2011 News Items

November 2011

The Congo Elections
from Nigel Watt

DR Congo experienced two elections - presidential and parliamentary - on the same day at the end of November, 2011.  President Kabila had been in power since 2001, when his father was assassinated. He last won an election in 2006. His strongest opponent was Etienne Tshisekedi. Our Congolese partners in Abeka feared violence prior to the election but were thankful that, in their area, the election itself passed off peacefully. Nigel Watt was an election observer in Kalemie, south of Abeka. Observing the Congo elections I went to the Congo as one of 90 international observers sent by EurAc, which is a network of NGOs working in the Great Lakes region (DRC, Rwanda, Burundi). Christian Aid is EurAc’s UK member and we were a group of about 15 from here. EurAc’s idea is to work in solidarity with the Congolese network, AETA (Agir pour les Elections Transparentes et Apaisées – Act for transparent and peaceful elections) who provided more observers.

Four of us, three Belgians, two of whom were born Congolese, and me were sent to Kalemie which is on Lake Tanganyika, only about 260 kms south of Abeka on a winding and unsafe road. We were supported by two local observers who found us a basic hotel and helped us locate polling stations. These are nearly always school classrooms - a large school counts as a polling centre and can have up to 27 polling “offices”, each one dealing with up to 500 voters.

The list of registered voters is posted outside the polling station (but due to computer error some did not find their names, and the news that they could vote in spite of this was only announced two days before). Each candidate has a number and most voters memorised the number they wanted– they had to choose one from 1 to 11 for the presidential election and only one from 1 to 116 for the parliamentary, so even illiterate people could find the number or the photo of their candidate. (Some illiterates said they wanted to vote for “the smiling man” i.e. President Kabila). The ballot papers were therefore huge and hard to read in the semi-darkness of the polling booths, so the number idea really worked.

The three days before the vote we tried to visit polling stations to see if they were ready. Some were not, but by election day most of them managed to open on time, in spite of the fact that the ballot papers only reached the airport at Kalemie midday Sunday and the election was 6am Monday – and transport was short and the roads mostly awful. It was very peaceful where we were, and this was an area where Kabila is popular and his score, without cheating, was around 90%.

Voting ended at 5pm and counting immediately began. My polling station was one of the quickest and the presidential result was counted by 10pm. I did not stay up for the parliamentary count to be finished. The results are then posted outside each office. During the vote and the counting “witnesses” from the political parties are present – and ready to notice any small errors. It was these witnesses from the biggest opposition party, the UDPS of Etienne Tshisekedi, who sent their figures from all over the country to the party headquarters on the basis of which he claims to have won 54% of the vote. Each voting “office” writes a report with the results and these are sent to the local CENI (electoral commission) office to be compiled. The CENI office (see photo) is on the first floor with about four rooms piled up with parcels of voting reports all over the floor and up the stairs. Not an ideal space for calm calculation. From the district CENI reports are then sent to Kinshasa and there was great pressure to get them there by 6 December (in the event it was two days later).

I got the impression that the election officials and the compilers were working honestly and very hard for almost no pay. For the election they had to work from 5am to perhaps 4am the next day, often with no food. Some were dropping before I left my station. Where the problems arise in my opinion is before the election when most of the media would have you believe that nobody exists but Kabila.

The official results give Kabila 49%, Tshisekedi 31% and Kamerhe a majority only in South Kivu. Tshisekedi was way ahead in Kinshasa, Kasai and Equateur, Kabila in Katanga, Maniema and Orientale. (Our most exciting moment was when our UN plane stopped at Kananga in Kasai Occidental and the airport was crowded, waiting for Tshisekedi’s plane to arrive, which it did and the huge crowd swarmed all over the runway!) Even on these figures Kabila might have lost if he had not changed the constitution to cancel the plan to have a second round for the presidential election. The true figures may be different but I suspect that Kabila might still be the winner. The opposition only have a few days to challenge the results. The parliamentary results will not be ready till 16 January and here it is quite likely that the president will not command a majority in parliament.

Our organisers did not want to risk our encountering trouble back in Kinshasa so we were all bundled off out of the country on 1 or 2 December, though in fact things did not heat up until the results started to be announced. All in all, considering the poor state of the country’s infrastructure and administration the election was impressive – but if half the population do not accept the result it is not exactly a stabilising factor. 

27 July 2011
Deep disappointment regarding cancelled visit to UK
from Hannah Morrow, Hartington Grove Meeting

We were deeply disappointed this month  to hear that three Congolese Friends, who were invited to Quaker Yearly Meeting Gathering in Canterbury 30 July - 8 August 2011, were denied visas and thus unable to travel.  The three were Mkoko Boseka,  the pastor and legal representative of the group of Quaker Churches (CEEACO) with whom we are in partnership,  Dr Guillaume, the senior of two doctors at the local hospital, and Mado Masoka, newly appointed coordinator of the women's credit scheme.  

We had planned  the visit so they could meet British Quakers, publicise their projects and raise funds in Canterbury, as well as visit Manchester and Cambridge.  

All their visit and travel was to be funded by British Quakers. Applicants have to prove that they will return to their home-country, which they clearly planned to do.  

We are now considering a visit next year and will keep you informed. Meanwhile the day-to-day work of the three projects goes on and more funds are needed to developed the projects to better meet the needs of  local people  - their health care, trauma counselling and care of orphans, and the credit scheme which enables women to set up small businesses, with the profits used for buying food, paying school fees, buying livestock etc.  

The cancellation of the visit put us in a nostalgic mood.  

