Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Socio-Economic Collapse in the Congo: Causes and Solutions

by Marie Rose Mukeni Beya.

The history of the Congo is long. Some historians think that Early Congo History began with waves of Bantu migrations moving into the Congo River basin from 2000 B.C. to 500 A.D. and then gradually started to expand Southward. The modern history of the Congo may be divided into four periods starting in 1885, after the Conference of Berlin divided Africa into separate states which were then ruled by European’s imperial powers..

Colonization. King Leopold II of Belgium acquired control over the Congo territory in 1885. He named it the “Congo Free State,” and ruled it as his private property from 1877-1908. The Belgian parliament took over the colony from the king in 1908. The Belgian Congo achieved independence on June 30, 1960 under new leadership representatives of various political parties. Mr. Joseph Kasavubu of the “Alliance des Bakongo” (ABAKO) party was elected the President; Patrice-Emery Lumumba, the leader of the National Movement of the Congo or MNC, became prime minister, and Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Mobutu (Mobutu Sese Seko) was appointed as chief-of-staff of the new army, the National Army of the Congo (ANC), and became the also Secretary of State. The new nation was given the name “Republic of Congo.”.

Adjustment and Crisis. The Congo spent the first half of the 1960s adjusting to its independence. In 1961, the Democratic Republic of Congo [DRC] was destabilized by army mutinies, unrests, riots, rebellions and the secession of the country’s richest region, Katanga, soon followed by a similar move in the Southeastern Kasai Province, which declared itself the Independent Mining State of South Kasai. The United Nations played a critical role in managing this crisis, which was further compounded by the trial of strength at the center between President Kasavubu and Prime Minister Lumumba, culminating in Lumumba’s assassination at the hands of the Katangan secessionists in January 1961..

Dictatorship. In 1965 Mobutu, by then commander-in-chief of the army, seized control of the Congolese territory and declared himself the country’s president, head of the sole political party. In 1971 he renamed the country the Republic of Zaire. Once prosperous, the country markedly declined. Rampant corruption and abuse of the civilian population ensued. The need for change was widely understood; various political parties were organized, presidential elections were held and social justice programs initiated. The Sovereign National Conference in 1992 brought together more than two thousand representatives from various political parties and NGOs..

The Congo is Rich in Human and Natural Resources. It has the third largest population in Sub-Saharan Africa: 65.8 million. It has the second largest rain forest in the world. Precipitation is ample; it rains six to eight months of the year. Agriculture was profitable before the economy failed. It was 56.3 % of the GDP. Main cash crops include coffee, palm oil, rubber, cotton, sugar, tea and cocoa. But the revenue collected from the agricultural work and farming has greatly diminished in the past decade and is now only 15 % of the GDP..

The DRC is rich in a variety of minerals: copper, cobalt, diamond, gold, zinc, oil, uranium, columbite/tantalite (coltan, an essential material for cell phones and other electronics) and other rare metals. Traditionally, one mining company in upper Katanga named Gecamines has dominated mining. Copper and cobalt accounted for 75% of the total export revenues, and about 25 % of the country’s GDP. The DRC was the world’s fourth-largest producer of industrial diamonds during the 1980s..

Despite the abundance of resources, the DRC is one of the poorest countries in the world. The country’s official economy has collapsed in the last few decades due to hyperinflation, mismanagement and corruption, war, conflict and general instability, political crisis and economic dislocation. Moreover, the spread of HIV/AIDS has contributed to an overall deterioration. As the DRC is hit by the global economic downturn, exports (lumber, oil, diamonds and other ores in particular) have declined, whereas the high costs for imports of most basic needs remain unchanged. The consequence is an acute deterioration of the balance of trade and the collapse of foreign investments. The DRC’s foreign debt stands at over $10 billion. — M. R. M. B..

Decade of Conflict. In May 1997, Joseph Kabila, leader of a rebel movement supported by neighboring countries, challenged Mobutu and forced him to leave the country. Kabila seized control, declared himself president and renamed the country the Democratic Republic of Congo. After Kabila was assassinated in January, 2001, power was transferred to his son Joseph Kabila II by appointment. On December 18, 2005, for only the second time in 46 years the Congolese voted in a presidential election. Kabila won the elections against his opponent Bemba. This has sparked off riots and civil war..

