m supposed to). Kinois, I thought, must have a unique idiom – possibly a local word, a Lingala word – for what they do. There is one term, Article 15, which encompasses ingenuity and state-sanctioned graft. But I was thinking of something a little different, something more physical, because being a Kinois is downright hard work. Ask the man hauling 18 oil drums on a wheelbarrow down the street.

These efforts are not “managing” or “getting by” they’re much more than that. So I asked my Kinshasa assistant, the efficient and pragmatic Emery Makumeno, if there was a Lingala term. And, he said, to some degree, there is:kobeta libanga. It is literally translated as “breaking stones” from the time of forced labor under the Belgian colonizers. It is often used to refer to Congolese in the Diaspora who will work any job to send money home. It is also used to describe the work, efforts and challenges Kinois will undertake to survive in their city. Je me debrouille rolls off the tongue easily, but kobeta libanga is worthy of a ballad.

Kobeta libanga plays out the length of the Boulevard Lumumba as more people are forced to walk several kilometers into town because of frequent traffic gridlock caused by road works. Named after independence leader Patrice Lumumba, the boulevard is the main artery leading to Kinshasa from beyond the international airport, Ndjili.

At the end of the runway, and visible from the air, is the city’s version of a potter’s field. There’s no telling how many people have been buried there: headstones are broken, stolen, grown over. It is one of the cheapest places around to inter a body. There’s another cemetery, downtown, that has been taken over, the precious soil now used as a community garden for people to plant subsistence crops or a few surplus vegetables they can sell at the market. I asked Emery if people had much success hawking vegetables nourished by decomposing bodies. “I don’t think they tell anyone,” he said.

Passing the airport on the right, the same side as the Congo River, the boulevard abuts the neighborhoods Masina I, II and III. I don’t know why these impoverished quartiers weren’t given distinct names. Perhaps by the time people had reached that far from the city center, they just plain ran out of ideas.

Health workers I visited at the Roi Baudouin I Hospital Center in Masina I, said the Masinas are

The UN's funding of nearly 20,000 soldiers, the largest peacekeeping force in the world, helps keep the current Kabila administration in power
The presence of nearly 20,000 UN soldiers, the largest peacekeeping force in the world, helps keep the current Kabila administration in power

among the poorest and most densely populated neighborhoods of Kinshasa. Wikipedia says Masina (it didn’t say which one, or all three) had “recently become a desirable area in which to live and has a large, growing population”.

I think someone should tell the Wikipedia editors that just because a lot of people live in a place doesn’t necessary mean it’s desirable. Much of the Masinas are on a wetland. Malaria is endemic. The disease is the DRC’s biggest child killer, claiming the lives of some 180,000 children under the age of five per year, according to Unicef. A wet, warm, overcrowded environment is prime for malaria transmission.

Further down, the Wikipedia listing says this: “The urban area reaches population densities comparable to those of other municipalities in the heart of Kinshasa (about 50,000 inhabitants per square kilometer).” To get a perspective on just how many people live in the Masinas, take into account that New York City has a population density of about 27,000 people per the equivalent of one square mile, or 2.6 square kilometers, according to the city’s official website. So, for those of you who are math challenged like me, that means nearly double the number of people in Kinshasa live on less than half the equivalent area. And most don’t have running water, proper toilets or trash disposal.

If that wasn’t daunting enough, the United Nations estimates that between 2010 and 2020 Kinshasa’s population will have grown by 46 percent. That means the challenges for Kinois, the competition for resources, the pressure on an already overburdened infrastructure and the sheer effort it will take to get into town will become that much greater. The government of President Joseph Kabila deserves credit for making improvements to Kinshasa’s main arteries, such as the Boulevard Lumumba and the Boulevard 30 Juin. But little work has been done in the most populous neighborhoods, such as the Masinas.

Much has been written about DRC’s resources – it’s gold, copper, diamonds, rubber, forests – and how transparent use of them could turn the nation around. The Congo River – the world’s second largest river by volume – has enormous hydroelectric potential. But as it is now, DRC ranks near the bottom of United Nations indicators for human development.

