Congo Week Bay Area events schedule follows this story – visit CongoWeek.org for events around the world
by Minister of Information JR
This week is Congo Week, when people around the world are putting extra emphasis on studying, teaching, advocating, boycotting and protesting the war that has torn apart the land and the lives of the Congolese. Their suffering is due to the multinational corporate and government theft of their mineral wealth, most notably their coltan reserves.
Coltan is a mineral necessary for making electronic things work – like cellphones, ipods, PS3s and laptops. Over 6 million Congolese have been murdered to assure that the corporations and governments involved have a corner on the market for the minerals that the Congo produces.
Kambale Musavuli is the spokesman for Friends of the Congo, an organization that is a voice for the Congolese people to be heard. I personally have learned so much from Kambale in the very short time that I have met him about his home, an African country that borders nine other countries on the continent. Congo is one of the richest countries in the world in mineral wealth, and it is under siege.
In the spirit of Congo Week, POCC Block Report Radio and the SF Bay View newspaper did this interview to inform our readers about this very dire situation that is happening as we speak in the Congo.
M.O.I. JR: What is Congo Week? How did it start? Who leads it? And what locations are participating this year?
Kambale: Congo Week is a global movement, which calls on people of good will all around the world to speak out about the injustices in the Congo. Since 1996, it is estimated that nearly 6 million people have died in the Congo due to the conflict. Student leaders and community organizers have responded to the silence surrounding the lives lost in the Congo with a global movement to “Break the Silence” and raise awareness about the violence, especially against women and children.
The purpose is to mobilize people in a global teach-in and other activities, including a one-hour global cell out on Wednesday, Oct. 21, from 12 noon to 1 p.m., where we turn off our cell phones in commemoration of the lives lost, leave a message on the phone about our cell phone connection to lost lives in the Congo and, upon turning the phone on, we send a text message to six of our friends letting them know about the situation in the Congo and to visit congoweek.org to get involved in the global movement.
This global Congo movement would not have existed without the support of the students at the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. In March 2008, the Aggies organized the world’s first “cell out” – a boycott of cell phone usage to raise awareness about the devastating situation in the Congo. Following the “cell out,” the Aggies helped to create Break the Silence Week. People from around the world hosted events to raise awareness about the situation in the Congo and provide support to Congolese people on the ground.
Friends of the Congo, an advocacy organization I am a part of, leads the movement by providing community leaders around the world with materials, films, action items and ideas on how they can participate in Congo Week.
At this moment, we have more than 30 countries and 200 universities and many more communities participating in Congo Week. From Japan to United Kingdom, Sweden to South Africa, Canada to Costa Rica and even countries like Romania, Australia, Ireland and many more … are all joining this global movement in support of the people of the Congo. You can visit www.congoweek.org to look at the full lists of participants.
Kambale: Literally, there has been a conspiracy of silence around what has been happening in the Congo, not only today but since 1885 at the Berlin Congo Conference when Congo was given to King Leopold II – his 23-year reign of rubber and ivory extraction caused the deaths of over 10 million Congolese – as his own personal property by conquering European powers. The atrocities that have occurred in the Congo since that time have been able to continue due to global silence and complicity.
Congo is not far-fetched from our reality here in America. Nowhere outside Africa could the deaths of an estimated 6 million people in a 12-year period not cause a global outcry. The United Nations says the conflict is the deadliest in the world since World War II, and former Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland has said the Congo is “the killing fields of our generation.”
Yet, the world community is silent. Doctors Without Borders has reported that Congo is one of the top 10 most underreported stories. We live in a world where Black lives are undervalued and under-appreciated.
But things do not have to remain this way. We can “break the silence” and change the attitudes and beliefs that have trapped the world in a mindset that undervalues a fellow member of the human family. The very act of breaking the silence is an act of valuing Black lives.
I always state that if you were outraged about the killing of Sean Bell in New York, you should be outraged about the war in the Congo. If you were outraged about the Jena 6 incident with the nooses hanging in the tree, you should be outraged about the Congo. If you were outraged about how the government responded in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in our New Orleans community, you should be outraged about the Congo.
“We live in a world where Black lives are undervalued and under-appreciated. The very act of breaking the silence is an act of valuing Black lives.”
And if the killing of Oscar Grant by the BART police has made you realize the degree to which Black lives are devalued, you should be outraged about what is happening in the Congo because there is no greater case in the 21st century of the devaluing of Black lives on a mass scale.
By your speaking out on the Congo and breaking the silence, you are actually valuing your own life and the lives of those unjustly killed, tried or oppressed here in America – as it is the same beast who is oppressing people all around the world.
M.O.I. JR: How did the war in the Congo start and when?
Kambale: Since 1996, the Democratic Republic of Congo has been the epicenter of the deadliest war since World War II, leading to the deaths of nearly 6 million people due to the invasions of staunch U.S. allies Rwanda and Uganda. Combatants on all sides routinely use rape and sexual violence as a weapon to destroy women, families and communities to get to the riches in the soil. Over 200,000 women have been raped in the course of combat. The perpetrators of sexual violence have acted with impunity and have not been held accountable for their actions.
