Monday, March 30, 2009

A Season In The Congo

A Season In The Congo
New York's Castillo Theatre presented an inspiring production of Aime Cesaire's A Season In The Congo Sunday, followed by a panel discussion of current issues in the Democratic Republic of Congo that perfectly complimented the many issues raised by the play, which centers on the rise and fall of Patrice Lumumba.

Cesaire, one of the greatest French language poets of the 20th century, wrote the play in 1966, just five short years after Lumumba was assassinated. The struggle for control of the Congo's wealth which caused Lumumba's murder continues today, as several members of the panel pointed out.

The production itself was spirited and intense, with a cast of over twenty actors drawn from the youth programs of the All Stars Project and the adult volunteers of the theater. A groups of dancers from Brownsville, Brooklyn, also took part and dozens of volunteers of all ages made up the production team. The play was directed by Brian Mullin.

Four separate actors took on the lead role of Patrice Lumumba, a directorial decision that added much nuance and depth to the character. The martyred leader was portrayed by Jube Charles, Christlabelsay Elian, Diana Lumaque, and Shaakirah Medford.

The panel discussion was moderated by Carolyn Kresky, a three-time Emmy Award winning broadcast journalist and a founder of the Castillo Theatre. She asked the participants to draw on their own experiences with the Congo of today to the events depicted by the play. There were many connections.

Maurice Carney and Lisa JacksonMaurice Carney, Executive Director of Friends of the Congo, pointed out that America has been involved in the Congo since 1885, when it was the first nation to officially bless King Leopold's claim to sovereignty over the territory. He also explained that control of the Congo's wealth is a world issue, with implications for not just the DRC but the continent of Africa as well. He quoted Lumumba in the last letter he wrote to his wife just before his death:

"We are not alone. Africa, Asia, and free and liberated people from every corner of the world will always be found at the side of the Congolese."
Lisa Jackson, whose film "The Greatest Silence: Rape In The Congo" has truly opened the world's eyes to the epidemic of terror rape in the war zones of the eastern provinces, spoke about the passivity of the United Nations in today's Congo and how it has not changed in the last fifty years.

Noella CoursarisNoella Coursaris Musunka said that her recent experiences in the Congo convinced her that the country needs a new Lumumba. The internationally acclaimed model is the founder of the Georges Malaika Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing educational opportunities for young girls in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Panelist Deborah Green was the Political Director of the Rainbow Lobby, an independent people’s lobby that aided the democracy movement in the Congo from 1986 to 1992. She drew a direct connection between the use of inter-tribal strife featured in the play and the similar strategies used by today's warlords and behind-the-scenes operators in the DRC.

Joseph MbanguJoseph T. Mbangu is a Congolese attorney and an activist based in New York City. He was studying law on the border of Rwanda when the genocide began. He fled the area, completed his law degree and immigrated to the US in 1999. He believes the play was very timely given the nascent movement among the Congolese Diaspora and others to bring the nation into its rightful place in the sun. He, too, quoted Lumumba, citing words he spoke during his inauguration:
"The Congo has been proclaimed a Republic and our beloved country is now in the hands of its own children."
From the applause that greeted that line, I believe the audience fully agreed.

My thanks to Misengabo Esperance Kapuadi for her gracious permission to use her photographs of the event.

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

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Chicago Reader Comments On Congo Aid

The most recent question from my Chicago reader is more of a thought-provoking observation:

"I think you are right on the mark about the distinction between investment and aid. It is important for the development of the DRC to benefit other countries because it will improve the quantity and the quality of the assistance provided. Sadly, I suspect those in power who resist foreign investment simply lack the education necessary to understand complex economic principles. I am only speculating on this point, however. What do you think?"
I think you may have carried your speculation a bit too far in the wrong direction. The DRC has many very well educated leaders in government and otherwise. This may be a benighted country, but that doesn't mean its citizens are backward or unsophisticated.

Those who resist foreign investment are simply expressing opinions based on short-term thinking similar to the insistence by the US Congress that only American steel should be used in infrastructure projects financed with stimulus funds. Or the US limits on foreign ownership in industries like shipping, aviation, and broadcasting. Or building a wall across the Mexican border. There are plenty of "educated" people all over the place who take extremely simplistic approaches to complex issues.

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

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

New Congo Accords

A milestone on the road to peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been reached with the signing of an agreement this week beween the Congolese government and the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP). Signatories to the agreement also included other armed groups in North and South Kivu.

