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PeaceTalks: Threats to independent journalism as the DRC heads towards its next elections

“It's not a Canada problem or a Congo problem, it’s a humanity problem.” - Babaluku, Congolese Rapper & Rights Activist

Though widely underreported, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is in the middle of a political crisis.

On 23 December 2018, the DRC will hold its next presidential and parliamentary elections. The Congolese people will determine a successor to President Joseph Kabila, the incumbent since 2001. Tensions are high: in the last decade, Africa has faced an alarming trend of presidential term limit extensions, leading to political violence all across the region.

For Kabila, his second and final presidential term was slated to expire at the end of 2016. Kabila promised to hold elections by the end of 2017 — a broken promise as elections are only now happening this month.

Congolese citizens await the change of government with anticipation and optimism, but the elections also bring a sense of fear. The DRC hasn’t experienced a peaceful power transition since 1960. Recently, violent clashes between government and rebel forces are becoming increasingly common, spilling into the North Kivu and Ituri provinces, affecting a growing number of civilian populations. Attacks on local villages have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people, displacing thousands to other cities within the DRC, and across the border into neighbouring Uganda.

On October 24th, PeaceGeeks hosted our 40th PeaceTalk at the HiVE coworking space in downtown Vancouver in collaboration with the SFU African Students' Association and Bunia Actualité, an independent news organization operating in the DRC.

The talk, titled Intersection of Independent Journalism and Elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo, brought a closer look to the challenges and opportunities facing the DRC and independent journalists.

The talk featured Don Wright, Amnesty International’s National Outreach and Coordination Manager, King Solomon, a refugee and student at Simon Fraser University who helped found Bunia Actualité, Babaluku, a Ugandan rapper and community youth activist and social entrepreneur, and Luc Malembe, journalist and Director of Bunia Actualité, who teleconferenced in from the DRC. The talk was moderated by Peter Wood of the David Suzuki Foundation.

Don Wright opened the dialogue with an overview of Amnesty International’s work responding to violence faced by journalists around the world, highlighting that professional foreign press and local agents alike are, in many regions around the globe, being “cracked down upon,” facing threats of imprisonment, and in some cases, even death.

Wright also highlighted the role Canada and its mining companies play in social conflicts in the DRC. Canada’s interests and holdings in the region include $40 million USD in annual imports, and $4.5 billion USD in mining-related assets. Wright added that many locals in the rural regions of Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America are regularly jailed -- or killed --  for attempting to protect their home environment from Canadian mining companies.

King Solomon, who emigrated as a refugee from the DRC to Canada in 2009, spoke to his personal experiences with the socio-economic and political crises. His testimony was emotional as he expressed the shame he felt at running away from the place he had called home his whole life.

Solomon helped to establish the website buniaactualite.com, one of the few independent news organizations in the DRC. Since its conception in October 2017, the grassroots news organization Bunia Actualité has gained significant traction both on its website and its initial Facebook page (started in 2015) which has over 111,000 followers.

Using an interactive online map, Reporters without Borders, which ranks the level of freedom of the press in countries across the globe, Solomon pointed out the vast instability and restrictions against free journalism in the world, and especially in post-colonial regions that continue to experience conflict.

Malembe, a well-known political commentator in the DRC, called in via teleconference to share his personal account of being imprisoned and threatened on several occasions for writing openly. Malembe was jailed for a month in the city of Bunia’s central prison in December 2017 for participating in a protest against the President.

“Today, [the DRC] is one of the most repressed countries for journalism in Africa,” Malembe said. Along with directing Bunia Actualité, Malembe also founded one of the largest civil rights movements in the DRC, called LUCHA, which translates in English to “Fight for Change.”

Malembe noted that the introduction of technology and online forums have allowed for independent journalism in the DRC because writers are no longer tied to offices that can be physically targeted. But efforts to control and repress these outlets have increased as well.

More than 150,000 citizens rely on the internet to learn about what is happening in their region. However, with lack of access to modern equipment, citizens face many technological barriers. Malembe called for action from Canadians to help overcome and solve these obstacles in order to help bring to an end the constant state of violence and war.

Babaluku, rapper and Founder of the Bavubaka Foundation, highlighted the importance of language, art, and music in connecting and mobilizing citizens, especially youth, to become advocates for peace within their communities. The Bavubaka Foundation is a Ugandan organization committed to restoring hope and healing in communities, using music and the arts to empower a new generation of  leaders in Uganda and all of Africa to use their voices to affect positive social change.

