Perpetrators of sexual violence in the DRC must be held to account

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

Historically, we know that conviction rates for these crimes are shockingly low. How can we expect or encourage survivors to come forward when so few cases ever succeed, Nadine Tunasi writes.

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Sexual violence is a crime against humanity. It is brutal, deliberate and intended to punish and humiliate people and their communities. 

And more and more, we’re seeing sexual violence being used as tactics of war, torture and terrorism in conflicts across the globe. 

The recent reports coming out of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), my home, are deeply alarming. The DRC has become a very dangerous place to be a woman, let alone a little girl.

Victims of conflict-related sexual violence suffer from physical and psychological trauma, long-term injuries, and HIV infection, and some have died. 

Women are forced to deal with unwanted pregnancies, mothers bear the brunt of being excluded by their own families and communities, and men and boys face health and legal barriers because of stigma.

The impact of sexual violence is pervasive and destructive. And the sheer number of people affected by sexual violence shows just how many families and communities are impacted and destroyed.

The repetition of sexual violence keeps survivors living in constant fear and feeling vulnerable to further attacks. 

No faith in the system, no trust in the authorities

When you live in a country where there is no rule of law, and where those who perpetrate serious crimes get away with impunity, you can only worry. It’s impossible to feel safe.

The available statistics on survivors of global conflict-related sexual violence are unhelpful because we know that, where they have been done, studies in national contexts show that in peacetime around 90% of rape survivors never report what’s happened to them. In conflict settings the barriers to reporting only increase. 

There’s a multitude of reasons why survivors don’t go to the police — because they have no faith in the justice system or little trust in the authorities, or they might have grave concerns about how they could be treated, and they fear for their safety. 

Historically, we know that conviction rate for these crimes is shockingly low. How can we expect, or encourage, survivors to come forward when so few cases ever succeed?

Currently, it’s civil society and survivor-led organisations who are leading the charge when it comes to raising awareness of conflict-related sexual violence. 

And although many survivors are grateful for the ongoing conversation on this issue, we face a real challenge now of converting global awareness into tangible support that gives those affected the chance to rebuild their lives. 

Right now, not enough survivors are being given the assistance they need.

All survivors deserve the same compassion and care

Many survivors want to see their own countries taking concrete steps towards preventing, stopping, and responding appropriately to conflict-related sexual violence.

We need to see those in charge taking control so that we can all feel safe and enjoy our fundamental human rights. 

Laws need to be promoted that condemn stigma in all its forms and treat survivors with dignity and care. And importantly, all survivors must be treated with the same compassion and care regardless of their gender, ethnicity, age, or sexual orientation.

Survivor participation is essential in this fight. It’s such an important tool for how we can strengthen support, services and justice pathways in a survivor-centred way. 

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When I became Survivor Champion, along with my colleague Kolbassia Hauossou, I knew that part of my role was to make space and create a platform so that more survivors can take part in the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative. 

Through my work, I’ve had the opportunity to meet many survivors from different countries and I am always inspired by their determination and resilience.

Human rights are ‘all or nothing’

But it’s not just up to survivors. 

The international community has an imperative part to play in the response to conflict related to sexual violence. But it urgently needs to overcome a shameful history of double standards. 

All too often we see the international community quickly condemn some aggressors but turn a blind eye to others. 

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All perpetrators must be condemned and held to account no matter what their geographical positioning or political importance may be. No matter where they come from, survivors suffer greatly, and they should not be left to suffer in silence just because of the country they are in. 

The response we saw following the invasion of Ukraine was impressive, but there are many more survivors in other countries, like Iran, Sudan, Guatemala, and the DRC who have been effectively ignored. 

It’s so important that there is a consistent international response — there cannot be avenues for accountability for international crimes in some countries and a total absence in others. We either all have human rights, or none of us do.

The DRC government must be called to account

I now live in the UK and have been able to rebuild my life, but what is happening in my home country is devastating. 

The international community must call on the DRC government to take a stand on what’s been going on. 

