Rape Terror Report Updated

August 30, 2008

Anderson Cooper’s report on CBS TV’s Sixty Minutes reflects stories like those told in Heart of Diamonds. The original episode aired in January, but was updated in August. The report bears watching because it’s a story that needs to be told again and again until the brutality stops in the Congo.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

Tags: , ,

Advertisements

Lines On A Map

August 27, 2008

The map of Africa is almost complete. On March 11, 1913, Britain and Germany signed a treaty that determined who got what in the region divided by the Akwayafe River. On August 21, 2008, two states that did not exist at that time put the border agreement into effect once again, with Nigeria formally handing over the Bakassi peninsula to Cameroon.

The two countries, driven to the brink of war by the possibility that oil was to be found in the region, had supplied yellowing documents from the colonial era to justify their claims before the World Court in 2002. This agreement supposedly ends that dispute.

What’s of interest is that the lines drawn by Nigeria and Cameroon bear no more relation to the wishes of the people who live in the region than did the squiggles placed on the map by the Europeans 95 years earlier. What do national borders mean, anyway? Does it matter who drew them?

The question isn’t really whether Africa should observe colonial borders, it’s whether a choice exists to do otherwise. After all, what option exists? Even if by some miracle the lines on the map could be re-drawn, would we have each tribe be the master of its own country? Each and every linguistic group? Each and every religious sect? The mind boggles at the prospect.

All national borders–-as well as all states, provinces, parishes, canons, counties, cities, towns, and hamlets–-are arbitrarily imposed by some group on another. With luck, they serve to unite disparate residents into a common cause that promotes and protects the greater good. What matters isn’t the borders or who drew them; it’s what good will lies in the hearts of the people within.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

Tags: , ,


Striking Congo Doctors Return To Work

August 26, 2008

A week-long strike by doctors in the Democratic Republic of Congo has ended with a promise. It remains to be seen whether this one is any better than the last pledge by the government to address the concerns of Synamed, the union representing the physicians.

The doctors say although they are returning to work, they are skeptical the government will abide by the agreement to increase salaries and address the deterioration of the medical system in the ravaged country. Kambamba Mbwebe, a doctor in the 2,000-bed Kinshasa General Hospital, said,

“I personally don’t rely on that government. This is not the first time they are promising things. University professors had the same bad game, they (government) promised to increase their salaries and it was exactly the same thing. The government failed to live up to its word. This is the same problems with many professional groups although there is a document that has been signed with our unions, I’m still skeptical.”

Kinshasa General Hospital logs over 3,000 consultations daily. Its 2,000 beds are constantly full. Patients are expected to pay for treatment, but fees aren’t nearly high enough to cover costs. The vast majority of the patient population is impoverished, which doesn’t help.

Doctors in public hospitals earn about 120,000 Congolese francs per month, including bonuses. That works out to about $216, a sum insufficient to cover even the Congo’s low cost of living. Many doctors are reported to be on the verge of eviction for inability to pay rent. They are asking for a raise to an average of $580 per month as well as payment of a risk bonus and permanent appointments for doctors with temporary employment.

The government, meanwhile, claims to have fulfilled to the doctors’ demands.

“We did not ignore any of the doctors’ claims. Quite to the contrary, many of the issues were resolved between January and August 2008,” said Makwenge Kaput, the Minister for Health.

He claims that unpaid bonuses had been paid and salaries raised.

Mbwebe responds,

“It’s unacceptable that ministers, government officials and members of parliament earn more than $4,000 a month and buy new cars while we suffer.”

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

Tags: , ,


Nothing As It Seems In Congo

August 24, 2008

The irony was leafy green and growing like a giant red mahogany tree as conflicting reports on logging in the Congo were released on the same day this month. In one, The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) says Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification has now been achieved for forestry operations on nearly 3 million acres in the Congo River Basin. In the other, a World Bank-backed review of all timber contracts in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) said that more than three quarters of its logging deals should be canceled for not meeting necessary standards.