Reflecting on his work with youth, Babaluku discussed one of the biggest challenges he faces, that many do not see the significance of their efforts and do not believe they can contribute even within their personal communities, let alone globally. Their feeling of invisibility and powerlessness discourages their involvement in art and design, which Babaluku believes is key to overcoming crisis and violence. He emphasized that it is the artists, designers, and musicians leading the conversation for change.

A Ugandan-Canadian, Babaluku underlined that these political and humanitarian crises are global and borderless issues. “It’s not a Canada, problem or a Congo problem, it’s a humanity problem,” he stated. He did add that, as Canadians, we need to take responsibility for creating solutions and helping vulnerable communities, especially encouraging youth to realize their potential. Babaluku touched on the much-needed support from global allies to find a realistic and beneficial position within their foreign affairs policies to assist with tackling human rights crises.

The questions central to the DRC situation are also increasingly relevant here in North America:

What does it take to ensure an honest and fair election in a country strife with corruption, exploitation, and armed conflict? Can elevating the voices of independent journalists foster transparency and open dialogue, or simply increase polarization in an already divided nation?

The panelists left the audience with a the following action items:

  1. Spread the word. What’s going on in the DRC, whether it’s the upcoming elections or the intensive Canadian mining operations in the Congo, is not widely considered on the Canadian or global stages.
  2. Contact members of parliament to hire an ombudsperson to look into and raise awareness of the impacts of Canadian mining companies abroad.
  3. Donate to bridge the digital divide. Organizations like Bunia Actualité are looking for more resources, such as equipment and capacity, and support to sustain independent journalism. Learn how you can donate your old smartphone to equip local independent journalists to effectively report what’s happening on the ground in the DRC at www.cellsforchange.com.
  4. Watch this video by Yole!Africa: https://vimeo.com/288555974, shared by Babaluku at the talk. Yole!Africa is a cultural centre for youth in the DRC started by internationally-acclaimed filmmaker and activist Petna Ndaliko Katondolo, in order to provide alternative education opportunities and empower youth to thrive and promote peace in spite of conflict in the region.
  5. Engage youth here at home. Seek opportunities in your communities to teach and share your passions with youth to help them become community builders.

Kiara Scott is a PeaceGeeks volunteer and contributing writer.

Dec 12, 2018
Category: Thematic Issues

PEACETALKS #35: Women's Human Rights at Risk

Guest Speaker:
TBA
Date:
Mar 2, 2017
Time:
6:00 7:30PM
Venue:
HiVE Vancouver

In light of recent women's marches and events, PeaceGeeks in partnership with Amnesty International would like to present PeaceTalk #35: Women's Human Rights at Risk.

This talk aims to uncover how women and girls around the world are disproportionately impacted by mega-projects and resource extraction. Too often, the economic development model adopted by government violates Indigenous land rights, threatens Indigenous cultures, and heightens the risk that Indigenous women and girls will experience violence.

This event is moderated by Alexandra Harrison-Catchpole, member of Amnesty International Canada's National Board of Directors and former Amnesty International fieldworker in Vancouver. Alex holds an MA ('13) in Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice, currently studies law, and brings a background of research and involvement in grassroots activism and intersections between feminist and labour organizations.

In the lead up to International Women's Day, panel members will speak to the challenges and offer some ways forward. Panelist bios coming soon!

PeaceGeeks would like to extend a big thank you to Lush for making this event possible.

Thank You To:
Partnership With:
Feb 16, 2017
Category: PeaceTalks
Time 2:
6 PM

Recap of Edward Snowden: Big Data, Security, and Human Rights Talk at SFU

This week, Edward Snowden virtually spoke at SFU’s Public Square on the topic of Big Data, Security, and Human Rights. The discussion dove into pertinent topics on today’s political landscape dealing with the Panama Papers and WhatsApp latest announcement on encryption. Edward Snowden is a whistleblower whose release of confidential NSA documents uncovering global surveillance practices have led him into exile in Russia, and he stands to face criminal charges in the US that could lead to 10 years of imprisonment.

