My name is Fred. I’ve been keeping a blog called Extra Extra since September 2004, initially from Jaffna, in the north of Sri Lanka, and for the past year-and-a-bit from Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. I’m thrilled to have been invited to contribute some coverage for Global Voices of some of the fascinating blogs written in English from or about the Congo.
D. R. Congo is the third-largest country in Africa (after Sudan and Algeria), and has so few roads that people in provincial capitals such as Lubumbashi and Goma have a tendency to describe Kinshasa – some 1500 kilometers away – as another country. Well, I am temporarily back at home in the UK, which often feels like another world entirely. But many of us feel that bridging the gulf between these places is an important task, and happily, expensive air travel is not the only way to do it.
A little over a decade ago, there were just 100,000 fixed line telephones in the DRC, which has an estimated population of 60 million. Nowadays, half the population can get a mobile phone signal, and many millions use pay-as-you-go phones. (This leads us to another form of connection: as Mvemba Dizolele has reported, a high proportion of the coltan and other rare minerals essential for the manufacture of mobile phones and other electronics happen to come from the DRC.)
Access to the internet is gradually improving (World Bank figures suggest there are already over 6 million users), but will remain prohibitively expensive as long as service providers are dependent on satellite connections.
In such a context, it should come as no surprise that there are only a handful of Congolese bloggers. Chatrooms and instant messaging are very popular, however, and with the influence of the Diaspora, it’s easy to imagine that many more young Congolese people will soon be following the footsteps of pioneers like Cedric, perhaps blogging in Lingala, Luba, Kikongo and Swahili as well as French.
Here, then, is the first of my roundups of Congolese blogs in English.
Many readers of Global Voices have already met Atamato, a ranger who helps protect Virunga National Park, a Global Heritage site in Eastern DRC. Unfortunately, his recent fears about the presence of a rebel militia group in the park have proved well-founded, as he reported on Saturday:
At 4h00 this morning Mai Mai rebels attacked the Burusi Patrol Post here in Virunga, leaving one park ranger dead, four critically wounded, as well as kidnapping Officer Monya…
ICCN have deployed two troops of the Advance Force of Congo Rangers to track the attackers, as well as contacting the military authorities of the eighth, based at Butembo. It is feared that the Mai Mai have plans to attack the lowland gorillas as they are now heading towards the Patrol Post of Kalibina, where the gorilla monitoring takes place.
Congo Rangers blog provided this update:
There were a total of 13 people who have been taken hostage, and now they are with the Mai Mai somewhere in the forest. The Burusi Patrol Post was completely ransacked by the Mai Mai; all stock, arms, as well as family possessions, have been taken.
In a comment left on Atamato's blog the following day, Emmanuel from Wildlife Direct confirmed that Kalibina (which is at the top of the mountain) and a third patrol post at Ngai were also attacked. Reuters Alertnet and AFP have picked up the story.
From Kinshasa, Light in the Heart of Darkness reports the launch of Rien Que La Verité, an album featuring 14 Congolese music stars promoting some good ways to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS: Abstinence, Bonne fidelité, Condoms and Dépistage (testing). From the project website (where you can download the music, read the lyrics and find out more about the project and the musicians involved):
According the most recent UNAIDS/WHO report on the global AIDS epidemic, almost two thirds (63%) of all persons infected with HIV in the world are living in sub-Saharan Africa: 24.7 million. An estimated 2.8 million adults and children became infected with HIV in 2006, more than in all other regions of the world combined. The 2.1 million AIDS deaths in sub-Saharan Africa represent 72% of global AIDS deaths.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2005, it’s estimated that as many as one million people — more than 100,000 of them children younger than 14 years — were living with HIV. Nearly 1 million children have been orphaned by AIDS in the D.R. Congo.
Light in the Heart of Darkness declares the concert a success:
With Congo's vibrant music culture, these musicians are national heroes whose voices hold serious weight. Seeing them speak on stage after each of their sets about the importance of dealing with the HIV/AIDS pandemic went far beyond lip service as the Lingala words went bouncing across the stadium filled with thousands. With the laughter bubbling across the stands during the condom demonstration, it was clear that the audience was taking it all in.
Elsewhere, at Journey Outward, a pilot named Andy has posted some enjoyable video footage of a flight over Katanga, in southeastern D. R. Congo, with a Paul Simon soundtrack.
Ants 2 – Brian 0 is the latest score from Kisangani, where Brian (who manages ‘a faith-based microfinance institution’) learns not to keep peanuts in his computer bag:
The next morning as I was rushing out the door for work I lifted my bag off the sofa and there were hundreds of ants partying underneath it. I opened the pouch to find that the peanut bag had sprung a leak and thousands of ants poured out of my bag. In a frenzy I emptied everything out (ants pouring out of my cell phone, eating the stamps in my passport) and shook everything out and got to work a little late.
Finally, in case you missed the fun, Fleur d’Afrique recently shared her discovery of some well-dressed Congolese sapeurs on YouTube. (In France, a sapeur-pompier is a fireman, but in D. R. Congo, the word denotes a dandy belonging to the sartorially conspicuous Société des Ambianceurs et Personnes Élégantes.)