Monday, June 27, 2016

Sunday Globe Special: Congo and Kenya

So often I reach for my Globe for knowledge and clarity and as is so often the case when it comes to Africa, I retract with nothing but confusion regarding the situation on that continent.

"Congo volcano brings rich soil but eruption threat" by Christin Roby Associated Press  June 25, 2016

GOMA, Congo — Hacking away in the midday sun, 49-year-old farmer Daniel Lazuba remembers vividly his life before one of Africa’s most active volcanos erupted 14 years ago.

“All of this was corn before,” he said as he pointed to rows of new banana trees pushing up between black stones. “My cabbage seems to be growing better than ever these days, but in this area, I still have to start from zero.”

Traumatized farmers such as Lazuba are slowly returning to fields decimated by the 2002 eruption of Mount Nyiragongo in eastern Congo. Flowing lava flattened more than 30 percent of the city of Goma, 20 kilometers away. Nearly 150 people died, and 400,000 fled into neighboring Rwanda.

Now farmers returning to their fields find increased harvests from the rich volcanic soil, but there are signs that Nyiragongo will erupt again.

One farmer, Patrick Tamoini, said his harvests have risen over the past two harvests since he returned to his patch of land a short walk from the volcano’s base. The 41-year-old pockets more than $100 a month after taking care of family expenses, more than double his earnings before the eruption, he said. The average per capita monthly income in Congo is nearly $32 a month, according to the World Bank.

But returning to the fields wasn’t easy.

“The pain of what I lost kept me from coming back for such a long time,” Tamoini said. “With this level of production, I’m glad I finally did.”

The chemical makeup of volcanic soil makes for lucrative farming conditions, say researchers at the Goma Volcano Observatory.

“Lava actually enriches the soil that it initially burned,” said Mathieu Yalira, the chair of the observatory’s geochemistry and environment department. Volcanic soil includes fertilizing elements such as iron, phosphorus, and potassium, he said. In the years after an eruption, a process known as chemical weathering slowly makes lava soil more fertile than ordinary earth.

Local farmers didn’t seize on those benefits right away, observers say.

“Initially, no one was coming back because they were too devastated to see their burned fields,” said the chair of the observatory’s seismology department, Georges Mavonga. “But within the past year, visits toward the volcano have shown new villages in areas that were uninhabited before.”

He said the increase in lava soil farming might be a result of initial farmers seeing the benefits and spreading information to friends and family.

But the farmers should not get too attached to the newly fertile fields, warns the Rwanda Red Cross, which cared for many fleeing the 2002 eruption.

In February, an earthquake far beneath the surface caused rumbling noises near Virunga National Park, where the volcano is located. Since then, a new vent has appeared on the northeastern edge of the crater floor that shoots lava into the air every 30 seconds.

The Rwandan Red Cross has increased surveillance of the volcano in conjunction with the observatory.

“There are only presumptions about the next eruption, but people who study the daily life of this volcano tell us it could happen any day,” said Yves Riupi, a Red Cross crisis manager who works with seismologists at the Rwanda Natural Resources Authority.

The risk of another eruption is one that some farmers, whose lives depend on their crops, are now willing to take.

With vegetation growing more than 6 feet tall in some places with the rich volcanic soil, farmers say they want to keep working their fields, until the volcano erupts.

“If another one comes, who am I to stop it?” Lazuba asked. “There is nothing I can do.”


"In Congo, wars are small and chaos is endless" by Jeffrey Gettleman New York Times  April 30, 2016

NYUNZU, Democratic Republic of Congo — Hundreds of displaced people make cooking fires or sit quietly on the concrete factory floor. Dressed in rags, they stare into space, next to huge rusted iron machinery that has not turned for decades. They are members of the Bambote, a marginalized group of forest dwellers who are victims of one of the obscure little wars that this country seems to have a talent for producing.

Related: Cutting Through the African Bush

In a nutshell, it's raw materials and the interest of corporations being supported and advanced by Capitalism Invisible Army.

This is what the Democratic Republic of Congo, the biggest country in sub-Saharan Africa and one that has stymied just about all efforts to right it, has become: a tangle of miniwars.

More than 60 armed groups are operating in North Kivu and South Kivu provinces, including a growing Islamist insurgency, whose fighters have hacked hundreds of people to death. Beyond that, there are remnants in the Uele area of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a rebel group that specializes in abducting children and turning them into killers; predatory rebels in Ituri; Bakata separatists in Katanga; armed factions in Maniema; fighters in the Nyunzu area; and youth militias in the capital, Kinshasa.

