Imprisoned, poisoned, tortured

Nothing will stop Congo’s Golden Misabiko from standing up against uranium mining and the poison it spreads

By Linda Pentz Gunter

Arrested. Imprisoned twice. Poisoned by your government in an apparent, and mercifully unsuccessful, assassination attempt. Separated from your family. Forced into exile. In fear of your life and the lives of your wife and five children. How far would you go to exercise your human rights? How far would you go to try to stop the plundering of radioactive resources — in other words, uranium mining — in your country?

That story belongs to Golden Misabiko of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Today, he is still paying the price, shuttling from one country to another every few months, an exile, a citizen of nowhere.

From February to September 2001, Misabiko was locked in a dungeon, kept in solitary confinement and tortured. But he didn’t break. Between 2002 and 2004 he sought refuge in Sweden. But he returned to his country. It was home, it was where his family was. His people. It was where his heart belonged, and his struggled needed to continue.

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Congo has never known peace, says Golden Misabiko. Five million have died in the current conflict. Photo: Christian Jepsen/NRC

In 2009, Misabiko was arrested and tortured again. His government tried to poison and kill him. Amnesty International ran an “urgent action” on his behalf. On August 25, 2009, Misabiko was released and left his country once more, forced into unwilling exile, this time in South Africa.

The Congo he has left behind is the scene of an unacknowledged 21st century holocaust, with at least five million already dead in cross-border and internal violent conflict.

In 2001, Misabiko had exposed the Kabila government for executing prisoners, extrajudicially and without trial. But the government failed to silence Misabiko, an eloquent, gentle, but passionate advocate for human rights.

In 2009, Misabiko blew the whistle on the government again, this time for its involvement in an illegal uranium mining plan at the notorious Shinkolobwe uranium mine that had been officially closed in 2004. He found out that the French nuclear corporation, Areva, was in secret negotiations with the Congo government. The French government and its then president, Nicolas Sarkozy, along with then Areva head, Anne Lauvergeon, had traveled to Congo. There, on March 26, 2009, they had secured a lightning quick deal with the Congo government for Areva to reopen uranium mining operations as the site.

Already a leading human rights advocate, through his presidency of ASADHO (Association Africaine de Défense des Droits de l’Homme), Misabiko called out the criminality and secrecy of the uranium mine deal. He was also determined not to see the uranium mine reopened, a clear opportunity for theft, misuse and illegal trafficking of uranium.

“In the shameful accord,“ he wrote later, in 2014, “AREVA, the corporation which is known to be killing people in Africa (Niger, Gabon …) through its uranium activities, is being given the right to explore for and exploit uranium on all Congo’s soil. What an irresponsible and criminal act against humanity.” That same year, Misabiko received the Nuclear-Free Future Award for Resistance, nominated by IPPNW doctor, Winfried Eisenberg.

Shinkolobwe has another, even more sinister, claim to notoriety, however. It is the birthplace of the atomic bomb, the mine that supplied 70% of the uranium needed for the US Manhattan Project.

According to Bob Alvarez, writing in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, ‘Without the Congo ore, the first nuclear weapons would have likely not been ready to be used in 1945. After World War II, the mine provided about 80 percent of the uranium used in the US nuclear program well into the 1950s, enabling the United States to amass thousands of nuclear warheads.”

That uranium was processed by a company in St. Louis, MO — Mallinckrodt — which ended up dumping its approximately two million cubic yards of radioactive waste across what was then St. Louis countryside. There it still sits today, in the floodplain of the Missouri River, the oldest radioactive waste of the Atomic Age, unmanaged, undisposed of, and an ever-present danger to present and future generations.

It is those generations who concern Misabiko. It is why, as he told a Munich television program, AcTVism, in a December 2015 interview, “I don’t stop doing my work to protect human dignity. So I am doing my work as if I was in Congo. Nothing has taken away what I have inside me, to see Congo, to see Africa, to see the world a better place to live.”

In 2012, a German documentary filmmaker, Marcel Kolvenbach, traveled with Misabiko and Tanzanian activist, Anthony Lyamunda, on a trip through several African countries. A clip from the finished film, Atomic Africa — The Dirty Secrets of Clean Energy — is below. The full documentary can be rented or purchased here.

Today, Misabiko is still separated from his family and shuttles between South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Congo Brazzaville, living in each country on a three-month visa. As Gunter Wippel, founder of the Uranium Network, put it, it is “a lousy way to live, that has gone on this way for years.”

“If ever I return to Congo, absolutely they are going to harm me or they are going to kill me,” Misabiko told AcTVism. “Congo is a country that hasn’t known any peace at all,” he said, whether “spears, arrows, guns.” It is time, he says, for peace, and to “stop doing these things.”

Headline photo of Golden Misabiko at the 2014 Nuclear-Free Future Award, © Orla Connolly.

For more on the Shinkolobwe uranium mine, see Tom Zellner’s article for Al Jazeera.

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