Thursday, 10 December 2009

DO THE CONGO

Do you remember that old Um Bongo tropical fruit juice advert? "Way down deep in the middle of the Congo, a hippo took an apricot, a guava and a mango." Well, it seems like those Norwegian fruits Tjostolv Moland and former Margate resident Joshua French have got more than their fair share of apricots and mangos thrown at 'em after being sentenced to death by firing squad by the Congolese authorities.

Joshua French was raised in Margate, but emigrated to Norway as a child, so his connection to Thanet is tenuous at best, but that hasn't stopped BBC News launching a big media fanfare and getting other local newspapers into a tizzy about it. We should remind ourselves that Amnesty International announced in a report that most death penalties in the Congo were usually executed in secret so the peculiarly un-secretive and high level of media exposure this story has been getting should ring alarm bells to anyone with a modicum of sense.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights also noted that despite the Congolese government lifting "the moratorium on the death penalty on the 23rd September 2002, it should be noted that in fact, capital executions have not taken place for more than a decade except under the military courts." Therefore, in the end, all we can do is hope that the big media buzz this story is generating will put pressure on the Supreme Court to ensure that Moland and French's plight won't have a grisly ending.

I know it's easy to focus upon the injustice of capital punishment and rightly complain how Moland and French have not received a fair trial, but I can't help but wonder if there's more to this story than meets the eye. I'm going to begin by saying that I have no idea whether Moland and French are innocent or guilty, but the fact is they're both former soldiers for the Norwegian Army and according to The Guardian "military ID cards, counterfeit UN hats and employee ID badges with both correct and false names were found by police at an apartment shared by the two men in Uganda." So the initial thing that springs to my mind is why, oh why, did Moland and French have false identity cards – with the names John Hunt and Mike Callan – in their possession?


Let's face it, not everybody has fake ID under an assumed identity hidden away in their wallets, so that's automatically arousing my suspicions. The second thing is that the 'employee ID' was for a security firm called Special Interventions Group (SIG) and a source for the company commented saying: "We were supposed to have a partnership with these guys a year ago but it didn't happen. They decided to try it for themselves and start their own company. Unfortunately they chose our name and used our ID cards." In other words, they were carrying false ID cards with fake names for a company they didn't even work for.

I recommend that you take a good look at the Free French and Moland website in which Joshua outlines his side of the story. It makes interesting reading, particularly the point where he protests his innocence saying "we were primarily there as tourists, but we were also considering the future possibilities for Tjostolv's company" [a security firm]. This reinforced my suspicions, especially since The Guardian noted that "former soldiers are frequently taken on by private security companies who have stepped up interest in the region due to oil discoveries under Lake Albert, which lies on the border between Congo and Uganda." What makes matters worse is the fact that French and Moland had previously worked as security guards in Africa before, when they worked guarding against Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden.

On the Norwegian blog, Me and My Mouth, the blogger Norwonk wrote that: "I find it difficult to believe that they were really on an innocent vacation. Given the nature of their work, they would have to be pretty naive to think that Congolese authorities would consider them as ordinary tourists. I doubt foreign mercenaries often travel in this area simply for pleasure." Personally, I suspect their trip to the Congo was perhaps more of a misguided business venture by Moland and French than a casual holiday, and I feel they're probably being held up to the Western media as scapegoats to send out a signal to other mercenaries working on the Congo-Uganda border as security guards for oil companies.

Despite the suspicious nature of their visit, this has little relevance to the fact that they may, of course, be innocent, in which case I sincerely hope justice will out. But in any case, it's worth reminding people of other aspects of the case which may have a danger of being drowned out in the media hubbub. It's an appalling miscarriage of justice, perhaps, but we shouldn't lose sight of the more questionable aspects of their presence in the Congo. There needs to be far more room for debate on this subject.

4 comments:

  1. Luke,

    On the subject of the Congo, have you read some of the articles on the net regarding Coltan, it seems the area where all the fighting is taking place produces 80% of the worlds supply.

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  2. Hi Tony. I will read up about Coltan, but from what I've already read up on, I'm pretty sure there's a lot more going on in the Congo than meets the eye.

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  3. Luke, have you seen Congo's bloody Coltan on you tube.

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  4. Yes, I have - mobile phones, eh? Scandalous.

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