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‘They call us bewitched’: the DRC performers turning trash into art – photo essay | Global development

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As a child, Shaka Fumu Kabaka witnessed the atrocities that took place during the six-day war between Ugandan and Rwandan forces in his home town of Kisangani in June 2000.

“It was not even our war, but a war between two foreign armies,” he said.

The fighting led to more than 1,000 deaths and left many more wounded in the northern city of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “I lost relatives,” says Kabaka.

Shaka Fumu Kabaka in his costume, Matshozi 6 Jours (Six Days of Tears), made from dolls found in rubbish dumps or in the streets. The work is to honour the victims of the six day war in his hometown of Kisangani.

  • Shaka Fumu Kabaka in his costume, Matshozi 6 Jours (Six Days of Tears), made from dolls found in rubbish dumps or in the streets. The work is to honour the victims of the six-day war in his home town of Kisangani

Kabaka, 33, is one of a small but growing band of multidisciplinary artists in the country’s capital Kinshasa who create elaborate costumes from household rubbish found at dumps or on the streets. Matshozi 6 Jours (Six Days of Tears) is a surreal outfit he made from scavenged dolls to honour the victims of the six-day war.

“Every time I see a broken doll lying around somewhere in the street, it reminds me of what happened in Kisangani. They symbolise the victims I saw with my own eyes,” says Kabaka.

It took a year to collect all the dolls. “The first time I wore the costume, it was a heavy burden. Not because of the weight, but because of the number of casualties it represents.”

Kabaka can often be found at the collective Ndaku Ya La Vie Est Belle, a group of Kinshasa street performers who turn their bodies into living sculptures. The collective has found a home in the Matonge district, where the singer Papa Wemba formed his band Viva La Musica. About 20 artists turn rubbish into bizarre wearable artworks. Using their costumes as political commentary, Kabaka says his work also highlights the desperate need to recycle in a city overflowing with rubbish and plastic.

Kabaka is helped into his costume.
Artist ‘Sarah’ in her work entitled Kiadi Kibeni or Poor Me.
Kabaka wears Covid 19. Sometimes the work of art is named after the response of bystanders. When the artist first walked down the street in the costume, children in Kinshasa shouted at him ‘corona, corona’.

  • Clockwise from top: Kabaka is helped into his costume. Kabaka wears outfit Covid-19. Sometimes, the work of art is named after the response of bystanders. When the artist first walked down the street in the costume, children in Kinshasa shouted at him ‘corona, corona’. Artist ‘Sarah’ in her work entitled Kiadi Kibeni or Poor Me

Despite their striking appearances, the artists say they are often ignored by the city’s residents (known as Kinois) or dismissed as eccentrics. “They look at us strangely,” says Kabaka.

“[I’m a] man with Rasta haircut who collects material at the rubbish dump – the inhabitants of Kinshasa call us crazy or bewitched.”

This August, Kabaka and his fellow artists will take to Kinshasa’s streets for KinAct, a week-long arts festival. Founded in 2015 by Eddy Ekete, who was born in Kinshasa, and Aude Bertrand from France, KinAct takes place in several of the capital’s neighbourhoods. As well as street performances, the festival runs workshops to introduce children to different art forms, including theatre, sculpture, painting and poetry.

Eddy Ekete’s Homme Canette.

Dressed in a piece made from drinks cans, Ekete was one of the first artists to roam Kinshasa’s streets in costume. The work, Homme Canette, was inspired by artists he had met in Brazil and west Africa.

Among the artists taking part in the festival is Kalenga Kabangu Jared, a student at Kinshasa art academy. Jared regularly takes to the streets dressed as Robot Annonce. The costume, made from broken radio parts, is designed to raise awareness of fake news. “People receive so much incorrect information and many inaccuracies are spread. I want to fight this,” says Jared.

Pape Noir in a work created from pipes.
Flory Sinanduku with his costume made of syringes.
Gires Kanda GK’s creation is made from old ties.
Patrick Kitete in a costume made from flip-flops found on the streets of Kinshasa.

Another performer, Falonne Mambu, drew inspiration from her past when she created Femme Électrique (Electric Woman) out of electric wire. “I lived on the streets. I was homeless. But I discovered art and it has given me a voice,” says the 30-year-old.

“In the dark, the residents dare not come out of their houses. If there were light, social control would be greater, more people would be on the street. What I experienced on the streets of Kinshasa as a homeless young woman and what many girls still experience today I address through my paintings and performances. I can talk about sexual violence through my work,” says Mambu, who has worn her costume at protests against sexual violence and kidnappings.

Falonne Mambu in Femme Électrique or Electric Woman.
Junior Nobiko, a member of the Farata collective, in his costume Emindemi.

