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Congo Fever Strikes

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on December 9, 2018 04:00

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Election fever is rising in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Opposition figures have been neutralized, harassed, intimidated, and are talking of solidarity and cooperation. Rebels are taking up arms, governance is failing. And a far deadlier fever is running out of control in the ungovernable east: Ebola.

It was a hot, humid afternoon. Weary health workers, swathed in sweaty plastic protection suits, were doing what had become habit: safety protocols had to be followed minutely, records kept, possible contacts of contagious persons tracked and vaccinated. The precious vaccines, in danger of running out, have to be kept at precise temperatures, and in this tropical climate that means meticulous record keeping and maintenance of standby generators, equipment and cabling.

Experimental vaccines may run out. Ackland/Reuters


Then the popcorn sound of automatic gunfire brought everything to a halt. People screamed and ran for safety. Patients fled. Records were trampled, highly contagious waste strewn over the ground, equipment smashed or damaged.

Elsewhere in this vast country election fever is rising. Major opposition candidates for the 23 December Presidential polls have been eliminated on disputed legal grounds, while others are talking of joining forces. Significant is that Vital Kamerhe and Felix Tshisekedi announced their solidarity in Nairobi, Kenya, and not in the DCR capital, Kinshasa, where their supporters had taken to the streets against each other a month ago. Polls forecast 17% of the votes for the anointed nominee of incumbent President Kabila, while Kamerhe would gain 17% and Tshisekedi 36%. A coalition might win the day, but little can be guaranteed in the Congo.

Police watch demonstrators near church sanctuary. Carrubba/EPA


Political activism, real or imagined, opposition to the Kabila regime prompts violence from police: rape, torture, harassment, killings are an important factor.

In the South Kivu province clashes between the Congolese Army (FARDC) and a rebel General has left 14 rebels and four soldiers dead. General Amuri Yakatumba found allies in rebel groups operating out of the Congo against the Government of Burundi, and counts on ethnic divides and patronage from illegal logging and mining operations to fund his rebellion.
 
In the North Kivu the Allied Democratic Forces hide in the depths of the Rwenzori mountains. Like fighters of the fabled Rwenzuru kingdom they loot and raid, and destabilize both Uganda and the Congo. Government atrocities and lack of governance exacerbate ethnic tensions. Since 2014 ADF attacks are said to have claimed more than 1,500 lives. In a recent operation the United Nations forces lost seven peacekeepers. Some Congolese soldiers and an unknown number of rebels also fell.   

Congolese troops Aljazeera/EPA


In this violent and unstable climate Ebola flourishes. 426 cases, 379 confirmed and 47 probable, and 198 deaths were reported by the World Health Organization. In the crowded city of Butembo, where police killed 101 in reaction to militia action last year, 86 Ebola cases have been reported among the million inhabitants. Vaccination requires trust, safety for the health workers, and proper record keeping to be successful.

The DRC has not seen a peaceful transition of power since independence in 1960. And this year Ebola might be the winner.

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on December 9, 2018 04:00

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Source: ABC News
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Congo says 3 new confirmed Ebola cases in city of 1 million; vaccinations to start soon

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