What’s At Stake in Congo

First plantings at Ikengo, 1970.  UN report emphasizes Congo's agicultural potential.
First plantings at Ikengo, 1970. UN report emphasizes Congo's agicultural potential.

The UN office charged with monitoring the health of the earth’s environment has just issued a warning of what is at stake in how Congo’s resources are used in the future.  Some of the report’s findings starkly highlight the need for more sustainable use of the country’s vast wealth in natural resources:

1)    With 80 million hectares of arable land,the DRC has the potential to be Africa’s granary but only around 3 percent of this land is presently under cultivation, mainly by subsistence farmers. Consequently, the DRC has the highest level of food insecurity in the world, with an undernourishment rate of nearly 70 per cent.

 2)    The Congo basin has the highest fish diversity of any African river and supports the largest inland fisheries on the continent, with an estimated potential production of 520,000 tonnes per year. While at the national level this resource is under-exploited with imports accounting for around 30 percent of fish consumption, uncontrolled exploitation has led to serious overfishing pressures at the local level.

   3)   Over half of Africa’s water resources and 13 percent of global hydropower potential flows through the DRC. Yet, only an estimated 26 percent of the DRC’s population has access to safe drinking water, one of the lowest supply rates on the continent. Similarly, access to electrification is estimated at 9 percent in a country with vast energy resources.

Future Forestry Practices in Congo will Affect the World's Health
Future Forestry Practices in Congo will Affect the World's Health

4)    As the tropical world’s second largest forest carbon sink, the DRC’s forests are a critical global ecosystem service provider. The rate of forest loss estimated at 0.2 percent per annum remains relatively low, but is a growing problem in certain areas.

    5)   Its considerable untapped mineral reserves are of strategic importanceto the global economy (estimated to be worth USD 24 trillion). Yet the legacy of a century of mining in various parts of the country,and particularly in Katanga, has created considerable environmental liabilities and a new modern approach to mining is required. Currently, the DRC has the largest artisanal mining workforce in the world – around two million people – but a lack of controls have led to land degradation and pollution

     6)    The DRC has the highest level of biodiversity in Africa, yet 190 species are classified as critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable.  Up to 1.7 million tons of bushmeat (mainly antelope, duiker, monkey and wild boar) are harvested annually from unregulated hunting and poaching, contributing to species depletion.

 The UN report also calls attention to the impact on the Congo’s environment of 15 years of occasionally intense fighting in many areas of the country.  Most significant in this regard according to the report is the presence of landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) “that still dot the landscape”.  The international Mines Advisory Group    announced this year that it had cleared 4 mine fields with 41 mines in the Disciples post of Ikela on the Tshuapa River.

 With the release of this report, the UN Environmental Program hopes to stimulate a sizable increase in funding of sustainable development practices by international funders and the Congolese government.  A doubling of aid is called for, including an increase of $200 million per year in funding for preservation of the environment.  The report concludes with a summary call to action:

 “The imperative for the DRC to overcome entrenched poverty and recover 20 years of lost development is immense. Long-term support and commitment from the international community to assist the DRC realise its massive potential as one of Africa’s richest countries and key engines for economic growth is essential.

To see the full report of the UN Environmental Program’s “Post Conflict Environmental Assessment of the DRC” go to : www.unep.org/drcongo.

 

Congo Can Grow Much More Without Cutting Rainforest

Malaysia Produces Over 40% of the World's Palm Oil Mostly On Plantations Like This One
Malaysia Produces Over 40% of the World's Palm Oil Mostly On Plantations Like This One

After massive deforestation of the Amazon and Indonesian rainforests due to plantation agriculture, economic growth in Congo is being stymied by some environmental groups’ opposition to any rainforest agriculture there.  Palm oil production in particular has been held back in Congo by the debate now raging over any new large scale projects  for biodiesel or other uses.

