Tag Archives: Democratic Republic of the Congo

How Not to Catch Ebola: A Wise Traveler’s Guide

26 Oct

 

who.org/ebola West Africa 2014

who.org/ebola
West Africa 2014

The sign above warns people in West Africa: Attention Ebola!,  Don’t  Touch Anyone,  Don’t Manipulate Objects, The Animals You’ll Find Dead in the Forest

Last week a dear friend and neighbor called to ask about her chances of contracting the Ebola virus if she was traveling back from West Africa on an airplane. She had no intention of taking a flight to anywhere in Africa but it bothered her that she had no idea what to do if she ever encountered this situation while traveling abroad. She had heard me talk about living with the threat of Ebola while traveling through East and Central Africa and felt that the media in the United States had not told  the American public the entire truth. After I answered her questions and told her what steps she could take to keep herself safe she felt somewhat better and  more in control of her life. Then she begged me to write this post in order to educate anyone else who felt as she did. So this one is for you Diane, I truly hope the information I’ve included in this post helps save lives one day. I have meticulously researched and referenced all of the factual information presented in the post and matched it to that cited by the World Health Organization as well as the Center for Disease Control. I have also included direct  links to each of these web pages so my followers can check out this information for themselves.

http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/

So what have I learned about Ebola during my summers in East and Central Africa and what do I do to keep myself safe? First, out of all the diseases one can catch in East Africa, like AIDS, Malaria, Yellow Fever, Blackwater Fever, Tuberculosis and hundreds of parasitic illnesses – it’s Ebola that terrifies my African friends and colleagues the most. “ Three Days,” ( the time they believe it takes the virus to kill them) they whisper after I ask about Ebola then either make the sign of the cross over themselves repeatedly or shake their heads back and forth in absolute dread. When travelers meet on back roads throughout the bush, its news about Ebola they ask for first and the name, itself has the power to turn a cheerful, laughing Ugandan into a silent, nervous wreck. But knowledge is power and so there are certain things you can do to protect yourself against bringing this virus into your body and infecting you with the disease.

Ebola has been classified as a virus and as such there are a few things you need to remember about this virus in particular when traveling that can keep you safe. A person can only spread Ebola if they are in the active symptoms stage. That means they are either running a high fever, vomiting, experiencing diarrhea, severe headaches, muscle pain, weakness, abdominal pain, or unexplained bleeding around or from any opening in their body. And they don’t have to have all of these symptoms – one is enough. But these symptoms also describe other illnesses such as influenza so a blood sample must be taken and examined by a laboratory to confirm whether it’s actually Ebola or not. This makes the disease very difficult to detect and confirm especially in rural districts where lab reports are not readily available and by the time competent medical staffers have been called in an entire village could be infected. Doctors have determined that there is a definite incubation period between 2 to 21 days (time between becoming infected and the actual onset of the physical symptoms) but it is not the same length of time in all patients so this has caused a lot of confusion in the past. How would I even suspect I had the disease if I didn’t show any symptoms until 21 days later? By then most people who had come in contact with Ebola would feel they were free from the disease. Plane travel from Africa to the United States usually takes two separate flights and between twelve to sixteen hours depending on the European airport selected for the second flight. Hypothetically I could travel through the first flight symptom-free but develop stage one symptoms like a high fever during the second flight. That means I could become contagious while in-flight and have no idea what’s happening to me. And now you’re sitting next to me. So what can you do to protect yourself?

A person demonstrating active stage one symptoms of Ebola can transmit the virus through all of his/her bodily fluids like sweat, mucus, tears, saliva, urine, feces, and blood. You infect yourself when you come in contact with my Ebola-rich body fluids and bring them into you own body through any open cut/wound or bring your contaminated fingers to your eyes, nose, or mouth. So I advise when on an airplane where there is reason to suspect Ebola that you wear a surgical mask and either sunglasses that thoroughly surround/cover your eyes or clear glasses that do the same thing. You may not look like the sexiest person in Coach or Business Class but you’ll go a long way in protecting yourself from this debilitating disease. Before you hit the airport remember to examine your body closely especially any exposed areas like hands and feet making sure that all cuts, no matter how tiny- even hangnails have been thoroughly covered up by Band-Aids or adhesive strips. Make sure to bring extra ones with you and if you have a deep wound on your hand I would wear a pair of gloves while traveling. Make sure to pack these things in a carry-on bag when leaving the US for any country in Africa- you’ll never know when you’ll need them. Remember, “ an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