  • From left: Falonne Mambu in Femme Électrique or Electric Woman. Junior Nobiko, a member of the Farata collective, in his costume Emindemi

Flory Sinanduku, a member of art collective Farata, has made a name for himself in his neighbourhood – his courtyard is full of works of art. His costumes made of medicine packages and syringes are a statement about poor healthcare in the DRC, he says.

His friend Junior Nobiko opens a bag of plastic cable coatings. “You are the first to see it,” says Nobiko proudly. “But I don’t know yet if I’ll wear it at the KinAct.”

In the street, he asks some passersby to help him wriggle in and out of his costume.

Jared in his Robot Annonce costume made from broken radio parts.

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Andrés Manuel López Obrador: Mexican president downplays tensions with US over Americas summit | International

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Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador sought on Tuesday to downplay the tensions that have risen with the United States over the upcoming Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles. The leftist leader has said he would skip the summit and send a representative instead, if Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua were excluded from the meeting. But he argued on Tuesday that this position is not going to harm bilateral relations with the US. “One shouldn’t think that, if, in this case, we don’t agree on the summit, there is going to be any break [in relations]. That is not going to happen under any circumstance,” he said at his morning press conference.

A US delegation was set to arrive in Mexico on Wednesday to discuss the upcoming summit, which will be held from June 6 to 10. The delegation, led by Senator Christopher Dodd, seeks to ensure that López Obrador will participate in the regional meeting. Ahead of the visit, the US ambassador to Mexico, Ken Salazar, said on Monday that “it is very important that Mexico participates” in the summit. If López Obrador boycotts the event, Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard will attend in his place.

The White House has not yet made a decision about whether to invite Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, but Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian Nichols told EL PAÍS that the US government is currently leaning toward excluding “countries that disrespect democracy.”

López Obrador supported his position to skip the meeting by invoking the Mexican Constitution, which enshrines the principle of non-intervention in foreign policy. “We have to stick to the principles of our foreign policy, of non-intervention and self-determination of the people, and we believe that no one should be excluded and that the independence and sovereignty of the peoples must be asserted,” he said on Tuesday. However, by actively supporting Havana, the government has shaken up regional policy and created a separate bloc with countries such as Bolivia, Chile and Argentina, which also want all countries to be included in the summit.

While maintaining his position, the Mexican president was also at pains to highlight Mexico’s strong relationship with the US administration of President Joe Biden. “There is a very good relationship. And we are working in a coordinated manner in economic, trade, and of course migration and security matters,” he said. “Independently of how it is resolved, we are always going to have a relationship with the US that is based on respect and friendship, and even more so with the people of the United States. The US government has treated us with respect and we also have a lot of respect and admiration for the American people.”

Since Biden’s arrival at the White House in January 2021, the two leaders have been in frequent contact. While they have had disagreements on issues such as security, migration and energy policy, both want to address the bilateral agenda through negotiation, which marks a change from the threats and intimidation that characterized the Trump administration.

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Learn lessons of Rwandan genocide and act now to stop Ethiopian war, UN urged | Global development

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African civil society groups have accused the United Nations of inaction over atrocities in Ethiopia, warning in a letter that it had not learned the lessons of the 1994 Rwanda genocide and that the “situation risks repeating itself in Ethiopia today”.

Tens of thousands of people are thought to have been killed and millions more displaced since war broke out between Ethiopia’s federal government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the ruling party of the country’s northern region, in November 2020.

All of the parties in the war have been accused of crimes including arbitrary killings, mass rape and torture, while ethnic Tigrayans across the country have been subject to mass arrests amid a spike in hate speech, which has seen the prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, refer to the Tigrayan rebels as “weeds” and “cancer”.

In the letter to the UN secretary general, António Guterres, 12 African civil society groups including the Kampala-based Atrocities Watch Africa, the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa and Nigeria’s Centre for Democracy and Development called on him to “provide leadership in ending the ongoing war in Ethiopia”.

“Twenty-eight years ago, the security council similarly failed to recognise the warning signs of genocide in Rwanda or act to stop it,” the signatories said, adding: “We are concerned that the situation is repeating itself in Ethiopia today. We call on you to learn the lessons from Rwanda and act now.”

In November 2021, the UN security council issued a statement expressing concern over the fighting, but it has yet to take any concrete steps towards resolving the conflict.

Last month, a report by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch accused forces from the Amhara region of waging a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Tigrayans “with the acquiescence and possible participation of Ethiopian federal forces”.

Dismas Nkunda, head of Atrocities Watch Africa, said: “With reports of ethnic cleansing coming out of western Tigray, there is real reason for concern that some of these crimes reach the level of genocide, and it’s essential that the United Nations grasp the seriousness of the current situation and respond accordingly.”

The UN human rights council has appointed a team to investigate abuses committed during the conflict, although the government has vowed not to cooperate.

