Congo Independence Day – Time To End Rape

June 30, 2009

As the Democratic Republic of Congo celebrates forty-nine years of independence today, it is time to make some hard choices to stop the epidemic of rape that has infected the nation like an insidious disease. Hundreds of thousands of women of all ages have been attacked and mutilated, publicly abused and often forced into sex slavery. They aren’t the only sufferers; their children are scarred by the crime, their husbands humiliated, their villages destroyed.

Some view rape as a symptom of a larger illness that afflicts the Congo, but I believe it is a disease in and of itself—one that threatens to kill the nation. Like many chronic afflictions, it will only be cured when the root causes of the illness are vigorously treated. To eliminate rape in the Congo, three difficult remedies are required.

The first course of treatment is to end the armed struggle for control of mines and other assets in the Eastern provinces of the DRC. Gang rape is used as a weapon to terrorize the populace around the mines that produce gold, tantalum, and tin and it will continue to be employed until someone conclusively defeats the various armed groups that profit from those mines. These include the FDLR (remnants of the Hutu Interahamwe that fled to the Congo after the 1994 Rwandan genocide), local Mayi-Mayi militia, and even rogue elements of the Congolese army itself.

Just as important is disenfranchising the businessmen and politicians both inside and outside the Congo who profit from the chaos. Non-combatant leaders of these groups, whether they be in Kinshasa, Kigali, Munich, Brussels, or Paris, must be charged with war crimes and turned over to the ICC for prosecution. Their ill-gotten gains should be confiscated and returned to the DRC.

Unfortunately, this treatment will require intervention by a well-equipped, professional armed force ready to complete the job. The Congolese army, the FARDC, is a poorly-led collection of untrained men, many of whom were “integrated” into the national army after fighting against it as members of various rebel militias. Congolese troops, upset over lack of pay, recently fired on UN forces with whom they are supposedly allied.

U.N. forces themselves are fettered by a confusing mandate and troops spread too thinly over a huge area. They recently stepped up the campaign against the FDLR, but haven’t shown much success. Retaliation from that action and a joint Congolese-Rwandan campaign earlier this year has actually increased the number of attacks against women in the region.

A competent force from the African Union, European Union, or even the United States, one that doesn’t report to those with economic interests in the region, will be necessary to complete this crucial first course of treatment.

The second stage is to prepare the patient to care for himself. The FARDC must be turned into a professional army. Soldiers need to be paid so they have less incentive to extort the civilian population. They must be taught that rape is wrong and perpetrators will be punished. The command structure must be cleaned out and corrupt officers replaced by competent leaders. Recent statements by Africom Commander William E. “Kip” Ward that the U.S. military will be working with the Congolese to raise the professionalism of their armed forces is a welcome start in that process.

The criminal justice system in the DRC needs to be strengthened as well. Steps have been taken in this direction, but much more has to happen before women can safely come forward to press charges against rapists without fear of retribution and with some hope that justice will actually be meted out. The 2006 national law criminalizing rape sounds good–the maximum penalty was doubled to 20 years and rape investigations are to be given priority–but that’s just on paper. Until there are sufficient trained policemen and women to enforce them, rapists will continue ravaging society.

The third stage of treatment will perhaps be the hardest of all. A culture of impunity has been created during the years of the rape epidemic and it will probably take many more years of interdiction and education to eradicate it. An entire generation of young men have grown up seeing violence against women as normal. They’ve been taught that it is perfectly all right to demand sex from any woman at any time and to take it by force if refused. With eighty percent of all children in this generation denied an education by the war in Congo and a million refugees still homeless while the fighting continues, there is no social infrastructure to teach them otherwise.

Support services for the victims of rape have gained traction in the last couple of years and the spotlight on their suffering grows brighter and brighter with films like “The Greatest Silence: Rape In the Congo,” “Lumo,” and Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, “Ruined.” Organizations like Women for Women International and Heal Africa are doing wonderful work to give these women back their lives.

But little or nothing is being done to instill a sense of shame and a core of decency to the men who commit these horrors. Until they are treated, the disease will never be cured.

