Archive | May, 2012

First War in the Congo:Tribal Hostilities Reappear

28 May

 The most important cultural and political unit in East Africa is one’s “tribal affiliation”. Usually when a Kenyan or Ugandan is asked, “Who are you?” He/she will usually respond by naming the tribe to which he/she belongs such as Kikuyu or Lango. These tribes have coexisted together for centuries and have fashioned many different types of relationships with one another. Some have built harmonious collaborations together while others have engaged in open warfare. Many tribes in the Congo considered the members of other tribes their mortal enemies and fought in vicious battles where they enslaved the vanquished until King Leopold and then the Belgian parliament intervened and introduced strict, punitive measures which helped to end most of the tribal conflicts. But even though the tribes were no longer permitted to fight, they never forgot just who their enemies were and passed down these grudges and resentments to subsequent generations. Once the Belgian administrators returned to Belgium and the Mobutu government demonstrated that it could not  rule the country as efficiently as the colonials had done, tribal leaders came forward to manage the Congolese people as before. Once the tribes were in control again, age-old feuds and quarrels resumed as their leaders resurrected old hostilities and past offenses. And it was both old and new tribal hatreds that helped to sustain the First War in the Congo

 Revolution, liberation, ethnic tension and feuds, as well as a ceaseless influx of refugees from Rwanda and sometimes Burundi were primarily responsible for the First War in the Congo which lasted from November 1996 until May 1997. It was a short war but in order to understand its impact and the reason for the Second War in the Congo, it’s necessary to know something about the different ethnic divisions and the tribes who became mired in this conflict.  Ituri province is located in the northeast section of the DRC and shares Lake Albert on its eastern border with the country of Uganda. The largest city in Ituri is Bunia. Members of the Lendu and the Hema ethnic groups make their homes in this area and have done so since before Leopold of Belgium took over in the late nineteen hundreds. Traditionally the Lendus lived off of the produce they grew in the soil of Ituri. They were farmers who tended to their family-owned fields and maintained their plots within the tribal compounds. 

Over a century ago, another tribe began frequenting this area of the Congo. They called themselves Hema and maintained a living as pastoralists who moved their camels, cattle, and goats from water hole to water hole over vast ranges of grazing land. The Hema eventually settled in this area. In many ways these two tribes mirrored the Hutu and Tutsi who lived in Rwanda and in sections of Burundi at this time. The Hutu had established an agrarian society like the Lendu and the Tutsi depended on herding their livestock like the Hema. Historical accounts confirm that both tribes, Lendu and Hema complimented each others’ lifestyles and managed to live together in relative harmony until the Belgian colonialists took over in the late eighteen hundreds and instituted new administrative policies which favored the Hema over the Lendu in the Congo in the same way they had supported the Tutsi over the Hutu in Rwanda.

 The area eventually called Rwanda was originally settled by the soil- loving Hutu but the semi-nomadic Tutsis who had traveled down from North Africa eventually established migratory patterns for grazing routes throughout Rwanda as well. For almost half a century the two groups survived by trading their animal products and crops with one another. Eventually they shared a language, some common traditions, and the same nationality- they even began to marry one another. Then everything suddenly changed when the Belgians assumed control of the country of Rwanda and implemented a British colonial policy to rule the people of Rwanda. The Belgian colonialists selected one ethnic group over another in an attempt to keep the tribes’ divided and in contention with one another rather than with the colonial government.  The Belgians chose the Tutsis as their “favored” tribe because they preferred the “look” of the Tutsis. They thought that the tall, willowy Tutsis with their sharper Ethiopian features were “esthetically more pleasing to the eyes” and they realized that many members of the Tutsi tribe were already landowners giving them a certain level of status in the area. The Belgian colonial governors enforced policies that required Tutsi males to attend primary school in order to train them to serve in intermediary positions between the white colonials and the Hutu natives.  This blatant discrimination deliberatley employed to denigrate the Hutu caused a great deal of tension between the two groups.

 The colonial governor did the same thing in the Belgian Congo by openly preferring the Hema over the Lendu which caused the Lendu to break off the close connections they had once had with the Hema.  But the Belgians went on to openly interfere with the ownership of the tribal lands that historically had belonged to the Lendu by providing the Hema with a legal technicality to help the them steal away Lendu real estate by enforcing the “Land Law of 1873.”

 This law allowed the Hema to buy land that they did not live on and then wait two years and the land would become legally theirs. The residents living on the land at the time had the legal right to buy the land within two years but most were never informed that they did not own the land. The concepts of deed transfers and land ownership were not something the Lendu understood. So the Hema patiently waited out the two years required by law then evicted the Lendu families from their homes and fields. According to the law there was no way for the Lendu to appeal this eviction after two full years had elapsed because the Hema had followed the letter of the law if not the moral intent. Many times the Lendu had been living on ancient tribal lands which had been farmed by their families for hundreds of years. The Hema, with the help of the Belgians, managed to accumulate vast tracts of land throughout Ituri District this way. Years later both tribes would learn that rich mineral deposits existed beneath the Lendu tribal lands- the same ones that had been taken over by the Hema. Knowledge of this would lead to open warfare between the two groups.

There were also Tutsi groups living in Northeastern Congo who were citizens of the Congo not Rwanda although they had originally entered the Congo by way of Rwanda.  The earliest Tutsis settlements in the Congo were established in Ituri District long before King Leopold of Belgian arrived in the late 1880s. Another large group of Tutsis had been brought into the country by Belgian colonials to serve as laborers at the turn of the century. They never returned to Rwanda  but stayed in the Congo when the Belgians left the country after the Congo declared its independence from Belgium. Again in 1959 large numbers of Tutsis crossed the border into eastern Congo to avoid living under the Hutu government that had just claimed power in Rwanda.

The Kanyarwandan War raged on for three full years from 1963 to 1966.  Congolese tribes, Hunde and Nande who had traditionally lived in North Kivu pushed the Rwandan emigrants (Hutu and Tutsi) entering their lands out of their tribal territories and were responsible for brutally massacring thousands of Hutu and Tutsi refugees. In 1965, President Mobutu gave those Tutsi groups living in Ituri who were actual citizens of the Congo administrative control in the district even though they were in the minority compared to the other tribal populations living there. His motivation for awarding this special power to the Tutsi community was never clearly understood but his actions turned the other tribes in the area against the Tutsis turning an already volatile situation into outright war.

