Friday, October 23, 2009


There is a mosquito in my room! Not only in my room, but within the netting that surrounds my bed. A fast flying, high pitched dive bombing, malaria-Mary mosquito, one of millions of terrorist silent killers of thousands of African children and adults each year, and one of them is in my room.

How did this happen? Perhaps I have left my guard down. I have been here in Goma two weeks now and this is the first confirmed sighting of a mosquito in my room. The rare appearance of these little buggers has led me to become a bit casual in my efforts for self-preservation. I leave my door open so as to receive the refreshing breeze from the lake. I eschew my smelly 44% Deet lotion. To escape the heat, I go about in shorts and a tee shirt when behind the high walls and steel gate at the oasis called Maji. The shorts, created when armed with my fingernail scissors, I attacked and severed most of the legs of a pair of Congolese linen slacks I had bought, thinking they would be cool. They were not cool in any sense of the word; they were both hot and cheap looking. The shorts are temperature wise cool, and with the uneven, unhemmed and stringy bottoms they achieve a kind of tawdry elegance, like the heiress with her ragged and holey jeans. Cool. But they do leave my legs undefended against dive bombing bugs.

I do sleep under mosquito netting, which is prudent, since these dangerous little critters attack at night, circling about, giving only a fleeting clue of their flight path by their high pitched buzz, and then silence. I lie there. Waiting for the whine of flight. Too late. A slight, every so slight burning on face (how in the world did it land there without me feeling it?) I slap, a punishing lethal slap. Too late. My face burns from the slap. Then the whine again. The little bugger is full of my blood and still can fly. Hopefully he got a dose of the malarone in my blood. Hope it kills the sneaky little bloodsucker.

Unfortunately, malarone is an expensive drug and completely out of reach of most African families. Malaria is a killer, but it can be defeated inexpensively. Check out where the following information and much more is available (all italicized date from that site):· Fact: Malaria is preventable, but causes nearly 500 million illnesses each year and kills more than 1 million of those who become infected.

· Fact: Ninety percent of deaths caused by malaria occur in Africa, where the disease is a leading killer of children. Every 30 seconds a child in Africa dies from malaria.

· Fact: Malaria is the #1 killer of refugees in Africa. Two-thirds of the 33 million refugees worldwide live in malaria endemic countries.

So, as engaged global citizens, what can we do to help?

In the poorest parts of the world, window screens are lacking, anti-malarial drugs are expensive, and so far an effective malaria vaccine does not exist. Insecticide-treated bed nets in these areas are arguably the most cost-effective way to prevent malaria transmission.

Bed nets use a simple but effective prevention approach: eliminate contact with mosquitoes, eliminate malaria.

The entire process of purchasing and distributing insecticide-treated bed nets to the most vulnerable people, as well as providing education and follow-up surveying on their use, is accomplished for just $10 per bed net.

Although $10 for a bed net may not sound like much, the cost makes them out of reach for most people at risk of malaria in Africa, where many people survive on less than $1 per day. Nets are a simple, life-saving solution, but we need your help to provide them to those in need.

I made light of the mosquito problem in the beginning of this blog. But as you can see from the above facts it is no laughing matter.

For $10 you can save a life. I know I have a few followers out there. Dig down into your golfing winnings and save a life.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Struggle for Women's Rights in DRC