They are darn near everywhere in the Eastern Hemisphere (south of the equator), thus providing the EUSraeli empire with an excuse to invade or bomb anywhere.

Few nations in Africa, if not the world, are home to as many armed groups. Even after billions of dollars in aid, one of the largest peacekeeping missions in UN history and substantial international attention over two decades, Congo’s government is incapable of providing the most elemental service: security. 

If I recall correctly, they were unable to prevent the rapes in the Congo. Then again, there might be a connection there, too.

According to several analysts, it says a lot about Congo’s state of affairs when a local war draws in members of a traditional hunter-gatherer group.

“Their existence is so dependent on cooperation,” said Barry S. Hewlett, an anthropologist who has spent decades researching hunter-gatherer communities in Central Africa. “Sharing and giving is essential to their way of life. If there is a conflict even in the camp, one of the individuals just moves.”

That's not AmeriKa.

The war started, the Bambote say, in 2014. What set it off was an extramarital affair.


The elders in Nyunzu said a man from another ethnic group, the Luba, had impregnated a Bambote woman. This caused a scandal, not least because the woman was married, and inflamed tensions between the groups.

For generations, some men from the Luba group have chosen brides from communities such as the Bambote. Many elders complained that Luba men had not shown enough respect to the women’s parents.

Scientists believe that the few remaining hunter-gatherers living in Central Africa’s vast rain forest were its original inhabitants. Their adherence to tradition has kept them far behind other groups in education and wealth. At the same time, they have maintained an unusual degree of harmony among themselves and with their environment.

When the Bambote elders confronted the Luba adulterer, he did not apologize. Instead, the elders said, he killed the woman’s husband, setting off a wave of killings between the two communities.

Deeper problems were clearly driving the feud. Analysts point to long-simmering conflicts between the Bambote and the Luba over issues like land rights and labor practices.

Oooooh! Like the real reasons for most of the wars on the planet: access to land (and vital resources) and the oppression of the locals in getting it.

Then my pre$$ frames the reasons as anything but!

The local authorities in Nyunzu said it had been customary for the forest dwellers to work for the Luba as field hands for as little as 50 cents a day. Sometimes, they were even paid in salt or cassava scraps.

“Historically, they have been exploited,” said Pierre Mukamba Kaseya, head of Nyunzu’s local administration. “All of a sudden, it was as if they woke up and saw the light.”

For the first time anyone could remember, the Bambote banded together in militias and began attacking Luba villages with torches and poisoned arrows. The Luba fought back.

A wave of anger and violence rippled across the green hills. This area is spectacularly beautiful, the Congo often imagined by outsiders — sharp hills, surging rivers, towering forests, and lush paths that snake off the road into other worlds.

But soon it was a gruesome killing field.

Some victims’ genitals were cut off. Other victims were skinned. According to a Human Rights Watch report, one survivor heard members of a Luba militia cry out, “We will exterminate you all this year.”

I couldn't highlight those they were so horrifying.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of homes were burned. So were many schools. People fled in all directions.

Another housing shortage and refugee crisis.

The violence eventually cooled with the help of local officials, showing that even if Congo’s government is somewhat dysfunctional, it is better than nothing.

How would you know unless you tried something else? 

I will stay chained because it is familiar and my jailer says I'll be better off?

But thousands of people remain displaced. It is hard to imagine a more fitting symbol for this country than a cavernous abandoned cotton factory, built decades ago when there was working infrastructure, now full of seized-up machinery and hopeless people who have no other place to hide.

“We might be stuck here for years,” said Kalunga, the elder. “It’s a rotten life.”

Start digging.... 



"Congolese politician, Jean-Pierre Bemba, sentenced to 18 years for war crimes" New York Times   June 21, 2016

PARIS — A former vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Jean-Pierre Bemba, was sentenced Tuesday to 18 years in prison for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by militiamen under his command during a four-month rampage of looting, rape, and murder in the Central African Republic.

I was hoping Dick Cheney.

The sentence, handed down by an international panel of judges in The Hague, is considered significant for a number of reasons. Notably, Bemba was convicted even though he was far away from the militia fighting under his orders and was not present during any of the war crimes; the court said he was culpable because of his command responsibility. He should have halted or prevented the crimes, the judges said.

The 9/11 stand down when he whipped his head around at the aide! 

I'm also thinking one of the handful that signed off on.... torture.

