Inflammation and stories on Democratic Republic of the Congo

reject drones
Drones buzz through the skies of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to monitor this mineral-rich country that has been racked with war for 20 years. The U.N. Stabilization Mission, or MONUSCO,  a peacekeeping operation with over 21,000 personnel, brought two of these Unmanned Aerial Vehicles into action in the DRC last April. MONUSCO then offered to share drone-collected information with humanitarian NGOs working in the DRC.

The offer was emphatically rejected.

The NGOs reject drones because MONUSCO is a military operation. International NGOs are humanitarian and as such are bound to the principles of “neutrality, impartiality and operational independence.” Using drones for both military and humanitarian information gathering compromises these principles.

A July 14, 2014 statement released by NGOs working in the DRC pointed to the potential for data gathered with a humanitarian objective nevertheless informing combat operations.

2006’s guidelines for how humanitarian actors and MONUSCO are to coordinate has recently been revised, but IRIN reports that a final draft “does not directly address the use of info gained through drones.”

NGOs are concerned that they have no guarantee the info will come from non-drone sources.

Drones have served both military and non-military purposes in the past. For example, while one drone might use its infrared camera to search for people congregating at night (a sign of an attack brewing), another drone might be tasked with monitoring the geological activity of a volcano.

On May 5, 2014, drones in Rwanda that were flying over Lake Kivu relayed information indicating a ferry had capsized, leaving 20 people in the water struggling for their lives. Rescuers saved 14 people who probably would have drowned otherwise.

However, the issue here is not whether drones are capable of serving a non-military function; humanitarian organizations know they would find information gathered by drones helpful. The issue is that, according to certain core principles, humanitarian NGOs cannot take sides in a war.

The drones’ many uses could embroil the NGOs in the conflict because MONUSCO might use “humanitarian information” for military purposes.

The region these drones patrol is highly unstable, with many armed groups fomenting conflict there. Last June, members of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, a militia group with a large presence in the DRC, proclaimed their desire to disarm and negotiate. Provided the offer to disarm was genuine, some thought this might stabilize the region to a certain extent.

However, recent attacks on barracks in Kinshasa by a separate group highlight how one party’s exit from the conflict can hardly be used to foretell an end to the larger conflict. Because of this, drones will remain a fixture in the DRC’s skies.

-Ryan Yanke

Sources: IRIN, BBC News, The New York Times
Photo: BBC

sexual_violence_in_the_DRC
Since military conflicts erupted in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in the 1990s, rates of sexual violence have increased significantly and become a major issue across the region. Though conflict in the DRC officially ended in 2003, fighting has continued and taken more than 5 million lives since the war began almost 20 years ago.

Sexual violence in the DRC, along with related crimes, have been called the worst in the world, particularly in the eastern region of the country. A study from the American Journal of Public Health states that in the DRC, 1,152 women are raped every day, and an estimated 12 percent of the female population of the DRC has been raped at least once.

Research has shown that many of the sexual attacks are related to armed conflict, and thus, the United Nations Development Program is helping the DRC strengthen its military justice program to make it fair, just and constructive in helping sexual violence victims.

Across the regions, trials are taking place following years of conflict and acts of violence in the DRC. Many soldiers have not been punished for their actions due to their special treatment in the military system, but the civilian courts are working their way through cases with the support of the UNDP. Thirty-one convictions and 9 investigative missions into serious war crimes under the International Criminal Court have resulted from UNDP support.

“It was important that the case be tried here because it is the exact location where the incidents [of rape and murder] occurred,” said Captain Magistrate Bienvenu Muanansele, from the Tribunal Militaire de Garnison de Goma. “These trials held before the people of Bweremana show the people how justice does its job. The law prevails, even for the military.”

The UNDP is also supporting the DRC military in training soldiers to understand the law, the consequences of violent attacks against civilians and human rights. A total of 2,432 soldiers and officials have gone through this training process.