In 1972 thousands of Hutu refugees fled Burundi and entered the Congo after a coup by Hutu armed forces failed against the government of Burundi. Tutsis who previously resided in the Congo before 1960 were referred to as “Banyamulenge”.  In 1972 all Tutsis living in the Congo before 1963 were awarded official Congolese citizenship by the Mobutu government. All Rwandan and Burundian Tutsis residing in the Congo from 1959-1963were also granted citizenship.The Tutsis who settled in the Congo after 1963 were not considered legal citizens of the Congo. Most of the tribes native to the Congo did not consider any of Tutsi ethnic groups, no matter how long they had lived in the Congo legitimate members of the Congolese union of tribes.

By 1981 the political situation gradually worsened for the Tutsi. Citizenship was restricted to those who could prove that their ancestors resided in the Congo as far back as 1885 or earlier. This law was enacted to counter the growing economic power of the Tutsi groups in the Kivu region. Tensions worsened as the Banyamulenge openly supported the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), Tutsi rebel forces hiding in Uganda whose goal it was to topple the Hutu-supported government currently in power in Rwanda.  By March 1993 the governor of Kivu, caving into demands made upon him by the other Congolese tribes in the area, proclaimed that all Tutsis must leave the Kivus and if they remained, he would have them executed. His announcement prompted the other tribes to declare war upon the Tutsis and 14,000 Tutsis were killed in the next two months. By May 1993 President Mobuto had managed to stop the killing but then in an illogical move ordered Tutsi representation in the local Kivu government increased.

In 1994 the “Rwandan Genocide” began in the country of Rwanda where in three short months 800,000 people, mostly Tutsis but some moderate Hutu as well, were systematically killed by the army of the Hutu-backed government. It has been estimated that three fourths of the Tutsi population then residing in Rwanda at that time were killed and that thousands of Hutus who opposed the genocide were also murdered. The slaughter in Rwanda caused the previous tensions between the Hema and the Lendu in Ituri to escalate into physical violence throughout the district. Armed Lendu who indentified with the Hutu army roamed the country side looking for vulnerable Hema to kill and terrified Hema turned to the local government for help but the government turned a blind-eye to the violence.

In 1995 Mobutu’s Parliament ordered any people from Rwanda or Burundi living in the Congo to return to their own countries of origin, including any Tutsi who did not qualify for Congolese citizenship.

By 1996 Laurent Kabila began a unified revolt against the thoroughly corrupt President Mobutu who had been kept in power by the efforts of the United States and its European allies. Immediately after the fall of the Soviet Union relations between Mobutu and the West totally deteriorated as the need to support Mobutu in order to keep Communism from spreading throughout the governments in East Africa petered out.

Mobuto Sese Seko had ruled Zaire, his new name for the Belgian Congo, for thirty years and left the country destitute.  Kabila named his forces, The Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of the Congo ( AFDL) and began recruiting tens of thousands of children from among the local villages in Eastern Congo to serve as soldiers within its ranks. Millions of Hutu swarmed across the Rwandan border into the Congo once the Tutsis in Rwanda had won the Rwandan War for Independence. Some of these Hutu were dangerous soldiers who had been involved in carrying out the genocide while others were merely Hutu civilians fleeing for their lives. Most of these refugees sought asylum in the Ituri and Kivu Districts.

In 1996 the First Congo War began as Rwandan forces invaded eastern Congo to protect the Tutsis there and to destroy any extremist Hutu militia camps they found in the Congo. Kabila’s government opposed this action but did not have the military strength to stop the Rwandan army’s movements and needed their help to bring down Mobutu. Kabila had no choice but to allow Tutsi soldiers from the victorious Rwandan Army to accompany his AFDL troops in order to capture and kill the Hutu extremists now hiding out in the area of eastern Congo.  It has been proven that both AFDL and Rwandan Tutsi troops killed defenseless Hutu refugees who had no connections to the genocide and even killed local Congolese villagers in their quest to locate the Hutu extremists.

Still some of the Hutu extremists responsible for the genocide in Rwanda managed to survive the wrath of the Rwandan army and the Congolese troops. Small groups settled in North Kivu and Ituri District and eventually formed the guerilla group, Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). They are still there to this day and are presently living in the tropical forests around The Virunga National Forest. Their primary goal is to return to Rwanda to bring down the Tutsi government currently in power there. 

 Laurent Kabila and his ADFL troops backed by Rwanda, Uganda, Angola, and Burundi finally marched into Kinshasa in May, 1997 and toppled the Mobutu Government ensconced there. Mobutu fled the country and was granted asylum in Morocco. Laurent Kabila named himself president of Zaire on September 17, 1997 and directed his new government to change the name of the country from Zaire to The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Uganda also played a major role in the First Congo War. Ugandan soldiers were present in Zaire throughout the conflict and were responsible for training AFDL troops.

The ethnic feuds in Ituri and Kivu continued. All Tutsis regardless of their Congolese citizenship continued to be hated by the rest of the Congolese tribes except for the Hema in Ituri. Tutsis were considered “outsiders” especially after the Rwandan army had come to their defense. Meanwhile, the Hutu extremists had not been eradicated by the Rwandan army as expected and were still living somewhere up in the eastern mountains of the DRC. Without leaving troops in the DRC, the Rwandans would not be able to successfully remove the threat of an attack on their country by the Hutu guerrillas who had participated in the Rwandan genocide. There was no doubt that they would try and reclaim their country once again and reestablish a Hutu-based government in Rwanda. The Rwandan army dug in their heels and refused to leave North-eastern DRC until it had successfully accomplished its mission and Uganda would not agree to depart either. Uganda and Rwandan had begun to mine “conflict minerals” in secret although each country denied it when asked by UN mediators in the Congo in 1997

By the end of 1997 President Kabila was strong enough in his position as President of the DRC to demand the withdrawal of all Rwandan and Ugandan forces from his country. This request and the hatred between the Lendu and the Hema led to The Second War in the Congo in 1998.

