Tag Archives: Uganda

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

14 Apr



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


The Business of Witchcraft: Child Sacrifice in East Africa

1 Jul
Children of Kitui , Kenya  KN- 2007

Children of Kitui , Kenya KN- 2007

According to Humane Africa in its January 2013 Report, Child Sacrifice and the Mutilation of Children in Uganda, cases of child sacrifice are on the rise and at least one child dies every week as a result of a ritualistic murder. The Lively Minds Initiative, a group working in the schools to combat this heinous crime, defines child sacrifice as “the killing, mutilation, or removal of body parts from a child for the purpose of witchcraft, ritual practices or sale”. In 2011 alone Humane Africa estimated that upwards of 9,000 children had gone missing between 2007 and 2012.

But before I begin to explain this deplorable practice two things have to be made clear: 1.) child sacrifice is not a new ritual in East and Central Africa but has been practiced in these regions for centuries and 2.) there is a systemic belief throughout Africa regardless of tribe or country that blood- letting and the acquisition of certain human and animal body parts brings great prosperity.

Many tribes still engage in traditional initiations that require them to shed blood as well as collect body parts. Read the following excerpt from Xinhua, English.news.cn then tell me what year you think this article was published?
“Two Killed, Dozens Wounded at Ritual Killing at Kenya-Ethiopian Border”

Ethiopian warriors killed two Kenyans and wounded 14 others on Wednesday night in a ritual killing barely a fortnight after deadly clashes between Merrile and Turkana tribesmen killed dozens others along the common frontier.

Survivors and officials said on Thursday that hundreds of Merrile youths aged between 13 and 18 are queued for a circumcision ritual between this month and August and cultural dictates that they exhibit braveness by killing an enemy before being circumcised.

Once they kill, they chop off private parts and other organs of their victims, including ears, noses and toes, which they carry away and present as a sign of bravery.

And on Wednesday night, Merrile initiates from Namurupus area, Southern Zone travelled over 40 km inside Kenya and indiscriminately fired at a dancing crowd during Wednesday night attack at Kokuro village.”

This event occurred not one hundred years ago or even twenty- five years ago but a mere four years ago on June 18, 2009. “The desire for blood-letting has never left the East African male” a dear Kenyan colleague, who I emailed about this matter, reminds me, “ and all East Africans, despite their ivy-league diplomas and fancy suits, are absolutely convinced, without a shadow of a doubt, that juju (black magic) exists all around them.”

Placide Tempels, the Franciscan missionary famous for his book Bantu Philosophy states in his study of the African psyche “every misfortune that an African encounters is attributed to an outside force that has acted upon the individual.  So things like illness or misfortune are a direct result of another more powerful entity having a greater hold on the person than his/her own life force. Death does not alter the personality or end the present life of the individual only changes its condition so the dead are able to actively participate in the life of the present community and continue to communicate with the living in the form of ancestors or wandering ghosts.”

The Kenyan religious philospher, John Mbiti wrote that “the belief in the continuation of life after death for African peoples does not constitute a hope for a future and better life. To live here and now is the most important concern of African religious activities and beliefs. Even a life in the hereafter is conceived in materialistic and physical terms. There is neither paradise to be hoped for nor hell to be feared in the hereafter” (Mbiti 1969, pp. 4–5).

According to traditional lore in Congolese kindoki (witchcraft) a witch can live in two separate worlds simultaneously the visible one and the invisible one called the’ second’ world. Life in the second world mirrors what takes place in the first but is all about the acquisition of power and the conquest of others in order to do the witch’s bidding.

And although the practice of Voodoo or ‘Voudon’ originated in West and Central Africa and has been closely linked to the slave trade in this region beginning in the fifteenth century strong beliefs in witchcraft or sorcery as it is called in the French-speaking nations has always dominated East African cultural and social beliefs. Kenyan’s magical lore involves ‘muti’ the use of spells and charms to help a person achieve their goals so in Kiswahili the word for witchcraft is kamuti. And the person who has been trained to negotiate with the spirit or second world is called a m’ganga (witchdoctor) or wa’ganga ( witch doctors).

I clearly remember walking by a ithembo (spirit shrine) one Sunday afternoon in Kitui before the group I was with understood what they had done. There were five Kenyans, all college-educated professionals and one medical doctor with me that day and. every one of them was petrified that we had insulted the spirits and therefore would bring bad juju down on us. They were so concerned that no one moved until we stopped and discussed the matter then agreed to a solution. We eventually decided to leave about twenty-five dollars in Kenyan shillings near the site with a message taped to it that stated, “This money belongs to the spirits dwelling in the ithembo and no one else.” Only then could the members of the group walk on .

I also remember while living with the Kamba in Kitui sitting around the campfire at night listening to their tales about the most powerful witches who they said lived in the mountains we could see from the back of our guest house. The members of the Kamba tribe,( Wakamba) are rather famous among the rest of Kenya’s tribes for their use of magic and spells and were known to sacrifice children to their gods a century ago in order to bring the rain. No man or woman, native or mzungu ever openly scoffed about juju or witchcraft in my presence while I lived in Kitui- kamuti was considered as much a part of their lives as the act of breathing or eating.

So why the emergence in child sacrifices in East Africa beginning around 2007? If one looks at the Ugandan and the Kenyan GDP during this time the killings began just when Uganda and Kenya’s economies began to dramatically improve for the better. Businessmen located in Kampala and Nairobi became wealthy in a few short years and their stores prospered. Middle class Ugandans and Kenyans suddenly grew rich and able to purchase homes in the better parts of town. A new class of merchant was born – one who had not been born rich but had made his money through hard work and shrewd business acumen. But as quickly as the economy flourished by 2009 it started to take a sharp turn for the worse. In Kenya, where the unemployment rate was around 12% in 2006 by 2012 it had steadily increased to 40%. (United Nations Development, 2013) And in Uganda where it was 1.90 % in 2007-2008 , it rose to 4.20% from 2010-2012. The nouveau riche in Kampala and Nairobi began to feel desperate convinced that their current good fortune could leave them  unless they thought of a way to keep it with them.

“And this was about the time a group of unscrupulous witch doctors began to recognize the fear and desperation in their clients’ voices and started to resurrect the old ritual of child sacrifice in order to vanquish their clients’ fears and at the same time profit handsomely from these deals”. According to the information passed along to me by a well- informed friend living in Kampala. “It was a time when a very resourceful network of criminals saw a way to make a quick buck at the expense of children”.

According to an Apr. 24, 2009 ChristianWeek.org article there are about 160,000 traditional healers practicing in Uganda. 100 times the licensed medical doctors working in the country and according to a local news poll 4 out of 5 Ugandans have admitted to consulting with traditional healers. Most of these healers are moral, dedicated individuals who would never condone or take part in child sacrifices. No, these murderous wa’ganga were a new breed of assassins altogether; most of them were men, some of them were women and all of them were willing to murder children for a price.