It is true that the country could be an economic giant in sub-Saharan Africa and that it holds enormous promise. The World Bank predicts an annual economic growth rate of seven percent over the next two years. But growth cannot reach its full potential without the work of the Congolese people – the nation’s greatest resource, its best hope.

As I wrapped up my stories from Kinshasa I was also finishing up some of the escapist reading I had bought to pass the many hours spent on planes and in airport terminals. I found this passage at the end of “Sole Survivor” by Dean Koontz.

“Only the human spirit can act with volition and consciously change itself; it is the only thing in all creation that is not entirely at the mercy of forces outside itself, and it is, therefore, the most powerful and valuable form of energy in the universe.”

The government in Kinshasa should take note.

NOTE:  Photos in this and all lokoleyacongo postings are by the editor/author, Doug Smith, unless otherwise noted

Your Presence a Blessing

Metal flashlight becomes a rhythm instrument and your blogger becomes a Congo choir member (From the August 2010 postings in the Blog Archives at right)

Imagine yourself playing an instrument in a Congolese choir and then consider one of these opportunities described below to further the partnership of the Disciples of Christ and United Church of Christ in the U.S. with the Disciples in Congo.  Discover what so many others have found through sharing their lives with persons in Congo: in a setting of “underdevelopment” the Congolese people will help you learn more about what it is to be human.  And you will bless them as your presence confirms that we in the U.S. have not forgotten them and that we continue to value our historic ties with Christians in the Congo.  Join with the Congolese in celebrating the proclamation of the Psalmist: “Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.” (Ps 126:6)

Congo Travel Experience

You are invited to participate in the celebration of the groundbreaking for the new wing at the

Worshipping in Congo, and participating in the offering, leaves a deep impression on the visitor

first and oldest hospital founded by the Disciples in Congo.  There is still space in the delegation leaving for Congo August 7 this summer.  In addition to the visit of Disciples in Bolenge/Mbandaka, the group will tour and meet with Church partners in the capital cities of Kinshasa and Congo Brazzaville.  Further details from the http://www.globalministries.org  web site follow:

Congo Travel Experience

August 7-18, 2012

Our goal is be a “critical presence” by:

  • Celebrating with the Church of the Disciples of Christ  the completion of the maternity wing at the Bolenge hospital and the groundbreaking for the surgery/general medicine wing at the Bolenge Hospital.
  • Celebrating the renewal of the Global Ministries partnership between the Michigan Region and the Kinshasa Post
  • Visiting our partners in the neighboring country of Congo-Brazzaville.

The cost of the trip is $5000 inclusive of transportation, accommodation and meals. Contact the Africa Office for additional information: sgourdet@dom.disciples.org orpsanborn@dom.disciples.org

Mission Priority Positions

Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ has

Your blogger tells the story of Disciples missionary Ray Eldred whose drowning in a Congo river inspired the poem “The Congo” by Vachel Lindsay in the early 1900’s

identified priority positions for special funding. These mission priority positions have been received by Global Ministries from partner churches and church agencies and will be filled on the basis of a special fund raising project. These fully supported positions provide the missionary with a modest salary, health care, pension, housing and additional benefits related to educational benefits for children.

AFRICA

Democratic Republic of Congo: Medical doctor to serve with the Community of Disciples of Christ in Congo in rural areas with an ability to adapt to very limited, outdated or non-existent facilities. French or Lingala required. Four-year term.

Democratic Republic of Congo: Leadership and Economic Development Consultant to strengthen the capacity of leaders of the Disciples of Christ in Congo to rebuild their war ravaged rural areas. Candidate should be versed in strategic planning and management, and grant writing. French or Lingala required. Four-year term.

Do We Believe in Congo?

Rev. Jean Bokeleale with Rev. Thomas Roughface of the Cherokee Nation at a World Council of Churches gathering in the early 1970's
Rev. Jean Bokeleale with Rev. Thomas Roughface of the Cherokee Nation at a World Council of Churches gathering in 1969

With the union of the sixty plus missionary-founded church bodies in 1969, the Church of Christ of Congo (Eglise du Christ au Congo – ECC) became the largest French-speaking Protestant Church in the world.  Under the leadership of the Disciple Rev. Jean Bokeleale, elected President of the fledgling united Church in 1968, the Protestants gained equal status in the new nation that had been seen as predominantly Roman Catholic during the colonial era.