 In 2007, soon after the election of President Joseph Kabila in Congo, the Chinese company ZTE announced their investment of $1 billion for the cultivation of palm oil trees on 3 million hectares of Congolese soil.  By 2009, the company had reduced the plan to one million hectares, with 90 % of the palm oil produced slated for biodiesel fuel.  To date ZTE has not explained this considerable scaling back of their plan and has been slow to indicate how they will produce palm oil in Equateur, Orientale, West Kasai and Bandundu provinces.

In the first half of the last century, Unilever pioneered in the production of palm oil with their Belgian Congo processing plants and plantations. They have now pulled out of Congo entirely.  Apparently the largest producer of palm oil in the world plans to rely on its supplies in Malaysia and Indonesia, the two nations with 80 % of the world’s output today. The Cambridge World History of Food pays tribute to Unilever for maintaining its Congo operations through the turbulent post-independence years with the words, “Unilever managers remained in place following nationalization in 1975, and the company was allowed to take back full control of the estates two years later (Fieldhouse 1978: 530—45). But at a national level, the research effort was decimated, and new planting was very limited after 1960, in marked contrast to developments at the same time in Southeast Asia.”

A stark sign of the decline of Congo’s agricultural sector is the fact that the country imported 15,000 metric tons of palm oil in 2007, the year the first ZTE China plan was announced.  Imported, manufactured vegetable oil is now cheaper and more widely used in Congolese cooking than locally produced palm oil.  Myself and others who return to Congo after many years are disappointed by how rare “moussaka”, the palm oil sauce, is now used for flavoring of chicken, fish and manioc leaf dishes.   

Tata et Mama Mbwanga showing off the first fruits of their palm oil trees across the river from the Baptist community's Vanga Mission.
Tata et Mama Mbwanga showing off the first fruits of their palm oil trees across the river from the Baptist community's Vanga Mission.

 All who are concerned about the preservation of the Congo rainforest need to keep in mind two facts about Congo’s palm oil production.  First is the fact that there are thousands of hectares of abandoned palm oil plantations in the country.  No cutting of the rainforest is needed for the revival of the industry in Congo.

The second fact about palm oil cultivation in the country is the contribution of small householder plots to the historic growth of the crop in Congo and elsewhere.  According to the Cambridge World History, at the close of the Belgian colonial era, smallholder plots under palm oil cultivation totaled 98,000 hectares while plantations covered 147,000 hectares.   Today, Indonesia produces one third of the world’s palm oil and half of it comes from farmers cultivating fewer than 5 hectares.  

 Greenpeace International, whose Kinshasa office has led in opposing illegal logging of rainforest timber in the country, backs smallholder and plantation cultivation of palm oil in Congo on land that has already been cleared.  With only 4 per cent of cleared land in Congo now under cultivation, the country has the potential to produce palm oil for foodstuffs and biodiesel as well as preserve the most pristine, least “developed” rainforest in the world.

 We can applaud and should support the Congo Disciples plan to convert its coffee plantation in Bokungu to 20 hectares of palm oil production and the Boyeka post‘s palm oil project which is intended to fund education and health programs of the Church.  For several years now, the Baptist community of the Church of Christ of Congo has been promoting palm oil cultivation with provision of seeds and training near their historic post of Vanga.

Palm Oil May Drive Congo’s Economic Growth

Backyard Processing of Palm Oil by an Ikengo Household
Backyard Processing of Palm Oil by an Ikengo Household

The largest fruit crop in the world today is not oranges, pineapple or apples.  It’s palm kernels with production worldwide about double the tonnage of the second leading fruit crop.  While Palmolive soap may be the best known palm oil product in our households, most of the average American’s consumption of palm oil is in the form of margarine and shortening these days.

In the 1960’s the second largest producer of palm oil in the word was the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Today, the Congo’s production of palm oil doesn’t even rank in the top ten worldwide.  From the mid 1970’s corporate owned plantations were looted by cohorts of the Mobutu regime and production continued to decline until recent years. An Indian company took over the Unilever (Palmolive soap) processing plants in Congo and now buys from villagers “who bring us oil after traveling weeks from deep in the bush” according to the company’s Indian chief executive.

