Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Breaking The Silence: Congo Week, October 19 - 25, 2014

Dear Friend,

The seventh year of Breaking the Silence: Congo Week will take place from October 19 - 25, 2014. It is your commitment to standing in solidarity with the Congolese people that has kept this movement growing each year. Due to your engagement, an increasing number of people throughout the globe is becoming aware of the situation in the Congo and demanding that world leaders do more to help bring an end to the deadliest conflict in the world since World War Two.

The United Nations, African Union, the United States and other countries have gotten more involved, however, greater engagement is not a prescription in and of itself for peace. The application of policies grounded in justice for the Congolese people is paramount to bringing about peace and lasting stability in the Congo and the Great Lakes Region of Africa.

Young Congolese inside and outside of the Congo along with their allies in the global community are mobilizing to assure that policies are implemented to advance peace, justice and democracy in the Congo.

We encourage you to join us this October for Congo Week as we commemorate the millions of lives lost in the conflict while celebrating the country's enormous human and natural potential.

This year we are prioritizing three concrete actions:

1. Host an event during Congo Week. We also encourage you to create a team and recruit individuals and organizations (student, women, peace, labor, faith-based, human rights, environmental, etc) to participate in Congo Week.

2. Participate in the Dear John Campaign (A campaign to send a letter/postcard to Secretary of State John Kerry demanding that the U.S. support democracy in the Congo while holding its allies in the region accountable for their destabilizing of the DRC)

3. Host a fundraiser or benefit event to raise funds to support Congolese youth who are organizing for peace and justice. Find out more here about how you can support the Congo Connect Youth Initiative.

Seize the moment and become a part of a noble pursuit for peace, justice and human dignity in the heart of Africa, our home, the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Samya Lugoma
Congo Week Lead Coordinator

Kambale Musavuli
Spokesperson, Friends of the Congo

  • Stay abreast of Congo Week activities via Twitter by using #CongoWeek2014.
  • Share the Congo Week promotional video with your network.
  • Visit the Breaking the Silence: Congo Week page on Facebook.
  • Support the organizing of Congo Week with a financial contribution.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Congo Swim Kicks Off Today

COMMUNITY MEMBERS TO SWIM, WALK, RUN AND DANCE FOR PEACE AND END TO VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AND GIRLS IN DR CONGO 

This Father’s Day, Sunday, June 15th marks the official launch of CongoSwim 2014, an opportunity for everyone to bring deeper meaning to any summer activity. Keris Dahlkamp, CongoSwim founder and a Contra Costa father of two, developed the collective action as a platform to break the silence around the worst humanitarian crisis of our time and raise support for Congolese groups working for a peaceful and just future.  It is estimated that at least 6 million people have died from war-related causes, half being children under the age of 5. 

Keris Dahlkamp swims Lake Tahoe
“If it were my wife or child being affected by violence in this way, I would hope that those who could do something, would do something.  Especially since we benefit so much from Congo’s land, I invite everyone to join me because every action matters.”  Dahlkamp said.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the most mineral-rich countries on our planet.  Minerals such as coltan, tin and gold are necessary to manufacture our computers, cell phones, cars and more.  Control of the land and these resources has played a key role in fueling the conflict. 

Parents are finding CongoSwim a great way to help their children explore global citizenship and how any regular activity can be a vehicle for helping others.  Upon registering, families receive information with appropriate language to speak with children about injustice.

Children participate in Congo Swim
“I joined because there are people in Congo who are suffering and I am here using an iPad made from valuable minerals that are supposed to benefit them,” shared a nine year old participant.

Last summer, Dahlkamp swam 22 miles across Lake Tahoe where he was joined by Coco Ramanzani, a survivor of war and rape in eastern Congo.  Coco, whose story is told in the book, Tell This to My Mother, is an activist and advocate for all women and children.  Coco says, “It is too painful to imagine that all that has happened to me in Congo is happening to other women and children right now… I hope all of you will join CongoSwim. I invite everyone to invest in a future free of violence, full of human dignity.”  Ramazani will return again to the east bay and speak on August 23 following a walk around Lake Merritt. 

To learn more and register visit www.congoswim.org or call 925.812.2496.