(A Comparison with the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. in the 60’s)
Not only does the conflict, rape and killing continue in north east Congo as scattered bands of Rwandan Hutus (Federation Démocratique Liberation de Rwanda, FDLR), many of whom are former genocidaires who fled Rwanda when the Tutsi’s prevailed, there is yet another difficult if not desperate conflict being fought here every day. It is the fight to liberate the minds of men and women from old and abusive views of the status and role of women. It is the fight to emancipate women from the prison of perceptions of Congolese people that women are lesser beings, objects to be beaten if not obedient, forced into marriage at young ages, deprived of inheritance and property, and whose loss of innocence and virginity can be compensated for with a goat.
During the summer of 1965 I was a civil rights worker in Mississippi. As I reminisce about that summer, I find it helpful in my work here to compare the civil rights movement of the 60’s in the U.S. with the struggle of women to seek equality and self-fulfillment here. There are similarities and, of course, significant differences in these struggles.
B. Similarities between the U.S. Civil Rights Movement and Promotion of Gender Justice in the Congo.
1. Oppressed classes of persons.
a. American Blacks. Taking the Emancipation Proclamation (1862) as a starting point, over a hundred years passed from that declaration of freedom until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were enacted. During those years, Black Americans were subjected to indignities and deprivation in all aspects of life—and to name but a few, education, accommodations, voting, and justice. Such deprivation was imposed under the color of laws, designed to separate and suppress Blacks from the rest of society. During the 1960’s, the civil rights movement reached its fullest momentum. Blacks throughout the south, with assistance from their brothers and sisters throughout the nation, protested, sat in, marched, demonstrated, brought lawsuits, boycotted white businesses and eventually were able to make significant progress in achieving equal rights under the law and application of those rights in day to day life.
b. Congolese Women. Notwithstanding the Constitutional guarantee of equal rights to Congolese women, a Constitutional ban upon, and a variety of penal codes forbidding, sexual violence, Congolese women do not enjoy equality and are subjected to emotional and physical trauma. Cooking, cleaning, child care, gathering firewood, work in the fields—all such tasks appear to fall upon their shoulders, while their spouses often do little or nothing. Those women who are educated must obtain their husband’s permission to work, notwithstanding law to the contrary. A woman who disobeys her spouse or offends him in some way may be beaten, and sadly, she may well believe that she deserved to be beaten for whatever error or transgression she may have committed.
In the conflict zones, women are raped by rebels, wandering bands of militia and soldiers alike. The rapes are vicious, and often accompanied by penetration with foreign objects, resulting in fistulas that require surgery to repair, and which frequently cannot be repaired. The atmosphere of impunity for soldier and rebel rapists contributes to rape, sexual violence and cruelty committed by civilian men as well. For example, according to Richard Malengule, a Congolese attorney working in the Gender and Justice program of Heal Africa, the armed conflict is over in Maniema Province, yet the rape of women and girls persists. The rapes are committed by civilian men who, emboldened by the years of impunity for rapists, have little or no fear of any consequences for their acts of despicable violence.
2. Laws Forbidding Discrimination and Violence
U.S. In the U.S. during the 100 plus years of oppression there were laws that purported to provide for equality in some areas of life, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 expanded those protections in many important aspects of life. However, it took the continued efforts of the civil rights movement and its leaders to obtain enforcement of those rights.
DRC. Similarly, the DRC has raised to Constitutional level the guarantee of equal rights to women, prohibition of sexual violence and other civil rights. However, those rights have yet to be realized by Congolese women. Often women who have been raped are unaware that there are laws forbidding such violence. In other areas of law, they are similarly uniformed. For example, customary law is still accepted as an appropriate standard, even if it means that if a women is widowed, her brother in law may come and take all her property, evict her from her home and leave her with nothing for herself or her children. Or if the husband is widowed, his deceased wife’s younger sister may be required to marry him. Even if the woman knows her rights, enforcement is usually impossible. The costs, as discussed in the blog of Oct 15, are a huge barrier, as are the corroption, delays and failures to enforce judgments.
3. The Church
The church was the center of African American social, religious and political life in the South during the height of the Civil Right Movement. Civil rights workers were welcome in the churches and invited to address the congregations during Sunday service or at special evening meetings to discuss the civil rights movement, urge registration of children in the newly desegregated schools and encourage registration to vote.
Education and empowerment of women are the keys to change in the Congo. Numerous non-governmental organizations (NGO) and faith based organizations (FBO) are at the heart of the efforts to undo the old, traditional ways of regarding the roles of men and women, urging women to reject their suppression and treatment as second class citizens. The Nehemiah Committees in north east Congo, consisting of men and women of faith who often are leaders in their congregations and villages, reach out to men and women, conducting programs designed to show how the traditional bad treatment and submission of women not only are counter to the law but also to commands found both in the Bible and the Koran. The Gender and Justice Program of Heal Africa has developed syllabi that are used in schools and community meetings to teach children and adults about the legal and religious basis for equal treatment and dignity of the sexes. Indeed, starting with the children is so important because of the inherent difficulties in getting older men who are used to their power and position and older women who are indoctrinated by a lifetime of suppression to accept change.

