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Profound Evil in the Congo

Perhaps we’ve heard so little about them because the crimes are so unspeakable, the evil so profound.

For years now, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, marauding bands of soldiers and militias have

 been waging a war of rape and destruction against women.—Bob Herbert

HBO Exposé Sheds Light on African Country’s Violence against Women



The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo

Film Review by Kam Williams


While many people may be aware of the decade-long civil war raging in the Democratic Republic of Congo, most have no idea that one of the by-products of that brutal conflict has been the wholesale kidnapping, rape, torture and mutilation of hundreds of thousands of the nation’s women. Sadly, superstitious soldiers on both sides see females as a sort of spoil of war, and have come to rationalize mistreating them out of a sick belief that they must commit rape to defeat the enemy.    

The upshot is that the land is now littered with innumerable mentally and physically traumatized women, walking wounded whose blank faces have the same 1000-yard stare found on army veterans who’ve spent too many hours exposed to battle. Bewildered and still vulnerable, they roam the countryside in search of an elusive oasis of safety in a place which only offers more violence.

Wading into the midst of this scary scenario, we find Lisa Jackson, an intrepid American filmmaker willing to risk her own life to shed light on the ongoing tragedy. Jackson can empathize because she herself had been gang-raped in Washington, DC at the age of 25. So, she understands the lingering effects of what they’ve experienced.

In this powerful documentary, The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo, she not only interviews many victims, but ventures into the jungle to confront their perpetrators as well, to see whether any feel remorse about perpetrating crimes against humanity. They don’t. One sicko thinks the practice is okay because, “God says man is superior to woman.” Another arrogantly brags that he never uses condoms when taking a woman against her will and that he thinks an herbal antidote can cure him of being HIV+.

We see that as a result of these sexual assaults, Congolese females are suffering from everything from AIDS to chronic pain to incontinence disfigurement to sleeplessness and fear. A doctor attending to the endless stream of patients says, “Every day there is a new horror.”

Typical is the despondent soul who sorrowfully recounts for the camera how her husband’s head was lopped off right in front of her, and the rest of his body chopped in half. Then, the murderer knocked out most of her teeth with the butt of his rifle before raping her right on the spot. Jackson shows how the problem appears to be intractable, because even when apprehended, attackers rarely spend any time behind bars, since rape has become a culturally-accepted, even encouraged lifestyle.

The exposé closes by then assessing the Congo’s prospects pessimistically, given that one of the best ways of judging a society is by how highly, or in this case lowly, it regards its women. For, when its women are being systematically raped without recourse, the whole country is being affected.

A chilling reminder of why John Lennon once wrote a song entitled, “Woman is the [N-word] of the World.”

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Excellent (4 stars) / Rated TV-MA for profanity, violence, nudity and adult content. / In English, French and Swahili with subtitles. Running time: 76 minutes / Studio: HBO-TV

Rape in the Congo premieres on HBO at 10 PM (EST/PST) on Tuesday, April 8th  (check local listings)

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Profound Evil in the Congo

“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.”—“Nature Boy”

In 1982, I spent 10 weeks in the Congo. It was then called "Zaire." It was just outside the town of Bukavu in the province of Kivu, which is connected to Rwanda. I passed through Rwanda and fields of banana trees on the way to a Congo village, Luberizi, where I spent a night or two before returning to what had been a Belgian boy's school, which had become a staging ground for the Peace Corps. We initially had flown into Goma from a Ugandan airport. Assembling at the Goma airstrip, other volunteers and I rode a bus on the rough road to the staging area by Lake Kivu. It was an uneasy place to live for it had been used as a Belgian air drop by insurgents interested in breaking off the southwestern sector of the country.

The fear of Mobutu was everywhere. I never got to Lubumbashi in Shaba province but rather returned to Kinshasa, the capital near the River Zaire, before I took a flight back to Washington, DC.

In the 1990s after the genocide in Rwanda, the beautiful hills  and plains of Kivu, this eastern Congo province, was overrun by Hutus responsible for the genocide in Rwanda. That war by Rwandan insurgents has been ongoing for over a decade. Below are several excerpts of articles about the massive numbers of rapes of women and girls that have taken place. Why rapes were used as a part of warfare, too, is  inexplicable. One observable says, Rape is cheaper than bullets. But I do not think Evil is so simple.