Funds raised will be distributed as grants by Global Fund for Women and Friends of the Congo to women and youth-led groups in Congo.  CongoSwim will be officially launched at the Lafayette-Orinda Presbyterian Church (LOPC) this Father’s Day, with a call to action from Seven Hills graduating 8th grader Suzanna Creasey who walked 22 miles around the Lafayette Reservoir with her family as CongoSwim participants.  While the beneficiaries are not religiously affiliated and participants are from diverse beliefs and backgrounds, key organizing has come from the LOPC Congo Team.

For interview contact
Keris Dahlkamp                                                              
CongoSwim founder                                                      
www.congoswim.org                                                     
(925) 812-2496      

Kambale Musavuli
Spokesperson
Friends of the Congo 
www.friendsofthecongo.org
(202) 584-6512

Monday, June 02, 2014

Conflict Minerals and Congolese People's Priorities

Speech to be delivered by Jeanne Kasongo L.Ngondo of the Shalupe Foundation at the Massachusetts State House, House Chamber on May 27, 2014

Members of the Senate and the House,
Distinguished Guests,
And Fellow Citizens of Massachusetts:

On behalf of the Congolese people, I would like to thank the Congo Action Now, Congolese Community of Massachusetts, Congolese Genocide Awareness, Congolese Women's Association of New England, Génération "R", Mwinda Catholic Community, Survivors, Inc., and Women's International League for Peace and Freedom for coming together to raise the profile of the situation in the Congo.

It is a privilege and an honor to be able to address this esteemed body to convey the most pressing concerns of the Congolese people at this time in our history. Although, we are here to discuss conflict minerals and the concerns of the American consumers, I would be remiss if I did not speak to the two most pressing concerns of the Congolese people. The first of these concerns is best expressed in a March 2014 National Geographic feature that recounts an encounter between US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power and a few displaced Congolese women in a refugee camp. The author writes:
When Power asked, “What would it take for you to feel safe enough to go home?” the women all tried to speak at once. But, aside from repeating salama (peace), they didn't mention the things one usually hears are needed in Congo, and which these women clearly needed very badly: food, homes, jobs, government. Instead, they were concerned with geopolitics. One by one, they execrated their neighbor Rwanda, whose government has, according to UN investigators and others, backed militias in eastern Congo. They called out presidents and warlords by name.

“We don't want Rwanda to take a single meter of our land,” a woman said. Another got on her knees and pleaded for the international community to put sanctions on Rwanda. An old woman in the back called out, “Makenga and the rest of the leaders should be arrested.”

These Congolese women who could have asked the US Ambassador for anything; asked her for accountability, an end to the impunity and justice. The United States has heard the cries of these Congolese grandmothers and mothers and have begun to act by withholding military aid from its erstwhile ally Rwanda and we implore you to call on Secretary of State Kerry and the Obama administration to continue to hold its allies accountable and assure that Rwanda and Uganda cease their destructive interventions in the Congo once and for all.

The second concern and the most pressing, is the upcoming 2016 elections which will mark the end of a leadership that lacks legitimacy headed by President Joseph Kabila. According to the Congolese constitution, the president can only serve two five-year terms and Joseph Kabila's second term will end on December 16, 2016. Unfortunately, we are getting strong signals that Kabila will try to extend his stay in power, in spite of the tenets of the constitution and in direct contradiction to the will of the Congolese people. This represents the biggest threat to stability in the country today. This is the most pressing issue to Congolese inside and outside of the DRC. The Obama administration seems to understand this. During Sec of State John Kerry and Special Envoy Russ Feinglod's recent visit to the DRC, they made it clear in no uncertain terms to President Kabila and the Congolese people that Kabila ought to respect the Congolese constitution and step down. According to the State Department’s read out, Secretary of State Kerry said in response to a question regarding President Kabila respecting the constitution and stepping down at the end of his term in 2016 "the United States of America feels very strongly, as do other people, that the constitutional process needs to be respected and adhered to."