Tigray has been largely cut off from the rest of Ethiopia since the fighting began, with transport and communications links cut. About 90% of the region’s 5.75 million population are in need of aid, and the region’s health bureau estimates that at least 1,900 children under the age of five died of starvation in the past year.

In March, the government unilaterally declared a “humanitarian truce” to allow supplies to reach the region, but only a handful of aid trucks have arrived since then.

The letter urges the UN security council to press for “immediate and unimpeded humanitarian access [to Tigray]” and “impose an arms embargo on all parties to the conflict”.

The signatories also call for deployment of an international peacekeeping force led by the African Union, which has its headquarters in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

“Such action will be vital to assisting the Ethiopian men, women and children who have been suffering both direct hostilities, associated human rights violations and obstructed humanitarian aid,” they said.

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‘Narco-tunnels’ become a factor in US-Mexico relations | International

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The US ambassador to Mexico, Ken Salazar, shows a ‘narco-tunnel’, May 2022.
The US ambassador to Mexico, Ken Salazar, shows a ‘narco-tunnel’, May 2022.Manuel Ocaño (EFE)

More than 300 meters long, 10 meters deep and fully illuminated: so is the latest narco-tunnel that authorities have found in Tijuana, on the border between Mexico and the United States. The underground corridor was used to traffic drugs to San Diego, California, and has since been closed. The discovery was not an accident: US Ambassador Ken Salazar had warned last week of the presence of over 200 tunnels during a visit to the border city.

The tunnel was discovered last weekend after a joint operation by the Mexican Army, the Tijuana Police and the Attorney General’s Office. The entrance is located under a house in the Nueva Tijuana neighborhood, a few meters from the Otay border crossing where Salazar made those statements. The passageway, reinforced with metal beams, remains under police protection. Authorities have not identified which criminal group used it, nor have any arrests been made.

Mexican authorities emphasized that communication with their US counterparts had been “close” and that bilateral collaboration had been key to finding the tunnel. Less than 48 hours earlier, Salazar had made the same points. “Working with the Mexican government, we have a very good collaboration in trying to eradicate these tunnels, which should not be here, because this is where a lot of crime happens, a lot of suffering,” said the ambassador in statements collected by the weekly newspaper Zeta. “This must stop,” he added.

A ‘narco-tunnel’ in Tijuana, Mexico.
A ‘narco-tunnel’ in Tijuana, Mexico.Cortesía

Salazar’s visit to Tijuana included a tour of a narco-tunnel discovered in 2009. The passageway, which also crosses the border wall, is known as Gálvez and is 270 meters long and 30 meters deep. The structure’s construction was attributed to the Arellano Félix cartel, a criminal organization created in the 1980s, which dominated the movement of drugs to the United States in that area for decades.

After the tour, Salazar, senior US anti-narcotics officials and Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard held a press conference announcing a $4.2 billion investment to reinforce the border. Ebrard exhorteed the authorities of both countries to “be more effective at the border against fentanyl, drugs and weapons that come and go on both sides.”

“[We intend] to ensure that this border is a place where people can walk from one place to another safely and where trade continues in a better way than now,” Salazar said. Last month, Texas governor Greg Abbott imposed tough security checks that virtually paralyzed cross-border trade. (More than 2,000 of the 3,000 kilometers between the two countries pass through Abbott’s state.)

After the White House’s urging to stop drug trafficking from Mexico, the government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador has urged the United States to do the same with the smuggling of firearms. More than 500,000 US weapons arrive in the Latin American country each year, according to Mexican authorities, who began working to prosecute the US arms industry last year.

Less than a week ago, another tunnel made headlines in Culiacán, the stronghold of the Sinaloa Cartel, the organization historically led by Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. A young man who was sleeping on the sofa in his house fell after a hole opened in the ground. The hole in the floor was attributed to the existence of the underground passageway, found in 2011.

El Chapo had escaped in July 2015 from the Altiplano prison, a high-security prison in central Mexico, through a tunnel that took members of his criminal organization more than a year to build. In the videos broadcast from his cell, the criminal leader is seen disappearing from one moment to another after climbing into a hole in the floor. Guzmán traveled more than a kilometer underground on a motorcycle. The capo was captured in early 2016 and extradited to the United States a year later. Guzmán had previously managed to evade several capture operations through underground networks of passages. The first tunnel attributed to him dates from 1989.

The longest known narco-tunnel measured more than two kilometers, and its discovery was announced in January 2020. It had tracks, air conditioning, an elevator and electricity. The entrance was in Tijuana and the exit in San Diego. “The sophistication of this tunnel demonstrates the determination and monetary resources of the cartels,” the US border patrol said at the time. Despite the spectacular announcement, the news came with no information about arrests, as with the last tunnel discovered last weekend.

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