If one added together the death toll in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Tsunami in Asia, Darfur, and the genocide in Rwanda and Kosovo, the total count of the dead would not equal the death in the Congo. This modern-day holocaust is happening in our lifetime due to the scramble for Congo’s mineral resources, which are vital to the functioning of modern society.
It is fueled by the illegal trade in minerals such as coltan, controlled by warring groups, supported by Rwanda and Uganda. Sixty-four percent of the world’s reserves of coltan – used in cell phones and laptop computers – is located in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
M.O.I. JR: What role can people in the U.S. play with ending the war in the Congo?
Kambale: As stated earlier, the two nations, Rwanda and Uganda, have invaded the Congo twice, in ‘96 and ’98, with the full backing of the U.S. and British governments and have continued to support militias inside Congo. These two nations are receiving military equipment in the sum of millions of dollars of U.S. taxpayers’ money, which then in turn is being used to terrorize a whole nation of 65 million peace-loving Congolese.
Former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney held a congressional hearing in 2001 under oath, which clearly shows that these nations could not have invaded the Congo without the help of the U.S. military. People in the U.S. can do three basic things:
1. Put pressure on your local and national leaders for the U.S. change its policy towards the Congo by taking the lead on a diplomatic and political offensive as opposed to the militarization approach it has backed since 1996.
2. Pressure U.S. and other global corporations involved in the fueling of the conflict and the exploitation of the Congolese people.
3. Support local Congolese institutions by sending contributions and equipment and providing a global platform for their voices to be heard.
I would be remiss if I did not say that the best way people can help is to bring their talents, skills, know how and expertise to bear on the global movement in support of the people of the Congo. Let us know the myriad ways we can best mobilize your communities to develop a global consensus to bring an end to the conflict and assure that the affairs of the Congo are determined by the people of the Congo.
M.O.I. JR: Historically, what has the role of Black people from the U.S. been in the struggle for the Congo and its people to be able to live off of its resources?
Kambale: Blacks here in the U.S. have long been advocates for the Congo. Beside the fact that some of the enslaved Africans here in the U.S. came from the Congo region, we know that Blacks here returned in the late 1800s to break the silence around the deaths of more than 10 million Congolese under the rule of King Leopold II of Belgium.
I am speaking of activists such as George Washington Williams, who came to the Congo in the 1890s, saw for himself how Congolese were being killed, and raised his voice by challenging the United States to stop supporting Belgium due to the killing in the Congo. Another notable Black man is William Henry Sheppard, a Presbyterian missionary to the Congo who also advocated for the Congolese people and moved to the Congo with his wife, helping local communities.
And the most profound story comes from a freed enslaved African, Maria Fearing. She had the opportunity to hear Sheppard speak at Talladega College in Alabama when he came back to the U.S. to fundraise for his project in the Congo. As she listened to his presentation, she was so moved that she asked him what she could do to help. Sheppard asked her to come to the Congo with him. She went home, sold her house, took the funds she had and went to the Congo with three other Black people. As she arrived there, she lived in the Congo for two years supporting herself financially, learned the language and helped translate the bible into Tshiluba, a language spoken in the central area of the Congo.
When I think about her, I am always so moved by her actions and the many others who came after her, such as Dave Chappelle’s mother, Dr. Yvonne Seon, who was the first Black person from America to work with the first Congolese government in 1960 under Patrice Lumumba. I think of people like Elder Elombe Brath with the Patrice Lumumba Coalition who has kept the Congo’s flame lit in the consciousness of Blacks in America for decades. You also have people like Jim Hope and Ambassador Shirley Barnes, to name some others who have been engaged on the side of the people of the Congo.
Yes, Blacks here in America have always been at the side of the Congolese people.
M.O.I. JR: Now that Clinton and Obama have left Africa, what did they promise?
Kambale: Obama made a promising statement in his speech in Ghana that made the Congolese hope that the United States was changing its course. He said, “We must bear witness to the value of every child in Darfur and the dignity of every woman in Congo.”
Then in late summer, we had Hillary Clinton come to the Congo to see the situation for herself and pledge $17 million – we later found out that this was old money and already allotted before she set foot in the Congo – to help the rape victims and build a new hospital. As soon as she left, from our supporters on the ground, we are being told that U.S. military advisers arrived in the Congo and shared with the locals that they would give every woman a cell phone so that when she is raped she can call the police with that phone. This was just another example of how people outside the Congo help the Congolese without even asking them what they should be doing to bring peace in the Congo.
The fastest way to end the conflict in the Congo is to pressure United States allies Rwanda and Uganda, who continue to have carte blanche to intervene in Congolese affairs, simply because these nations have served as the gateway for the illegal trade of minerals to the U.S. and the rest of the world.
Even Hillary Clinton at the African Business Summit this past September praised Paul Kagame as an exemplary leader in Africa when it has been documented many times how he has been at the center of the killing of millions of Africans while the U.S. continues to support him.