Since the beginning of its independence in 1960 to date, instability has prevailed in the DRC. Although significant attempts have been made to stabilize the political and military establishments, the Congolese people still live in an all-pervasive state of insecurity. This has made a shambles of the economy and social conditions for the Congolese people. The poorest, as always, are the most affected..

Since 1998, an estimated 3.3 million people, mostly women, children and elderly have been killed as a result of armed conflicts. Another 2.3 million, according to NGOs reports in 2003, are homeless. The wars caused a drastic increase in the number of orphans, helping to create the gruesome phenomenon known as “child soldiers.”.

The wars also exacerbated ethnic tensions over land and territory in Eastern Congo, posing a long-term challenge for the transition to peace. Because of domestic conflicts in the neighboring countries — Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Sudan, Central Africa and Angola — many civilian refugees and displaced soldiers fled to and infiltrated the DRC. Some insurgent groups attacking contiguous countries use the DRC as their base. This created regional tensions, and deteriorated the DRC’s relationships with neighboring countries. In the Eastern DRC, violence erupted between Congolese and the newcomers. This conflict is exacerbated by ethnic tensions in Eastern Congo. In the Kivu Region, Congolese militia (Mai–Mai) still fights to protect their land..

During the wars, the spread of HIV/AIDS has drastically increased, and this affects all aspects of the social, economic and political life. Many factors have contributed to the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS in the DRC, including poverty, lack of education, cultural norms, and war. Women and girls are raped and sexually exploited by the military in their own homes. Poverty drives some girls into prostitution, which increases their risk of becoming infected. Although some NGOs are focusing on the situation of women and girls, especially in the post conflict period, little has been done; women and girls remain defenseless. Recently international resources have become available to fight HIV/AIDS, but funds are not being used properly..

is crucial to establish a new order. This means a new, uncorrupted and disciplined government, capable of improving the living conditions of the average Congolese. As a precondition the DRC must hold fair democratic elections. The future government must focus on education. Child education should become the number one priority. “Be educated or perish.” It is mandatory to shift the priorities from military security to people’s social welfare and development. Political corruption must be removed, and human rights violations must be dealt with, but everything depends on the eradication of poverty..

Commitment of all parties is needed: The DRC government, leaders of political movements and civil society, administrators, professionals, workers, in brief the Congolese citizenry on all levels. Men and women, adults as well as youth must be involved in the process of change. Local services, churches, NGOs, and international organizations must cooperate in support of political change. The fight against poverty starts by properly managing available financial resources, and discouraging corruption. The available resources must be used properly. The annual budget must be voted upon, the budget plan respected, and the expenditures must be disciplined and limited. Auditing all economic activity on a regular basis should be mandatory..

Corruption occurs because the individuals cannot satisfy their basic needs (food, health care, clothing, education, employment, wages, etc.). In order to prevent corruption the government should proceed with the following steps: The private sector and the national organizations must be encouraged to create more jobs..

Workers in both private and public sectors should get paid on a regular basis. The wage rates should be based on the work experience and educational background of the worker. The minimum wage must cover expenditures for basic needs. Salaries must be readjusted and periodically augmented, regardless of boom-bust cycles..

Taxes must be used to rebuild infrastructures. People need to be educated to pay their taxes, which should be understood as constructive contributions to social welfare..

Taxes should be increased on natural resources and unearned incomes, and decreased on earned incomes from production. Finally, the government should address the tragic violation of human rights. People must be taught their human rights, and trained apply these rights in the appropriate situations. For example, people need to report human rights violations, discrimination and injustice, and to defend themselves against sexual harassment. A strong, functional judicial system must be established. People must understand and believe that human rights abuses will not be tolerated in the Democratic Republic of the Congo..

