“Water, Water Everywhere ………”

While much of Africa suffers from a decades long drought, the Democratic Republic of Congo has no shortage of water. Half the African continent’s water can be found in the Congo. But much of the country’s water is not fit to drink.
 
 
 

 

women collecting water
Disciples President Rev. Bonanga visits the UNICEF funded water station at Bolenge. Several Disciple strong communities have benefited from the Church's collaboration with UNICEF on rural water projects

Fifty one million Congolese or three fourths of the country’s population do not have access to safe drinking water according to a report released this week by the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP).

The head of UNEP’s Congo office Mr. Hassan Partow noted, “the stark reality is that the DRC has one of the fastest urbanization growth rates in the world and this is not being matched with adequate water and sanitation service delivery”. The study calls for an investment of $169 million over a five year period to upgrade the water delivery infrastructure, especially in urban areas.

Rural Congo is just as threatened by unsafe water as UNICEF’s Congo Director pointed out on World Water Day March 22. Ms. Pierrette Vu Thi stated, “A child living in a Congolese village is four times more likely to drink contaminated water than someone in town.” Current statistics hold that 2 million children under the age of 5 regularly suffer from diarrhea, usually caused by contaminated water in Congo. This makes unsafe water a leading cause of death among Congo’s infants, whose mortality rate is over 20 per cent in

Ikalenganya village well. Probably safe as Disciples trained village health worker reported low incidence of diarrhea and infant mortality

many areas of the country.

Strongly recommended by the U.N. study are undertaking low cost solutions such as communal taps and rainwater catchment systems.

To read the UNEP report Water Issues in the Democratic Republic of the Congo: Challenges and Opportunities go to the following web address: http://postconflict.unep.ch/publications/UNEP_DRC_water.pdf

The 90 page report includes an in depth assessment of Regideso, the water supplier for urban Mbandaka and other cities of Equateur Province.

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U.S. Congress Updated on Congo

Actor Ben Affleck and Cindy McCain, wife of US.. Sen. John McCain, arrive before testifying on Congo before the House Africa, Global Health and Human Rights Subcommittee on Capitol Hill.

Last week the U.S. Congress turned some of its attention to the situation in Congo.  Not surprisingly, Hollywood actor Ben Affleck’s testimony became the focus of the media attention.  The House Foreign Affairs Africa Subcommittee hearing heard testimony from the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and human rights groups, including the Eastern Congo Initiative that Affleck founded in 2010. 

The new Chair of the Africa Subcommittee, Chris Smith, R-NJ, noted that Congo is one of the five poorest countries in the world, with 80 per cent of its people living on income of less than $2 per day.  With the regular outbreak of armed conflict and mass rape, many lives have been lost in eastern Congo by the failure to respond to the challenges to health posed by malnutrition, malaria, pneumonia and diarrahea.  Most affected are children under 5, the majority of the estimated 5.4 million (International Rescue Committee figure) who have died in the war torn areas of eastern Congo since 1998.

Affleck’s testimony emphasized the importance of the national elections scheduled for this year. “The path to stability in today’s Congo requires fostering stable elections and preventing another disaster that would easily require hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance. Come November we must be able to look ourselves in the eye and say that we did what our principles demanded [and] we helped democracy emerge in a place where tragedy is the alternative.” 

Having traveled three times in the last year to the eastern Congo, among the actor’s policy recommendations were the appointment of a U.S. envoy to Congo and increased funding of the Congo electoral process.  Interesting to note that Mr. Affleck did not call for that funding to be channeled through the U.N. whose peacekeeping and civil society support efforts are woefully underfunded.

Last month the head of the U.N. Mission in Congo (MONUSCO) warned that lack of funding of  their election related activities would be dire.  Former U.S. Ambassador to Congo and Indianapolis native Roger Meece declared, “it is not yet clear we will have needed funds in the 2011/2012 budget cycle to ensure the necessary logistical support we are uniquely positioned to provide.”  He did not mention that at this time the UN presence in Congo is scheduled to end on June 30.

Congo Elections Update

 

Leaders of Opposition Parties Committed to a United Front in the Presidential Election. Jean-Claude Vuemba, second from right, and Vital Kamerhe, not pictured but President of the National Assembly, are spokespersons for the unity movement.

Since independence in 1960, only two democratically elected heads of state have governed in Congo.  As leading Congolese political scientist Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja points out, both Patrice Lumumba in 1960 and Etienne Tshisekedi in 1992 held office for only a brief time before a military coup led by Mobutu.

While the massive undertaking of holding an election in Congo would be a challenge for any government, one key procedural issue has been settled.  On the urging of the Kabila administration, the Assembly has ruled that there will not be a second run off election if no candidate for President is backed by a majority of the voters.  Should the opposition remain divided, and there a few dozen political parties running candidates for the Assembly, the reelection of President Kabila would be virtually assured.

It would be a major achievement for Congo to complete the electoral process without an upsurge of violence in the East and elsewhere in the country.  It would be an even greater achievement, deserving of our most fervent prayers, for Congo to experience a free and fair election resulting in a change in administration.

Africa’s Largest Rainforest (Jungle!) Preserve

Rev. MPUTU Clement, Vice President of the Disciples’ Community, recently sent the following message (translated here from the French):

“I am writing from the heart of the equatorial rain forest in the Salonga National Park near Monkoto.  By the grace of God and the miracle of today’s technology I am sending you this message.  We are meeting here for the training of pastors and laypersons of the area.  The schedule for our departure by air remains uncertain and  security in this region is threatened.  Please pray for us.  May God be with you.”