Tim Brown, a Cambridge member of the committee, remembered his first meeting with Mkoko in 2000:

First steps towards the Quaker Congo Partnership: 

I first met Mkoko Boseka at the Friends World Committee for Consultation (FWCC) Triennial in New Hampshire, USA, in July 2000. I think it was then that he first showed me a photo of the beginnings of the Friends Peace Center (FPC) that his Quaker church community was building in Uvira, eastern DR Congo.   

I met him again at the FWCC Triennial in Ao/New Zealand in January 2004, where he showed me another picture of the FPC, this time with a roof on. It was sometime after that (I can't remember exactly when) when he emailed me saying that they were at the end of their strength to finish the FPC, having done everything up to then by themselves.

That was when I put the idea to Jesus Lane Cambridge Quaker Meeting that we might try and raise some funds to help them with the FPC. We did, and we received detailed receipts for all their expenses for window frames, windows, door frames, doors, coating for the walls etc. 

Mkoko visited Cambridge in 2007, after the Dublin Triennial, and after he gave a talk in Hartington Grove Friends Meeting House, Cambridge, it was interesting to hear Friends saying that hearing Mkoko speak himself made the whole project seem real to them. It was, of course, after the visit to Cambridge and the visit to Manchester that we started to think of creating a partnership. We took our proposal to Cambridgeshire and Manchester and Warrington Area Meetings, and the rest, as the saying has it, is history.

In peace and friendship,

Tim Brown

May 2011
Milestone for Quaker Congo Partnership
from Hannah Morrow, Hartington Grove Meeting 

In late 2007 and early 2008 I sat among a group of people around Janet Gilbraith (of Jesus Lane meeting)’s kitchen table pondering two questions she posed: Should we respond to a request from Congo Quakers for help and support?  And if so how?  The request had come from Mkoko Boseka, head of Congo Yearly Meeting. Congolese Quakers mostly speak French as their European language and fortunately Tim Brown (also of Jesus Lane) a fluent French speaker and translator, was present as we pored over emails describing Congolese needs.  

The UK arm of what, in 2009. became the Quaker Congo Partnership - which includes Manchester  Quakers – met in early May this year, to review progress.  The first three-year agreement is drawing to a close and the group is planning for the future.  Both Janet and Tim, whose contributions have been huge, are asking to be released. Fortunately new, gifted people are coming forward and sufficient numbers of the first group are happy to maintain continuity.  

Of the 11 reports from Congo that the committee considered, most striking by far were biographies of five Congolese  (both children and adults) who’ve benefited from the QCP’s three projects: the tiny hospital, which functions with limited electricity from one solar panel; the trauma counselling project because the area has suffered hugely from the brutalities of war; and the women’s loan project for generating household income.  

A qualified nurse at the hospital was at primary school when the hospital opened in the large village of Abeka (where the projects are largely, but not exclusively, centred). He said that before that, the two closest hospitals were 25 and 40 kms away, along all but inaccessible dirt tracks. Patients were often transported by boat along Lake Tanganyika, and many died along the way. Now the hospital has paid staff and secure pharmaceutical supplies. Charges to patients are reduced and a new 4-wheel vehicle (part-funded by QPSW) transports patients and saves lives.  He said, “My biggest concern is insecurity. Four days ago we heard that the Mai-Mai rebels were coming through Abeka.  We didn’t know if they were coming to loot us, and if we should flee or hide the medicine or what we should do…..  In fact they stayed far away, but we have no military protection here.” 

An 11-year old boy, who has received counselling at the trauma clinic, said that his parents died when he was still small.  He  “longs to know their faces” but  his host family “start to beat me” when he talks of them.  His life is precarious; he says he is accused when things go wrong,  for example when his aunt’s goat got lost. He wants to learn how to sew and become a tailor.  He said that when he talks to the counsellors at the trauma clinic he “becomes peaceful. I get advice and they help me when they can.”  QCP are grateful to the Radley Trust for funding external training for 14 counsellors so far.  

A widowed mother of seven children described how her $US50 loan helped her buy and sell salt, kerosene and soap.  She said that prior to the loan she was unable to do any small commerce. Her business is going so well that she was able to buy a goat ($20) and seed grain for her field ($40).  “I reimbursed all my loan in November, but I still have my goat and my field is growing well.  Some other members of our group have done even better.  Women are constantly asking how they can get a loan. We were 16 women from three different ethnic groups. We meet together once a month.”  She said that when they meet, they eat together, report on progress, and give each other advice on how to manage our loans.  “ Some people join us just because they like the meeting… It’s going well.  If one of has a problem, we all try to help them.” 

Supporters of  the Quaker Congo Partnership raised  £83, 215 to the end of December 2010.  Another £1,000 has been raised so far to bring three Congolese here at the time of Yearly Meeting Gathering in July/August.  One of these. we hope, will be Mkoko.  The others will be Dr Guillaime, who although not a Quaker, is hospital director. He is hoping to buy suitable ultra-sound equipment while he is here.  The third person is Masoka Etando Mado, the wife of the former doctor, who sadly died.  She remains deeply involved in the work of the projects.  The committee was keen to enable a woman to visit [a European country for the first time.] and thereby give recognition to the role of the women in bringing change. The three are willing to give talks around the country while they are here.  

Many thanks to those who have generously helped to fund this work.  Further contributions are always needed to the general fund and to the travel fund (please indicate which of these two as they must be kept separately).    Cheques should be made out to Cambridgeshire Area Quaker Meeting, Congo Fund, and sent to Delia Suffling at Jesus Lane.  Or donations can be made via the website www.quakercongo.org.uk