Among the major provisions of the pact is one that compels the CNDP to become a political party in the DRC and give up use of its armed force as a policy tool. It had been previously announced that CNDP fighters were to be integrated into the Congolese army, the FARDC. Both these solutions have been used previously by Kabila's government with other armed groups, particularly during the election of 2006. The result was a coalition government and an army noted for its lack of direction and discipline. Still, hope springs eternal.

The agreement also calls for the DRC government to grant amnesty to former rebel fighters who joined the CNDP after 2003. Hundreds of CNDP soliders who have been captured are to be released.

Fighting last fall between the government and the rebels, then led by renegade General Laurent Nkunda, displaced hundreds of thousands in the eastern DRC. Nkunda was arrested in Rwanda earlier this year and the CNDP came under new military leadership. Nkunda is currently under house arrest in Rwanda but no announcement has been made about his possible extraditiion to Congo, which has charged him with war crimes.

International and regional cooperation minister Raymond Tshibanda signed the agreement for the Congolese government, while new CNDP chief Desire Kamanzi signed for the rebels, at a ceremony in the city of Goma. Goma was nearly captured by the CNDP during last fall's campaign. Also present were Nigeria's former president Olusegun Obasanjo, who in recent months acted as a mediator between the two sides, and Alan Doss, head of the UN mission to the DRC.

While the peace agreement was being signed, fighting continues in the Kivus between the FARDC and the FDLR, the Hutu group that was the supposed object of CNDP operations. Since the Rwandan army withdrew from the DRC, FDLR units have returned to areas they previously controlled in an effort to win them back with the same tactics of terror rape, pillage, and murder of civilians they've used for years.

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

Chicago Reader Calls For Self-Defense

My reader in Chicago raises a question I hear frequently when speaking to various groups about attacks on non-combatants in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It's one that's often posed whenever civlians are preyed upon by thugs:

I can't understand why the people of the DRC don't fight back. Sure, the soldiers are well-armed, but from what I've read, the "militias" are untrained or minimally trained, very small, maybe 1,000 strong, and travel in "battallions" of 10-20 men, making them significantly outnumbered by their victims. I have a hard time believing that an entire refugee camp couldn't make homemade weapons, such as spears, to at least deter attacks. Soldiers might have second thoughts about raiding a village if they knew they would be resisted by a large number of angry people. My understanding is that flight and evasion are the only methods of self-defense employed by the people. I heard on NPR that the DRC may be the only place in the world where more fighting would actually be an improvement.
Here is my response:

You may have seen this story by now, but there was recently a report from Bangadi, a village where raiders from the Lords Resistance Army was chased away by citizen action much like you describe.

The tale is both encouraging and frightening. On the one hand, of course, we cheer on the underdogs who rose up to protect themselves against some truly vicious criminals, taking the law into their own hands in a part of the world where protection by the lawful authorities is non-existent. The flip side is that self-protection often leads to vigilantism or worse. Many of the "Mai-Mai" militias that are often identified as rebels actually began as self-protection forces but eventually morphed into criminal gangs. When there is no rule of law, violence often begets violence and nobody wins.

The Congolese army (FARDC) hasn't been an effective peace keeping force, which is the main reason 17,000 UN troops are in the country. But one of the great mysteries of the current situation in the eastern provinces is why UN forces often seem so reluctant (or unable) to intervene when civilians are threatened by armed groups. There have been numerous reported instances when civilian massacres occurred practically within sight of UN encampments but the blue helmets failed to act. There is no question that they are stretched thin, operating in difficult terrain, etc., but their performance record is dismal nonetheless.

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

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Congolese Journalist Speaks About Rape And The Media

Chou Chou NamegabeChouchou Namegabe overcomes obstacles many journalists hope they never have to face. She's a radio reporter using her medium to bring perpetrators of terror rape to justice in South Kivu while she helps educate her community by presenting the stories of victims of the epidemic that is destroying the fabric of Congolese society. When I heard her speak last night at a panel in the offices of Women's eNews, I was greatly impressed by her ability to overcome her natural shyness to talk about such a distressing topic.

The subject before the panel was media coverage of violence against women in the Democratic Republic of Congo. As a founder of the South Kivu Women's Media Association (AFEM), Namegabe is well-qualified to talk about the difficulties she and her colleagues face.