C. Major Significant Differences between the U.S. Civil Rights Movement and Promotion of Gender Justice in the Congo.
1. Unification of the Persons Seeking Change.
a. U.S. Blacks throughout the nation were unified in their quest to secure equal rights, opportunities, education and employment, and in all areas and activities common to private and public life. While the many organizations and individuals working in the movement did not always agree on the methods to reach their goals, they shared the common goal of bringing an end to racial discrimination.
b. In the Congo, we are faced with the delicate problem of elevating women to positions of equality in the face of a tradition and culture which is the antithesis of such goals. Congolese men occupy, and indubitably enjoy, their positions of superiority and authority. The efforts to elevate the status of women risk the alienation of men; such alienation might well drive a wedge between husband and wife, with the risk of destabilizing the family. Persuasive arguments must be mustered that convince men that it is to their advantage to free women and allow them to fully develop their abilities and potential so as to contribute to the well-being of family, community and state.
2. Governmental Support
a. In the U.S., the federal government supported the Civil Rights Movement. Troops were utilized to protect students entering desegregated schools and universities. The Federal Bureau of Investigation pursued and brought to justice perpetrators of racial killings and beatings. The Department of Justice appointed Federal Voting Examiners to register Black Americans to vote in counties where violence and intimidation had intimidated and dissuaded African Americans from voting.

b. In the DRC, other than words in the Constitution and laws, there is little evidence of governmental activity to advance women’s rights and protect them from sexual violence. Indeed, with tens of thousands of rapes and other sexual assaults over the past 2 or three years, there have been an insignificant number of prosecutions, only a fraction of those resulting in convictions, and even with convictions, inexplicable delays in imposition of judgment and sentence. Those who do get sent to prison often are able to buy their way out or easily escape from prisons that are falling apart.

In the U.S. there are governmental victim-witness protection programs. They do not exist here, except as provided by NGO’s or FBO’s, such as Heal Africa’s Wamama Simameni (women stand together) security house for victims of rape.


Effective change comes from the people. Did the Kennedy and Johnson administrations one day decide to push for civil rights and voting rights legislation? They did not. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were the products of freedom rides, sit ins, demonstrations, arrests, beatings, church bombings, murders of civil rights workers, countless little groups meeting in simple one room churches throughout the South, whose meetings ended in a chorus that inspired a nation:

“We shall overcome, we shall overcome,
“We shall overcome someday,
“Oh deep in my heart I do believe
“That we shall overcome someday.”

There are good laws here in DRC. It remains for dedicated Congolese men and women, international organizations , FBO’s, NGO’s and the hundreds of volunteers who are here to make those laws work in everyday life.

The struggle will be long, the sacrifices many, but we shall overcome.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Justice: Admission Not Free

What if you were mugged on the street or you or a loved one were kidnapped and raped and before the courts would prosecute the case you had to pay a fee? That is what happens in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Here are the numbers, and when you look at them bear in mind that most of the victims have nothing, and if they do have an income it is probably just a few dollars per month.

Fifteen to 20 percent to court of the amount of reparation expected.

$5 to open the case

$10 to investigate

$35 to write up the case report

For example, if it is estimated that the amount of damages that may be awarded is $500, the oft-times penniless victim must come up with $75 to $100 for the court’s reparation percentage, plus another $50 for costs, for a total of $125 to $150, more money than she has had in her life.

I am here in Goma to continue the work started by Yvonne Troya and Charlotte Martinez of the 1st Presbyterian Church, Berkeley, to establish legal clinics in the Wamama Simameni (women stand together) safe houses for victims of violence—rape, domestic violence, assault, sexual and otherwise. These houses serve as transfer stations and collection points. After being attacked, and frequently disowned by her husband, thrown out of home and community because of the shame brought upon her husband and community by the rape, the victim can come to the safe house where she is cared for until she can be taken to Heal Africa hospital in Goma for treatment. After treatment and recovery, the woman may return to the Wamama Simameni where the work begins to integrate her back into the community.

