Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank (AfDB), has been cleared of corruption following the conclusion of a second ethics probe, which the United States had insisted on. A three-person team found insufficient evidence to prove allegations of corruption and nepotism that whistleblowers had leveled against Dr. Adesina, and found his submission to be persuasive.
A report by the AfDB’s Ethics Committee and Board of Governors had cleared him of misconduct in April, but the US, which is the second-largest AfDB shareholder, rejected the internal investigation and insisted that an independent panel review the case. The panel, led by former Irish president Mary Robinson, reviewed all the evidence and agreed with the earlier finding.
The Americans’ demand for a second investigation into Dr. Adesina’s conduct sparked outrage among African states that hold shares in the AfDB, with Nigeria in particular pushing back against what they perceived as an imposition on the bank by a non-African nation.
Dr. Adesina is free to pursue his re-election bid for president of the AfDB
The AfDB has been a key financier of major infrastructure projects, such as Mozambique’s liquid natural gas plant in Cabo Delgado province and the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Inga III hydropower project. The AfDB has also committed US$10 billion in funding to assist in the fight against COVID-19 on the continent.
With his name cleared, Dr. Adesina is free to pursue his re-election bid for president of the AfDB in August, running as the only candidate for the position and generally supported by the Bank’s African shareholders.
Researchers at the University of Kisangani in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have successfully formulated a new type of fertilizer that they claim can enrich soil for 400 years and help to increase agricultural output.
Professor Adrian Mwango, who supervised the research, says the fertilizer contains charcoal and organic matter. The fertilizer was tested in a banana plantation, and the researchers will continue to monitor its efficacy.
More than 65 percent of the population are employed in the agricultural sector
If this fertilizer were to prove even half as effective as claimed, it would make a significant difference to millions of citizens’ livelihoods. More than 65 percent of the country’s population are employed in the agricultural sector, according to 2019 World Bank data. It would also improve self-sufficiency in the DRC, which has seen sudden spikes in the price of foodstuffs during the COVID-19 pandemic as supply lines have faltered and cross-border trade has been disrupted.
In a televised address, President Félix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of the Congo announced that the national COVID-19 state of health emergency will be lifted starting July 22. It was declared on March 24 and extended six times Most daily activities are set to resume immediately; educational facilities will open on August 3; and borders, houses of worship, and other public venues will open on August 15.
Reported new daily cases remained below 100 for a week
The lifting of restrictions comes as the DRC reported that new daily cases remainted below 100 for a full week, with new daily deaths numbering just one or two over the same period. It also arrives one month after the World Health Organization announced that the Ebola outbreak in the country’s east, the second deadliest in world history, was officially over.
As the country contends with a massive and ongoing measles outbreak, severe flooding, and continued violence in North and South Kivu provinces, the lifting of the state of emergency can be regarded as a small victory for the beleaguered Congolese people. President Tshisekedi acknowledged, however, that the end of the state of emergency did not mean the end of COVID-19. He emphasized the need to adhere to safety measures to prevent infection.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo saw the third mass demonstration in ten days this past Sunday as thousands of people protested against the choice of a new president to head the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI). Unlike the first two demonstrations, during which a number of people were killed and dozens were injured after tear gas was used, this third demonstration passed without any major incident.
The demonstrators are demanding a depoliticized commission
The protests are focused on the choice of a member of the outgoing CENI team to head the new team, Ronsard Malonda, the current executive secretary. The demonstrators are demanding a depoliticized commission. They take issue with Malonda given his involvement in the 2006, 2011, and 2018 presidential elections, which were believed to have been rigged in favor of former president Joseph Kabila.
Malonda’s appointment as CENI president has already been approved by the National Assembly, but still has to be confirmed by President Félix Tshisekedi.
Catholic organizations in the country called for the demonstrations, with the support of the Lamuka opposition coalition. They believe that Malonda’s nomination is another ploy by Kabila, whose FCC party retains significant influence over the military and the National Assembly, to sway the 2023 election in his favor once again.
Professor Ernest Wamba dia Wamba, one of Africa’s foremost philosophers, civil rights activists, and pro-democracy scholars, passed away at the University Clinic of Kinshasa on Wednesday, July 15.
