After an absence that ran far too long, I am happy to be back in Bujumbura, Burundi en route to Congo.
I arrived just in time to see the result of the Burundian ‘election’—there was only one candidate. Much to the surprise of international observers, the US Department of State, and myself, the only candidate was reelected with a minimal amount of disarray in Bujumbura. Some quartiers in Bujumbura were victims of opposition-led grenade attacks and shootings. However, the general opinion in town was that some disturbances are only normal for a Great Lakes election. So one experiences an air of business as usual in Bujumbura, an incumbent president successful in his campaign, and an unsettling finality to a more or less stolen election.
Across the border in Congo, the end of June brought the celebration of their 50th year free from Belgian colonial rule. Amid the country-wide parades, demonstrations of military prowess, and self-congratulatory speeches given by President Joseph Kabila, a movement of discontent was visible and televised throughout the region. Large demonstrations were organized throughout eastern Congo as counters to the enthusiastic celebration of the 50th anniversary of independence. Most were led by groups holding signs declaring ‘50 Years of Blood Flow’, ’50 Years Later: The Theft Continues During Our Days’ and ‘Congo Raped Before and After Independence’. Organizers were quoted at length, and most commented on the current kleptocracy’s theft of minerals and lack of proper allocation of profit towards social services promised by the current government, the continuing violence in North and South Kivu provinces, and the feeling that war will always be a part of Congolese day-to-day life.
These protest marches were of course not meant simply to give a pessimistic air to Congo’s party, but to call attention to the overwhelming failings of the current administration to address the issues which affect all Congolese. Of these, the issue which comes to the forefront and draws me here again is sexual violence, and the quite literal rape of Congo.
In 2007, I was fortunate enough to stumble upon the work of a Congolese NGO called SOS Femmes en Danger (SOS FED), which works to provide basic care for the ever-increasing number of rape victims in south Kivu Province. AP was able to solidify a tight partnership with SOS FED since then, and has been working to support and draw international attention to their work. This next year, with the help of AP and the German Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations (IVF), SOS FED is unrolling a broad-based campaign of rape prevention, which is targeted towards empowering women to reduce their personal and collective vulnerability to rape. As AP’s representative in Congo, I am charged with monitoring and reporting abroad on this ambitious project. Marceline Kongolo, SOS FED’s Executive Director, has already been recognized by US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and scores of the ‘who’s who’ in foreign service, and I am pretty honored to be part of her excellent team again. I’ll be blogging regularly until January, and will be providing much more in depth information as we go along. Please don’t hesitate to follow this blog, link to it where pertinent, and help get the word out about SOS FED’s work in eastern Congo. I’m off to Congo tomorrow morning, and I must say I am itching with anticipation over this much-awaited homecoming.
Posted By Ned Meerdink (DR Congo)
Posted Jul 5th, 2010