Marie Rose Mukeni Beya, Ph.D. is a psychologist specializing in child development. Prior to coming to the US, she was head of the Psychology Dept. at the University of Kinshasa. She currently teaches Georgist economics at the Henry George School in New York. She is fluent in French, English, Swahili, Lingala, and Tshiluba.

Monday, April 18, 2016

How clan rivalries undermine peace-building in South Sudan

Last month, TIME magazine carried a horrific cover story on how the power struggle between South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and his vice-president, Riek Machar, had turned Africa’s newest country into a slaughterhouse and wasteland, with women and children paying the heaviest price..

According to the United Nations, the fighting between Kiir’s Dinka and Machar’s Nuer tribes has resulted in the death of at least 50,000 people and the displacement of more than two million. Rape was also being used as a weapon of war in these battles. Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir, who has been charged with crimes against humanity and genocide by the International Criminal Court for atrocities that the government-sponsored Janjaweed militia inflicted in Darfur in western Sudan, said that Khartoum was willing to accept the refugees fleeing South Sudan but was not willing to take responsibility for them as they were no longer Sudanese citizens. .

The Sudanese People’s Liberation Army, of which Machar was once a leading member, successfully achieved secession from Sudan after a long guerrilla war. During its war of secession, al-Bashir was painted as the villain who deprived the largely Christian non-Arab population of southern Sudan of independence..

Then the same people who accused al-Bashir of atrocities turned against each other. Hostility between Kiir and Machar led to more fighting. Today, after a protracted peace deal, Machar will return to South Sudan to assume his previous position as vice-president. To understand the dynamics that are shaping South Sudan, I would suggest a book called Emma’s War by journalist Deborah Scroggins. The book tells the story of a strikingly beautiful, but naïve, British aid worker called Emma McCune who falls head over heels in love with, and marries, Machar. .

The book is not your typical love story. Emma is portrayed as a rather silly, but well-meaning aid worker who, while trying to open schools for the children of South Sudan, ends up being a liability to her husband’s cause..

After her marriage, Emma goes to live with Machar in the village of Nasir, a hot, dusty place that lacked proper sanitation and electricity. She had “a vision of overcoming racism through romantic love” and making herself “that bridge between black and white”. However, her self-sacrifice was borne out of a naiveté and paternalism that did little to reduce the conflict. She did not realise that the South Sudanese were not just fighting Khartoum; their war was also about tribal supremacy, which not only prolonged the conflict but gave al-Bashir the ammunition to crush the rebels. .

Machar, on the other hand, comes out looking like a charming and intelligent but arrogant leader who has little to offer his new British bride except the notoriety that she seemed to crave. Unfortunately, Emma never got to be the first lady of South Sudan — she managed to escape bullets in Nasir but ended up being killed in a road accident in Nairobi..

COMPLEX TALE OF BETRAYAL The book weaves a complex tale of betrayal and in-fighting within the SPLA and the inter-ethnic rivalries that pitted the Dinkas against the Nuer, which resulted in the mass slaughter of hundreds of innocent people who were caught in the cross-fire. It provides some insights into the “pastoral ethos” of South Sudan’s cattle-worshipping tribes, which are characterised by competition, inter-clan rivalry, and disdain for authority. .

Like Somalia, South Sudan is caught up in ancient rivalries based on competition over scarce resources that some say cannot be overcome through democratic institutions because the material conditions of the people have not changed much over the years. South Sudan suffered years of marginalisation and civil conflicts that have deprived its population of education, health, infrastructure and alternative means of livelihood..

It remains one of the most under-developed countries in Africa. Under these conditions, clan rivalry over resources plays a critical role in how these societies are organised. In his book, A Pastoral Democracy, I.M. Lewis acknowledges the importance of clan loyalty in the political organisation of pastoralist societies..