 

Panama Papers & Whistleblowers

 

The Panama Papers consists of 11.5 million confidential documents that were leaked from the Panama firm Mossack Fonesca that implicate many world leaders and notable individuals in potentially evading taxes and other illegal activities. The files date back 40 years and are currently being reviewed by journalists worldwide. Canadian banks RBC and BMO have been implicated in the leak but they defend their positions as setting up offshore bank accounts is not illegal in itself. What Edward Snowden highlighted in the leak that has taken the media and world governments by storm is the importance of whistleblowers. It is not yet determined the damage that this leak has done, but what is apparent is that globally we are pushing for our governments and public institutions to be more transparent. In an open democratic society whistleblowers, as Edward Snowden points out, need to be the norm.

Privacy

Edward Snowden walked the audience through the FBI’s increasing big brother view into every citizen’s life through access to huge amounts of metadata. Though the FBI insists that access to this data is for anti-terrorism purposes, statistically it has not been proven to prevent terrorist attacks, and rather Snowden argues that anti-terrorism is simply the excuse to gather as much information for the sake of power.

In recent news, we’ve seen push back from tech giants such as WhatsApp and Apple in granting access to the FBI and the government to their data. In February, the FBI requested Apple creation a new iPhone operating system in order to retrieve data from an iPhone implicated in The San Bernardino Case. Apple publicly refused, citing in the wrong hands the new software would pose a security risk and essentially create a backdoor that would allow the data not only to be used for investigations but more in line with for what Edward Snowden described in his talk. WhatsApp has launched end-to-end message encryption for it’s over a billion worldwide users. As Edward Snowden summarized it, this new encryption means no one including WhatsApp can read the contents of messages sent but data on who you are talking to is still up for grabs.

What Edward Snowden has done is created a public conversation on how as a society we deal with privacy in the digital age. The true struggle is how as citizens and consumers, sandwiched between government and large companies, can we affect this conversation.

 

Image Source: https://www.sfu.ca/publicsquare/upcoming-events/EdwardSnowden.html

 
Apr 9, 2016
Category: Thematic Issues

Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy

Crisis Overview

Indonesia is a beautiful, highly populated, and ethnically diverse country comprised of thousands of islands, and a long history of conflict. The Indonesian government is currently cited for many human rights abuses: religious minorities lack protection; women suffer discrimination, female genital mutilation, and a lack of sexual and reproductive rights; police and army enjoy impunity, and peaceful political protest is criminalized. Low-level insurgency persists in West Papua since the region was formally absorbed by Indonesia in 1969. The indigenous population in Papua opposes the Indonesian power structure, which has been compared to a police state, as well as their loss of land and resource rights, and their right to self-government.

What They Do

The Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM) seeks to actively promote and protect civil, political, and human rights, as mandated by Indonesia’s 1945 Constitution, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). They conduct policy and legal research on the impacts of human rights, and engage in human rights advocacy, education, and the publication of information. ELSAM aims to empower civil society to promote a democratic political order in Indonesia.

 

Our Impact

PeaceGeeks was able to collaborate with Natural Capital Advisors to build the tools for ELSAM to efficiently document resource-related conflict in the region, which ELSAM can use an on-going basis to collect and disseminate important information. Such tools allow ELSAM to produce actionable reporting of conflict and violence, thereby improving both the quality of information gathered, as well as the response time for other organizations to mobilize to reduce the threat of conflict.

Deliverables Summary
  • Website audit & review 

PeaceGeeks Contributors

Scott Nelson - Digital Security & Technology Advisor - Renee Black - Project Coordinator - Lan Yan - Graphic Designer - Jen Allen - Advisor

Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy Contributors

Triana Dyah - Project Coordinator

PeaceTalk #24: Security, Surveillance & Human Rights

Guest Speaker:
David Christopher, Don Wright, Josh Paterson
Date:
Feb 11, 2015
Time:
6:00 - 7:30PM
Venue:
HiVE Vancouver

Digital communications technologies have great benefits for freedom of expression and the right to information. Governments seek to spread their adoption because of the economic benefits they bring but at the same time they want to maintain control over them. Governments are increasingly adopting mass surveillance technologies to monitor social media and broader internet usage. Some governments use customized spyware systems to target activists, human rights defenders, journalists, demonstrators, NGOs and political opponents. In some countries, the Internet is substantially censored to prevent access to information, and discussion, of politically and culturally sensitive issues.

This panel will examine the ways the right to freedom of expression and the right to information are violated in the name of security. Topics for discussion will include internet and cellphone privacy, mass surveillance in Canada and beyond, and detecting government spyware.

