Fred Bauma: On the front lines of Congo’s fight for democracy

Pro-democracy activists with the group Lucha protest in Congo. Their leader Fred Bauma spent a year-and-a-half in prison for leading DR Congo's pro-Democracy movement. Credit: Lucha

For today’s Humanosphere podcast, we’re talking with a heroic young man from the Democratic Republic of Congo – Fred Bauma.

Fred Bauma

Fred Bauma

We don’t use the word heroic at Humanosphere too often. Not that we don’t regularly write about humanitarians who do important and self-sacrificing work aimed at helping those most in need. But the label ‘hero’ seems especially appropriate when applied to Bauma, a soft-spoken 26-year-old who some have dubbed Congo’s Mahatma Gandhi. He is a leader of a youth movement in Congo known as Lucha (Lutte pour le Changement).

Bauma recently spent more than a year and a half in jail, where he faced the possibility of the death penalty for organizing peaceful protests calling for rule of law. More specifically, he and Lucha are calling for President Joseph Kabila to step down. Kabila, who essentially inherited the presidency in 2001 upon the assassination of his father, is required by Congo’s constitution to step down in mid-December. Other Congolese who have called on Kabila to step down have been violently suppressed, sometimes resulting in deaths.

Activists Fred Bauma and Yves Makwambale freed from prison in September 2016. Credit: Lucha

Activists Fred Bauma and Yves Makwambale freed from prison in September 2016. Credit: Lucha

Bauma is today perhaps the best-known democracy activist in Congo calling on Kabila to step down. We talk with Bauma, who is in Seattle thanks to two local organizations working on social change – iLEAP and Act for Congo – to learn more about his work, what drives him and perhaps what the rest of us can do to support this work aimed at improving justice, equity and democracy around the world. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Paying attention to injustice is the first step toward change, and finding ways to support (and help protect, frankly) courageous individuals like Bauma should come a close second.

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As usual, before Humanosphere’s Tom Paulson and Fred Bauma chat, we talk about news highlights (maybe that’s not quite the right word…) beginning with a story by Tom Murphy pointing out the highly inconsistent approach taken by the U.S. government when it comes to weapons sales and human rights. Congress recently banned a relatively minor arms sale to the Philippines (where the current President Rodrigo Duterte’s war against drug dealers has been roundly condemned as a massive human rights violation). In contrast, as Murphy writes, our government has failed to impose any sanctions against Saudi Arabia for its highly controversial military attacks on hospitals and civilian neighborhoods in Yemen.

In addition, we take note of Joanne Lu’s story on the Russian government kicking Amnesty International out of Moscow – yet another example of the increasingly difficult time civil society and human rights organizations are facing in may countries around the world. Finally, we discuss Lisa Nikolau’s story on the call by many in the global health arena to recognize cancer’s growing importance in the developing world and the need for cancer prevention to be viewed as a matter of social justice.

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About Author

Imana Gunawan

Imana Gunawan is Humanosphere's social media manager and podcast producer. A University of Washington graduate in journalism and dance, Imana's interests include underrepresented communities, the intersection between politics and culture, global-local issues and the arts. She can be reached at @imanafg on Twitter or imana@humanosphere.org