Wamba dia Wamba obtained his education in the United States after earning a scholarship through the African-American Institute, studying at Western Michigan University before earning his MBA at Claremont University. He taught at Brandeis and Harvard universities while in the United States, where he met his wife and got involved in the civil rights movement through the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
He became a history professor at the University of Dar es Salaam
He moved Tanzania and became a history professor at the University of Dar es Salaam, which had become an intellectual nexus of Pan-African thought. He founded the university’s philosophy club, and from 1992 to 1995 he served as the president of the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA).
In 1998, Wamba dia Wamba founded the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD) with the support of Uganda and Rwanda, and began a campaign against newly installed DRC president Laurent-Désiré Kabila. In August, the RCD launched an attack on Goma, starting the Second Congo War. The RCD later split into two factions, supported by the two rival neighboring countries, after which Wamba dia Wamba faced revolt in his own faction.
After the war, Wamba dia Wamba became a senator in the DRC government and helped to draft a new constitution. He continued to write and was a noted political theorist. More recently, in May 2017, he was appointed president of the political-religious movement Bundu dia Mayala.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began to rattle the world earlier this year, schools were among the first institutions to be closed. Many schools were able to move instruction to the digital sphere, with classes and even graduation taking place on videoconferencing platforms. In most parts of Africa, however, e-learning is a luxury available to only a few.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) schools have been closed since March. The government, with the help of partners like UNICEF, has set up some radio and television distance-learning programs, but a lack of electricity in remote rural areas, let alone Internet access, deprive students of this opportunity.
Like the rest of the country, the village of Kalebuka in the southeast has been hit hard by the pandemic. Farming, using mainly manual labor, is the main economic activity in the area. There is no electricity or internet in Kalebuka. No tarred roads. No modern hospital.
This is where the all-girls’ school Malaika opened in 2010 with just three classrooms. The school was established by the nonprofit Georges Malaika Foundation, founded in 2007 by Noëlla Coursaris Musunka, an international model and philanthropist born in Lubumbashi to a Congolese mother and a Cypriot father. She was only five years old when her father died and her mother made the difficult decision to send her to Europe to be raised by relatives. She lived in Belgium and later Switzerland, and started modelling as a teenager. Eventually, she realized her dream of establishing the foundation—named in memory of her father Georges and the Swahili word for angel, malaika—to provide girls in the DRC with some of the opportunities she had had growing up.
Today, the school provides free primary and secondary education to about 350 girls, with classes taught in French and English. The curriculum covers math, science, information technology, art, and more. And the school offers access to the Internet, computers, and television. It provides these girls with the opportunity to pursue their dreams.
The foundation’s aims go beyond education; it has also built a community center and installed twenty wells in Kalebuka.
The Hunger Virus
“We hope so much that the school and the community center can open up soon,” Musunka says. “We are worried about the children, not only academically but more about their health. If they are lucky, they now get only one meal per day. When they go to school, we give them breakfast and lunch. Not going to school means their health is in danger.”
English teacher Rebecca Mbayo says the lockdown has brought starvation to Kalebuka. “These girls represent all Congolese children. Most of them start the day by asking, ‘When will mom come and cook food for me?’ and get the response, ‘Maybe,’ rather than saying if they will eat or not eat. In general, these children eat once a day or they don’t eat at all.That is why Malaika provides two balanced meals to keep them healthy and prevent them dropping out of school.”
“Our school and community center were ordered closed by the Congolese government in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” says headmaster Sylvain Koj, “but Malaika continues to support the local community.”
The school has been distributing desperately needed food and necessities to those in need in the community. “So far, we’ve helped about 60 families per week, comprising more than 3,000 individuals,” Koj says. The school also commissioned local women to sew masks, which it distributes along with soap and sanitizer to people in Kalebuka and neighboring villages, many of whom do not have access to basic hygiene products. “We are providing sanitation and prevention education by teaching local people about proper handwashing, safe hygiene practices, and more.”
Learning During Lockdown
While the school remains closed, the teachers have kept up the education of the girls to the best of their ability by providing lessons to do at home. Normally, the students would finish their homework at school rather than doing it at home by the light of a candle or a lamp. Now, the teachers walk from door to door distributing homework that the children would do by daylight in the absence of electricity.
