Inflammation and stories on Democratic Republic of the Congo

What had once been a course on music production and entrepreneurship at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has now become one of the most innovative global outreach programs in current times. Founded by Stephen Levitin, Doctor Mark Katz and Pierce Freelon in 2011, awareness and support for Beat Making Lab was originally gleaned through crowd-sourcing.

However, Levitin, Katz and Freelon gleaned more than just funds–they also attracted the attention of PBS Digital Studios, which agreed to document the efforts of Beat Making Lab in places such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Panama and Ethiopia.

Beat Making Lab collaborates with global communities in order to achieve cultural exchange, innovation and inspiration. Beat Making Lab, an enterprise of the production company ARTVSM LLC also partners with PBS Digital Studios in order to donate equipment such as laptops and software to global communities. The studio also shoots music videos with the selected community in order to create a weekly web-series with PBS.

For example of how Beat Making Lab has spread its message of global collaboration and peace through art is evident in Ethiopia, last summer, Beat Making Lab trained a group of 18-25 year old students in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The group was taught how to blend modern hip-hop beats with traditional Ethiopian rhythms in order to convey messages regarding pressing political and health issues in their homeland.

One of the many goals of Beat Making Lab is to provide youth around the globe with the tools and information necessary to become entrepreneurs of their own. In order to ensure that the knowledge provided during the two week session is not lost, students are requested to keep training other members of their community.

A former Beat Making Lab student, DJ Couler, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, stated that ““when the instructors return to the United States, for us that will not be the end. It will be more like a continuation, or even a beginning for us because we will be able to teach others how to create their own beats.”

– Phoebe Pradhan

Sources: Beat Making Lab, Beat Making Lab- 2, PRI
Photo: Okay Player

The Plight of Artisanal Miners in the DRC
It is no secret that many nations have headed to Africa in search of economic opportunity. In fact, a significant portion of trading relationships with Africa centers on mineral deposits, many of which are needed to produce high-tech products such as tablets and smartphones. However despite the lucrative opportunities the mining trade presents to outsiders, a significant portion of mineral extraction is done by poor locals who have little access to proper equipment. These individuals are known as artisanal miners.

The practice dates back thousands of years when many African kingdoms used artisanal miners to extract minerals for building materials and wealth. Today, still without access to technology, these miners operate with hand-held tools, no safety equipment and within shafts lacking any type of ventilation system.

So why does one engage in these dangerous activities? Kevin D’Souza, a mining engineer, discusses in his piece, “Artisanal and Small Scale Mining in Africa: A Reality Check,” that many turn to mining in the dry season when farming is less prevalent. This allows individuals to supplement their income. Also, many turn to the practice as a last resort since they live in rural areas with few employment opportunities outside of the mining sector.

Amnesty International has recently conducted a study of the mining industry within the DRC, specifically, the Katanga region. What they found was a serious lack of oversight by the government in terms of enforcing mining laws on the books as well as UN accords ensuring the safety of workers.

One of the cases focused by the Amnesty International report is that of the Tilwezembe mine operated by Misa Mining. The interviews outlined in the report shed light on serious human rights violations at the mine and surrounding area. For instance, accidents resulting in serious injury or death occur frequently at the site. Many miners are injured by landslides, falling debris within the mine, and asphyxiation. Child labor has also been known to be used at the mining site.

Furthermore, many violations have been perpetrated by the private security companies that oversee the mining activities. Unlike in the past, miners are prevented from taking the minerals they extracted off the mining site once Misa Mining took over. If miners are caught taking minerals offsite they face serious punishment by the guards which include steep fines and the possibility of being banned from the site. The guards also have the right to imprison miners for no more than the legally stated 48 hours. However, violations frequently occur with many stating that individuals are held for several days within the onsite prisons.