Counting on leading the revival of the Congo palm oil industry is a Chinese company with plans to cultivate 1 million hectares (2.5 million acres) of palm trees in Equateur, Bandundu and West Kasai provinces.  But the Chinese company’s aim is not to market the palm oil for food products: 90 % will go directly for biodiesel replacing petroleum in Congo and elsewhere.

With Africa’s largest expanse of non forest arable land, only 4.7 % of which is now u nder cultivation, Congo’s palm oil and general agricultural potential is tremendous.  An agency of the European Union  devoted to alternative energy projects in Africa cites

Will Palm Oil replace petroleum in powering Congo's vehicles - and ours - some day?
Will Palm Oil replace petroleum in powering Congo's vehicles - and ours - some day?

Congo’s potential to supply all of Central Africa with food, fuel and fiber and to supply one tenth of the world’s bioenergy demand in 2030 “without endangering the rain forests or the food security of its people”.

From Coffee to Corn to Palm Oil

For the rebirth of the Disciples' coffee plantation, Rev. Regine Boole, unloads supplies
For the rebirth of the Disciples' coffee plantation, Rev. Regine Boole, unloads supplies

Even the remote Tshuapa district of the Equateur Province is not immune to the effects of the pricing of agricultural products in the global economy.  In 1970 I visited the Disciples coffee plantation in the Bokungu area of the Tshuapa.  By the late 1990’s the plantation had been abandoned as coffee prices began their fall to unprecedented lows.  The restoration of Vietnamese coffee plantations after the Vietnam War contributed to an over supply of coffee and the drop in prices.  Farmers from Nicaragua to Congo couldn’t afford to grow coffee any longer.

Today, the need for increased food supplies and the leadership of a dynamic recently ordained woman minister have led to the recovery of the Disciples Bokungu plantation.  The only female theology graduate to serve a rural parish, Revde. Regine Boole, has helped the parish of Lotakemela organize a team of 15 workers to clear the overgrown fields and begin new plantings.  The team is assisted by Revde. Boole’s husband and plans an initial planting of 5 hectares of corn.

Profits from the sale of an estimated 5 tons of corn will, it is projected, enable purchase

The main boiler at the Wendji Secli Palm Oil Plantation abandoned in the 1970's
The main boiler at the Wendji Secli Palm Oil Plantation abandoned in the 1970's

of supplies for the cultivation of the remaining 20 hectares and rebirth of the initial project as a palm oil plantation.  Expanding use of palm oil as a fuel alternative to petroleum means this crop, so widely grown in Equateur in the past, now promises price increases and viable profits for visionary growers.

In addition to the Bokungu plantation, the post of Boyeka has already begun planting of palm trees for oil production.  As used palm oil can be processed for fuel, “oil palm planting and palm oil consumption

Housing at the Wendji Secli plantation occupied by former employees and/or descendants
Housing at the Wendji Secli plantation occupied by former employees and/or descendants

circumvents the food vs. fuel debate because it has the capacity to fulfill both demands simultaneously” in the words of Wikpedia.  It does not, however respond to the concern stemming from deforestation wrought by vast palm oil plantations as in Malaysia and Indonesia.  What the effects of the demand for palm oil will be on the Congolese rain forest remains to be seen.

Congo Assemblee Generale

Assemblee meetings were held at the Girls' School and the Secretariat headquarters pictured here
Assemblee meetings were held at the Girls' School and the Secretariat headquarters pictured here

In a notable demonstration of unity, the 154 delegates of the Congo Disciples’ General Assembly last month unanimously re-elected Rev. Eliki Bonanga as Legal Representative and President of their Community.  Also re-elected to a four year term of administrative leadership as Vice President was Rev. Clement Mputu Yonanga.  First elected in 2003, Rev. Bonanga will have served the longest as leader of the Disciples “Communaute” on completion of his current term in 2015.        

Born and raised in the historic Tshuapa River Disciples mission post of Mondombe, Rev.