Ecologists calling for more logging? Government demanding a halt? It’s the kind of news that makes the Congo endlessly fascinating.

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is home to 358-million acres of rainforest, the world’s second-largest tract of oxygen-producing, air-scrubbing greenery. It’s a rich resource among the many natural assets (like diamonds, the prize at the center of Heart of Diamonds, my novel of the Congo) that have attracted exploiters from all over the globe for over a hundred years. According to Greenpeace, more than 40% of it will disappear before timber industry chainsaws by 2050.

It doesn’t have to happen, of course, and steps are being taken to prevent an ecological and economic disaster of those proportions. Unlike diamonds, trees are a sustainable resource. Careful management of forests can provide fuel, lumber, and pulp—thus generating jobs, tax revenues, and economic stimulus to a country that sorely needs them—while maintaining the environmentally-critical forest itself for the long term. That’s what the FSC certification is supposed to encourage. Laurent Somé, WWF Central Africa Regional Programme Office (CARPO)’s Representative, says

“WWF is convinced that the adoption of responsible forestry schemes by logging companies will contribute greatly to the conservation of the Congo Basin forests and towards improving the national economy and also improve the livelihoods of local communities.”

The critical element is governmental oversight of logging concessions to insure that logging companies practice sustainable forestry while living up to contracts that provide tax revenues to build desperately-needed roads, schools, and hospitals. The DRC review of the technical and legal aspects of 156 logging deals, mostly signed during a 1998-2003 war and subsequent corruption-plagued interim government, showed that only 29 of the contracts met the minimum standards required.

Among the contracts recommended for cancellation are 10 of 16 belonging to Portuguese-owned Sodefor, a unit of NST. Siforco, a subsidiary of Germany’s Danzer Group, had three of its nine deals highlighted as corrupt while Safbois found both of its contracts on the cancellation list. Together the three companies account for more than 66 percent of all timber exported from Congo.

Many of the deals were signed despite a moratorium on logging contracts imposed by the DRC in 2002. According to Greenpeace, concessions were bought for pennies and tax and royalty payments avoided by manipulation of records, off-shore accounting shenanigans, and under-reporting of timber harvests. The DRC’s ability to bring the industry under control will be a key determinant of the Congo’s economic future.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds


Congo Doctors Strike

August 24, 2008

Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and setting for many scenes in Heart of Diamonds, is a metropolis of 8,000,000 people served by a dozen public hospitals and 2,700 doctors. Those doctors went on strike this week.

The cause was low salaries. Doctors in public hospitals earn about 120,000 Congolese francs per month, including bonuses. That works out to about $216, or roughly the price of a 15-minute office visit to a doctor in America.

A spokesman for Synamed, the union representing the physicians, accused the government of reneging on an agreement to provide an extra $3.6 million for salary increases in July following a previous strike in January. “Nothing has been done since, so we have decided to begin a general strike from today,” said Synamed chief Mankoy Badjoky on Monday. The strike will continue until “the government honors its commitments,” Badjoky added. Nearly all doctors in Kinshasa took part in the strike this week while it was also observed in other cities.

The doctors are demanding a salary of 320,000 Congolese francs ($580) per month as well as payment of a risk bonus and permanent appointments for doctors with temporary employment.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

Tags: , ,


Congo Rainforest Irony

August 14, 2008

The irony was leafy green and growing like a giant red mahogany tree as conflicting reports on logging in the Congo were released on the same day this month. In one, The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) says Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification has now been achieved for forestry operations on nearly 3 million acres in the Congo River Basin. In the other, a World Bank-backed review of all timber contracts in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) said that more than three quarters of its logging deals should be canceled for not meeting necessary standards.

Ecologists calling for more logging? Government demanding a halt? It’s the kind of news that makes the Congo endlessly fascinating.