Namegabe demonstrated the professionalism that won her a 2009 Fern Holland Award from Vital Voices when she spoke about the difficulties of choosing the right words to describe rapes and other forms of violent assault on women in a society where the subject of sex itself is largely taboo.

She also pointed out, "When a gorilla is killed in the Virunga park, the media make a big noise," while they all but ignore the story of crimes that have ruined the lives of thousands of women.
Operating in a climate of fear and violent retribution hasn't kept Namegabe from telling the stories that need to be told. She's been working in radio since 1997, interviewing rape victims and putting their words on the air with the most basic of broadcast gear. Even much of that was stolen recently when brigands broke into the tiny community station and took not only much of the equipment but the priceless archived recordings compiled over the years by Namegabe and her colleagues as well.
Still, she says, she will go on: "What gives me courage to continue my fight is the courage of those women."
The South Kivu Women's Media Association is a group of 42 women media professionals in Bukavu. The group leads radio listening groups in rural areas and airs educational programming to help de-stigmatize rape survivors.

Also on the panel were DRC Ambassador Faida Mitifu, Agnes M.F. Kamara-Umunna, a radio journalist from Liberia, and Mohamed Keita, Africa Researcher at the Committee to Protect Journalists. The discussion was moderated by Women's eNews editor Dominique Soguel. I'll be posting some of their comments soon.

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

Chicago Reader Asks About Congo Rainforest

Recent correspondence with a reader in Chicago raises a delicate quandary:

"...from what I understand, the DRC has the most biodiverse ecosystem outside of the Amazon River Basin and if the DRC ever gets its act together and is able to extract and control those resources, that ecosystem would inevitably be threatened. Could it be that, environmentally, the DRC is better off now than it would be if the natural resources were exploited?"
Here was my response:

The DRC does indeed have the second-largest tropical rainforest in the world. It is a treasured resource for everyone on the planet. That doesn't mean, however, than it cannot be of great economic benefit to the country. In fact, if the timber resources were properly managed, the ecosystem's future could be enhanced.

I've written about this before in Congo Rainforest Irony, which talks about some of the pluses and minuses of timber development activities in the DRC. The full benefits of this renewable resource, though, won't be realized until there is stronger oversight of contracts and monitoring of logging activities, both of which are expensive undertakings when so many other needs are crying to be met.

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

Monday, March 23, 2009

UN Takes New Stance in Congo

The United Nations seems to have made a substantial shift in operational goals in the Democratic Republic of Congo, at least according to recent announcements made by Alan Doss, Special Representative of the Secretary General to the DRC. While there has been no official change in MONUC's mandate, the blue helmets have vowed to go beyond the protection of civilians and UN humanitarian operations and become more proactive in efforts to bring peace to the eastern provinces.

The biggest change is a pledge to support the FARDC, the Congolese army, in its drive to destroy the FDLR, the remnants of the Rwandan Hutu Interahamwe who have terrorized the region for over ten years. Doss says the UN hopes to help the Congolese maintain the pressure on the FDLR recently applied by the joint Congolese-Rwandan military action. While Operation Umoja Wetu (Our Unity) was anything but a definitive victory, it did disrupt FDLR operations and led to the repatriation of significant numbers of Rwandans. Doss says MONUC will provide support to the FARDC as it extends the campaign into South Kivu.

MONUC also pledged to help the Congolese hold territory taken from the FDLR, but recent reports from North Kivu indicate these promises are easier made than kept as FDLR units have moved back into Lubero, Walikale and Masisi, in North Kivu, where they clashed with the FARDC, according to MONUC spokesman Lt. Col Jean-Paul Dietrich. The refugee population continues to swell as the FDLR strikes back following the departure of the Rwandan armed forces last month. At least 8,000 people have been displaced in Lubero, 14,000 west of Musienene, and 17,500 in Kirumba in North Kivu. The UN promise to strike back in support of the FARDC has yet to be fulfilled.

The change in UN attitude is significant because it seems to say that the international body has chosen sides in the eternal conflict. Until now, MONUC has supposedly confined itself to supporting UN humanitarian operations and protecting the civilian population from all belligerents, including the FARDC. By now openly supporting the FARDC, the UN has apparently decided that Joseph Kabila's government--as flawed as it might be--is legitimate (and it is, having been elected in 2006). The UN stance says that the best way to end the strife is to help Kabila assert the DRC's right to protect its territory.