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They have a responsibility to start a national conversation, about conflict-related sexual violence, and to take concrete steps to prevent it.

The aggressors are getting away with appalling sexual crimes, while their international allies appear content to look the other way. 

I’m calling on the international community to stop the double standards and respond effectively to what is happening. 

My people are suffering, and the war has been going on far too long. It’s time for the perpetrators of sexual violence to be condemned and held to account, and for survivors to be given support, care and access to justice.

Nadine Tunasi is a member of Survivors Speak OUT, a torture survivor-led activist network at Freedom from Torture.

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Kinshasa residents terrified by rising number of public transportation kidnappings

Twenty-seven people in the Democratic Republic of Congo were sentenced to life in prison for kidnapping passengers who had the misfortune of getting into their fake taxis. But despite this mass sentencing, which took place between July 5 and 7, people in Kinshasa are still terrified by the rising number of kidnappings taking place on public transport. The police, however, are downplaying the alarming situation, calling them “ordinary security issues”.

Twenty-seven people were sentenced to death, only to have their sentences commuted to life in prison, at the end of a kidnapping trial that took place between July 5 and 7 in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo – where capital punishment is no longer carried out. The members of this kidnapping network, which included four police officers, were found guilty of kidnapping a number of locals who climbed into their fake taxis, stealing their valuables and holding them for ransom. The group was also found responsible for killing a number of their victims.

The case has been extensively covered by the Congolese media. Images of the arrests were circulated online. The police also organised a strange sort of press conference where they lined up the 27 people arrested to show them off to the press and the Ministry of the Interior (videos on Facebook and TikTok). 

 

“They drugged me with a handkerchief and then beat me”

Romulus Mwamba works as an independent tour operator and lives in the Limete neighborhood. He believes that the group recently sentenced to prison are just a “tiny percentage” of the kidnappers operating in the capital. He should know. Mwamba was kidnapped on July 1 and survived a terrifying ordeal – and he didn’t recognise any of his attackers among those convicted. 

I was coming back from a meeting with a client in the Kasa-Vubu neighborhood and I got into a communal taxi in Victoire to head to my next meeting. It was nearly full. There were two boys and a girl in the third row and two hefty guys in the second row. I got in front. Very soon after we set off, I realised that I wasn’t going towards the right address. 

Mwamba decided to text his brother-in-law. 

“I’m in a taxi and I don’t feel safe,” he messaged him on WhatsApp.

 

This is the message sent by Romulus Mwamba (nicknamed Romy) to his brother-in-law on July 1. In the message, he says that he doesn’t feel safe. © Observers

Romy also managed to film a quick video of the people in the vehicule, which he also sent to his brother-in-law. 

 

La vidéo envoyée par Romulus Mwamba à son beau-frère le 1er juillet.
La vidéo envoyée par Romulus Mwamba à son beau-frère le 1er juillet. © Observateurs

 

However, at one point, the man next to me noticed that I was filming. He took my phone and threw it on the ground, trying to break it. I tried to break a window and started making noise to get people’s attention. But I didn’t manage to struggle for long because the people behind me grabbed me and drugged me with a handkerchief. Then they put me in the back so they could beat me up. 

Mwamba woke up several hours later. He was lying on the side of the road in a town called Maluku, more than an hour and a half away from his departure point. He was covered in bruises. A passerby helped him to call his family, who came to pick him up.

They stole my house keys, my watch, my sneakers and my wallet, which contained a large sum of money belonging to my client. Thankfully, he was understanding.  

Since then, his family has filed a complaint with the authorities. Mwamba is terrified to take public transportation. 

What happened to me was in the middle of the day, with lots of people around. Since then, I don’t want to leave my house. 