Bemba, who is now 53, was a businessman and scion of a prominent Congolese family before rising to the vice presidency.

Hey, what can I tell ya'?

In 2002, he sent an expeditionary force of his political party, the Congolese Liberation Movement, into the Central African Republic to help put down a military coup there.

Was he acting at the behest of the CIA at the time, and has he run afoul of them now?

Though Bemba rarely visited the troops, the judges at the International Criminal Court in The Hague found that he closely monitored their activities, and they convicted him in March. 

Gee, Obama has a kill list for drone strikes he must approve and Bush poured over the military reports (or so we were told).

Sylvia Steiner, the presiding judge in the case, read out a summary of the court’s reasoning at the sentencing Tuesday, saying that Bemba’s “knowledge of the crimes was unquestionable.”

The force of about 1,500 militiamen rampaged through towns on their path, claiming afterward that they had been poorly paid and that they were rewarding themselves by raping and pillaging.

Prosecutors had asked for a 25-year sentence, and may appeal the sentence, experts said.

Bemba had already been detained for eight years before and during his trial, so he would presumably now have 10 years left in his sentence if it stands at 18 years. It has been customary at international tribunals to deduct one-third of the total sentence, so Bemba may be eligible for early release in as little as four years.

Then what he did couldn't have been that bad, huh?


My observation regarding the ICC is it's a racist, classist organization (don't forget, recalcitrant Serbs got the shellacking bombed out of 'em by NATO) and quite Orwellian. It's a war crimes office set up by war criminals.

Also see3 Red Cross employees abducted in eastern Congo

Time to get out of the Congo.


"Kenya burns huge pile of ivory tusks to protest poaching" by Tom Odula Associated Press  April 30, 2016

NAIROBI — Kenya’s president set fire Saturday to 105 tons of elephant ivory and more than 1 ton of rhino horn, believed to be the largest stockpile ever destroyed, in a dramatic statement by this East African country against the trade in ivory and products from endangered species.

Uhuru Kenyatta put a flame to the biggest of 11 pyres of ivory tusks and one of rhino horn in a chilly afternoon. Overnight torrential rains had threatened to ruin the event but stopped midday leaving a mud field around the piles inside Nairobi National Park.

‘‘A time has come when we must take a stand and the stand is clear . . . Kenya is making a statement that for us ivory is worthless unless it is on our elephants,’’ Kenyatta said.

The stacks of tusks represent more than 8,000 elephants and some 343 rhinos slaughtered for their ivory and horns, according to the Kenya Wildlife Service.

Kenya will push for the total ban on trade in ivory at the 17th meeting of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species to be held in South Africa later this year, said Kenyatta.

The pyres were fueled with about 20,000 liters of jet fuel and oxygen, said Robin Hollister, the event’s fire master, as a thick plume of white smoke billowed over the yellow flames consuming the ivory. Hollister earlier said it’s not known how long the fire will take because the burning of such a quantity is unprecedented.

Kenya decided to destroy the ivory instead of selling it for an estimated $150 million. Some critics had suggested that the money raised from the ivory sales could be used to develop Kenya and protect wildlife. But Kenyatta said that Kenya wants to make the point that ivory should not have any commercial value.

Others said the burning will not end the killing of elephants because international gangs take advantage of Kenya’s porous borders and corruption to continue the illegal trade.

Kenya Wildlife Service chairman and renowned paleoanthropologist and conservationist Richard Leakey said the burning of the ivory should encourage African countries to support a ban in ivory trade.

He said a group of countries which is advocating for the sale of ivory in the continent should be ashamed. 

Isn't Massachusetts a big.... ooooh.

‘‘We will burn ivory, and we hope every country in the globe will support Kenya and say never again should we trade ivory,’’ Leakey said.

Africa had 1.3 million elephants in the 1970s but has only 500,000 today.

The elephant populations worst hit by poaching are in Tanzania, Gabon, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Mozambique, Republic of Congo, and Congo. The years 2011, 2012, and 2013 witnessed the highest levels of poaching since a poaching crisis in the 1980s, according to Kenya’s Wildlife Service.

Cameroon said it burned over 3.5 tons of tusks earlier in April as a statement against poaching.

Central Africa’s forest elephants have declined by two-thirds between 2002 and 2012. Most of the remaining forest elephants are in Gabon and are under threat from armed groups, said Gabon’s President Ali Bongo Ondimba, who attended Saturday’s burning. He vowed to stop the decline of the species.