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

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Talking About Congo Economy - Part 4 of 4

Students at St. John's University in New York were assigned Heart of Diamonds, not as a novel, but as a source of much information about life and progress in the Democratic Republic of Congo. They are taking a course in Economic Growth and Development taught by Dr. Joyce Furfero. This is the fourth and final audio clip from my visit with the students.

Transportation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (mp3)

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

Friday, March 20, 2009

Sarkozy Plans Congo Visit

We should expect three developments when French President Nicholas Sarkozy visits Kinshasa next week. One is an announcement of more French aid to the Democratic Republic of Congo, the second is a call to revive the Economic Community of the Great Lakes Countries (CEPGL), which brings together Burundi, Rwanda and DRC, and the third are demonstrations against the sharing of resources between the DRC and Rwanda, which the French President has been advocating.

Congolese nationalists staged a protest in front of the French Embassy this week in Kinshasa and threatened more during Sarkozy's upcoming visit. They are opposed to the normalization of economic relations between Rwanda and the DRC in the eastern provinces, fearful that Rwanda's long record of just taking what it wants in the region belies the country's willingness to cooperate in a transparent economy based on a rule of law. Recent peace overtures between the governments of DRC President Joseph Kabila and Rwanda's Paul Kagame, especially the joint military operation against the FDLR in North Kivu, have thrown fuel on the fires of opposition.

Sarkozy's official state visit will include an address to the national parliament and visits with Congolese officials. He has already sworn to support the economic reconstruction of the eastern provinces now that there appears to be some glimmer of hope that the insurgents who ravaged the countryside are slowly being brought under control. I would not be surprised to hear an announcement of a significant aid package with an emphasis on infrastructure reconstruction.

The most controversial aspect of his visit will be the call to revitalize CEPGL, the organization founded in 1976 to promote regional development and economic cooperation. The First and Second Congo Wars and subsequent dissolution of the region into a quagmire of violence pretty much destroyed any progress that had been made by the group. Now may be the time to revive the organization--or something like it--as an important step in bringing peace to the region.

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

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Congo Rape Draws More Media Attention

The bravery of rape victims never ceases to amaze me. As more and more continue to speak out, the media is paying more and more attention, which is the only way the epidemic of terror rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo will ever be stopped.

This Associated Press report appeared this weekend in the NY Times and is gaining wide distribution. It deserves to be printed in ten-foot letters on a banner hung from the UN General Assembly building.

The world should applaud and honor the courageous women quoted in the piece, Zamuda Sikujuwa, Honorata Kizende, Kasongo Manyema, and the others who cast aside their shame to Break The Silence.

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

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Talking About Congo Economy - Part 3 of 4

I spoke recently to a class at St. John's University studying economics in the developing world. It's taught by Dr. Joyce Furfero, who assigned Heart of Diamonds to be read by the class as a way of learning about living conditions in the Congo. This is the third of four brief clips from my comments to the class.

Congo’s Timber Industry and Agriculture (mp3)

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

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Suffern Library Site of "Congo In Crisis"

The crisis in the Congo is the focus of the talk I'll be giving at the Suffern Free Library Monday, March 16. I'll also read from Heart of Diamonds and show photos from my travels to Africa.

A diamond smuggling scheme drives the plot in my novel, and it represents in many ways the fight for control of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s gold, timber, uranium, copper, coltan, and other natural resources. That struggle has caused nearly six million deaths since 1998, making it the deadliest conflict since World War II.

The talk is at 7 p.m. The library is at 210 Lafayette Ave., Suffern, NY.

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

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Congo, Rwanda, Uganda: Speculation & Opinion

How can three countries with such a history of cross-border conflict suddenly become fast friends? I'm not necessarily objecting to the easing of tensions and growing rapprochement between the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda, and Uganda--just about any move with the potential to bring peace to Congo is a good thing in my book--but I do have some questions about why it's happening. Like the journalist that I am, I seldom take pronouncements by public officials at face value. And like the chess player that I also am, I try to look a few moves ahead.

Antagonism between the three countries is the historical norm, so the recent change in the tenor of their relationship is puzzling. Uganda and Rwanda both invaded Congo twice in the last 15 years or so. They both directly participated in the overthrow of two of the last three governments, including that of Laurent Kabila, father of current DRC President Joseph Kabila. Why, then, would Kabila invite his two belligerent neighbors to send their armies into the DRC? I've offered some thoughts previously, but now I'd like to add another layer to my guesswork.