“I tried to say to them, ‘let me live, take my car’ but I couldn’t get it out”

The issue of kidnappings taking place in public transportation isn’t new. In early 2022, Jeannot Kabuayi [Editor’s note: this is a pseudonym, used because the investigation is still underway] fell victim to an attempted kidnapping. This time, the modus operandi was a bit different:

I was driving alone around 1am along the 30-Juin boulevard in the centre of town when I came across a taxi ketch [Editor’s note: a type of communal taxi common in Kinshasa.] Inside, there was a woman doubled over in pain along with two young men. I stopped and asked what was going on. They told me that they were bringing the young woman to the hospital but that the taxi had broken down. They asked if I could bring her to Diamant hospital. Acting as a good Samaritan, I agreed to take her.

A few seconds later, Jeannot was being strangled by an electrical cord around his neck, cutting into his flesh. The people tried to take his car.

I tried to say to them, “let me live, take my car” but I couldn’t get it out. Finally, they got ahold of the steering wheel but I hit the button to cut the motor. We lost control of the car and ended up in a ditch on the side of the road. A jeep full of police officers pulled up but the criminals got out of the car and climbed back into the ketch, which had been following us, and left. 

They stole all of the valuables that Kabuayi had with him. He wasn’t able to pick up his wrecked car until the next day, after getting a check-up at the hospital. 

This is a screengrab of a video of Kabuayi’s car the day after he was attacked. “This papa [Editor’s note: older man] is protected by God,” says a woman in Lingala.
This is a screengrab of a video of Kabuayi’s car the day after he was attacked. “This papa [Editor’s note: older man] is protected by God,” says a woman in Lingala. © Observers

Kabuayi still has a scar around his neck where the cord cut into his flesh. He no longer wants to take a ketch or help anyone in distress on the road. He filed a complaint with the authorities but no charges have been filed. 

Kabuayi shows the scar on his neck that he got when he was attacked and choked.
Kabuayi shows the scar on his neck that he got when he was attacked and choked. © Observers

 

“When the bus started, about half of the people on board got out weapons”

Kidnappings are also taking place on the city’s minibuses. Another Kinshasa resident, who wanted to remain anonymous for safety reasons, told us about what happened to his friend in late June. She was kidnapped from a minibus in the Masina neighborhood on the east side of town.

There were 12 of them in the minibus. When the bus started, about half of the people on board got out weapons. They told everyone else to put their hands in the air before covering people with clothing so they couldn’t see where they were going.  

The young woman managed to send him a panicked voice message. He shared it with our team. 

“Please, pray for me. […] I just lifted up the sheet to record this message and I already sent it to the big sister, to everyone. We were headed towards Kapela [Editor’s note: a neighbourhood in the western part of Kinshasa], […] We are still going, I don’t know where we are.” 

She sent that message at about 5pm. After that, he wasn’t able to contact her. It wasn’t until the next afternoon that she reappeared back in her neighbourhood. She said she was finally released around 4am. 

She was blindfolded and he [the kidnapper] took her by the hand. “Keep going, if you turn around, I will kill you,” he said. She was dropped in a deserted location and it took her ages to walk back to her house.

A growing fear about public transportation in Kinshasa

Stories of kidnappings as well the extensive media coverage of the trial of the 27 kidnappers has created growing fear among the population about using public transportation. Some people have started filming whenever they are in a taxi as a security measure. 

The video below shows a man hailing a taxi in the north of Kinshasa. He examines the other passengers and sees that there is only one open spot inside. He refuses to get in and the driver drives off. 

“When kidnappers get shun[ned]”, commented Cedoux Muke, the person who filmed this video. Our team spoke to him and he said he was sure that he narrowly avoided kidnappers even though he doesn’t have proof. 

“That taxi didn’t have plates and the people inside seemed strange to me,” he said. 

 

Muke says that the growing fear about kidnappings has led, in some cases, to mob justice in his neighbourhood, Kimbanseke. 

On July 7, police in my neighbourhood arrested a mama [Editor’s note: name used to refer to an older woman] with seven children in her car. She was accused of working with the driver to try and kidnap them. A lot of people tried to get her out of the police’s grasp in order to beat her up. 

The recent spate of kidnappings has also fed into rumours of organ trafficking. Terrified people are sharing information about these rumours in WhatsApp groups, often citing as “proof” videos taken out of context showing people cut up as if to extract organs. One of the videos that has been circulating was not filmed in the DRC – it shows the revenge killing of a police officer and his son carried out by a Mexican cartel, and has been circulating online for years. 