To prepare them for reintegration, the Wamama Simameni offer training in making bread, sewing, soap, literacy. She may be eligible for a micro finance loan, and with the skills acquired at Wamama Simameni be able to eke out a living and care for herself and children.

At the safe houses people will be able to receive education regarding their civil rights and obligations, instruction designed to combat traditional beliefs and practices that suppress and harm women, and to empower women with regained sense of self esteem, self reliance and hope.

The legal clinics will be staffed with third year law student interns supervised by an experienced attorney and a professor from the Université Libre Pays Grands Lacs (Free University of the Great Lakes County). Women willing to prosecute will receive assistance in preparation of their cases and accompanied to the American Bar Association Rule of Law project in Goma for legal representation, and hopefully, financial assistance to pay the costs of proceeding with their case. Women are often in need of assistance in protecting their property and inheritance rights, as well as resolution of family issues. Legal advice and counseling will be available at the clinics.

Over half the wealth and potential wealth of nations rests in its women. It is time to remove the fetters, abandon abusive and ignorant conceptions of the status of women, end the atmosphere of impunity that encourages rape and abuse and enjoy the benefits for all of society when women are free from the shackles of the past.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Familiar Places & Familiar Faces

Landing at the Kilgali (Rwanda) International Airport at night is unlike any other airport landing I have experienced in the past first half of my life. The pilot having made his announcement that we were about to land, the thump of the landing gear having reverberated through the plane, I watched as the lights of Kigali came in view, apparently still several hundred feet below us. Then the thud of wheels hitting the tarmac and still the lights of the city looked like they were two or three hundred feet below us. They were--the airport sits atop a ridge, and the runway we used did not appear to be very wide. There was a driving rainstorm and one could have thoughts of the plane skidding and crashing down the hillside. Of course I did not have such thoughts, being ever positive and free of any anxiety of any kind, except where anxiety is called for, as determined by me.

Ever reliable Kassim was there to meet me and quickly shuttled me to the Gorilla Hotel. As I walked into the cozy but efficient reception room, the desk clerk and his assistant greeted me with "Bonsoir, Mr. Kerry." And they were the same staff that greeted me 17 months ago. The porter carried my large duffel up three flights of stairs to my room, amazingly the same room I had occupied on my first stay at Gorilla Hotel. I made a quick inspection, and yes, the sheets had been changed! Actually, I had no anxiety about the cleanliness of the room. Kigali is one of the cleanest, if not the cleanest, cities in Africa, and the business enterprises reflect that concern for cleanliness. Indeed, on my first trip to Rwanda, I was carrying a box of Belgian chocolates in a plastic bag. I was required to throw away the plastic bag before going through passport control. You will not see plastic blowing around the streets of Kigali, which prides itself on environmental protection.
After getting settled in my room, I went to the charming little restaurant at the rear of the hotel. Once again, familiar faces, some of the save servers and busboys as when I was last there.
Although it has been said that familiarity breeds contempt, and perhaps that is true for house guests who overstay their welcome, being greeted with familiar sights and sounds in a foreign country is very warming and reassuring. I had a couple of Primus beers, THE beer in Congo, some frites and enjoyed watching the diverse patronage. To my immediate left, three German men; across from me, a boy of about 12 or 13 engrossed in his laptop, drinking tea and what appeared to be fried bananas; also across from me and to the left, three young women in a lively conversation in French, with as much being said with hand and finger gestures like little birds darting about as with words. I could catch a few words, but their speech was so animated and so fast, that I was at a loss for efficient eavesdropping.
Tomorrow Kassim picks me up a 9 for the trip to Goma. And then the work begins. Pray for the women of the Congo, who are the greatest victims of rape, discrimination and injustice, but who also are the Hope of the Congo. And on that note, I sign off for now, urging you to read Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDun, who make a plea for us all to do something to help rescue women and children from violence, rape, discrimination, and injustice.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


The best thing about an early morning flight is getting up at the crack of dawn and rushing to the airport, and for someone a bit anxious like me, that means getting to the airport at 4 a.m. for a 6 a.m. flight. Fortunately, my Air France flight was scheduled to take off at 3:30 and the command on the e-ticket was to check in no later than 2:30. So I planned to get to the airport by 1:30, and be anxiety free.

