Congo Pygmies Surviving!
by Fred E. Foldvary, Senior Editor
The Pygmy people of the Congo have endured danger after danger during the past twenty years, and still they survive. There have been constant wars, disease epidemics, and the devastation of forests in the Democratic Republic of Congo, previously called Zaire. During the past four years there has been an African continental war in the Congo as nearby countries, seeking to exploit the rich natural resources of the Congo, have sent troops to fight the Congolese as well as the armies of the other foreign intruders. Over 2 million people have been killed by that war, and many have had to flee to the forest to escape the violence.
On December 17, 2002, a peace agreement was finally reached among the combatants. The government of South Africa had been mediating a power-sharing plan to end the conflict. The Congo's president, Joseph Kabila, will remain in power for two years until elections are held. There will be four vice presidents, one from the government, one from the main political opposition, and two from rebel groups that have controlled the eastern part of the country. In the northeastern part, a Uganda-backed rebel force is still fighting against a Rwandan-backed force.
The infrastructure of the Congo -- the roads, transportation, public services -- has been demolished by the conflict, and much of the Congo has gone back to what it was in the 1800s, but much worse, because the traditional social structures have been wrecked, and much of the forest has also been damaged. Still, vast mineral and forest resources remain.
If in two years the parties attempt to create the usual Western-style democratic structures -- a central government elected by a mass of voters divided into political parties -- it will surely fail. The government will be captured by powerful moneyed interests, as once in power, the government is in effect an elected dictatorship. The wealth will be split between corrupt government officials and those extracting the forests and minerals. To have a genuine democracy, with the people benefiting from the natural resources, democracy must be grounded in local councils who then elect higher-level representatives. That will not only bring the power to the people but also provide a better defense against a takeover by a dictator.
Thanks to the heroic work of Jean-Pierre Hallet, founder and head of the Pygmy Fund, the Efé Pygmy people of the eastern Congo have been able to survive through all this chaos. One danger to them was the mining of coltan, the ore of the element tantalum, used in cell phones. The year-end 2002 Pygmy Fund newsletter reports that its international campaign to stop the environmental destruction caused by the mining has been successful: miners have been expelled from the forest home of the Pygmies. Another item of good news is that niobium is gradually replacing tantalum in the manufacturing of electronic capacitors.
But another threat remains, not just to Pygmies, but the entire Congo. As was reported in The Observer newspaper published in London, UK, the army of Zimbabwe may chop down 85 million acres (344 thousand square kilometers) of rain forest, an area 1.5 times that of the United Kingdom! The report says that logging rights were handed to the president of Zimbabwe in 1999 in exchange for military aid against the rebels. Laurent Kabila, a leader of rebels in eastern Congo, had earlier requested the assistance of Mugabe, president of Zimbabwe, in ousting the Congo's president Seko. After taking power as president, Kabila was assassinated in 2001, and his son Joseph Kabila became president.
The Pygmies still urgently need basic agricultural tools, seeds, and medical help. Those who support the Pygmy Fund are vital in helping this unique remnant of an ancient people to survive. For more information, or to provide help, the Pygmy Fund's address is: P.O. Box 277, Malibu CA 90265. If you request information or the newsletter, please provide a donation, because the Pygmy Fund is a small organization that needs every possible dollar. In contrast with so many charities spending so much of their contributions on fund raising, a donation to the Pygmy Fund goes to help the Pygmies and has the greatest humanitarian effect of any organization I know of.
-- Fred Foldvary
Copyright 2002 by Fred E. Foldvary. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system, without giving full credit to Fred Foldvary and The Progress Report.
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