 

Nothing but “ordinary security issues,” according to police 

On July 4, Information Minister Patrick Muyaya told people “not to fall victim to rumours” about what he called “ordinary security issues”.

“The police is working day and night to make sure that the criminals, wherever they operate, are captured,” he said. “That’s also the case for kidnappers.” He added that police hadn’t seen proof of “organ trafficking, which is being talked about on social media and in certain circles”.

Police in Kinshasa reported a dozen or so cases of kidnappings from public transport in June alone. It is likely that more occurred but were not reported.  

Our team contacted the head of police in Kinshasa but didn’t get a response. 

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Ebola Fast Facts | CNN



CNN
 — 

Here’s a look at Ebola, a virus with a high fatality rate that was first identified in Africa in 1976.

Ebola hemorrhagic fever is a disease caused by one of five different Ebola viruses. Four of the strains can cause severe illness in humans and animals. The fifth, Reston virus, has caused illness in some animals, but not in humans.

The first human outbreaks occurred in 1976, one in northern Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo) in central Africa: and the other, in southern Sudan (now South Sudan). The virus is named after the Ebola River, where the virus was first recognized in 1976, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Ebola is extremely infectious but not extremely contagious. It is infectious, because an infinitesimally small amount can cause illness. Laboratory experiments on nonhuman primates suggest that even a single virus may be enough to trigger a fatal infection.

Ebola is considered moderately contagious because the virus is not transmitted through the air.

Humans can be infected by other humans if they come in contact with body fluids from an infected person or contaminated objects from infected persons. Humans can also be exposed to the virus, for example, by butchering infected animals.

Symptoms of Ebola typically include: weakness, fever, aches, diarrhea, vomiting and stomach pain. Additional experiences include rash, red eyes, chest pain, throat soreness, difficulty breathing or swallowing and bleeding (including internal).

Typically, symptoms appear eight to 10 days after exposure to the virus, but the incubation period can span two to 21 days.

Ebola is not transmissible if someone is asymptomatic and usually not after someone has recovered from it. However, the virus has been found in the semen of men who have recovered from Ebola and possibly could be transmitted from contact with that semen.

There are five subspecies of the Ebola virus: Zaire ebolavirus (EBOV), Bundibugyo ebolavirus (BDBV), Sudan ebolavirus (SUDV), Taï Forest ebolavirus (TAFV) and Reston ebolavirus (RESTV).

Click here for the CDC’s list of known cases and outbreaks.

(Full historical timeline at bottom)

March 2014 – The CDC issues its initial announcement on an outbreak in Guinea, and reports of cases in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

April 16, 2014 – The New England Journal of Medicine publishes a report, speculating that the current outbreak’s Patient Zero was a 2-year-old from Guinea. The child died on December 6, 2013, followed by his mother, sister and grandmother over the next month.

August 8, 2014 – Experts at the World Health Organization (WHO) declare the Ebola epidemic ravaging West Africa an international health emergency that requires a coordinated global approach, describing it as the worst outbreak in the four-decade history of tracking the disease.

August 19, 2014 – Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf declares a nationwide curfew beginning August 20 and orders two communities to be completely quarantined, with no movement into or out of the areas.

September 16, 2014 – US President Barack Obama calls the efforts to combat the Ebola outbreak centered in West Africa “the largest international response in the history of the CDC.” Speaking from the CDC headquarters in Atlanta, Obama adds that “faced with this outbreak, the world is looking to” the United States to lead international efforts to combat the virus.

October 6, 2014 – A nurse’s assistant in Spain becomes the first person known to have contracted Ebola outside Africa in the current outbreak. The woman helped treat two Spanish missionaries, both of whom had contracted Ebola in West Africa, one in Liberia and the other in Sierra Leone. Both died after returning to Spain. On October 19, Spain’s Special Ebola Committee says that nurse’s aide Teresa Romero Ramos is considered free of the Ebola virus.