Speaker Bio:

David Christopher
David Christopher is the Communications Manager of OpenMedia.ca and blogs regularly for the organization. David is from the west of Ireland and holds a degree from Trinity College Dublin, where he studied History and Political Science. He worked in communications in New Zealand, Northern Ireland and Scotland before moving to Vancouver, Canada.

Don Wright
Don Wright is an activism coordinator with Amnesty International Canada, based at the Vancouver Office. Amnesty's global work is deeply rooted in defending freedom of expression and the full range of rights described in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Josh Paterson
Josh Paterson joined the BCCLA as its Executive Director in January 2013. Josh’s legal career has focused on protecting some of the most marginalized people in Canada from human rights violations, civil liberties restrictions, discrimination and environmental injustice. Prior to joining BCCLA, he was the Aboriginal and Natural Resources Lawyer at West Coast Environmental Law, where he led that organization’s highly effective legal work protecting the rights of people in northern and coastal BC. Outside of his legal practice, he is a founding board member of the Vancouver Public Space Network, where he has served for several years as the coordinator for Surveillance and Security issues.

Event Video:
Thank You To:
Partnership With:
Jan 20, 2015
Category: PeaceTalks
Time 2:
6 PM

PeaceTalk #21: Extractives and the Impact on Women

Guest Speaker:
Beth Dollaga, Sarita Galvez
Date:
Oct 1, 2014
Time:
6:00 - 7:30PM
Venue:
HiVE VAncouver

This panel will focus on the impact of mining exploration and development on the lives and livelihoods of women in the global south. Guests will include Beth Dollaga, a founding member of the Canada-Philippines Solidarity for Human Rights (CPSHR) and Migrante BC. In 2012 she coordinated and participated in a United Church led fact-finding mission on the impact of Canadian mining companies in the Philippines. She will be joined by Sarita Galvez, a psychologist and educator originally from Guatemala and a member of BC CASA and the Mining Justice Alliance. A representative from Amnesty International will describe recent campaign work focused on corporate accountability and the Open for Justice initiative.

Thank You To:
Partnership With:
Sep 10, 2014
Category: PeaceTalks
Labels:
Time 2:
6 PM

PeaceTalk #16: Technology for Human Rights

Guest Speaker:
Scott Nelson
Date:
Mar 5, 2014
Time:
6:00 - 7:30PM
Venue:
Calabash Bistro

The 2013 revelations of US National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower, Edward Snowden, helped reveal the real extent of how much of our online activity is monitored, stored, and analyzed for later use. This PeaceTalk will walk through the major disclosures by Snowden and what they mean for how environmental and human rights campaigners use information technology, and how some of the major geo-political shockwaves from his leaks are likely to play out. Register on EventBrite: www.pgpeacetalks16.eventbrite.ca

Speaker Bio:

Scott has over 25 years experience as an information technology steward. His expertise includes implementation of commodity and re-purposed hardware, open standards and free software - Ubuntu for servers, workstations and netbooks, Android for tablets and mobile - as well as Bitcoin-based e-commerce and social media strategy and web service development centered around the Drupal Content Management Framework. He is a co-founder of Free Geek Vancouver and Indymedia, and has served on the boards of several progressive non-profit organizations, including the Vancouver Community Net, Society Promoting Environmental Conservation, and the Artists' Legal Outreach Society. In 1993 he founded progressive technology firm Communicopia, which he subsequently sold in 2000.

Event Video:
Thank You To:
Partnership With:
Feb 12, 2014
Category: PeaceTalks
Time 2:
6 PM

Northern Uganda: Invisible Humanitarian Tragedy

For over 25 years, northern Uganda has suffered through one of the most devastating civil conflicts on the continent. Largely remaining out of the eye of the general public due in part to lack of US and European involvement, the under-reported LRA conflict gained international notoriety in March 2012 when ‘Invisible Children’ produced a video as part its Kony 2012 campaign which aimed to highlight its devastating impacts, including the abduction of over 20,000 children, the death of up to 70,000 people and the displacement of another 1,7 million people. These effects have all been a direct result of unpredictable and violent attacks by Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), which formed in the mid eighties ostensibly to defend the people of the north and to install a government based in part on the 10 Commandments.