There has been a great silence from Americans (black and white) on these most egregious crimes against humanity. While some pursue Rupert Murdock, owner of the New York Post, I hope more with turn their eyes and hearts toward the female victims of Africa's most brutal internecine wars. These Congolese women and girls are in great need of sympathy and supportRudy

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The Invisible War— Women and girls of all ages, from old women to very young children, have been gang-raped, and in many cases their sexual organs have been mutilated. The victims number in the hundreds of thousands. But the world, for the most part, has remained indifferent to their suffering. “These women are raped in front of their husbands, in front of their children, in front of their parents, in front of their neighbors,” said Dr. Denis Mukwege, a gynecologist who runs a hospital in Bukavu that treats only the women who have sustained the most severe injuries.

In some cases, the rapists have violated their victims with loaded guns and pulled the triggers. Other women have had their organs deliberately destroyed by knives or other weapons. Sons have been forced at gunpoint to rape their mothers. Many women and girls have been abducted and sexually enslaved. . . .

Ms. Ensler spoke of her encounter with an 8-year-old girl during one of her trips to Congo. . . . The girl felt too ashamed to allow herself to be held, Ms. Ensler said, because her injuries had left her incontinent. After explaining how she persuaded the child to accept an embrace, to be hugged, Ms. Ensler said, “If we’re living in a century when an 8-year-old girl is incontinent because that many soldiers have raped her, then something has gone terribly wrong.” NYTimes

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Rape Victims’ Words Help Jolt Congo Into Change—“It was me who was dinner. Me, because they kicked me roughly to the ground, and they ripped off all my clothes, and between the two of them, they held my feet. One took my left foot, one took my right, and the same with my arms, and between the two of them they proceeded to rape me. Then all five of them raped me.” . . . Congo, it seems, is finally facing its horrific rape problem, which United Nations officials have called the worst sexual violence in the world. Tens of thousands of women, possibly hundreds of thousands, have been raped in the past few years in this hilly, incongruously beautiful land. Many of these rapes have been marked by a level of brutality that is shocking even by the twisted standards of a place riven by civil war and haunted by warlords and drug-crazed child soldiers. . . .

The American Bar Association opened a legal clinic in January specifically to help rape victims bring their cases to court. So far the work has resulted in eight convictions. Here in Bukavu, one of the biggest cities in the country, a special unit of Congolese police officers has filed 103 rape cases since the beginning of this year, more than any year in recent memory. . . . United Nations officials say the most sadistic rapes are committed by depraved killers who participated in Rwanda’s genocide in 1994 and then escaped into Congo. These attacks have left thousands of women with their insides destroyed. But the Congolese National Army, a ragtag undisciplined force of teenage troops who sport wrap-around shades and rusty rifles, has also been blamed. The government has been slow to punish its own, but Congolese generals recently announced they would set up new military tribunals to prosecute soldiers accused of rape.

No one — doctors, aid workers, Congolese and Western researchers — can explain exactly why Congo’s rape problem is the worst in the world. The attacks continue despite the presence of the largest United Nations peacekeeping force, with more than 17,000 troops. Impunity is thought to be a big factor, which is why there is now so much effort on bolstering Congo’s creaky and often corrupt justice system. The sheer number of armed groups spread over thousands of miles of thickly forested territory, fighting over Congo’s rich mineral spoils, also makes it incredibly difficult to protect civilians. The ceaseless instability has held the whole eastern swath of the country hostage. . . .

Activists from overseas have been pouring in. Few are more passionate than Eve Ensler, the American playwright who wrote “The Vagina Monologues,” which has been performed in more than 100 countries. She came to Congo last month to work with rape victims. . . . One speaker, Claudine Mwabachizi, told how she was kidnapped by bandits in the forest, strapped to a tree and repeatedly gang-raped. The bandits did unspeakable things, she said, like disemboweling a pregnant woman right in front of her. “A lot of us keep these secrets to ourselves,” she said. She was going public, she said, “to free my sisters.” NYTimes

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Fighting in Congo Rekindles Ethnic Hatreds— The recent clashes in eastern Congo between the army and the troops of the dissident general have exacted a grievous toll on a region ravaged by a decade of war. Around 400,000 people have been forced to flee their homes, thousands of women have been raped and hundreds of children have been press-ganged into militias, the United Nations says, raising alarm among diplomats the world over.