It is now evident that the U.S. policy has not changed from Bill Clinton to George Bush and now to Obama. This is why I believe that it will take ordinary Americans who care about the lives of their fellow human beings and understand that their killing is caused by the greed of Western nations – and we are all suffering from it.
M.O.I. JR: What do you think about AFRICOM?
Kambale: The short answer is it needs to end now. I can think of 10 things that Congo and Africa can use, and AFRICOM would not come close to being on the list. AFRICOM is basically a way for the United States to protect U.S. investment in resources in Africa, maintain its strategic interests and combat China’s growing influence in Congo and Africa at large. In the final analysis, AFRICOM will militarize the continent, buttress strongmen as is being done in Uganda and Rwanda and cause the suffering of the people of Congo and Africa to continue unabated.
Say NO to AFRICOM! Call and tell your member of Congress not to fund AFRICOM because it will lead to further suffering of people in Africa and increased looting of Africa’s wealth with the backing of U.S. taxpayers.
Congo Week: Schedule of events in the Bay Area
There is a media blackout about Congo and no worldwide resolution to end the conflict and carnage there. Now a very exciting development is underway throughout the globe. In October 2008, students and community activists in 35 countries and 150 university campuses from the U.S. and Canada to England, Belgium, Germany, France, Brazil, Jamaica, Norway, Korea, Ghana, Mali, South Africa, Colombia etc. organized events dealing with the Congo – films, lectures, demonstrations and more – in their communities and on their campuses. They called the undertaking “Break the Silence” Congo Week, a week of activities in solidarity with the people of the Congo.
The purpose of the Break the Silence Congo Week is to raise awareness about the devastating situation in the Congo and mobilize support on behalf of the people of the Congo. Congo Week II will take place from Sunday, Oct. 18, to Saturday, Oct. 24, 2009. Here is the lineup of events in the Bay Area:
Saturday, Oct. 17, 10 p.m.-4 a.m., at Cornelia Bell, 1018 Pine St., Oakland: Nkembo, Nkembo! African Dance Party with legendary Bay Area DJs DJ Lenoir, DJ Omar, DJ Damion, DJ Elembe and DJ Burt spinning Soukous, Reggea, Mbalax, R&B and Rap. Fee: $20 or $10 with cell phone donation.
Sunday, Oct. 18, 10 a.m.-12 noon, at Bobby Hutton Park, 18th and Adeline St., Oakland: Community Prayer.
Sunday, Oct. 18, 1-8 p.m., at the Black Dot Café, 1195 Pine St., Oakland: Films and discussion: “The Corporate Plunder of Africa,” “Dollars and Danger in Africa,” “Africa: the First and Last Frontier.” Food and beverages available. Fee: $5 or free with cell phone donation.
Monday, Oct. 19, 7-9 p.m., at the Malonga Casquelourd Center, 1428 Alice St., Second Floor, Oakland: Congolese Dance Class with Regine B. Ndounda. Fee: $12 or $11 with cell phone donation.
Tuesday, Oct. 20, 8-9:30 p.m., at Dance Mission, 3316 24th St. at Mission, San Francisco: Congolese Dance with Makaya. Fee: $12 or $11 with cell phone donation.
Wednesday, Oct. 21, 3-6 p.m., at San Francisco State University, Cesar Chavez Center, 1650 Holloway Ave., San Francisco: Film and discussion with Mike Kabangu on “Black King, Red Rubber, White Death”; Congo Dance & Drum Presentation by Visual Sounds of Africa. Fee: Free with cell phone donation.
Wednesday, Oct. 21, 7-9 p.m., at San Francisco State University, Jack Adams Hall, 1650 Holloway Ave., San Francisco: Congo-Diaspora Dance Workshop with Lungusu Malonga, Rehema Bah, Isaura Brazil, Constant Massengo, Mbay Louvouezo, Lakiesha, Makaya and more. Fee: $10 or $8 with cell phone donation.
Friday, Oct. 23, 6:30-8:30 p.m., at the Humanist Hall, 390 27th St., Oakland: “Be Part of a Change Agenda in the Congo” presentation and discussion by Dr. Patrick Cannon, CSUS, Nkusu Muanza, Boona Cheema and Muadi Mukenge with performances by local Congolese performing artists and groups. Fee: $5 with cell phone donation.
Saturday, Oct. 24, 1-2:30 p.m., at the Malonga Casquelourd Center, 1428 Alice St., Second Floor, Oakland: “Kongo Suite Congo” Dance Workshop with Muisi-kongo Malonga and Regina Califa. Fee: $15 or $14 with cell phone donation. 1:00-2:30pm
Saturday, Oct. 24, 6:30-9:30 p.m., at the Black Dot Café, 1195 Pine St., Oakland: Film and discussion: “The Heart of Africa.” Fee: Free with cell phone donation. Congolese dinners for sale.
This information was sent through the courtesy of the Congolese Dance & Drum Workshop and Fua Dia Congo performing arts, www.congolesecamp.org. For more information on Bay Area Congo Week activities, contact Rehema Bah, AfricaTesito, Creating African reConnections, (510) 764-2449, firstname.lastname@example.org.