However, he is deeply pessimistic about whether this type of political organisation can deliver Western-style democracy. In both Somalia and South Sudan, the situation is complicated further by the oil factor, which has intensified tribal rivalry and raised the stakes among all sides in the political divide. .

rasna.warah@gmail.com April 18,2016

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Leadership lessons from the life of Nelson Mandela

It has been a long and sad one week as the world bade goodbye to an extraordinary world leader, Nelson Mandela. People from all walks of life paid tribute to this amazing person who was one of the most important persons of the 20th century. His life was truly lived in a self-less and self-giving manner. Mandela stood firmly for his ideals and showed his country men and women and indeed the whole world how to go past bitterness to reconciliation and forgiveness. Because of Mandela, South Africa was able to transition into a democratic state in a smooth a manner as possible given its history. South Africa escaped the fate that unfortunately has been the bane for many countries in Africa, that have in the past and some today are riven with conflict and tragedy. After being unjustly jailed for 27 years, Mandela would have come out of prison with strong hatred and bitterness against his oppressors and he could have very easily energized his supporters to seek revenge. But he chose a different path. He chose the path of forgiveness and reconciliation. He brought together all the varied people of his country and gave them a sense of unity and brotherhood that could not have otherwise been achieved in different circumstances. For the rest of Africa, there are many lessons to be drawn from his life and his leadership. One of the greatest lessons that can be learnt from his example is that the path of peace and reconciliation can be achieved. The countries of Africa today that are racked with conflict and violence can learn from Mandela's example, that people can indeed live in peace with one another. African leaders in these countries ought to learn from the leadership of Mandela and lead their countries towards peace and understanding. Another lesson to be learned is that past injustices should not be grounds for continuing the circle of violence and revenge against one's enemies just so as to settle a score. People can and should move past their grievances and seek solutions and ways to acknowledge the injustice but move beyond it and seek a brighter and better future for themselves.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

South Sudan grappling with disarmament challenge

Southern Sudan is facing a major challenge of disarming more than 150,000 soldiers and easing them back to civilian life when it becomes independent next week.
Southern Sudan Disarmament Demobilisation and Reintegration Commission chairman William Deng Deng said the country wants to get rid of excess forces including the elderly, disabled and children.
“These are soldiers seen not be in use after the war. We now need an organized, professional, controllable force,” Mr Deng told the Nation during an interview in Nairobi.
Southern Sudan is set to be Africa’s 53 state on July 7 and change its name to South Sudan.
Under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended 21 years of war between north and southern Sudan, the commission is to plan, manage and implement the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programmes in southern Sudan.
"The objective of the DDR process is to contribute to creating an enabling environment to human security and to support post-peace-agreement social stabilisation across the Sudan, particularly war affected areas.
Among those to be disarmed, demobilised and reintegrated back to the communities voluntarily are Sudanese People’s Liberation Army and Sudan Armed Forces and 90,000 from each group had been targeted under the CPA..
Appealing for support from donors, Mr Deng said the exercise is crucial and that if does not go well could pose a major security threat to not only southern Sudan but the region as a whole.
“If we cannot control small arms proliferation in southern Sudan it would affect the region. It is something that needs to be addressed if southern Sudan is to be stable and democratic. The neighbouring countries are also vulnerable as they are the easiest places for southern Sudanese to run as refugees,” Mr Deng said.
According to UN figures, there are estimated 2.4 million guns in the hands of individuals who are not in standing army in southern Sudan with a population of about 10 million.Mr Deng said the southern Sudan government is committed to the disarmament, demobilisation reintegration and that it has given the process the necessary support.
Mr Deng said he will soon table a policy to the Cabinet on the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration process and a framework on how it would be done so that the southern Sudan government could remain with about 100,000 armed forces.
The soldiers would first undergo a three months intensive training , then six months of integration and later three months of counselling and training. The exercise is to start in January and handle between10,000 to 30,000 soldiers per year in three transit facilities.
It will take six to eight years to complete the programme, Mr Deng said, adding that majority of those to be affected are the elderly and disabled.
Southern Sudan had until 2017 to re-organise itself and transform its armed forces.
Mr Deng said his commission is facing huge challenges due to the vastness of southern Sudan, poor terrain and small economy.
“The number of soldiers to be transformed to civilian is too big. They cannot be absorbed anywhere as we have no industries and private sector is not developed. We are only relying on subsistence agriculture and oil,” he said and called for creation of industries to avoid those removed from frustration and engaging in acts of lawlessness.
He said the country cannot afford a huge military force and needs to direct little available resources to building of schools and hospitals.
“This is an important programme that needs to be supported by all governments. It looks strange but it is very important. We need to instill to the minds of the soldiers who will be removed that they are being given another assignment and that they could do other businesses as civilians. Some of them have been soldiers for the whole of their life,” he said.
He said the country also needs to downsize and recruit an able and sustainable professional force despite current fears of a return to war due to fighting in Abyei and Southern Kordofan.
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“The security threats are there but to bring an educated, able, professional force we have to downsize and recruit better equipped soldiers,” Mr Deng said.
The country also faces other challenges including demining, corruption and security.
After more than two decades of civil war, Southern Sudan has grappled with a contamination problem of a large scale landmine/Explosives Remnants of War (ERW).
The contamination continues to threaten civilians and impede economic recovery and development.
Contaminated land reduces agricultural activity and productivity and the sustainable livelihoods of rural communities. Southern Sudan has nine other Independent Commissions & Institutions established by the Constitution.
The chairpersons and members of the independent commissions and institutions are appointed by the President of Southern Sudan in consultation with the Vice-President and with the approval of the National Assembly.
They include the Anti Corruption Commission, Audit Chamber, Centre for Census, Statistics and Evaluation, Civil Service Commission, De-Mining Authority, Employees Justice Chamber, Fiscal, Financial Allocation & Monitoring Commission, HIV and Aids Commission, Human Rights Commission, Land Commission and Peace Commission. Others are Public Grievances Chamber, Reconstruction and Development Fund and Southern Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Commission.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Kenya fails to heal years after chaos