But the fighting is also rekindling the kind of ethnic hatred that previously dragged this region into the most deadly conflict since World War II. It began with the Rwandan genocide, in which Hutu extremists killed 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu in 1994. Many of the genocide’s perpetrators fled into Congo, igniting regional conflicts that were fueled by the plunder of Congo’s minerals, lasted for nearly a decade and killed, by some estimates, as many as four million people through violence, disease and hunger.

Now a new wave of anti-Tutsi sentiment is sweeping Congo, driven by deep anger over the renegade Tutsi general. Many see his rebellion as a proxy for Rwanda, to the east, whose army occupied vast parts of Congo during the most devastating chapter of the regional war and plundered millions of dollars’ worth of minerals from the country, according to many analysts, diplomats and human rights workers. . . .

At the center of this latest rebellion is the renegade general, Laurent Nkunda, a Congolese Tutsi with longstanding ties to the Tutsi-led Rwandan government. He has refused to integrate his men into Congo’s national army, as the other militias that fought in the sprawling civil war have done, arguing that Tutsi face unique perils that require his special protection.

“Our enemies have the ideology of genocide,” General Nkunda said in December at his hide-out in lush eastern Congo. “We are fearing they will continue their genocide in Congo.”

Like many of Congo’s historical figures, General Nkunda, a tall, rail-thin 40-year-old with angular features, has developed a cult of personality. He has a penchant for flamboyant accessories: in a recent interview he cradled a black cane topped by a silver eagle’s head. Other times he has worn a button that says “Rebels for Christ.” He likes to refer to himself in the third person.

“Is Nkunda the problem?” he demanded. “Why? How can Nkunda be to blame? I am only trying to protect my people.”

General Nkunda said Congo’s small Tutsi minority was vulnerable to attack by militias, particularly the remnants of the Hutu extremist forces that carried out the genocide in Rwanda. Many of the extremists still roam the jungles of eastern Congo, and he has demanded that this militia be disbanded and that Tutsi refugees who fled into Rwanda be allowed to return. . . . NYTimes

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A Personal connection to the Congo—I got closer to the Congo after watching a news program on which a guest spoke about the plight of the Congolese people. Later, flipping through the channels on my TV, I accidentally turned to a program about the systematic rape of women in Eastern Congo. I found myself drawn to stories about the area, and even though these were coincidences, there were too many for me to ignore the call.

I felt compelled to act and battled with myself about how—and if—I could make a difference from thousands of miles away. It was increasingly difficult to continue living the awful cliché of the sympathizing American who talks about the world's suffering over a chai latte, but goes home and does nothing.

Instinctively, I realized the hidden message in my father's words: "Makeda, always follow your heart." It was his love of freedom and dignity that compelled me to ask 150 people for $33 so I could go to Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, as an independent journalist through Friends of the Congo, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy organization.

My father passed away on Jan. 3, and two days later, I left for the Congo. As I crossed the border into Goma and met the eyes of an armed soldier, I felt my stomach drop, as if I were on a roller coaster that had just made a sharp plunge. The nearly 6 million people who had died in the 12 years of conflict seemed to loom over the dusty streets of Goma and its people. BaltimoreSun

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Rape Crisis in Congo Tied to Mining ActivityWashington Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues, helped launch an international awareness raising campaign called V-Day in 2007 to end sexual violence in eastern Congo. UNICEF estimates that hundreds of thousands of girls have been raped in the last decade in the two eastern provinces of North Kivu and South Kivu. "Corporate greed, fueled by capitalist consumption, and the rape of women have merged into a single nightmare," Eve Ensler said at U.S. Senate hearings on May 13. "Women's bodies are the battleground of an economic war." Ensler said that international mining companies with significant investments in eastern Congo value economic interest over the bodies of women by trading with rebels who use rape as a tactic of war in areas rich in coltan, gold and tin.