 Kat Nickerson   Kingston, RI  USA


Mountain Gorilla in Peril: Ntaganda Continues His War

20 May

It’s the third week in May, 2012 and Bosco Ntaganda, along with many of his former CNDP troops, was finally driven out of the Masisi highlands in the eastern Congo through a unified effort by soldiers from the Congolese Army. But he and his troops were not captured so were able to  move off into a section of The Virunga National Park presently occupied by the endangered Mountain Gorillas. The world’s remaining mountain gorillas live within four national parks in Central/East Africa, split in two territories that are about 28 miles apart. One group inhabits the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda where a 2006 census identified that about 302 gorillas lived there. The second group lives at a higher altitude in a mountainous region called the Virungas, which includes Mgahinga Gorilla National Park (Uganda), Volcanoes National Park (Rwanda) and Virunga National Park (Democratic Republic of Congo). A 2010 census revealed that about 480 gorillas live throughout this mountain range. The World Wildlife Federation has reported that a total of 23 adult mountain gorillas have been killed by rebel forces during the first and second Congo Wars that had been fought throughout this region. It is not known at this time how this new round of conflicts has impacted the daily lives of the gorilla groups. But in total, 782 are all that is presently left of the Mountain Gorillas in this region.

What’s more is that the latest Human Rights Report ( HRW:May, 2012) states that Ntaganda has started to conscript child soldiers again. This time he has taken about 149 boys and young men between the ages of 12 and 20, some  from their classrooms and is making them fight alongside his troops. Ntaganda has already been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for recruiting children as a deputy commander in the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), an armed political group that fought in the northeast Congo during the country’s second civil war.

The Virunga National Park was created in 1925 by the Belgian colonial government making it one of the first national parks created in East Africa and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979. The park covers over 7,800 square kilometers in Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The park’s territory in the Democratic Republic of the Congo stretches between two mountain ranges: the Virunga ( Southern border) and the Rwenzori (Northern border). The Virunga National Park also abuts Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and two national parks in Uganda: Rwenzori National Park and Queen Elisabeth National Park. This park is currently managed by the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN) as well as the British Africa Conservation Fund and receives most of its financial support from the European Union.

Mountain gorillas are large, powerful primates with long, muscular arms, massive chests, and broad hands and feet. They prefer colder climates and dwell in the higher latitudes up in the Virunga Mountains. Despite their enormous size and strength they are gentle, shy animals who have demonstrated close connections with other members of their primary group. A gorilla family can consist of anywhere between 2 and 40 gorillas, and the average number of gorillas within one family is about 11. Each family is led by a dominant male referred to as a “silverback” and named for the swath of silver hair present along the top of its back. Although strong and powerful, the leader will only fight to protect  members of his family and usually only attacks as a last resort. The leader decides all of the everyday affairs for the other members of the family, like when and where the family will eat or sleep. He also settles disputes between family members and protects the family from being stolen away by other dominant males or harmed by human predators. The total population of Mountain Gorillas in Virunga will not increase rapidly because females give birth only every three to five years and might have between 3 and 8 babies during their entire lifetime. This slow reproduction rate leaves the Mountain Gorilla groups very vulnerable and is the primary reason they have been placed on the endangered species list. These foraging herbivores are known to ingest more than 100 types of trees and shrubs. In one day an adult gorilla can consume about 40 pounds of plant material, so the  survival of the group depends on ensuring that a large territory of protected forests is reserved to meet their needs. The Mountain Gorilla of Central-East Africa has been placed on the International Union for Conservation and Natural Resources, Red List of Threatened Species( IUCN,2012).

Bosco Ntaganda’s situation seems to be steadily worsening though. Two days ago Moreno-Ocampo, chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court in the Hague, Netherlands announced to the world press that he was adding the charges of murder, ethnic persecution, rape, and sexual slavery to the existing criminal indictments brought against General Ntaganda and is also issuing an arrest warrant for Sylvestre Mudacumura, military commander of the Forces Democratiques de Liberation du Rwanda (FDLR). This group composed of Hutu militia was forced out of Rwanda after its participation in the Rwandan genocide of 1994 where it fled into the Democratic Republic of the Congo and has been camping out in the region around the Virunga National Park ever since. Several of Ntaganda’s compatriots felt that he would have already been given asylum in Rwanda. Ntaganda, although a General in the Congoloese Army before his defection,  is actually Rwandan and a Tutsi. He has had very close ties in the not so distant past to Rwandan President Paul Kagame through his former leadership in the CNDP. Several Congolese Army officers currently involved in routing out Ntaganda and his old CNDP troops believe that Ntaganda is already receiving monetary support which he has used to continue the fighting in Masisi. When asked in public to comment upon Ntaganda’s actions, President Kagame coolly replied that Bosco’s mutiny was a “Congolese affair.” Yet the world community is aware that Rwanda has continued its relationship with the CNDP, a Rwandan rebel militia group living in the Kivu area, and still profits illegally from the sale of “conflict minerals” that have been mined in the DRC and shipped to Rwanda.

And as if this situation was not confusing enough there is a second group of soldiers who are not allied with Ntaganda but did leave the Congolese army at the same time Ntaganda’s men deserted their camps in eastern Congo in April 2102. These other soldiers are led by Colonel Sultani Makenga, another Congolese army officer who launched a separate mutiny on May 3, 2012. Colonel Makenga has made it clear that his men do not fight for Ntaganda. About 300 of these former Congolese soldiers mutinied because of grievances they had with low salaries, lack of promotions in the Congolese Army, and concerns about the mistreatment of members of the Tutsi community in Eastern Kivu by soldiers in the Congolese Army. This second group of soldiers are Tutsi and also served in the CNDP during the second Congo War. They call themselves “M23” in reference to the March 23, 2009 peace agreement between the CNDP and the Congolese government. Ntaganda and Makenga are also Tutsi and served together during the second war in the Congo in the Rwanda-backed CNDP rebel militia but are not aligned together at the moment. The Congolese army is now also battling these “M23” deserters in Rutshuru territory, North Kivu as well. President Kagame of Rwanda has urged President Kabila of the DRC to investigate “M23’s” claim that Tutsi civilians are being harassed and attacked by members of the Congolese army. The Rwandan president stated that “ this is why the Tutsi community have left the eastern Congo region and are now fleeing into Rwanda.”