October 8, 2014 – Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian citizen who was visiting the United States, dies of Ebola in Dallas.

October 11, 2014 – Nina Pham, a Dallas nurse who cared for Duncan, tests positive for Ebola during a preliminary blood test. She is the first person to contract Ebola on American soil.

October 15, 2014 – Amber Vinson, a second Dallas nurse who cared for Duncan, is diagnosed with Ebola. Authorities say Vinson flew on a commercial jet from Cleveland to Dallas days before testing positive for Ebola.

October 20, 2014 – Under fire in the wake of Ebola cases involving two Dallas nurses, the CDC issues updated Ebola guidelines that stress the importance of more training and supervision, and recommend that no skin be exposed when workers are wearing personal protective equipment, or PPE.

October 23, 2014 – Craig Spencer, a 33-year-old doctor who recently returned from Guinea, tests positive for Ebola – the first case of the deadly virus in New York and the fourth diagnosed in the United States.

October 24, 2014 – In response to the New York Ebola case, the governors of New York and New Jersey announce that their states are stepping up airport screening beyond federal requirements for travelers from West Africa. The new protocol mandates a quarantine for any individual, including medical personnel, who has had direct contact with individuals infected with Ebola while in Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea. The policy allows the states to determine hospitalization or quarantine for up to 21 days for other travelers from affected countries.

January 18, 2015 – Mali is declared Ebola free after no new cases in 42 days.

February 22, 2015 – Liberia reopens its land border crossings shut down during the Ebola outbreak, and President Sirleaf also lifts a nationwide curfew imposed in August to help combat the virus.

May 9, 2015 – The WHO declares an end to the Ebola outbreak in Liberia. More than 4,000 people died.

November 2015 – Liberia’s health ministry says three new, confirmed cases of Ebola have emerged in the country.

December 29, 2015 – WHO declares Guinea is free of Ebola after 42 days pass since the last person confirmed to have the virus was tested negative for a second time.

January 14, 2016 – A statement is released by the UN stating that “For the first time since this devastating outbreak began, all known chains of transmission of Ebola in West Africa have been stopped and no new cases have been reported since the end of November.”

March 29, 2016 – The WHO director-general lifts the Public Health Emergency of International Concern related to the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

*Includes information about Ebola and other outbreaks resulting in more than 100 deaths or special cases.

1976 – First recognition of the EBOV disease is in Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo). The outbreak has 318 reported human cases, leading to 280 deaths. An SUDV outbreak also occurs in Sudan (now South Sudan), which incurs 284 cases and 151 deaths.

1995 – An outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) leads to 315 reported cases and at least 250 deaths.

2000-2001 – A Ugandan outbreak (SUDV) results in 425 human cases and 224 deaths.

December 2002-April 2003 – An EBOV outbreak in ROC results in 143 reported cases and 128 deaths.

2007 – An EBOV outbreak occurs in the DRC, 187 of the 264 cases reported result in death. In late 2007, an outbreak in Uganda leads to 37 deaths, with 149 cases reported in total.

September 30, 2014 – Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC, announces the first diagnosed case of Ebola in the United States. The person has been hospitalized and isolated at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas since September 28.

July 31, 2015 – The CDC announces that a newly developed Ebola vaccine is “highly effective” and could help prevent its spread in the current and future outbreaks.

December 22, 2016 – The British medical journal The Lancet publishes a story about a new Ebola vaccine that tested 100% effective during trials of the drug. The study was conducted in Guinea with more than 11,000 people.

August 1, 2018 – The DRC’s Ministry of Health declares an Ebola virus outbreak in five health zones in North Kivu province and one health zone in Ituri province. On July 17, 2019, the WHO announces that the outbreak constitutes a public health emergency of international concern. On June 25, 2020, the DRC announces that the outbreak is officially over. A total of 3,481 cases were reported, including 2,299 deaths and 1,162 survivors.

