Reporting and musing on events and culture in DR Congo since 2004

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Obstetric Fistula Info

Here are two articles from the Kaiser Foundation's daily reports that I thought provided an interesting juxtaposition.

The first is  Globe and Mail Examines Problem of Obstetric Fistulas, which states that "Obstetric fistulas can be prevented with caesarean-section deliveries, but fewer than half of African women give birth in medical settings or under trained supervision."

OK.  So, let's increase access to C-sections?

Well: Number of C-Sections in Developing Countries Increasing, Linked To Higher Risk of Death, Health Complications, Study Says. So I guess that is not the answer.  I mean, I would not promote C-section deliveries, but unless medically necessary anyway, which of course in the situation of potential obstetric fistula, it is definitely necessary.
And the caveat to this shouldbe that the study was not conducted in Africa, which is where obstetric fistulas are probably the most common.  Countries covered included Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Ecuador, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay and Peru.

For more info on fistulas, visit the Campaign to End Fistula* site and check out my previous discussion of the issue here and here; in the second link, apparently I said in the comments, "Holy crap, increasing C-section is NOT a solution to fistula prevention."  There you go, folks.

*Hey, Sierra Leone, Pakistan and Namibia have Angelina Jolie; the Campaign has Natalie Imbruglia.

The plot thickens.

According to IRIN and the BBC, 32 "mercenaries" were arrested in Kinshasa.  The reports claim that 19 South Africans, 10 Nigerians, and 3 Americans who came in to DR Congo from Iraq were 'plotting a coup' against the current regime.

A Roman Catholic priest thinks the charge is laughable in a country that has over 16,000 UN troops, which will, incidentally, be augmented with another 1500 from the European Union.  But some think that employment of 16 of these people were employed by a security company in Matadi and several others as interpreters for a mining company  worked as a cover for their real objective. 

From the BBC report:

But Congolese Interior Minister Theophile Mbemba Fundu said the arrested men were military personnel.

"These men, bearing three different passports, were spotted at three strategic sites in the Congolese capital," Interior Minister Theophile Mbemba Fundu was quoted by AFP news agency as saying.

"Apparently they are military personnel, most of whom came from Iraq."

And, there is another concern.  According to IRIN, though perhaps the word 'coincides' should be operative, the charge

coincides with another call by DRC's leading opposition party, the l’Union pour la Democratie et le progres social (the Union for the Democracy and the social progress - UDPS) of Etienne Tshisekedi, for a demonstration on Wednesday.

"We will be in the streets this Wednesday to tell the government that the [political] transition ends 30 June and that it cannot organise elections after this time without dialogue," Raul Nsolwa, the head of the UDPS Youth Wing, said.


EDIT:  Everyone seems to want in on this story.  I gues that's what happens when you say Mercenary and Coup in one sentence (not to mention 3 Americans). Here are the other versions:
CNN; Yahoo UK; Reuters; Boston Globe; Al Jazeera.

The Boston Globe version of the story also mentions presidential candidate Dr. Kashala, who has lived in the US for the past 20-odd years and works in cancer research. He has decided to run for president, and Omega Risk Solutions security company was involved in finding an operating location for Kashala. Also from the Globe,

Congolese opposition sources denounced the coup plot announcement as a diversionary tactic by Kabila's government.

They said the houses of several opposition figures in Kinshasa were surrounded by police early on Wednesday to stop them holding a planned demonstration.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Shaggy and Werrason

Too bad I am going to miss Shaggy and Werrason in Kinshasa.

Well, I guess Kinshasa is probably one of the few places where I could imagine myself going to hear Shaggy.  I can't recall ever considering buying tickets to see him in the US, even though I did shamelessly secretly like a few of those catchy tunes that made it to the Top 40 several years back.

So, anyone who catches the show, stop by and give us an update, will you?

You say tomato, I say "tomate"

DR Congo politicians are warned they should not have more than 25 bodyguards, as tension rises ahead of polls.

At first, I thought this story was a joke. I almost laughed out loud.

But it turns out that what they mean by "bodyguards" is more like "private armed militia."

A diplomat in Kinshasa was quoted as saying that he didn't believe the 18 brigades of 3500 Congolese soldiers would be employed in time for elections, and also stated that: "Each of the former belligerents has kept behind a substantial force, including weapons, just in case."

So basically he is alluding to potential chaos following the elections, what with a hodge podge of over 30 private regiments of troops, one for each presidential candidate, combined with 40,000 fighters, 20,000 of whom have not yet been trained, who were absorbed into the Congolese army, untold other Mai Mai fighters particularly in the eastern section of the country, and who knows who else, who may be clamoring for power and material support starting July 30.

