Congo: Another Plague Arrives

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March 2, 2020: In eastern Congo efforts to deal with the Ebola virus epidemic are being disrupted by continuing civil disorder and various armed groups blocking medical aid efforts. The major impediment is the persistent anarchy and warfare in Ituri and North Kivu provinces where 100 to 120 militias and rebel groups continue to operate. The number of new Ebola “cases per day” has dropped. From February 18 to 23, there was only one new confirmed case in North Kivu Province. As of February 23, there have been 3,444 total cases, with 3,310 confirmed and 2,264 victims died. This is a 66 percent fatality rate. There are 1,167 survivors, but some of these are patients still undergoing treatment.

The huge desert locust swarm sweeping across eastern Africa reached Congo’s Lake Albert region in late February. This is the first major locust swarm to strike Congo since 1944. Locust swarms are already ravaging neighboring Uganda. On February 11 the Ugandan government deployed around 2,000 Ugandan Army soldiers to fight the locusts. Here’s how an army counter-locust operation works. When locals detect a swarm they report it. Uganda is also employing drone aircraft to monitor locust swarms and their movements. When a swarm is identified, several dozen soldiers armed with manual and motorized pesticide spray pumps move to the infested area. Ugandan military officers report that locust swarms don’t move at night, which means the pre-dawn hours are the optimal time to spray pesticide on an infested field to insure killing adult locusts. Food aid NGOs report a modest-sized locust swarm can eat in one day enough food to feed 35,000 people. Several east African countries report that the locusts’ major breeding ground lies in Somalia’s semi-autonomous Puntland region. Islamist extremists control much of the breeding territory, which makes aerial spraying to kill the locusts politically and logistically difficult. Locusts are normally able to hatch and find enough feed to operate individually and repeat their life cycle. But when there is a certain pattern of droughts, locusts emerging from their underground larval growth phase will join together in large swarms and move large distances to find food. Every century or so the combination of droughts and swarms hatching will coincide to produce huge swarms over a large area. These are the “plague of locusts” described in ancient Egypt and the Jewish scripture. That plague is still with us, but major outbreaks can be defeated if the proper resources are available. (Austin Bay)

March 1, 2020: In Congo, after twenty years without an ambassador to Israel, the government is appointing one and reviving relationships. Israel had diplomatic relations with the decades old Mobutu dictatorship that was overthrown in 1997. Israeli businessmen operated in Congo during the three decades Mobotu ran the place and continued to do so after Mobutu was overthrown. Many of those Israeli deals were of questionable legality, as were most of the foreign investments in Congo. Israel pointed out that it would be easier to identify Israelis guilty of these activities and prosecute them if Congo and Israel had diplomatic relations. Noting how well that has worked for other African countries, the new Congo president ordered the diplomatic relationships restored.

February 29, 2020: In northeastern Congo (Ituri province near the Uganda border) violence between Hema and Lendu tribesmen continues. Today the Lendu CODECO militia killed attacked a Hema settlement killing 24 Hema and wounding twelve. The Hema are cattle herders. The Lendu tribe claims Hema herds ravage their farms by eating crops. Since late 2017 over 700 people have been killed in tribal clashes between the Hema and Lendu. Earlier, between 1999 and 2003 there were several thousand deaths. That fighting was halted by peacekeepers and a peace deal worked out. This arrangement fell apart after about a decade.

February 28, 2020: In the Congo capital the recently dismissed head of military intelligence, Delphin Kahimbi, was found dead at his home several hours before he was to testify about his activities. Three days earlier he had been dismissed from the job he had held since 2015. Kahimbi was accused of disrupting the current government at the orders of former president Kabila. Kahimbi was also facing charges of organizing war crimes in eastern Congo. The current president ordered an investigation into the circumstances of Kahimbi’s death and the charges against him.

February 25, 2020: The Burundian government claimed that since February 18 its security forces have killed 22 “wrongdoers” in the outskirts of the capital, Bujumbura. Clashes between police units and gunmen began after residents reported that gunmen were hiding on coffee plantations in the hilly Nyabiraba district. Two policemen were killed in the initial incident and six gunmen were captured. The fighting then spread to other districts. The government is attempting to connect the gunmen to opposition political parties. The next presidential election is in May 2020.

February 23, 2020: Angola’s “Luanda Leaks” investigation continues to have a major political impact in Angola and Europe. “Luanda Leaks” is the media name for the investigation which is being conducted by a group of foreign reporters. The investigation has documented corrupt activities by Isabel dos Santos, the daughter of former Angolan president Jose Eduardo dos Santos. Isabel dos Santos is sometimes called “Africa’s richest woman.” So far the investigation has produced around 700,000 documents providing evidence of endemic corruption in the dos Santos government and on Isabel dos Santos’ “web” of illicit activities. The most lucrative strands of her web involved the Angolan state oil company Sonangol and Angolan oil deals and sales. At one time she was head of Sonangol. For years reformers have accused dos Santos of stealing billions of dollars from the country. The reformers argue that corruption “defunds” the government and undercuts the ability to pay for social programs and infrastructure construction. (Austin Bay)

February 21, 2020: The Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) and Cameroon have reached a preliminary agreement on re-demarcating their mutual border. Senior officials insist that the two countries do not have a territorial dispute. Their boundaries are defined by the 1908 Franco-German Accord. However, almost all of the boundary markers have disappeared or decayed. Replacing and maintaining these border markers prevents future disputes.

February 20, 2020: From October 1, 2019, to January 31, 2020, fighting in north-eastern Congo displaced 220,000 people. Most of the fighting occurred in eastern Congo (Ituri, South Kivu and North Kivu provinces). The UN estimates that the DRC currently has over five million internally displaced people (IDPs).