In addition to these steps to reduce violent acts by soldiers, many organizations are working to provide support and community for female sexual violence victims. Masika is a rape victim and founder of a rescue center for sexual violence survivors. After being exiled by her parents in-law, she decided to offer community and support to other women who had experienced sexual assault. Following an army attack in the nearby marketing town of Minova, 130 rape victims came to Masika’s camp.

The stigma against rape victims in the DRC is so severe that in many cases, women are exiled from their families and ostracized. However, women support groups are beginning to provide community as rapists are being brought to justice.

An organization called SAMWAKI, or A Voice to Rural Women in Swahili, works to provide information and training for rural women through community radio. The group aims to increase women’s knowledge on topics from health to farming, and provides listening groups for victims to share their experiences.

Similarly, AFEM (L’Association des Femmes des Médias du Sud Kivu) offers journalism training and a space for women to be a voice for sexual violence survivors. Founded by young journalist Chouchou Namegabe, the organization aims to increase women’s representation in the media.

While sexual violence in the DRC continues to be one of the worst cases in the world, both international and domestic groups are working to end the normalization and prevalence of rape. Gradually, soldiers and sexual assailants are being brought to justice, and women are coming together, speaking out and finding community.

— Julia Thomas

Sources: UNDP, The Independent, The Guardian, Washington Post
Photo: ICMHD

world_globe_borgen_africa
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)—a country currently at the bottom of the Human Development Index—the sentencing of Germain Katanga at the International Criminal Court (ICC) this past week has brought mixed reactions.

The Court convicted the former commander of the Forces de Résistance for his role in the February 2003 attack on the village of Bogoro in North-Eastern DRC that resulted in the deaths of over 200 people.

Conflict has consumed this area of the DRC, and more specifically the Ituri region, for years. The power struggle stems from the drive to control the local natural resources, namely gold. Approximately 130,000-150,000 persons in Ituri alone mine gold, often working over 12 hours a day.

High gold taxes and exploitation of small-scale miners prevents many from achieving a decent standard of living. This, in partnership with low agricultural production, produces hunger throughout the population.

Of the two convictions the ICC has realized since its inception, both defendants committed their crimes in Ituri. Critics of the Court point to the prevalence of indicted African leaders as an example of political influence. The failure to enforce their indictments, as in the case of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, has weakened the Court’s credibility.

Signatory states to the ICC’s Rome Statute can also refer certain cases to the Office of the Prosecutor, which means governments may use the Court as a weapon against political opponents rather than a source of justice. Critics have also questioned the influence of the West on the Court, considering 60 percent of ICC funding comes from the European Union.

The ICC appears to be arriving at a crossroads between political showcase and legitimate enforcer of the law. Were the Court to gain its intended footing on the international stage, it would have the opportunity to affect change in the DRC. Deterrence aside, criminal trials allow victims to finally describe their experiences, which can help in the process of national reconciliation.

Implementing law promotes the stability that could do little to harm an economy destroyed by years of warfare. Each trial brings media coverage that can be harnessed to advocate for aid to the DRC. Regardless, the relationship between the ICC and the DRC will be interesting to watch in the coming years.

– Erica Lignell

Sources: Brookings, European Commission, International Policy Digest, IRIN, La Presse, World Bank

la-sape
In Brazzaville, the capital city of the Republic of Congo, a group of men—gentlemen—always gallantly brighten up the moods of those around them. Meet la Société des Ambienceurs et des Personnes Élégantes (the Society for the Advancement of People of Elegance), abbreviated as La Sape—an apt abbreviation that also happens to mean clothes, or dress, in French. The members of this association are referred to as les sapeurs.

La Sape originated from Dandyism of the 19th century that was brought to Congo by colonialism. Colonial officers wanted their servants—or as they were called during that era “houseboys”—to dress in such a manner that would reflect the status of their masters. Congolese men coming back to their country from France also brought French fashion with them. Thus, among the youth and those who worked for the colonizers, many wanted to emulate and live up to the myth of the Parisian elegance.