This new series of conflicts between Ntagnda and the Congolese Army have caused fear and mistrust to move through the area again. Tens of thousands of Congolese citizens have fled their homes for refugee camps in the neighboring countries of Rwanda and Uganda. Some 30,000 Congolese have entered Uganda in order to escape the fighting that began on May 10, 2012 and more than 8,000 Congolese refugees have been registered in the Rwanda camps since April 27th.

This is the most recent blog posted by Park Ranger Emanuel on May 18, 2012: “It has, once again, been a long week, with the sounds of war in the distance.  We are still trying to understand the conflict on our doorstep, and much of our information suggests that it will get worse before it gets better.  There was heavy shelling again this morning towards Bikenge on the edge of the forest.  This is where the Rugendo and Lulengo gorilla families tend to live, so we are very worried about them.  It is also hard on our staff, as the fighting in 2008 and the attack on Rumangabo is still fresh in their memories.”(ICCN, 2012)

Gorilla ACDBlog:

Some 400 very loyal and courageous park rangers protect Virunga National Park. Two previous civil wars in the Congo have taken their toll on the Park Ranger Corps and around 160 rangers have died as a result of poachers’ bullets or from conflict-related crimes in the past ten years.  In January of last year, three rangers and five Congolese soldiers were killed when their car was hit by a rocket-launched missile while patrolling the main road that runs directly through the Virunga National Park. Their attackers were members of the Forces Democratiques de Liberation du Rwanda (FDLR) Hutu militia who had taken up residence in the park after they had been expelled from Rwanda because of their participation in the genocide in 1994. Officials confirmed that the attack was in retaliation for the destruction of  the Hutus’ camps by park rangers the previous year. It was reported that around 700 Hutu rebels had been living in the park where they were burning sections of the park’s tropical forest in order to make charcoal which they then sold in the local markets for money. According to the rangers, four different armed militia groups have been camped out in the park since May 2012. While these rebels may not deliberately seek to harm the gorillas around them,who knows what the consequences of the fighting will be on the two gorilla families? Remember that in the two previous civil wars male gorillas had been deliberately killed and sometimes eaten by rebel forces.

Despite the two wars and by the use of effective park management techniques the rangers have actually helped the gorilla population in the DRC to increase. At the very end of the war in 2006 there were only about 300 Mountain Gorillas left in the world, but by 2011 the population was  estimated to be closer to 800. But now at least two gorilla families have been caught up in the middle of the conflict and are in peril as the Congolese Army has begun to launch  land missiles towards the rebel troops. Park officials have only been able to monitor the situation from planes because it has become too dangerous for the rangers to complete their ground patrols. We can only pray that the gorillas will sense that they are in real danger and move higher up into the mountains to avoid being killed during the fighting.

It will be interesting to learn if Bosco Ntaganda has remained with his men during this most recent encounter with the Congoloese Army or if he has already been transported to a safe location by one or more of the sympathetic governments he has so graciously helped out in the past. Will Ntaganda be arrested and sent to the Hague to stand trial for his war crimes against the Congolese people or will he be made to stand trial in the Democratic Republic of the Congo instead? Or in the end, will General Bosco Ntaganda suddenly and totally up and disappear saving all parties involved a lot of  embarrassing publicity? Who knows what the “korongo” will bring forth next? 

Kat Nickerson   Kingston, RI   USA

Cannibalism in the Congo: A New Take on an Ancient Practice

14 May




“Nearly all the tribes in the Congo Basin either are or have been cannibals; and among some of them the practice is on the increase. Races who until lately do not seem to have been cannibals, though situated in a country surrounded by cannibal races, have, from increased intercourse with their neighbors, learned to eat human flesh. There is not the slightest doubt in my mind that they prefer human flesh to any other.”

Sidney Langford Hinde (former captain of the Congo Free State Force), The Fall of the Congo Arabs, Methuen, 1897

This post is not meant to be an expose on the practice of cannibalism in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DAR). Cannibalism has existed there for generations and still takes place in the bush. The latest practice of cannibalism morphed into a demoralization technique employed by rebel armies during the first and second  Congo Wars in order to keep the villagers subservient and according to my sources was directly related to the number of skirmishes between rebel and governmental forces  in the Eastern part of the country. No one who has spent time in East Africa would deny the  existence of cannibalism in the Congo but most individuals consider it a delicate topic, like incest and politely refrain from discussing it unless specifically asked  to do so. Yet the latest concern with the practice of cannibalism has extended beyond the question of morality and now centers around its  connection to a  fatal disease called Kuru; the implications of which have  just begun to be understood by the World Health Organization. It seems that this disease “bites back” by killing the living who prey upon the dead.

What is it about the practice of cannibalism that invariably stops the most civilized people in their tracks and upsets their normal sensibilities?  It is a topic begrudgingly acknowledged but not openly discussed especially among friends when in more intimate social settings. Yet anthropologists suspect that the eating of human flesh is not a new practice at all and has existed since the “Dawn of Man”. The practice of humans ingesting humans has been directly connected to a wide range of culture-specific needs such as: man’s attempt to capture the human spirit, grieve over the death of a loved one, survive in the face of famine, triumph over one’s enemies after physical conflict, and for the sheer taste  of human flesh. According to Tim White in “Once We Were Cannibals, there is irrefutable evidence to support the claim that cannibalism existed in the Neolithic Period in Europe and in North and South America. White discovered crushed cranial bones in Neanderthal skeletons inside burial sites in Croatia which when analyzed proved that other human beings had tried to crush the craniums attached to the spinal columns in several places in order to remove the brain tissue inside the skulls. He also collected further evidence from among the skeletons to confirm that these bodies had been systemically roasted over an open fire.

Anthologists have identified two major forms of cannibalism as it has been practiced around the world for the past two hundred years. The first category is referred to as ritualistic or exo- cannibalism.  In this type of practice human beings outside of one’s own tribe are consumed usually for offensive and defensive reasons most likely associated with some type of tribal warfare. The victorious members of one tribe eat the flesh of the vanquished in order to demonstrate their superiority and their disdain for the people they have defeated. The use of violent actions such as murder and torture are employed to dominate or scare away potential enemies who might otherwise consider challenging this tribe. It has also been used to reduce the number of slaves residing in a particular village so they have no chance of threatening the welfare of the villagers who reside there. Many tribal cultures believe that as they digest their enemy they also take in the courage and the talent the victim once possessed during his lifetime; this practice  remains one of the most total acts of domination possible.