Rev. Bonanga Presents the Congo Disciples' Shirt to Doug Smith at a Farewell Luncheon in the Bonanga Home
Rev. Bonanga Presents the Congo Disciples' Shirt to Doug Smith at a Farewell Luncheon in the Bonanga Home

Bonanga has made unity and collaboration with the Tshuapa Disciples a hallmark of his leadership.  Rev. Mputu hails from eastern Bandundu province and thus represents the growth of the Disciples beyond their historic base in Equateur Province.  Since gaining autonomy as a self governed church in 1964, the Disciples “Communaute” of the Church of Christ of Congo (ECC/10-CDCC) has planted churches in neighboring Congo Brazzaville as well as in the provinces of Orientale, Bandundu, Katanga and Kinshasa.

The wives of the two Disciples administrators also serve in leadership positions. Mme. Bonanga is CoChair of the Mbandaka pastors’ wives micro credit group which recently distributed $12,000 in earnings among the 20 plus members of the group.  Rev. Mme. Mputu graduated last year from the School of Theology at the Protestant University of Congo and now serves the Basoko parish in Mbandaka as Associate Minister.

 Another highlight of the recently completed General Assembly, according to Disciples’ Communications Director Nathan Weteto, was the vote to organize continuing education seminars for rural catechists and pastors.  These seminars will be offered leaders of the far flung, remote Disciples parishes and will feature trained agronomists, veterinarians, financial administrators and community organizers as well as biblical scholars and preachers.  The seminars are an outgrowth of the catechists’ training that has for many years prepared dozens of rural parish leaders for the Disciples “Communaute”.

Vice President Mputu at the Newest Mbandaka Parish Next to the Girls' School (Lycee)
Vice President Mputu (at left)at the Newest Mbandaka Parish Next to the Girls' School (Lycee)

Representing a model for diverse pastoral leadership in many areas of rural life is the recently ordained Rev. Regine Boola in the Bokungu post.  One of two recently ordained women assigned to Tshuapa River posts, where the traditional patriarchal culture has always been strong, Rev. Boola is reviving a Disciples coffee plantation, inactive since the 1990’s. More on her efforts in the next posting.

A Call for Solidarity With Congo

Paying her children's primary school fees is made possible by her bread sales at the Ikengo Saturday Market
Paying her children's primary school fees is made possible by her bread sales at the Ikengo Saturday Market

“You may consider your vote for this resolution as an expression of solidarity with the mother  who walks 50 miles each week to buy the flour to make bread she sells every Saturday at the Ikengo market to pay her children’s school fees.  Vote yes and then prepare to remember Congo with your congregation during Congo week the third week of October this year.” 

 These words concluded my statement of support for the following resolution passed with no opposition at the Disciples’ General Assembly in Nashville this week. We pray that this resolution, our commemoration of Congo Week each year and our advocacy on behalf of trade for Congo resources that truly benefits the Congolese people will assure Congolese who would stand for political and social change of our concern, our support and our solidarity. May this resolution be followed by many other acts declaring  “we are with you” to the people of Congo who have dug the coltan, the diamonds, the copper, the uranium, the cobalt and other metals and minerals that have been essential to the U.S..space program, our weapons systems, and more recently have become essential components of our household electronics and cell phone equipment.

 

NO. 1117

(SENSE-OF-THE-ASSEMBLY)

A CALL FOR REFLECTION AND ADVOCACY ON BEHALF OF THE

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

WHEREAS, the mission of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) declares its

passion for justice grounded in Micah 6:8 as declared in our vision statement: “to

be a faithful, growing church that demonstrates true community, deep Christian

spirituality and a passion for justice.”

WHEREAS, in Matthew 25:40 Jesus teaches moral responsibility in the reign of

God is strongest for those most in need, saying “just as you did it to one of the

least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me”; and

WHEREAS, throughout the past two centuries, for the Christian Church (Disciples

of Christ), global presence and witness have been a gift of God’s mission through

the church; and

WHEREAS, our international commerce and public affairs should be governed

by an obligation to ensure the common good, and to resist policies and practices

that do injustice and violence to others; and

WHEREAS, Global Ministries has encouraged congregations to recognize “Congo

Week,” (an initiative created by Friends of the Congo) the third week in October, in