The Congo that achieved freedom from Belgium in 1960 should have become the beating heart of Africa. With $25 trillion dollars in mineral wealth, more than enough potential hydroelectricity to power the continent, and vast regions of fallow land that could feed hundreds of millions of people, the DRC should be a vibrant, booming nation. It teeters instead on the brink of failed statehood; a sad shell of a nation that survives mainly due to the indomitable spirit of its people.

That spirit has survived more than a century of colonial oppression, war, and kleptocracy, but it is threatened now by the debilitating disease of rape. Unless that sickness is cured, the future of this should-be great nation is in serious doubt.

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


AMD Changes “Congo” Name In Response To Letter

June 18, 2009

The open letter I published here and on Daily Kos last week convinced computer chip giant AMD Corporation to change a product code name, according to an online report on technology site CNET News. I had complained about the company’s recent decision to name a new computer chip “Congo” because of the connection between conflict minerals used in electronic devices and the brutal war in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In the letter, I pointed out that nearly six million people have died in the Democratic Republic of Congo since 1998 and the death toll continues to mount as fighting over the country’s mineral resources continues. Currently, more than a million Congolese have been driven from their homes and farms by the fighting in the Eastern provinces. It is estimated that 250,000 women have been brutally raped and mutilated by armed groups seeking to control communities where mines are located.

While use of the term “Congo” was certainly inadvertent and many, especially in the tech world, felt I was making a mountain out of a mole hill, the company recognized that the code name was ill-chosen. Here’s what they told CNET News reporter Elinor Mills:

Contacted for comment this week, AMD spokesman John Taylor said the company “truly regrets” causing any offense, even unintentionally. “It was an oversight not to see that (the code name) could be viewed in an entirely different context,” he said.

AMD began using the name “2nd Generation Ultrathin Platform” instead of Congo as part of a natural pre-launch naming transition, Taylor said. “The Daily Kos blog helped finalize and expedite a process that was already in motion,” he added. “We’re striving for that codename to be retired.”

I appreciate AMD’s response to the naming issue. What’s equally important is their statement that AMD adheres to the Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC) Code of Conduct, which is researching extractive metals supply chains for tin, tantalum, and cobalt.

Thanks to all who joined in the complaint to AMD by communicating with the company in response to the original post.

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


Book Fans Hear Why Congo Matters

June 11, 2009

I recently spoke about Why Congo Matters at the Westchester Library System’s 18th Annual Book and Author Luncheon. Here’s the video of my full remarks.

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


Open Congo Letter To Hewlett Packard

June 9, 2009

The newly-announced “Congo” microchip from AMD will reportedly be used to power laptops built by Hewlett-Packard. I conveyed my outrage to HP CEO Mark Hurd in the following letter:

June 9, 2009

Mr. Mark Hurd
Chief Executive Officer
Hewlett-Packard Company
3000 Hanover Street
Palo Alto, CA 94304-1185

Dear Mr. Hurd:

You may not realize it, but your company has decided to use a new AMD microchip that links your products to the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. I’m referring to the recently announced “Congo” chip from AMD, which I understand is slated to be introduced in an HP laptop this year.

Nearly six million people have died in the Democratic Republic of Congo since 1998 and the death toll continues to mount as fighting over the country’s mineral resources continues. Currently, more than a million Congolese have been driven from their homes and farms by the fighting in the Eastern provinces. It is estimated that 250,000 women have been brutally raped and mutilated by armed groups seeking to control communities where mines are located.

Among the prizes that fuel this conflict are gold, tungsten, coltan, and cassiterite. Coltan, as I’m sure you know, is a source of tantalum, a mineral used in the manufacture of capacitors widely used in many electronics including ultra-thin laptops like the ones destined to be powered by AMD’s “Congo” chips. Tin, a key material in the production of many electronic components, comes from cassiterite. Both ores are mined under horrific conditions in the DRC from deposits controlled by various militias and rebel groups. The Enough Project estimates that these groups generate some $144 million from the illicit trade in these and other minerals. Those profits buy weapons that have killed millions of people and threaten to destroy the nation known as “Congo.”