I heard a newsman on television say that you can’t catch the Ebola virus from a sneeze. Wrong, wrong, inexcusably wrong!!! Technically you can’t catch the virus from airborne particles released through your nose during a sneeze but when people sneeze they usually release some saliva from their mouths as well. Think about your last hearty sneeze- I know I do and I bet you do too. That means that saliva from an infected person’s mouth could be sprayed out onto your hands, shoulder, head, lap, or even food depending on how close he/she was when the sneeze occurred. If a person with active symptoms sneezes on you, spits on you, vomits on you, bleeds on you, or you come in contact with his/her urine or feces you’d better have any wounds covered up and your eyes, nose, and mouth covered too or you’re at risk for infecting yourself with the virus.

Now this virus can live for hours outside its host’s body so carry disposable wipes soaked in bleach with you and use them to wipe down the tray in front of you, both metal side arms; then give the cloth seat a quick swipe too before sitting down. Wipe down any earphones and touch screens before using them as well. I always take a large African scarf with me and wrap myself up in it during the flight. No airplane pillows or blankets for me. Using the bathroom can be especially dangerous if you have bleeding hemorrhoids or any other open wounds in that area of your body. Make sure to take your bleach wipes with you and make a thorough swipe of the toilet seat before sitting down. Wash your hands well with plenty of soap and make sure to wipe your hands with fresh wipes before and after using the toilette and sink. When eating your meal watch what the people on either side of you are doing. If for some reason they sneeze on your food leave it alone!!! It’s better to go hungry than sicken yourself with Ebola. And watch where you put your hands. Do not put them anywhere near your eyes, nose, or mouth without wiping them off with bleach wipes first. Once you arrive home take all clothes off immediately and throw them in the washing machine. If you have worn a suit or “dry clean only” garments place them on a hanger and put them outside in the sunlight for a day or two. Other things that can kill the virus once it’s outside of its host- hand soap, detergent, hand sanitizers, heat, and alcohol- the kind you drink as well as rubbing alcohol and hydrogen- peroxide. Remember people who tend to sick Ebola patients can be infected by handling bedding, clothes, cups, dishes, or utensils so they must take the proper precautions as they minister to them. Following these steps may make you feel embarrassed at first- even look like you suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder but who cares? Would you rather be pretty or dead? Adults traveling with children will have a more difficult time enforcing many of these protocols but remember they work and have been designed to save you and your family members from a terribly painful illness you might not survive.

Stage two of the disease according to one friend, “is a journey into hell and back”. The infected person suffers from extreme bouts of vomiting and diarrhea, agonizing rashes, and gradually his/her liver as well as the kidneys slowly shut down. There’s lots of bleeding from every orifice in the body and much more pain. The very old and the very young succumb first as well as anyone in poor health at the onset of the disease. Many East Africans will tell you that anyone who catches Ebola dies but WHO maintains that the average fatality rate is more like 50 %. It all depends on the general health of the person at the onset of the disease. And according to the CDC, those people who do manage to survive develop personal antibodies that remain in their blood stream and protect them from further infection from Ebola for up to 10 years; although scientists are not sure if these survivors are immune to the four other species of Ebola or mutations of each strain as well. There is no cure or vaccine for Ebola at the moment although blood transfusions and a serum called Z-Mapp was used on the doctors who became infected with Ebola in West Africa but  is still in the experimental stage.

