Congo Watch: August 2004

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Scramble for Resources in DRC Leads to Massive Deaths, But Scant Attention

August 17, 2004, Congo-Kinshasa [interview], copied here in full:

"With an estimated 3.5 million Congolese dead over the last six years due to war, starvation and disease, the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is one of the world's worst long-running humanitarian disasters. About 3.3 million people are out of reach of relief organizations.

Clashes between rebel groups and government forces continue to ravage eastern Congo. Many observers say the conflict is now a struggle over resources. Learned Dees, Senior Program Officer for Africa at the National Endowment for Democracy, testified before Congress last month that forces from neighboring Rwanda and Uganda are stealing the DRC's resources.

Dees has been a freelance journalist in Africa, covering political events in Congo from 1990-1991 and filing stories for NPR, BBC, and Voice of America. He was a Peace Corps volunteer in the late 1980s in then-Zaire and is fluent in Kikongo and Lingala, two of the most widely spoken local languages in the Congo. Recently returned from a trip to the DRC, he shared his views about the conflict there.

Dees talked about his analysis of the eastern Congo situation and the lack of media attention to the crisis to AllAfrica's Milen Yishak.

What are some of the major challenges to restoring peace in the DRC?

The situation in eastern Congo has remained volatile. One of the shortcomings has been a lack of focus on ending violence.

I think the strategy seems to have been [that] progress in the political situation in the west of the Congo would bring peace to the east of the Congo. That clearly has not happened.

What are your thoughts on the 2005 national elections?

Elections are at the end of the process. Clearly right now, we are facing a short-term crisis having to do with the violence in the east. Unless those short-term issues are prioritized, it would make it difficult for elections. But having said that, there is no reason that the focus can't be shifted in order to deal with the short-term issues first and the longer-term issue of elections.

It can happen. But it can only happen if the focus changes to deal with the obstacles that would prevent the elections from happening. The first obstacle is the politically related violence in the east. The other issue is the technical organization of the elections, [which] are less of a challenge than the political violence that presents the major challenge.

Why is Rwanda helping the rebels in the Eastern DRC?

The reason put forward most commonly is that they have a security interest in the Congo. And those security interests involve keeping the FDLR (Forces Democratiques de Liberation du Rwanda) away from the border. That seems to be the security interest argument.

Other than that, I am not sure what their motivation is other than the well-established facts related to economic pillaging that were in the report that the UN has done over the years in eastern Congo and Congo.

MONUC (U.N. Organization Mission in the DRC) did not gain access to uranium mine sites, which had recently collapsed. How does the DRC's collapsed uranium mines affect workers and the international community?

Obviously, if uranium is in the mine, there are levels of radiation, which the workers and their families might not be aware of. It's a danger to them, and probably unbeknownst to them how much of a danger.

There is a great concern by the international community about the mine in general. There hasn't been much oversight over the activities at the mine. Because it is unregulated, anyone can have access to the mine. Therefore, there is the potential that uranium can be mined -- and who knows who will get that uranium. I think it is incumbent on the government of Congo to react accordingly and make sure that the mine is secure. Because attention is being focused, that will probably happen in the short term.

Do you see any similarities between the coverage of the crisis in Darfur and the DRC?

What happened in Darfur started happening seven, eight, nine, ten months ago. Not much attention was paid when the crisis was building. When the crisis exploded -- when the humanitarian issues arose -- then nine to ten months later, there was a crescendo of attention focused exclusively on this issue.

You could compare this to the situation in eastern Congo. The problem in Bukavu started in February. Fighting started in May and June. We are looking at the potential for more fighting in Goma anytime. The humanitarian consequences will be similar to what we see in Darfur - a million people displaced and in desperate need of humanitarian assistance.

It seems to me that media attention is often focused on a single crisis, as if the world can't deal with more than one crisis in Africa at a time. But over the long term, Congo represents a greater humanitarian crisis, because we have more people displaced, more people killed, and you have the potential for another level of violence.