The presence of artisanal mining as the only means for some to make money and a government unwilling to enforce international human rights laws leaves little hope for its practitioners. However, D’Souza outlines some actions that can possibly alleviate the suffering. For example, he recommends legalizing the practice due to the fact that over 75% of miners operate outside the law. This would help create formal standards for artisanal mining as well as open the doors to introducing health and safety regulations that could vastly improve the miners’ situation.

Zack Lindberg

Sources: Amnesty International, UN

Fighting between the M23 Rebel Group and the Democratic Republic of Congo government has contributed to the ongoing violent conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC.) However, a group of 1,400 M23 rebels fighting in eastern Congo along the Ugandan border, surrendered last week to the Ugandan military. The group surrendered after the Congolese FARDC (Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo) forces, working alongside the United Nation Intervention Brigade, forced the M23 rebels to wave the white flag.

Upon initial screening, 46 children were discovered among the M23 rebel fighters. In fact, the Associate External Relations Officer for the UNHCR Mbarara, sub-office, Lucy Beck explained that upon screening, the children were found to be civilians. Ms. Beck urged the importance of bringing these innocent, orphaned soldiers to safety, away from war conditions and no longer subject them to further forced fighting. She explained, “They are all unaccompanied minors and as such need special attention and protection.” The 46 children are being given refugee services.

Upon surrendering, the group was transported to the Kasese district in Uganda and is currently held under military watch. Rumors have circulated concerning the desire of the Congolese officials for the Ugandan government to hand over Sultani Makenga, the leader of the M23 rebels. However, Ofwono Opondo, a Ugandan government spokesman said he is not aware the DRC is seeking out this option. Opondo further explained that Uganda will not be handing over the remaining confined fighters until a peace deal between the M23 rebels and the Congolese government is signed.

Last week, both the M23 Rebel group and the DRC government came together intending to sign the desired peace agreement. Unfortunately, the DRC government ended up calling off the signing due to a particular disagreement concerning the terms and conditions on which to sign.

At this point, handing over the remaining surrendered fighters from military confinement to refugee status is an event that will not be discussed until a peace treaty is signed. Lucy Beck explained, “as an organization, our duty is to the asylum-seekers and refugees we serve. For this reason we can’t discuss individual cases (Sultani Makenga)—even to confirm or deny whether someone has filed an application with us. I am sure you can understand this is for the protection of the individuals themselves.”

With that said, the influx of refugees into Uganda is already very high. There are currently 236,000 Congolese refugees in Uganda, and that number is growing. Although it is not expected that the surrendered M23 rebels be handed over to the United Nations, it is an issue that concerns the refugee systems in Uganda.

– Laura Reinacher

Sources: New Vision, Nam News Network,
Photo: Yes I Care

Trade Fair Innovative Global Development DRC Congo
A collaboration between the Salvation Army and the Common Humanitarian Fund (CHF) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has spawned a new means of delivering aid to the displaced. CHF, managed by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, are country-based funds around the world that collect money from donors to create a pool of funds from which aid agencies can then withdraw to meet urgent needs quickly and effectively. The CHF’s most recent role was to provide the financial backing for a trade fair in the village of Kambilo, home to about 127,000 people who fled the fighting in nearby Manono this year.

The scene would be a familiar sight to many around the world, with vendors setting up their goods on one side of a field and prospective shoppers lined up by the hundreds on the other side. What differentiates this fair from a common farmer’s market, however, is that shoppers are displaced persons looking to replace the basic supplies that they had to leave behind.

Trade fairs offer an alternative approach to providing aid that aims to preserve the dignity of those who have already suffered so much. Traditionally, NGOs and UN agencies have provided standard kits containing predefined basic necessities in mass quantities to Internally Displaced People (IDPs, or those who have been displaced within the borders of their own country).

According to Alain Decoux, the head of the CHF in DRC, “trade fairs” provide a more dignified means of ensuring that needs are met without removing a sense of autonomy from the process. “While they wait to return home,” he says “we want to rebuild the sense of empowerment and responsibility over their lives.”