‘‘To all the poachers, to all the buyers and foreign traders, your days are numbered,’’ said Ondimba. ‘‘We are going to put you out of business and the best thing to do is to retire now.’’


I guess that's why there are no more elephants at the zoo or circus; however, there are monkeys.

And then the rains came:

"A building that collapsed amid heavy rains in Nairobi, killing at least 12 people and injuring at least 134, did not have an occupancy permit, officials said Saturday as they ordered its owner to turn himself in. Details about the residential building emerged a day after its collapse on Friday, after which crowds of onlookers gathered to try to help pry victims from the rubble. Police Inspector General Joseph Boinnet ordered the owner of the building to surrender himself to the police for questioning. The Kenya Red Cross said 150 building units and adjacent homes were affected."

Death toll rises to 20 in collapse of Kenya building

"Heavy rains and flash flooding plagued the area before the building collapsed in Huruma, a poor neighborhood in Nairobi."

"The disaster has killed 37 people and injured 134. About 70 people remain missing."

Kenya Protests Turn Violent 

I thought you might get a kick out of the photographs in my printed paper.

"Kenya’s government bans all protests against electoral body" by TOM ODULA Associated Press  June 08, 2016

NAIROBI — Kenya’s government has banned all opposition protests against the country’s electoral body, a day after witnesses said police killed two demonstrators, the internal security minister said Tuesday.

A 6-year-old boy was also hit in the back by a police bullet Monday during protests in the opposition stronghold of Kisumu, witnesses said. He was among 21 people hospitalized with bullet wounds, according to hospital sources who insisted on anonymity for fear of reprisals.

The security minister, Joseph Nkaissery, said the chaos does not fall within the parameters set by the constitutional court, which had called the demonstrations a constitutionally guaranteed right and ordered the police to protect protesters.

‘‘It is extremely dangerous for anybody to challenge the government decision. The consequences are grave,’’ Nkaissery said, without giving details.

The opposition has been holding protests nearly every Monday for the last six weeks to push for the disbanding of the electoral commission, which they say is biased and corrupt.

First (and last) I've seen of it in my Globe; otherwise, I would patch it in.

The Coalition for Reforms and Democracy said the right to demonstrate is not a privilege granted by the state but rather a right guaranteed by the constitution.

‘‘Clearly . . . Nkaissery is living in the past. His utterances smack of an old colonial order that is laden with the impunity of the past,’’ Norman Magaya, the chief executive officer at the CORD secretariat, said in a statement.

Magaya said the demonstrations will be next week.

‘‘Unlawful orders must be treated with contempt,’’ he said.

Some electoral commission members have been named in a case in which two executives of British printing firm Smith and Ouzman Ltd. were convicted in the UK for making payments to individuals in various countries, including Kenya, to win business for the company.


Really shoving it up the old you-know-where, huh?

"Africa’s charcoal economy is cooking, but the trees are paying" by Norimitsu Onishi New York Times   June 25, 2016

TOLIARA, Madagascar — When Julien Andrianiana started selling charcoal 14 years ago, he was just one of a few dealers around. Most households in Toliara, a coastal city in southwestern Madagascar, still used firewood for cooking.

As the city’s population doubled, business became so brisk that he managed to send two of his children to college, “thanks to charcoal.” It quickly became the product of choice in kitchens not only in Toliara, but also in other fast-growing cities across Africa.

Charcoal — cleaner and easier to use than firewood, cheaper and more readily available than gas or electricity — has become both one of the biggest engines of Africa’s informal economy. But it has also become one of the greatest threats to its environment.

In Madagascar, an island nation off the eastern African coast and one of the world’s richest nations in biodiversity, the charcoal business is contributing to deforestation. It is expected to exacerbate the effects of climate change, which has disrupted farming, fueled migration to cities, and pushed many rural residents into the one thriving business left: charcoal.

Sellers now appear on street corners throughout Toliara, hawking charcoal made from trees from the surrounding forests, an ecologically rich and fragile area with plants and animals found nowhere else. Throughout the day, their supplies are replenished by pickup trucks and convoys of ox-drawn carts.

But acquiring high-quality charcoal made from hardwood trees has become increasingly difficult for dealers like Andrianiana, 44, as a third straight year of drought has pushed ever more people into the charcoal trade. He now wakes up at 3 a.m. and rides his bicycle an hour north to try to strike deals with charcoal producers before his competitors do.

I'm told there is one here.