Protestant missionaries provided health and education services for decades with no subisdies from the Belgian colonial administration which exclusively supported Catholic services until 1946.  At the time of independence in 1960, Protestants remained a minority religion although counting 25% of the population, about half the number of Congolese Catholics.

Rev. Bokeleale, who eventually took the title of Monsignor, succeeded in elevating the Protestants’ status in the new independent nation through adulation of the increasingly authoritarian rule of Mobutu Sese-Soko. In an excellent article on “Zaire Protestants and the Decline of Mobutu” a Congolese studying in Strasbourg wrote in 1991, “The Church (the E.C.C.) distinguished itself by its unconditional support for the regime and the person of President Mobutu”.[1]  In a 1995 pastoral letter to the E.C.C. titled “The Eternal Marginalisation of the Protestants in Our Country is a Danger Not Only Today but Especially for Future Generations”[2], Mgr. Bokeleale presented his case for siding with Mobutu’s rule.

The majestic Protestant Cathedral erected next to the Congolese parliament building in Kinshasa as well as other ECC properties in the capital stand as testimony to the success of Mgr. Bokeleale’s political strategy.  Among the continuing costs and consequences of this strategy is the seemingly “unconditional support” for the Kabila administration of the current ECC leadership of Mgr. Pierre Marini Bodho.  Prior to marching to the Electoral Commission to declare his candidacy for President in last November’s election, Joseph Kabila and family participated in a service at the Protestant Cathedral led by Mgr. Marini.  In a sermon which could only be construed as a blessing of the Kabila right to rule, Mgr. Marini declared that it is God who “chooses the one to rule and communicates the program to be undertaken”.

But lest we be seen as judging past or present Congolese Church leadership, let us consider U.S. complicity in authoritarian rule in the country.  Let us consider the fact that since 1960 it is the U.S. who has been the principal source of foreign aid and has played the leading role in post independence events in Congo from the assassination of Patrice Lumumba to the elevation of Joseph Kabila to his 2006 position as the youngest head of state in the world.  Let us consider that the U.S. policy emphasis on security in Congo is in part responsible for the warfare in Eastern Congo that has claimed the lives of over five million people in the last fourteen years.

Lest we American Protestant Christians who love Congo continue to content ourselves with thoughts

Kinshasa Electoral Commission Headquarters which a Methodist Clergyman Headed for the 2011 Election
Kinshasa Electoral Commission Headquarters which a Methodist Clergyman Headed for the 2011 Election

that we can do nothing about political change in Congo, let us consider what we are doing now to support the courageous Congolese who declare that the election was a travesty of democracy.  Yes, it is true that our holy scripture and our reading of history tells us that it is the Congolese who will liberate themselves from oppression and foreign control of their resources.  But we who know Congo and Congolese for longer than policy makers in D.C. and who represent church bodies with a longer history in Congo than even the U.S. government, we should have something to say and be able to do something more about the current crisis in Congo than wring and throw up our hands about the continued exploitation and violence in Congo.

We can make clear that we who believe in the God of liberation and justice stand in support of those Congolese who expect and demand political leaders to represent their highest aspirations and be held accountable for what they do with the power entrusted to them.  We can make clear that we believe in the Congolese people’s right to self rule and their capacity to rule in a manner that furthers all the people’s sharing in the country’s wealth.  We can make clear that our faith promises a bright future for Congo, for the Congolese people and for all of Africa.  By doing so, we will have made clear we believe in Congo.


[1]“Protestantisme Zairois et Declin du Mobutuisme”, Philippe Kabongo-Mbaya, Researcher at University of Strasbourg, Politique Africaine, 1991

[2] “La marginalization eternelle des Protestants dans notre pays est un danger non seulement aujourd’hui mais surtout pour les generations futures”, Lettre pastorale, Bokeleale Itofo Bokambanza, 1995,  Kinshasa publication of the Eglise du Christ au Zaire

Here’s a prize for those who have read this far;  click on the blue type that follows to access the web link for last Sunday’s CBS News 60 Minutes report from Kinshasa: 60 Minutes Presents the Kimbanguiste Symphony Orchestra . Go to the 13 minute video at the bottom of the page for the “Ode to Joy” performed as you have never heard and felt it before.