And now the most crucial fact in preventing epidemics like the one that occurred in West Africa. People can fully recover from the Ebola virus and still remain infectious (that means they can still infect others) as long as their blood and/or other body fluids including semen and breast milk contain the Ebola virus. Men who have recovered from the disease and demonstrate no symptoms whatsoever can still transmit the virus to others in their semen for up to 7 weeks after recovery. Doctors who have been treating male patients in West Africa who survived Ebola are advising them to abstain from all forms of sex for 30 days and to wear condoms after that. According to Mother Jones, in one 2000 study a woman who recovered from Ebola still had the virus in her breast milk weeks after she made a full recovery and her infant eventually died from the disease. It is not clear if she transmitted the virus to her infant and more research needs to be conducted before scientists can establish a direct cause –effect relationship between breast milk and the transmission of the virus.

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/10/how-long-ebola-sperm

As of October 24, 2014 five countries located in West Africa have had outbreaks of Ebola Hemorrhagic Virus in the past several months: Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Senegal. Of these, Nigeria and Senegal have been classified by the World Health Organization (WHO, 2014) as “Ebola –Free” with no new reported cases of this disease for six weeks in a row. This was the largest and most complex outbreak of Ebola ever recorded with more deaths than all other outbreaks combined. To show you how contagious this virus can be according to the CDC the first case in West Africa was confirmed in March of 2014. It started in Guinea then was spread by land to Sierra Leone, after that one traveler was responsible for spreading the virus by airplane to Liberia, then one traveler spread it to Nigeria by land, and one traveler spread it to Senegal by land. It seems that the world’s attention was focused exclusively on West Africa when in fact there had also been an outbreak of Ebola in Central Africa, in Lokolia, south of Equateur Province in the northwestern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) as of September, 2014 with a confirmed tally of 68 cases of Ebola and 41 deaths. But Ebola outbreaks have occurred in the past in the DRC, Uganda, South Sudan, and Gabon.

http://www.who.int/csr/disease/ebola/en/

According to historical data on Ebola supplied by the Center for Disease Control (CDC, 2014) the Democratic Republic of the Congo has experienced 7 outbreaks of Ebola in the last 38 years- more than any other country in the world and the Congo Basin has been identified by scientists as the source of several major pandemics. As far back as 1976 the first recorded cases of Ebola came out of the Congo Basin in the DRC, the second largest tropical rain forest in the world. What’s more, it is now believed that Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) emerged from the same rain forest sometime in the late 1920’s after that virus crossed from chimpanzee into human blood streams.

This has also made the doctors serving the populace of the DRC some of the most knowledgeable “ Ebola Doctors” in the world. And one of the very best is the virologist and professor Dr. Jean- Jacques Muyembe Tamfum, who heads the Institut National de Recherche Biomedicale, at The University of Kinshasa in the DRC’s capital city of Kinshasa. It was Dr. Tamfum who identified the Ebola virus 38 years ago. According to Dr. Tamfum, “Ebola is the most dangerous virus in the world at this time classified as a ‘level four’ virus and there are more just like it out there.”

Five species of the virus have been identified so far: Zaire, Bundibugyo, Sudan, Reston, and Tai Forest. And each of these has the ability to mutate. The most recent outbreak of Ebola in West Africa has been attributed to a mutation of the Zaire species which according to the CDC is the most deadly strain.

According to Jonna Mazet, global director of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) “Predict Program,” a five year project charged with identifying viruses before they become a threat and building a global database to store this information, “most of the global epidemics in the world originated in these same forest ecosystems. The three areas in the world currently classified as “Virus Hot Spots,” the Amazon Basin in South America, the Congo Basin in Central Africa, and Southeast Asia- all three have the heat, the water, and the tree cover to act as pathogen incubators. According to the latest version of the Thorndike- Barnhart Dictionary- a pathogen is “any infectious agent that can produce illness in its host and can appear in the form of viruses, bacteria, fungi, and other micro-organisms.” The medical community at large knows by now that viruses mutate easily enough inside their host, some can live outside of their host for hours on end, and all are not easily treated. Mazet goes on to say,” In the last five years we have detected over 800 viruses globally and 540 of these viruses have never been seen before. Many could be just as deadly as Ebola.” This means that a good 68% of these new viruses have the potential to be as destructive to humans and animals as Ebola and AIDS have been. Scientists have also determined that 60% of the emerging diseases that infect humans worldwide are “crossovers” that originally came from animals, especially wild ones.

