Before closing this marathon of blogging begun with my return to Congo in June, 2010, I want to pay tribute to a good man I sorely missed seeing on my return. Rev. Thomas Bosai was the Director of the Youth Department to which I was assigned as a “Fraternal Worker” – now Global Mission Intern – in 1969. Without his trust and friendship so readily offered on my arrival, this blog writing would not have happened.
Back in the mid-1990’s Thomas wrote the last letter I was to receive from him. He asked if I could help arrange for support of his son to continue his studies in medicine in the States. Eric had nearly completed his course in medicine at the University in Lubumbashi by then. In a time of job transition and divorce, co-parenting two primary school daughters, my response was feeble and discouraging.
Now standing out among my memories of the 2010 summer in Congo visit is lunch in the Mbandaka home of son Dr. Eric Bosai and
family where I was again able to greet Thomas’ widow, Eyenga Bekana. Eric, now Director of the Disciples hospital/clinic at the old mission post of Monieka, cast no blame in his account of his father’s death. In his mid 60’s, Thomas was making the long trip by pirogue from the Mbandaka 2003 Disciples’ biannual Asembly when he was hospitalized in Ikela following a severe stroke. Just before his Eyenga, “Sunday” in English, would arrive from Opala, Thomas died.
Thomas had served the Disciples as a pastor in several settings after his term as Youth Department Director. Opala, a remote extended village in Orientale Province, was one of the Disciples new posts when Thomas was sent as the “missionary” there. It was the first Disciples post in the province to the east of Equateur. Today there is a growing Disiples presence in Opala, with primary schools and congregations in outlying villages among the fruit of my friend Thomas’ labors.
Those are some of the facts of Thomas’ life but had I been able to give testimony on the occasion of his passing I would have thanked him for taking me under his wing like an older brother in 1969. In a vastly different culture, with multiple reasons to suspect and distrust this young white man from the States, there was little Thomas did not share with me – about his past, his education in Kinshasa and his joy and hopes in marrying the beautiful, young Ekana. While it was I who had the title of “Counselor” to the Youth Department, Thomas’ earnest advice on maintaining a respected image as a young, single “mondele” male still rings in my ears though it was not entirely heeded.
Thomas’ propulsive energy and faith quickly persuaded me that the vision of a Disciples farm project at Ikengo would become reality. I hope that if that Projet Agro-Pastoral d’Ikengo continues to expand, the roles of Disciples President Dr. Paul Elonda in shaping the vision and Rev. Thomas in carrying it out will some day be honored and celebrated by the Disciples Communaute in Congo. In the meantime, Thomas, this blog’s for you!
“The village of Ikengo welcomed me as a son of the village on my return” was the beginning of this blog’s “Return to Ikengo” on July 13, 2010. In that article I described how I had been joyously welcomed back by the people of Ikengo 39 years after my last visit. Only this past week did I learn that the great grandparents of Ikengo villagers had saved from starvation Henry Morton Stanley (of Stanley and Livingstone fame) on the first descent of the Congo River by a non African.
Having fought repeated battles with the aggressive, obstreperous Bangala who controlled the river trade, Stanley threw
himself and his men on the mercy of the people of Ikengo, located twenty five kilometers below Mbandaka. “Since the 10th of February we have been unable to purchase food or even approach a settlement for any amicable purpose” Stanley wrote in his February 18, 1877 journal entry quoted in Through the Dark Continent .
In the next day’s entry, the bold adventurer overcomes his fear of the local populace by dwelling on a greater fear, “This morning we regarded each other as fated victims of protracted famine, or the rage of savages, like those of Mangala. But as we feared famine most, we resolved to confront the natives again.” Reflecting throughout his account the racism characteristic of 19th century Europe and America, Stanley finds his fears unfounded in meeting the inhabitants of Ikengo and nearby villages.
“We arrived at Ikengo, and as were almost despairing, we proceeded to a small island opposite this settlement and prepared to encamp. Soon a canoe with seven men came dashing across, and we prepared our moneys for exhibition. They unhesitatingly advanced and ran their canoe alongside us.” After Stanley and crew presented gifts and were rendered “rapturously joyful” by this meeting, the explorers and villagers “proceeded to seal this incipient friendship with our blood with all due ceremony”.
Stanley titles this section of the book, “Among Friends” and sums up his account of the day with the words, “During the whole of this day life was most enjoyable, intercourse unreservedly friendly and though most of the people were armed with guns there was no manifestation of the least desire to be uncivil, rude, or hostile.” The explorer characterizes the encounter with the Ikengo villagers as an “act of grace”.