Interesting.  On va voir.

Monday, May 22, 2006

DRC: Interview with Ross Mountain, deputy special representative

Link here:

Link here:

NEW YORK, 22 May 2006 (IRIN) - The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is a country at a crossroads. Its humanitarian situation ranks among the worst in the world, and it is just about to hold general elections that could usher in democracy and end years of unrest. Ross Mountain, the deputy special representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for the DRC, spoke to IRIN on Friday about the unrelenting humanitarian crisis, the security challenges of holding the first elections in 45 years, the need to ensure tangible progress after the votes are cast, and the "extraordinary thirst for moving ahead … and getting a new tomorrow".

QUESTION: You have called the situation in the DRC an "absent emergency", with 1,200 unnecessary deaths per day, 1.6 million internally displaced people and an ongoing protection crisis. How would you describe the situation now?

ANSWER: It's a humanitarian catastrophe. This high death rate is the direct result of the conflict, in that the services that would have ensured that this didn't happen have been destroyed. So, while we are seeing quite a number of people caught in crossfire, killed, murdered and raped, most of these [deaths] are people succumbing to disease, to dirty water, to malnutrition and neglect.

Q: Given the scale of the catastrophe, why do you think there hasn't been the sort of international attention one would have expected? Are you concerned that the DRC has been somehow eclipsed by other crises in the region?

A: I do understand that we are dealing with a situation in DRC where most of the world has seen it through the prism of the last 40 years of dishonest rule and corruption. It became a byword for a state that doesn't work.

So I appreciate that we are dealing with an attitude of My God, what can we do there after all? It's so huge, so vast. People have basically given up. With some exceptions, there has been more tokenism in terms of trying to deal with the problem than being able to focus on the enormity of the process.

The issue now is to help the DRC's friends - for example the donor missions in Congo - and to give them the political support they need to get people to allocate more [resources] above and beyond what has been the holding pattern previously. That's why I keep talking about a glass ceiling at the moment. We've actually arrived at the level where we were last year. We have a consolidated action plan, we've got more now than what we had in the CAP [Consolidated Appeal Process] last year, but that's not the calculation we need to make. For example, we have nongovernmental organisations in the action plan now. The amount that is pledged - but not paid - is about the amount that was forthcoming for all of last year.

We have had a couple of donors, the UK and Sweden, who have upped their ante. But that's why the advocacy is so important - if we get people to understand: (a) the enormity of the crisis and (b) the appropriateness, the importance of the moment, and that the country really is at a crossroads. The very bad news is the humanitarian [situation]; the good news is this extraordinary thirst for moving ahead and voting for the first elections in 45 years and getting a new tomorrow.

Q: Are you hoping the elections planned for 30 July will create a window of opportunity that will make people in the country, and those outside, realise that progress can now be made?

A: Yes, I'm certainly hoping that. But let me just say that the elections of course are not going to be a silver bullet. When you have a new government installed, it's not from one day to the next going to be able to solve the problems of corruption, of mismanagement, the breakdown of rule of law, and an army that is not adequately trained.

There is a need for the international community - and this is the third line in our action plan - to be able to help the government to deliver the results of “going democratic” and to be able to make a difference in the lives of the population. One widespread criticism heard over the three years that the transitional government has been in position is that it has not managed to substantially improve the quality of life for the population. It would be tragic if, after all this effort to get Congo back up on the rails, there was not that kind of support forthcoming.

This doesn't have to be forever. We're talking about a country that has enormous mineral resources - salt, diamonds, coltan, cobalt, timber, hydroelectric resources - some of which, alas, are being exploited now and smuggled out of the country, and is not benefiting the population.

Q: Coming back to the elections, what are your primary concerns during and after the election? What measures is the UN taking to counter these?

A: Frankly, one of our concerns, as humanitarians, is security-sector reform. We have to ensure that the army is paid, trained and those going back into civilian life are properly disarmed and reintegrated in appropriate programmes. I say this as a humanitarian because one of the greatest concerns of the population is to be free of the worry that they might be attacked at night and their wife and children raped, which unfortunately is all too frequent.

Human rights violations are largely, almost entirely, done by men in uniform. The bulk of them, unfortunately, are men in the uniform of the national army. They're inadequately paid, they're inadequately trained and they're inadequately led. This is such a priority for the future and for doing humanitarian work.

On the humanitarian side, we need more partners and more resources. Clearly, wherever possible, we would like to move out of the handout programme into programmes that re-establish infrastructure that can be sustainable. That's why in the action plan we have these half a dozen programmes that range from building up local capacity, to providing basic services through employment, through running local elections and reconciliation, programmes for getting arms out of society, and so on. These are areas that fast-track national strategy and are drawn from past experience on what needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency in order for stability to be promoted in society.

