Fredericton – The much publicized hunger strike by Chief Theresa Spence in Ottawa and the wider activist movement that has been linked to it have galvanized mainstream media’s attention in the last few months. Unfortunately, Spence’s hunger strike ended much the same way Congolese activist Fredrick Wangabo MweneNgabo’s did: promises of action from governments which have not yet led to any concrete changes.
Fredericton resident MweneNgabo came into the spotlight through his hunger strike, started almost a year ago on March 7, 2012 and which lasted 48 days. When he ended his hunger strike, MweneNgabo was satisfied with the responses he had been getting from the authorities, and indeed, was pleased when Canadian authorities promised to raise issues of violence and human rights violations during the Sommet de la Francophonie, held in October in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). During the summit, resolutions were adopted and promises of more actions and sanctions were called for.
Almost four months later, MweneNgabo wants to remind the public of the difficulties that are ongoing in his home country. An intimate group of mostly journalists joined MweneNgabo in the sunlit room; his presentation was held in the St. Croix Room, at Fredericton’s Crowne Plaza Hotel, on Feb. 5, 2013.
MweneNgabo did a short presentation on the situation in the DRC and provided documents with further information on the situation from the UN Security Council, as well as a six-page letter he sent to Barack Obama and various other international authorities this month.
MweneNgabo reiterated that the situation in the DRC continues to be horrifying, one he considers “more [violent] than the Holocaust.” MweneNgabo denounces the great number of deaths, which, depending on sources may now total six million people. Indeed, the Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo distributed by MweneNgabo at his presentation cites 400 reports of alleged acts of sexual violence “committed by armed groups or national security forces between mid-May and September” 2012. Almost one half of these acts were carried out against children, according to the report.
MweneNgabo is calling for the arrest of Paul Kagame, President of the DRC since 2000, by the International Criminal Court because promises of justice and peace “are being insulted” in his country. The DRC government’s negotiated peace process is only formulated around the country’s lucrative natural resource exploitation (North Kivu). According to MweneNgabo, it’s a “waste of time and resources”. He is saddened by the fact that Canada could “do more, they have a voice, they have power” and he cites the examples of the French presence in Mali and the wider intervention in Libya. “Why not in Congo?” says MweneNgabo, since, as he repeated a few times, with one phone call, U.S. President Obama can influence world politics.
Many anti-war activists are opposed to intervention on imperialist grounds. While they support the end of bloodshed in the DRC, they point to the many imperialist interventions dressed up as “humanitarian” wars, including NATO’s interventions on Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, the UN’s air assault (“no-fly-zone”) in Libya and the overthrow of Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide and subsequent UN occupation.
“We know that many of today’s wars are not really waged for ‘democracy’ against ‘dictatorship.’ The wars and occupations are waged to maintain optimal conditions for capital accumulation from colonial to imperialist nations,” says Tracy Glynn, an anti-war activist based in Fredericton.
“Mali is Afghanistan all over again. Imperialism arms jihadis to overthrow a government. The jihadis, with their own agenda, then seize power for themselves and imperialist powers soon turn against their former stooges and bloodshed ensues,” says Glynn.
MweneNgabo mentioned the lucrative natural resource exploitation but doesn’t make reference to the presence of specific Canadian mining interests in the DRC, especially in North Kivu.
Rich deposits of gold, diamonds, cobalt, copper and niobium are found under the ground in DRC. Various documentaries such as Blood in the Mobile have blamed the mining of coltan, a metal needed for the production of cell phones, for fueling the country’s civil war.
Indeed, nine Canadian mining companies were found to be acting against international regulations in a 2002 UN Report on the DRC, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Since then, problems of corruption of authorities, violence and exploitation have been ongoing.
Canadian mining corporations are using the courts to suppress information about their activities in the DRC and other African countries. Barrick Gold, the world’s largest gold mining company, has attempted to stop the publication of two books critical of their company’s operations in Africa.
In 2008, Barrick Gold sued a small Quebec publisher, Écosociété, for $6 million for publishing a book about Canadian companies in Africa called Noir Canada: Pillage, Corruption and Criminality in Africa, by Alain Deneault, Delphine Abadie and William Sacher, Quebec-based researchers. Banro Gold, another Canadian mining company, sued the same publisher for $5 million. While the publisher settled out of court with Barrick Gold, agreeing to withdraw the book from print (among other conditions), the Banro lawsuit is still unresolved. Écosociété sold a couple of hundred copies of the book before the settlement and it can now be read online.
In the more recent book written by Deneault and Sacher, Imperial Canada Inc.–Legal Haven of Choice for the World’s Mining Industries, the authors set out to describe abuses of Canadian mining companies abroad. Barrick Gold demanded to see the unpublished manuscript from the small Vancouver-based publisher, Talonbooks, and threatened litigation against those involved with the production of the book in 2010. The publisher tentatively pulled the book but then decided to publish it in spring 2012.
In November 2012, the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear a case against Canadian mining company, Anvil Mining, brought forward by the Canadian Association Against Impunity for victims of a massacre in Kilwa, a town in the DRC, in November 2010. The suit, filed in a Quebec court, accused Anvil of providing logistical support to the DRC army. The army raped, murdered and brutalized the people of the town of Kilwa. According to the U.N., an estimated 100 civilians were killed as a direct result of the military action. Some were executed and buried in mass graves. Anvil admitted to providing the army with trucks, food, lodging and other logistical support but claimed it was requisitioned by the authorities. They denied any wrongdoing.
The Supreme Court’s decision “is another rebuff for the families who have suffered so much and struggled so long to have this case heard. But we won’t give up,” said Adèle Mwayuma, whose two teenage sons were executed during the massacre.
Back in Fredericton, MweneNgabo claims he will not be happy until “peace is restored, 48 women stop being raped every hour, and his people are happy” in the DRC. At the international level, MweneNgabo says he is “far from being completely happy” and he is not confident that the situtaton in the DRC is an international priority. He asks: “would this [violent conflict] be happening in France? In Spain?”
Gerald Hudson McIntyre a resident of Elm Hill, NB, and MwebeNgabo supporter, “[hopes] that the links between [the freedom of] people of Africa and the people of North America not be overlooked.” Indeed, in his presentation, MwebeNgabo directly linked the struggles of the DRC Congolese to those of the Indigenous people in Canada. For Fredrick MwebeNgabo “injustice somewhere is injustice everywhere.”