Do you think the media spotlight in Darfur is taking away from the coverage of DRC?

I think Darfur deserves attention. There will be responses as a result, and that's a good thing.

The challenge in the Congo is focusing on what's causing the violence. If the media were to focus on what's causing the violence currently and what could be done to stop violence, that would be an enormous contribution rather than waiting until the violence has erupted and following the result.

The humanitarian consequences have occurred over a long period of time. Media attention has been fleeting. There has been some attention, and then it sort of disappears. In part, it is a result of the nature of the media, which focuses on one crisis or one set of bad news and then goes on to the next. There's not really a sustained amount of attention.

What do you think would attract more attention to the DRC?

I think a visit by Kofi Annan as he did in Darfur brought attention to the problem. A visit by Colin Powell or a high-ranking American official would focus attention. I think those are the sorts of things that the media responds to.

Darfur got into the news because Kofi Annan was there. Darfur got into the news because Collin Powell was there. I think that sort of attention by the UN and the U.S. Department of State and the Secretary of State would bring the same amount of attention." [end of interview]

[via Exegesis]
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DANIEL KREISS OF EXEGESIS BLOG
Questions media coverage of Darfur -v- Congo

Daniel Kreiss authors Exegesis blog that he describes as "Comment and Analysis on the Press, Politics, and Digital Culture from New York City." - and himself as a proud unofficial blogger of the Democratic Convention.

On August 23, 2004, Daniel authored the following post:

"The situation in the DR Congo has taken another turn for the worse, with the main rebel group pulling out of the power-sharing government.

As a recap, the governments of Rwanda and Burundi have threatened to retaliate after the massacre of 160 Congolian refugees in Burundi last week.

All eyes are on Darfur, but this conflict has the potential to dwarf Sudan in terms of humanitarian needs."

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Here is a copy of Daniel's August 18, 2004, post:

Here is a good overview of the DR Congo instability in the form of an interview with Learned Dees, Senior Program Officer for Africa at the National Endowment for Democracy. With 3.5 million killed over the last six years, it is hard to fathom the lack of press attention. Dees says:
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I think a visit by Kofi Annan as he did in Darfur brought attention to the problem. A visit by Colin Powell or a high-ranking American official would focus attention. I think those are the sorts of things that the media responds to.

Darfur got into the news because Kofi Annan was there. Darfur got into the news because Collin (sic) Powell was there. I think that sort of attention by the UN and the U.S. Department of State and the Secretary of State would bring the same amount of attention.
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One of the things I have been fascinated by is how much the Christian Right has made the genocide in Sudan an issue, resulting in the attention it has received from the Bush Administration, including Colin Powell's visit, and the national press.

Here is a sampling of Jerry Falwell's statements on Sudan:

"Over 2 million Christians have died in the Sudan in recent years at the hands of Islamic fundamentalists. The press to their discredit have failed to maximize the international tragedy that is underway."

"If a massacre were being conducted against people of color, God forbid, or groups like gays and lesbians, there would be an understandable outcry that would demand change," Falwell told Baptist Press. "It is a tragedy that Christian lives do not seem to have the same value to the national media."

Meanwhile, groups like Christian Aid, Servants Heart, and Christian Solidarity International have been involved in not only relief efforts, but also forcing the issue on the press.

This from Ken Hackett, president of Catholic Relief Services:

"Well, the situation is tragic. As we visited the camps of the displaced people we saw desolation and fear, and in some cases, a lack of hope. There's an awful lot of people -- almost 1.5 million people -- who have been forced to flee their homes because of attacks from militia gangs who have raped, who have burned their homes, who have killed. And these people are now living in the most desolate of conditions in just terrible circumstances."

Now it seems to me a little ironic that the same attention is not being lavished on the DR Congo, either because it is less symbolically and ideologically clear cut, or because it has been a protracted and much more complicated war.