However, nowadays, this foreign-influenced fashion has been appropriated and utilized as a uniquely Congolese sartorial expression to defy the harsh reality of everyday poverty and to allow those who partake in this subculture to articulate their art of living and their joie de vivre. In a country where 46.5 percent live at or below the national poverty line, an average person earns $3,240 per year. Nevertheless, today’s sapeurs are willing to pay a fortune for a pair of crocodile shoes, which can cost anywhere between $1,300 and $3,900. That is not to say that the sapeurs are on average wealthier than most Congolese or that they indulge in conspicuous consumerism.

Most members of La Sape have medium-income occupations such as electricians, shopkeepers or marketing agents. Despite their meager incomes, the sapeurs manage to use their creativity to assemble fashionable dresses to turn the streets of Brazzaville into runways. To save money, the sapeurs often buy second hand clothes or obtain them from friends. Besides their à la mode (and perhaps even a little avant-garde) clothing, the sapeurs also uphold—to a near commandment status—certain types of demeanors and manner that are the quintessence of politeness and elegance. Some of these commandments include: “1. To dress oneself here on earth as it is in heaven,” “8 & 9. To not be tribalist, racist, nationalist, or violent” and “ 10. To not display any hesitation in trying to charm all those who are sappophobic.” In Brazzaville, the sapeurs are somewhat celebrities—not unlike reality TV starts. Their presence at weddings, celebrations, parties and even funerals, are appreciated as they so often bring a sense of lightheartedness and stylishness to the occasions.

Although outsiders may see La Sape movement as a direct legacy of colonialism and the European imposition of Western values, the sapeurs in fact defy the stereotypes that are, too, imposed upon the many peoples of Africa by outsiders. In contrast to the usually clichés of a monolithic Africa of famine, wars, and safaris, the sapeurs show that there are more dimensions beyond the clichés. No matter how difficult the circumstance may be for the sapeurs, they nevertheless know how to make the best out of what they possess and in doing so, bring joy to both themselves and those around them. And as for the accusation that the sapeurs are perpetuating the legacy of colonialism, Baudouin Mouanda—a photographer who immortalized the numerous members of La Sape—has once stated, “the Westerners made the dress, but how it is worn was invented in Brazzaville.”

– Peewara Sapsuwan

Sources: Zone Zero, Racialicious, Jeuneafrique, NPR
Photo: Fashion Junkii

liberia-health-care
The World’s Health Organization (WHO) ranked the world’s health systems in the year 2000. WHO ranked Liberia, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and Myanmar as the top 5 countries in need of better healthcare and as the nations with the lowest healthcare quality. While these nations have undergone reforms since the 2000 assessment, they continue to face critical healthcare obstacles. The countries are listed in descending order based on the World’s Health Organization Ranking of the World’s Health Systems. 

 

Top 5 Countries in Need of Better Healthcare

 

1. Liberia

According to Doctors Without Borders, Liberians suffer from epidemic disease, social violence and healthcare exclusion. During the past twelve years, Liberia’s Ministry of Health has taken steps to address healthcare issues but disease and access to adequate healthcare remain crucial issues in the country. In March 2014, the media announced an outbreak of the Ebola virus in Liberia, suggesting epidemic disease continues to be a primary healthcare concern.  Liberian health authorities expressed a concern over the virus spreading to other countries while attempting to quell public panic. Furthermore, access to sufficient healthcare and healthcare equipment remains limited. In a 2012 Korle-Bu Neuroscience Foundation report, Jocelyne Lapointe stated that Liberia has only one medical center, John F. Kennedy Memorial Medical Center (JFKH), with up-to-date medical imaging systems. JFKH has a modern CT scanner, ultrasound and x-ray equipment. However, the hospital does not have adequate staffing to install and operate all the imaging equipment and desperately seeks the aid of radiologists.