Published on 11/05/2011

Three years after Kenya bled from the post-election violence of 2008, there are fears merchants of hatred are re-grouping amid waning efforts to unite rival communities.

And growing negative ethnicity, unresolved historical injustices and ethnic hatred are mostly to blame for slow national healing process, analysts say.

Chairman of the National Cohesion and Integration Commission Mzalendo Kibunjia acknowledges the situation remains toxic but says his team is closing in on ‘loose-tongued’ politicians.

"Most Kenyans are saying never again to violence, but few leaders still want to play past politics by inciting people on basis of ethnicity, race and religion," he said in an interview.

Kibunjia expressed disappointment that politicians continue to play tribal cards, a move he describes as a setback to his commission’s efforts to promote national peace and unity. He says they are planning a programme that would see peace ambassadors posted in all 47 counties.

Peter Kamuyu, the Executive Director of Sychar Centre, says ethnic conflict trends were worrying.

"There is increasing evidence even where conflict has been subdued, psychological trauma left behind is seldom healed, especially among children and women," he says.

In a recent publication Poverty, Inequality and Conflict in Kenya, Kamuyu says besides ethnic hatred, the worsening poverty levels and the Government’s failure to cushion citizens against economic repressions were some of the factors putting the country in a conflict danger zone.

Wounds still fresh

Hostilities the Government faced when it searched for land to resettle thousands of IDPs was proof the wounds had not healed.

IDPs have been rejected in Narok, Muhoroni and Coast regions where locals said they would not live with them.

A Catholic priest Ambrose Kimutai of Segemik Parish in Bomet says the situation remains fluid.

"The wounds inflicted by the past tribal skirmishes and the election violence are still fresh. There is no healing. The seeds of discord planted by politicians have sprouted. There will be no reconciliation until the Government addresses the issues that caused the violence," said Fr Kimutai.

And Mr Chris Owala, a regional co-ordinator with the Partners for Peace, a consortium of organisations working towards sustainable peace in Nyanza, Western and Rift Valley provinces, says infiltrations of small arms into the country and poverty play a major role in fuelling the conflicts.

He adds: "Existing peace building mechanisms, such as District Peace Committees are not sustainable and lack the necessary independence, capacity or visibility to assert a leading role in response to conflicts."

But as political scientist Walter Oyugi in a paper Conflict in Kenya: A Periodic Phenomenon published recently in the African Journal of Political Science, says: "There is evidence where ethnic conflict has emerged in Africa, there has always been political machinations behind it."