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is home to 358-million acres of rainforest, the world’s second-largest tract of oxygen-producing, air-scrubbing greenery. It’s a rich resource among the many natural assets (like diamonds, the prize at the center of Heart of Diamonds, my novel of the Congo) that have attracted exploiters from all over the globe for over a hundred years. According to Greenpeace, more than 40% of it will disappear before timber industry chainsaws by 2050.

It doesn’t have to happen, of course, and steps are being taken to prevent an ecological and economic disaster of those proportions. Unlike diamonds, trees are a sustainable resource. Careful management of forests can provide fuel, lumber, and pulp—thus generating jobs, tax revenues, and economic stimulus to a country that sorely needs them—while maintaining the environmentally-critical forest itself for the long term. That’s what the FSC certification is supposed to encourage. Laurent Somé, WWF Central Africa Regional Programme Office (CARPO)’s Representative, says

“WWF is convinced that the adoption of responsible forestry schemes by logging companies will contribute greatly to the conservation of the Congo Basin forests and towards improving the national economy and also improve the livelihoods of local communities.”

The critical element is governmental oversight of logging concessions to insure that logging companies practice sustainable forestry while living up to contracts that provide tax revenues to build desperately-needed roads, schools, and hospitals. The DRC review of the technical and legal aspects of 156 logging deals, mostly signed during a 1998-2003 war and subsequent corruption-plagued interim government, showed that only 29 of the contracts met the minimum standards required.

Among the contracts recommended for cancellation are 10 of 16 belonging to Portuguese-owned Sodefor, a unit of NST. Siforco, a subsidiary of Germany’s Danzer Group, had three of its nine deals highlighted as corrupt while Safbois found both of its contracts on the cancellation list. Together the three companies account for more than 66 percent of all timber exported from Congo.

Many of the deals were signed despite a moratorium on logging contracts imposed by the DRC in 2002. According to Greenpeace, concessions were bought for pennies and tax and royalty payments avoided by manipulation of records, off-shore accounting shenanigans, and under-reporting of timber harvests. The DRC’s ability to bring the industry under control will be a key determinant of the Congo’s economic future.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

Tags: , ,


Olympic Team Gives Hope To Child Soldiers

August 11, 2008

Lopez Lomong, the Sudanese “lost boy” who led 600 American athletes onto the field during the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, could be Christophe, one of the main characters in Heart of Diamonds, my novel of scandal, love and death in the Congo. Lomong’s story had a happy, triumphal ending; Christophe’s tale is more typical of the thousands of child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo and other nations where boys and girls are kidnapped, drugged, brainwashed, and bullied into becoming killers, rapists, and sex slaves.

In 1991, Lomong fled the Sudan at the age of six after having been separated from his parents by the civil war between the Arab north and Christian south that left two million dead in his still-deeply-troubled native land. He was one of the “lost boys” who trekked on foot for hundreds of miles, many dying of starvation and even lion attacks as they made their way to refugee camps in Kenya. In 2001, he was one of the 4,000 boys resettled in the United States.

Lomong is now an American citizen, a successful middle-distance runner, who was chosen by his teammates to carry the Stars and Stripes in the parade of nations during the opening ceremonies in Beijing. Christophe is a fictional character, but his story is much more typical.

In the opening scene of Heart of Diamonds, Christophe tells how he was captured and forced to watch his mother’s brutal rape, torture, and murder by guerrillas who attacked his village near the Congo’s border with Angola. The fourteen-year-old is forced to kill a fellow villager before being marched away to begin his life as a child soldier. He plays a key role throughout the book, but his story doesn’t end as happily as Lopez Lomong’s.

Heart of Diamonds is a work of fiction, of course, but thousands of children in the Congo have suffered Christophe’s fate. They are captured by militias, guerrillas, and war lords like dissident general Laurent Nkunda, whose National Congress for the Defense of the Congolese (CNDP), was reported to have deployed child soldiers as recently as December, 2007. Bosco Ntaganda, chief of staff of Nkunda’s militia, has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for conscripting children, but Nkunda has refused to turn him over for trial.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

Tags: , ,