How their hospitality was ultimately received and repaid is a woeful fact of Congo’s history. As the European/American explorer who contributed the most to knowledge of African geography, Stanley also bears responsibility for opening up Congo to the brutal exploitation of King Leopold’s Congo Free State. So far as we know, Henry Morton Stanley never returned to Ikengo.
That the people of Ikengo have continued to welcome visitors from afar in our times with joyous hospitality is an “act of grace”. That the Congolese as a whole have held to their traditions of welcome after centuries of foreigners’ abuse of their trust is also a matter of grace. What a gift to us all.
We are accustomed to reading about the violence on women and children in the eastern Congo but what about the deaths caused daily by the country’s “highest rates of malnutrition in the world”? Consider these other facts from the IRIN (UN) News article published on February 17:
– “90 percent: Proportion of arable land not cultivated, largely due to insecurity preventing access to fields and markets.
– 69 percent: Prevalence of under-nutrition in the DRC; up from 26 percent in 1990-92. Under-nutrition includes being underweight for one’s age, too short for one’s age (stunted), dangerously thin (wasted) and deficient in vitamins and minerals (micronutrient malnutrition).
– Congo’s per capita daily protein intake is almost half the world’s average daily protein consumption.”
You can eliminate over population, ignorance, or any other factor that would point a finger at the rural majority of people in Congo. According to the IRIN article, there has been a 544 drop in daily calories consumed per capita comparing 1992 and 2007 (2,195 kcal and 1,651 kcal, respectively). Acute malnutrition caused by a “sudden, drastic decline in nutrition intake” is now experienced by over 10 per cent of the population in 53 of the Congo’s 87 “territories”. The decline in food production and food intake since 1992 points to the state administration as impeding Congolese trying to grow their own food.
The primary factor behind children’s deaths and low life expectancy in Congo is the succession of
predatory regimes beholden to foreigners intent on exploiting the riches of the country. As the late Cardinal and Archbishop of Kinshasa Frederic Etsou declared just after Joseph Kabila’s first election in 2006, “, “I say no to this exercise in imposing on the Congolese people a candidate whose sole mandate is to satisfy the gluttonous and predatory appetites of his foreign handlers”. Until international donor nations withhold support for ruling administrations who directly and indirectly war on their own people, thousands of children in Congo will succumb to malnutrition before reaching the age of five.
In a powerful recent article from the Guardian Global Development Network (London) journalist Chris Bird describes one South Kivu family’s ordeal in a pediatric hospital. Bird writes, “I quickly felt the child’s feet – icy cold. A careful look at Beatrice showed that all the curves and dimples of a healthy child’s face had shrunk, leaving the forbidding lines of a woodblock print. Beatrice was alert, but silent, which formed an ominous void amid the rheumy eyes that grew dimmer as she seemed to fall into it.
The nursing staff went into action. They gave her glucose to prevent low blood sugar, antibiotics through the drip to fight off infection; they advised her mother to keep her warm, as hypothermia takes the lives of many of these children at night. Careful fluid management and gentle refeeding was started: give too little and the child will succumb to dehydration and shock; too much and the child will die of heart failure.”
But Beatrice’s treatments began too late and Bird describes the parents reaction: “Beatrice’s mother sobbed as we wrapped her daughter in the green cotton cloth in which she was brought. Her father lifted her easily in his arms and left the hospital, his face immobile. Her mother walked, crying, behind him, stopping on the dirt road from time to time as she doubled up in grief. An elderly man going the other way, a Red Cross armband on his left arm, dismounted his bicycle and gave a formal salute to the family as they walked past.”
In an attempt to come to grips with what lies behind the death of Beatrice and countless childen in Congo today, Bird concludes, “Where I am in the east it is green and lush, but after years of war, insecurity and economic collapse, all the children in our tent are malnourished to some degree. It is this underlying weakness that determines how children respond to the infectious diseases that claim their lives with unrelenting regularity.”
While in Mbandaka, Equator Province, far from the fighting in the East, in the summer of 2010, I asked my cook Papa Jean what happened to his brood of fifty plus chickens. “They were all taken by the soldiers” he explained. The Congolese army deployed to protect the citizens of the city of half million plus inhabitants had rioted three times in the years just prior to my Mbandaka stay. The soldiers had not been paid because their commanders had pocketed the Army’s funding. Is this the kind of security for Congo we want to help provide with our $900 milllion in U.S. aid this year?
To read Chris Bird’s article “The Silent Cost of Child Malnutrition” go to:
The largest fruit crop in the world today is not oranges, pineapple or apples. It’s palm kernels with production worldwide about double the tonnage of the second leading fruit crop. While Palmolive soap may be the best known palm oil product in our households, most of the average American’s consumption of palm oil is in the form of margarine and shortening these days.