At the fair, each family is given coupons worth a total of US$90. These coupons take the place of cash and can be traded for goods at the various stalls. The local merchants can then exchange these coupons for cash from the NGOs that are involved with the fair. This system mitigates the economic risk faced by small businesses when an area receives a large influx of free aid, thus providing a boost to the local economy. The trade fair also enables the displaced to purchase the goods that they need the most rather than those deemed necessary by outside agencies. For Nadège Zawadi, the mother of four with a fifth child on the way, this meant buying a bit of canvas to stop her straw roof from leaking. The fair also allowed her to purchase kitchen utensils to prepare food and clothing for herself and her children.

Though this fair is the first of its kind in Kambilo, it is not unique in DCR. Specifically, the CHF funded 23 such fairs across the country in 2012, injecting a total $16.3 million into local economies and providing aid to more than 26,000 families.

Though the trade fair is still a relatively new approach to aid provisioning, it has thus far met with resounding success. IDPs can purchase the goods that they need to survive while maintaining both their freedom and dignity.

– Rebecca Beyer
Feature Writer

Sources: OCHA, Relief Web
Photo: Landmark Education News

Poorest Country in the World Democratic Republic of Congo
You might be surprised to find that the United States isn’t the richest country in the world. Actually, that crown goes to Qatar who has recently jumped ranks to take first place. But what about the other side of the spectrum, the parts of the world struggling with devastating poverty? Well, on that end the Democratic Republic of Congo comes in first – or last, to be more accurate – as the poorest country in the world, with the lowest GDP per capita than any other country.


The Poorest Country in the World: The Democratic Republic of Congo


Determining a country’s rank in wealth isn’t the easiest of tasks when you sit down and think about the data and economics involved. However, a good indicator of a nation’s standard of living is the assessment of its GDP (gross domestic product) per capita, which is defined as the total value of all domestic goods and services that country produces annually, times its PPP or purchasing power parity. GDP per capita (PPP) isn’t a perfect shot because its purpose isn’t to calculate that kind of economic rank but it’s measured frequently, widely and consistently, allowing trends to become visible.

In 2010, GNI (gross national income) per capita replaced GDP in the calculation, but the list is the same between the two. Qatar was still first with about $100,000 GDP per capita (PPP) in 2012 just as it was on the GNI list and the Democratic Republic of Congo came in last at around $370 GDP per capita (PPP). The gap is massive.

Of the 40 poorest countries in the world, a solid 33 are in Sub-Saharan Africa. They include Zimbabwe, Burundi, Liberia, and Niger. Other parts of the world notoriously infamous for high poverty rates include Afghanistan, Haiti, and Nepal. But none of these places takes it quite as harshly as the Democratic Republic of Congo (not to be confused with the Republic of Congo) whose turbulent past and bloody wars have eclipsed the nation’s potential to thrive.

Since its independence in 1960 and once the most industrialized country in Africa, Congo has bled onto the ground because of its lack of infrastructure and the brutal impact of civil war. Disputes between Congo’s prominent rival groups, the Hutu and Tutsi, erupted after the Rwandan Genocide in which 500,000 people, mostly Tutsi, were victims of mass slaughter by the Hulus in the East African state of Rwanda.

The result was an exodus of over 2 million Rwandans fleeing to neighboring countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, known in that time as Zaire. Most of the refugees were Hulus attempting to escape the Tutsi who had climbed to dominance at the end of the genocide. The Hulu refugee camps in Zaire, however, became politicized and militarized and when Tutsi rebels invaded Zaire to repatriate the refugees, the conflict escalated into the First Congo War in 1996.

The situation only grew worse and by 1998, the Second Congo War, which was sometimes called the “African world war” because it involved a total of nine African countries and twenty armed groups, devastated Zaire and laid waste to her population and economy. The political turmoil continues today despite intervention and peace attempts and is one of the world’s deadliest conflicts with a death toll of 5.4 million people.

