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Rwanda

Rwandan And Congolese Youth United Against Stereotypes Of Genocide

Though peace is far secure between the Democratic Republic Of Congo and Rwanda, organized efforts to bring their youth together are multiplying.

GOMA — "The wound will not heal as long as the knife keeps twisting," reads a profession of faith by four young Congolese and Rwandan artists trying to shatter stereotypes between the two neighboring peoples of the Great Lakes region.

Through their group, Simama Africa, they mobilized some 30 young people from both countries for a day of reflection last month at the Protestant Welcome Center in Goma in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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Can The Catholic Church Prevent A New Congolese Civil War?

It seems only the Church has managed to curb the ambitions of recent Congolese rulers Mobutu and Joseph Kabila. Now Church leaders are trying to peacefully nudge Kabila from power to avoid the bloodshed many are predicting.

KINSHASA — The deal to ensure peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is sealed, and everybody has signed on. Yet nobody is running out to celebrate. In the DRC, people, politicians and religious leaders know that any crisis resolution is generally considered a temporary thing.

There is little to fault in the text of the recent accord: It addresses all the points of dispute that had led the country to a situation one might call the nadir of its fortunes, if the DRC had not shown time and again that it can always sink further. For the Congolese, the first peaceful handover of power after a coup and a civil war cannot be taken for granted.

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A Congolese Man Gives Midwives A Run For Their Money

DOUMANGA — In this western village in the Republic of Congo, the local health center lacks both material and human resources. As a result, the only male nurse in Doumanga is the one assigned to help women of the village give birth. For Max Banzoulo, it has become a noble mission that he carries out with great pride.

This unusual role includes care that comes well before the date of delivery, such as offering advice to women in order to limit the risks during childbirth. "When a pregnant woman arrives at the clinic for a medical check-up, he takes the time to carefully examine her specific situation," says Marie Ngoyi.

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La Sape, Congolese Dandy Style Born Of Political Protest

PARIS — Donning a ribbon-trimmed red bowler hat and a white tunic embroidered with black in what turned out to be his last concert, Papa Wemba stayed true to personal code of conduct: Always look sharp.

The tenor of Congolese rumba, who collapsed and died on stage while performing at a music festival in Abidjan in Ivory Coast on the morning of April 24, will be remembered as one of the greatest singers of his generation. He'll also go down in history as one of the most high-profile promoters of the sape movement — from the French acronym for the Society of Ambiance-Makers and Elegant People — a social phenomenon that glorifies elegance and style.

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food / travel
Kouamba Matondo Annette

Congo Farming: Eco-Friendly Fertilizer v. Slash-And-Burn

BRAZZAVILLE — In the area around the Congolese capital of Brazzaville, it's common practice to burn vegetation in fields before planting crops. But this slash-and-burn approach inflicts severe damage to the forests and the soil, not to mention to the health of women, who are the primary farmers in this area.

"The placement of these lands under fallow until they regenerate, forces women to regularly move away from the lands," says Marguerite Homb, president of a non-profit organization called Health and Nature. "They sometimes use too many chemical products at the risk of their own health."

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Congo
Jean Thibaut Ngoyi

Congo Charcoal, An Environmental Disaster In The Making

Making charcoal requires cutting down trees and burning them in the ground, destroying in the process not only trees but also the fertility of the land. Farming output is on the decline, and environmentalists are signaling the need for change.

BRAZZAVILLE — In the vicinity of Brazzaville, thousands of woodland hectares have been decimated by charcoal producers over the course of many decades, destroying not only the trees but damaging the land itself. Powerless, farmers are noticing that their crop productivity has fallen dramatically.

François Xavier Mayouya, head of a local charity, has raised the alarm. He says charcoal production in the villages around Brazzaville will have disastrous consequences. To make it, producers cut down trees and burn wood slowly in ground pits, called coal stoves, and extinguish the fires just before the wood turns to ash.

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Congo
Makoumbou Flore Michèle

Congolese Women, Freedom Through Literacy

BRAZZAVILLE — It was only when she realized she'd handed her husband a letter written by his mistress that Alphonsine decided to act. Facing such heartbreak and humiliation, this 54-year-old housewife and mother of seven, decided to join a basic literacy class in the Congolese capital of Brazzaville.

Like Alphonsine, many illiterate women have started going to school to address such educational shortcomings. Their goals are manifold: to assert themselves, to be more independent in their activities — including business — and to contribute to their children's education. Some of them choose the method called "Alpha Express," taught at the Center Mama Elombé ("Fighting Woman"), in the church Sainte-Marie de Ouenzé. This method promises beginners they will be able to write their names after one month.

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Congo
Emmanuel Libondo

Congolese Mourning Rites That Are Abusive To Widows

Representatives and victims in the Congo are pushing back on ancient traditions that render women without rights after the deaths of their husbands, even prohibiting them from eating or drinking when they want.

SIBITI — Being gifted as inheritance to the brother of your dead husband, seeing everything you own confiscated, being able to wash only when your in-laws decide. These are some of the abusive traditional practices suffered too often by widowed women in the Lékoumou region of the Republic of the Congo.