These wa’ganga were scam-artists at best and in no way connected to the more reputable healers serving the people in both countries. Most of these men (and a few women) had received little to no training about the spirit world and invented their rituals on stories they had heard as children while a few others had been incompetent healers at best. All of them were violent criminals more dangerous because of the guns and the poison they used than the spells they claimed to cast. They had no problem condoning the  murder of  innocent children and asking for certain body parts. They managed to engineer a profitable scheme based upon an ancient practice and began charging exorbitant sums of money to arrange these child sacrifices  to ensure wealth, health, and prosperity for their clients. To a man they preached that slaughtering a child pleased the spirits more than anything else ensuring the individual the greatest good fortune.

Some local healers began informing authorities that many of these ‘evil’ witch doctors had entered Uganda and Kenya from Tanzania after the government there cracked down on human sacrificing and on the sale of human skin in 2008. Albinos were especially being targeted across Tanzania because their body parts were said to be especially potent when used in protection rituals. Wherever they originated from, the child- murderers emerged advertising their services on radio, internet, and signs posted on roadways and bragging about their ability to heal and perform spiritual services for those able to pay their fees.

In doing so, these men discovered a valuable, new commodity- a surplus of vulnerable children. And there was an ever- plentiful supply. According to the (United Nations Development Program 2013) 80% of all Kenyans are less than 35 years of age and 77% of all Ugandans are less than 30 years of age. Many of these children were neither loved nor wanted and already placed a considerable burden on their families to cloth and feed. They were easy to trick, abduct, and subdue. Many of them were so hungry that they would go with anyone who offered them food to eat. Plus they were worth hundreds of dollars apiece to the right buyer.

And so the trade in child sacrifices was established and quickly became a lucrative business endeavor. The m’ganga’s message was a simple one- when you offer blood or body parts from a living child to the spirits, they will acknowledge this great sacrifice by granting you continuous wealth, health, and prosperity. Children’s body parts were also used as good luck charms and when buried under a new house or store secured lasting good luck for the owner. Or blood and body parts could be left as an offering at an ithembo on the altar directly in front of a spirit tree, (an old tree where the spirits are known to dwell).

The goal is to find an unmarked child who has no piercings or marks on his/her body- the purer the child the more money charged and the more effective his/her blood and body parts during the ritual. Securing a child can be done in two ways: by stealing the child or by purchasing the child. Parents in rural areas near big cities have  been more than willing to sell off their children for a price and have also been known to kill their own children in similar rituals in order to guarantee continuing prosperity for themselves and their business endeavors. Boys are more valued for their heads, genitals, and blood and girls for their blood, heart, and liver.

In 2008 the Ugandan police reported that ritual murders had increased over 800% from the year before and that children were the victims, most disappearing from rural villages located near the capital city of Kampala. By May, 2009, the US State Department had declared Uganda a ‘ hub’ for human trafficking because of the spike in the number of children reported missing. Uganda was embarrassed by the United Nations into creating Uganda’s Anti- Human Sacrifice Taskforce. Backed by the Uganda Witchcraft Act of 1957 the policemen assigned to this taskforce have been charged with collecting the evidence needed to bring the evil wa’ganga to justice but they have yet to show that they are up to the task. Complaints of corruption and bribery within the ranks of the taskforce have hurt its image considerably and Ugandan families who have lost children are not confident that these men have either the skills or the commitment necessary to locate their missing sons and daughters. According to their own records from 2006-2010 of the 138 cases relating in some way to human sacrifice the taskforce brought 83 to trial in a court of law and only one person was convicted as a result.

How can adults  treat children as livestock, willing to  engage in selling them – even murdering them?   But even as I ask myself this question  I know differently. Young children and old people are the first to die whenever the primary group’s survival has been threatened by war or natural disaster. Dire poverty makes people do desperate things and as countries like the United States and European Union begin to recover from the downturn in the economy remember that the residents of third world countries have been hit that much harder. When there are no jobs available the cleverest among us invent our own and as the pool of accessible commodities shrink we get real inventive and consider more  novel ways to earn money using those things that were previously considered illegal or taboo. In many developed nations there are people who go to bed hungry at night but have access to centers, shelters, and other ways to secure food the very next day. Go to bed hungry in a hut in rural Tanzania because your crops have failed to grow and you and your entire family could be dead by the end of the week. This type of desperation makes monsters of average people who will do anything in order to survive – the jackals, we call them.

It is easy  to choose  morality on a full stomach but would any of us act differently if we faced a similar lack of resources and death loomed that much closer each and every day? Think about it.

Kat Nickerson                                           Kingston  Rhode Island       USA

State of the DR Congo: Part Two

14 Jan

JB Pres

Joseph Kabila, Current President ot the DR Congo ASCN Press.com

The Lusaka Peace Accord, the document that officially ended the Second War in the Congo, was signed by representatives of the warring countries on July 10, 1999. In reality, fighting among respective militias and rebel groups would continue on for years and many claim that this war has never ended and continues on into the Twenty-first century. The first country to sign the agreement was the DR Congo, the aggrieved victim in this invasion by Uganda and Rwanda. Then Angola, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe who had helped Laurent Kabila oust the previous dictator Mobutu and rise to the Presidency of the DR Congo. Lastly, Rwanda and Uganda signed, both of whom were the aggressors in this war with help from Burundi but that country had not been required to sign the document.

It took longer for the rebel militias to make it to the table because of the number of signers (around 50 for the RCD) and the internal disputes that had to be resolved among the different factions prior to their arrival in Lusaka, Zambia. Finally the Uganda -supported rebel militia, the MLC (Movement de Liberation) signed the accord on August 1, 2009 and the Rwanda-sponsored RCD (Rally for Congolese Democracy) was the last to sign but did so, on August 31, 2009. Terms of the Accord stipulated that all military operations related to the war cease immediately, that all prisoners of war be returned to their respective armies and militias unharmed, and that a UN peacekeeping force would be assigned to the Northeastern region of the DR Congo to assure that the terms of this agreement were carried out in a timely and efficient manner.

There were other agreements that the rebels swore had been approved in the document but these would not be implemented and  would be some of the grievances raised by the M23 rebels in their recent April 2012 rebellion in Kivu District.

A year later by August of 2000, President Laurent Kabila would publically state that he had no intention of honoring the terms of the Peace Accord because he felt that the DR Congo had not been treated as a sovereign nation in the peace talks and should have been the only nation involved in negotiating with Uganda and Rwanda. Furthermore, he had gone on to implement a transitional parliament without any input from other political parties around the country causing more unrest and disenchantment with his presidency among his citizens.

 Laurent Kabila had had to mortgage his country’s resources to pay for the military and financial assistance he had received during the First and the Second War in the Congo.  As a result of their support, he had signed over licenses for copper/cobalt and diamonds in the DR Congo to Namibia and Zimbabwe and Angola was allowed to create a subsidiary oil company, Sonangol-Congo there as well. Angola’s military was also allowed to enter the DR Congo to search out and destroy UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola) the rebel group that continuously threatened the current Angolan administration with revolution.

But Kabila had played both sides of the fence when using Angola. Apparently he was also receiving large sums of money from the UNITA rebels and had been doing so since his ‘March to Kinshasa’. Once he had established himself in power he charged UNITA exorbitant fees to operate a $200 million dollar (US) a year diamond exchange managed in the local markets by a family of Lebanese diamond merchants. Little did he know that his tenure as president of the DR Congo had almost come to an end.