"Military solutions are no longer an option," she said. "All they do is bring about the rape of more women." The United States has invested more than $700 million in humanitarian aid and peacekeeping to Congo, according to the U.S. Department of State.

Prendergast said this money will do nothing to root out the economic causes of eastern Congo's conflict and sexual violence.

He said a comprehensive long-term strategy to combat rape needs to change the economic calculus of armed groups. Prendergast asked senators to support the Congo Conflict Minerals Act, which was introduced by Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin and Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold in April of this year.

The bill aims to break the link between resource exploitation and armed conflict in eastern Congo by requiring companies trading minerals with Congo or neighboring states to disclose mine locations and monitor the financing of armed groups in eastern Congo's mineral-rich areas.

"The sooner the illicit conflict minerals trade is eliminated, the sooner the people of Congo will benefit from their own resources," said Prendergrast. U.S. consumers, Prendergrast said, can also help by pressuring major electronic companies - from Apple to Sony - to certify that cell phones, computers and other products contain "conflict-free minerals," a campaign tactic popularized by the Sierra Leone-based film Blood Diamonds.     Such a process would use a tracking system for components, similar to that developed in 2007 under the Kimberly Process. This international certification scheme ensures that trade in rough diamonds doesn't fuel war, as it did in Angola, Cote d'Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sierra Leone during the 1990s.

Germany has already developed a pilot fingerprinting system for tin that could be expanded to other minerals and help establish certified trading chains, linking legitimate mining sites to the international market. Truthout

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Congo has attracted attention in the media [as a place that is suffering] systematic rape in war. One statistic quoted is 200,000 rapes since the beginning of the war 14 years ago, and it is certainly an underestimate.

When in Congo, I met government representatives and particularly women who had been raped and violated. It was interesting but also disappointing - nothing is getting better and more and more civilians are committing rapes.

But I should be fair and say that there has been progress, the government has introduced laws against rape, it has a national plan and there is political will. There is a lot to do to implement the legislation, but now there is an ambitious legal ground to stand on to be implemented by the police, judiciary and health care. Margot Wallstrom - "There Is Almost Total Impunity for Rape in Congo"

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DR Congo women march against rape Olive Lembe Kabila, wife of Joseph Kabila, president of the Congo, led protest against sexual violence in eastern city—17 October 2010Thousands of women have marched against sexual violence in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where the miseries of war have been compounded by mass rapes.

About 1,700 women who had attended a week-long forum on peace and development in Bukavu, the capital of South Kivu province, joined in the march on Sunday, which was led by Olive Lembe Kabila, the wife of the president, Joseph Kabila.  

The atmosphere of the march was colourful and peaceful, and many demonstrators carried banners with slogans such as "No to sexual terrorism". "Coming here is important because violence towards women is used systematically as a weapon of war," Miriam Nobre, an organiser of the march with the World March of Women, said.

 The UN estimates that 15,000 women were raped in eastern DR Congo last year. Numerous Congolese and overseas rebel groups are active in the region, while government forces are also accused of mistreating civilians."We have fought this for years, and now it seems that the international community is genuinely interested in our problems," Nene Rukunghu, a doctor at a hospital in Bukavu where rape victims are treated, said. "We must fight against impunity, so that the perpetrators of violence are punished, to allow women can regain their dignity. Despite what they endure, Congolese women are strong and able to stand up again," she said.Aljazeera

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Heart of Darkness

By Joseph Conrad

Missing words have been restored and the entire novel has been repunctuated in accordance with Conrad’s style. The result is the first published version of Heart of Darkness that allows readers to hear Marlow’s voice as Conrad heard it when he wrote the story. "Backgrounds and Contexts" provides readers with a generous collection of maps and photographs that bring the Belgian Congo to life. Textual materials, topically arranged, address nineteenth-century views of imperialism and racism and include autobiographical writings by Conrad on his life in the Congo.