Q: So we can expect to see a rapid implementation of activities that will basically support the government in the post-election phase?

A: Inshallah [Arabic for God willing], as one says, but we need the resources and we're working on that. These programmes will be done with government mechanisms, particularly at the regional level. They will seek to show that the government is able to deliver services for its population so that the newly elected government legitimises itself by showing its value to the population.

Q: Do you currently have sufficient resources to put that plan into action?

A: No. All of these things are going on in parallel. The humanitarian work, the elections, have been very generously supported by the international community, very notably the European Commission and the European Union member states, who have accounted for much of the funding. With the extension of the time this is taking, we need more resources as well. So the plan is looking for significant, upfront investment. I would use the word "investment" because this is a country that has the opportunity of being extremely valuable in the whole regional context.

Q: You mention the need for security-sector reform. In this crucial phase of the election and post-election, how confident are you that MONUC [UN Mission in DRC] will be able to maintain control in some of the more far-flung districts?

A: First of all, we have 17,000 troops. This sounds a lot but is less than the number that was in Sierra Leone, which is a considerably smaller country. They regard the elections as the top priority right now, and they will be deployed in areas to facilitate the electoral process and to provide security as is possible. We also have MONUC police that are employed to that end as well.

That will not provide complete cover. Indeed, the UN Secretary-General about 18 months ago asked for another brigade of troops for Katanga [Province]. We didn't get it, and we now have 165,000 displaced persons in Katanga as a result of fighting.

At the request of the humanitarians, our military has deployed to Katanga with a very limited force. But it has made quite a difference. In Mitwaba [northern Katanga], less than 100 men have provided stability in an area, which was a serious humanitarian crisis, exacerbated by a brigade of the national army, who were basically preying on the civilian population.

We have excellent collaboration between humanitarians and our military. They recognise their active role in the protection of civilians. The [MONUC] force commander has been prepared to deploy in support of humanitarian operations as well, which is rather unique in my experience.

So I think we have a fair shot at managing the elections, but it's obviously going to be a challenge. It's a huge country and a huge operation. It's going to be important for those participating in the elections to see beyond them, in terms of the reconstruction of the country. It cannot be a winner takes all situation. One hopes that all the players will see that they have a role to play in the future political life of the Congo, not in armed opposition, but in the parliamentary opposition.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

No third term

BBC reports that there will be no third term for Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo.

IRIN points out that six months must now elapse before the bill can be re-presented to the Senate, if Obsanjo’s third term supporters wish to.

Friday, May 12, 2006

DR Congo article by Johann Hari

A journey into the most savage war in the world: My travels in the Democratic Vacuum of Congo

hat-tip: yeloson

Oh, and also: "Gédéon and his band have been disarmed; it is now the end of the Mayi-Mayi militia which has caused insecurity in Katanga," Jean-Willy Mutombo, spokesman for the Congolese armed forces chief of staff, said.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Ban on Twa access to Rwandan forest causes povery/alcoholism. But EcoTourism lives on!

Rwandan pygmies fight for eco-sensitive survival

This article makes me sick. Twa have been forced off their land so that Rwanda can make money in eco-tourism. I guess because the occasional forest fire and branch-covered animal trap aren't good for business.

It makes no sense to me to force people to leave who know how to live there but can't support themselves outside that setting. It's like forcing native Americans off their subsistence farms in the southwestern US so that BP or whoever it was could drill and expecting that they'll be able to pay rent in the urban center even though they have no marketable skills, which was working out fine on the farm, but in the cities they become destitute and turn to alcoholism.

And then what, lots of great programs will be developed to "Help the Twa of southern Rwanda"?

Rwandan pygmies fight for eco-sensitive survival
Helen Vesperini | Bweyeye, Rwanda

In a remote corner of southern Rwanda, Twa pygmies are fighting a losing battle against the modern realities of environmentalism that are robbing them of their traditions.

Sandwiched between the Burundian border and the edge of the dense Nyungwe rainforest, the village of Bweyeye is on the front line of an increasingly divisive struggle between the diminutive Twa and the long arm of Rwandan law.

Forced to abandon their centuries-old hunter-gatherer lifestyle by a ban on such activity in the maze of giant tropical trees, towering ferns and tiny orchids, many Twa have descended into crushing poverty and alcoholism.

Nyungwe, home to chimpanzees and other monkey species, is a stretch of rainforest in this Central African region and Rwandan officials are keen to exploit its eco-tourism potential by protecting it.