By the evening of January 16, 2001 Laurent Desire Kabila was dead, assassinated in his presidential office by one of his personal guards – himself a child soldier who had fought with Kabila during the revolution to liberate the DR Congo. According to the official transcript, the president was speaking with his economic adviser when his bodyguard Rashidi Kasereka entered his office and bent down seemingly to talk to the president. Instead Kasereka  took out his pistol and fired several shots into Kabila’s head.  Then he tried to escape but was shot and killed dead outside of the office by either the head of palace security or another bodyguard.

A long, tedious legal trial ensued and hundreds of soldiers, administrators and women related to the supposed assassins either received the death penalty or were sentenced to life in prison. The official version read at the trial identified Kasereka as one member of a plot by kadogo (child soldiers) to assassinate Kabila because he had had their leader, Anselme Masasu executed but many other theories circulated around Kinshasa as well. Eddy Kapendi swore that Kasereka at the time of his death was carrying a card from the US embassy on him signed by the military attaché in residence there and the words: “Should there be a problem, call this number” written on the back. The presence of this card on Kasereka’s body was also confirmed by the Minister of Justice. Few people in the DR Congo believed that the men and women convicted as a result of the trial were guilty but all official attempts to have their sentences commuted have fallen on deaf ears and the late President’s son has refused to rescind any the prisoners’ harsh sentences.

Even before the funeral began several respected Congolese politicians and reporters openly accused Rwanda of masterminding the plot in which Laurent Kabila was assassinated.  The driver of the get-away car, an admitted participant in the plot, managed to escape during the night of Kabila’s death along with a Lebanese businessman. They both immediately fled to Rwanda. Once there, they were given asylum, protected by armed guards, and allowed to settle there. Eventually both of them were offered positions in politics and business arranged by officials in the Rwandan government.

And new testimonies accusing Paul Kagame have also surfaced since then.  In March 2012, in a meeting of Rwandan  political organizations in Brussels, Theogene Rudasingwa, the former Rwandan Chief of Staff for Paul Kagame, stated that Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda«  was the primary instigator of the death of Laurent Desire Kabila, President of the DR Congo. »

A month after that, Gerard Gahima, the former Prosecutor General of Rwanda andone of the  founding members of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), without directly accusing Paul Kagame said, « the strongman of Rwanda wanted at any price to get rid of Kabila, a President he had put in power a year earlier. »

A young Joseph Kabila was named President of The DR Congo on January 26, 2001- one day after the murder of his father, Laurent-Désiré Kabila. At thirty years of age, he  was an inexperienced leader yet it was his responsibility to negotiate a peace agreement with the same rebel groups that had helped his father overthrow the dictator in Kinshasa three years earlier. On April 19, 2002 some of the participants in the Second War in the Congo signed the final Peace Agreement at Sun City, South Africa.  Under the terms of the agreement Joseph Kabila was to remain President and head of state of the DR Congo during his 18 month interim administration but four vice presidents would help him lead the country. Two of those vice presidents would be selected from each of the country’s largest rebel militias ( Jean- Pierre Bemba from the MLC and Azarias Ruberwa from the RCD) and two other vice-presidents would represent the civilian opposition and the present government. Former members of the MLC and RCD would be assimilated into positions within the government ministries, the Congolese Army, and the police force.

The document also provided a chronology that would be used to ensure that the DR Congo established a constitution, a multi-party government, and a time schedule for conducting free elections around the country. Although the peace agreement was successful in reducing the size of the conflicts- it did not end them.

 While an elected parliament continued to revamp the constitution, the real power remained with Joseph Kabila as president of the country. The constitutional amendments describing the conditions and the calendar for presidential elections as well the decentralization of the government’s power into 27 separate administrative provinces has yet to be fullyrealized in the manner in which these were originally stipulated in the document.

The fragile government of Joseph Kabila continued to be challenged. On March 28, 2003, the army was required to subdue angry mobs in Kinshasa organized by followers of the dictator and former President of DR Congo Sese Seko Mobutu. And on June 11, 2004, a group of soldiers, supporters of the dead Mobutu’s policies and led by Major Eric Lenge, attempted a military coup and takeover of the government in Kinshasa but were defeated by regulars in the Congolese Army.

In December 2005, amendments to the new constitution were ratified and by June 2006 Joseph Kabila was required to run for re-election as stipulated in the new constitution. In March 2006, Joseph Kabila registered as a candidate for President of the DR Congo. Although Kabila registered as an independent, he was one of the founding members of the People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy ( PPRD) which chose him as their candidate for this election. Although the new constitution stipulated that a debate must be held between the two remaining candidates these debates never took place causing some constituents to declare that the 2006 election was unconstitutional

 Elections that included multi-party candidates took place on July 30, 2006. They were the first free elections in DR Congo since 1960. The field of presidential hopefuls was enormous, over 33 individual candidates ran on the ticket. In the first election Joseph Kabila received 44.8 % of the vote while Jean- Pierre Bemba, Leader of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) the very same rebel leader who fought against Kabila in the Second War in the Congo came in second place receiving 20%  of the vote. After the second election was held between the two candidates with the largest totals on October 9, 2006 Kabila received 58% and Bemba 42% of the vote. Bemba immediatelyclaimed that many votes for Kabila had been fraudulently cast and pledged that he would contest the results. Bemba was responsible for instigating several violent riots in Kinshasa and in the northeast region of the country after the post-election results had been approved by the electoral commission but Joseph Kabila had finally been officially elected President of the DR Congo. More will follow.

Kat Nickerson             Kingston.  RI                   USA


Conflict Minerals Primer: The Reality of the Northeastern DR Congo

23 Sep

The Democratic Republic of the Congo has a vast resource of minerals under its mountainous terrain that presently brings in large sums of money in the millions of dollars so much so that individuals, companies, and countries have risked everything to enter the DR Congo legally and illegally in order to mine out these materials and sell them on the world market.Vastfortunes can be made in a very short time if the labor is cheap, the mine is accessible, and the travel routes in and out have been secured. Precious materials such as Cassiterite, Wolframite, Coltan, and Gold, are all found within the ground in the northeastern section of the country. They are used in the manufacture of a variety of popular electronic devices that are highly sort after in the world markets such as I-Phones and Androids, laptops, and MP3 players

Kivu District of northeast DR Congo is also the region where open warfare between several factions is currently taking place leaving this region highly unstable and its residents tremendously vulnerable. The most brutal exploiter of the local population is the entire Congolese National Army from Generals to foot soldiers who operate hundreds of mines unchallenged in Kivu District alone and man them by forcing the local residents to work for them. They make up the largest number of illegal groups currently operating in the area and are known for their open exploitation of workers through their use of rape, torture, and murder to subdue their mine laborers. A recent study by IPIS indicates that armed groups are present at more than 50% of mining sites. At many sites, armed groups of soldiers illegally tax, extort, and coerce civilians to work for them. Miners, including children, work 48-hour shifts in dangerous conditions such as mudslides and tunnel collapses and thousands of workers have already died from what is referred to by the Congolese soldiers as “ mine incidents.”

