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

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has long been the poster child for extreme poverty and instability. The two Congo wars, which were about and financed by the total exploitation of nation’s natural resources, have left this African state without the resources or stability to function, let alone compete financially in a global economy.

A brutal history of colonialism coupled with the long term effects of war have left the DRC as the poorest country in the world. The DRC consistently has the lowest economic rankings globally. However, whether one measures wealth or global poverty, it is at the bottom every time.

The two most standard methods of measuring the wealth of countries are Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and Purchasing Power Parities (PPP). GDP is a measure of the size of a country’s economy. GDP can be refined in focus to account for either the average wealth or poverty of residents through per-capita GDP. Most economist prefer GDP  at Purchasing Power Parity or GDP (PPP). PPP can offer better insight as it takes into account the cost of living and inflation and not simply and exchange rate.

The measure that most economists prefer is GDP at purchasing power parity. GDP (PPP) compares generalized differences in living standards on the whole between nations because PPP takes into account the relative cost of living and the inflation rates of countries, rather than using just exchange rates, which may distort the real differences in income.

The DRC has a PPP of $1459.62  for 2013 placing it at the bottom of every list ranking countries by wealth. By whatever method of measurement utilized, the DRC has poverty at such an extreme level that any measure of global poverty would declare the nation as the world’s poorest.

The DRC is still reeling from the Congo Wars, which were the deadliest conflict since World War II. Nearly 5.4 million people have died in the conflict since its outbreak in 1998. The vast majority of these deaths were from disease and starvation, and nearly 47 percent of victims being children under the age of 5. The DRC has a refugee population on nearly 1.5 million people, accounting for most of the world’s internally displaced persons. The conflict eventually involved access to basic resources like water, and saw rape utilized as a tool of war.

The DRC may be the poorest country in the world, but it has some of the richest mineral and natural resource deposits in the world. These resources were exactly what was being exploited and what brought national and international companies into a corrupt nation to extract profit and plunder.

The DRC’s rich resources provide easy and immediate means to finance war and allow for the conflict to be self-sustaining. This has only provided for long-term instability and has allowed for one of the world’s richest countries in terms of resources to become the world’s poorest country while companies make money off of the DRC’s exploitation and loss.

Without aid, peace building, and protections from corporate exploitation the DRC will continue to be the poorest country in the world and the conflict and exploitation will sustain itself. Hopefully as we continue to develop more nuanced ways of quantifying and measuring poverty, we can also develop solutions and preventative measures.

Nina Verfaillie
Feature Writer

Sources: Global Finance, Global Issues
Photo: NPR

Extreme violence has ravaged the region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo since 1994 when an influx of refugees from Rwanda and Bruni arrived, setting off conflicts that have led to civil wars. While the violence in the Congo entered stages of lulls, it was recently escalated when fighting between a government army and a group of mutineers ensued in April of 2012, creating the most severe crisis of violence in the Congo in ten years. It is important to trace the history of violence in the Congo to understand better why it remains a highly violent location. Below are ten facts related to violence in the Congo:

  1. In 2006, more than 400,000 women were raped in the Congo with the highest rates being in the North Kivu province.
  2. Approximately 2 million Hutus searched for refuge in the Congo to escape from the Rwandan genocide.
  3. Over 1.1 million people are living with HIV/AIDS in the Congo.
  4. The Congo has been home to heavy amounts of conflict since it gained its independence from Belgium in 1960.
  5. In 1988, war began with rebels in Rwanda and Uganda invading the eastern region of the Congo, which eventually involved six other nations.
  6. More than 5 million lives have been claimed because of poverty, disease and violence in the Congo.
  7. More than 300,000 Congolese refugees are forced to live in neighboring countries because of the extreme violence.
  8. Despite peace agreements, the eastern region of the Congo is still being intensely ravaged by violence prohibiting more than 1.3 million people from returning to their homes.
  9. In 2007, an estimated 12,000 children were working as child soldiers.
  10. In North and South Kivu, approximately 160 women are raped per week.– Chante Owens

Sources: Eastern Congo Initiative, BBC News, African Wireless, The Guardian
Photo source:

Poverty is an issue that affects the entire world, and some areas are impacted by poverty more than others. The following is a list of the 10 poorest countries across the globe based on their national GDP (gross domestic product) per capita. Investopedia defines the GDP per capita as a “primary indicator of a country’s economic performance.”

10. Afghanistan
Afghanistan, whose national currency is the Afghan afghani, saw $1,072.19 GDP per capita in 2013. Much of Afghanistan’s economic distress stems from their lengthy history of warfare that spans the last three decades, including the ten-year Soviet war. Despite the nation’s efforts in rebuilding itself, they still suffer the long-term effects — especially the economic effects — of these wars.

9. Madagascar
Madagascar (Malagasy ariary) saw $972.07 GDP per capita in 2013. Although on the list, Madagascar is on the rise; they have seen improvements in their economy from providing increased emphasis on education and better accessibility to health care.

8. Malawi
Malawi (Kwacha) saw $893.84 GDP per capita in 2013. Around 85 percent of the population live in rural areas. Malawi is a still-developing nation that is dealing with the stress of an HIV/AIDS problem. Much of their economy is agriculturally oriented.

7. Niger
Niger, who also uses the CFA Franc, saw $853.43 GDP per capita in 2013. Niger has several detriments of a thriving economic system, including a lack of education and poor health care. Because of its high fertility rate, almost half of the population of Niger are 15 years old or younger. The literacy rate in Niger, 28.7 percent in 2005, is one of the lowest in the entire world.