But the Twa say the restrictions are destroying their community, which sits at the end of a track so potholed that even the most robust four-wheel-drive vehicle struggles to do more than 10kph.

"I realise that nature reserves bring tourists and that tourists bring dollars, but we don't get to see any of those dollars here in Bweyeye," says Felicien Hakizimana, a 35-year-old Twa father of three.

"This ban on setting foot in the forest is a problem because our ancestors lived from the forest; they even used to hunt elephants there," he said, adding that, once, the meat from an elephant could sustain a family for a month.

"Now we will soon die of hunger," Hakizimana says.

Forest ban
In addition to providing food, the vast, 970-square-kilometre Nyungwe forest used to provide the Twa with essential fuel and raw materials such as wood for building.

But no longer.

While the forest ban is not new -- it was first imposed by the 1973-1994 regime of president Juvenal Habyarimana that ended with Rwanda's infamous genocide -- it is now being enforced with vigour, they say.

"Sometimes we do sneak in, but it's very dangerous," says Manashe, a wizened, barefoot Twa who looks far older than the 55 years he admits to being.

The fine for those caught in the forest is between 10 000 and 15 000 Rwandan francs ($18 to $27), an amount higher than the monthly income of most in Bweyeye that forces many offenders to opt for jail time instead.

Evariste Munyemanzi is among those unable to pay the fine. The shoeless 36-year-old sits in detention at the Bweyeye police station.

"We used to be potters, but you can't get the clay any more now," Munyemanzi complains. "It's tempting to go out and steal."

The Twa insist that if and when they do go into the forest it is simply to collect firewood, but privately some admit to catching monkeys, baboons and forest rats.

Bweyeye local administrator Octave Rukundo is well aware of the hardships the ban has caused, but is adamant that the law be respected. "They say they go to get wood for fuel, but in fact they also take wood to sell," he says.

"They hunt the animals," Rukundo says. "They make traps, they dig holes 2m deep and place branches over the top so that animals fall in.

"They make fires to get smoke to chase bees away and collect their honey, but those fires can then burn the forest," he said, noting there have been two forest fires so far this year.

"We have to find an activity to occupy them and to prevent them from going into the forest," Rukundo said, admitting this is easier said than done.

Like other Rwandans, the Twa, who make up about 1% of the country's eight-million-strong population, used to own land, but as long as they had the forest it was of little importance and plots were sold off to their Hutu and Tutsi neighbours.

It was only when the forest ban began to be enforced that they realised the importance of farming their own land and then it was too late.

When the Twa here can get work it is usually on their neighbours' land and the pay is a pittance.

"Sometimes I get work cleaning up my neighbour's plot," says Esperance Gashugi, a 50-year-old mother of five children who earns 200 francs (about 20 United States cents) per day for the back-breaking labour.

"I can buy sweet potatoes," she says. "There is never enough for all the children and they go to school on an empty stomach."

In despair and frustration, some Twa have turned to drink.

"The real problem," one non-Twa inhabitant of Bweyeye says, "is that these people don't want farmland, they don't want development projects. What they want is to be able to go hunting in the forest again and that's not going to happen." -- Sapa-AFP

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

"Failed" is such a harsh word.

Thanks to Vasco Pyjama for highlighting the 2006 Failed States Index report, which Sudan tops, and in which DR Congo remains a steady second.

Criteria include:
- Mounting Demographic Pressures
- Massive Movement of Refugees and IDPs
- Legacy of Vengeance - Seeking Group Grievance
- Chronic and Sustained Human Flight
- Uneven Economic Development along Group Lines
- Sharp and/or Severe Economic Decline
- Criminalization or Delegitimization of the State
- Progressive Deterioration of Public Services
- Widespread Violation of Human Rights
- Security Apparatus as "State within a State"
- Rise of Factionalized Elites
- Intervention of Other States or External Actors

Monday, May 01, 2006

DRC elections rescheduled


For several weeks now, we have impatiently awaited an announcement of a new poll date, ever since the Independent Electoral Commission (CEI) decided to extend the deadline for registration of Parliamentary candidates and the deadline for payment of the $50,000 registration fee for Presidential candidates, requiring, quite logically, pushing back the poll date.

Three years ago, when the transitional government was put in place, it was stated that elections should take place by June 30, 2005. Gradually the date was postponed to June 30, 2006 (extensions allowed).

This time, the election date is past that allowed by the extensions. I am not certain that campaigning guidelines have been followed either, since I heard some mention of Mr. Malu Malu, head of the CEI, allowing campaigning ahead of the official start date (30 days before the election??).

But at least the elections are back on the calendar.

I, for one, am relieved.