Then there are the rebel groups including the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). These are the Hutu extremists who led the Rwandan Genocide in 1984. They are still entrenched in the mountains of Kivu District and have even established a stronghold in The Virunga National Forest which they have occupied for some time now. It is time that they were hunted down and eradiated by the Congolese Government but they have managed to survive quite well and also use forced local labor to maintain their own mines and sell their ore through middle men located in Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi. Although the government likes to claim that they have seriously curtailed the FDLR’s mining operations, they still remain a formidable force in the area. Koni and his Liberation Army spend time in the region of the DRCongo too and while camped out there operate mines through enforced local labor and manage quite well on their profits. All of the rebel groups use their proceeds to replenish their weaponry and ammunition through black market arms dealers.

Rumors abound that both the countries of Rwanda and Uganda still operate private mines located throughout the foot hills of the Ruwenzoru Mountains, far away from prying eyes. The idea of stealing the DR Congo’s natural resources by other countries originated during the First and Second Wars in the Congo. The countries of  Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi invaded the DR Congo and while they were at it opened mining operations as well in remote areas on the eastern regions of the Congo that bordered their specific countries. The Congolese government had not the forces, the resources, or the time to stop them. They were finally embarrassed by the United Nations into claiming that they had stopped but local residents of Kivu district will swear to you that these mines still exist today and that their mining operations were never shut down. At one point near the end of the Second War in the Congo it was documented by MONUSCO, the UN mission in eastern DR Congo, that agents from Rwanda went as far as to sell mineral rights located in the DR Congo to private companies located in Europe. It is common knowledge throughout Kivu District that these three governments continue to smuggle resources out of the DR Congo to this day.

Before the reason for this crisis can be properly understood it is imperative that the reader have some idea of the vast size and geographic diversity within this country in order to understand the reasons for its almost non-existent infrastructure.  The Democratic Republic of the Congo covers roughly 905,063 square miles. That makes it about the same size in area as the United States of America from the Mississippi River to the East Coast and according to BBC News is the 12th largest country in the world. It contains many distinct regions, each with its own climate and geological formations. The central area if covered by tropical rain forests and rivers, surrounded by mountains in the west, that merge into savannahs and plains in the south and southwest , and grasslands in the north. On its northeastern and eastern border the Ruwenzoru Mountain Range stands majestic and tall. It contains the Albertine Rift Mountain Forest which is home to the last of the Mountain Gorilla and which still contains active volcanoes. It is the northeastern area where the majority of the mineral resources have been found.

The Equator plays a major role in its climate and dry versus wet months are all determined by a district’s position from this line. In regions that lie South of the Equator, the rainy season lasts from October to May but in places north of the Equator, from April to November, the exact opposite. On the Equator, rainfall occurs quite regularly throughout the 12 month year. It rains   a great deal in the central basin especially and  average rainfall for the entire country is about 42 inches per year.

Moving around from one place to another by land in the DR Congo has always been precarious at best. The mountains of the north and west as well as the dangerous terrain and wet climate found in Central Congo Basin has impeded the buildings of cross –country highways and railroad tracks. This country has yet to be unified through roadways in any way and to do so would take many years and billions of dollars to cover the existing area. For years the citizens of the Congo used their rivers to move from place to place and continue to use them to this day. Traditionally water transport is the dominant means of travel in the Congo for two-thirds of its population.  Due to the poor road conditions use of small transport planes referred to as “Bush Planes” fly men of means and status where they need to go in Central and East Africa. Travel by car and bus is discouraged by foreigners in the DR Congo and for good reason. Roads are not paved or only small sections of each road has been paved and are not subject to regular maintenance. Even then hundreds of large, deep holes which can ruin an automobile tire, cover individual roads making all cars travel at a snail’s pace. During the rainy season even adequate roads will deteriorate and sections crack open especially the pavement on bridges built over the rivers. The National Highway II which connects the city of Brazzaville to Pointe Noire is one of the country’s best functioning highways but still remains largely unpaved and sections of it are often impassable during the rainy season.

Unleaded gasoline and diesel fuel are frequently unavailable in the major cities and may be non-existent in the more rural regions of the country. There may be no predetermined price for gasoline with foreigners paying double, even triple the cost for which it’s sold to the residents of the area. There are few road signs directing the traveler in what direction to continue and either police or Congolese soldiers will conduct routine check-points along the way which they will extort money from both residents and non-residents alike before cars are allowed to pass by their gates.  Only four- wheel vehicles and trucks are recommended for use on these roads especially during the rainy season.

The Congolese government even if it was willing to regulate the mines in northeastern districts cannot supervisee what it cannot get to and so thousands of small mines dot the mountainous landscape from the northeast corner all the way down the eastern border of the DR Congo. But it is common knowledge that many members of the Congolese National Army instead of doing their assigned jobs help themselves to the mineral wealth found in the northeastern districts instead. And that this practice is so pervasive that no one in the Kabila government is aware of it or is disturbed by their actions in the slightest? If this is true, all of the forced regulations from the rest of the world will not change the present conditions until Kabila’s government in Kinshasa has effectively found a way to oversee the movements of his troops in the east.

The primitive conditions of Congolese roads keeps the rural towns and even the more populated cities isolated from one another and the feeling of being connected to the DR Congo as a citizen has not yet occurred. People tend to stay in the villages in which they were born or settle close to this area unless fate intervenes and forces them to move somewhere else. When asked who they are, villagers will begin by telling you the name of the tribe to which they belong, then the town or city in which they reside. They will not refer to themselves as Congolese citizens unless prompted by questions to respond and even then, many of them have no idea how to define themselves in a broader way.

In April 2009, Sam Brownback, a Republican Senator from Kansas introduced the Congo Conflict Minerals Act of 2009 (S. 819). This act would require all electronics companies to verify and disclose their sources of Cassiterite, Wolframite, and Tantalum. His legislation died in committee but Brownback did not quit and added similar language as Section 1502 of the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act which eventually passed Congress and was signed into law by President Obama on July 21, 2010.

“On August 22, 2012 The Securities and Exchange Commission adopted a rule mandated by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act which will require companies to publicly disclose their use of conflict minerals that originated in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) or an neighboring country.

The regulatory reform law has directed the Commission to issue rules requiring certain companies to disclose their use of conflict minerals that include tantalum, tin, gold, or tungsten if those minerals are “necessary to the functionality or production of a product” manufactured by those companies. Companies are required to provide this disclosure on a new form to be filed with the SEC called Form SD.”

California is the first state in the United States to pass its own Conflict Minerals legislation. Their legislation follows Section 1502 of the national legislation, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 and aims at regulating the problem of conflict minerals originating from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and purchased by California- based companies especially those located in Silicon Valley.

The Dodd- Frank Act is not the first legislation to try and supervise the mining and export of conflict minerals in the northeastern DR Congo.  The government of the DR Congo has released its own mining regulations which are suppose to guard against illegal exploitation of all mineral resources and establish a certification program that would be regulated by the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR).  There are also OECD, (European Union) and the UN sanctions in place against private and public companies that purchase conflict minerals or operate illegal mines in the Congo. MONUSCO working out of the city of Goma has begun to establishing plan for the construction of checking stations within the eastern districts to supervise the trading of these minerals.