http://www.usaid.gov/ept2

An estimated 270 species of animals and 40 million people call the Congo Basin home. In a country identified by the United Nations Human Development Index as 186 out of a total of 187 countries (only Niger was given a lower score) it has the poorest quality of life in the entire world. Locals around the Basin eke out a living from the forest each day or literally die of starvation. As I discussed before in my blog on Ebola after the Ugandan outbreak of 2012 while traveling through the infected area of Uganda near the DRC/ Uganda border, primates such as monkeys and apes can catch Ebola just like humans who are also primates. Because Gorillas share 95% of their genetic code with humans it is extremely easy for the virus to cross over between the two causing prolonged outbreaks of the disease. Contrary to Americans’ preferences for red meat, the Congolese will hunt and eat wildlife in any form they find it. Animals such as bats, monkeys, chimpanzees, forest antelope, and porcupines are caught and sold in outdoor markets as fresh or cooked meat and eaten by a community that truly enjoys this cuisine. Unfortunately, these are the same animals that have been identified as the culprits responsible for spreading the Ebola virus in the Congo Basin especially into hunters who handle the infected blood, bodily fluids, and feces of the wounded or dead animals before they’re cooked. The CDC currently believes that it is a species of fruit bat living in the Congo Basin that’s primarily responsible for holding the Ebola virus in its blood stream between outbreaks.

Jonna Mazet warns that the Congo Basin is home to millions of viruses and many of them could be far more virulent than Ebola or HIV. As the rain forest in the Congo Basin is being destroyed to accommodate a growing population of Congolese citizens they in turn are coming in contact with new and deadlier microorganisms like never before and who knows what the repercussions will be for the global community at large? And for those who doubt me! In 2009 a new virus was discovered in Mangala, a small village deep within the Congo Basin’s rain forest. Three people had been stricken with a mysterious fever that suddenly spiked and began to vomit up blood. Two of the patients died within three days of demonstrating active symptoms and the third survived the disease going on to develop preventive antibodies in his blood stream. It was first thought that they had contracted the Zaire species of Ebola virus but then it was confirmed through laboratory tests that the villagers had become infected by a totally new virus. It was eventually named the Bas- Congo Virus and there have been no reported cases of the Bas- Congo Virus since. Virologists finally determined that it had been spread by insects.

Voyons ce que demain nous, mes amis!

Kat Nickerson      Kingston, RI   USA

 

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The Trial of Jean- Pierre Bemba: A Study of Avarice

14 Apr
Http://Washingtonpost.com

Http://Washingtonpost.com

 

Jean- Pierre Bemba- Gombo is one of the richest men in all of Africa let alone the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) the country in which he was born. This is hard to believe at first, seeing that the DRC had been classified by the United Nation’s Human Development Index for 2013 as one of the poorest nations in the entire world. How is it he came to accumulate such a vast fortune estimated at millions of dollars US during such an unstable period in the DRC’s history- as the country struggled through two consecutive, devastating wars? How did he manage to create and maintain personal businesses in the eastern and north –western sections of the country while over 5,000,000 people died- most as a result of war- related illnesses such as Malaria, Pneumonia, Diarrhea, and, Malnutrition? Ironically it was because of these wars that Bemba prospered, expanding both his legal and illegal businesses in the north and east while so many others lost everything: their land, their homes, their families.

By the end of the Second War in the Congo Bemba attempted to change his image by serving as a Vice President in the transitional government, a Presidential candidate in the 2006 election, and as a Member of Parliament. But his reputation would not improve so easily no matter how hard he tried to explain away his past transgressions after relocating to Kinshasa. When asked, most villagers in North Kivu Province recalled a very different Jean- Pierre Bemba. The one they remembered was a brutal warlord who used his personal army to: take their tribal lands away by force; kill and rape innocent men, women, and children; seize others’ businesses especially coffee and timber; establish lucrative diamond and hardwood smuggling operations with the countries of Uganda and the Central African Republic; and plunder his country’s natural resources at a time when his service as a patriot was desperately needed.