Malaika has also organized webinars at the school presented by inspirational women such as British actress Thandie Newton; Grammy award-winning singer, songwriter, and actress Eve; and television broadcaster June Sarpong.
The students miss their school, Mbayo says. Despite the lingering danger of the pandemic, she feels it would be best for the present health and wellbeing of the girls to go back to school. “We are resilient. We have lived with war, Ebola, malaria, and cholera, and we adapted. Even with this pandemic, we have to adapt and learn to live with it.”
A Matter of Survival
Despite the twenty wells that Malaika built with the help of donors, access to clean water continues to be a challenge. In the absence of basic necessities at home, it’s near impossible for these children and their families to follow safety regulations. Of greater risk than COVID-19 or malaria is the risk of starvation.
There is also, as Mbayo explains, the risk of girls being forced into prostitution, begging, theft, and early marriage. “Whatever challenges they face at home, school is a safe environment.”
While they’re not going to school, many of the girls help their mothers sell vegetables on the street to make enough money for their families to eat.
“They work in their parents’ fields, and sell the food in the market and in the center of town,” Mbayo says. “They have to walk long distances and do heavy work, risking accidents, rape, violence, and kidnapping.”
What happens if a child gets sick? Leya, a ten-year-old girl from the community, died during the lockdown period when she didn’t receive proper treatment in time due to poor living conditions. “If Lea had been studying at the school, we would have seen that she was unwell and would have been able to prevent her death.”
Two girls from the school—nine-year-old Edoxie and fourteen-year-old Esether—both fell sick during lockdown and weren’t immediately treated. Edoxie underwent surgery due to typhoid fever and is now recovering. Esther had to have surgery on her leg.
“Parents do not have the money to take their children to hospital, so it falls to Malaika and the community to help them if they’re ill,” Mbayo says. “These interventions are possible thanks to people who support us.”
The students have been making face shields for healthcare workers using the school’s two 3D printers. If these girls can help and contribute with the little that they have, then so too can the rest of the world to ensure their survival.
Dr. Givano Kashemwa Migabo, program manager for Global Strategiesinthe Democratic Republic of the Congo, was awarded the AIDS 2020 Women, Girls, and HIV Investigators’ Prize at the twenty-third Annual International AIDS Conference.
Dr. Kashemwa won the prize for a paper he presented at the virtual conference about a data-collection tool that tracks the use of post-exposure prophylactics, or PEP, antiretroviral medication taken immediately after potential exposure to HIV to prevent infection. The tool was developed by Global Strategies, which empowers communities to improve the lives of women and children through healthcare, and the Panzi Foundation, an organization founded by Nobel laureate and world-renowned gynecologist Dr. Denis Mukwege, who has treated thousands of victims of sexual violence. By tracking the use of PEP in real time, it is possible to quickly ascertain the degree of sexual violence committed in a conflict zone and coordinate the response, ensuring victims have timely access to treatment and care.
Dr. Kashemwa shares the award with Jacqueline Wambui Mwangi, a researcher from Nairobi, Kenya.
Sexual violence is used as a strategic weapon of war
Since the First Congo War began in 1996, various rebel groups active in the eastern DRC have used sexual violence as a strategic weapon of war. Tens of thousands of women, girls, and young men have suffered abuse. Such violence not only inflicts horrific mental trauma on the victims but also contributes to the deterioration of public health as sexually transmitted diseases spread among populations that are already vulnerable, such as refugees and internally displaced people.
Diplomatic relations between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Israel continue to grow stronger. In a letter to President Félix Tshisekedi sent on the sixtieth anniversary of gaining independence from Belgium, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu invited his Congolese counterpart on a formal state visit.
“Israel had established diplomatic relations with the DRC soon after its declaration of independence in 1960, and we are greatly pleased by the friendship and warm cooperation shared during this period,” the letter reads. It concludes with a call for Tshisekedi to visit Jerusalem “as soon as conditions permit it,” a controversial action given that Israel maintains Jerusalem as the state capital despite East Jerusalem being in Palestinian territory and its annexation unrecognized by a vast majority of sovereign states.