Either way, followers of Christ are being killed. The DR Congo is over 70 percent Catholic or Protestant. Contrast the 1.5 million who are internally displaced in the Sudan with the 3.8 million in the DR Congo.

From Amnesty International:
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In July 2003, an AI research mission visited IDPs (Internally Displaced People) in North Kivu Province who had fled Bunia, Ituri's capital. AI researchers documented IDP accounts of rapes, beatings, and killings as they fled their homes. "The precarious security situation and relative or total lack of humanitarian assistance place the displaced in an even more vulnerable position in terms of human rights violations," their October report said.
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I am not faulting Christian organizations for being involved in Sudan; indeed, I think the DR Congo is more a failure of the press, US leadership, and the UN security council. However, if we are going to bat for the cause of human rights, then the same amount of attention needs to be placed on all conflicts and not just those where it is easy to contrast a Muslim Janjaweed vs. Christian refugees to the American and European publics.

[Note -- this post is work - in - progress : apologies to Daniel for copying his two posts here without explanation: I must leave this post for now, just wanted to get this blog set up and the details posted so I can work on a draft post here that will explain the rationale for this new blog]

Darfur, Congo seen test for Africa peace-Straw

CAPE TOWN, Aug 26 (Reuters) - Africa must not allow the spectre of genocide to rise again and should increase efforts to end conflicts and encourage economic growth, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said on Thursday.

Straw, on an official visit to South Africa, said the crisis in Darfur in western Sudan was Africa's biggest immediate challenge and would test the African Union's ability to promote peace via dialogue.

The U.S. Congress has declared the violence in Darfur, in which Arab militias are accused of attacking black villagers, to be genocide although the European Union has not gone so far.

Africa's last genocide was in Rwanda, where 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered by Hutu extremists in 1994.

Britain, as chief financier of Africa's military mission in Darfur, would provide more cash if asked, Straw told a public lecture in Cape Town. Britain was also awaiting a report from U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan on what he considered to be the next steps in addressing the crisis.

"The stakes are high...Africa needs to meet the test," said Straw, who visited Darfur earlier this week. "We are ready to do more (to help) if asked."

A million people have been driven from their homes and up to 50,000 killed in the Darfur conflict, the U.N. says. The AU has proposed sending some 2,000 AU troops to confine rebels to their bases while Khartoum disarms pro-government Janjaweed militia.

Straw said Africa needed to consolidate peace deals worked out by South Africa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi -- where militant Hutu rebels slaughtered 160 Congolese refugees earlier this month.

In a reference to this troubled Great Lakes region Straw said:"If Africa is to thrive, we cannot allow a conflict to smoulder at its heart, across an area the size of Europe ... Nor can we allow the spectre of genocide to hover again over the continent."

"Addressing these challenges will will help entrench stability and boost growth and development."

PEACE ENFORCEMENT

Straw said Britain was looking to enhance the role of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in the Congo, known by its French acronym MONUC. African leaders say MONUC should be given an Article Seven UN mandate, which allows peace enforcement.

He said a key challenge in the Congo was to disarm what are known as "negative forces", which refers to Hutu militias or former soldiers who served in the Rwandan army before the 1994 slaughter.

The Burundi massacre by the rebel Forces for National Liberation (FNL) has sparked concern that Burundi's peace process could collapse and led to fresh tensions between Rwanda and Burundi on one side and Congo on the other.

Regional leaders have branded the FNL a terrorist organisation but chief Burundi mediator and South African Deputy President Jacob Zuma said this week FNL could return to peace talks if it renounced terror activities.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Africa: A scar on the conscience of the world

August 21, 2004, Independent UK news report copied here in full:

Three years ago, British Prime Minister Tony Blair appealed to the world to heal the wounds of Africa. As Foreign Secretary Jack Straw prepares to fly to the Sudan tomorrow, the continent is still riven by strife, war and famine.

"The state of Africa is a scar on the conscience of the world. But if the world as a community focused on it, we could heal it. And if we don't, it will become deeper and angrier" - Tony Blair, 2 October 2001.