 

2. Nigeria

Nigeria also suffers from epidemic diseases such as malaria, HIV/AIDS and typhoid which affect a large portion of the population. The lack of government aid in response to these diseases has led to distrust in government healthcare initiatives.  The Guardian’s September 2013 article, “The toughest job in Nigerian healthcare,” Dr. Ado Jimada Gana Muhammad, the chief executive of Nigeria’s National Primary Healthcare Development Agency, stated, “If customers – I call patients ‘customers’ – attend a health facility and the level of care is not what he or she expects the confidence is eroded even further.” Muhammad strives to reinstate Nigerians’ lost trust in the healthcare system, hoping that the public will become consumers of recent additions to the system, including better access to vaccinations and new distribution of resources.  In April 2014, Nigeria’s National Health Bill will attempt to revitalize the country’s healthcare system via a $380 million pledge. The bill will focus on primary healthcare, offering free healthcare to many Nigerians.

 

3. Democratic Republic of the Congo

A 2013 IRIN News article, “Boost for healthcare in DRC,” stated, “Civil war has destroyed much of the country’s health infrastructure, as well as the road networks and vital services such as electricity, meaning patients often have to travel long distances to health centers that may not be equipped to handle their complications.” In a country with high rates of infant/maternal mortality, HIV/AIDS, malaria and sexual violence, access to medical care plays an essential role in the success of the country’s healthcare system. Currently, a British program, providing $179 million to the country, is attempting to help six million people in the Congo access healthcare.

 

4. Central African Republic

Lack of healthcare access and healthcare workers plague Central African Republic. After a 2010 rebel attack, volunteer medical workers fled dangerous regions of the country. Thus, large portions of the country’s population have been cut off from all medical resources. Furthermore, an IRIN News article, “Central African Republic: Struggling for healthcare,” states, “Since 2008, the government has spent only 1.5% of GDP on public health, hence its dependency on some 19 medical NGOs to provide drugs and medical equipment and improve the skills of health workers.” For the people of Central African Republic, health care depends on NGO’s rather than the government and therefore, when NGO workers do not feel safe in the country, the healthcare system suffers drastically. IRIN news also noted that vaccination coverage dropped with NGO displacement. The government needs to increase healthcare funding or increase safety measures for medical volunteers to improve the ailing healthcare system.

 

5. Myanmar

Despite Myanmar’s history of wealth via international trade, Myanmar’s economy has changed significantly in recent years. Poor road infrastructure and low government contribution to healthcare systems has led to healthcare inaccessibility for a large portion of the nation’s population. According to the Burnet Institute, an organization that conducts research on public health in Myanmar, the country has high rates of malaria, tuberculosis and HIV. Ten percent of the population suffers from HIV and tuberculosis simultaneously.  Myanmar needs more government funding and outside support from other nations to establish an effective healthcare system and build access to healthcare centers.

– Jaclyn Ambrecht

Sources: Think Africa Press, Burnet Institute, Doctors Without Borders, IRIN News, IRIN News, KBNF, The Guardian, The Inquirer, WHO
Photo: International Rescue Committee

senator-of-wisconsin-ends-congo-war
According to a Politico article, a former Wisconsin senator ended a war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Russ Feingold, who lost his seat to Republican Ron Johnson in 2010, was appointed by John Kerry to help resolve a conflict involving the Congolese government and militia M23.

“Feingold’s assignment came just as a new group of rebels, trained and equipped by Rwanda, was gaining strength in the west and even threatening to take Kinshasa, the Congolese capital,” Politico reported.

The most important lesson behind the peace negotiations, Kerry told Feingold, is “that diplomacy works, and persistence pays off.”

Kerry became familiar with Feingold’s work ethic when they sat together for years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“Russ and I served together in the Senate for some 18 years,” Kerry said during a United States Department of State press announcement in June 2013. “I have a lot of respect for a lot of qualities of Russ–his intellect, his courage, his passion–but with respect to this mission, chief among those qualities that are important right now is his expertise on Africa.”

The situation in the DRC has caused much concern for the international community lately. The United Nations peacekeeping mission in the country has an annual cost of $1.5 billion and employs 20,000 troops. Moreover, a study by the American Journal of Public Health revealed that around 48 women are raped every hour throughout the country.

Human Rights Watch also released a report condemning the war crimes committed by Rwandan officials and General Bosco Ntaganda, the leader of M23.

“Field research conducted by (HRW) in the region in May 2012 revealed that Rwandan army officials have provided weapons, ammunition, and an estimated 200 to 300 recruits to support Ntaganda’s mutiny in Rutshuru territory, eastern Congo,” HRW said.