Leila and I awoke at 6:30 and that is the worst thing about an afternoon departure. How do you fill those hours between arising and departing? Packing had started several days earlier and finished up the night before, as I repeatedly packed and unpacked, shifting items from the large rolling duffel destined for the belly of the plane to the carryon, all in order to get the weight of the duffle down to 50.6 pounds. If I were over that limit, so I believed from reading the advice on the Air France web page, I would be surcharged $50. That I could have handled, but for the second hop, via Brussels Air from Brussels to Kigali, the penalty would have been $200.

Unsuccessful in getting the weight down to 50.6 pounds, I went once again to the Air France web site and reread the baggage rules. I then discovered that I was allowed one carryon plus another small bag, such as a computer bag. Voila! The solution. I transferred the my large Dell laptop, and the still boxed mini laptop I was taking to Richard Malengule, a Congolese human rights attorney, and about 50 high energy bars , along with writing tablets, power cords, earphones, and my reading material, Le Petit Prince and Les Adventures du Nicolas. (Kids' books yes, but Petit Prince has gems for readers of all ages, and Petit Nicolas is a great assist, with explanations of grammar and vocabulary in the margins.

So after once again strapping the rolling duffel on my back and stepping upon the bathroom scales, I finally achieved the goal of 248 pounds, allocated between me and the duffel. I learned from the Air France ticket agent that all that effort was unnecessary. She explained if I had only one bag to check (2 are allowed) I would be allowed somewhere around 70 pounds.

The flight was uneventful. Fortunately I had snared an exit row seat, and had no seat in front of me, thus allowing a lot of stretching out, and with my inflatable butt cushion and neck collar, I actually was able to get a few hours sleep. With an AA (ambien assist).
Upon departure, I was able within a few minutes’ walk to the TGV station (Train Grand Vitesse, loosely translated, Really Fast Train) and was in Brussels in an hour and a half. Chatted about half the way with a Belgian man who makes several trips each year with a couple hundred pounds of used, but very serviceable clothes for little children. It is all on his own dime, but he is answering the question, “but Lord, when did we clothe thee?

I believe that meeting him was a good omen for my trip.

Sunday, October 4, 2009


Counting down the hours until my departure for Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, I am experiencing the same emotional and physical symptoms that I always experienced on the eve of a jury trial: nervousness, anxiety, queasiness of stomach, restless nights and loss of appetite. Add to those waves of discomforting symptoms, some last minute doubts. Before a trial the doubts were expressed as maybe I should have settled this case, and as the hour nears to embark from SFO for Goma, the doubts that keep arising and that I keep pushing back down are expressed as, do you really think you can do anything to change things in north east Democratic Republic of Congo?
Yet when the day for trial came and I stood before the panel of prospective jurors and chatted with them in an effort to establish rapport and find out what I could about their likes and dislikes, the adrenalin flowed and I knew that this was where I belonged, in the courtroom seeking to obtain some measure of justice for my client.
And I know that once I get to Goma, once I pull my bulging, rolling duffle over the border and am greeted by Pascal or whoever is available from Heal Africa to pick me up, once I have my feet on Congolese soil, there will be no doubt, there will be no misgivings, but rather I will be infected with the joy and the hope of patients, the dedicated doctors, nurses and other staff of Heal Africa, and the other volunteers assembled there to engage in the struggle for some measure of justice, peace and healing for the victims of over a decade of violence, rape, displacement and destruction of men, women, children, villages, farms, homes and clinics.
If people who have suffered so much can still be joyful, hopeful and unrelenting in their faith in God, how can I do less? God willing, I will be up to the task.
My next blog will describe the task that lies ahead: working to establish legal clinics
in the Wamama Simameni (women standing together) safe houses for the victims of rape and other sexual and physical and mental violence .
Internet accessibility is spotty in Goma, and sometimes does not exist at all, so it may be a while before the next blog gets posted.