We Lose a Friend in TJ Liggett

Rev. Dr. Thomas Jackson Liggett, 1919 - March 27, 2012
Rev. Dr. Thomas Jackson Liggett, 1919 - March 27, 2012

To learn about Rev. Dr. T.J. Liggett’s distinguished service of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and his contributions to world peace and Christianity’s ecumenical movement , go to

http://www.disciples.org/DisciplesNewsService/tabid/58/itemId/1190/Updated-Disciple-leader-Rev-Dr-TJ-Liggett-die.aspx

After being introduced to him by my father on a subway in New York City in the mid – 1960’s, I didn’t see TJ again until the Liggetts’ move to California in the late 1980’s.  He enthusiastically greeted me after a church gathering as the son of a colleague (Dad was Executive for Asia) with whom he had shared much.   Liggett was fond of telling me about his first meeting with Dad on a snowy day in New Haven.  They were participating in a Yale sponsored gathering on Communism and Christianity and Dad revealed that TJ would soon be asked to join the world mission staff of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) as executive for Latin America.

When my father died in January of last year, I called TJ before leaving for the memorial service in Virginia.  For the first time, Liggett characterized for me what his relationship with Dad had meant to him.  “I never had a brother”, TJ noted, “but there have been a few people in my life who I knew I could go to for advice when I needed it.  I knew when I went to Joe I would always get a thoughtful response.”

TJ was an uncommonly kind man – and a profoundly loving one as well.  Undoubtedly the deepest, most lasting impression he has left on me comes from modeling of what it means to be a devoted spouse.  After choosing Pilgrim Place in Claremont for its excellent reputation for professional care, he made his personal care of Virginia his priority for years.  His devotion to her set an example my wife and I joked about never being able to emulate.

On my visits to their home in Claremont, Virginia sat at the window facing the busy Harrison Avenue and would first ask about my daughters.  While I learned about her grandchildren, TJ would be busy preparing tea and a plate of cookies.   No matter who the guest, I am certain there was never any question as to who was at the center of home life in the Liggett household.

On one of the few evenings when TJ took time away from Virginia, he spoke on a rainy night in Long Beach at the annual Disciples’ Regional Martin Luther King event.  In a memorable tribute, Liggett recalled learning of Dr. King’s assassination when he was at the Mindolo Ecumenical Institute in Zambia.  Without delay, the Institute staff had called the community together for prayer and testimony. In addition to this evidence of Dr. King’s impact worldwide, TJ wanted to us to know that for these African Christians King stood out as a man who declared that none of us are free until we are all free.

Along with many pictures of his family, Liggett displayed in his home the cane from Congo as a prized gift from his life of service of the world Church. The first President of the Church of Christ of Congo, the Disciple Bishop Bokeleale had presented TJ the ivory inlaid, ironwood cane on one of his trips to the U.S.  Another gift, this one from his years of Latin America service, was a rock paperweight on his desk.  The rock bore a quote from the Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno, one of Dr. Liggett’s intellectual mentors, “May we know if not the peace of God then let us know the glory of God”.  Through TJ Liggett I believe many of us, in the U.S., in Latin America and worldwide, came to know better the glory of God.

Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936):  “Think about the emotional and feel the intellectual”.
Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936): “Think about the emotional and feel the intellectual”.

How Ikengo Hospitality Saved Henry Morton Stanley

1970 Ikengo villagers with a skinny 23 year old Doug Smith in front of the chicken coop at Disciples' Agricultural Center
1970 Ikengo villagers with a skinny 23 year old Doug Smith in front of the chicken coop at Disciples' Agricultural Center

“The village of Ikengo welcomed me as a son of the village on my return” was the beginning of this blog’s “Return to Ikengo” on July 13, 2010.  In that article I described how I had been joyously welcomed  back by the people of Ikengo 39 years after my last visit.  Only this past week did I learn that the great grandparents of Ikengo villagers had saved from starvation Henry Morton Stanley (of Stanley and Livingstone fame) on the first descent of the Congo River by a non African.