This may sound like there are effective plans in place to stem this crisis but none of them will work successfully unless the fighting stops and the rebel groups in this region are removed.  The Congolese government has to find a way to monitor the movement of its troops in these districts, curtail their illegal mines and the enslavement of the local villagers. There must be plan to gain access to these mines in order to ensure that the operations are legal so new roads and trails will have to be cut through the mountainous terrain in order to gain quick access to the sites. And all government, United Nation agencies, and NGO’s will have to work closely together to protect those local people whose livelihoods will be affected by the closing of these mines.

In my next blog post I will talk about the choices the Congolese government must make and M23’s position in all of this. Please view this film clip if you want to get an idea of the brutal conditions the villagers face each and every day. This is an older film but one that tells and shows waht the workers face like no other film I’ve ever seen about illegal mining and forced labor.


This film gives you a thorough idea of what is happening.


Kat Nickerson                    Kingston, RI           USA

Do M23 Rebels March Towards Kinshasa? : Are They the Good Guys?

12 Sep

Sept. 11, 2012

A tentative ceasefire between M23 and the Congolese Army has existed for four weeks now but the fighting is not over. No agreement has been reached between Joseph Kabila’s government and the M23 rebels.

Yet contrary to what Kabila’s government predicted in May, 2012 the M23 troops have not been defeated. It has been four months of continuous skirmishes for theM23 rebels in North Kivu District and they have shown themselves to be brave warriors- proven themselves to be superior fighters much more so than the far more numerous and better equipped Congolese army. This July, their leader, Sultani Makenga vowed that they would slowly advance towards Kinshasa and topple Joseph Kabila’s government there within the next 60 days. By August M23 had taken over the Northern Kivu town of Rubare near Rutshuru, and had come within 30 miles of the city of Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu where the United Nations Mission in North-eastern Congo is located. Accurate reports have surfaced that the M23 rebels control the main road and are extorting money out of all truck drivers bringing food into the city and that their outrageous taxes are being passed on to the consumers by the retailers in Goma making food a very expensive commodity to purchase in the city.

The Afro-America Network, a blog which discusses events in the Great Lakes District reported in July that the order to march on Kinshasa was given on June 30th in a meeting attended by M23 leaders, ex-CNDP Commander, Gen. Laurent Nkunda, and top military leaders from Rwanda. They have also stated that 3,000 more Rwandan troops have crossed the border into the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) bringing the total to 5,000 Rwandan troops ready to support the M23 forces as they move forward? Is this true?

But these newest accusations are highly unlikely and seem to be the government’s way of maligning  M23’s image. According to a report published this week, Sept. 11, 2012 by The Human Rights Watch ( HRW), M23 has been charged with taking part in war crimes in north-eastern Congo, such as executions and the whole scale rape of women. The report also charged that M23 had forcibly conscripted at least 137 youth and killed at least 33 young men and boys who tried to escape from their camps. War is a messy business at best and maybe there are individual soldiers in M23 who have taken it upon themselves to commit these horrendous acts but they were not ordered by their senior officers to do so. According to my sources around Goma the members of The Human Rights Watch who produced this report were deliberately misled by government- financed informants. The HRW were fed a pack of lies by people paid by the Congolese government to discredit M23. It makes me highly suspicious that after five months of waging one of the cleaner campaigns in the district compared to the whole-sale slaughter perpetrated by a host of Mai- Mai militias currently operating in the area and the remaining Hutu guerrillas (FDLR) entrenched in northeast DR Congo and responsible for the genocide of the Tutsis in Rwanda; the M23 forces would suddenly dismiss their ideals, change their operational policies, and become just like the soldiers in the Congolese Army they were fighting against. Now there is a group that could be charged with a long list of crimes against humanity any day of the week.

And just where was Human Rights Watch when reporters from the BBC traveled into the forced labor mines operated by soldiers in the Congolese army( See June 23 Blog, M23 Movement: Will Ntaganda Elude Punishment?) where the workers regularly die from the lack of safe conditions and proper sanitation while down in the mines digging up Coltran. How come there was no report written about that? And what about the return of the Mai- Mai militias especially the Raia Mutomboki which has reared its ugly head in Kivu District? Aren’t they responsible for committing war crimes as well? Why have the M23 rebels been singled out and labeled as monsters? And how can we be sure that these atrocities were not deliberately committed by Congolese soldiers posing as M23 troops in the first place?

I and several of my colleagues have reason to believe that this is another government ploy to discredit the M23 movement. President Kabila has not been able to subdue these men through combat so now has taken a different route and has chosen to malign their character around the world. He has even convinced a, not too savvy, Human Rights Group to help him in this endeavor. In a place as poor as Kivu district even one US dollar buys a lot of lies from a desperate person. The truth is a very selective thing in war-ravished areas and people will say whatever they must in order to survive.

Everyone in the area knows that Col. Sultani Makenga, the M23 leader runs a very tight unit and that his men have been hand-selected and are very committed to their cause. They fight for a reason known by all and he has strongly denied these allegations. Col. Vianney Kazarama, the M23 spokesman, was reached by Aljazeera the only news agency that actually visited the area in which the fighting took place and posted impartial reports of  M23’s position.  “We invite everyone to come investigate on the ground and see the truth. These are false accusations and we regret that Human Rights Watch publishes false reports.”

The M23 rebellion began in April when these soldiers defected from the regular Congolese army at the same time General Bosco Ntaganda, the true criminal, left with his own men. Ntganda is wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity committed during the Second War in DR Congo. Let it be understood again that the M23 movement has in no way aligned itself to General Bosco Ntaganda contrary to what the government in Kinshasa wants us to believe.

The M23 rebels do not fight for or with Bosco Ntaganda and the government knows this well because according to my sources, the government is hiding Bosco Ntaganda even though they have publically stated that that they intend to arrest him. They have claimed this for several months now and nothing has happened maybe because everyone knows that Ntaganda is hiding out at his farm waiting for orders from the President. And why hasn’t the Human Rights Watch filed a complaint about that with the United Nations?

It is a dangerous game that the government now plays and they know it. But what I don’t understand is how the UN officials in Goma can be so widely off the mark on just about everything that’s happening in North Kivu District. Why do they keep backing the wrong side?

Here is where the government has deliberately released confusing reports about the truth of the matter. What the government does not want brought to light is that the M23 rebels were all past members of the Tutsi army, The National Congress for the Defense of the People, (CNDP) of which Ntaganda was a military leader during the Second War in the Congo. As part of the conditions of the 2009 peace accord, these CNDP soldiers were brought into the Congolese army- no questions asked and Ntaganda, also a Tutsi was made a general.  These soldiers have  continued to identify with their Tutsi heritage and have dearly suffered for it. They have faced severe discrimination in their assignments as Congolese soldiers in northern Kivu district. They have been laughed at, even spit on by the villagers of other tribes when performing their duties and these same villagers refuse to carry out their orders. This hatred of Tutsis exists within the Congolese Army as well and has been condoned by the Kabila government in Kinshasa. Tutsi soldiers do not advance within the ranks as quickly as soldiers from other tribes. Tutsis face condemnation even death at the hands of vigilante mobs and Mai- Mai militia for no reason at all. Although many Tutsi are legal citizens of the Congo they are hated by the other tribes in the area and considered foreigners. Most Tutsi families live in fear that they will either be hunted down and killed by the Hutu Interharmwe (Hutu guerillas) hiding out in the Kivus or by their own neighbors who live right next door. This is one issue that M23 intends to rectify. They fight to call the government’s attention to the plight of the Tutsi all over the DR Congo but especially in north and south Kivu Districts.