their respective annual worship calendars as a week of commemoration for the

millions of victims of the scramble for Congo’s resources and a stand for justice in

solidarity with the people of the Congo; and

WHEREAS, the Community of Disciples of Christ in Congo (CDCC), in what today

is the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), formerly known as Zaire, was

founded in 1889 and has been related to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

in the U.S. and Canada since its inception; and

WHEREAS, the 62 protestant denominations united under the ecumenical

umbrella of the Church of Christ in the Congo have consistently decried the brutal

and unmitigated exploitation of the Congo’s immense mineral resources; and

WHEREAS, since the advent of Congolese independence on June 30, 1960, the

continued greed of global corporations for precious and strategic raw materials

from the Congo and failure of the international community to respond to the

documented human rights abuses of Congolese victims has contributed to the

failure of the Congo state;i and

WHEREAS, the series of invasions of the Congo by proxy states Rwanda and

Uganda that commenced in 1996 have facilitated unfettered access to Congolese

natural resources by international corporations and their collaborators in the

Congo; have not only undermined democratic advancements, but have also cost

the lives of an estimated 6,000,000 Congolese; have subjected up to a half million

Congolese women and girls to rape, including sexual mutilation by multiple armies

from Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi; and have increased dramatically the

incidence for HIV/AIDS among women and girls, thus creating a health time bomb

with dire consequences for the Congo; and

WHEREAS, an estimated 45,000 Congolese reportedly perish monthly in Eastern

Congo as a direct or indirect result of the militarization of mines by elite networks of

militia supported by business interests in the Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, and the

industrialized world, at the detriment of Congolese socio-economic development

and liberation; and

WHEREAS, these criminal behaviors are orchestrated and maintained by those

seeking to profit from unfettered access to Congolese strategic natural resources

(notably coltan, cobalt, tungsten, cassiterite, in addition to diamonds, gold, copper,

uranium, oil, timber), in order to benefit mostly private wealth in industrialized

nations, yet subjugating the Congolese people, despite the wealth of their natural

resources, to poverty, suffering, slave labor, and human trafficking;ii and

WHEREAS, the response of the international community, including the United

Nations, has demonstrated a double standard in the application of international

justice because of financial greed and disregard for the value of Congolese

people;iii and

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the General Assembly of the Christian

Church (Disciples of Christ), meeting in Nashville, TN July 9-13, 2011 encourages

all expressions of the church to pray, reflect, educate and advocate on behalf of

sisters and brothers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that our church encourage the development of

legislation such as the Conflict Minerals Law 20101 approved by the U.S. Congress

and the Trade in Conflict Minerals Act introduced to the Canadian Parliament in

2010 requiring manufacturers to trace the source of minerals used in the

production of consumer electronics for the purpose of developing a conflict-free

mineral supply chain and more ethical mining practices, most particularly in the

Democratic Republic of Congo; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that individuals and ministries of the church choose

products that are labeled “DRC conflict free” when purchasing electronic products,

once such labeling begins2; and

1 The current law, generally referred to as the “Conflict Minerals Law”, was included as Section 1502 of

the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, passed by the US Senate on May 20,

2010 and signed by President Barack Obama on July 21, 2010.

2 The current legislation is expected to take effect in 2012.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that Global Ministries continue to identify

resources for all expressions of the church on the matter of the exploitation of

people in the extraction of the mineral wealth of the Congo; and

FINALLY, BE IT RESOLVED that all expressions of the church work with Global

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

Christ to carry out advocacy and education across the globe for the Congo.

Division of Overseas Ministries

[A resolution of the Common Global Ministries Board, through the Division of Overseas

Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) to the General Assembly in 2011. A

similar resolution has been submitted to the General Synod of the United Church of Christ

in 2011.]

Bikes for the Tshuapa Region

Disciples President Rev. Eliki BONANGA checks one of the bikes destined for a Tshuapa region church leader
Disciples President Rev. Eliki BONANGA checks one of the bikes destined for a Tshuapa region church leader. Paul Williams is in the blue shirt.