The Congolese president has been pushing for greater diplomatic ties with Israel
In March, while attending a conference of the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Tshisekedi announced he would be appointing an ambassador to Israel after a twenty-year gap. The Congolese president has been pushing for greater diplomatic ties with Israel, motivated in part by his evangelical faith and desire to bring in Israeli investment and expertise to help modernize the country. This has created rifts in the Front Commun pour le Congo (FCC), the party of his predecessor Joseph Kabila and a linchpin of Tshisekedi’s ruling coalition.
In a symbolic and widely publicized funeral ceremony, the remains of twenty-four Algerian resistance fighters decapitated for resisting French colonial rule in the nineteenth century were laid to rest on Sunday, July 5. The skulls had been held in France as war trophies for decades until a repatriation agreement was reached, part of an effort by France to make amends for its bloody, destructive colonial history.
President Abdelmadjid Tebboune attended the interment of the fighters’ remains at El-Alia Cemetery in the capital Algiers, in a section dedicated to fallen martyrs, on the same day as the country celebrated its fifty-eighth year of independence from France.
Reckoning with Colonial History
This gesture by France is reflective of a larger trend among former European powers to acknowledge their colonial histories. In 2011 and 2018, Germany returned the skulls of Herero and Nama people to Namibia, more than a century after a genocide carried out by German colonial troops. The skulls had been sent to German universities for “research” by scientists obsessed with measuring racial differences to justify white supremacy.
In a letter sent to President Félix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of Congo on the sixtieth anniversary of independence from Belgian colonial rule, King Philippe of Belgium expressed his “deepest regrets for the wounds of the past.” During Belgian king Leopold II’s rule of the Congo Free State from 1877 to 1908), millions of Congolese were killed and maimed. After an investigation into abuses, the Belgian parliament took over and ruled the Congo until 1960.
These acts of contrition are appreciated, but they fall short of a full apology demanded by the descendants of those brutalized by colonial-era powers.
Troops, police, and civilians deployed under the auspices of United Nations peace operations routinely work under difficult circumstances. The COVID-19 pandemic has added an additional level of challenges for the 95,000peacekeepers deployed across the world as part of thirteen UN operations, many of them in Africa. They have to continue their vital work to protect civilians, support peace and political processes, and promote human rights, all while applying critical prevention and mitigation measures to contain and otherwise help countries respond to the disease.
Within this context, UN peacekeeping missions quickly moved to adapt their community outreach efforts—a critical tool to inform, foster dialogue, and seek support for its mandates—to continue connecting with and supporting communities and local organizations while limiting the risks associated with social contact. Missions have boosted their use of broadcast and online tools to continue communicating, including through radio, WhatsApp groups, social media, and other messaging platforms to reach audiences.
The spread of misinformation is presenting an additional security challenge for peacekeepers
Broadcast is a staple in most of the environments where UN peacekeepers operate, and it has proven to be a crucial tool to support host governments and humanitarian partners to raise awareness on COVID-19 preparedness, prevention, and response, while also addressing issues such as sexual and gender-based violence.
Whether peace operations manage their own radio stations (in the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, and South Sudan), or produce multilingual content for partner networks, up to 80 percent of production has been shifted toward COVID-19 awareness. This is particularly critical in environments with low literacy rates, limited Internet reach, and multiple languages.
The spread of misinformation is presenting an additional security challenge for peacekeepers and communities alike, creating what the UN secretary-general has called a global infodemic. Which is why public communication is central to helping dispel rumors, counter misinformation, and provide people with timely and accurate information.
Mikado FM, a radio station operated by the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), broadcasts a myth-busting program where listeners can ask questions and receive accurate information about the virus. The station reaches a wider audience by providing sixty-three community radio stations with prerecorded prevention messages in five local languages, and special radio shows in partnership with the World Health Organization and the Malian health authorities.
Some missions are also now providing education over the airwaves while schools are closed. Radio Okapi, the flagship station with the UN Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), produces fourteen weekly hours of homeschooling in partnership with the DRC Ministry of Education and UNICEF. Peacekeeping missions’ radio stations in the Central African Republic and South Sudan are also similarly employing their resources to educate children.