At the beginning of August Joseph Kabila swore that there would be no negotiations with the M23 rebels and that they would be eradicated from Kivu District. But was that the case? At the  the end of August The Observer reported that a small group of M23 officers had been invited to Kampala, Uganda to enter into an important meeting with President Museveni and that the meeting had actually taken place. Although details of the meeting are still not known, Museveni was said to have called on the M23 leaders to agree to a ceasefire and enter into formal peace negotiations.

Then leaders from 11 nations in the Central and East Africa region, including the DR Congo and Rwanda  met in the Ugandan capital of Kampala on August 5th to discuss the formation of a neutral force composed of soldiers from several of those countries that would regulate the Great Lakes Region as well as establish an international committee of defense ministers whose charge would be to devise a solution to the escalating conflict in the north-eastern DR Congo, specifcally the Great Lakes District by the end of the week.

More than 250,000 people have been displaced from their homes by this ongoing conflict but most are Tutsi who have left their homes to avoid the local Mai-Mai miltia and FDLR ( Hutu guerillas ) in the north east- Kivu. UN refugee workers have interviewed Tutsi families staying in the camps in both Rwanda and Uganda and many have no intention of returning to their old villages because of the violence they have been subjected to by their neighbors. Now why doesn’t The Human Rights Watch report about that?

As I have warned before in several of my previous blogs postings, there has been a great deal of ethnic violence in this area for some time now, most of it against Tutsis, and it could escalate to genocide if the villagers are left alone. This is what the M23 has been fighting for: to find a way to stop the ethnic discrimination and protect the Tutsi communities in North Kivu. Hopefully this international committee of defense ministers will think of a way to bring together all of these warring tribes and stem the murders of innocent people. The M23 soldiers fight for this as well.

What is true and what is staged is hard to know for sure at this point in time but based on what I know is going on in this region at the moment it looks like the  M23 troops may just be the good guys in all of this tumoil and the only ones who are truly looking out for the people.

Kat Nickerson                 Kingston.          RI          USA

Ebola Appears in Western Uganda: Disastrous Repercussions for East Africa

6 Aug

Does this picture look like we shouldn’t worry WHO?

Yes the Ebola virus has appeared again in Uganda and has been credited with killing 16 Ugandans out of an infected group of 36 since the end of July 2012. There is no vaccine or cure for the Ebola Hemorrhagic Virus  and the recommended course of medical treatment is a combination of intravenous or oral re-hydration solutions, blood infusions, and when all else fails, life-support machines. It is a documented fact that humans have become infected with the Ebola virus after handling dead primates such as gorillas, chimpanzees and duikers.

Ebola is not new to Uganda, or The Democratic Republic of the Congo, or South Sudan. According to The World Health Organization (WHO, 2012) there have been 1,850 reported cases of Ebola since it was first detected in the in Sudan, near the border of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), between June and November of 1976. A second outbreak occurred there 3 years later in 1979. Meanwhile in 1976, an outbreak due to the Zaire subtype occurred in the DRC, near the borders with Sudan and the Central African Republic and only one person was reported to have been infected with thissame subtype in June of 1977. The virus was named for the Ebola River, which flowed past Yambuku where the first outbreak occurred in 1976. And then there was a fifteen year grace period where no cases of Ebola were reported in Sub-Saharan Africa at all. But by1994 the Ivory Coast subtype had been identified and Ebola –Zaire was back again in the DRC in 1995, 1996 and 1997.

Ebola has caused more than 1,200 deaths worldwide and that is a 65% death rate. In the year 2000 a significant Ebola epidemic that caused 224 deaths was recorded from three districts in Uganda with largest infected population coming from Gulu District, located in northern Uganda. This outbreak began in October, 2000 and did not end until January, 2011- not all that long ago.

This newest outbreak was first reported as a “mysterious disease” that had killed 17 people in two months. The first outbreak was posted on July 27th, 2012 and was reported inaccurately by the international press. The virus broke out in the town of Kigadi first which is located within the district, not the town of Kibaale; although Kibaale like many Ugandan districts is also a town in that district. This disease which was thought to be a form of the flu infected several members of the same family first. They were reported to be suffering from fever, diarrhea, and vomiting which can be also be symptoms of the flu or a twenty-four hour virus. But slowly these patients’ symptoms worsened unlike a typical case of the flu. The doctors began to suspect Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever and took the necessary precautions. The first person to die of Ebola was a 3-month-old girl and 15 mourners who attended her funeral eventually contracted the disease.

Ebola is an extremely contagious virus and can be spread through direct contact with any infected bodily fluids such as saliva, blood, stool, vomit, urine and sweat. It can also be spread by touching needles or medical tools previously used by the infected person, touching the body of a person who has died from Ebola, and even through touching the bedding and the clothes worn by an infected person.  The incubation period lasts between 2 to 21 days, and the range of the outbreak lasts around 42 days after the last person has contracted the virus.

Ebola begins like the flu with some – not all of these symptoms. The infected person may experience a sore throat and overall weakness soon followed by a headache, joint pain, muscle aches, like the beginnings of a winter cold or flu. Then the individual is usually hit with violent diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach pain. A rash on the body may develop or the individual may experience red, swollen eyes, or the hiccups. But at the same time the virus goes on to severely impair the individual’s immune system somewhat like AIDS and without supporting treatments and considering the age and overall health of the individual, he/she can waste away in no time at all. The one thing most East Africans remember from the first recorded outbreaks of Ebola is that people experienced internal and external bleeding. They eventually “bleed out of every physical orifice in their body.” Although this does not happen to all humans infected with the Ebola virus it is the one symptom that no one in East Africa can forget. People who meet one another on the roadways traveling across East Africa will ask whether or not anyone knows where the latest outbreak of Ebola is taking place. I can honestly say as one of those travelers that Ebola terrifies me much more than the presence of Al Shabaab, Malaria, River Blindness, or AIDS. Although not officially determined yet by specific scientific research the medical community has enough information to believe that the first patient to become infected with Ebola did so through contact with an infected animal such as a bat or a primate. The reason for Ebola outbreaks have been well established and it was because the first infected people had handled even eaten animals such as bats, dead gorillas, chimpanzees or duikers.

There are five types of Ebola virus-. four of them have been known to infect human beings and other primates”: Ebola-Zaire, Ebola-Sudan, Ebola-Ivory Coast and Ebola-Bundibugyo. The strain involved in the current outbreak in Uganda right now is the Ebola-Sudan type, which has been the cause of five separate outbreaks in Sub-Saharan Africa since 1976 and has a 50 % death rate in infected individuals (WHO, 2011).