Having fought repeated battles with the aggressive, obstreperous Bangala who controlled the river trade, Stanley threw

Stanley with Kalulu
Stanley with Kalulu, the African boy he “adopted” as his gun bearer and servant. In 1877 Stanley christened the site of the boy’s death on the Congo River Kalulu Falls. It remains one of the few Stanley place-names that has not been changed

himself and his men on the mercy of the people of Ikengo, located twenty five kilometers below Mbandaka.   “Since the 10th of February we have been unable to purchase food or even approach a settlement  for any amicable purpose” Stanley wrote in his February 18, 1877 journal entry quoted in Through the Dark Continent .

In the next day’s entry, the bold adventurer overcomes his fear of the local populace by dwelling on a greater fear, “This morning we regarded each other as fated victims of protracted famine, or the rage of savages, like those of Mangala.  But as we feared famine most, we resolved to confront the natives again.”  Reflecting throughout his account the racism characteristic of 19th century Europe and America, Stanley finds his fears unfounded in meeting the inhabitants of Ikengo and nearby villages.

“We arrived at Ikengo, and as were almost despairing, we proceeded to a small island opposite this settlement and prepared to encamp.  Soon a canoe with seven men came dashing across, and we prepared our moneys for exhibition.  They unhesitatingly advanced and ran their canoe alongside us.”  After Stanley and crew presented gifts and were rendered “rapturously joyful” by this meeting, the explorers and villagers  “proceeded to seal this incipient friendship with our blood with all due ceremony”.

Stanley titles this section of the book, “Among Friends” and sums up his account of the day with the words, “During the whole of this day life was most enjoyable, intercourse unreservedly friendly and though most of the people were armed with guns there was no manifestation of the least desire to be uncivil, rude, or hostile.”  The explorer characterizes the encounter with the Ikengo villagers as an “act of grace”.

How their hospitality was ultimately received and repaid is a woeful fact of Congo’s history.  As the European/American explorer who contributed the most to knowledge of African geography, Stanley also bears responsibility for opening up Congo to the brutal exploitation of King Leopold’s Congo Free State.  So far as we know, Henry Morton Stanley never returned to Ikengo.

2010 Ikengo villagers in the Disciples parish manioc field. Pastor Luc is third from right.
2010 Ikengo villagers in the Disciples parish manioc field. Pastor Luc is third from right.

That the people of Ikengo have continued to welcome visitors from afar in our times with joyous hospitality is an “act of grace”.  That the Congolese as a whole have held to their traditions of welcome after centuries of foreigners’ abuse of their trust is also a matter of grace.  What a gift to us all.

Of Monieka, Malaria and Dr. Eric Bosai

The bite of the malaria infected female anopheles (in the Greek literally "useless") mosquito often threatens the life of children under 5 and pregnant women
The bite of the malaria infected female anopheles (in the Greek its literal meaning is "useless") mosquito often threatens the life of children under 5 and pregnant women

“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.

Dr. Eric Bosai of Monieka with family including mother
Dr. Eric Bosai of Monieka with family including mother

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.

Disciples Agricultural Center at Ikengo was started under leadership of Rev. Thomas Bosai on the right
Disciples Agricultural Center at Ikengo was started under the leadership of Rev. Thomas Bosai on the right

Widening Rejection of Congo Election Results

Finding Your Name on the Registered Voter List
Finding Your Name on the Registered Voter List

In what could b e a turning point for opposition to the rule of Joseph Kabila’s administratin in Congo, the Catholic Church’s Conference of Bishops in Congo on January 12 harshly criticized the conduct of the national elections.  CENCO’s statement , titled “Courage and Truth”, called on the Electoral Commission appointed by the incumbent President to either “fix the irregularities that have dented the people’s trust in the institution or else resign”.

