One Gorilla’s Opinion

February 28, 2009

Mountain Gorilla
Taken while researching Heart of Diamonds

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Rwandans Go Home, Little Changes In DRC

February 26, 2009

The latest Rwandan adventure in the Democratic Republic of Congo is over. The Rwandan army has marched back across the border to the huzzahs of their countrymen, international organizations are issuing laudatory press releases, and now it’s time to take stock of what was accomplished. It appears to me that much happened while very little changed.

The Rwandan troops were invited to the Congo by DRC President Joseph Kabila, ostensibly to destroy the FDLR, the remnants of the Hutu Interahamwe who have been terrorizing both countries from bases in the Kivus since they fled there following the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Unlike the last two times the Rwandan army marched into the DRC on a similar mission, this one was conducted jointly with the Congolese army rather than against it.

My guess is that the operation was a quid-pro-quo in which the Rwandans agreed to remove Laurent Nkunda as commander of their proxy army, the CNDP, in return for the opportunity to take over some of the FDLR’s economic activities in the Congo. Kabila got rid of a major thorn in his side, a man who threatened to march across the DRC to overthrow the government, a threat not to be taken lightly considering how consistently Kabila’s forces rolled back the Congolese army in other operations last fall. We’ll probably never know what the Rwandans actually received–how many illegal mines, expropriated farms, and surreptitious transport routes for the Congo’s wealth to make its way into Rwanda.

Kabila also agreed to integrate the CNDP, now under the leadership of indicted war criminal Bosco Ntaganda, into the FARDC, the Congelese army. Terms of that settlement are still being worked out in negotiations supervised by former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo and Tanzania’s former leader Benjamin Mkapa. Like everything else in this very fluid situation, it remains to be seen whether the CNDP (and other, previously-integrated units of the Congolese army) will actually carry out their duties in the interest of the DRC or of someone else.

Politics aside, what of the announced goal of operation Umoja Wetu, the joint mission to destroy the FDLR? Official sources say 153 rebels were killed (and eight government troops), about 5,000 Rwandans were persuaded to return to their homeland, and the FDLR’s capacity to operate was substantially disrupted. Sounds good until you realize the FDLR was believed to have 5,000 to 7,000 soldiers in the DRC, so the loss of a few dozen isn’t going to make much difference.

The FDLR leadership is still living the good life in Germany, supported by the extorted profits of their troops in the DRC and scoffing at the hoopla. You can be assured that they won’t feel a thing.

That can’t be said for the civilians in the Kivus, who are waiting for the retribution to begin in earnest. The FDLR has already killed hundreds while the Congolese and Rwandan armed forces were attacking and can be expected to carry out its quite explicit threat to retaliate with a paroxysm of pillage, murder, and rape.

Who is defending the civilians? With the Rwandan troops on their way home, that job is left to the FARDC, an army made up of rogue units and unpaid soldiers whose record of civilian terrorism is no better than the FDLR’s.

And where is the UN? They say they will be supporting the Congolese in a second operation against he FDLR while making sure the rebels don’t retake the areas secured by the joint operation. But words are cheap. My guess is the blue helmets will be in the same place they have been for the last fifteen years in the Kivus, assiduously guarding their own bases and escorting NGO’s and journalists to places where they can be sure their vehicles won’t get scratched. MONUC wasn’t consulted about the joint Rwandan-Congolese operation, although they were allowed to observe from a distance–a tactic which the UN forces have used frequently.

In the Congo, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the


Lynn Nottage Captures Horror of Congo Rape

February 25, 2009

The Pulitzer flags should be flying over Lynn Nottage’s acclaimed play, Ruined, which I saw recently during its NY run. The play exposes the horrors of terror rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) through the stories of victims of the crime.

Nottage chose to write a play about the strife in the Congo much the same way I was drawn into the crisis with Heart of Diamonds. She started out to write something else–in her case, an adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage–but was compelled by the reality of the modern tragedy in the DRC to create an entirely different work. The world should be thankful she made that choice.

Ruined centers on Mama Nadi and her tavern cum whorehouse in the Ituri region of the Congo. The stories of Mama Nadi’s “girls” are told in a swelling chorus of pathos among a parade of soldiers, rebels, miners, and traders who show up looking for relief from the violence wracking the countryside.

Each of the women tells a story of how they were victimized by the conflict. Josephine (played by Cherise Boothe), the daughter of a village chief, had been cast adrift when the social structure of her homeland was destroyed by war over the region’s mineral wealth. Salima (Quincy Tyler Bernstine) was snatched by rebels and used as a sex slave for five months before she returned to her village, only to be rejected by her husband and family.

The plot revolves around Sophie (Condola Rashad), who was “ruined” by a gang of rebels who mutilated her genitals in an act of terror rape all too common in the Congo today. Rashad’s performance perfectly captures the tragic effects of the crime. Her sweetly innocent face contrasts sharply with the awkward way her body moves in response to the constant pain from her injuries.

