Congo

The Land of Gold and Blood

Congo
giulio napolitano / Shutterstock

THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC of Congo is one of the world’s poorest countries. In 2014, Congo ranked 186 out of 187 on the United Nations’ human development index—vying with Niger for the bottom of the list.

Yet Congo is extremely rich in soil, water, forests, and minerals. Diamonds, copper, gold, oil, uranium, and coltan are all mined, purchased, and traded from the DRC.    

Coltan is the ore used in electronic devices. The so call “war of coltan” in the mineral-rich eastern Congo has left millions dead and more than a million women raped. Transnational corporations are able to exert extreme pressure on Congo’s weak government and economy. As a result, the country’s natural resources have become an important factor in increasing poverty and violence rather than wealth and development.

The Catholic bishops in Congo (about half of the country’s population is Catholic) repeatedly have denounced three specific kinds of evil: a climate favoring genocide, outbreaks of religious fundamentalism, and a push toward Balkanization.

Sébastien Muyengo, author of In the Land of Gold and Blood, is the Catholic bishop of Uvira in eastern Congo. As a result of the mineral wars, he writes, the country’s poverty has become a mental, human, and structural poverty, rather than predominantly material. Yet Congo has resources the rest of the world wants.

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Congolese Priest Fighting Coltan Mining Assassinated

Father Vincent Machozi
Father Vincent Machozi. Photo courtesy Augustinians of the Assumption.

Father Vincent Machozi, an Assumptionist Catholic priest who led the fight against the extractive industries and in support of human rights in the Democratic Republic of Congo, was assassinated on Sunday night, March 20, when members of Congolese military disrupted a peacemaking retreat at a village in Beni and murdered him in a hail of bullets. According to reports, onlookers said Fr. Machozi’s last words were: “Why are you killing me?”

Grace Stories

Malachite from Congo. Image courtesy Albert Russ/shutterstock.com
Malachite from Congo. Image courtesy Albert Russ/shutterstock.com

Advent is a time for stories. In my childhood, these weeks were filled with Sunday school pageants, beautifully illustrated children's books, and swapping out Legos for the figurines in my mom’s Nativity collection. My favorite part of the Advent story was always the gathering of unlikely companions — magi, shepherds, angels, and a menagerie of farm animals. This year, I find the Advent story accompanied by another, and it starts like this:

Gold, frankincense, myrrh: precious gifts carried by three magi for the King of kings and Lord of lords. Gold, coltan, diamonds: precious gifts of Creation held in the earth of Congo, taken by the "kings" of powerful nations for the commodities of their people. Coltan alone can be found in the cell phones, hearing aids, and prosthetic devices we use in the West every day. These gifts have become a curse with the massacre of over 5.5 million Congolese, numbers nearly equal to the Holocaust. Yet Congo’s conflict remains mostly silent.

Murdered Nuns Laid to Rest in the Congo as Crime Investigation Continues

A street in the Democratic Republic of Congo town of Bukavu. Photo via Fredrick Nzwili/RNS.

Three elderly Italian nuns murdered in Burundi were laid to rest Sept. 11 in a Xaverian cemetery in the Democratic Republic of Congo amid heightened calls for action about their death.

Sister Lucia Pulici, 75, Sister Olga Raschietti, 82, and Sister Bernadetta Boggian, 79, of the Xaverian Missionary Sisters of Mary were gruesomely murdered Sunday in their convent in the Kamenge area of Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura.

The triple murders shocked Christians across the globe and ignited calls for the protection of sisters worldwide. The nuns were reportedly beaten and killed with a knife. At least one nun was decapitated. There were conflicting reports about whether they had been raped.

When the Fighting Stops

MARIE-LOUISE IS a 34-year-old single mother of three living in Bujumbura, the capital of the southeast African nation of Burundi. When she was 15 years old, she joined a rebel movement during the civil war in her country. “Following my demobilization,” she said, “my family welcomed me back warmly, but my neighbors did not think much of me. I still go around with a firearm ... Even my old friends find it hard to trust me. I have been branded because I am a female ex-combatant.”

Around the world, several armed conflicts are showing signs of winding down, at long last—there is renewed hope that the M23 rebel group in the Democratic Republic of Congo will stop fighting; the government and the FARC rebels in Colombia are making progress in negotiations toward peace after 65 years of civil war; the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front have agreed on a pact to end the fighting.

These events bring into focus the tremendous challenge of reintegrating former combatants into society. The process is especially difficult when they have been forced to commit atrocities against their own people. Think of Guatemala, Sierra Leone, and Cambodia, to name just a few.

The unique characteristics of each conflict make generalizations difficult, but in the stabilization and peace-building process, attention must be given to a complex of transitional justice issues, such as truth-telling and accountability for human rights violations. Other important factors include disarmament, the reintegration and rehabilitation of former combatants, security sector reform, economic justice and jobs, gender equality, the impact of the armed conflict on children (including child soldiers), and the political context.

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And Now, the Rest of the Story

From destitution and fear to security, Charlene (Photo courtesy of Sean Sheridan, World Relief)

A FEW YEARS ago in this column, I told the story of Charlene, a woman I had just met in a camp for displaced people in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Charlene’s civilian husband had been murdered by rebel fighters in Congo’s brutal civil war. She and her eight children then fled for their lives, ultimately finding shelter in the hovel of mud and sticks where I met them (September-October 2010).