More than almost 90 percent of the conflict’s victims, however, died due a lack of access to shelter, water, food and medicine – all severely aggravated by displaced and overcrowded populations living in unsanitary conditions. Not to mention, 47 percent of deaths were children under 5 and some 45,000 children continue to die each month.

The nation also faces the problem of human rights and the countless crimes against humanity because while many have returned home, an estimated 1.5 million are still displaced. DR Congo is also infamous and heavily criticized for its treatment of women. The east of the country has been described as the “rape capital of the world” and rates of sexual violence has been described as the worst in the world.

It doesn’t help that DR Congo is consistently poisoned by corruption and greed. While mining growth has somewhat boosted the country’s economy, the elite are said to syphon off revenue for their own personal gain due to the nation’s lack of strong central government. Conflicts over basic resources, access and control over rich minerals and oil, and political agendas are some of the many complex causes behind the Democratic Republic of Congo’s inability to rise among the ranks and take the title of the poorest country in the world.

–  Janki Kaswala

Sources: World Bank, Maps of World
Photo: The Telegraph

The Lord’s Resistance Army is steadily weakening due to the growing weariness and disillusionment of its combatants, many of whom want to defect, according to a new report by The Resolve LRA Crisis Initiative, a US-based advocacy group.

The factions are scattered across an area of central Africa about the size of California, and, despite LRA leader Joseph Kony’s integration of high-frequency radios, communication between factions is difficult. Morale is at a new low; at least 31 Ugandan LRA combatants, which is at least 15 percent of the LRA’s core Ugandan fighting force, have defected since the beginning of 2012.

Months spent in remote rainforest villages have left the soldiers with little energy and enthusiasm, and the army’s new venture into new forms of crime, such as harvesting elephant ivory, have left many disenchanted and guilt-ridden. Recently, the army has also almost entirely failed to end conflicts with decisive victories leading to further weariness.

“The large majority of people in the LRA were forcibly conscripted, and most, including many Ugandans, want to defect,” the report says.

Pressure from the Ugandan, the US military in Uganda, the Central African Republic (CAR) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are all contributing to the weakening of the LRA. Campaigns such as the “Come Home” campaign, a collaboration between the Ugandan and US militaries that uses helicopters to canvas sensitive areas with dropped leaflets and loudspeaker messages encouraging soldiers to defect, have been particularly effective. The authors suggest, however, that these campaigns should be more widespread and better able to target areas where the LRA are actually operating.

While the report admits that the rebel group will not be dismantled any time soon, it outlines the steps that can be taken by the Ugandan government, Congolese government, US government, African Union, and all involved peacekeepers and donors to best ensure the LRA’s ultimate demise. It is assumed by the initiative that the most effective way to weaken and ultimately wipeout the LRA is to encourage as many soldiers as possible to defect.

One of the suggestions listed in the report is for the Ugandan government to implement a “re-integration program” for defected soldiers to assimilate back into their communities. Often, it is extremely difficult for former members of the LRA to integrate themselves back into their old lives while facing the challenges of “rebuilding their livelihoods, overcoming trauma and community stigmatization with little support.” Often, the Ugandan government will force the returned soldiers to join the UPDF, which they had spent so many months fighting against. For obvious reasons, the report encourages the government to halt this activity.

“There is a need to continue to encourage and persuade the LRA members to defect. Let them abandon the rebellion and come back home. They are victims of circumstances,” retired bishop Baker Ochola, a member of Acholi Religious Peace Initiative (ALPI), told IRIN. “Let them leave LRA to Kony and his people who started it… Kony will remain alone and will not have support.”

– Kathryn Cassibry
Sources: IRIN, Red Pepper, The Resolve LRA Crisis Initiative

In a traditionally volatile region, violence has once again broken out. In the province of North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, two rebel groups have been engaging in fighting with the Congolese armed forces. M23, the most active of the rebel groups operating in the DRC, launched an assault on the army stationed around the city of Goma on July 14th. Prior to that though, the Allied Democratic Forces engaged the armed forces on July 11th. Caught in the crossfire of these separate engagements are tens of thousands of civilians, forced to flee as fighting erupted.