Ironically, Mr. Bemba was arrested in Brussels by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on May, 2008 charged with two counts of crimes against humanity and three counts of war crimes. But these five counts had nothing at all to do with his horrendous deeds in the DRC rather they were issued as a result of offenses allegedly committed by the Mouvement de Liberation du Congo (MLC) in the Central African Republic from 2002 to 2003 after having been invited there by President Ange- Felix Patasse to quell an attempted coup against him. As the recognized leader of this militia the court held Bemba personally responsible for their actions.

Bemba’s trial at The Hague began on November 22, 2010 and continues on. But the end is in sight as the court recently declared all submission of evidence suspended and ordered both the prosecution and defense teams to file their closing briefs by June 2, 2014. Meanwhile Mr. Bemba had friends and members of his defense team working on an alternate plan -an illegal one that would ensure all of the charges against him would be dropped. Eventually the ICC was made aware of this plot and arrested four men suspected of perpetrating crimes against the court. Aime- Kilolo Musamba, lawyer-lead defense council, Jean-Jacques Mangenda- Kabongo, lawyer-case manager, Fidele Babala- Wandu, Member of DRC Parliament and Deputy Secretary of the MLC, Bemba’s militia turned political party, as well as Narcisse Arido, defense witness. Each man including Bemba was charged with presenting false/forged evidence and tampering with witnesses for the prosecution. On April 2, 2014 the trial judges determined that the additional charges of presenting false or forged evidence and tampering with witnesses would be treated as a different case and tried separately.

But who is Jean- Pierre Bemba anyways? Born into a wealthy, political family in Bokata, Nord- Ubangi District, Equateur Province on November 4th, 1962 young Bemba grew up in the palatial estate of the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko mingling with Belgian aristocrats. Bemba’s father, a successful businessman himself, traveled in the same social circles as Mobutu acting as his advisor when needed. It was a small, elite group of wealthy Congolese families who along with Mobutu divided their time between the Congo and Brussels so much so that Bemba’s older sister eventually married Mobutu’s son and Jean- Pierre became quite close to the former dictator as he neared the end of his tenure even serving as his personal assistant in the early 1990’s. After Mobutu had been exiled Bemba‘s father went on to serve Laurent Kabila as his Minister of the Economy and Industry in the newly- formed government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and then as a senator representing Equateur Province situated in the north-western part of the country while his son did not fare as well. The First War in the Congo would last one year (1996-1997) and as a result Laurent Kabila would capture the capital city of Kinshasa and declare himself President. One year later the Second War in the Congo would erupt when Rwanda and Uganda along with Burundi would invade the DRC after Lauren Kabila refused to keep his promises to them -lucrative mining deals in exchange for their military and monetary support during the First War. Plus Rwanda discovered that Kabila had a much closer relationship with the Hutu Interhamwe then he’d admitted.

During the First War in the Congo Jean- Pierre Bemba lost his businesses plus experienced open mistrust and discrimination by Laurent Kabila and the rest of his new cabinet because of his close connection to Mobutu. But during the Second War he rebounded and by the end of the war controlled most of Northeastern Congo as well as the major smuggling route between the DRC and Central African Republic ( CAR). This was due in no small part to Uganda’s help. Bemba gradually created his own militia, the Mouvement de Liberation du Congo (MLC) a local militia composed of Congolese males from the north and eastern region of the country. He soon worked out a deal with the Ugandan government: he would help Uganda gather the hardwood from Kisangani and transport it back to Kampala while in return the Ugandan army would supply, arm, and train his men. Under this transaction Bemba’s militia prospered making his force a feared name throughout North Kivu Province while at the same time Bemba began cashing in on local products from diamonds to coffee beans. According to expert witness testimony presented to the UN’s National Security Council the Second War in the Congo centered on “trade and money”. The militia that controlled the wealthiest caches of natural resources triumphed over the rest so much so that battles were no longer fought to protect the people but to control the most lucrative diamond, gold, and mineral deposits as well as secure the rights to smuggling routes across the eastern border. Eventually Uganda and Rwanda formally withdrew and the Second War in the Congo came to an end but Bemba and his militia continued their smuggling  operations as usual. According to Global Witness (2003-2004) Bemba maintained a lucrative diamond and coffee smuggling ring into the Central African Republic (CAR) using its capital city of Bangui as his base. He smuggled timber into the CAR cut from the Ituri Forest and was paid large operation fees by European hardwood companies operating in the area.