Many reports of cannibalism practiced by severely disturbed individuals support the notion that they may also have  incorporated a spiritual as well as a ritualistic dimension into their crimes. Serial killers and sex offenders such as Ottis Toole in the late 1970’s and Peter Bryan between 1994 and 2004  defended their criminal actions by explaining that when they consumed their victims they too believed that they became  one with their victims and absorbed their strength.

The second type of cannibalism, mortuary or endo-cannibalism promotes the consumption of a member within one’s own culture or tribe. It is more often associated with rituals established around the burial or internment of a dead member of the tribe and lately anthropologists like Beth Conklin have proposed that this form of cannibalism is very closely associated with the process of grieving that occurs in family and friends after a loved one dies. Dr. Conklin, associate professor of anthropology at Vanderbilt University, conducted an intensive study into the cultural practices of the Wari people, a grouping of tribes who reside in the Amazon rainforest and who once practiced cannibalism. According to Conklin, “The Wari were an unusual ethnic group because they practiced two distinct forms of cannibalism; one during warfare and the other during funerals. However, the two practices were very different and had very different meanings. Eating one’s enemies was an intentional expression of anger and disdain. But at funerals, when they consumed members of their own group who died naturally, it was done out of affection and respect for the dead person and as a way to help the survivors cope with their grief.”

In a related article by Ellie Shick, Mortuary Cannibalism Practiced by the Wari, she identified a more humane desire. “Upon consumption of the deceased group member, the spirit of the dead was believed to be absorbed by the entire tribe and was considered by them to be one of the most respectful ways to treat a human body.” Peggy Sanday in her book Divine Hunger, proposed that cannibalism was viewed as a holy act, in which the adult males of the tribe were granted divine powers bestowed upon them by their gods in gratitude for their actions. 

Survival cannibalism is the most recognized form of cannibalism in the Western World. Stories abound about expeditions by American and European adventurers who had no choice but to eat dead comrades in order to survive. Accounts of the doomed whale ship Essex in 1820, the destiny of the Donner Party in 1847, and the tragedy of the Greely Expedition of 1881 were extensively circulated in newspapers and magazines of the time. Every account both shocked and fascinated their readers. In each case the men accused of these heinous acts swore under oath that they had been revolted by their deeds but were left with no other alternative. They had resorted to cannibalism only in order to save their own lives and the lives of their men. Anthropologists have proven that the Aztecs approved of cannibalism in times of great famine. During the famine of 1920-1921 people in the Soviet Union were forced to eat anything they could find and ultimately ate one another in their attempt to survive. Acts of cannibalism were also reported during the famine in the Ukraine between 1932-1933. As far back as the Great Famine in northern Europe 1315-1317 and again in the Egyptian Famine of 1201  acts of cannibalism were noted in official records that detailed the extent of the damage that occurred during each famine. 

Cannibalism is not a crime and is still not considered an illegal act in most countries. People who have been arrested for eating human flesh are more likely to be charged with the crime of manslaughter, first or second degree murder, or desecration of a dead body. In the twenty-first century the practice of Cannibalism has not been exclusively the domain of populations residing in Third World countries either.

 Armin Meiwes shocked the world in 2001 when he admitted to killing a man whom he said had formally consented to being killed and eaten. This unusual story began with Meiwes seeking out a man to eat on the internet. According to Meiwes, he found the man after he posted an add for a “well-built man who would consent to be killed and eaten”. Meiwes also informed authorities that there were over 400 cannibal-related web sites and chat rooms on the internet and that many were devoted to epicurean cannibalism. Meiwes testified that around 200 men had responded to his ad but  in the end he chose, killed, dismembered, cooked, and ate Brandes.

Historically, reports describing cannibalism were cited by colonial officials in order to justify their domination of the natives in the Congo who they viewed as thoroughly immoral individuals incapable of demonstrating civilized behavior and therefore unable to rule themselves. Although the people of the Mangbetu tribe located in northeast territory along the Bomokandi River were grestly admired by “the whites”for their tribal structure and remarkable artistry, most Europeans of the late 1880’s mistrusted the actions of the tribes and considered them to be nothing more than an “immoral group of savages”. First-hand descriptions of the brutal, uncivilized, and repulsive behaviors of men and women of the Congolese tribes were sent home in letters written by scandalized Baptist missionaries stationed in the Congo. Their stories were confirmed by European explorers and Belgian traders who further damaged the integrity of the tribes. Several European historians have proposed that this was the primary reason a meaningful alliance between the “White” Belgian Colonialists and the “Black” Congolese tribes was never forged in the early 1900’s. Tales of cannibalism and savagery combined with images of exotic weapons and the semi-nude attire of the natives so fascinated yet offended the continental Europeans’ rigid sense of morality that they refused to even consider the notion that over time the native peoples in the Congo could ever develop  the skills needed to govern themselves. 

In the case of the Mangbetu tribe, the most damning evidence of their savage nature was cannibalism. Reports of Mangbetu cannibalism attracted a wave of negative sentiment throughout  Europe because their motives were regarded as particularly “crude and boorish”.  Their reason  for  eating human flesh was in no way connected to the more spiritually- acceptable desire to communicate with the gods. Europeans had been introduced to this form of spiritual cannibalism practiced by some of the other  tribes in the Kongo and if not outright supportive of their actions, at least they were able to identify with the religious intentions. But in the case of the  Mangbetus, their simple preference for the taste of human flesh was considered a  reprehensible and unforgivable act by the majority of Belgian colonialists living in the area and was a critical factor in why the colonists never seemed comfortable forming close relationships with individal members of this tribe.

Ngombe/ Doho execution swords also referred to as Ngombe cult weapons were highly collectable items prized by colonial administrators and military officers. The knives were created to symbolize the inevitability of death. These remarkably balanced swords were not created for use in punitive events but for religious ceremonies.The back side of the blade was used like a panga for cutting. The front side of the extremely sharp blade if used properly detached the victim’s head from his neck in one swift blow. This ritual was carried out in very precise steps. The victim was usually a slave but any member of the tribe could ask to be chosen as an execution victim. The victim was positioned on the ground in a clearing with his legs set straight out in front of him. A young tree was bent over until it touched the top of the man’s head. Then the victim’s head was firmly secured by leather straps to the end the sapling. The ritual leader, chosen by the group, swung  the sword  in one powerful downward stroke  slicing off the victim’s head. As soon as the head had been removed from the victim’s body the taunt tree snapped back into place causing the victim’s head to careen through the air where it would land somewhere deep within the tropical forest. The tribes believed that the person, although dead, could still sense the ultimate freedom of flying through the air to meet his ancestors. The victim’s body was then dismembered and cooked in order to feed the members of the village who had witnessed the ceremony.