Although Feingold was able to defeat M23 with diplomacy, Politico argues that his next big challenge is to make governance in the DRC more effective.

“Only once it gained control over, and legitimacy in, eastern Congo could there be permanent peace,” said Politico. “Until then, it would remain a place where armed militias could gang-rape women and girls in farm fields, abduct boys and turn them into child soldiers, and burn entire villages to the ground.”

Due to its weak infrastructure and widespread poverty, the DRC still has a long way to go before getting rid of these problems. However, Feingold’s accomplishment in the region may potentially guide the country towards the right direction.

– Juan Campos

Sources: Human Rights Watch, Politico, U.S. Department of State
Photo: Pulitzer Center

ben_affleck_DRC
Ben Affleck may be famous for his role in movies such as Argo, The Town and Good Will Hunting, but nowadays he’s making an impact in a new role. Because of his philanthropic involvement in eastern Congo, Affleck went before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to testify about the Congolese people and the need for U.S. involvement in the region. The hearing provided an opportunity for Affleck to draw increased media attention to the precarious human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo and pressure lawmakers to do more to help.

Affleck first became involved in the Congo through his grant-making and advocacy organization, the East Congo Initiative (ECI). This organization seeks to increase investments in Congolese-led programs that create safe and sustainable communities. Additionally, ECI advocates for increased U.S. involvement in Congo while working against key problems such as rape and sexual violence as well as inadequate education and health resources for children. The East Congo Initiative also seeks to reintegrate former child soldiers back into their homes while leading community-level peace and reconciliation programs.

During his testimony, Affleck highlighted many of the struggles the Congolese people are enduring every day. For instance, Affleck cited UN reports that not only indicate that 2.9 million Congolese had been displaced internally, but also that 428,000 others have become refugees in neighboring countries. These people are being scattered throughout the region by the armed militia known as M23 that had previously taken over the capital of a northern Congolese province. A UN peacekeeping force recently coerced the M23 to surrender and sign a peace agreement. Affleck cited the UN group as evidence that “when the international community acts, and the Congolese government rises to the moment, these challenges are in fact solvable.”

Affleck finished his testimony by sharing a story about one of ECI’s partners, Theo Chocolate. An organic, fair-trade chocolate company, Theo imports more than 50% of its Chocolate from the DRC. Theo Chocolate’s business was connected to small folder farmers in the DRC by ECI and has helped support many of these small Congolese business operations. Through professionally directed investments, ECI was able to help spur economic development in the Congo and improve the lives of several Congolese people.

Through his charitable initiatives with ECI, Affleck is an example of how ordinary Americans can make a difference in influencing Congress and bring attention to the issues they care about. Affleck acknowledged, “I am, to state the obvious, not a Congo expert. I am an American working to do my part for a country and a people I believe in and care deeply about.” Through his actions, Affleck not only successfully drew the attention of the United States Senate to the plight of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but he also gives hope for a better life to many impoverished people.

– Martin Levy

US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, East Congo Initiative
Photo: Heritage

Ben Affleck
Ben Affleck, co-star of the upcoming film Superman vs. Batman, spent time in Washington, D.C. on February 26 discussing the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Using his celebrity and networking super powers,  Affleck has previously launched the Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI) in 2010 and has since helped raise awareness and generate public action against violence in the DRC.

While in D.C. Affleck testified in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Committee Chairman  Sen. Robert Menéndez (D-N.J.). He began his testimony by acknowledging the significant progress made in the last three months. He also thanked Congress, U.S. President Obama and the State Department for their roles in achieving the surrender of M23, the Congolese Revolutionary Army, which has been violently rebelling against the DRC government.