CENCO’s position follows its December 4 expressions of doubt concerning the proclamation of Joseph Kabila as victor in the November 28 election.  Based on the reports of 30,000 observers deployed by the Catholic Church to polling places throughout Congo, Cardinal Monsengwo declared that the results do not “conform to truth or justice”.  The Catholic church is merely one of many institutions of Congolese civil society now openly calling into question the results of both the presidential election and the subsequent vote count to make up the national legislature.   Congolese NGO The Voice of the Voiceless (La Voix des Sans Voix) has called for new elections following a process agreed on by the administration and the opposition represented by M. Etienne Tshisekedi.

The adminstration’s response to date has been to maintain a climate of fear sown during the months leading up to the election.  The CSAC government agency created two months before the election to oversee the nation’s media  banned the opposition networks in the Kinshasa on the day of the vote and this past week took a leading radio/television station in Katanga province, a Kabila stronghold, off the air.  The Congolese NGO Journalists in Danger has called for the abolition of the CSAC “after numerous cases of interference by politicians and security services in the affairs of the media”.

Most foreign governments have adopted a “wait and see” policy towards what is evolving as a full fledged political crisis

Riot police disrupt Tshisekedi rally in Kinshasa
Riot police disrupt Tshisekedi rally in Kinshasa

in Congo.  One exception is Belgium whose newly elected prime minister wrote Kabila a letter of congratulations.  Given the real possibility that the Congolese people will reject Kabila’s rule, the prime minister’s letter seems premature and inept.  Stability of the country, long the foremost aim of western nations’ Congo policies, will not be achieved by such a flagrant abuse of democratic process as the people have witnessed with this recent election.

Disciples Communication Director M. Nathan Weteto’s  commentary on the Catholic bishops’ latest statement confirms the depth and breadth of the people’s rejection of the election results.  M. Weteto wrote on January 14, “They (the Bishops, ed.) have concluded that the Congolese people have been deceived but they couild have said without fear of being contradicted that the people are furious with this deprivation of their civil rights”.

As the U.S. based Friends of the Congo blog wrote this month, “The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is at a critical juncture in its tenuous march towards peace and stability. The Kabila regime suffers from a severe crisis of legitimacy and the future of the democratic project is in the balance. Stability will be fleeting without legitimacy. What is at stake in the Congo is not merely an election but respect for the will of a people and the future of democracy in the heart of Africa.”

Exercising the right to vote in Kindu
Exercising the right to vote in Kindu

Should the people’s will continue to be scorned, there will be violence writes M. Weteto,  “We all know that the Congolese people do not want war and violence but a solution to this crisis without foreign intervention will not be possible.”  And what has been the response of Congo’s leading donor nation, the U.S. to the election??  While characterizing the elections as “seriously flawed”, Secretary of State Clinton did not intimate withholding of $900 million in U.S. aid nor did she express reservations about the legitimacy of Kabila’s continued rule of Congo.  This toothless response to the crisis hardly is consistent with President Obama’s call in his Accra, Ghana speech for “strong institutions” and not “strong men” in Africa.

Now is the time, M. Weteto implores, for “those who love Congo” to speak out for democratic rule in Congo.

Each of us reading this blog can surely find something we are comfortable doing in this list below of suggestions from the www.friendsofthecongo.org web site.  Help support the right of Congolese to a vote that really counts and makes a difference.

Take Action:
1. Contact world leaders to demanding that they refrain from recognize Joseph Kabila as President of the DRC.
2. Demand that the technical team from the United States and England assess both the legislative and presidential results.
3. Demand a cessation of aid until the truth of both the Presidential and Legislative elections are determined.
4. Join Congolese in their demonstrations around the globe.
5. Demand that President Obama enforces PL 109-456 that calls for the US to support democracy in the Congo.
6. Demand that your government support the recommendations of the UN Mapping Exercise Report that calls for accountability, justice and an end to the impunity in the Congo and Great Lakes Region of Africa.
7. Participate in teach-ins to learn about what is at stake in the Congo and the nature of Congo’s democratic movement.
8. Support organizing and mobilizing efforts on the ground
9. Lend your talents, skills and expertise in translation (French to English) Public Relations, Marketing and Fundraising)
10. Make a contribution to the organizing efforts inside and outside of the Congo.