August 12, 2019 – Two new Ebola treatments are proving so effective they are being offered to all patients in the DRC. Initial results found that 499 patients who received the two effective drugs had a higher chance of survival – the mortality rate for REGN-EB3 and mAb114 was 29% and 34% respectively. The two drugs worked even better for patients who were treated early – the mortality rate dropped to 6% for REGN-EB3 and 11% for mAb114, according to Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and one of the researchers leading the trial.

December 19, 2019 – The US Food and Drug administration announces the approval of a vaccine for the prevention of the Ebola virus for the first time in the United States. The vaccine, Ervebo, was developed by Merck and protects against Ebola virus disease caused by Zaire ebolavirus in people 18 and older.

October 14, 2020 – Inmazeb (REGN-EB3), a mixture of three monoclonal antibodies, becomes the first FDA-approved treatment for the Ebola virus. In December, the FDA approves a second treatment, Ebanga (mAb114).

January 14, 2023 – Ugandan authorities officially declare the end of a recent Ebola outbreak after 42 consecutive days with no new cases.

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Macron’s Africa reset struggles to persuade

Paul Taylor is a contributing editor at POLITICO.

PARIS — The bigger the humiliation, the more grandiloquent the relaunch. 

After a year that saw French forces conducting counterinsurgency operations against jihadist rebels hounded out of Mali and Burkina Faso by military coups, anti-colonialist street protests, and Russian disinformation and mercenaries, President Emmanuel Macron announced a fundamental overhaul of France’s Africa strategy. 

“Humility,” “partnership” and “investment” are now the keywords in a reset that Macron outlined in a speech he delivered before embarking on his 18th trip to Africa in just eight years. 

Many Africans were understandably skeptical as the French president took his new doctrine on a tour of Gabon, Angola, the Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) — an eclectic mix of former French, Belgian and Portuguese colonies that have big economic potential, and are being heavily courted by Russia and China as well as Europe. 

“The days of la Françafrique are well and truly over,” Macron insisted in Gabon’s capital Libreville.  He was not the first president to promise an end to the postcolonial manipulation of African politics, with crony ties between the French elite and long-serving African autocrats.  

The French leader’s enunciation of a sea change in Franco-African ties sounded oddly like German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s proclamation of a Zeitenwende — an epochal turning point in Berlin’s policy toward Moscow since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

“We have reached the end of a cycle of French history in which military questions held preeminence in Africa,” Macron said, the first French president to be born after the end of colonial rule. Henceforth, “there will be no military bases as such,” but “new military partnerships” with African allies, and French forces on the continent will be focusing on training local troops. 

In a conscious effort to shed the mantle of paternalism and hard security, Macron built his four-day trip around the themes of saving African forests, developing agriculture, investing in African business and supporting a transition from fossil fuels to clean energy. He also went clubbing in Kinshasa, beer in hand, with Congolese singer Fally Ipupa. 

He steered clear of France’s traditional West African backyard, where Paris’s counterinsurgency policy suffered its deepest setbacks.

“Our destiny is tied to the African continent. If we are able to seize this chance, we have the opportunity to anchor ourselves to the continent, which will increasingly be one of the youngest and most dynamic economic markets in the world, and one of the great centers of global growth in the decades to come,” Macron said. 

He was making a virtue of necessity, to say the least.  

By shrinking its military footprint without abandoning key footholds in Senegal, Ivory Coast, Gabon and Djibouti, France hopes to avoid further forced retreats from the continent’s strategic corners. Then, referring to Russia’s Wagner mercenaries who have supplanted French forces in Mali and the Central African Republic, Macron said he was sure Africans would soon regret the paramilitary group’s presence.  

But small crowds of anti-French demonstrators in Libreville and Kinshasa were a reminder of France’s tarnished image among many young Africans, as well as accusations of political interference that dog Macron’s attempt at a new start.  

In Gabon, protesters accused the French leader of helping veteran President Ali Bongo’s reelection campaign — a charge he felt obliged to deny. And in the DRC, he faced both public criticism from President Felix Tshisekedi, as well as protests by opposition activists.  