The Right Tools for the Right Audiences
Ensuring information reaches at-risk groups, including women, internally displaced persons (IDPs), and rural communities is critical as their already limited access to news and communication tools may further expose them to the virus.
Now, even more than ever, inclusive communications plans must consider varying digital literacy levels of women and men and within different social groups.
The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) distributes thousands of educational flashcards explaining the symptoms of COVID-19 and prevention measures. In Darfur (Sudan), South Sudan, and the Central African Republic, missions use moto-taxis and promo-trucks to disseminate information through speakers in IDP camps, protection sites, and remote villages.
As the UN embraced virtual meetings and remote-access technology following stay-at-home orders, colleagues in the field found creative solutions to grant Wi-Fi and online platforms access to local counterparts, including women’s groups, or expand the use of WhatsApp for interaction.
The mission in Mali, for instance, recently launched MINUSMA Kounafoni Blon (MINUSMA Info Hut) whereby communities from different regions take turns each month to interact on specific themes through a dedicated WhatsApp group hosted in the region’s language. Similarly, in the Central African Republic, MINUSCA is distributing 50,000 rechargeable radio sets to facilitate women’s access to information.
Where technically viable, virtual platforms can keep community dialogue alive. In Kosovo, UNMIK hosts weekly virtual townhall debates on community and national issues; the debates are broadcast on national television. The mission also launched a digital trust-building platform focusing on multi-ethnic cooperation stories and champions, with multilingual messaging on COVID-19. In several countries, women have told us they felt more confident exchanging views and ideas on these more targeted online platforms as opposed to larger groups meeting in person.
Missions are aware of how COVID-19 impacts women and men differently, and how best to direct interventions. Many women continue to work out of necessity to support their families, and therefore face increased contamination risks. MINUSCA, for example, is targeting markets to reach women as a “captive audience” while setting-up handwashing spots and conducting disinfection runs in these locations. MONUSCO also sensitizes women vendors on COVID-19 at markets together with the Congolese Ministry of Gender and the National Police.
Empowering Through Partnerships
Strengthening partnerships with humanitarian actors and local organizations is another way to maintain community outreach and work together to respond to COVID-19.
Religious, traditional and local structures are trusted messengers to convey accurate information and dispel rumors. Arts, sports, socio-economic, and trade groups wield influence and operate within communities. Mikado FM in Mali has partnered with the musical duo Amadou and Mariam to disseminate COVID-19 awareness messages in local languages. In Cyprus, the UN Peacekeeping Force UNFICYP has partnered with Cypriot women’s organizations to boost information for women experiencing domestic violence during quarantine. And MINUSCA trains members of the National Youth Council with speaking and hearing impediments to conduct door-to-door awareness on the virus.
Engaging with the media is yet another way missions are mobilizing partnerships to fight the pandemic. UNMISS works with humanitarian agencies, local authorities, and Facebook to provide validated and timely information, counter hate speech, and remove incendiary posts as appropriate. Similarly, MINUSMA partners with the Union of Free Radios and Televisions of Mali and religious leaders to provide information on COVID-19. MINUSCA held media awareness-raising sessions to promote objective and professional reporting on the pandemic while helping journalists protect themselves against the virus in their daily tasks. As a result of these workshops—held in line with WHO and host governments’ protection and prevention guidelines—more than fifty journalists signed up to a Charter of Good Conduct on reporting on COVID-19 in the country.
Patrolling and Informing
Strategic communications are part of UN peacekeepers’ daily work on the ground, and everybody has a role to play. As most civilian personnel are working from home, military and community policing patrols by the mission become opportunities to relay life-saving information. A community violence-reduction program such as the one in the Central African Republic also involves at-risk populations in income-generating activities such as mask-sewing and soap-making to help combat COVID-19 while expanding their economic options.
It is in this challenging context, and through the examples of peacekeepers continuing their work outlined above, that the United Nations can leverage the power of information and its ability to build strong partnerships with local communities while saving lives. The crucial work of those continuing to undertake core activities, despite the current challenges, is a credit to the resilience of both peacekeepers and the communities they serve.
Charlotte Morgan is an intern at the Strategic Communications Section of the United Nations’ Department of Peace Operations
Sophie Boudre is a public information officer at the United Nations