Respecting Congo's constitution and supporting the democratic process in the DRC is the most vital question at hand as it relates to peace and stability in the Congo and the Great Lakes Region of Africa.
I appeal to you to continue to encourage the Obama Administration and the Secretary of State to maintain its current stand and policy which is in alignment with Public Law 109-456, the law that president Obama passed as senator that calls for the US to hold its allies in the region accountable for their destabilizing of the Congo and also calls on the US government to support democracy in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Thank you. God bless you. God bless the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. And God bless the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
======================
National Geographic Article
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/03/140327-congo-genocide-united-nations-peacekeepers-m23-kobler-intervention-brigade/

State Department Read Out From John Kerry's Trip to Congo
http://www.state.gov/secretary/remarks/2014/05/225587.htm

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Brandeis & Tufts Issue Statements on Paul Kagame's Visit to their Universities

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s visit to Brandeis University this week is part of appearances he is making at several Boston-area universities, including Harvard and Tufts.  President Kagame engaged in a round-table discussion with invited guests and faculty and students affiliated with the Sustainable International Development program at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management and the Brandeis University program in Peace, Conflict and Coexistence as well as with Brandeis students originally from Rwanda.

To clarify, this event was not a public speaking engagement and was an invitation-only, academic event.

President Kagame’s visit is consistent with the principles of academic freedom and a longstanding Brandeis tradition of hosting international dignitaries, some controversial, in the interest of scholarly understanding and academic dialogue.

Thank you for your inquiry.

Ellen de Graffenreid, MA, MBA
Senior Vice President for Communications
Brandeis University
415 South Street, MS 136
Waltham, MA 02453-2728
Phone: 781-736-4213


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

As an institution of higher education, Tufts often invites leaders in public life to campus so that our community of scholars and students can hear first-hand their opinions and perspectives on the important and complex issues facing our global society. Faculty across Tufts bring to their teaching, research, and public service significant expertise in African affairs and issues related to genocide and humanitarian assistance, and many of our faculty and students have been actively involved in research and service projects in support of the Rwandan people. President Kagame was invited to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide and we welcomed the opportunity to hear his reflections on the lessons the world has learned from that tragedy. We also anticipated and welcomed the opportunity for the Tufts community to vigorously discuss those views. We are pleased that the event was well-attended and the audience fully  engaged.

Best regards,
Kimberly M. Thurler
Director of Public Relations
Tufts University
80 George Street
Medford MA 02155
Phone: 617-627-3175

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Pursuit of Democracy Continues

On February 16, 1992, Congolese Christians responded to a call by the Catholic Church to protest peacefully and demand the reopening of the Sovereign National Conference (Conference National Souveraine - CNS in French). The conference was a democratic forum composed of delegates who represented all layers of the society in the Congo (Zaire at the time) from members of civil society, political parties, the military, the diaspora, as well as the president himself (Mobutu Se Seko). This conference was tasked with interrogating the country’s history and finding a way to deal with the multidimensional national crisis (political, economic, social, cultural, and moral) that the country was facing in 1990.

On January 19, 1992, then-Mobutu-appointed prime minister Nguza Karl-I-Bond announced the suspension of the Sovereign National Conference on radio and television. This decision to suspend the CNS angered many Congolese who had high hopes that this democratic process would help the country extricate itself from dictatorial rule. The Catholic Church, which at the time distanced itself from Mobutu's regime and became more vocal about Mobutu's human rights abuse, made a call to all Christians and civil society groups for a massive demonstration to reopen the Sovereign National Conference. Thousands of marchers from all backgrounds converged on the Tata Raphaël stadium. Police and soldiers opened fire on the marchers before they could reach their destination, killing more than forty people. This incident, which caused international outcry as news began to enter the western world, forced the government to reinstate the CNS in April 1991 and served as a pivotal point in Congo's struggle toward democratization.

In his book "The History of the Congo," Dr Didier Gondola revisits this important date and give us the reason why Christians in the Congo took to the streets. He says: "In early 1992, Mobutu decided to disband the Sovereign National Conference (Conference Nationale Souveraine - CNS), an assembly whose main task was to create a new constitution and organize democratic elections. In response to this decision, strong opposition mounted among Kinshasa's independent churches. On February 16, 1992, thousands of church members took their grievances to the streets of the capital in what was dubbed by its organizers as the "March of Hope" (Marche de l'Espoir). Marchers held banners demanding the reopening of the CNS, and they chanted songs against violence and dictatorship. The peaceful march ended in a bloodbath when the army intervened and gunned down dozens of demonstrators. The March of Hope has since been held up as a major turning point in the relations between the church and state. It was also an event that precipitated the end of Mobutu's regime."

