Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Congo Suffers From Market Meltdown

The global economic meltdown may have dire consequences in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The BBC reports that crashing commodity prices have wiped out more than 200,000 jobs in the DRC's southern Katanga province, the economic engine that drives the country. More than 40 firms processing minerals had shut by November, with an additional 100,000 jobs expected to be lost this month.

According to Provincial Minister of Mines Barthelemy Mumba Gama, Katanga province generates nearly half of the country's revenue.

Job losses on that scale will not only cripple the economy in the region, but could have far-reaching effects throughout the country. One of the major problems facing the Kabila government is its inability to pay the soldiers in the army fighting Laurent Nkunda's rebel forces in the eastern provinces. Without pay, the army preys on the civilian population, extorting food and money from them with threats of brutal treatment as violent as anything the rebel forces inflict. Further cuts in government revenue from dwindling taxes on copper, cobalt, and other minerals mined in the country will certainly exacerbate that problem.

Rogue units of the Congolese army have also turned to trafficking in stolen minerals themselves, further undercutting the government's ability to raise funds. There have been many reports of government units cooperating with remnants of the Rwandan Hutu Interahamwe to operate mines and/or suck protection money from legitimate mine operators and mineral transporters in the Kivus. Downward pressure on commodity prices in world markets will have a devastating trickle-down effect on those operations, which are already squeezed by the criminal elements. Laborers in those regions work for next to nothing now; slave labor will be the likely next step.

In both regions (and possibly others), a major upswing in violence is on the horizon. Miners without jobs and rogue armies living on the backs of the impoverished civilian population are nothing but fuel for a major conflagration.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Saturday, December 27, 2008

House Cat

Cat In Zambia
Taken while researching Heart of Diamonds

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Bright Eyed Young Man

Young Man In Zambia
Taken while researching Heart of Diamonds

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Monday, December 15, 2008

New Allies Attack Lord's Resistance Army

While media attention on the Democratic Republic of Congo has been focused on North Kivu and the uprising led by renegade general Laurent Nkunda, military action against another self-proclaimed liberator has been launched in the DRC. Yesterday, the armed forces of Uganda (UPDF), DRC (FARDC) and Southern Sudan (SPLA) launched a joint attack on Joseph Kony and his Lord's Resistance Army in the Garamba forests of the DRC.

Kony is one of the worst operators in the region, noted for killing and abusing citizens and particularly for kidnapping children. He is reputed to have dozens of "wives" and to personally select sex slaves for the pleasure of his commanders. His long-running guerrilla war against Uganda is believed to have created two million refugees in the last 22 years. He and several of his underlings are wanted by the International Criminal Court for their crimes against humanity.

In a joint press release reported in Reuters, the three nations' military intelligence chiefs said the armed forces attacked the main body of Kony's army and destroyed its main camp, burning it to the ground.

Kony has proven adept at swift movement and cross-border raids into Sudan, Uganda, and the Central African Republic. He operates from numerous camps in the thick forests of Garamba National park near Congo's northern border with Sudan. His tactics have continually frustrated the UN forces in Congo as well as the FARDC and no quick end is expected for the campaign to bring him to justice.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Saturday, December 13, 2008


Shy Girl In Zambia
Taken while researching Heart of Diamonds

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

UN Confirms Government Rebel Support

The United Nations is about to confirm that the rebels fighting in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo have been receiving support from the governments on both sides of the border. Reuters says a draft report prepared for the Security Council verifies that Rwanda has sent men (and boys) to serve with Laurent Nkunda's army while the DRC government in Kinshasa has been supporting the Hutu rebels in the region. Unfortunately, this isn't news to anyone.

The UN report says that Rwanda has not only sent soldiers to serve with Nkunda, but that young boys have been recruited for the rebel force as well. In addition, units of the Rwandan army have been reported operating in the DRC.

Nkunda is a Congolese Tutsi whose forces (CNDP) seized large swaths of territory around Goma, the regional capitol of North Kivu province on the border with Rwanda. He claims to be protecting the Tutsi minority living in the DRC, but has also threatened to mount a military campaign to overthrow Joseph Kabila's government in Kinshasa. The UN report confirms that he is operating with the solid support of the government of Rwanda.

Kabila's government, on the other hand, has been cooperating with and provisioning the Hutu rebels in the region, many of whom are remnants of the Interahamwe who carried out the Rwandan genocide in 1994. They fled to the DRC afterward and have been operating in the eastern provinces with impunity under the acronym FDLR.

Just a few days ago, the DRC and Rwanda announced with great fanfare that they have reached an agreement for joint military operations to control the FDLR. It should be interesting to see who actually fights whom--and ends up controlling the immense mineral wealth in the region that is the real root of the conflict that has made 250,000 Congolese homeless since August.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Congo In Connecticut

"...this enticing tale of suspense and romance sounds like a great premise for a fictional thriller," says the Litchfield County Times. "...the book finds itself jumping between literary invention, reality and that opaque area in between the two."

I'll be reading from Heart of Diamonds, displaying photos from my trips to Central Africa, and discussing the current situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo at 6:30 PM, Tuesday, December 9, at Gunn Memorial Library in Washington, CT.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Cattlemen or Boys

Taken while researching Heart of Diamonds

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Saturday, December 6, 2008

Congo Takes Baby Steps Toward Peace

This week saw several tentative moves toward peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo. They are baby steps, and they have all been taken before, but at least there is movement in the right direction.

One interesting step was the demand by the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) that they get a seat at the table for any peace talks. The group is made up of Hutu Interahamwe who fled Rwanda after the genocide in 1994.

In an interview with Franz Wild, Colonel Edmond Garambe, the military spokesman for the FDLR said their goal is to participate in political life in Rwanda.