IVORY COAST: REBELLION

What is going on? The country, which produces 40 per cent of the world's cocoa, is effectively split between north and south following a rebellion two years ago by Muslim northerners over national identity and land ownership.

What is Britain doing to help? Britain is taking a low profile with no direct aid. The African Union, is attempting to organize elections in October to end the standoff.

What is the solution? No signs of early resolution to stalemate

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: WAR

What is going on? Sporadic fighting continues despite 2002 peace agreement. Congolese Tutsi rebel soldiers occupied eastern town of Bukavu for a week in June

What is Britain doing to help? Britain backs the UN peacekeeping mission and is also pressing Uganda and Rwanda to end any involvement, which they deny

What is the solution? Conflict expected to continue

ZIMBABWE: TYRANNY/FAMINE

What is going on? Political crackdown continues ahead of elections next year

What is Britain doing to help? Britain hopes South Africa will intercede with President Mugabe to resolve standoff

What is the solution? Stalemate will only be removed when Mugabe leaves power - quietly, it is hoped

SUDAN: ETHNIC CLEANSING/FAMINE

What is going on? Rebellion in Darfur provoked government crackdown leaving 1.2 million homeless and 50,000 dead

What is Britain doing to help? Largest single cash donor having provided £63m in humanitarian aid. Backs African Union efforts and UN

What is the solution? No easy answer. Sanctions could prove disastrous

UGANDA: REBELLION/AIDS

What is going on? Mystical Lord's Resistance army has terrorised northern Uganda for years with vicious campaign that has forced 1.5 million people from their homes

What is Britain doing to help? Britain has supported President Museveni with £740m in development aid since he came to power

What is the solution? Negotiations with Sudan-based leader Joseph Kony doomed to failure, miltary solution seems inevitable

RWANDA: ETHNIC STRIFE

What is going on? Rwanda continues to deny Congolese accusations that it has its soldiers in Congo in violation of a peace agreement. Ethnic tensions in Rwanda still strong after 1994 genocide.

What is Britain doing to help? UK is largest single donor, providing nearly £33m last year. But government rejects calls to use aid to pressure President Kagame

What is the solution? Peace in Rwanda depends on solution for Congo

BURUNDI: CIVIL WAR

What is going on? 160 Tutsis were the victims last week of low level civil war

What is Britain doing to help? Britain is stepping up aid with £8m budgeted for 2004-5. UN just set up political mission

What is the solution? Solution depends on settlement in DR Congo
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On the trail of the killers who harvest child body parts for muti medicine      

21 August 2004, Independent UK news report by Basildon Peta, Southern Africa Correspondent, copied here in full:

They first hit 10-year-old Sello Chokoe with a blunt instrument, causing a gash on his head. They then chopped off his penis, his hand and his ear. They were harvesting his body parts for "muti" - the murderous practice of traditional African medicine

Yet it is far from a normal part of such medicine. "In my many years of service in the South African police, I have not encountered this sadistic taking of a young innocent life," said police inspector Mohlahla Moshane as he led us to the spot.

The murder site is a few kilometres away from Sello's village, Moletjie, in northern Limpopo province. There stands a distinct and lonely hill in a vast grass and shrub veld.

The unsuspecting Sello was lured to the spot after being asked to look for a neighbour's donkeys. After a carefully planned ambush, his killers wedged him between the two large rocks to performed their macabre ceremony.

Sello seems to have dragged himself from the rocks where he had been abandoned. A woman collecting firewood found him and he was taken to hospital, but died a few days later. He was buried last Sunday in his fear-wracked village.

The practice of muti provides a disconcerting counterpoint to the contemporary image of the new South Africa. Dr Gerard Lubschagne, who heads the investigative psychology unit of the South African police service, conservatively estimates lives lost to ritual murders at between 50 to 300 every year. "We don't have accurate figures because most murders here are recorded in our records as murders irrespective of motive," he says. "Most people might also not regard a murder as a muti matter but just dismiss it as the work of some crazy killers."