Monday, June 20, 2011


“Why do women have to dance for you, just like you are a god?”

The bold question posed in 1975 in front of a large crowd by 22-year-old Marie Rose Mukeni Beya did not go over well with Zaire’s longtime dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko, a despot best known in the West for his jaunty leopard skin hats. “Mobutu ordered: ‘Take her,’” Mukeni Beya recalled this month.

She was taken captive and tortured for three days, and from that time on was targeted, threatened, harassed and detained by Mobutu’s government and various repressive regimes that followed for questioning her government and standing up for women’s rights. Finally, she was forced to flee in 2002 and seek refuge in the United States.

Since arriving with her youngest daughter, with little more than the clothes on her back and in dire need of emergency medical care, Mukeni Beya has struggled to rebuild her life. Now, almost nine years later, the psychology professor and mother of five is finally realizing her dream: She is teaching again and will take her naturalization exam for U.S. citizenship in a few weeks.

Mukeni Beya is in some ways emblematic of the estimated 40 million refugees around the world who have been forced to flee their homes because of conflict or persecution. But, as the U.N. marks World Refugee Day on Monday, it’s important to note that her story also is in many ways different than that of the typical refugee.

Detention centers
Many refugees end up living in crowded camps for years, waiting for conflicts to end so they can go home. Others strike out on their own, heading to more stable countries in Europe and North America and applying for asylum. But often they languish in prison-like detention centers while their asylum cases are pending — and if they fail, they are deported to their country of origin.

Some 358,800 asylum applications were recorded in 44 countries in 2010, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

The greatest number of asylum seekers made their request to the U.S., which received approximately 55,500 asylum applications in 2010 but accepted only 21,113, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

Story: U.S. system for refugee, asylum seekers explained
Mukeni Beya was one of the lucky ones. Thanks to the network of doctors and lawyers who helped her heal and gain asylum, as well as her own determination, she’s now back where she wanted to be: teaching in a classroom with the freedom to speak her mind.

I was humiliated'
Mukeni Beya, a calm, confident, soft-spoken 58-year-old, was the first female psychologist in the former Zaire, a sprawling country in the center of Africa with a population of 71 million. Mobutu was the all-powerful one-man ruler of the country from 1965 until he was ousted in 1997 by Laurent Kabila, who renamed the country the Democratic Republic of Congo.

From Congo to NY: a refugee's story of redemption .
..After presenting her dissertation in Belgium in 1980, Mukeni Beya returned to Zaire to teach. Before long, she was named to head the department of psychology at the University of Kisangani, and later assumed the same position at the University of Kinshasa, in the country’s capital.

Mukeni Beya said being the only female professor and the head of a university department in a male-dominated culture was not easy. She met resistance from both professors and students, who were not accustomed to working with or being taught by a woman.

“But I kept doing my job, because I was convinced that … if I got discouraged, I (would) show the Congolese that women cannot do something because they are weaker,” she said in a recent interview in New York.

A member of the Luba tribe, which was marginalized by Mobutu’s regime, Mukeni Beya was soon labeled as a troublemaker for pushing her students to be critical of their government, for trying to get rid of corruption among the other professors and for encouraging the female students to stand up for themselves.

“I thought that as a professor, it was my responsibility to raise the awareness of students,” she said. “My goal was not to say we are against the government, just to say we to question the government and be more critical.” She now says she was naïve and that there were government spies in some of her classes.

Forced to stand for two days straight
Things came to a head when a mob attacked her as she was handing out an exam on Congo’s Independence Day, June 30, in 2002. She was grabbed, taken away again and forced to stand for two days straight in a secret government installation.

“They said, ‘You are the one we’ve been searching for. Here you are – show that you are the professor. You will stand up; because you are a teacher, you are used to standing,’” Mukeni Beya said.
She said her captors, including some former students, mocked her and put cigarette butts out on her legs. They also subjected her to what she described as psychological torture meant to demean and discourage her. “I was well-known, the great Professor Mukeni, and then I was reduced to nothing,” she said. “I suffered physically, yes — but I suffered more by this kind of humiliation.”

