Love In Entebbe

April 26, 2008

Whenever I see Entebbe Airport, I now think of the song lyric, “looking for love in all the wrong places.” It all started when my wife and I arrived there for the first time.

No airport looks very good after you’ve spent 24 hours getting there–in coach. But Entebbe is sadder looking than most, especially after midnight. At least it was bustling. Our flight was one of a handful of big jets from Europe to stop there every week. Once we deplaned and the next load of passengers boarded, its next stop was Amsterdam, so there was quite a bit of activity. But despite all the hustling porters and hopeful taxi drivers, it was still midnight in Uganda, dark, mysterious, and just a little bit threatening. It was an appropriate setting, I suppose, since I was there to do research for my novel, Heart of Diamonds.

I assumed it was too late to change some dollars for Ugandan shillings, but our driver, a can-do sort of guy, said it would be no problem. We followed him around the terminal away from the dwindling crowd in the dimly-lit parking lot into a dark passageway that led to an even darker staircase. Bad thoughts bubbled to the surface of my jet-lagged brain, but I followed him anyway.

We went up the stairs to a glass storefront that looked very, very closed. The door slid open at our touch, however, and we stepped up to the counter–even though there wasn’t a human in sight nor any light to see them by if there had been.

Our driver rapped sharply on the counter and a girl popped her head up from the opposite side, looked around with surprise, then disappeared beneath the counter again.

We heard a little scuffling and a smothered giggle, then the girl appeared again, wearing a sheepish grin this time. Mustering her dignity while trying to button her blouse, she stood up straight and asked how she could be of service. A cough came from beneath the counter, which she answered with a kick.

With love all around, I decided Entebbe wasn’t such an unfriendly place after all.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds, a novel of the Congo

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A Sad World Malaria Day

April 25, 2008

World Malaria Day draws attention to a disease that kills a million people, mostly children, every year around the globe. While great strides have been made in some places, mainly through the distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets and other preventive measures, children in the Democratic Republic of Congo remain highly vulnerable.

According to the World Health Organization, less than 1% of DRC children under five years of age sleep under protective nets. This results in most of them suffering six to ten malaria-related fever incidents per year. The disease also accounts for 45% of childhood mortality, which overall runs to 20%. In short, malaria kills nearly one in ten children in the Congo every year.

As Valerie Grey learns in Heart of Diamonds, continuous armed conflict in the country is responsible for many of these deaths. Medical supplies can’t be distributed when roads, railroads, and airstrips have been destroyed. Treatment can’t be delivered by medical personnel who have been chased from their clinics and hospitals. People driven from their homes, plagued by malnutrition, inadequate shelter, and lack of sanitary facilities are weak and less capable of warding off disease. War creates a breeding ground for death by malaria just as surely as swamps full of stagnant water breed anopheles mosquitoes.

Although the intensity of conflict has decreased since the truce of 2003 and democratic elections of 2006, millions of displaced persons still struggle to survive and hot spots remain in the eastern and western provinces. Collapsed infrastructure has severely weakened the health system in the DRC, and the strengthening process is a slow one.

The DRC, unfortunately, has little to celebrate this World Malaria Day.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

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Huge Diamond Tragedy

April 20, 2008

The big news in the diamond market last week was that global auction house Sotheby’s failed to hammer off a 72.22-carat, “D” flawless white diamond at its Hong Kong sale. The large diamond which had a pre-sale estimate of $10-12 million, but attracted a final bid of only $9.24 million, according to Sotheby’s press officer Rhonda Yung.

It’s a crying shame Sotheby’s couldn’t persuade a buyer to bid more than $9.24 million for the pretty sparkler. Perhaps the benighted bidder, having failed to meet the undisclosed reserve price, might care to spend that sum on something worthwhile, like the well-being of the people who were exploited to find such baubles. I don’t know if the rock came from one of the diamond mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but the per capita annual income is less than $1 per day in that troubled nation, which means the disappointed buyer’s tidy $9 mil would support more than 30,000 people for a year.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

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Obama Beer Wins Kenyan Hearts (and Stomachs)

April 18, 2008

Kenyans are so proud of favorite grandson Barack Obama that they’ve named a beer after him—and vaulted it to the top of the sales charts.

According to Business Week, the beer is officially named “Senator Keg,” a draft brew launched by East African Breweries in November, 2004, the same month that Obama won his U.S. Senate seat.  The company says the name was a pure coincidence, but Kenyans don’t care.  They’ve unofficially dubbed it “Obama Beer” and are guzzling it so fast the company can barely meet demand.

Kenyans are extremely proud to claim Barack Obama as one of their own since his father was born in the country and he still has relatives living there.

Of course, another reason the beer is so popular is its price, about 30 cents a glass.  It was originally aimed at replacing cheap but dangerous home brews in a country where more than half the population lives on less than $1 per day, which makes mainstream beers selling for $1 to $3 a bottle prohibitively expensive.

The big question, of course, is whether “Obama Beer” will replace champagne as the drink of choice at the Presidential Inaugural Ball in 2009.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds


Botswana Proves A Point

April 8, 2008

Not all African governments are as intransigently harmful as Robert Mugabe’s in Zimbabwe. Just next door, Botswana recently transferred power from the democratically-elected Festus Mogae to his party’s new leader, Ian Khama, demonstrating that African government does not have to be synonymous with tyranny.