Affleck emphasized that though progress has been made, it is important to stay on track, and that deviating could risk losing the fruit of their hard diplomatic labor.  The ECI created five key points for Congress to ensure sustainable peace in the country:

  1. Urge U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to ensure DRC special envoy Russell Feingold has the support needed to successfully achieve his mission
  2. Call on U.S. Embassador to the U.N. Samantha Power to support extending the intervention brigade past its March 31 expiration
  3. Foreign Relations committee hold an oversight hearing to consider a sunset to MONUSCO that compels the DRC to follow through and fully reform its security sector
  4. Have Obama directly engage with DRC President Joseph Kabila to encourage him to make good on his critical commitment to long-overdue security sector reforms by establishing a clearly defined road map
  5. Have the U.S. play a pivotal role and robustly participate in multilateral efforts to ensure that the Congolese holds free, fair and timely local and national elections that respect the Congolese constitution including strict observance of term limits
  6. Call upon USAID to scale up its economic development initiatives in Eastern Congo

Ultimately, the ECI believes the DRC can be revived through enhanced security on one side and injecting small amount of development aid throughout pockets of the community. This will allow the Congolese people to stand on their own and create a market economy, eventually joining the global market.

– Sunny Bhatt

Sources: YouTube, Eastern Congo Initiative
Photo: Ryot.org

malnutrition

Kinshasa, DR Congo

The second largest country in Africa and is located in the middle of the continent. Since the 1990’s the country has been in a state of political unrest and civil war which is the cause of many of the other problems in the region, such as disease, food insecurity, human rights violations, and violence against women.

Here are four issues that contribute to nearly 6.3 million people remaining food insecure and over half of the children under the age of 5 classified as malnourished in the DR Congo:

  1. Political instability between the government and several militia and rebel groups. Peace talks have been ongoing since 2009 with little progress. Since 1998, 5.4 million people have been killed. Less than 10% were killed during the fighting, instead the majority have died from diseases and malnutrition.
  2. 2.7 million people are internally displaced within the DRC as a result of the civil war. 1.6 million are in the North and South Kivu region, where much of the heavy militia activity takes place. There are an additional 116,000 refugees from neighboring countries currently living in the DRC. The large number of displaced people and perpetual fighting in the country has led to a high rate of abuse and sexual assault of women and children. It is estimated that 400,000 women between 15 and 49 were raped between 2006 and 2007. This is the equivalent of 48 women being assaulted every hour.
  3. 3.71% of the population lives below the poverty line, meaning they live on less than two dollars per day.
  4. Rampant infectious diseases are common across the country such as Malaria, Dengue Fever, Typhoid Fever, and HIV/AIDS. The ministry of health said that Malaria was their number one disease concern and in 2011 alone there were 4,561,981 reported cases.

– Colleen Eckvahl 

Sources: The International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict , WFP, WHO
Photo: This is Africa

Democratic_Republic_of_Congo_medical_care_issues
On January 30, the United Nations expressed grave concern for the people of Katanga, the wealthiest province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The country, in a constant state of deterioration and disarray since its independence from the Belgians in 1960, has experienced relative restoration in the past decade thanks to a series of UN missions.

The DRC is the 11th largest country in the world, making it incredibly difficult for any peacekeeping organization, no matter how skilled and vast, to give equal attention to each of the country’s problems. And, the UN admits it fell victim to this difficulty. Increased fighting between the government and sectarian groups in the eastern regions has left the southern province of Katanga in neglect.

Approximately the size of Spain, Katanga is judged to possess about a third of the world supply of cobalt and almost a tenth of its copper. April 2013 marked the entrance of 440 rebel fighters who attacked Katanga, allegedly with no resistance from security forces. In just the past three months, their fierce rebellion for a Katanga independent from the DRC razed nearly 600 homes and displaced over 400,000 individuals.

This number of displaced persons, in a country by no means stranger to such catastrophe, is still considered an extraordinary increase over the past two years.

Doctors Without Borders, currently active in the region, worry that the humanitarian crisis is augmented by an inability for vulnerable people to access proper medical care and assistance. Falling patient numbers, combined with the known increase in need, suggests that many are going untreated. With enhanced awareness of the issues and a global desire to bring peace to the region, perhaps improvements will come soon.

Jaclyn Stutz

Sources: All Africa, The Guardian, All Africa
Photo: jbrussellimages