Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Some Preliminary Thoughts on Rape in eastern Congo

Stories about rape in Congo come in two varieties: one emphasizes their horrific details, the other their frequency. So there is Nick Kristof writing about women who are "re-raped" and little girls whose "eyes are luminous with fear." And then there are the headlines reporting that the incidence of rape increased 17-fold between 2004 and 2008, or that rape is 26 times more common in Congo than previously thought.

Both sorts of stories generate a sense of urgency about the issue, which is why advocacy and relief groups tend to latch on to them. But I suspect that this is short-sighted. Whatever sense of urgency they generate almost certainly results in diminishing returns, as journalists compete for the most lurid details or find they have to keep topping the last estimate to get published. The overarching effect is to make the problem seem foreign, incomprehensible, and irresolvable. The reader starts by feeling pity for the victims and ends by wondering what kind of people do this to their women. So it's worth stating what should be obvious: It's simply not true that rape has "become a sickening part of everyday life in the [DRC]," as one reporter wrote--and Congolese are fed up with that depiction of them.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Is this the Deadliest Killer in eastern Congo Today?

Mosaic is a fly-borne virus that attacks manioc, the staple crop in eastern Congo. When I visited rural areas near Bukavu, villagers came up to me spontaneously to complain that they were going hungry because of it.

Anyone reading this blog will be aware of how important manioc is to the local diet. Its tuberous, starchy root is a reliable source of carbohydrates; its leaves provide some of the nutritive value that the tuber lacks. There are crops that can substitute for manioc: sweet potato and beans grow in similar conditions, though neither produces as many calories. And both of those crops must be harvested and stored, while manioc can be left in the ground until needed.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Native Sons: A Round-Up of the Presidential Candidates

A paradox: nearly everyone in Congo believes that Joseph Kabila will win the presidential election scheduled for November, yet almost no one I spoke to plans to vote for him. Granted, I was mostly in Bukavu, the stronghold of Vital Kamerhe. But dissatisfaction with Kabila is pervasive. His campaign slogan, "If you don't believe in my words, believe in my deeds" (Si vous ne croyez pas à mes paroles, croyez à mes œuvres), elicits--in fact almost seems to invite--widespread incredulity. "What has he done?" ask Congolese, who have seen little improvement in the country's services, infrastructure, or security during his tenure.

Clockwise, from upper left: the incumbent, the challenger, the wild card, and the old lion

Despite his unimpressive record, most Congolese believe Kabila has a lock on the presidency, for three reasons: 1) He has the resources to give away those small gifts (such as t-shirts or pagnes) that, come election time, often sway poor and uninformed voters in Africa. 2) They think he'll manipulate the process, as he already has, for example, by rewriting the constitution so that the election is decided by a one-time, first-past-the-gate vote. 3) They believe that if all else fails Kabila will simply cheat, by rigging the electoral rolls, stuffing the ballot boxes, reporting false results, and so on. When Congolese talk about the likelihood of a Kabila reelection I sense more resignation than outrage; how much of that is African fatalism and how much simple realism only time will tell.

In this post, I review the main candidates' electoral prospects: Who are they, where do they get their support, and what are their platforms? Who would be likely to win, were there a free and fair election? In future posts, I'll review Kabila's record of governance and peer into my crystal ball to discuss potential scenarios: How likely are we to see the sort of post-electoral violence that erupted in Kenya and Cote d'Ivoire, for example? How might the West react if Kabila were to cheat his way to victory? How might the Congolese react?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

What the Kids Are Listening to

Despite their taste for Brazilian soap operas and American action flicks, most Congolese continue to prefer music produced and sung by their own countrymen. With its distinctive Afro-Cuban roots, Congolese rumba, like Jamaican reggae, is immediately recognizable. You can pretty much tell if a song is Congolese within the first ten seconds or so, regardless of whether it was recorded 50 years ago or last week. That said, the Congolese music scene has come a long way from the days of Tabu Ley Rochereau, Mbilia Bel and Papa Wemba. Here is a sampling of the most popular musicians playing today.
The group Wenge Musica from 1987-88, with Werrason and JB Mpiana at the microphones. Photo Credit: Wikipedia.