Botswana also demonstrates that natural resources do not have to inevitably fall into the hands of the strongest strong man or the most rapacious ruler. Her diamond mines, discovered a year after the country achieved independence in 1967, make Botswana the world’s largest diamond producer. But they are operated through a partnership between the state and the DeBeers Group that provides 60% of the government’s revenues.

Those monies, in turn, go not into a despot’s foreign bank account or to pay for private armies, but rather into places where government funds can do the most good: education, health care, public works, and a working justice system. The mines also provide jobs for thousands of Botswanans whose wages ripple throughout the economy, raising the standards of living for all.

Botswana is no Utopia, but it has the highest GDP per capita forecast in sub-Saharan Africa, $8,453, according to global investment banking group UBS. Botswana is also ranked as the continent’s least corrupt country by Transparency International. The country has reduced the mother-to-child transmission rate for HIV from 40% of all live births to a mere 4% today.

Botswana proves the point that nations of Africa can prosper once they throw off the bonds of strongman tyranny.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

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TV That All Must See

April 3, 2008

I don’t normally cross-post to my various blogs, but this entry is of such importance it needs to be read by the widest possible audience

One of the themes of Heart of Diamonds is the effect of rape on the women of the Congo, but my fiction is only a shadow of the outrageous reality. To see the real story, watch Lisa Jackson’s horrific yet uplifting documentary, The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo, airing Tuesday, April 8 on HBO.

If you can’t watch the program, read the filmmaker’s testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary on April 1. Her words, along with those of Karin Wachter of the International Rescue Committee, Dr. Kelly Dawn Askin of the Open Society Justice Initiative, and Dr. Denis Mukwege, Director of the Panzi General Referral Hospital in the DRC, tell a story of a literal crime against humanity whose scope is almost beyond comprehension.

The crime is rape, which has become a true weapon of mass destruction in what has been rightly called the Third World War, the conflict in the Congo which has claimed five million lives—ten times the number of lives lost in Darfur, to make a shameful comparison.

Statistics can’t express the truth of rape, although hundreds of thousands of women and girls, from one-year-old babies to 80-year-old grandmeres, have been assaulted, abused, enslaved, and tortured in the Congo. Much of the truth, in the form of first-person narratives, is told in the documentary. Following are some chilling stories from Lisa Jackson’s testimony that also tell the real truth of rape:

Veranda is 35 years old and has survived two attacks; she was first raped by Rwandese militia -the Interahamwe group -and again by thieves dressed in Congolese Army uniforms.

Safi lives in the hills above Bunyakiri and was raped at age 11 while her home was being looted by soldiers. Her huge eyes still have a slightly stunned look as she tells me that when she grows up she hopes to be a nun.

Maria Namafu was 70 years old when she was raped by three soldiers. When she told them “I am an old woman” they said “you’re not too old for us.”

Faida was kidnapped from her home in Bunyakiri, enslaved and raped repeatedly by Interahamwe soldiers. She died from the resulting infections in 2007.

Compounding the crime is the near total lack of coverage by media around the world. We can only hope that this documentary will lift the blanket of silence that has been covering this shameful blight on humanity.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds, a novel of the Congo


Urgently Must See TV

April 3, 2008

One of the themes of Heart of Diamonds is the effect of rape on the women of the Congo, but my fiction is only a shadow of the outrageous reality. To see the real story, watch Lisa Jackson’s horrific yet uplifting documentary, The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo, airing Tuesday, April 8 on HBO.

If you can’t watch the program, read the filmmaker’s testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary on April 1. Her words, along with those of Karin Wachter of the International Rescue Committee, Dr. Kelly Dawn Askin of the Open Society Justice Initiative, and Dr. Denis Mukwege, Director of the Panzi General Referral Hospital in the DRC, tell a story of a literal crime against humanity whose scope is almost beyond comprehension.

The crime is rape, which has become a true weapon of mass destruction in what has been rightly called the Third World War, the conflict in the Congo which has claimed five million lives—ten times the number of lives lost in Darfur, to make a shameful comparison.

Statistics can’t express the truth of rape, although hundreds of thousands of women and girls, from one-year-old babies to 80-year-old grandmeres, have been assaulted, abused, enslaved, and tortured in the Congo. Much of the truth, in the form of first-person narratives, is told in the documentary. Following are some chilling stories from Lisa Jackson’s testimony that also tell the real truth of rape:

Veranda is 35 years old and has survived two attacks; she was first raped by Rwandese militia -the Interahamwe group -and again by thieves dressed in Congolese Army uniforms.

Safi lives in the hills above Bunyakiri and was raped at age 11 while her home was being looted by soldiers. Her huge eyes still have a slightly stunned look as she tells me that when she grows up she hopes to be a nun.

Maria Namafu was 70 years old when she was raped by three soldiers. When she told them “I am an old woman” they said “you’re not too old for us.”

Faida was kidnapped from her home in Bunyakiri, enslaved and raped repeatedly by Interahamwe soldiers. She died from the resulting infections in 2007.

Compounding the crime is the near total lack of coverage by media around the world. We can only hope that this documentary will lift the blanket of silence that has been covering this shameful blight on humanity.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

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