Monday, January 31, 2011

Conflict, Women's Rights, and how Local Activists can get involved to create Peace in the Congo

If activists and peace advocates are looking to get  involved in a region with a current myriad of issues, look no further then the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the eighteenth most populous nation in the world. While it is a beautiful nation that is rich in history and leaders like the late great Patrice Lumumba; there is currently a conflict that is causing horrid issues in the nation. Those issues range from a lack of corporate responsibility, regional conflict with other nations, women's rights, environmental issues, and so on. So where do local activists start? Which advocacy organization can they join up with that is really working on a grassroots level to bring about peace in the DRC?

When looking for an advocacy organization that does work on the DRC, Friends of the Congo is one of my favorite. They have a lot of dedicated workers who are raising the consciousness of the world community on the challenges of the Congo and they are supporting institutions in the DRC in bringing about peace. I reached out to Maurice Carney, Executive Director of the Friends of the Congo on his perceptive on the conflict in the region and how the local activist community can get involved.  

What is going on the DRC right now? And why is it important for activists to get involved? 
What is going on the DRC right now is the latest expression of what has been taking place over the past 16 years since Rwanda and Uganda invaded Congo - conflict and instability in the East, a weak state that is unable to protect its citizens and govern and the systematic pilfering of Congo's riches by rebel groups, Congo's neighbors, Congolese elites and multinational corporations from US, Canada, Europe, Asia and South Africa. The year ushered in the start of the 2011 election cycle whereby President Joseph Kabila and his majority party in the Congolese parliament amended the constitution in an initial salvo at restructuring the electoral law to ostenisbly perpetuate his tenure in office for another 5 years.

Activists should get involved in Congo for several reasons:
1. Congo is the key to the future of the African continent. If you care about Africa you must care about the Congo and what is taking place there. Congo is the fulcrum on which the African continent swings.
2. Congo is the source of many raw materials that are used in our daily lives. For example, it has 64 percent of the world's reserve of coltan which is key to the functioning of our cell phones, video games, laptops and many other electronic devices and gadgets.
3. Congo is home to the greatest humanitarian crisis in the world and the deadliest conflict since World War II, therefore if one is concerned about humanity and the human condition, they should be concerned about the unnecessary suffering of fellow members of the human family in the Congo.

There has been a lot of media attention given to rape and sexual assault in the Congo, specifically against women. What do you think is the cause of this alarming situation? And perhaps a solution?
Yes, a lot of attention has been given to the raping of the women. The suffering of the women is intolerable and a scar on the conscience of humanity. The suffering of the women is a product of the conflict and a tool used by rebel leaders to terrorize communities. In order to end the sexual violence in Congo, we must do our utmost as a global community to bring an end to the conflict, which is best done through diplomacy and political means by bringing pressure to bear on the major players in the conflict, Rwanda in particular.

We must also be careful that we on the outside refrain from looking at the suffering of the women through a pathological, pornographic lens. Social, political and historical context is vitally needed when looking at the condition of the women in the Congo. We must also highlight the work being done by brave Congolese women to change the situation that results in atrocities being committed in the country. We should listen to these women and work in partnership with them to bring about change.

What can activists in the Washington, D.C. area and over the globe do to help Friends of the Congo and the people of the DRC? 
People in Washington and elsewhere in the country and throughout the globe can help us in our work in the following manner:
A. Call on your government to adopt and support just policies toward the Congo. One concrete step is by calling on your political leaders to support putting on the agenda the UN mapping report. Find out how you can do that here:
B. Join the global movement in support of the people of Congo:
C. Support the people inside Congo as they seek to bring about peace, stability and human dignity. You can support our partners here:

Suggested readings and films?
The Assasination of Lumumba
by Ludo De Witte
The Challenge of the Congo
Kwame Nkrumah
Rise and Fall of Patrice Lumumba
by Thomas Kanza
The Congo: From Leopold to Kabila: A People's History
by Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja
King Leopold's Ghost
by Adam Hochschild
Che in Africa: Che Guevara's Congo Diary
by William Galvez
A Bend in the River
by V. S. Naipaul
Lumumba Speaks: The Speeches and Writings of Patrice Lumumba, 1958-1961
Translated by Helen R. Lane. Ed. Jean Van Lierde
The Poisonwood Bible
by Barbara Kingsolver
Heart of Diamonds
by Dave Donelson
The Congo Cables:The Cold War in Africa--From Eisenhower to Kennedy
by Madeleine Kalb
The Heart of Darkness
by Joseph Conrad
George Washington Williams: A Biography
by John Hope Franklin
King Leopold's Soliloquy
By Mark Twain
Films and videos can be found here:

Maurice Carney is a co-founder and Executive Director of the Friends of  the Congo. He is an independent entrepreneur and human rights activist who has fought with Congolese for fifteen years in their struggle for human dignity and control of their country.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this excellent article, Jeremiah ~