In the 1960’s the second largest producer of palm oil in the word was the Democratic Republic of Congo. Today, the Congo’s production of palm oil doesn’t even rank in the top ten worldwide. From the mid 1970’s corporate owned plantations were looted by cohorts of the Mobutu regime and production continued to decline until recent years. An Indian company took over the Unilever (Palmolive soap) processing plants in Congo and now buys from villagers “who bring us oil after traveling weeks from deep in the bush” according to the company’s Indian chief executive.
Counting on leading the revival of the Congo palm oil industry is a Chinese company with plans to cultivate 1 million hectares (2.5 million acres) of palm trees in Equateur, Bandundu and West Kasai provinces. But the Chinese company’s aim is not to market the palm oil for food products: 90 % will go directly for biodiesel replacing petroleum in Congo and elsewhere.
With Africa’s largest expanse of non forest arable land, only 4.7 % of which is now u nder cultivation, Congo’s palm oil and general agricultural potential is tremendous. An agency of the European Union devoted to alternative energy projects in Africa cites
Congo’s potential to supply all of Central Africa with food, fuel and fiber and to supply one tenth of the world’s bioenergy demand in 2030 “without endangering the rain forests or the food security of its people”.
Even the remote Tshuapa district of the Equateur Province is not immune to the effects of the pricing of agricultural products in the global economy. In 1970 I visited the Disciples coffee plantation in the Bokungu area of the Tshuapa. By the late 1990’s the plantation had been abandoned as coffee prices began their fall to unprecedented lows. The restoration of Vietnamese coffee plantations after the Vietnam War contributed to an over supply of coffee and the drop in prices. Farmers from Nicaragua to Congo couldn’t afford to grow coffee any longer.
Today, the need for increased food supplies and the leadership of a dynamic recently ordained woman minister have led to the recovery of the Disciples Bokungu plantation. The only female theology graduate to serve a rural parish, Revde. Regine Boole, has helped the parish of Lotakemela organize a team of 15 workers to clear the overgrown fields and begin new plantings. The team is assisted by Revde. Boole’s husband and plans an initial planting of 5 hectares of corn.
Profits from the sale of an estimated 5 tons of corn will, it is projected, enable purchase
of supplies for the cultivation of the remaining 20 hectares and rebirth of the initial project as a palm oil plantation. Expanding use of palm oil as a fuel alternative to petroleum means this crop, so widely grown in Equateur in the past, now promises price increases and viable profits for visionary growers.
In addition to the Bokungu plantation, the post of Boyeka has already begun planting of palm trees for oil production. As used palm oil can be processed for fuel, “oil palm planting and palm oil consumption
circumvents the food vs. fuel debate because it has the capacity to fulfill both demands simultaneously” in the words of Wikpedia. It does not, however respond to the concern stemming from deforestation wrought by vast palm oil plantations as in Malaysia and Indonesia. What the effects of the demand for palm oil will be on the Congolese rain forest remains to be seen.
Will these children of Congo have the opportunity to vote in a free and fair election in a truly democratic Congo? Will their children benefit from a free public education offered at the primary level in many African countries today? Will roads be maintained, water and power services function, and hospital pharmacies be stocked? Will these children live to see their children grow to mature adulthood? So much depends on the Congo gaining control of its vast storehouse of natural resources that to date has plagued most Congolese rather than blessed them.
It seems clear that until the population has the opportunity to elect leaders committed to ensuring that all Congolese benefit from the country’s wealth, the foreign corporations now extracting the resources will continue to do so to the loss and detriment of the population. U.S. based companies are not solely responsible for the looting taking place in Congo today. An international free for all pillages Congo today.
The resolution of support for fair trade in Congo minerals recently passed at the Disciples and United Church of Christ national conferences may be a sign that we in the U.S. are ready to support progress toward a free and truly independent Congo. It may be a sign that we will be informed and ready to side with these children when they stand up and demand control over the vast riches of their sub soil and their forests.
“You may consider your vote for this resolution as an expression of solidarity with the mother who walks 50 miles each week to buy the flour to make bread she sells every Saturday at the Ikengo market to pay her children’s school fees. Vote yes and then prepare to remember Congo with your congregation during Congo week the third week of October this year.”
These words concluded my statement of support for the following resolution passed with no opposition at the Disciples’ General Assembly in Nashville this week. We pray that this resolution, our commemoration of Congo Week each year and our advocacy on behalf of trade for Congo resources that truly benefits the Congolese people will assure Congolese who would stand for political and social change of our concern, our support and our solidarity. May this resolution be followed by many other acts declaring “we are with you” to the people of Congo who have dug the coltan, the diamonds, the copper, the uranium, the cobalt and other metals and minerals that have been essential to the U.S..space program, our weapons systems, and more recently have become essential components of our household electronics and cell phone equipment.