In an telling touch, most of the soldiers, rebels, and miners are played by the same cast members in alternating roles, emphasizing the shifting nature of loyalties and alliances in the real conflict playing out today in the Congo.

Mama Nadi is the star of the play and Saidah Arrika Ekulona portrays her as a flamboyant, strong-willed survivor, hard-crusted but soft-hearted, a woman for the ages. Her bravery in the face of the ever-heightening violence is the pillar that supports the entire play.

The emotional climax comes early in the second act (in a scene that reminded me greatly of Ogastine’s story in Heart of Diamonds) when Salima delivers a soliloquy about her horrific experience. The audience literally gasped when she described the details of her capture, then you could hear them squirming uncomfortably as she told how she was used as a sex slave. The theater was struck silent when she related her return to her village expecting succor only to be given the back of the hand and driven away by her husband.

The heart-wrenching, mind-stopping production premiered last fall at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre and moved to Manhattan Theater Club’s Stage 1 at City Center (where I saw it) this month for a limited time. The run in New York has been extended, but it will probably end soon, so I strongly recommend you order tickets today.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the


More Praise for Heart of Diamonds

February 25, 2009

Heart of Diamonds got a four-star review at J. Kaye’s Book Blog. Among other things, J.Kaye said,

“…one of the most positive aspects of the book was Donelson’s realistic portrayal of the main characters and the warlike conditions in Africa.”

For links to more reviews, visit www.heartofdiamonds.com.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the


Four-star Review for Heart of Diamonds

February 24, 2009

J. Kaye’s Book Blog gave Heart of Diamonds a highly-favorable four-star review. Among other things, J.Kaye said,

“…one of the most positive aspects of the book was Donelson’s realistic portrayal of the main characters and the warlike conditions in Africa.”

For links to more reviews, visit www.heartofdiamonds.com.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the


"Ruined" Exposes Horrors of Congo Rape

February 24, 2009

The Pulitzer flags should be flying over Lynn Nottage’s acclaimed play, Ruined, which I saw recently during its NY run. The play exposes the horrors of terror rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) through the stories of victims of the crime.

Nottage chose to write a play about the strife in the Congo much the same way I was drawn into the crisis with Heart of Diamonds. She started out to write something else–in her case, an adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage–but was compelled by the reality of the modern tragedy in the DRC to create an entirely different work. The world should be thankful she made that choice.

Ruined centers on Mama Nadi and her tavern cum whorehouse in the Ituri region of the Congo. The stories of Mama Nadi’s “girls” are told in a swelling chorus of pathos among a parade of soldiers, rebels, miners, and traders who show up looking for relief from the violence wracking the countryside.

Each of the women tells a story of how they were victimized by the conflict. Josephine (played by Cherise Boothe), the daughter of a village chief, had been cast adrift when the social structure of her homeland was destroyed by war over the region’s mineral wealth. Salima (Quincy Tyler Bernstine) was snatched by rebels and used as a sex slave for five months before she returned to her village, only to be rejected by her husband and family.

The plot revolves around Sophie (Condola Rashad), who was “ruined” by a gang of rebels who mutilated her genitals in an act of terror rape all too common in the Congo today. Rashad’s performance perfectly captures the tragic effects of the crime. Her sweetly innocent face contrasts sharply with the awkward way her body moves in response to the constant pain from her injuries.

In an telling touch, most of the soldiers, rebels, and miners are played by the same cast members in alternating roles, emphasizing the shifting nature of loyalties and alliances in the real conflict playing out today in the Congo.

Mama Nadi is the star of the play and Saidah Arrika Ekulona portrays her as a flamboyant, strong-willed survivor, hard-crusted but soft-hearted, a woman for the ages. Her bravery in the face of the ever-heightening violence is the pillar that supports the entire play.

The emotional climax comes early in the second act (in a scene that reminded me greatly of Ogastine’s story in Heart of Diamonds) when Salima delivers a soliloquy about her horrific experience. The audience literally gasped when she described the details of her capture, then you could hear them squirming uncomfortably as she told how she was used as a sex slave. The theater was struck silent when she related her return to her village expecting succor only to be given the back of the hand and driven away by her husband.

The heart-wrenching, mind-stopping production premiered last fall at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre and moved to Manhattan Theater Club’s Stage 1 at City Center (where I saw it) this month for a limited time. The run in New York has been extended, but it will probably end soon, so I strongly recommend you order tickets today.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the


Congo History in New Video

February 21, 2009

Kadi Kabeya, a fine filmmaker from Congo who is now living in Canada, is producing a series of documentary videos explaining the political history of the DRC. Here are the first three in what promises to be a very enlightening production:

You can see more of Kadi Kabeya’s excellent work at KM Media Productions.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the