The fifth Ebola strain has only infected the nonhuman primates such as monkeys and chimpanzees so far. And that leads us to the next deadly outbreak of the Ebola virus. A new scientific study has confirmed that certain strains of the Ebola virus have caused the death of gorillas and chimpanzees all over Sub-Saharan Africa. In the Democratic Republic of Congo( DRC), scientists had been tracking gorillas families for several years now. And then about four years ago they started to find gorilla carcasses. Over the next four months they determined that 130 of the 143 gorillas that lived within the Lossi Sanctuary had died from the same subtypes of the Ebola virus as human beings.

Dr.Tom Geisbert is currently involved in developing an Ebola vaccine at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute located on the grounds of Fort Detrick, Maryland. Currently he has designed an Ebola vaccine that has worked successfully on monkeys, but even he has admitted that it will be years before he will be able to mass produce an Ebola vaccine that will protect human beings.

President Museveni began with a National Address to the People of Uganda this July and was broadcasted by the local media. He has continued to use the media to urge his citizens to stay away from crowds, which is pretty hard to do in the local outdoor markets frequented daily by most Ugandans. And he has urged everyone to wear masks and to stay away from people who either have contracted the virus or who have died from the Ebola virus. Other medical warnings include abstaining from killing or butchering wild game because it has been proven that humans can contact Ebola through handling infected animals. “Avoid shaking of hands, do not take on burying somebody who has died from symptoms which look like Ebola, instead call the health workers to be the ones to do it and avoid promiscuity because these sicknesses can also go through sex,” he said in his address.

Another great tragedy is the effect that this outbreak has already had on the Ugandan Tourist industry. This year Kenya, the “King of the Safari”  had its best year ever. All of the safari camps and hotels were booked months in advance of the “ Great Migration”- in July when the wildebeests, giraffes, zebras, and their predators begin to cross the Mara River from the Serengeti of Tanzania to the Maasi Mara of Kenya. Even Mombasa, the “Riviera of East Africa” was full to bursting with tourists and  when the American Embassy told them to leave the city in late June because it suspected that there would be a terrorist attack, all of the American tourists in the resort hotels stayed put.

Because the Kenyan safaris were all booked up, the remaining tourists flocked to Uganda and their safari companies.  Guides like my Patrick were doing a booming business throughout the months of May, June, and the beginning of July. But six of the eleven National Parks in Uganda are located in south western Uganda, not far from Kibaale District and all are known for the exceptional range of primate species living within their forests. And one more, the Kibale National Park is actually located within Kibaale district. After the news broke about the Ebola virus tourists from around the world cancelled their safari reservations in Uganda which seriously hurt the national economy and scores of dedicated safari lodges, businesses, guides, and drivers suffered as a result.

There is an eminent danger beyond the current problems in Uganda, First the East African apes, chimps, and monkeys are dying from the same strains of Ebola as human beings. There may come a time in the foreseeable future when the National Forests could lose their primate populations and what will happen then?   Inside Odzala National Park, Ebola broke out at in December 2003. The epidemic lasted for almost a year, and killed about 95% of the some 377 identified gorillas that formerly frequented the area (Caillaud et al., 2006). Devos & al., reported that both gorillas and chimpanzees’ nests decreased by 80-85%. Dr. Lahm has reported a decrease of 90% of the gorilla population and 98% in the chimpanzee there compared to her previous observations in the same area before the 1994 and 1996 Ebola epidemics ( Lahm, 2000).

My friends living in Kampala are terrified that there will be an outbreak of Ebola in the capital city. The people in the countries of Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are plenty nervous too and rightly so. The World Health Organizations has stated that “the Ebola outbreaks normally happen within small, localized areas and that the risk of spreading from country to country is minimal.” They have recommended that no travel warnings or trade restrictions on Uganda are necessary.

And the World Health Organization is “lying through its teeth”. The Ebola virus is highly contagious and could already have been spread by people crossing the borders between countries – it can very easily be carried along by human beings. The incubation period lasts between 2 to 21 days -more than enough time for a person or a group to take a bus from Kigadi to Kampala or to the city of Goma in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) infecting hundreds of people along the way.

Wake up World Health Organization and Center for Disease Control! Tell the people the truth. There has been a steady increase in the deaths of human beings due to the Ebola virus and a lot more of these “small locations” have been showing up on the map throughout Sub-Saharan Africa lately. And there is a devastating Ebola epidemic going on among the non-human primate groups in East Africa which could “wipe them out” of all of the National Parks in East Africa and increase the number of infections in human beings. Scientists in the Minkebe Forest have already attributed the outbreaks of Ebola in humans to the drastic decline in the great ape populations (Huijbregts & al., 2003). And all of this has been directly linked to these “small outbreaks” of Ebola that you have failed to mention in the rest of the countries bordering Uganda for many years now, especially the DRC and South Sudan. According to your own records, this is the fourth outbreak of Ebola in Uganda since 2000 (WHO, 2012). And you wonder why we’ve stopped believing in you?

Kat Nickerson               Kingston, RI               USA

Congo Wars Will Not End: Unless

23 Jul

M23 soldiers fight for rights of Tutsi villagers

In an attempt to stem the warfare in both North and South Kivu districts, within the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the United States State Department has cut military aid in the amount of 200,000 dollars US to the country of Rwanda after the United Nations Mission in Goma confirmed that Paul Kangame, the current president of Rwanda is indeed backing the movement M23, former members of the Army of the Democratic Republic of Congo and other rebel groups in the area. This is not even a “slap on the wrist” for Rwanda, a country that has shared very close ties with the government of the United States of America in the past and this move on the part of the US will not stop the fighting or bring back the some 200,000 Congolese villagers who have left their homes for refugee camps in Uganda and Rwanda in order to survive the senseless killings perpetrated by both sides in this conflict. If the USA really wants to help then it needs to study the history of the Congo and the ongoing conflict between the Tutsi and the Hutu- past and present in order to create viable solutions that can be used to repair the relations between these two large ethnic groups and the other tribes in East Africa- regardless of country borders.

First of all, there were and are large settlements of Tutsi and Hutu living within the territory now called  East Africa – they live in settlements throughout the countries of Uganda, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, and Tanzania.  Unfortunately, these tribal districts were claimed by different countries when the European Powers divided up the lower continent of Africa in the late 1800’s creating new colonies under the rule of the countries of Great Britain, France, Belgium, and Germany but the Tutsi and the Hutu living in these territories did not understand the limitations of country borders, or view themselves as citizens of a specific colony. They continued to see themselves as members of the same large ethnic groupings that had existed as one entity for hundreds of years before the white man came to govern them. They did not remain in these new colonies either but moved from one village to another other whenever they felt the need. There existed a loosely organized state of allegiance to certain colonies during the late 1800s which continued into the early 1900’s. It was only around World War One when East Africa entered into the war based on the nationality of the country that ruled each colony when “residence of country’ began to matter.