If you’re France, in Africa, you simply can’t win. No one is going to take your professions of good faith, political neutrality, partnership and brotherly love at face value. 

Macron has arguably been the most progressive French president when it comes to Africa, officially acknowledging colonial France’s mistreatment of Algerians, and seeking an ever-elusive reconciliation. He has apologized in Rwanda for his country’s role in failing to prevent the 1994 genocide by Hutu militias against ethnic Tutsis. He has created a commission to investigate colonial massacres in Cameroon too.  

Macron has reached out to youngsters, civil society and start-ups, sometimes over the heads of African governments. He has agreed to scrap the CFA franc — the eight-nation West African currency tied to France — to be replaced by the Eco in 2027. He is the first French leader to have returned cultural treasures to Africa as well, sending a collection of statues to Benin in what is likely to set a precedent. 

Yet, though they make French nationalists’ blood boil, such gestures are too little, too late for many Africans. 

France would probably be best advised to channel its efforts instead under the more politically acceptable banner of the European Union, which is building a comprehensive partnership with the African Union — the key principles of which were outlined at a summit in Brussels in February 2022.  

As bad luck would have it, however, that budding relationship has been overshadowed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has monopolized the EU’s political and financial attention. 

Africans clearly see how the bloc — France included — has plowed billions of euros in military and financial assistance into Ukraine, while support for African peace and security efforts has been far more constrained. They also see how Ukraine has gained EU candidate status and been center stage at every summit, while Africa had to struggle to secure even belated help in procuring COVID-19 vaccines.  

Moreover, the war in Ukraine has added to food insecurity and an energy-price squeeze on the continent. For many Africans, Europe seems more concerned with blaming Russia than helping. 

Macron’s African reset is in many ways a halfway house — he admitted as much in his big speech. “We are held accountable for the past without having been totally convincing about the shape of our common future,” he said. 

The decision to rebrand the African bases as joint training ventures was itself reportedly a compromise between advisers who argued against yielding another inch to France’s adversaries, and others who want to shutter most outposts and refocus the armed forces on preparing for possible high-intensity warfare in Europe and the Indo-Pacific. 

While 61 percent of voters think France should stay in Africa because of its economic and security interests — as well as to help prevent mass migration to Europe — an Odoxa poll for Le Figaro showed that a similar majority is pessimistic about Franco-African ties, and doubtful of Macron’s ability to build a new relationship. 

This may not be the last Franco-African reset.



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Why you shouldn’t fall for these videos of electrically charged stones from the DRC

Did someone really discover rocks capable of generating electricity in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)? That’s what some people have been claiming after seeing two videos that have been circulating on Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp since January 21, 2023. However, our team spoke to several geologists who cast doubt on these videos. While some rocks can conduct electricity, none can create it, they said. 

If you only have a minute…

  • Two videos that allegedly show “electrically charged stones discovered in the Democratic Republic of the Congo” have been circulating since January 20, 2023 on social networks like Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp.  In the video, it looks like the rocks alone are capable of lighting up a lamp or creating a spark. 
  • Our team spoke to several geologists who all said that no rocks can generate electricity by themselves. 
  • However, they did say that it is possible that the stone in the video is pyrite, a metallic stone that can conduct an electrical current, perhaps generated by another source of energy located off-screen. 

The fact-check, in detail

It’s “a revolutionary discovery“, or so say two videos that have been circulating since January 20, 2023 on Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp claiming that stones able to generate electricity have been unearthed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A number of readers sent our team these videos, asking us to investigate. 

The first video, which garnered more than 12 million views shows a man touching two ends of a wire to a stone. A tiny lightbulb connected to the wire then lights up. 

The second video, which has garnered more than two million views, shows someone striking two stones together and creating a spark. 

Many people who shared the videos said the stones could possibly become future energy sources for the country. 

“Some experts are saying two stones can power a two-bedroom [home] for two months with the electrical energy,” says this tweet. Another user wrote that the stones could be a “game-changer”: “who knows, those stones might turn out to be the energy to drive vehicles, planes, trains, and even the supply of light, in future [sic].” 