In 2014, the pursuit of genuine democracy continues as young Congolese demand that the current government respect the constitution by holding free and fair elections in 2016, when President Joseph Kabila's second term will come to an end. Per its constitution, on December 19, 2016 Congo must be endowed with a new president and hopefully one that benefits from the popular will of the people unlike the current regime which lacks legitimacy due to its appropriation of the 2011 elections.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Commemorating Independence Martyrs Day

January 4th is a historic day in Congo’s history, which serves as a national holiday. On January 4, 1959, ordinary Congolese stood in defiance of Belgian colonialism demanding independence. Congolese in Kinshasa unleashed a spontaneous uprising out of frustration with the repressive Belgian colonial regime. In his seminal work "Congo: From Leopold to Kabila," Dr Georges Nzongola Ntalaja said the march on January 4, 1959 "sounded the death knell of Belgian Colonialism in the Congo." The unifying chant of the marchers was "Indépendance Immediate" or "Independence Now" in English. The uprising represented the radicalization of the struggle for independence. It frightened not only the Belgian authorities but also the Congolese elites know as évolués.

Nine days later on January 13, 1959 both the King of Belgium and the Belgium government announced that in due time Belgium would grant Congo full independence. In the conscience of the nation, the day represents the historic point of departure for the independence of the Congo from Belgian colonialism.

The courageous stance by that generation of Congolese served as a key catalyst for Congo’s independence in 1960. Since the 1960s Congolese have celebrated and commemorated that generation’s actions and named the day “la journée des martyrs de l’indépendance,” or in English, independence Martyrs Day. Without a doubt, Congolese of that era made enormous sacrifices for freedom and independence.

This year's Martyrs Day is without a doubt dedicated to the recently passed Congolese hero Colonel Mamadou Ndala who was assassinated on January 2nd due to a mortar attack near Beni in the North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Colonel Mamadou was a solider of the people and loved by the people due to his bravery, patriotism and willingness to sacrifice his own life to protect a beleaguered people. Colonel Mamadou is the latest in a long line of martyrs who have fought for peace, justice and human dignity in the heart of Africa.

Congolese youth of today continue to make sacrifice for a better future for the sons and daughters of the Congo?

Join the global movement in support of a peaceful and just Congo!

Monday, December 02, 2013

Prescription for Lasting Peace and Stability


DR Congo: Prescription for Lasting Peace and Stability
by
Kambale Musavuli

The 17-year quest for peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo has taken a significant step in the right direction after the national military routed the Rwanda and Uganda-backed M23 militia and declared an end to its reign of terror against the Congolese people; however, many concerns remain.

In order to support this victory and make lasting improvements in stability and security in the region, it is critical to understand why, after such a long time, these efforts to defeat a Rwanda-backed  militia group have finally met with success. The following factors have played a decisive role:

1. The group was weakened earlier this year after an internal split that drove an estimated 600 of its members to seek refuge in Rwanda. The leader of one wing of the group, Bosco Ntaganda, was delivered to the International Criminal Court to stand trial.

2. Through demonstrations and rallies the Congolese people have been increasingly pressuring their government to defend the nation and provide its soldiers the necessary tools to protect the people.

3. The Congolese military in the North Kivu province was restructured and reorganized to better orchestrate offensive operations.

4. The United Nations implemented resolution 2098 issued in March 2013 and fielded a new 3,000 strong Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) made up of South African, Tanzanian and Malawian soldiers. The FIB provided back-up and support for the newly retooled Congolese forces.

5. After 17 years of providing virtual carte-blanche to the Rwandan regime and its repeated interventions in the DRC, both the Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom and the Secretary of State of the United States called President Paul Kagame and impressed upon him the importance of his noninvolvement; President Kagame was instructed to refrain from sending back-up and reinforcement to the M23 while they were being confronted by the Congolese military and the UN's Force Intervention Brigade.

The international political pressure brought to bear on President Paul Kagame and the Rwandan regime is probably the most critical element resulting in the defeat of the M23 militia.

After 17 years marked by impunity and lack of accountability, the last two years of instability in eastern Congo (supported mainly by Rwanda and to a lesser extent Uganda in their backing of the M23 militia) has driven Washington to act. A series of factors contributed to the U.S. taking a reluctant stance against its key ally in the Great Lakes region of Africa. UN reports documenting Rwanda's support for the M23 led the U.S. to withdraw military aid from its staunch ally in the summer of 2012.