If one reads the history between the Hutu and the Tutsi they lived in a state of tentative peace throughout the 1700-1800’s and traded with each other during their more peaceful periods but did war against each other from time to time, as warfare was an integral part of tribal existence. By the late 1800’s they had became tolerate enough of one another to approve  of occasional intermarriages between Hutu and Tutsi, although they never condoned them. Then the Belgians who ruled Rwanda pitted both tribes against one another- the Hutu against the Tutsi. The Belgians preferred the Tutsi over the Hutu and openly discriminated against the Hutu so much so that the Belgians even created laws to help the Tutsi take the Hutu tribal land away from them. Talk to members of the Hutu tribe today and listen to what they have to say.

 They will give you an accurate accounting of what was done to them by the Tutsi and the Belgians in power in Rwanda as if it occurred yesterday. Some of these transgressions may be over one hundred years old but the Hutu talk about them as if they happened yesterday. Each Tutsi crime is relayed as clearly as when it was first experienced by the Hutu. Nothing has been forgotten or forgiven – no matter how long ago it occurred. If the US wants to end the warfare they will have to think of a way to give the Hutu back the tribal lands that were stolen from them by the Tutsi or reimburse them in some way for what has been taken from them. And how the Hutu will reclaim their self- esteem and self-worth is a much deeper issue but one that must be addressed if the majority of the Hutu nation is to stop this relentless hatred and eventually move forward with their lives.

I believe the lack of self-worth was one of the driving forces behind the Genocide of the Tutsi by the Hutu in1994 that and the thousands of unjust court cases that took land away from the Hutu who could not turn to the colonial government for justice. The stories of these crimes and insults were told and retold around the evening campfires for generations until enough of the Hutu men agreed to join together to even the score.  Generations of young men heard these stories until they became obsessed with righting the wrong, with evening the score; their solution- to obliterate all Tutsi from the Earth. This was even too much for many members of the Hutu tribe to condone. Brave Hutu spoke out against the massacres only to be killed by those Hutu committed to revenge. Starting in April and ending in June of 1994 a whole army of Hutu men joined the revolt and began the wholesale slaughter of 800,000 innocent Tutsi- men, women, and children.

While the Rwandan Genocide took place other Tutsi and Hutu living in villages in the countries of Democratic Republic of the DR Congo. Rwanda, Burundi, and Tanzania helplessly looked on. By June 1994: Paul Kagame’s Tutsi rebels ended the genocide and pushed the Hutu government and supporting army out of Kigali. The Hutu army fled over the border into the Democratic Republic of the Congo (then called Zaire) and into Northwest Uganda. Paul Kangame entered the Congo along with Ugandan troops to overtake and kill the Hutu “interahamwe”, the soldiers responsible for the Tutsi Genocide once and for all. But more importantly,  more than one million ethnic Hutus also crossed the border in 1994 from Rwanda to DR Congo most of them trying to get away from the conflict and live in peace. The Rwandan army killed many interahamwe and innocent civilians in the process but was not able to destroy all of the militant Hutu. Many of the interahamwe survived and took up residence in North and South Kivu districts in the DR Congo and in northwest Uganda.

By1997 Laurent Kabila named himself president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and established his government in the capital city of Kinshasa with the help of Paul Kangame and the Rwandan government. In 1989 Kangame accused Kabila of not aggressively hunting down the Hutu rebels causing Rwanda and Uganda to enter into the First and Second Wars in the DR Congo. The war ended in 2003 but all of the interahamwe were not destroyed. The interahamwe went on to terrorize the villagers by stealing from them and murdering anyone who opposed them. Hutu militias, Tutsi militias, and Mai- Mai vigilantes from surrounding tribes continued to fight it out. In 2008 the largest Tutsi militia the CNDP marched into Goma, the capital city of the Kivu District located very close to the Rwanda border. The CNDP rebels issued  a list of demands, one of which was to turn their militia, The National Congress for the Defense of the People, into its own political party. By 2009 a peace accord was accepted by the DR Congo government and the former CNDP Tutsi rebels were integrated into the Congolese army.  

It is now 2012 and the interahamwe are still living in DR Congo murdering innocent villagers and absconding with their possessions. They have even been known to camp out near and in the Virunga National Forest and have been charged with killing the endangered Mountain Gorillas there. Recently there has been resurgence in the creation of Mai- Mai militias composed of local villagers who have chosen to stand up and fight against the interahamwe. The interahamwe are Hutu terrorists who have one goal- to return to Rwanda, topple Kangame’s Tutsi government, and install a Hutu government in Rwanda. With the interahamwe in chrage  it would only be a matter of time before the Rwandan Genocide began again.

 “M23” is made up of Congolese soldiers who served in the CNDP and who defected in April 2012 because they say that the conditions in the 2009 peace accord had never been implemented by Joseph Kabila’s government. Remember these men are ethnic Tutsi but do not support Bosco Ntaganda although they defected at the same time Ntaganda deserted taking his own men with him. One of their most important demands was that the government “rid the area of the interahamwe once and for all” and declare both Kivu Districts “disaster areas” in order to help the local Tutsis suffer less ethnic discrimination. They have also asked as Tutsi soldiers in the DR Congo army to be posted only within the north and south Kivu District where the Tutsi population currently resides. They do not want to be assigned to other districts around the DR Congo because they face discrimination when placed in other provinces. 

On Sunday, July 15, 2012 President Paul Kangame of Rwanda and President Joseph Kabila of DR Congo signed a proposal which would allow a neutral force to monitor their shared border. It is expected that the implementation of this proposal would help quell the rebel militias in the area such as M23 and Raia Mutomboki. The proposal was authored by the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region but it did not include the name of the country that would supply the troops or how the initiative would be funded.

Edouard Mwangachuchu, a Congolese Tutsi community leader and current President of the CNDP said, “I think the Congolese government is working very hard to finish this war, by negotiation, and I think if Rwanda cooperates with the DR Congo government, this war will end,”

A point still to be addressed is the return of some 50,000 Congolese Tutsi refugees from Rwanda to the DR Congo where they belong. Tutsi ethnic groups face discrimination in the DR Congo and Tutsi citizens of the DR Congo have even been expelled from the Congo during past administrations.  The Tutsi are known as successful business men and have acquired large parcels of land which has caused open resentment among other tribal groups. And many tribes in the DR Congo distrust the Tutsi connection to Rwanda which has continuously supported rebel groups in the area especially the CNDP for years after the wars in the Congo ended. They forget that many Tutsi currently serving in the Congolese army did not defect and are currently fighting against their fellow Tutsi to end the insurrection.

 Proposal or not, the wars in the DR Congo and the creation of militias will not stop until three things happen: 1.) the Hutu interahamwe must be hunted down and all of these terrorists killed. There will be no hope of peace in the Kivu District until this happens because the villagers of the DR Congo especially the Tutsi will live in constant fear until this has been done. 2.) the Tutsi and the remaining Hutu ( not interahamwe) must be shown how to forgive and exist together peacefully. This will be the hardest part and they will need programs and incentives to help them learn how to do so. 3.) the children of the DR Congo will have to learn that “might does not make right” and this will be terribly difficult to undo seeing that most of this current generation has grown up with a steady diet of violence and exploitation. It will take more than a monitored border to stop the wars and the massacres. It will take a unified effort on the part of the United Nations,the United States of America, and the governments of Rwanda. Uganda, Burundi, and the DR Congo  to make them stop once and for all.

Kat Nickerson                         Kingston,    RI             USA