Today we celebrate the imminent delivery of over twenty bicycles to the Regional Ministers and other leaders of Disciples parishes along the Tshuapa River.  The aid and counsel of the PSP (“Pasteur Surveillant Principal” or Regional Minister) for the villagers and their parish catechist in this vast territory has been severely handicapped by the lack of transportation.  Now, it is likely that the silvery tinkle of the bicycle bell will soon become a familiar sound in even the more remote villages.

 It is appropriate that the bicycles will be distributed by Paul Williams, son of Disciple missionaries who served in the Tshuapa in the 1950’s.  Church leaders continue to be inspired by the example of missionary church administrators who spent multiple days in the “bush” on tours of the fledgling village parishes.  Williams’ son Paul, who is writing the history of the Disciples in Congo from the 1898 arrival to the present, reports from Mbandaka that he left June 24 on a journey that will take him to all the Disciple “posts” – Boende, Wema, Bokungu, Mondombe and Ikela – on the Tshuapa.

The Tshuapa River region presents a dramatic example of the Disciples’ critical role in providing health and education services.  Go to the map found at the address below

http://www.un.org/Depts/Cartographic/map/profile/drcongo.pdf

 and consider that between the towns of Boende and Ikela on the map, the Disciples headquarters in Mbandaka is solely responsible for overseeing and resourcing schools, hospitals and health clinics.  There is a government sponsored hospital in Boende but no other government run health service for the Tshuapa’s people and the Roman Catholics, the dominant form of Christianity in Congo, are not present in this Region.

 Paul Williams will celebrate his birthday in Mondombe perhaps with a visit to the hospital where he was born 58 years ago.  No doubt his joy on the occasion will be immeasurably increased by his success in fund raising for the purchase of the bicycles.  A Korean Presbyterian Church in Omaha, where Paul teaches at the University of Nebraska, gave the largest amount.  Among the contributors was Paul’s office assistant who chipped in funds for one bicycle.

Return to Another Home

Eqeuateur Province's Governor walks back to his seat after amusing the villagers who have offered him gifts on the occasion.  Leaders of the Province's Protestant denominations of the united Church of Christ of Congo also participated in the dedication
May 1971 Equateur Province's Governor walks back to his seat after amusing the villagers who have offered him gifts at the Ikengo farm project dormitory dedication. Leaders of the Province's Protestant denominations of the United Church of Christ of Congo also participated in the dedication

In 1971 hopes were high in Congo that prosperity for the new nation, so rich in natural resources, was just around the corner.  Optimism among the people was fueled by the change in the foreign presence in the country:  Americans, representing U.S. based corporations, a large U.S. diplomatic and military advisor corps, and the Peace Corps, had replaced the Belgian colonialists, and the Congolese saw us Americans as true, worthy friends.

By the end of the 1970’s those hopes in American investment, foreign aid and support for the new nation were fast eroding with the increasingly brutal repression of the Mobutu dictatorship. By the beginning of the 1990’s, there was good reason for Congolese to believe that their new American friends had betrayed and turned their backs on them.

A new era for Congo was struggling to be born when I returned in 2010.  Thanks to the presence of nearly 20,000 U.N. troops and increased international pressure on the Kabila administration, a new constitution called for a presidential election in 2011 and again some dared to believe that the post independence years of dysfunctional, corrupt and brutal rule might come to an end in Congo.

But for me it was the reconnecting of  U.S. Disciples with the Disciples community in Congo, leaders in the creation of the Church of Christ of Congo, that led me to return after forty years to Mbandaka.  Since the rioting of Mobutu’s troops in 1991 led to the evacuation of most foreigners, no American Disciple has served as a missionary in Congo.  And until the naming of former Congo missionary Sandra Gourdet as U.S. Disciples Africa Executive and the election of Rev. Sharon Watkins, who served for three years in Congo, as President of U.S. Disciples, ties with our Congolese long time friends had weakened.