A number of European nations followed suit in withholding aid from Rwanda on the basis of the UN findings. A game-changer came only a few months after. In November 2012 the Rwanda backed-M23 captured the city of Goma (a city with an estimated 1 million inhabitants) and humiliated the nearly 20,000 strong UN troops who are in the Congo ostensibly to protect Congolese civilians. UN reports subsequently documented the role of Rwandan soldiers in the capturing of the city by the M23. The U.S. sanctioned Rwanda in the fall of 2013 for its support of M23 who continued to recruit and abduct children and again withheld military aid to Paul Kagame’s regime.

Until recently the U.S. has been largely silent on its allies’ destabilization of Congo despite a law on the books since 2006 that unequivocally calls for holding them accountable (Section 105 of U.S. Public Law 109-456, authorizes the Secretary of State to withhold aid from neighboring countries that destabilize the Congo).  Damning evidence of the destabilizing role that Rwanda and Uganda have played is well documented and some international actors have sought to hold them accountable.

In 2005 the International Court of Justice ruled against Uganda in a case involving war crimes, crimes against humanity and the pilfering of Congo’s riches. The court ruled that Congo was entitled to $10 billion in reparations as a result of Uganda's crimes in the Congo. (The Wall Street Journal also reports that fearing possible action by the ICC, Uganda's Yoweri Museveni asked Kofi Annan to block an investigation).

In 2008, the Spanish Courts under the principle of Universal Jurisdiction issued an international arrest warrant for 40 of Rwanda's top officials for crimes they committed both in Rwanda and the Congo. The documents show that President Paul Kagame would have been indicted, himself, if heads of states were not immune from such an indictment. That same year, both the Netherlands and Sweden withheld aid from Rwanda for its support of militia (Congress for the National Defense of the People – CNDP, the precursor and parent of M23) in the DRC.

Although many other militia groups remain active in the DRC and must be dealt with in order to stabilize eastern Congo, responsible reportage must acknowledge that M23 is unique and more symptomatic of a regional and international problem than a merely national one. M23 is not simply “a militia;” it is a proxy military force that has been repeatedly reinforced and backed by neighboring states. Enabled by their status as U.S. allies, Rwanda and Uganda have been free to act with impunity in the region and at the same time shielded from the institutions of justice put in place to ensure accountability. Despite the mounds of evidence, neither the U.S. nor the UN has placed any of the top level Rwandan leaders recommended by the UN Group of Experts on its sanctions list – a sure sign of the continued favor and protection that has been feeding the cycle of military aggression and instability in eastern Congo.

Unless stronger political action is taken and these violent actors face justice, history indicates that this cycle is likely to repeat.  The M23 constitutes the latest iteration of so-called rebellions that have, in fact, been a series of militia groups backed by both Rwanda and Uganda since 1996. The militia backed by Rwanda include: Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire, 1996 - 1997; Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD) 1998 - 2003; National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP), 2004 - 2009; and M23, 2012 - Present.  Rwanda is still holding militia leaders who are either on the UN and US sanctions list or wanted by the Congolese government for their war crimes in the Congo – most notably Jules Mutebusi, Laurent Nkunda and Jean-Marie Runiga and Uganda is in possession of Sultani Makenga. These individuals and other top-level officials in the Rwandan regime must face justice.

Though there’s much current celebration around the “defeat of M23,” it is important to understand that peace will ultimately take root in the DRC only when at least three conditions are met:

1. Rwanda and Uganda must definitively cease its 17 years of intervention and military aggression in the DRC. Although the U.S. and UK have put pressure on Rwanda to abandon its support of the M23, pressure must be placed on both Rwanda and Uganda to permanently abandon their interventions in the DRC.

2. The Congolese people must have a legitimate government that has the support and popular will of the population at large. The current government, which lacks legitimacy, has mainly served to exacerbate the conflict and has contributed to serious diplomatic blunders at the regional, continental, and international levels.

3. Finally, and most importantly, it is only once the Congolese people control and determine their own affairs that lasting peace, stability and human dignity can be restored in the heart of Africa.

Kambale Musavuli is based in New York City, and serves as the spokesman for the Friends of the Congo, a group that raises global consciousness about the situation in the Congo and provides support to local institutions. He is featured in the short film "Crisis in the Congo: Uncovering the Truth," an abbreviated version of the upcoming feature length documentary that explores the role that the United States and its allies, Rwanda and Uganda, have played in triggering the greatest humanitarian crisis at the dawn of the 21st century.