6. Central African Republic
The Central African Republic (CFA Franc) saw $827.93 GDP per capita in 2013. The CAR has been experiencing the strife of war for the past several years, especially in recent years under the government of General François Bozizé, the Central African Republic Bush War, and the very recent Central African Republic conflict. Government has almost dissolved completely. The Prime Minister has even gone as far as calling the country an anarchy. With no government and an abundance of war, it is easy to see how economic and living conditions could plummet.

5. Eritrea
Eritrea (Nakfa) saw $792.13 GDP per capita in 2013. Eritrea has had a difficult political history, including extended militaristic conflicts with neighboring nations, which has impacted its economy.

4. Liberia
Liberia (Liberian Dollar) saw $716.04 GDP per capita in 2013. A large portion of the population of Liberia live below the poverty threshold. Liberia has also faced political instability and a civil war of its own.

3. Burundi
Burundi (Burundi Franc) saw $648.58 GDP per capita in 2013. Burundi has suffered economically not only from the corruption of their government, but also war, HIV/AIDS, and a lack of accessible education. Only 13 percent of the population of Burundi live in urban cities; the vast majority live in rural areas.

2. Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe (Zimbabwean Dollar) saw  $589.46 GDP per capita in 2013. In the last 10-15 years, Zimbabwe has been experiencing a sharp economic decline, in part due to their involvement in the civil wars occuring in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

1. The Democratic Republic of the Congo
The Congo (Congolese Franc) saw $394.25 GDP per capita in 2013. The capital city, Kinshasa, is home to over 9 million citizens and sits along the Congo River. Plagued with crime, corrupt government, and a lengthy recovery from civil war, it becomes easy to see how poverty can run rampant in an area such as this.

Ryan Miller

Sources: Maps of World, Investopedia
Photo: Action Aid


Slavery is a global problem that is currently on the rise. It is defined as “owning another person such as child marriages and human trafficking among others” says Reuters. Recent studies have shown that out of the world’s 7 billion people, 30 million people are living in slavery across the globe. These studies have also shown that most of these 30 million people are women and children who fall victims to sex trafficking networks. According to surveys held by the Walk Free Foundation, 10 countries out of 162 accounted for more than 70% of the world’s slavery. The 10 countries which make up more than 70% of the world’s slavery include Pakistan, Nigeria, Russia, the Democratic Republic of Congo as well as rising nations such as China and India.

However, the West African Nation of Mauritania is known to have one of the highest proportion of slaves in the world.  Reports estimate that there are “around 140,000 to 160,000 enslaved people in Mauritania” ( That is around 10% of the population in that nation alone. Despite this, reports have found that there is much higher amounts of enslaved people in other nations.   According to, India has been reported to have the most slaves. India is known to  have between 13.3 million and 13.7 million enslaved people. China is also not far behind. China’s enslaved population ranges from 2.8 to 3.1 million people. Pakistan recently moved up to third place on the list due to it’s large enslaved population which ranges from 2 to 2.2 million ( In these nations, slaves face poor working conditions, extreme gender differences, and extreme poverty (

Despite these worrisome reports, other nations have also reported a decrease in slavery. Britain and Ireland have been ranked as the “nations with the fewest slaves” ( UN officials have opted to use the cases of Ireland and Britain as models to provide a solution for slavery. Unfortunately, the United States is not ranked in the list of nations with the least amount of slavery. According to UN reports, the United States has been ranked as the 134th nation with the least amount of slavery. Hopefully,  these new studies will help eradicate slavery on a global scale.

– Stephanie Olaya

Sources: NPR, CNN, Reuters

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

Fifteen-year-old Kalami is one of the thousands of children that have been forcibly recruited by militias in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Snatched from his family by a rebel group to fight in a war that has torn the country since 1998, Kalami has been forced to commit all kinds of atrocities since he began fighting at the age of nine.

“We had to bury people alive… One day I was forced to kill a family, to cut up their bodies and eat them,” he confessed to Amnesty International delegates. After several scarring incidents, he attempted to escape from the group, but he was later recaptured and beaten. Near death, he was sent to a nearby hospital where UN staff found him and demobilized him.

“My life is lost. I have nothing to live for. At night I can no longer sleep. I keep thinking of those horrible things I have seen and done as a soldier,” he continued.

Kalami, like other child soldiers with his past, fear for their future. He is one of 33,000 children that have been demobilized in the past eight years in DRC. Of these, 550 children have left armed groups in the past five months, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Although some 444 children are in temporary centers in Kalemie, Lubumbashi, and Manono, and 113 others have been reunited with their parents, many of them return to their homes traumatized and uneducated, only to be shunned by their communities and even their own families. Often, they are seen as enemies in their old neighborhoods where they were forced to commit crimes before being recruited by militias.

The boys are regarded as potentially violent while the girls, having been used as sex slaves, are seen as “damaged goods”. Too old to go to school, some may be lucky enough to get vocational training and find a job, but for most, work is scarce. Just to keep from being hungry, some children even choose to rejoin the militias.

UNICEF estimates that approximately 4,500 more children are still working for armed militias, 1,500 of them in the province of Katanga alone. Although the DRC has signed Action Plans to end the recruitment of children, as well as sexual violence against them, these have been regarded as no more than public relations exercises by Amnesty International.

The DRC conflict is considered one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. The country’s mineral-rich eastern coast continues to be the epicenter of a political and ethnic conflict that has involved its neighbors, Uganda and Rwanda. Since the war began in 1998, 5.4 million people have died as a result of the conflict, while 2.6 million remain displaced by the fighting.

– Nayomi Chibana
Feature Writer

Sources: UN News Centre, Amnesty International, Thomson Reuters Foundation, The Washington Times
Photo: Smart Magna