During the Second War Bemba began a deliberate campaign of terror against the local Mbuti Pygmies living in the Congo’s Ituri Forest. In 2003 Sinafore Makelo, an Mbuti pygmy, told the United Nations Indigenous Peoples Forum that during the war Mbuti pygmies were “hunted down and eaten like game animals” by the militias and that none was more deadly than the group known as the “Effaceurs” (erasers). According to Minority Rights Group International “ Les Effaceurs” were soldiers in none other than the Mouvement de Liberation du Congo (MLC), Bemba’s men who used “mass killings, cannibalism, rape, and the threat of violence” to clear the Mbuti from the forests of North Kivu Province. According to testimony provided by Bantu farmers in the area Bemba wanted the pygmies to leave the local forests where they had lived for generations so he could expand his illegal mining and logging operations without witnesses.

Once he returned from the CAR and before leaving for Kinshasa Bemba swore he’d disbanded his MLC turning it into a political party instead but he purposely kept many of his soldiers with him claiming they now served as his personal guards. It was common knowledge around North Kivu Province that the MLC continued to oversee his smuggling operations while Bemba started newer, legal business endeavors such as his airline company and television station. By 2003 he had been named Vice President of Finance and served as one of four VP’s in the new transitional government of Joseph Kabila. He challenged Joseph Kabila by running for President in the 2006 election where he came in second then after a final face-off between the two candidates lost the election.

And then things became dangerously unclear. Mr. Bemba claimed that Joseph Kabila had used fraud to win the election but then said he would “bow out gracefully for the good of the country.” At the same time he did not attend the swearing–in ceremony nor did he give Kabila his official endorsement as President of the DRC. Yet by 2007 he had succeeded in winning a seat in Parliament as a Senator representing the capital city, Kinshasa.

It was common knowledge that Bemba housed many MLC members at his residence in Kinshasa who served as security guards. On March 22, 2007 a fight broke out between these guards and soldiers in the Congolese Army. It seems Bemba’s guards had been ordered by the government to register at a local military base where they would be eventually absorbed into the Congolese army but Bemba claimed these men served as his personal guard and for reasons of security would remain with him. Soldiers in the Congolese army showed up at Bemba’s house then tried to take his “body guards” into custody. The guards refused and started shooting at the soldiers. Although government reports were deliberately vague on the matter, eye- witness accounts around Kinshasa maintained that hundreds of Bemba’s soldiers flooded the streets resulting in open fire fights between them and Congolese troops. Many witnesses became convinced that Bemba was staging a coup in order to seize control of the government buildings. Eventually government forces brought the city under control as Bemba’s men suddenly began withdrawing from the streets. Although the government made no public announcement about the battle between the two sides and at no time referred to the fighting as a coup reports of over six hundred wounded or dead were filed by local hospitals and news agencies around the city. Meanwhile Bemba and his family fled to the South African embassy where he asked for and was granted asylum. One day later, on March 23, 2007 an arrest warrant was issued by the government charging Bemba with high treason. Bemba responded by blaming Kabila saying that the government soldiers had been sent to his home to kill him and that his body guards had only been defending him.

On March 26, 2007 the President of the DRC, Joseph Kabila charged Bemba with using his militia to seize control of the capital city of Kinshasa. Bemba denied these charges claiming that his only goal was to leave the country safely in spite of the thwarted assassination attempt on his life. But before he left the country Bemba ordered the members of his militia to comply with the government’s orders and hundreds of his men registered then were integrated into the Congolese army without incurring any punitive charges.

During April, 2007 Bemba and his family lived in Portugal. While there he continued to talk openly about his fear of reprisal from Kabila’s government and the fact that he planned to return to the DRC to take up his senate seat in Parliament. But by June, 2007 he was still traveling throughout Europe claiming that he feared for his life if he returned to Kinshasa.