The bodies of five people were found near Virunga National Park. The police believe the five were kidnapped on February 17 by the ADF (Allied Democratic Forces). This is a Ugandan rebel organization with strong connections to Moslem tribes in northern Uganda. In fact, since 2014 is has been regarded as an Islamist group. Peacekeepers launched several operations in 2014 against ADF bases in the Congo. The 2014 operations weakened the ADF did not eliminate it. After action analysis of 2014 anti-ADF operations indicated that the ADF had around 500 fighters in Congo. Its bases near the Ugandan border could have supported up to 2,000 fighters. Interrogators spokes with several captured ADF fighters who reported that the ADF had a very active recruitment network in east Africa. The ADF made money smuggling, with smuggling timber (logs) a major source of income. The ADF also enforced his own interpretation of sharia law. ADF fighters could enslave local Congolese women and children. If someone was caught trying to escape from an ADF camp, they faced death by beheading or crucifixion

February 19, 2020: In eastern Congo (South Kivu province) 42 militiamen surrendered to soldiers. The surrendering men belonged to two militias active in the province, the Simba ya Pori and Nguvu ya Milima. The militiamen turned in 15 weapons and 250 rounds of ammunition.

The Rwandan government has denounced accusations by two senior Congolese officials that Rwandan police killed singer Kizito Mihigo. On February 17 Mihigo was found dead in a police jail located in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali. Police said he committed suicide. Mihigo was a harsh critic of Rwandan President Paul Kagame. He was arrested in mid-February (possibly February 13) on charges of trying to fee Rwanda.

February 18, 2020: In eastern Congo (North Kivu province) ADF terrorists launched a night attack on the village of Alungupa. The rebels killed 12 civilians and one soldier. The village is about 25 kilometers from the city of Beni. The army said Alungupa and another nearby village, Kibwana, are now under military control.

February 16, 2020: In the Central African Republic (CAR) peacekeepers and government troops killed 12 gunmen in a firefight in the northeastern CAR. The firefight began when FPRC rebels attacked the town of Birao. Hoping to deter the attack, on February 13 the peacekeepers asked France to fly jet fighters over Birao. The show of force obviously failed.

February 15, 2020: In Burundi, Forensic investigators found the remains of 6,032 people killed in 1972 during Hutu-Tutsi ethnic fighting. The investigators have examined six mass graves. Most of the dead are believed to be Hutus.

February 14, 2020: The UN issued a report examining malaria in Burundi during 2019. From January through December 2019 Burundi had 8,892,300 malaria cases. The disease killed 3,294 people or 37 per 100,000 infected. That’s comparable to annual influenza outbreaks but Malaria infections include permanent damage. Burundi has around 11.2 million people. No doubt many people had multiple infections, but the figures suggest up to 80 percent of the population could have had a bout of malaria. WHO identifies several reasons Burundi suffers so heavily from malaria: lack of preventive measures, low population immunity, and mosquito (vector) population density and feeding habits.

February 11, 2020: The Ugandan government authorized the deployment of 2,000 soldiers to help combat the desert locust swarm. The locusts have landed in Uganda’s Amudat District (Karamoja region, near the Kenyan border). Kenya has reported swarms that are 60 kilometers by 40 kilometers in diameter.

Ugandan has reached a credit agreement with China. Uganda will borrow around $118 million from China to construct three roads. The roads will provide transportation in Uganda’s oil producing Lake Albert region (Albertine rift basin). The oil field holds an estimated six billion barrels. In Uganda, the roads are referred to as “oil roads.” The financing is part of China’s controversial Belt and Road Initiative.

February 10, 2020: In eastern Congo (North Kivu province) 12 more bodies were found. It is believed the 12 were captured on February 8 when ADF terrorists attacked a nearby town. In that attack, the terrorists killed eight residents by slitting their throats. Eight other people who disappeared on February 8 are still missing.

February 8, 2020: A French court has indicted Denis Christel Sassou Nguesso on money-laundering charges. He is the son of the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) President Denis Sassou Nguesso. The court issued the indictment in December 2019 but it is just now being made public. President Sassou Nguesso has ruled the Republic of Congo for 36 years.

February 7, 2020: In CAR a court sentenced 28 militiamen to prison sentences ranging from ten to 15 years. They were convicted of several violent crimes that were committed in 2017, including the murder of ten peacekeepers. Most of the men sentenced belonged to Anti-Balaka militias, which are usually manned by men from Christian tribes.

February 6, 2020: European media are citing a draft report that alleges “ecoguards” in the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) are physically assaulting and intimidating Baka pygmy tribesmen who live near a national park the guards patrol. Ecoguard is shorthand for “ecological guard.” The ecoguard program is partially funded by international conservation groups. According to reports, the ecoguards carry firearms. For thousands of years, pygmies have been persecuted by the majority of Africans of normal height. As a result, the pygmies lived reclusive lives, often deep in forests away from majority populations.

February 5, 2020: The UN reports that Congo has had 3,428 confirmed cases of Ebola virus and 2,250 deaths between August 2018 and February 2, 2020. There are still new cases and fatalities but fewer each month.

January 31, 2020: Congo is cracking down on hand-mined cobalt (artisanal mining). The state-owned Gecamines monopoly has formed a new company that will control the artisanal industry. How will it control several thousand small scale operations? Mining officials believe the new company will try to control buying rights and also access to cobalt-rich areas. This small-scale mining will never be completely eliminated as long as cobalt commands such high prices because there will always be opportunities for small traders and the freelance miners to make some money. But in the last two years, the price of cobalt has fallen more than 50 percent, to about $33 per kg ($15 a pound).

January 30, 2020: In eastern Congo (North Kivu province), ADF terrorists killed 36 people in an attack on a village.

 

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