GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo — As politicians fail to resolve long-simmering conflicts in eastern Congo, civilians are again suffering. Both the M23 rebels and the Congo army stand accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Regional governments have been useless. And the United Nations has been ineffective. So what now?
The Busara contemporary dance group in Goma rehearse a production about child soldiers at an arts center in the eastern city of the Democratic Republic of the Congo on May 30, 2012. "The dance is about innocence," says Chiku Lwambo, who started the group with his twin brother three years ago. "Everything that we want to live, the freedom that everybody wants, it's scoffed at by someone." (Phil Moore/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — As a child growing up in Boston, Massachusetts, my eight brothers and sisters and I were bullied heavily because of our Congolese ancestry. We were beaten up, had rocks thrown at us, and one of my brothers was even shot in the eye with a metal BB gun.
Probably worse than the physical torment we received were the verbal insults we endured daily such as being called “African bush-boogies,” “African booty scratchers,” “monkeys,” and more. We were attacked by everyone: strangers, so-called friends, and even some of our teachers.
Thomas Lubanga, a Congolese warlord from the eastern Ituri region, was found guilty of recruiting and using child soldiers. Lubanga commanded an ethnic Hema milita which launched murderous attacks on Lendu communities in the early 2000s as neighboring Uganda and Rwanda backed rival proxies in the mineral-rich region.
Human Rights Watch, whose researchers have documented many of the atrocities committed by Lubanga and others over the years, greeted the verdict as "a victory for the thousands of children forced to fight in Congo’s brutal wars" and said it was "a warning to rights abusers" worldwide.
It is an important first step towards achieving some kind of justice for the years of fighting and horrific abuses in eastern Congo, a place where conflict continues in some parts even today. But there is much still to be done.
One man — Bosco Ntaganda — epitomizes the terrible pragmatism at play in Congo: he was Lubanga's deputy and is also wanted by the ICC but far from being in the dock he is a serving general in the Congolese army. He roams freely around the town of Goma and has even played a commanding role in joint military operations with the UN peacekeeping mission.
Wednesday's verdict will be a relief for outgoing Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo and is a vindication of the ICC which has faced criticism for failing to conclude trials, up to now. It must be hoped other verdicts will swiftly follow.
The trained dogs are part of a special "Congohounds" program.
NAIROBI, Kenya — The latest weapon in the fight against poachers in eastern Congo's Virunga National Park is four-legged and slobbering, but it works.
A team of five bloodhounds make up Virunga's newly formed "elite canine unit" brought in to help protect the mountain gorillas, chimpanzees, forest elephants, okapi and other animals that live in the 3,000 square mile park.
The "Congohounds" program as it has been dubbed began last year with the arrival and training of the dogs and earlier this month two of them carried out their first operation helping to track a gang of poachers thought to be responsible for the killing of a male elephant which had its tusks hacked from its face.
The two-day operation ended with a shoot-out between park rangers and the suspected poachers who were tracked by the dogs. Although the suspects escaped a cache of weapons was found and confiscated.
"We are extremely pleased with the outcome. After a year of intensive training, both the hounds and the rangers proved to be a very effective weapon against ivory poachers," said Emmanuel de Merode, Virunga's chief warden.
Katumba's death places Congo at a more dangerous point even than last year's elections. Here, DR Congo demonstrators shout, holding a banner that reads, "Kabila Go Away" on Dec. 23, 2011. (Georges Gobet/AFP/Getty Images)
NAIROBI, Kenya — The death on Sunday of Augustin Katumba Mwanke, a Congolese businessman and politician, is more than just another example of Congo's shockingly poor air safety record, it will shake the Kabila government to the core.
Some commentators have said Katumba's death places the Democratic Republic of Congo at a more dangerous point even than last year's elections. But why?
Officially Mwanke was an MP, re-elected to parliament in recent polls, and a former governor of Katanga Province, Congo's copper-producing economic heartland.
Unofficially he was President Joseph Kabila's consigliere: a shadowy figure-without-portfolio who was one of the president's closest advisors, a loyal and powerful ally, a man who guided the country's financial deals and political decisions.
In 2002 the UN accused Mwanke of profiting from illegally mining and using the proceeds to pay Zimbabwean troops fighting for Laurent Kabila during Congo's civil war. UN investigators recommended that he be put on a travel ban list and have his assets frozen. After that he stepped into the shadows where he maintained a close friendship with Laurent's son and heir Joseph Kabila as well as influence over lucrative mining and oil deals.
Writing on his CongoSiasa blog analyst Jason Stearns says:
"[Katumba] was always active behind the scenes, helping Kabila with the political and financial management of the government ... He was the mastermind behind crucial financial deals, including most of the big mining deals concluded in the past decade ... Rasputin, Dick Cheney, éminence grise — these were all epithets applied to Katumba. The qualities that endeared him to Kabila were his extreme loyalty, as well as his efficiency in getting things done."
As Stearns points out, "Now that he is gone, there is bound to be a struggle over power in the inner circle."
And that spells danger for Congo and for the Congolese.
The hip-hop artist told BBC that his debut album's title track is going to be Ame Seule or Lonely Soul, which is a tribute to victims of the violence against albino people in Africa like N'Kashh himself.
In Africa people with albinisim, a genetic condition that causes the lack of melanin pigment in the skin, eyes and hair, are often associated with ghosts and demons. Albino children are seen as a curse on the family for a past wrongdoing, so these children are rejected even by their own parents.
In Tanzania, albinos are targeted and killed the moment they are spotted, reported The Telegraph.
In 2010, however, Tanzania elected its first albino member of parliament Salum Khalfan Barwany, but he constantly felt threatened and feared he would fall victim to albino hunters, reported The Guardian.
A boy pans for gold in a river on February 16, 2009 in Iga Barriere, 25 kms north of Bunia, north eastern Congo. DR Congo is rich in precious minerals such as diamonds and gold - but its people have gained little from this wealth because of conflict and bad government. (Lionel Healing/AFP/Getty Images)
Much of today's detail comes from a UN Group of Experts report on the arms embargo in the Democratic Republic of Congo. But what exactly does the UN Group of Experts (or GoE if you like acronyms) do and what was their latest report about?
The report is 392-pages long and, being written by experts, it's also really only for experts, but luckily Jason Stearns, who once led the Group and now writes on his CongoSiasa blog.
In his blog he summarizes:
"The gold trade is booming and helps finance armed groups and criminal networks within the FARDC. It has not been affected thus far by the limited international efforts to promote due diligence in supply chains, as nearly all the gold trade goes unrecorded. We believe close to three tons of Congolese gold likely to have been smuggled out of Uganda to Dubai alone during 2010."
Here is his interview with former colleagues that helpfully summarizes the latest report and its key findings.