A CALL FOR REFLECTION AND ADVOCACY ON BEHALF OF THE
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO
WHEREAS, the mission of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) declares its
passion for justice grounded in Micah 6:8 as declared in our vision statement: “to
be a faithful, growing church that demonstrates true community, deep Christian
spirituality and a passion for justice.”
WHEREAS, in Matthew 25:40 Jesus teaches moral responsibility in the reign of
God is strongest for those most in need, saying “just as you did it to one of the
least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me”; and
WHEREAS, throughout the past two centuries, for the Christian Church (Disciples
of Christ), global presence and witness have been a gift of God’s mission through
the church; and
WHEREAS, our international commerce and public affairs should be governed
by an obligation to ensure the common good, and to resist policies and practices
that do injustice and violence to others; and
WHEREAS, Global Ministries has encouraged congregations to recognize “Congo
Week,” (an initiative created by Friends of the Congo) the third week in October, in
their respective annual worship calendars as a week of commemoration for the
millions of victims of the scramble for Congo’s resources and a stand for justice in
solidarity with the people of the Congo; and
WHEREAS, the Community of Disciples of Christ in Congo (CDCC), in what today
is the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), formerly known as Zaire, was
founded in 1889 and has been related to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
in the U.S. and Canada since its inception; and
WHEREAS, the 62 protestant denominations united under the ecumenical
umbrella of the Church of Christ in the Congo have consistently decried the brutal
and unmitigated exploitation of the Congo’s immense mineral resources; and
WHEREAS, since the advent of Congolese independence on June 30, 1960, the
continued greed of global corporations for precious and strategic raw materials
from the Congo and failure of the international community to respond to the
documented human rights abuses of Congolese victims has contributed to the
failure of the Congo state;i and
WHEREAS, the series of invasions of the Congo by proxy states Rwanda and
Uganda that commenced in 1996 have facilitated unfettered access to Congolese
natural resources by international corporations and their collaborators in the
Congo; have not only undermined democratic advancements, but have also cost
the lives of an estimated 6,000,000 Congolese; have subjected up to a half million
Congolese women and girls to rape, including sexual mutilation by multiple armies
from Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi; and have increased dramatically the
incidence for HIV/AIDS among women and girls, thus creating a health time bomb
with dire consequences for the Congo; and
WHEREAS, an estimated 45,000 Congolese reportedly perish monthly in Eastern
Congo as a direct or indirect result of the militarization of mines by elite networks of
militia supported by business interests in the Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, and the
industrialized world, at the detriment of Congolese socio-economic development
and liberation; and
WHEREAS, these criminal behaviors are orchestrated and maintained by those
seeking to profit from unfettered access to Congolese strategic natural resources
(notably coltan, cobalt, tungsten, cassiterite, in addition to diamonds, gold, copper,
uranium, oil, timber), in order to benefit mostly private wealth in industrialized
nations, yet subjugating the Congolese people, despite the wealth of their natural
resources, to poverty, suffering, slave labor, and human trafficking;ii and
WHEREAS, the response of the international community, including the United
Nations, has demonstrated a double standard in the application of international
justice because of financial greed and disregard for the value of Congolese
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the General Assembly of the Christian
Church (Disciples of Christ), meeting in Nashville, TN July 9-13, 2011 encourages
all expressions of the church to pray, reflect, educate and advocate on behalf of
sisters and brothers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that our church encourage the development of
legislation such as the Conflict Minerals Law 20101 approved by the U.S. Congress
and the Trade in Conflict Minerals Act introduced to the Canadian Parliament in
2010 requiring manufacturers to trace the source of minerals used in the
production of consumer electronics for the purpose of developing a conflict-free
mineral supply chain and more ethical mining practices, most particularly in the
Democratic Republic of Congo; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that individuals and ministries of the church choose
products that are labeled “DRC conflict free” when purchasing electronic products,
once such labeling begins2; and
1 The current law, generally referred to as the “Conflict Minerals Law”, was included as Section 1502 of
the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, passed by the US Senate on May 20,
2010 and signed by President Barack Obama on July 21, 2010.
2 The current legislation is expected to take effect in 2012.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that Global Ministries continue to identify
resources for all expressions of the church on the matter of the exploitation of
people in the extraction of the mineral wealth of the Congo; and
FINALLY, BE IT RESOLVED that all expressions of the church work with Global
Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of
Christ to carry out advocacy and education across the globe for the Congo.
Division of Overseas Ministries
[A resolution of the Common Global Ministries Board, through the Division of Overseas
Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) to the General Assembly in 2011. A
similar resolution has been submitted to the General Synod of the United Church of Christ