“Most of the trees have been cut down,” he said recently, hours after securing only 60 bags of charcoal, below his daily average of 80. “Within five years, all the trees will be gone.”

Trees have been disappearing in a widening arc from Toliara in the past decade. As charcoal producers first culled trees in forests closest to Toliara, leaving villages surrounded only by thickets, the business has shifted to remote areas, accessible by dirt roads and sometimes waterways.

About 100 miles southeast of Toliara, driving along National Road 10 — actually, just a narrow dirt road through the heart of the region that provides the city’s charcoal — I encountered Tsitomore, a 35-year-old cassava farmer, selling bags of charcoal by the roadside.

Holding an ax, Tsitomore, who like some people in Madagascar uses one name, took me for a short walk into the forest to a spot where he had chopped off the branches of a large tamarind tree — a hardwood that is considered sacred in many communities in Madagascar, and cannot be legally used for charcoal.

Tsitomore said he had begun supplementing his income by selling charcoal in recent years. Early this year, he became a full-time charbonnier, as charcoal burners are called in this former French colony, after a disastrous harvest caused by El NiƱo, which brought the worst drought in decades to parts of Africa. Climate change is believed to have intensified the weather phenomenon.

“It rains less and less nowadays,” he said as white smoke rose from the dirt kiln in which he was making charcoal by burning the tamarind wood without oxygen. “That’s why I started making charcoal. No one’s going to help me, and this is the quickest way to make money.”

Not to seem unsympathetic, but tell it to Kenya and Texas.


"A deluge of 9 inches of rain damaged or destroyed more than 100 homes in West Virginia, knocked out power to tens of thousands of homes and businesses, and killed 14 people, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin of West Virginia said Friday. About 500 people were stranded overnight in a shopping center when a bridge washed out, and dozens of others had to be plucked off rooftops or rescued from their cars.... Most of the dead and all of the missing, officials believe, were in the county of Greenbrier — home of the renowned golf resort of the same name."

It's a major disaster and where's Obama?


"President Obama declared the state a disaster area, making federal money available for rebuilding."

At least it's something; let's hope they don't ask for it back in a couple years. 

My fire is starting to go out due to the selective agenda-pushing regarding this wonderful NYT article.

Africa’s charcoal production has doubled in the past two decades and now accounts for more than 60 percent of the world’s total, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. Rapid urbanization across the continent has increased demand for charcoal.

As Africa’s population is expected to swell and urbanize at an even faster rate over the next decades, the continent’s demand for charcoal is likely to double or triple by 2050, according to the UN Environment Program.

How about all that radioactive seawater being dumped, I'm sorry, leaking into the Pacific day after day?

The charcoal business, along with the expanding use of land for farming, is expected to increase deforestation and worsen the effects of climate change on a continent poorly equipped to adapt to it.

I suppose I'm for saving the trees where you can (hypocrite me buying a paper!), but I don't have any answers for you. I don't want to destroy the way of life and income for them, either. 

“It’s all interconnected, this long-term trajectory and the long-term effects on climate change,” said Henry Neufeldt, an expert on charcoal and climate change at the World Agroforestry Center in Nairobi, Kenya. “Just imagine transforming all that land into smoke, and not reforesting. In the next 30 years, a lot of forests and landscapes are going to be degraded because of charcoal demand, and because of the lack of policies to counter that effect.”

Never you mind the pollution from the wars and the military machines.

Though charcoal is one of the most widely used sources of energy in Africa, regulations regarding its production are rarely enforced, experts say. In the region surrounding Toliara, an estimated 75 percent of charcoal production is illegal, said officials at the World Wildlife Fund, which runs projects encouraging the sustainable production of charcoal.

Randria Zigzag, the government official responsible for overseeing zones of intensive charcoal production near Toliara, said 45 percent was illegal. He said police officers at checkpoints on the road to Toliara should confiscate contraband charcoal being transported by unlicensed producers.

“But that’s not how things work in Madagascar,” Zigzag said. “In Madagascar, if you have money, you give money and you do what you want.”

Befoly, a village not far from Toliara, supplied Toliara with charcoal until it ran out of trees. The village chief, Evomasy, 48, said he believed that the trees’ disappearance had caused the recent severe droughts.

That makes sense since trees are what hold water and soil together. Cut the trees down and you get fires and landslides.

“We cut down everything,” he said, looking at the shrub land now surrounding his village. “We used to have trees all around us.”



Recovery underway in West Virginia

Getting Out of Gitmo 

They can finally tell their story.