New to the Fourth Edition is an excerpt from Adam Hochschild’s recent book, King Leopold’s Ghost, as well as writings on race by Hegel, Darwin, and Galton. "Criticism" includes a wealth of new materials, including nine contemporary reviews and assessments of Conrad and Heart of Darkness [Contents] and twelve recent essays by Chinua Achebe, Peter Brooks, Daphne Erdinast-Vulcan, Edward Said, and Paul B. Armstrong, among others. Also new to this edition is a section of writings on the connections between Heart of Darkness and the film Apocalypse Now by Louis K. Greiff, Margot Norris, and Lynda J. Dryden. A Chronology and Selected Bibliography are also included.

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King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa

By Adam Hochschild

King Leopold of Belgium, writes historian Adam Hochschild in this grim history, did not much care for his native land or his subjects, all of which he dismissed as "small country, small people." Even so, he searched the globe to find a colony for Belgium, frantic that the scramble of other European powers for overseas dominions in Africa and Asia would leave nothing for himself or his people. When he eventually found a suitable location in what would become the Belgian Congo, later known as Zaire and now simply as Congo, Leopold set about establishing a rule of terror that would culminate in the deaths of 4 to 8 million indigenous people, "a death toll," Hochschild writes, "of Holocaust dimensions."

Those who survived went to work mining ore or harvesting rubber, yielding a fortune for the Belgian king, who salted away billions of dollars in hidden bank accounts throughout the world. Hochschild's fine book of historical inquiry, which draws heavily on eyewitness accounts of the colonialists' savagery, brings this little-studied episode in European and African history into new light.—Gregory McNamee


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B.B. King Thrill Is Gone  /  B.B. King-The Thrill is Gone with lyrics

B.B. King - The Thrill Is Gone ft. Tracy Chapman  / B.B. KingThe Thrill Is Gone

B. B. King & Eric ClaptonThe Thrill Is Gone  / B. B. KingThe Thrill Is Gone (1993)

B.B. King is the greatest living exponent of the blues and considered by many to be the most influential guitarist of the latter part of the 20th century. His career dates back to the late forties and despite now being in his eighties he remains a vibrant and charismatic live performer. B.B. King has been a frequent visitor to the Montreux festival, appearing nearly 20 times, so choosing one performance was no easy task. This 1993 concert will surely rank as one of his finest at any venue. With a superb backing band and a great set list its a must for any blues fan.

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The Thrill is Gone


The thrill is gone
The thrill is gone away
The thrill is gone baby
The thrill is gone away
You know you done me wrong baby
And you'll be sorry someday

The thrill is gone
It's gone away from me
The thrill is gone baby
The thrill is gone away from me
Although I'll still live on
But so lonely I'll be

The thrill is gone
It's gone away for good
Oh, the thrill is gone baby
Baby its gone away for good
Someday I know I'll be over it all baby
Just like I know a good man should

You know I'm free, free now baby
I'm free from your spell
I'm free, free now
I'm free from your spell
And now that it's all over
All I can do is wish you well

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Greenback Planet: How the Dollar Conquered

the World and Threatened Civilization as We Know It

By H. W. Brands

In Greenback Planet, acclaimed historian H. W. Brands charts the dollar's astonishing rise to become the world's principal currency. Telling the story with the verve of a novelist, he recounts key episodes in U.S. monetary history, from the Civil War debate over fiat money (greenbacks) to the recent worldwide financial crisis. Brands explores the dollar's changing relations to gold and silver and to other currencies and cogently explains how America's economic might made the dollar the fundamental standard of value in world finance. He vividly describes the 1869 Black Friday attempt to corner the gold market, banker J. P. Morgan's bailout of the U.S. treasury, the creation of the Federal Reserve, and President Franklin Roosevelt's handling of the bank panic of 1933. Brands shows how lessons learned (and not learned) in the Great Depression have influenced subsequent U.S. monetary policy, and how the dollar's dominance helped transform economies in countries ranging from Germany and Japan after World War II to Russia and China today. He concludes with a sobering dissection of the 2008 world financial debacle, which exposed the power--and the enormous risks--of the dollar's worldwide reign.  The Economy

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Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—WashingtonPost

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

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posted 22 February 2009 




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