While the new AMD chip may not include these minerals, connecting the product to the conflict is an incredibly bad idea. Your statement of corporate responsibility reads in part:

“We fulfill our responsibility to society by being an economic, intellectual and social asset to each country and community where we do business.”

On behalf of the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo, I urge you to fulfill that promise and ask AMD to change this product name. I also call on you to commit to policing your supply chain to ensure that your company’s purchases do not contribute to the abuse and deaths of innocent people.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Dave Donelson
Author of Heart of Diamonds

This entire affair may seem like a small marketing faux pas, but the term “Congo chip” is already being used as a generic term and will evidently be adopted by other manufacturers to describe the technology. According to Brook Crothers of CNET:

Other vendors will follow with low-power dual-core Congo chips later this year, according to AMD. The new silicon will be used in 24 designs across 11 different PC makers–though AMD says this list is expected to grow.

What’s next in the totally tasteless world of technology marketing, “Holocaust” chips?

Yesterday, I provided a link to AMD. If you would like to email this letter (or your own thoughts) to HP CEO Mark Hurd, the company provides a convenient form for that purpose.

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


“Congo” An Outrageous Decision By AMD

June 8, 2009

The recent decision by AMD to name a new computer chip “Congo” has to go down in marketing history as one of the cruelest decisions ever made. Here’s the letter I sent in response:

June 8, 2009

Mr. Dirk Meyer
Chief Executive Officer
AMD Corporation
PO Box 3453
Sunnyvale, CA 94088-3453

Dear Mr. Meyer:

Your company’s recent decision to name a new microchip “Congo” is astoundingly heartless and ill-informed. Did you really mean to link your product to the world’s worst humanitarian crisis?

Nearly six million people have died in the Democratic Republic of Congo since 1998 and the death toll continues to mount as fighting over the country’s mineral resources continues. Currently, more than a million Congolese have been driven from their homes and farms by the fighting in the Eastern provinces. It is estimated that 250,000 women have been brutally raped and mutilated by armed groups seeking to control communities where mines are located.

Among the prizes that fuel this conflict are gold, tungsten, coltan, and cassiterite. Coltan, as you know, is a source of tantalum, a mineral used in the manufacture of capacitors widely used in many electronics including ultra-thin laptops like the ones destined to be powered by your “Congo” chips. Tin, a key material in the production of many electronic components, comes from cassiterite. Both ores are mined under horrific conditions in the DRC from deposits controlled by various militias and rebel groups. The Enough Project estimates that these groups generate some $144 million from the illicit trade in these and other minerals. Those profits buy weapons that have killed millions of people and threaten to destroy the nation known as “Congo.”

While your new chip may not include these minerals, connecting the product to the conflict is an incredibly bad idea. Your statement of corporate responsibility reads in part:

“Our success in business is built on a core value of respect for people. From our employees around the world, to our customers and partners, to the families who live in the communities where we operate – people come first and foremost.”

On behalf of the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo, I urge you to fulfill that promise and change this product name. I also call on you to commit to policing your supply chain to ensure that your company’s purchases do not contribute to the abuse and deaths of innocent people.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Dave Donelson
Author of Heart of Diamonds

If you’d like to email this message (or your own) to AMD, feel free: Investor.Relations@amd.com

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


Congo Rape Testimony Moves Senate

June 6, 2009

Chouchou Namegabe Nabintu testified recently before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs and the new Subcommittee on International Operations and Organizations, Human Rights, Democracy and Global Womens Issues, moving the audience with her eloquent appeal for US help in stopping terror rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Senator Barbara Boxer said after Chouchou’s testimony that “In the Senate today, the silence on this issue has ended.”

The hearing was titled “Confronting Rape And Other Forms Of Violence Against Women In Conflict Zones Spotlight: DRC and Sudan”. Also testifying were Melanne Verveer, US Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, Esther Brimmer, US Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs, Phil Carter, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of African Affairs, Eve Ensler, founder of V-Day, Robert Warwick, Country Director of Southern Sudan International Rescue Committee, Neimat Ahmadi, Save Darfur Coalition, and John Prendergast, founder of The Enough Project.

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