July 25, 2006
With elections in DR Congo less than a week away, UNICEF issued a report yesterday stating 1,200 people are killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) every day because of violence, disease or malnutrition.
The report, Child Alert: DRC, also states that more children under age five die each year in the African country than in China – a country with 23 times the population. It draws attention to the to the appalling fact that the total countrywide death toll every six months is similar to that for the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which killed more than 230,000 people in 12 countries.
This analogy is similar to the one made in the blog My Heart’s in Accra on how Western coverage is disproportionate to the Middle East conflict’s causalities in relation to Africa.
Nonetheless, UNICEF UK Ambassador for Humanitarian Emergencies Martin Bell, who wrote the report, said Sunday’s landmark elections could be a turning point.
“It is easy to be overwhelmed by what has happened in DRC because of the sheer scale of it. But we owe it to the children to give them the future they deserve and these elections may be the opportunity of their lifetime,” said Bell.
July 23, 2006
IRIN News has a background report on DR Congo’s elections coming up next Sunday. It is the first free election in the country since Patrice Lumumba was elected prime minister in 1960. After his murder the following year in 1961, Mobutu consolidated power quickly and installed a one-party system in the country. Mobutu was a key figure in the coup that overthrew Lumumba, who had appointed him previously as the chief of staff of the Congo army.
I’ve excerpted a couple of paragraphs of the IRIN News to provide some historical content and also a thumbnail of the present situation:
- The legacy of Mobutu’s 32-year Western-backed rule extends beyond endemic corruption; to offset potential political opposition his rule was absolute, with the 1974 constitution granting him authority over the executive, legislature and judiciary branches of government. Furthermore, he maintained a system of patronage while maintaining the loyalty of the police and army, all of which required money. By 1990, the country was US $14 billion in debt. With the end of the cold war, Mobutu was no longer of any use to the US in its fight against Soviet influence in Africa, and his lines of credit were cut off.
- The present incumbent, Joseph Kabila, 35, who took over from his father, Laurent-Desire Kabila, who was assassinated in January 2001, is the favourite to win the presidential vote, which is being contested by 33 candidates. Another 9,000 politicians are vying for 500 parliamentary seats. However, security remains a problem, despite the presence of the largest UN peacekeeping mission in the world, comprising 17,000 troops, which will be backed up by 2,000 EU forces over the election period. In addition, 5,000 national and 500 international observers will oversee the polls.
Ethan Zuckerman has a great post on My Heart’s in Accra on how the Western media attention on the Middle East eclipses what’s been happening in Africa for the past ten years:
“In total, it’s likely that, over the past decade, at least forty times as many people have died directly or indirectly from violent conflict in central Africa as have died in the Middle East.”
May 26, 2006
Three years ago Henriette Nyota said she was gang raped as her husband and four children were forced to watch. The men in uniform then disemboweled her husband and continued raping her and her two oldest daughters, 10 and 8. The assault went on for three days. “I wish they’d killed me right there with my husband,” she said, “What use am I now? Why did those animals leave me to suffer like this?”
A couple of days ago I posted an overview of an article found in this month’s Forced Migration Review on the lack of reproductive health needs in Darfur and how rape is being used as a tool of war. The quoted text is from an article in CNN today by Jeff Koinange on the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (photo is from MSF). There aren’t enough medical professional or resources to treat women who have been sexually violated.
I want to excerpt part of the article which is an interview with Dr. Denis Mukwege Mukengere, the only physician in a hospital in eastern Congo where ten women who have been sexually-assaulted a day are treated and with financial resources earmarked for these women expected to run out by the end of June.
“Some of them have knives and other sharp objects inserted in them after they’ve been raped, while others have pistols shoved into their vaginas and the triggers pulled back,” said Dr. Denis Mukwege Mukengere. “It’s a kind of barbarity that only savages are capable of.” He added that “these perpetrators cannot be human beings.”
I didn’t include this passage to shock or upset, but to engage readers and force us to become more pro-active. We have to work to change policies overseas and look at normative approaches to dealing with sexual violence against women in an armed conflict.
May 25, 2006
A few days ago I wrote a post on Congolese warlord Gédéon, a resistance fighter in Katanga. He was targeting people registered to vote in Congo’s upcoming national elections, before being apprehended. Last year, Gédéon drove thousands of people in Katanga to leave their homes and recruited the young men into his movement. The U.N. estimates that 165,000 people have been displaced in central Katanga (southeastern province of DRC), many of them lacking access to food and medical assistance.
This is a story posted today on IRIN News Africa. It’s to help us understand how huge the Democratic Republic of Congo (geographically, it’s about one-fourth the size of the US) and why the country has been embroiled in different conflicts for so many years as unchecked tribal, rebel, and militia fighting continues unabated in the northeastern region, drawing in neighboring countries Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda.
IRIN News has reported that 10,000 more people were displaced from Ituri as a result of an offensive from the Congolese army trying to disarm rebels in this northeastern district. There are 2.33 million people displaced (as of 2005) mostly in the eastern provinces because of fighting between government forces and rebels since the 1990s.
“The displaced are scattered in several small groups, which we could easily identify by helicopter, between five and ten kilometres west of Tcheyi,” Modibo Traoré, the head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Ituri, said on Wednesday in Bunia, the district’s capital.
For years, there have been many militia groups fighting to control the mineral-rich Ituri. This has caused the deaths of at least 50,000 people since the late 1990s. Full government authority has been lacking in the area since the establishment of a transitional government in 2003, mostly due to continued militia activity. Joseph Kabila succeeded his father Laurent Kabila, as president of Congo-Kinshasa upon his assassination in January 2001.
May 21, 2006
A Mai Mai warlord known as Gédéon, in Congo’s southeastern province of Katanga turned himself in on Friday to MONUC peacekeeping troops. Human Rights Watch has called on the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo to help make sure the DRC’s transitional governemnt will charge Gédéon with war crimes for killing and torturing scores of civilians.
In April, HRW researchers learned that combatants under Gédéon’s command and his fellow Mai Mai leaders had killed, raped abused civilians since 2002. Sometimes, the Mai Mai publicly tortured victims before killing them in public ceremonies in order to terrorize the local population.
“Gédéon’s surrender is good news for the victims of Mai Mai atrocities in Katanga. He must now be tried for the widespread war crimes he is alleged to have committed. That would be good news for justice throughout Congo,” said Alison Des Forges, senior Africa adviser at Human Rights Watch.
The Mai Mai, in the province of Katanga, is a local defense force supported by the Congolese government when it was engaged in an armed conflict with Rwanda and Uganda. Most Mai Mai groups in Congo were formed to resist the invasion of Rwandese forces. IRIN News Africa has an interesting story with great background information on this region in DRC, as well as an interview with a Congolese colonel on efforts in bringing Gedeon to justice.