 The practice of cannibalism has returned to Eastern Congo and has been associated  with the actions of rebel militias during the two civil wars in the Congo and the revolution in Sierra Leone. In 2003 the United Nations Security Council released an official statement condemning the massacres and human rights violations, including cannibalism that were inflicted upon the populace by rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in Sierra Leone. In July 2007 a UN report declared that the abuses of Congolese women and children go “far beyond rape” and include sexual slavery, forced incest, and cannibalism.” Marginalized groups such as the Pygmy have been far more vulnerable to the threat of cannibalism by the rebel forces than other tribes because of their smaller size and lack of  guns. During the Civil War in Uganda from 1980’s until 2007 Kony’s Lords Liberation Army was continuously accused by children who had escaped from his camps of having  engaged in cannibalistic  rites in order to ensure victory for his soldiers in upcoming battles.  

The Truth Behind the Cannibals of the Congo

 In 1986 Jean Bedel Bokassa dictator of the Central African Republic, was tried for several cases of cannibalism in which he supposedly killed and ate a number of primary school children although he was never formally convicted of the crime. In the spring of 2012 the International Criminal Court (ICC), Hague Netherlands did find the former Liberian President Charles Taylor guilty on 11 counts listed in the indictment that related to the aiding and abetting of war crimes in Sierra Leone’s civil war. It was the first conviction of a head of state by an international court since the Nuremberg trials of Nazis right after World War II. He was found guilty of “aiding and abetting rebel forces” and in supporting their practices such as murder, rape, sexual slavery, conscripting children younger than 15, and the forced enslavement of miners to extract diamonds (blood diamonds) in order to support a range of military activities. Taylor denied eating human flesh in his secret society and several witnesses testified under oath that his soldiers in the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) deliberately engaged in cannibalism in order to terrorize and demoralize the villagers. Taylor will be sentenced on May 30, 2012 and prosecutors have asked that he be given the maximum sentence of 80-years. This means that the 64 year old ex- Liberian president could spend the rest of his life in prison.

The tribes of Papua, New Guinea practiced both endo- and exo-cannibalism until the 1960s. The majority of women in these tribes consumed their dead relatives’ bodies and brains as a way to demonstrate their grief and as a sign of respect for their dead relations. Eventually medical researchers confirmed that these women were dying from a strange disease named Kuru caused by their cannibalistic rituals with dead bodies. Then a scientific team led by Carleton Gajdusek and Baruch Blumberg discovered that it was these diseased mothers who were passing this sickness on to their children.

Kuru is a disease that causes severe deterioration in the human brain and nervous system similar to that of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease ( CJD). The variant form of CJD is believed to be the human equivalent of  Mad Cow Disease discovered in livestock in the late 1970s and which appeared in cows as Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE). The disease was caused by an infectious agent found within the human tissue in the brain of dead people. Kuru is a highly infectious disease that is transferred to others through a variety of daily actions such as contact with bodily fluids. The spread of the disease stopped only when the practice of cannibalism ceased in New Guinea but individual cases of Kuru were reported for several years afterwards because of the disease’s long incubation period.

The symptoms of Kuru include: arm and leg pain, lack of motor coordination that increases over time, difficulty walking, severe headaches, difficulty swallowing and eating leading to malnutrition and starvation, tremors and muscle spasms (myoclonus). The average time from exposure to physical symptoms (incubation period) is between 10 to 13 years, but incubation periods of 30 years or even longer have been reported. There is no known treatment and death usually occurs within one year after the first symptoms appear.

The symptoms for Nodding Disease start with a continuous nodding of the head that eventually leads to convulsions, staring spells, difficulty walking, difficulty swallowing and eating leading to malnutrition and starvation, deterioration of mental capacity, deterioration of fine then gross motor coordination, and eventually debilitating seizures . This condition affects children between the ages 3 to15 years and has been reported in East Africa, specifically in the countries of South Sudan, northern Uganda, and southern Tanzania. No child has ever recovered from this disease and there is no known cause or cure yet. Anti- epileptic medicines are currently being used to treat children with this disease but they only minimize the effects of the seizures. Over 4,000 children have this condition and about 170 have already died from it( WHO, 2012). Lately there have been reports that adults have contracted the disease too but this data has not yet been confirmed.

 Compare the symptoms of both diseases.

Symptoms of Kuru Disease

Symptoms of Nodding Disease

lack of motor coordination that increases over time deterioration of fine then gross motor coordination
tremors and muscle spasms (myoclonus) continuous nodding of the head, convulsions
difficulty walking difficulty walking
difficulty swallowing and eating leading to malnutrition and starvation, difficulty swallowing and eating leading to malnutrition and starvation,
severe headaches severe seizures
 deterioration in mental capacity deterioration in mental capacity

Is it possible that the children in Uganda and South Sudan are suffering from a variant form of encephalopathy, (disease of the brain),  that in some way is related to a form of Mad Cow Disease in humans? Could it be similar to the variant form of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) that has been proven to be related to Mad Cow Disease? Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) is a form of brain damage that leads to a rapid decrease in mental functions and movement. The infection that causes the disease in cows is believed to be the same one that causes vCJD in humans. Variant CJD accounts for less than 1% of all cases of CJD but it tends to affect younger people. However, fewer than 200 people worldwide have been identified as having this disease.

Variant CJD is caused by exposure to contaminated human tissue or blood. Other vCJD cases have occurred when people were given corneal or other tissue transplants, blood transfusions from infected donors, or through improperly disinfected electrodes used in brain surgery. Within 6 months or less after the symptoms have begun, the person is unable to care for him/ herself. The disorder is fatal within 8 months but a few people have lived for as long as one or two years. The cause of death is usually diagnosed as infection, heart or respiratory failure.