As a result of the torture she developed deep-vein thrombosis — or major blood clots in her legs — a chronic condition that can be life threatening if not treated. As she shared her story, she lifted her long skirt to show the compression stockings she wears to prevent new blood clots from developing.

After being released, she knew she had to leave the country. She recalls breaking the news to her children.

“I told them, either I get help and improve my health and we can live together for a long time or I stay here and you know what will happen,” she said. “They were very courageous. They said, 'Mom, go.'”

On Christmas Day 2002, she and her youngest daughter, who was 11, left for New York City. When she arrived at Bellevue Hospital, the doctors took one look at her swollen legs and said she needed immediate emergency treatment.

“Torture, as we know, can have devastating health consequences — physically, psychologically and socially,” said Dr. Allen Keller, the director of the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture, who treated Mukeni Beya when she first arrived. “She endured all of these — the physical injuries, including the chronic deep vein thrombosis; the psychological impacts, feelings of sadness, terror, sleep difficulties.”

From prestige to poverty
Keller added that sometimes the social challenges and feelings of isolation can be among the biggest obstacles refugees face.

“Here was somebody who had been an accomplished professor — a leader in her field in her country and she arrives here basically penniless. So I know it was very difficult for her,” he said.

The United States has a long history of accepting refugees and asylum seekers who have been forced to flee their homes because of persecution or fear of persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, social group or political opinion. In 1980 Congress passed the Refugee Act to bring U.S. law into compliance with the U.N. protocol on refugees, which prohibits any nation from returning a refugee to a country where his or her life may be threatened.
The U.S. provides refuge to victims of persecution through two programs: one for refugees outside of the U.S. and one for asylum seekers in the U.S. People in both groups go through lengthy processes to attain their immigration status.
Mukeni Beya received asylum in 2004, thanks in large part to Human Rights First, a nonprofit, nonpartisan international human rights organization.
Shoshana Altschuler, a member of the group and a young lawyer, took on Mukeni Beya’s pro-bono asylum case and helped steer her through the labyrinth that is this country’s immigration system.
“The way they treat me, they were with me every single day. I consider them as part of my family,” Mukeni Beya said of Altschuler and the other lawyers who worked on her case.
Even though she switched law firms, Altschuler continued working to win asylum for the rest of Mukeni Beya’s family and, in December 2004, the immigrant and her four other children were reunited in New York.

'A hard experience' Gaining asylum for herself and her family did not solve all Mukeni Beya’s problems. Her teaching credentials were no good here and she was no longer the well-respected professional she had been.
“Being here as a refugee is a hard experience. You experience humiliation — every single day,” said Mukeni Beya. “You experience unemployment, homelessness, sickness — all these experiences just push you down. But you have to be strong enough to just stand up and say, ‘I know why I am here.’”

When she discovered she would have to repeat in English all the courses she had taken in French as a young college student, Mukeni Beya’s response was “OK! I will do that.” She never told her teachers about her background, but her secret inevitably crumbled when she aced her exams.
As she worked her way back, she found time to teach French at the Alliance Francaise, volunteer at the Henry George School of Social Scienceand work odd jobs to support her family.
Now, nearly nine years later, her hard work has paid off. She became an associate professor at the City College of New York a few weeks ago.
Jonathan D. Woods / msnbc.com Marie Rose Mukeni Beya gives a lesson as part of an adolescent and youth psychology course at City College of New York on June 14. “I will teach what I have taught all my live: infancy and child development and adolescence," she said.
She is applying for U.S. citizenship and will take her naturalization exam soon. Her daughter, who is now in college studying medical engineering, has already become a U.S. citizen. Two of her sons are also attending college and the third is working full time.
Her lawyer, Altschuler, said she spoke to Mukeni Beya after she taught her first class at City College and that she was the happiest she has ever heard her.
“She’s made a real effort in the years that she’s been here to assimilate into our society,” Altschuler said. “She’s worked hard to follow the rules and get back to where she was. She is such a positive spirit and such a hard worker and has good morals, good values, and really just works to better herself and her family. Her determination is what made her story a success story.”
Not alone
For Keller, the doctor who treated her when she arrived in the U.S., Mukeni Beya’s story is what his work is all about.
“Clearly in many ways, Marie Rose represents the American dream: someone who overcame profound brutality and trauma, came here literally penniless and has not only rebuilt her life, but makes invaluable contributions to our society.”
Keller said that while Mukeni Beya’s story is remarkable, it is not uncommon. Survivors of Torture has cared for more than 3,000 individuals from more than 80 countries since it was founded 1995, and many of the refugees, asylum seekers and torture victims he meets on a daily basis have similar stories.
“Individuals come here — often individuals who were very high functioning in their countries, but they may come here not speaking the language, not having friends or family or jobs. Basically homeless, undocumented, uninsured, uneverything,” said Keller. “But the same determination, tenacity, survival skills that enabled them to survive what they were subjected to in their country, also serves them well in making it here and rebuilding their lives.”