One year later on May 24, 2008, Bemba was arrested near Brussels and surrendered to the International Criminal Court (ICC) on July 3. 2008 where he was immediately held in its detention center at The Hague. Before leaving he informed local reporters that these were false charges engineered by Joseph Kabila in order to discredit his good name and prevent him from serving as a politician in the DRC ever again.

Jean- Pierre Bemba Gombo  is a highly dangerous man and not just because of his crimes. It is his ambition that worries me most due to the fact that he has an unlimited supply of money at his disposal with which to buy his way in and out of any situation. My hope is that the ICC will sentence him to prison for a very long time and take his money away in the process. There is more than enough evidence on record to prove that the bulk of his wealth was amassed through illegal means and really belongs to the people of the DRC. And like I have warned many times in the past until the natural resources of the Congo are protected and regulated by an outside, impartial enforcement group such as the United Nations the lives of rural villagers in the east will never improve. Unfortunately, for every warlord and militia group arrested another man and his minions will come forward to take their place. There’s just too much money to be made not to take this chance.

Kat Nickerson                                                             Kingston,  Rhode Island, USA

Congo’s Conflict Gold: Now Who Controls the Gold Corridor?

13 Jan
http:// Africareview.com

http:// Africareview.com

As with any issue there are basic facts that need to be considered before the rest of the story makes any sense. So I shall start by posting the most crucial information first. According to a 2013 United Nations Report concerning “Conflict Gold” in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), “98% of all gold taken from mines in the DRC in 2013 was smuggled out of the Congo illegally and sold to gold traders in Uganda. The value of this gold has been estimated to have been between $313 million dollars (US) and $409 million dollars (US). Potential tax revenues collected by the government of the DRC would have been over $8 million dollars (US) had this gold been sold though legal channels. Could the many wars in the Congo as well as the diverse rebel groups living there be nothing more than a ruse used to cloud the real objective- the illegal removal of gold and minerals from the DRC by the countries which border it and the countries which profit by selling this gold on the international market?

On Thursday, December 12, 2013 a representative for M23 signed two documents agreeing to lay down their arms and fight no more while the government of the DRC promised to support the eleven points agreed upon by both parties in the newly- composed peace settlement. This meeting took place at the State House in Nairobi, Kenya arranged and brokered by Uhuru Kenyatta, President of Kenya while Yoweri Museveni, President of Uganda and Joyce Banda, President of Malawi looked on. At the conclusion of this eighteen month war many living in East and Central Africa felt that this truce continued to be an uneasy one. Only one month earlier to the day DRC’s government negotiators had refused to sign a cease-fire agreement with M23 in Kampala, Uganda because they objected to the title of the settlement agreement. Some of the major concessions in this pact: 1.) M23 will transform into a political party. This is nothing new; most of the political parties in the DRC today started out as militia groups. 2.) An exchange of prisoners on both sides. 3.) Resettlement of the 800,000 people displaced by the fighting. 4.) Establishment of a national committee charged with investigating claims and awarding damages related to the confiscation or destruction of property and/or goods during the war.5.) Reintegration of M23 troops into Congolese society.

Both sides agreed that “there would be no amnesty for those soldiers wanted for war crimes” but the specific terms of this condition is relatively unclear. Does this mean that all officers indicted by the International Criminal Court in the Hague, Netherlands for “Crimes against Humanity” will stand trial there or does President Joseph Kabila have something different in mind? Might the government of the DRC conduct its own “war” trials and if so, just how impartial would they be?

By November 2012, M23 appeared to have the better army as it had won most of its major engagements against the Congolese Army (FARDC). Eventually it fought its way into Goma; taking this, the capital city of North Kivu Province  located but a few miles from the border shared between the DRC and Rwanda. About this time civilians on both sides of the border began a running dialogue about the improved quality of M23’s weapons (unique AK-47 rifle barrels); the brand new uniforms and mud boots they had been issued; and especially the hats they wore which were identical to those worn by soldiers in the Rwandan army. In the opinion of many residents close to the fighting Rwanda had openly supported M23 from their side of the border going as far as to help plan the entire insurrection.