First, a little background about the two most recent military actions that prompt my speculation.

In mid-December, The Ugandans joined with the FARDC (the Congolese army) and the South Sudanese in an abortive attempt to kill or capture Joseph Kony, whose rebel group, the Lords Resistance Army, has been carrying on its fight against Yoweri Museveni's government for the last several years from bases in Congo. The operation, which was mounted with logistical and strategic backing from U.S. military advisers, proved to be a debacle, with 900 Congolese civilians murdered, thousands more raped and kidnapped, and 85,000 driven from their homes by Kony's gangsters in retribution. A handful of LRA officers have been captured and a few dozen soldiers killed, but the operation has been a grand failure otherwise.

The Ugandans promised to leave Congolese soil by the end of February, then didn't. The latest announcement calls for a departure by the end of this month, even though Kony remains at large and his troops, though scattered, continue to terrorize the population.

In the meantime, Kabila met with Museveni to discuss improved relations between the two countries. Not revealed in the public announcements was any decision about how oil reserves on the border between the two countries are going to be divided. Oil has long been a bone of contention between the two nations. When I was in the region researching Heart of Diamonds in 2007, shots were fired over the development of those reserves.

The second part of the mystery was Kabila's highly unpopular invitation to Paul Kagame to send Rwandan troops into North Kivu in pursuit of the FDLR, the Hutu Interahamwe rebels who have terrorized the region since fleeing there after the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Strangely enough, the only significant accomplishment of that joint operation was the arrest of Tutsi rebel warlord Laurent Nkunda, who was detained as he traveled in Rwanda not long after it started. His troops, the CNDP, are being integrated into the Congolese army under the command of indicted war criminal Bosco Ntaganda.

The FDLR? They scattered into the same hills where they have operated with impunity for over a decade. The Rwandan army went home to enjoy their victory parade (unlike the Ugandans), but the FDLR returned and started raping and murdering civilians they accuse of co-operating with the Rwandans.

So what has been accomplished? For the civilians, not much. They are still hugely at risk in the conflict zones. Uganda strengthened its influence in the northern DRC while Rwanda did the same in the Kivus. The DRC got rid of Laurent Nkunda and co-opted the CNDP, at least on paper.

Joseph Kabila may have gained something else, though, and this is where my speculative instinct takes over. The next DRC Presidential election is to be held in 2011. My guess? Kabila is building personal ties with Uganda and Rwanda to back his candidacy when the time comes. In a truly dark scenario, he also my be laying the groundwork for their military intervention in the event that his re-election attempt fails.

As disturbing as such a scenario may be, let me add another layer. Kabila's budding alliances with Uganda and Rwanda also open him to support from their biggest backer, the United States. The potential has already been seen in the American support for the Ugandan operation, with intelligence, strategic advice, communications gear, and a reported $1 million in fuel supplied by the U.S. While American involvement in the Rwandan campaign hasn't been revealed, there is no secret about the U.S. use of Rwanda as a military staging area for humanitarian relief efforts (so far) for Darfur. It wouldn't be much of a stretch to see an expansion of U.S. military involvement in the DRC.

Now let me offend more than a few people.

Putting aside the pros and cons of Joseph Kabila's past and future performance as President and the possible influence these alliances might have on his re-election, it is conceivable that this may be the path to peace in the eastern DRC. It's obvious the Congolese army isn't capable of bringing calm to the region; the United Nations has proven to be much less than effective for numerous reasons; and other help from outside, particularly the EU and AU, just isn't going to happen. If six million dead aren't enough to bring the rest of the world to Congo's aid, what is?

In other words, a regional solution backed by the United States might be the only viable alternative. The motives of ALL the players would be suspect, but the results might be worth it. IF peace can be brought to the country, the Congo's economic and social development can take place. IF that happens with full transparency, truly competitive bidding, and carefully monitored performance contracts, the DRC can fully profit from its natural wealth and begin to achieve its full potential.

A stretch? Certainly, but it may be the only pragmatic solution.

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

Monday, March 9, 2009

Women Voices Raised Against Congo Rape

Yesterday's Break The Silence Forum provided an excellent overview of the rape epidemic that continues unabated in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The program at the New School in Manhattan featured a screening of "The Greatest Silence: Rape In The Congo" followed by an informative panel discussion. Many eyes were opened by the presentations.