Is there a connection between what desperate people have been forced to do during war in order to survive and the appearance of Nodding Disease? The UN has confirmed that cannibalism increases when people who normally practice it are involved in conflict. There had not been one case of Nodding Disease reported in northern Uganda and South Sudan prior to the start of the Civil War in the 1980’s. At the conflict’s peak in 2005, there were 1.84 million Internally Displaced Persons living in 251 camps across 11 districts of northern Uganda to keep them safe from the rebels ( UNHCR, 2012). That is an average poulation of 7, 331  individuals living in each camp. Doctors with whom I have worked in the past have been very clear when they tell me -“whenever abnormally large groups of people are made to live closely together and there is not an adequate sanitation system in place, new forms of old diseases and totally new diseases appear in people overnight”. Plagues have been known to begin  this way. Usually these new diseases show up so quickly they have not yet been named. The doctors are not sure what course of treatment to pursue so they begin with following the  recommended dosages of antibiotics many times to no avail. And if this new disease is a virus like AIDS, what then? Could completely new diseases have been generated inside the camps? Does Nodding Disease exist as an infection in the form of prions like Kuru rather than as a virus, bacteria, or parasite?  Is it being been passed down to children by their mothers like Kuru or is it spread by ingesting infected tissue? I strongly advocate that scientists investigate the connection between Kuru, Nodding Disease, and variant CJD (vCJD) as a possible physical reaction to the practice of cannibalism. Could  a variant form of Mad Cow disease in humans be causing Nodding Disease in children after all?

Kat Nickeson                   Kingston,  RI         USA

The Grand Experiment: A Gentler Form of Enslavement

7 May

The savage only ever respects force, power, boldness, and decision.” Stanley, Henry M. (1988). Through the Dark Continent. Dover Publications. ISBN 0-486-25667-7

In 1908 the Belgian government officially agreed to manage Leopold’s Free State in central Africa and immediately changed the name of the Kongo and Katanga territories to the Belgian Congo. But not before it paid King Leopold II 50 million francs in compensation for the forfeiture of his authorized claim. Yet, other than renaming the colony not much else changed in way of administrative policies once the paperwork had been signed and sealed. Belgian officials saw to it that their governance policies continued to be supervised by Baron Wahis, previous Governor General of The Congo Free State under Leopold and they did not remove the colonial administrators selected by Leopold but reassigned them to their previous postings. In time Belgian officials would share their administrative power with three of the largest mining corporations in Katanga district, and the Catholic Church. But the Belgian parliament, although far more civilized in its approach than Leopold, did not differ in its utilization of the colony by much. It continued to view its new colony and the people within its borders as possessions that could be rearranged at will- all for the benefit of Father Belgium. And its sole purpose in developing the infrastructure within the colony was to gain better access to the vast stores of minerals and agricultural products such as palm oil, coffee, and lumber and in doing so increase its export production. There was never any mention of  a plan to systematically improve the quality of the people’s lives in any way. In the fifty-two years Belgium managed the Congo in an official capacity there was never any formal course of action taken to provide the Congolese people with the opportunity to develop the administrative, political, military, or business skills needed to govern themselves. Congolese students would not be allowed to study for advanced degrees at their own colleges or universities until the year 1954.

There was a marked shift in marketable Congolese exports even before Leopold surrendered his authority; ivory, then rubber extract, and finally raw minerals became the number export products. The Congo was rich in gold, diamonds, copper, cobalt, tantalite, columbite, cassiterite, uranium, and tin. The first mining endeavors concentrated on the extraction of copper and then on the quest for diamonds. Diamond mines were first opened in 1907 and were so successsful that by 1927 the Congo’s export quota was second only to that of South Africa. Another crucial concern was the need to transport these products out to the coast. During the first few years the Belgians made the creation of a dependable infrastructure a top priority in their Colonial Development Plan so they could more easily move their exports through the country then out for shipment to Europe. The two major modes of transportation they depended on were: 1.  by steamship on the Congo River and 2.) by railroad car. In 1911 The Société Colonial de Construction was established in order to build the first railway from Elisabethville to Bukama. That done, it went on to build a system of railway connections and depots within the colony.

The much unloved Leopold II, King of Belgium died in 1909 leaving a very reluctant King Albert I to take his place. Albert was the second son and as such had been always considered “next in line” to the throne until his older brother Baudoin unexpectedly died of pneumonia making Albert I the next king of Belgium.  The new King was a self-proclaimed socialist who looked for opportunities to implement his favorite  Marxist doctorines. One of his closest friends and advisors was Emile Waxweiler, engineer and noted sociologist who convinced Albert to let him implement his innovative labor theories through ths use of a community model that would be used to build and maintain an exclusive workforce of laborers in the Congo.  These “socially engineered” workers would ultimately employ their superior skills in a such a way that they would boost production and ensure greater revenues for the companies and the government.  After listening to Waxweiler’s compeling predictions about immense profits, Albert was only too willing to grant his request and Emile W. began his “Grand Experiment” in the Congo with the King’s blessing.

In 1906, the Union Minière du Haut Kanga( UMHK), was granted a permit by Leopold to develop its mining operation in its quest for copper. Soon after two more mining companies were formed in the same region: Forminière Société Internationale Forestière et Minière du Congo (FMC) and the Compagnie du Chemin de Fer du Bas-Congo au Katanga (BCK). But Leopold’s avarice and brutality had taken its toll. In his ten year rule of the Congo 10-13 million people had died of causes directly related to his corvee system and harsh punishments. By1908 only10 million people were left and many inland areas were very sparsely populated including Katanga District. Once the mine shafts had been secured and the passageways opened companies like UMHK (located in present-dayLubumbashi) needed hundreds of miners to remove the copper ore. In the beginning mining companies like UMHK attracted men from more distant tribes to work in their mines by offering a them a  range of lucrative incentives but they had failed to retain the numbers needed to adequately man the tunnels. But then Emile W. arrived on the scene and proposed that the executives implement his  “population management policies” in order to ensure a sufficient workforce.