This context added to my thrill in returning to Ikengo on June 19, 2010 and seeing the dormitory we dedicated to house the staff of Director and ten young men in training at the Disciples farm project.  Two videos have been posted on You Tube that take up the story from here. The first, titled “Return to Ikengo”, shows our arrival by pirogue and the second records the villagers singing on the shore to welcome us.  You may catch a glimpse of one of the soldiers making up the small Congolese Army outpost at the farm’s port. He was and is a reminder that for Congo to realize those hopes held so widely and fervently in 1970, much remains to be done.

See the videos:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k-r62aw9vRs

I spent a couple of nights in the Centrer AgroPastorale d'Ikengo dormitory  last summer.
I spent a couple of nights in the Centrer AgroPastorale d'Ikengo dormitory last summer.

Return of a Native Son

 
 
M. Boetsa with sheaf of papers in hand stands among a few of his visitors

A long line of visitors waited for hours to speak with Mbandaka native son M. BOETSA  during his stay last summer.  Living next to him in the duplex housing at the “Maison des Missionaires” I had the opportunity to get acquainted with this esteemed native son and learn the reason for his return. 

During the colonial era, the Belgians had built in Mbandaka what they envisioned would be the first and only Institute for Tropical Medicine in Central Africa.  Independence scuttled those plans but a Belgian foundation now wants M. BOETSA to carry out the original vision of a medical research center in Mbandaka.  Having caught wind of those plans, the Congolese Ministry of Education has asked him to also consider assuming the post of C.E.O. of the University in Mbandaka.

For more than twenty years, he has raised a family and taught biology at the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris.  Raised in the Disciples church, BOETSA told me about his baptism at the Mbandaka III cathedral church and how his parents continue to participate in the Ikongo Wassa Disciples parish of Mbandaka.  When I told him of my friendship with Pierre Sangana, now resident of Indianapolis, BOETSA exuberantly described Pierre’s son Georges as one of the most respected surgeons in Paris. He also noted that Pierre’s daughter Aimee, now living in the San Francisco Bay area, had ignored his childhood crush.

M. BOETSA returned to Paris at the end of last summer to ponder the logistics of maintaining a home in Mbandaka and one in Paris.  He planned to return with his wife on his next Mbandaka visit and planned to again stay in the “Maison des Missionaires”.    His wife  had rejected the Ministry of Education’s offer of a large house in town in favor of staying next to the river and enjoying the porch’s cool breezes.

 

 

Moringa at Ikengo

Ikengo Farm Director Rio Bosala and visitors next to the Farm's Moringa grove

“And the leaves were for the healing of the nations…..”   (Rv 22:2)  Ten years ago Church World Service’s West Africa Director Lowell Fuglie began promoting the growth and use of the moringa leaf to combat malnuturition.  Today the tree is widely know across Africa as a drought resistant, fast growing tree used for treating a variety of ailments, including malnutrition.  A recent article on the properties of moringa observes, “It is commonly said that Moringa leaves contain more Vitamin A than carrots, more calcium than milk, more iron than spinach, more Vitamin C than oranges, and more potassium than bananas, and that the protein quality of Moringa leaves rivals that of milk and eggs.”

The bark, seeds and pods of the moringa are also used with the seeds providing a low cost water purification technique. According to the same article, “ The journal Current Protocols in Microbiology published a step by step extraction and treatment procedure to produce “90.00% to 99.99%” bacterial reduction. The seeds are also considered an excellent source for making biodiesel.”

Two or three years ago someone brought some moringa seeds with them on a visit to the Disciples farm at Ikengo.   The

Ikengo's malnourished infants may soon be given daily doses of moringa powder

resulting moringa grove caught the eye of Equateur Province’s Governor who exclaimed that he uses the moringa leaf for his diabetes.  And the Provincial health ministry is now interested in obtaining leaf powder for treating malnourished infants. 

A Mbandaka native son now Professor of Biology at the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris was fascinated by moringa’s water purifying capacity.  Wanting to see the trees, M. BOETSA accompanied me on my return to the Ikengo farm this past summer. More about the reason for his return to Mbandaka in the next posting.  For now, those interested in more on the amazing moringa tree can go to the Wikipedia article at:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moringa_oleifera