Jennifer Thomas-BoatengJennifer Thomas-Boateng, the Program Coordinator for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, NY Metro Chapter, began the program with a powerful discussion of how corporate interests around the world are fueling the war in Congo. She termed several firms "corporate rapists," including Cabot Corporation and OMG Group, who process minerals that are illegally mined in the DRC, as well as contractors Bechtel, Brown & Root, and MPRI, who are major suppliers to the armed forces of Uganda and Rwanda, nations that have played significant roles in the violence in the DRC.

Vinie BurrowsActor Vinie Burrows gave a brief history of Congo from King Leopold II to the present, highlighting the continuing theme of exploitation that has marked the nation's history.

Misengabo Esperance KapuadiMisengabo E. Kapuadi, a founding member of the Georges Malaika Foundation, spoke about the growing role of the Congolese diaspora in breaking the silence. She quite eloquently pointed out that we were gathered not just to celebrate International Women's Day, but to make sure women in the Congo are not forgotten.

"The stop the rape, we have to stop the conflict," she said. "To stop the conflict, we have to stop the economic exploitation of the Congo."

Nita EveleNita Evele, representing the Friends of the Congo and Congo Global Action, gave an impassioned explanation of how terror rape has grown to epidemic proportions in the DRC. The Congolese army, she pointed out, is made up of former rebel groups--the same people who victimized the civilian population for years. Many of the soldiers were children when the fighting started in 1996, and were themselves traumatized.

The rebel forces use terror rape to control villages near the mineral deposits and rich farmlands they covet. The idea, as Nita put it, is to "kill the soul and spirit of the people by inflicting harm that hurts forever." Raping and killing children in front of their mothers, forcing children to rape their own mothers, humiliating men and boys by raping them, and using guns, sticks, knives, and other foreign objects to destroy a woman's ability to reproduce are some of the abominable tactics these criminals use.

The event was sponsored by Women's International League for Peace and Freedom and Friends of the Congo, as well as Project Africa at the New School, Black Radical Congress, Granny Peace Brigade, Barnard Center for Research on Women, and Medgar Evers College.

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

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Georges Malaika Foundation Brings Hope To Congo

International Women's Day would be a time to write about the horrible problem of rape and sexual abuse in the Congo and I am, in fact, going to the Break The Silence Forum today at the New School in Manhattan. It will include a screening of Lisa Jackson's award-winning documentary, "The Great Silence: Rape In The Congo" and a panel featuring four amazing women, Nita Evele (Congo Global Action), Vinie Burrows (Actor/Lifetime Activist), Jennifer Thomas-Boateng (Program Coordinator, WILPF NY Metro), and Misengabo Esperance (photographer/Georges Malaika Foundation).

But rather than write about the horrors of war today, I'd rather shine a light on an organization that Misengabo brought to my attention, The Georges Malaika Foundation. That small but dedicated group is providing educational opportunities for young women in the Congo, the surest path to a brighter future. Their mission statement says it all:
The Georges Malaika Foundation is dedicated to the advancement of African communities by providing educational opportunities to young girls, aged 5 to 18. Its vision is to mobilize the resources necessary to overcome the insurmountable obstacles a young girl faces to obtain an education in the Democratic Republic of Congo. GMF will provide assistance that paves the way for opportunity, generates greater choice and empowers girls to make informed decisions. GMF endeavors to permanently alter the cycle of illiteracy and poverty within the D.R. Congo.
Ambitious goals, certainly, but the organization has made tremendous progress since its founding just two years ago by international model Noella Coursaris Musunka. In the first year, the GMF raised funds to sponsor 18 girls from Maison Magonne to attend the Ecole Primaire Salongo in Lubumbashi.

As commendable as such efforts are, the foundation's sights are set even higher, with plans well underway to construct a school in the Quartier Kalebuka in Lubumbashi. The authorities of the Katanga region--including the Governor, the Minister of Education, and the Mayor of Lubumbashi District--have endorsed an entitlement of land for construction of the GMF school and a grant has been secured to prepare construction plans and estimates.

The single most important factor in breaking the cycle of poverty and violence is education. The Georges Malaika Foundation is bringing that hope to the Congo.