Like thousands of other displaced Congolese women, Charlene had been forced by destitution to hike into the forest for firewood to trade for food for her children. Like thousands of other displaced Congolese women, Charlene had been brutalized by fighters who hid in the forests and used rape as a weapon of war. Like thousands of other displaced Congolese women, Charlene had been impregnated by her rapist. Because of the stigma of rape in that culture, the beautiful two-week-old baby she’d named David was destined to a life of marginalization and despair.

Charlene was the first woman I met in Congo. She explained to me that even when the women went to the forest in groups, armed rebels would overpower and rape them. If husbands went into the forest to protect their wives, the rebels would kill the husbands, and then rape the wives. The women took the risk—and paid the price.

For me, Charlene gave human shape to Congo’s horrific story of colonial exploitation, tribal conflict, and foreign greed. In the four years after we met, hers was the first story I told whenever I spoke about Congo. It was her pain that motivated me to keep speaking, writing, and advocating for Congo.

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Teaching Congolese Refugees Self-sufficiency Gains Nun U.N. Recognition

Sister Angélique Namaika (standing, in black), assists women with making clothing. Via RNS. Photo by Brian Sokol/courtesy UNHCR

Angélique Namaika, a Roman Catholic nun, rides a bicycle on the rutted roads of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s northeastern province of Orientale, which is plagued by rebel violence.

On these same roads, the Lord’s Resistance Army, a Christian rebel group led by Joseph Kony, a self-proclaimed prophet of God, has been killing, abducting, and mutilating women and children.

But none of that has deterred Sister Namaika from helping displaced women learn trades, start small businesses, and go to school.

How Long, O Lord?

Refugees pass from DR Congo into Uganda in 2008, Sam DCruz / Shutterstock.com
Refugees pass from DR Congo into Uganda in 2008, Sam DCruz / Shutterstock.com

I can still see in my mind’s eye the vibrantly colored wraps draping the hundreds of displaced women I met at Joborona Camp in Northern Sudan. The stories they told, of blazing huts in Southern Sudan and their men burning alive inside; of their boys forced to fight and kill at ages as young as six or seven; and of their girls taken and forced into sexual slavery seemed impossible to be true. Yet I heard them again and again.

And if these stories weren’t horrific enough, it was the stories the women chose not to share that haunt me the most. Their empty eyes and void expressions told me all I needed to know.

I know empty eyes. I have gazed into them in Bosnia and Croatia. I remember Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. I have witnessed them in the Democratic Republic of the Congo — where it is believed that one million girls and women have stories to tell of the gender-based violence they have endured. I have been confronted by the eyes of our sisters from Darfur, who risk their dignity, their bodies, and in some cases their very lives by leaving their refugee camps to collect firewood for their small cooking stoves (those who are lucky enough to have one). It is in the bush, often, that they are victims of sexual and gender-based violence. These are the countless women who risk being raped so their children can eat.

International Women's Day: A Christian Response to Violence Against Women

Photo by Per-Anders Pettersson/Getty Images
Nonmume Alitteee at 18 was a victim of a horrible gang rape by five men in Goma,DRC. Photo by Per-Anders Pettersson/Getty Images

March 8 was designated as International Women’s Day by the United Nations in 1975. While the world has seen significant progress in rights and empowerment for women and girls, sexual and gender-based violence still touches every part of the globe and is tragically widespread in some areas. Women in the Democratic Republic of Congo face shockingly high rates of rape, including reports of mass rapes by soldiers, especially in the conflict-ridden province of Kivu. One Christian hospital, operated by the Free Methodist Church in the Nundu mission, works to treat injured women and heal psychological trauma. 

Grace (not her real name) had spent the day working in the fields near her home in Kivu Province in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The 42-year-old mother was walking home with her two daughters, ages 20 and 16, when they were stopped by a group of 15 uniformed men. All three of the women were raped by the men and left with horrible injuries. They were brought to the Nundu Hospital, operated by the Free Methodist Church, where they received medical and psychological treatment for four weeks.  

The Nundu Hospital identified 1754 survivors of sexual violence in 2012, and all but 98 of those were women or girls, according to Dr. Lubunga Eoba Samy, medical coordinator for the Free Methodist Church and coordinator of the hospital’s Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Project. This project aims to reduce the occurrence of sexual violence by promoting human rights, raising awareness and strengthening the capacity of community-based organizations to address the issue. It also includes training of local authorities and improving coordination among local non-governmental organizations.

Bullet-Proof Gospel

EACH DAY REV. JAMES BYENSI seeks the face of God in one of the world’s deadliest places, an environment where rape has been used as a weapon, children have had their innocence stolen, and the church of Jesus Christ is called to stand in the gap.

He lives in Bunia, a town on the eastern edge of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). And while only the largest events of the DRC’s conflict—such as the M23 militia’s takeover of Goma, a city 300 miles south of Bunia—make world headlines, every day Byensi engages his community and country as an active agent of peace. For example, recently he helped deter a cycle of violence from escalating in his hometown. “Even as I write, I have just received a call from the mayor to join him in talking to a group of people who are protesting against the killing of their brother last night,” Byensi told Sojourners in October in one of several email interviews. “The killers were one of the rebel groups operating in the area surrounding Bunia.” While advocacy against violence is a cause close to Byensi’s heart, the protest itself threatened to become part of the problem: “Protest in this area is always violent and followed by looting or even rape,” he explained. The result of that meeting was that Byensi and the mayor together “devised the way to address the people and cool them down,” which included the mayor’s office helping the bereaved citizens with burial expenses.

That is the kind of advocacy and justice work Byensi does on a daily basis as a leadership and conflict-management consultant and trainer, and through the nonprofit he founded, the Rebuilders Ministry.

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