A number of people also shared these videos along with calls for Western powers to stop stealing the continent’s resources. 

“Stop letting others come in and get rich off your land, #export precious metals to the world yourselves dammit!” wrote this user.

As for the stones in question, some users (like this one or this one, for example) called it “vibranium”, a stone that appears in the fictitious works set in the Marvel Universe, likeBlack Panther”. It is said to come from the imaginary kingdom of Wakanda and can apparently absorb energy. 

Unknown origins of the videos 

According to some users, these stones were discovered in Manono, a town located in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There’s actually been a  conflict playing out in the area between the Congolese government and a mining company around the exploitation of a lithium deposit.

In the first video, you can hear people speaking Swahili, which is one of the official languages in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. 

The second video appears in a Facebook post shared on November 24, 2022 by Mohammed Premier d’Oujda University in Morocco. “Lithium?” reads the caption. 

However, there is no information in the video that allows us to determine where the videos were filmed. For the time being, no one has traveled to the area named in some of the posts to determine the veracity of the claims. 

What makes this all the more complicated is that other accounts have said the stones are from different places. This post, shared on January 21, 2023, says that the stones were discovered by the Munyati river in Zimbabwe.

Is it possible these energy-generating rocks are real?

Our team spoke to five different geologists. All five said they didn’t think there was any chance of a stone generating electricity like the ones shown in the videos. 

“There’s no material on earth that can generate electricity by itself,” said Samuel Angiboust, a geologist at the École normale supérieure university in Lyon, France. 

“If a stone receives an electrical charge, then it will lose that charge, just like a battery slowly loses its charge. A stone can’t keep recharging itself,” says Alexandre Schubnel, the director of the geology lab at the École normale supérieure university in Paris.

Batteries have a positive and a negative terminal which create a chemical reaction needed to create an electrical current. However, stones don’t have the same make-up and thus can’t produce a current.  

There are only a few very specific cases when materials can generate electricity. 

“Some crystals have piezoelectrical properties [Editor’s note: piezoelectricity is the electrical charge that can accumulate in some solid materials]. For example, quartz can be used as a source of electricity in watches. However, the crystal needs to be under applied mechanical stress in order to generate a current, which is extremely low tension and wouldn’t create a spark like shown in the videos,” says Samuel Angiboust.

Stones that conduct electricity

Some stones, however, can conduct electricity. And several experts hypothesised that this is what is actually happening in the videos. 

Samuel Angiboust says that the stone in the video might be pyrite, a metal-rich mineral also known as “fool’s good”. Pyrite can’t produce electricity, but it is a very good conductor. 

While the video makes it look like the current is coming from the stone, a stone like pyrite would actually only be able to conduct the current.  

Several geologists pointed out that the light you see in the second video looks like something you might see during arc welding, a welding process used to join metal to metal by using electricity to create enough heat to melt both metals.  When they cool, they are then bound together. 

You can see in the video that the person handling the stones is wearing thick gloves, perhaps to protect themselves from the heat generated in this process. 

In the second video shared since January 20, 2022, the presence of a glove and a strong spark can suggest that the phenomenon filmed is similar to that triggered in the case of arc welding.
In the second video shared since January 20, 2022, the presence of a glove and a strong spark can suggest that the phenomenon filmed is similar to that triggered in the case of arc welding. © Observers

But where is the real source of current located then? The specialists who we contacted said that there might be a battery hidden inside the rock or in the hands of the person handling the rocks. 

The geologists we interviewed noted that the entire video is filmed as a close shot, which means that it is quite possible for something to be happening off-camera or away from our field of vision. 

Our colleagues at the BBC also studied these videos, as well as another one filmed in Zimbabwe and came to similar conclusions, pointing out several discrepancies in the videos.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is sometimes called a “geological scandal” because of its richness in mineral resources. The nation is the leading global producer of cobalt and the leading producer of copper on the African continent. 

However, this richness does little to help most Congolese people as the country’s mining code is very advantageous to foreign investors.



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