Dr Lubschagne admits the rate of murders signals a very worrying trend in South Africa. Despite South Africa being the most developed African economy, a huge chunk of its population still believes power and wealth are better stoked by witch-doctors than stockbrokers and market analysts. "People who want to do better, people who want to be promoted at work, gamblers and politicians who want to win and even bank robbers who seek to get away with their criminal acts turn to muti," Dr Lubschagne said.

How the body parts are used varies with what customers want to achieve. They are eaten, drunk or smeared over the ambitious person. Various parts are used for different purposes. A man who had difficulty in producing children killed a father of several children and used his victim's genitals for muti. In another case, a butcher used a severed human hand to slap each of his products every morning before opening as a way of invoking the spirits to beckon customers.

Mathews Mojela is the head teacher at Sello's primary school. He has worked in rural areas for nearly a quarter of a century and says muti is founded in the archaic belief that there is only a limited amount of good luck around. If one wants to increase his wealth or luck, then it should come at another's expense.

The screaming of a child while his body parts are being chopped off is also regarded as a sign calling customers to the perpetrator's business, Mr Mojolela said. It is also believed that magical powers are awakened by the screams. Eating or burying the body parts "capture" the desired results. Robert Thornton, an anthropology professor at the University of Witswatersrand in Johannesburg , who has done research in traditional healing, says children like Sello are targeted because it is believed that the power of the virgin is greater than that of a sexually active adult.

The main motivating idea is what Professor Thorntorn describes as "symbolic logic", the idea that another person's penis will strengthen the perpetrator's, or that the perpetrator's far-sightedness will be improved by devouring the victim's eyes. Blood is thought to increase vitality.

Professor Issack Niehaus of the University of Pretoria fears that muti killings will increase as the inequalities of wealth become more entrenched. He said: "I would expect the occult economy - that is the belief in using magical means to gain prosperity - to increase as poverty worsens."

At the spot where Sello was murdered, Inspector Mashane said "A young kid is carefully lured into this bush and mutilated without any witnesses. If he survives, perhaps he is the only person who could help identify his killers."

One of the few victims who lived to tell his story was Jeffery Mkhonto, who six years ago was mutilated by an organised gang set to harvest body parts. He had been lured to the house of a neighbour for food and ended up being castrated.

Dr Lubschagne says muti killings are difficult to investigate because there is no clear relationship between perpetrator and victim. Yet other reports have also suggested that the muti victim is often known to the perpetrators and is easily lured and murdered in the process. Communities themselves are often too afraid to come forward with evidence because of fears of a magical retaliation.

At Sello's homestead, even the elders were too afraid to point any fingers directly at a neighbour, a traditional healer, although many villagers implicated him in Sello's murder in muffled tones. The neighbour had allegedly sent Sello to fetch his donkeys without Sello's mother's permission. Peter Kagbi, who is in his late sixties, was questioned for four days by the police over Sello's murder before being released pending further investigations. Mr Kgabi confirmed that he had sent Sello to fetch the donkeys, but he denied taking part in the murder.

He said he saw nothing wrong in sending Sello without the mother's permission as he had done that on similar errands before, a point hotly disputed by the boy's family. Mr Kgabi said he had been threatened by the community and told they planned to burn him alive because he was a wizard.

"Some are accusing me of killing Sello but I did not," he said. "I have not fled my home despite the threats because if I do, the community will regard that as an admission of guilt."

Even the eventual capture and conviction of Sello's killers would do little for his brokenhearted single mother, Salome, 39, who lives with her two remaining children on a £15 a month social grant from the government.

"Anything that does not bring back my son is hardly of any importance to me now. No mother wants to lose a child this way," she said.

Her emotional state will not be helped when she learns that Sello's body parts probably were sold for no more than £200 each, the price normally charged for a child's body parts in the muti industry.
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This blog is dedicated to Dr James Moore [more later -- this weblog is in the process of being set up]