Mukeni Beya said the road to a new life has not been easy, but she credits the “Four Ds” — dedication, determination, devotion and discipline — with keeping her moving forward.
She said that as an educated woman who has been given the opportunity to make the best of her life, she couldn’t stand for anything less.
“It’s up to me to make the right choice,” she said. “… You fight, struggle every day.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Angelina Jolie traveled to the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa on Sunday to thank its residents for welcoming in the estimated 20,000 migrants who arrived after fleeing unrest in Tunisia and Libya.

Jolie, a goodwill ambassador for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, toured a migrant holding center, chatted with some refugees and then participated in a ceremony at Lampedusa's memorial for migrants lost at sea as part of commemorations for World Refugee Day on Monday.

"It is very hard to imagine looking out at this beautiful sea how many people have risked their lives and how many people have risked their children's lives and so many of them have lost their lives at sea," she said.

She thanked the residents who gathered for the ceremony for welcoming the migrants in and asked them to consider how "horrible" their lives must have been that they would risk everything for the chance of a better life in Europe.

"Can you imagine how it must feel to finally cross in" to Italy? she asked. "For the coast guard to save them and carry them to safety, save their children's lives and give them a chance to survive and to have a future, and what it means to them," said Jolie, wearing a plain black blouse and jacket.

U.N. refugee chief Antonio Guterres also was on hand to urge Europe to continue keeping its doors open to refugees. Italy's center-right government has begrudgingly accepted the migrants. It has also struck deals with Tunisia and the Libyan opposition to return those who don't qualify for asylum.

Guterres said the debate in Europe about immigration "doesn't correspond to the reality," given that the number of African migrants who have arrived in Europe is a fraction of the numbers who have gone elsewhere, such as Tunisia or Egypt.

'A drop in the ocean'
"Obviously, for a small island like Lampedusa, to have such a large number of people coming is a huge pressure," he told reporters. "But for Europe as a whole, it is a drop in the ocean, and so I believe that with an adequate form of solidarity this challenge can be overcome."

Lampedusa, with a permanent population of 6,000, was overwhelmed this spring by waves of refugees fleeing the social uprising in Tunisia, with an estimated 20,000 arriving on the island, which is closer to Africa than mainland Italy. Boats continue to arrive from Libya, but eventually the refugees are transferred to holding centers elsewhere in Italy or sent back home unless they qualify for asylum.

Pope Benedict XVI urged countries to welcome refugees for as long as they need sanctuary in a message delivered Sunday while visiting the tiny republic of San Marino, itself founded in the early 4th century by a Christian refugee from Croatia.

"I invite civil authorities and every one of good will to guarantee a welcome and dignified living conditions for refugees until they can return to their countries freely and safely," Benedict said.

Yet as he spoke, members of Premier Silvio Berlusconi's government heated up the anti-immigrant rhetoric during an annual rally of the xenophobic Northern League party near the northern city of Bergamo.

Interior Minister Roberto Maroni drew cheers from the crowd when he boasted of the hardline policies he has pushed through to return migrants back to their home countries