“Our goal is to return home and to see a democracy in Rwanda,” Garambe said. “There needs to be a platform for everyone.”
Garambe (who uses a nom de guerre) also denied that he receives support from the Congolese army, the FARDC. He made the statements to Wild while walking through Masisi accompanied by FARDC commanders. MONUC, the UN force in the region, has confirmed collaboration between the two in the past.

In the meantime, Garambe's forces moved into the Ishasha corridor on the border between the DRC and Uganda, an area recently vacated by renegade General Laurent Nkunda's army. Nkunda's National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), is a Tutsi group supported by the government of Rwanda.

In another development with potential for positive results, the DRC government has agreed to meet in Nairobi, Kenya on Monday for direct talks with Nkunda. Joseph Kabila's government has been resisting direct negotiations with the rebel leader, insisting instead that they return to a wider peace pact signed last January. DRC Foreign Minister Alexis Thambwe Mwamba said they now hope to formalize a ceasefire and discuss a peace plan for eastern Congo with Nkunda.

Mwamba made the announcement following a meeting with Rwanda's Foreign Affairs Minister, Rosemary Museminali, in which agreement was reached on a joint plan to deal with the FDLR. The comprehensive operational plan against the Interahamwe had been prepared and presented by senior military personnel from both countries.

Officially, at least, the DRC and Rwanda are now allied in the effort to defeat Garambe's forces. It remains to be seen whether the FARDC commanders respond to that development. It will also be interesting to see what role, if any, Nkunda will play in the campaign if and when it begins.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Reviewer Calls Heart of Diamonds "Action Packed Thriller"

Book Reviewer Debra Gaynor had this to say about Heart of Diamonds:

Heart of Diamonds has something for almost every reader: a touch of romance, suspense, and intrigue; this is an action-packed thriller. Donelson captured my attention early in this tale, and he held my attention to the very last page.
You can read the full review on

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Facts And Reality In Heart of Diamonds

One of the most rewarding things about the release of my romantic thriller, Heart of Diamonds, has been the way it draws attention to the world’s worst humanitarian crisis occurring right now in the Democratic Republic of Congo. At one presentation on a college campus recently, I noticed tears on the cheeks of a young lady in the audience as I finished reading from a particularly moving scene near the end of the book. Her tears weren’t for my writing; they were for the real people in the Congo who are suffering from violence I portrayed.

It was a moving moment for me, too, but it helped to answer a question that followed: why write fiction when there is a real, non-fiction story to be told?

As I explained to the audience member who posed that question, I am a journalist by trade. Event though I write novels like Heart of Diamonds, I also report on social issues like the contributions of illegal immigrants to our economy and the battle between real estate developers and environmentalists. Those are the kinds of magazine features I write-fact-based, dependent on solid research from confirmed sources, and balanced in presentation. I strive to make my blogs about the Congo meet those same standards.

But there are some truths that are most strongly expressed by having them play out in the reader’s imagination. Like what do people do when forced to choose between intervening in a fight to punish the villain or letting the bad guy get away so they can tend to the victim? Or the choice Valerie Grey, the heroine in Heart of Diamonds, has to make between giving the bad guys what they want so the children she is protecting can go free or sticking with her resolve to expose the scandal to the world to stop a war that might kills thousands?

I suppose you can answer questions like that with scientific psychoanalysis and discussions with experts in the study of ethics, but I think they resonate more with the reader who vicariously experience the same dilemmas through a fictional character in a fictional situation. One approach explains the facts to the rational mind; the other touches the heart.

That’s not to say that “reality” has no place in fiction. Heart of Diamonds is based on the very real and very smarmy relationship between Mobutu Sese-Seko, the brutal dictator who raped the Congo for thirty years, and Pat Robertson, the famous American televangelist, founder of the 700 Club, one-time Presidential candidate, and spiritual leader of millions of Christians around the world. When I found out that Robertson owned a diamond mine in the Congo (as well as gold mines, timber concessions, and other businesses given to him by his buddy Mobutu), I simply had to tell that story. The facts were already known; fiction allowed me to explore all the emotion-laden ironies of them.

The events of the Second Congo War, where nearly six million people have died in the last ten years to make it the deadliest conflict since World War II, found their way into Heart of Diamonds as well. My portrayals of gang rape as a weapon of terror, the abduction of children to turn them into soldiers and sex slaves, the plight of hundreds of thousands of refugees who can’t be reached by well-meaning but under-supported aid groups, all of these play an important place in the novel. My fictional accounts are no more horrifying than the news reports that spawned them.

And that was the aspect of Heart of Diamonds that moved that young lady to tears. It wasn’t the fiction, it was the reality it conveyed.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Monday, December 1, 2008

Congo War Spreads HIV/AIDS

Bloggers UniteThe spread of HIV/AIDS is among the many deplorable effects of the continuous violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. While the country as a whole has an estimated adult HIV prevalence of 3.2%, UNAIDS reports that prevalence of the infection among women who have suffered sexual violence in areas of armed conflict may be as high as 20%.

The eastern provinces have seen an astounding number of terror rapes--one every half hour, 24 hours every day--with a corresponding rise in HIV/AIDS.

Children are affected, too, both by infections through mother-to-child transmission and the loss of a parent to the disease. According to UNAIDS, 120,000 children under the age of 15 are infected with HIV.

While Congolese government efforts to fight the epidemic are not inconsiderable and the US provided $10.6 million specifically for essential HIV/AIDS programs to the DRC through USAID in fiscal 2008, getting assistance to the war zones is all but impossible. Over 1,000,000 people are homeless as a direct result of the fighting in the region, further complicating the delivery of essential medical services of all types.

While there is little we as individuals can do to stop the violence in the DRC, we can help its victims. One organization I support is Women For Women International, a leading force in helping women and their families re-establish their lives.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the