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This Week in the Great Lakes: Ben Affleck explains why Congo is worth caring about

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Larry Downing/Reuters

(Read caption) Actor Ben Affleck is pictured in a panel discussion on the Democratic Republic Congo at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 30, 2010.

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I took the American Thanksgiving holiday last Friday, so here's two weeks' worth of interesting bits from Africa's Great Lakes...

Rwanda is selling a 25 percent stake in the nation's state-run (and only) brewery, Bralirwa. The sale would mark the country's first IPO, and banks are offering loan programs specifically for those interesting in purchasing shares in the brewery.

Some genocide prisoners convicted at the Arusha tribunal will spend their sentences in Senegal. Prosecutors get 30 more days to build a case against would-be politician Victoire Ingabire.

Rwanda returns two orphaned gorillas to Congo. More farmers get access to weather-based insurance programs. The national campaign against mud huts moves slowly. 700 hotels and restaurants are slated to get condom vending machines.

Congo's former vice president, Jean-Pierre Bemba, faces a trial by the International Criminal Court trial for crimes allegedly committed by Bemba's troops in the Central African Republic. Witnesses disguise their faces and voices.

The UN Group of Experts report comes out, naming top Congolese army officials involved in mineral trading and detailing black market activities. Congo denies the report's allegations that rebels are regrouping in the east. The Security Council slaps some rebel leaders with travel bans.

Oil exploration may begin in Lake Albert. UNESCO asks for oil exploration ban in Virunga National Park. Congolese apes are risk-averse.

Ben Affleck takes center stage for Congo again. One major media outlet ignores the substance of what he says and asks why such a pretty face cares about such a dark place. Others worry that "UN peacekeeping has lost Hollywood" – and that, we are warned, "is not a good sign." Congolese soldiers attack Indian peacekeepers.

Congolese women also work in mines. Congolese men are also raped.

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Thirty-three prisoners escaped from a jail in Bulowo, near Lubambashi. "This jailbreak is not linked to bad prison conditions, though we have just one holding area, in which those sentenced for 30 years are next to those serving a few months," the prison director said.

Congolese phones get e-mail and Internet-based chat services. Congo shuts 100 "non-viable" universities. DRC records 63 new polio cases. Belgians drive across Congo.

Burundi sends 850 more soldiers to Somalia, bringing the deployment total to 8,000. The Ugandan force commander says the mission needs another 12,000. Burundi asks for a review of the AU mission's mandate.

Four people were killed in a shootout with government forces near the border with DRC. Burundi opposition leaders ask for dialogue. Burundi's ruling party snubs a dialogue meeting of the diaspora in Holland.

Inflation rises 4.7 percent. Tea earnings fall 4 percent. Bujumbura paves streets with 10 million Belgian Euros. The British twin their toilets to Burundian outhouses and "flush away poverty."

In the region, the East African Community is short on cash. The UN asks for money. The US asked for DNA and other biometric data on Great Lakes political VIPs. A regional peace forum questions the controversial UN Congo Mapping report. Rwanda and Burundi refuse to sign a non-proliferation agreement on light weapons; eight other countries have.

Jina Moore is a freelance reporter based in Kigali, Rwanda who blogs at JinaMoore.com.


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