A recent gathering of various women's protection groups and local representatives confronted this custom, known as "le Ngo." Participants, including native women representing local neighborhoods, denounced such abuse.

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Migrant Lives
Nathalie Funes

Odyssey Of An African Refugee, 50 Years And Counting

Nicolas Ngwabije fled his native Congo in 1966, a political refugee. He ended up working for decades at a French migrant center, a reference point for generations of refugees. And they keep coming.

MASSY — He greets his guests in his uniform: a navy-blue blazer, a striped tie, a baseball cap he "bought at a local supermarket," and a set of keys attached to a red cord. For nearly three decades, Nicolas Ngwabije was in charge of the reception office of the Massy temporary accommodation center, designed to help refugees in the southern outskirts of Paris.

Every day, he filled in admission files, gave new arrivals tours of the center, distributed mail to the residents, unclogged the sink, listened to personal secrets and so many tales of setting off in the night, leaving parents and homes behind. These accounts of long hauls aboard trucks, boats, on foot, borders crossed illegally, lives turned upside-down, have been making global headlines lately.

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Congo
Alphonse Nekwa Makwala and Emmanuel Lukeba

African Women On Climate Change Front Line

Women farmers in Lower Congo have been the first to notice the effects of desertification, and the first to react.

MATADI — Women in the rural areas of Lower Congo, southwest of Kinshasa, are in the direct path of climate change's devastating effects. Made aware of the vulnerability of local crops to desertification, a group of women are actively working to reforest the area, and encouraging others to do the same.

“We are suffering. No one is taking care of us. How are we going to send our children to school, to feed them, dress them?” asks Alphonsine Lukebana, a farmer from Kimpese. "Now we have to travel long distances to grow anything, because the earth doesn’t give us good harvests anymore."

Another rural woman from the Democratic Republic of Congo, who has come to the regional capital of Matadi to sell her products, says she must deal with the destruction of the forests, and the costs of traveling to sell what crops she is finally able to reap. "It’s an enormous effort just to survive,” she says. “How much profit can we make with the increasing price of transportation?”

Reduction in harvests, water sources drying up, less and less arable land, disappearance of animal and plant species: These are effects of desertification, one of the most visible consequences of climate change. “These changes plunge women, especially those who live in rural areas, into unprecedented poverty,” explained Annie Mbadu, the secretary of the Network for Women and Development (Refed).

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Sources
Didier Kebongo

In Congo, Street Children Find Hope In Brazilian Martial Art Of Capoeira

LIMETE — Three times a week here, in this municipality within the Kinshasa province of Congo, street children gather in the square to practice Brazilian expand=1] capoeira, a martial art that incorporates dance, music and acrobatics. For the past seven years, these unlikely enthusiasts of the disclipline have occupied a portion of an abandoned basketball court.

Standing in line, four of them play traditional musical instruments. Barefoot, they warm up. Then, two by two, they begin to spin on their hands and feet and make imaginary strikes without touching the other dancer. After a few minutes, they step away and leave the space to another duo. When one child inadvertently touches his partner, organizer Yannick N’Salambo or his assistant intervenes to demonstrate the correct poses. The children are real attractions, drawing a crowd of fans and curious passersby.

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Sources
Dieudonné Malekera

Wee and Unwanted In Congo, Where Newborns Of Street Children Face A Tough Start

Street children often abandon their own infants, who are sometimes raised by grandmothers or dropped at convents. But these young parents all wish them a better life than they had.

BUKAVU — A crowd is watching a group of teen boys and girls swimming together in Lake Kivu, near Bukavu, the capital of DR Congo's South Kivu province. “We are friends, married people like you,” shouts a young girl in a thin and wet evening gown, letting her small breasts show as if to taunt passersby.

To Jean Jean Saizonga, who is responsible for the diocesan program that helps street children, this scene is not surprising. He explains that homeless girls are concentrated primarily near the Beach Muhanzi market in Kadutu. “They were 100 in 2008 and 1,000 now. Boys and girls working in the streets have sex together, then girls get pregnant and give birth,” he says.

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Congo
Dieudonné Mwaka Dimbi

The So-Called Prophets Tearing Apart Congolese Families

In the province of the Bas-Congo, southwest of Kinshasa, "prophecies" blame innocents for the misfortune of their loved ones.

LUKALA - It was an ordinary day in late May. Isabelle Lusalakio was cooking in her kitchen when her parents burst into her home, in this city south of Kinshasa. They asked her to leave immediately.

“Pack your bags and come back home to Boma. The man you've been with is not the one that God has chosen for you," her father said.

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Sources
Kennedy Wema

French Fry Rebuff: Congolese Return To Traditional (And Healthier) Diet

Edged out for a time by greasy, imported food, traditional meals are staging a comeback in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

BUTEMBO — It is Saturday, the traditional wedding day in this northeast city of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The guests are politely sitting in the "Maria Mama" hall as the pastor finishes the prayer that precedes the wedding feast.

Then, the master of ceremony announces that lunch is ready. "For those interested, the African cuisine is just in the corner," he says, identifying in particular ignames (yams), taros (a tropical plant with edible roots) and marrows (zucchini).

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