But by November 2013, M23 began to incur severe losses. Two possible reasons for this turn of events: 1.) the appearance of MONUSCO’s UN Intervention Brigade in the eastern Congo, a 3,000 member force composed of African soldiers from Tanzania, Malawi, and South Africa. This military arm of the UN has been charged with eliminating the armed rebel groups in the Great Lakes Region. Their knowledge of the region as well as the use of advanced technology when added to the original Congolese forces (FARDC) in the area helped them outmaneuver and outfight M23. 2.) It also appeared as if any monetary support as well as the weekly supply train of weapons, materials, and recruits donated by Rwanda suddenly ceased. Although Rwanda has always denied any involvement in the M23 revolt, government officials there may have become reluctant to continue supporting M23 once Britain, the United States then the UN Security Council began to openly question their level of participation in this war.

But it was also common knowledge that M23 also supported its war through funds raised by smuggling gold across the border into the neighboring countries of Kenya, Burundi, and Rwanda but especially Uganda. Word on the street was that M23 forged a lucrative arrangement with the government of Uganda then opened a special smuggling route that it used to move large amounts of gold into the capital city of Kampala right into to the hands of specific gold traders there. Almost any citizen of Uganda can tell you that his/her country removes some gold out of mines located near the border between Uganda and the DRC; but none of them produce enough gold to justify the immense amount traded in Ugandan markets then funneled into the United Arab Emirates (UAE) by shady gold dealers. From where did all of this gold originate?

In a November, 2012 a special report to The United Nations Security Council’s Sanctions Committee written by a “Group of Experts” stated that a major smuggling ring led by M23 officers moved conflict gold through the border town of Bunagana straight into the Kampala gold market. The town of Walikale was also named as another locale where the “gold corridor” operated in North Kivu Province.

And the more pressing question? Now that M23 has agreed to the conditions of this latest peace accord what rebel group will inherit its gold smuggling operations? Who out of the more than 30 other political militias operating in and around the border region along eastern Congo as of 2014- has the power and the contacts to make that happen? My money is on the new and improved ADF- NALU an organization created by the merger between the Allied Democratic Forces and the National Army for the Liberation of Uganda. ADF has recently changed its ideological objective from that of a small, grass-roots retaliatory group seeking to overthrow Musesveni’s government in Uganda to a more structured Islamist- governed Congolese organization with official ties to al- Shabaab. It’s not the same group it was even three years ago which made some Ugandan journalists doubt that it was ADF who launched the first attack on the settlement at Kamango on July 21st, 2013. Two attacks later- the final one coming on December 28th, 2013 and most reporters were convinced that ADF-NALU had been responsible for all three raids.

But what would induce the ADF to change its operational tactics as well as its political affiliation? It has always had close ties to Sudan’s Sunni Muslims (Tabliq) and still receives some monetary support from them. The old ADF would have never attacked the Congolese army save in self- defense. They have nowhere the resources of the Congolese army nor could they hold off an attack by armed military forces (FARDC) for long. So why risk the lives of their men? They are a small locally-based set of camps spread throughout Beni -Lubero territory with about 1,200 men at their disposal; although their numbers may have increased lately as they have been visited by members of other terrorist organizations who have conducted training sessions at their camps. Most of these rebels are no longer Ugandan citizens as before and this new generation of fighters has Congolese  Bandandi roots and relatives living in the local communities surrounding them. So it would be unusual for them to attack and kill Congolese civilians without a compelling motive. And why would they try to capture an entire town when they do not have the manpower to hold it for very long? What would they gain by provoking the Congolese army and alienating the very people with whom they conduct business every day?

When interviewed after the third Kamango attack in December, 2013 many of the residents there reported that “the armed men urged them to flee into Uganda”? Seems like the ADF wanted the people to vacate the premises immediately rather than secure the town for themselves and if so, why? This shall all be discussed at length in my next blog.

Kat Nickerson                                                    Kingston, Rhode Island                                                                                       January 12, 2014