Many of these refugees fled across the border into Uganda where transit centers are quickly filling. In the first few days of the conflict 66,000 Congolese refugees crossed the border. And that was before violence erupted between M23 and the national forces. The situation is even more difficult in Uganda as the country is already playing host to more than 200,000 refugees – 60% of whom originate from the DRC – before this latest round of violence.

The UN Refugee Agency has an annual operating budget of $93.8 million for Uganda, but less than half of this has so far been funded. With the sudden influx of refugees from both Ugandan conflicts, a large portion of the extra burden is falling on Uganda. With transit centers near the borders rapidly filling, the Ugandan Office of the Prime Minister pledged to begin registering refugees and relocating them to longer term refugee camps, where they will be supplied with plots of land to farm. This process, however, is time-consuming, and over-congestion in the transit camps, and the subsequent risk of disease as livestock and people live together in close quarters, has become a primary concern.

With the rebels, particularly M23 around Goma, refusing to back down, UN intervention may soon be seen. UN peacekeepers in the DRC, MONUSCO, had set a deadline of August 1st for rebel troops to hand in their weapons and demobilize. Leaders of the rebel group however dismissed the ultimatum as irrelevant. As a result, a UN intervention brigade, comprised of 3000 troops from Malawi, South Africa, and Tanzania – part of the 20,000 strong peacekeeping force – may soon engage rebel troops in an attempt to establish a “security zone” around the city of Goma.

– David M. Wilson
Sources: UNHCR, Times Live, IRIN News
Sources: Alissa Everett

In spite of its massive natural resource endowments, the Democratic Republic of the Congo remains one of the poorest countries on earth, with a GDP per capita of just $194. This is in no small part due to a conflict that has been raging – at various levels of intensity – since the early 1990s. As a result, more than 5.4 million Congolese have died and over 2 million have been displaced. Widespread sexual violence and the use of child soldiers have deeply scarred communities and left them with little to no economic development. The ongoing instability and poverty in the eastern part of the country poses a threat not only to Congo’s development and stability, but also to that of its Central African neighbors.

Intercommunal hatred based on years of conflict, competition among armed groups over natural resources, and regional power struggles have fueled the instability in the region. The largest armed groups include the Rwandan Hutu militia FDLR, the M23 militia backed by Rwanda and Uganda, collections of “Mai Mai” militias, and the Congolese Army. The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has also been known to operate in eastern Congo.

In addition, conflict minerals, notably gold, tin, tungsten, and tantalum, utilized in most consumer electronic products, are mined in eastern Congo. Due to worldwide demand for such products, the minerals offer massive spoils to any armed group able to control the mines. This has led to greater violence as groups fight one another over access to minerals.

The weak institutions and lack of government in the region have only encouraged conflict by allowing war criminals to act with impunity. And without a strict hierarchy or accountability measures, the Congolese military effectively acts as a large gang. Corrupt police forces and judiciaries also partake in violence or turn a blind eye to war crimes and human rights abuses.

Human and economic development in eastern Congo has been entirely derailed by the conflict. Sexual violence has both physically and psychologically harmed women and left them unable to care for themselves or their families. Similarly, the use of child soldiers has devastated communities by raising death tolls and making parents unable to protect their children from harm. A lack of trust between neighboring villages and communities has also eroded development and entrenched poverty by promoting isolation and discouraging trade.

In response to the ongoing crisis, the UN has provided the largest and most expensive peacekeeping operation in the world, MONUSCO, with 20,000 personnel and an annual budget of $1.4 billion. Celebrities such as Ben Affleck have called attention to the dire situation, and USAID has begun a Community Recovery and Livelihoods Project to address victims of sexual violence and the conflict minerals industry.

– David E Wilson

Sources: Enough Project, Eastern Congo Initiative, International Crisis Group 
Photo: World Vision Australia