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

Talking About Congo Economy - Part 2 of 4

I recently spoke to a class in Economic Growth and Development at St. John's University in New York. The instructor, Dr. Joyce Furfero, had assigned Heart of Diamonds to the class. This is the second of four brief excerpts from my talk.

Basic Congo Economy and the Mining Industry (mp3)

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

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Speaking Out For Congo

Two strong voices for the Congo were heard recently on NewsChannel 8, an affiliate of WJLA-TV 7 (ABC) in Washington, DC. They are Nita Evele, Co-Chair of Congo Global Action, and Kambale Musavuli, an activist with Friends of the Congo. Their appearance was part of the growing chorus of voices asking the world to step in and stop the violence against women and other depredations against the civilian population stemming from the struggle to control the DRC's mineral wealth. You can watch Nita and Kambale make an articulate, impassioned case for what we can do to break the silence.

I'll be doing my part in the weeks ahead as I continue my speaking tour with appearances at the Suffern (NY) Library on Monday, March 16 at 7 PM and the Shrub Oak (NY) Library on Sunday, March 22, at 2 PM. I'll discuss the current situation in Congo and read passages from Heart of Diamonds that illustrate the dire plight of the people of that war-torn nation.

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

Monday, March 2, 2009

Congo Diamond Mine Recovery Prospects

Coffey Mining, a Canadian firm with interests in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), recently reported on its efforts to revitalize the Mbuji Mayi mine, once one of the most productive diamond mines in the world. The mine's output has dwindled to a trickle--along with the rest of the country's legitimate diamond industry--as war continues to take its toll on the DRC. The company's report mirrors the fate of the diamond mine in Heart of Diamonds.

The report points out that, since the 1960's, the DRC has historically produced ten million carats of industrial diamonds each year, but production declined sharply as war raged from 1998 to 2003, then collapsed to less than one million carats in 2007.

Dr. Norman Lock, senior principal consultant and regional manager for Coffey Mining, is overseeing the restoration of the Mbuji Mayi mine, which is a key part of the larger goal of rebuilding the region's ailing diamond industry. He points out that there's more to the project than pumping money into mining operations:

"...we can't develop just a technical solution alone. Any money poured into that would be like water in the sand. We also need to look at social issues in the region like poverty, which have contributed to the decline of the mine."
Among the problems faced is the prevalence of illicit mines in the Mbuji Mayi concession. They not only operate without paying legitimate taxes or royalties, which impair the government's ability to provide security and services to the country, but are grossly unsafe and dangerous as well. Dr. Lock says the problem is massive:
"About half of the actual productivity from the concession area has been legitimate legal mining. The other half has been illegal mining from artisanal mines. Any action to try and stop that is going to run up against tremendous resistance from the local community so this is an issue that will have to be addressed somehow."
Restoring the legitimate mine to profitability, however, faces other big hurdles:
"The mine is also dramatically overstaffed. If this was a fully operational modern mine, it would have a complement of around 500 staff but it currently has over 5000. Therein lies a problem. The local community is dependent on this mine and they are going to be laying off two to three thousand people."
Lock calls for retraining of the laid-off miners as the solution, but other problems remain, not the least of which is the near total lack of environmental awareness in mine operations.
"The mine has been operating in the same way it was back in the 1950s so they have some archaic practices in place. For example, basically the tailings are pumped straight into the river, which is a big no-no."
Instability in the Congo's government and continued violence in the country has deterred investors from putting up the massive amounts of money needed to turn the industry around. The current global economic meltdown doesn't bode well for the DRC, either, but the longer term prospects may be brighter than we realize. The Congo's potential is so great that it will take only a brief movement toward peace and stability to attract the needed investment.

Dr. Lock says Coffey hopes to address not only the Mbuji Mayi mine's operating problems but the larger ones of the surrounding community as well:
"We are anticipating that a more holistic approach to managing the economic and social issues at the mine - as well as the technical ones - will increase the mine's chances of success."

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

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Talking About Congo Economy - Part 1 of 4

A friend of mine and an innovative associate professor of economics and finance at St. John’s University in New York, Dr. Joyce Furfero, assigned the students in her class on Economic Growth and Development to read Heart of Diamonds and report on how the book reveals the state of economic progress in the Democratic Republic of Congo. After they'd read the book, I visited the class and discussed the social, political, and economic conditions. This is the first of four brief excerpts from that talk.

A Brief History of Congo and Heart of Diamonds (mp3)

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