The origins of the LRA conflict date back to before Uganda's independence in 1962. Like many newly independent countries on the continent, Uganda's decolonization led to conflict between its two main ethnic groups, the Banganda in the South who were largely farmers, and the Acholi in the north who were mainly hunters. The ouster of Idi Amin in 1979 led to a struggle for power between dozens of armed groups, and eventually led to the election of Milton Obote as President. One of Obote's opponents was Yoweri Museveni, was claimed that the election was fraudulent, and responded by helping to launch the Ugandan Bush War which began in 1981. Obote was supported by armed elements in the north including a peculiar radical religious group known as the “Holy Spirit Movement,” which was comprised of Acholi and led by Alice Lakawena. Museveni was largely supported by southern-based factions, including Rwanda's Kagame, who was living as a refugee in Uganda at the time. The conflict ended in 1986 with the ouster of Obote and the installation of Museveni as President.

During the conflict, Lakawena's army became known for employing a number of unusual tactics, including convincing soldiers that oil drawn as a cross on their chest would protect them from bullets. When Lakawena’s army was defeated and her army was to be integrated into the national forces, a break-away group led by Joseph Kony refused to surrender and fled into the bush, vowing to establish a new Uganda based on the ten commandments and Acholi traditions. This group became the Lord's Resistance Army.

At the outset of the conflict, LRA grievances focused on historical injustices stemming from the north south fault lines. Over time, however, Kony’s aims have become increasingly confusing, and his behavior more erratic. Although claiming to be fighting on behalf of Acholi, the LRA began targeted Acholi communities for their "sins", and abducted thousands of children who became child soldiers, sex slaves and servants. Abductees were forced to kill, maim and rape their families and neighbors in order to prevent them from escaping and returning to their communities. For these and other reasons, the LRA conflict has left many enduring legacies, both psychological and physical.

The indirect effects of the conflict caused even more challenges including the displacement of 1,7 million people who live in over 200 camps, where unsanitary living conditions led to high rates of disease and child mortality (UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs).

In 2002, the Ugandan government launched an offense to move the LRA out of northern Uganda. They succeeded in drastically reducing the LRA's size and potency from around 5000 to a few hundred soldiers, but failed to arrest or stop Kony. Today, the LRA no longer poses a great threat to Ugandans, however they continue to terrorize communities in South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic. What the LRA has lost is strength, it has gained flexibility and is now able to cross borders faster and more unpredictably than before.

The situation began to stabilize in 2006, but the conflict leaves behind many devastating legacies and impacts. As the north finally begins to recover and work towards a peaceful future, there are many well-intentioned individuals and organizations who wish to contribute to the peacebuilding process. This presents an opportunity, but it also has the potential to creates challenges which could exacerbate tensions.

The challenges to achieving sustainable recovery and development are plenty. Communities must come to terms with the immense loss and suffering that took place during the conflict, which have left both psychological and physical scars. The government must find a way to help those living in displacement camps must to return to communities and become self-reliant after years of dependency on international aid. They must help the thousands of children who have been born of bush waives and wartime rape to have a secure future. They must simultaneously balance economic development opportunities - which have at times been unequal and ethnically charged - with the reduction of aid dependency to help northerners to become economically self-sufficient. The region must develop and strengthen effective institutions and local capacities in areas such as education, health care and other core services. And they must do all this in tandem with the complex processes of reintegrating former LRA members into society, including "bush wives," their offspring and former combatants - many of whom were forced to commit atrocities against their families and communities and who must cope with stigmatization and rejection. Finally, the state must prioritize improving north-south relations to ensure meaningful peace for all Ugandans. As the peacebuilding process moves forward, Uganda faces a critical early test, stemming from the discovery of oil in the Albertine region. While this discovery has potential to help finance rebuilding, it has so far succeeded in exacerbating existing tensions as various stakeholders vye for access and control over land for the purpose of exploration.

Today, Kony remains at large, and the possibility remains that he will never be found, despite a recent commitment by the African Union to boost the existing force by 5000. In the meantime, northerners - supported by different international aid groups - are slowly laying the groundwork for the future, but there is much to be done. The resourcefulness, creativity and resilience of northerners gives reason for hope, but rebuilding and rehabilitating this region will likely take a generation, and perhaps longer. This is only the beginning, and yet choices made today have potential to shape the future, for better or for worse.

May 1, 2012
Category: Issue Briefs
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