The Salonga National Park in the south of Equateur Province and stretching into two other provinces of the Congo, is the largest rain forest preserve in the world.

A river flows through the Salonga National Park which covers an area of the Congo larger then Belgium.

It is also one of the most isolated and challenging places to get to in the Congo. Although many bonobo, now a celebrity among the primates, roam widely in the Salonga only a few researchers and virtually no tourists have observed this celebrity among the primates in this habitat.

Several parishes of the Disciples Community of the Church of Christ of Congo border the Salonga National Park.  The airport most often used by researchers is at the former mission “post” of Monkoto and the park entrance nearby is on the edge of Ifumo, another Disciples “post”.

Funded by UNESCO which named Salonga a World Heritage Site in Danger in 1999, a French conservation and environmental non profit oversees protection and preservation of the Salonga’s resources.  The non profit’s on site operations director is ENGELEMBA Celestin, former Director of the Disciples’ Ikengo farm project.

On my left is ENGELEMBA Celestin, Former Ikengo Director, with BOSALA Rio, current Director on the right

Shortly before my departure in mid August from Mbandaka, Radio Okakpi reported that Congolese troops had been deployed to the Salonga National Park to curb illegal poaching – of elephants especially.  Rev. MPUTU’s message implies security remains dicey in the area.  In addition to praying for the people in the Park and in villages bordering the Salonga, there is need for prayer and action to preserve the forest habitat throughout the Congo.  More on that in the next post.

The U.N. in Congo

The U.N. began its current peacekeeping operations in Congo in 1999.  Following negotiations with the Kabila regime, which was urging withdrawal of U.N. military forces, the mission was renamed in May 2010. What had been MONUC (the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) became the United Nations Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) beginning July 1 of last year. 

Despite the many setbacks and blemishes in its record over the past 12 years, the U.N. presence enables slight hope for free and fair national elections being held at the end of this year.  It now seems likely that those donor nations underwriting the billion dollar plus annual budget of MONUSCO will have to exert pressure on the Kabila regime to allow the U.N. troops to stay beyond the current June 30, 2011 withdrawal deadline.  The regime only in August, 2010 adhered to the country’s Constitution and set the wheels in motion for the national plebiscite by calling for the voting to be held in November.

For a listing of the nationalities of the over 16,000 troops now deployed throughout the Congo, with a large contingent in Equateur, click on the following and to return to the blog click your backspace key:

Congo U.N. Mission 2011

It is distressing to note that many African troops have been withdrawn from the MONUSCO forces and Asian troops in particular far out number those from Africa

Patrice Lumumba and Martin Luther King, Jr.

 
In 1960, U.S. Ambassador to the Congo, Claire Timberlake, reported to Washington on Patrice Lumumba’s powerful leadership skills. He commented that if Lumumba had entered a conference of Congolese politicians as a waiter, he would still have emerged by the meeting’s end as their elected leader

Since Lumumba’s assassination fifty years ago today his vision of a united, democratic and truly independent Congo has become the polar star for the nation. Both leading candidates for the presidency in 2005 claimed to be the heirs of Lumumba’s legacy of national leadership. His statue stands atop a lofty pillar on the route from the airport to the capital city of Kinshasa. No one has and no one is likely to ever dislodge Lumumba as the Jefferson and the Washington of the Congolese nation.

The source of Lumumba’s power was aptly described by Martin Luther King in Where Do We Go From Here, his last book, described by Cornel West as “his most prophetic challenge to powers that be”. In the final chapter of that book, “The World House”, Rev. King wrote, “Once the aspirations and appetites of the world have been whetted by the marvels of Western technology and the self-image of a people awakened by religion, one cannot hope to keep a people locked out of the earthly kingdom of wealth, health and happiness. Either they share in the blessings of the world or they organize to break down and overthrow those structures or governments which stand in the way of their goals.”

The Congolese people remain far from the “earthly kingdom” King refers to, and in their struggle against “governments which stand in the way of their goals” Lumumba’s words, political stands and martyrdom continue to inspire and empower. Once again, at the end of this year, a national election holds the promise of the formation of a government which truly serves the Congolese people first and foremost.

The presence of the largest U.N. peacekeeping force in the word today represents the best hope for a peaceful transition to government by the people and for the people in Congo. The sizable contingent of African troops in the U.N. force in Congo have a special interest in the transition to more democratic rule in Congo. Lumumba declared on the occasion of Congolese independence June 30, 1960,
“The independence of the Congo represents a decisive step toward the liberation of the entire African continent”.

Listen to the Lumumba speech on June 30, 1960 at the following YouTube address:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rzPO4KQCZP8

For a nine minute overview of Lumumba’s contributions to the movement for democracy and unified nationhood in Congo, see the video at the following address:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fSXDCp-XZuU

Within hours of being flown to the secessionist Province of Katanga,  Patrice Lumumba and two compatriots were shot by a Belgian firing squad fifty years ago today.
Read a commentary from today’s New York Times Opinion page on the Lumumba assassination’s long shadow cast over Congolese and, indeed, over African history since 1960. Written by Adam Hochschild, the piece places the event in the context of the long history of exploitation of the country’s vast natural resources by foreign powers.  Go to:

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/17/opinion/17hochschild.html?_r=1&hp