UMHK was the first company to agree to implement his policies and a new “age of enslavement” commenced. All candidates were examined by European doctors and only the healthiest and strongest were hired. In the beginning all of the single men resided in barrack-like dormitories and had all of basic their needs looked after by the company. They were fed  a high protein diet, clothed in materials that would keep them warm and dry when down in the mines, and were expected to keep themselves clean. They had to obey every rule and observe the posted curfews or they were dismissed on the spot.  What’s more, they could not leave the mining compound unless they had received formal permission first. The camps were kept clean and comfortable but that did not prevent them from operating like prisons. Once a man agreed to work for the UMHK he relinquished all of his personal rights and freedoms except for what the companydecided to grant him.

Waxweiler went on to perfect his methods based on data from his Institut de Sociologie. One of his studies identified the best discipline techniques to use in order to produce the fastest and long-lasting results. Another strove to identify a range of local food products that could be used to make the most nutritious and the cheapest meals. Every policy Waxweiler introduced helped guarantee that the laborers would work as efficiently as possible in order to extract the optimum amount of copper from the tunnels each day. Unbeknownst to the Congolese workmen his designs ensured optimum productivity levels and the highest percentage of profits.

Eventually researchers at the Institut de Sociologie determined that married men were: less volatile, happier, healthier, and lived longer than single men. These findings caused the Board of Directors to issue an order requiring  “all black miners to marry” in order to keep their jobs with the company. Mining executives combed the region visiting native families in search of eligible brides. The company established a marriage brokering service and even bought the goats and cows needed for the marriage dowry exchanges. Medical doctors thoroughly examined all potential brides and approved only the healthiest ones who they determined would make “the best wives and breeders” and who would ultimately supply the mines with the next generation of workers. If a man was already married his wife still had to undergo a physical exam and if she was not accepted the man was dismissed. The mine enforced all of its policies and would not tolerate tribal customs such as keeping more than one wife, supporting a concubine, or what the Catholic authorities defined as any “adulterous behavior” within the compound.

If a family passed their examinations they were admitted into the domestic section of the compound. They lived in identical houses equipped with a small garden on pleasant tree-lined streets along with their neighbors. The company provided the food used to prepare each meal but the wife/ mother’s food rations were docked if any infractions of the rules occurred within the household. The husband’s food rations were never touched because he needed to be kept in optimum physical shape in order to work in the mines each day. All children were required to attend school from kindergarten to the end of primary school and all families had to comply with this expectation. Boys were trained to become efficient workers and girls were trained in the skills used by good wives and mothers. Education beyond primary school was not provided because the company had already determined there was no call for advanced education in a population of miners and mothers- the last thing company administrators wanted, was to create a workforce capable of thinking for themselves or challenging the company’s policies.

Females had been identified by the sociologists at the Institut as the most rebellious members of the family group so their lives were structured most carefully. The overseers made sure that every woman complied with the rules or suffered the consequences. Women were not allowed to leave the compound unless they applied for and were granted a pass. Logs were kept on the number of outside excursions per woman and the gatekeepers denied petitions from any female who had made too many outside visits regardless of the reason. Breastfeeding was also discouraged because the company administrators wanted to keep the women pregnant and thought that while breast feeding women would not conceive as easily. Women who chose to breastfeed after their child was a year old were punished by having their food rations lessened. Mining companies trained an exceptional corps of midwives/ nurses who helped deliver the miners’ babies and the infant mortality rates in these compounds decreased significantly. The mining corporations also established exceptional medical infirmaries equipped with European doctors who provided some of the best medical care and treatment in all of East Africa. These improvements were only made in order to meet specific objectives listed in Waxweiler’s productivity plan.

Over the years the social engineering experiments escalated until at last Belgian sociologists sought to create their own special  race of Congolese laborer. They did this  in response to the age-old feuds and constant tensions that played out in the mines each day among workers from different tribes who were forced to toil together in exceptionally close quarters.  Belgian scientists reported that this new race had been named “Tshanga- Tshanga” by the Congolese people. Tshanga- Tshanga really means “Neutral or Inbetween” but I believe that the word Tshanga meant “The Unaffiliated” to the Congolese people of that time because they recognized that these “neutral” individuals would never be part of a real tribe and it was only by being affiliated with the Kongo tribes that a person could develop his/her sense of self. According to the Belgians, who could not have had the word homestly translated for them, Tshanga- Tshanga meant “The Great Equalizer”. I believe it had to have been hopeful thinking on the Belgian’s part because no East African would have interpreted the word “Tshanga” as meaning “The Great Equalizer” or would have even understood the context in which the phrase had been used. No Congolese man or woman would have approved of the Belgian’s attempt to create a new race either.

 Before they had finished with the Tshanga- Tshanga Plan,  Belgian researchers in the Congo had deliberately coerced  hundreds of young men and women into mating with one another in hopes that they would eventually produce the perfect worker for the copper mines. According to Dr. Van Nitzen, a well-known racial constructivist of the time, their objective was to “create a strong, healthy, disciplined workforce of devoted laborers.”

What they actually created was a group of social outcasts resented by the rest of the  tribes, who were only accepted in the artificial environments established in the mining camps around Katanga and Kasai. Eventually in spite of how well they had been cared for the native miners rebelled and a series of violent labor strikes occurred which only infuriated the mining authorities and the colonial administrators that much more. Eventually the colonial Governor had no choice but to capitulate and grant the workers’ demands. Actually the native miners received only slightly higher wages and a few more rights but for the first time Congolese workers had established themselves as “men capable of self-government”. The Tshanga – Tshanga experiments eventually ceased, Emile Waxmeiler was mysteriously hit by a car while crossing a London street in 1916, and“ The Grand Experiment” was abandoned once and for all.

In statements made to the world press by certain members of the Belgian Parliment  in the 1920’s it was clear that Belgium’s  primary responsibility was to “tend” to the people of the Congo and to make decisions for them like a father does for his children. The Belgian officials bristled when European journalists challenged their use of specific colonial policies especially social experimentation and criticized them for managing their workers as if they were mere “sheep or cattle”. The politicos regrouped and reassured skeptical members of the press that they had only ever worked in the best interest of the Congolese people. By the time the 1920’s ended the Colonial Governor had never once stated in any documentation that a plan existed to help the native population assume control of their own country one day. By the 1950’s members of the Belgian parliment were outraged when their ungrateful colonists began to riot and demanded the right to rule themselves and the official powers in  Belgium swiftly removed all Belgians from the Congo leaving their colonists ” high and dry” when their authority was ultimately challenged in 1960.

Kat Nickerson   Kingston   RI      USA