Congo

Aren't We Supposed to Be Peacemakers?

DURING THE BALKAN war of the early ’90s, I traveled twice to Bosnia and Croatia. I visited middle-class women whose husbands and sons had been brutally killed. I visited a refugee center filled with people who had lost everything and were at the mercy of any country that would take them in. I visited school children suffering from post-traumatic stress after seeing their parents killed by enemy shells that landed in their homes.

I walked through the rubble of Mostar, where the Friendship Bridge—a massive stone structure named in honor of the many ethnic groups that had crossed it for four centuries—had been bombed and destroyed. In city after city, I saw the destruction of architecture, art, museums—a violent erasure of the cultures that had thrived there.

It was the first time I had seen war up close, and I was shocked by what human beings do to each other.

While I traveled in the Balkans, another war was waged in Rwanda by Hutus against Tutsis—what we now refer to as the Rwandan genocide. Since 2009 I’ve traveled twice to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the ethnic battles forged in Rwanda crossed borders and continue to this day. As usual in war, civilians pay the highest price. Subsistence farmers in small villages want only to live in peace, tend their crops, and feed their families. Instead, their crops are burned, wives and daughters are raped, and many become slave labor in Congolese mines that provide minerals for our cell phones and wealth for the violent criminals who control the mines.

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Photo of the Month: Room at the Inn?

The Sojourners magazine photo of the month (December 2012) features Rukimba Furaha—a mother of 8 children—who fled her home in the North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to escape a new outbreak of violence, according to Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). In September, Congo’s Protestant leaders presented a petition from 1 million Congolese to the U.S. Congress urging religious, civic, and political leaders to call for an end to the violence. According to the United Nations, militants are fighting, in part, over access to mining operations for “conflict minerals,” such as coltan (used in cell phones and laptops).

Learn more about the displacement of families in the Congo: Download this MCC podcast.

Image: MCC photo/Hana Clemens

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Gathering Around the Peace Table

SEVEN AMERICAN women sat at a long rectangular table with 10 pastors from rural communities in Eastern Congo to learn about the pastors’ work of healing and reconciliation. A brilliant World Relief translator moved seamlessly from Swahili to French to English as we jotted notes.

“When Marcel from World Relief first gathered local pastors together, we were suffering,” one pastor said. “But he reminded us that, even in circumstances like these, the church has a crucial role to play. All the victims in our communities are people given to us to care for.”

Local church pastors in the North Kivu region of Congo face personally all the sufferings common to members of their communities: murder of family members by armed militias; rape of mothers, wives, and daughters as a weapon of war; displacement from their homes because of local conflict; an economy based on subsistence farming destroyed when crops are burned or uprooted by marauding rebels.

But their personal suffering doesn’t invalidate their biblical call to “care for the least of these.” Marcel, formerly a local Congolese pastor, works with World Relief Congo to serve local pastors by providing training in leadership, community transformation, trauma healing, and conflict resolution.

The pastors’ first challenge was to create committees representing every denomination and tribe in the region. The committees meet monthly to determine who in the community is most in need—a family with nothing to eat, a widow without shelter, a victim of sexual assault who needs hospital care. Sometimes the most needy are church members; sometimes they aren’t. It doesn’t matter.

In June 2012, I took my second trip to Eastern Congo. I had met many of the pastors on my first trip to Congo in 2009 and was amazed by the progress they had made in just three years.

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A Step Forward: The SEC Releases Rules on Conflict Minerals and Transparency

Tin miners at Nyabibwe, North Kivu. (Sasha Lezhnev/Enough Project)
Tin miners at Nyabibwe, North Kivu. (Sasha Lezhnev/Enough Project)

Overall, the conflict minerals provision will have a positive effect on promoting peace and stability in Congo — but a slow one. The rule gives major companies a two-year window to implement the regulations,despite the fact that the slow release of the rule has already caused aninherent one-year delay.

Given today’s intense political climate, particularly regarding corporate responsibility and regulation standards, the release of this rule took over a year, making Wednesday’s vote a truly long-awaited and important day. The rule is a win for both American consumers and those seeking peace in Congo. However, it also  appears to have been weakened to placate the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, who have both threatened lawsuits on behalf of big-business lobbies.

According to the SEC, both provisions drew in some of the most intense public pressure, accumulating hundreds of phone calls to their offices and thousands of petition signatures for the release of strong rules. Many of activists who understand their unique connection to the conflict in eastern Congo through consumer electronics products, have joined organizations like the Enough Project and faith communities, in raising their concern as consumers to pressure electronic companies and governments to clean up the supply chain of conflict minerals. It’s been a journey of advocating with Congolese civil society for a clean supply chain that benefits rather than destroys communities in eastern Congo. 

Conservationist: Dominique Bikaba

Dominique Bikaba
Dominique Bikaba

“Peace for humanity is not only the absence of war, or the end of violence ... For us Christians, peace is based on a fundamental new relationship between mankind and God. That is why Christ said he brought peace, ‘not as the world gives.’ He brought a different peace.” – Bishop Samuel Ruiz García, known as Don Samuel, a champion of the poor and of the indigenous people in southern Mexico

Eastern Congo is home to some of the world’s most stunning scenery—and some of its most brutal and unimaginable violence. The relationship between these two symbols of the region is a close one.

Part of the call of Christian peacemakers is not only to make peace between people a reality, but also to bring peace between people and the planet. In his work, conservationist Dominique Bikaba recognizes that peace between people and peace with our environment are closely intertwined, and he is seeking to bring about both.

Armed groups are waging war in eastern Congo, taking no heed of the grave impact that the conflict is having on the environment around them. The resources of the region are being exploited, to the detriment of future generations. This disregard for the communities of the region is a modern-day salting of the land. It’s a practice well known to the people of Israel in the Old Testament, in which armies would spread salt on the land of their adversaries so that nothing would grow there (see Judges 9:45).

The conflict in Congo is being waged on local communities—but Dominique is a problem-solver. He is seeking creative ways to conserve these communities while conserving the environment they inhabit, fostering the inherent relationship between the two. He is “bringing the forest to the community.”

Human Rights Lawyer: Denise Siwatula

Denise Siwatula
Denise Siwatula

“It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.” –Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady of the United States from 1933-45

“If we just sat with crossed arms, what would happen then?” is the question Denise, a Congolese civil rights attorney, asks us.

She has seen the destruction of her home through natural disaster and the pain of thousands of Congolese women who are raped every year. Still, she is faithful with the calling that she has been given—working to prosecute the cases she can to help rape survivors seek justice and find the hope to continue on.

Denise knows that to make peace, it is necessary to restrain and often punish the evil that humans do to one another.

“The Bible takes evil seriously and clearly says that evildoers should be held accountable for their deeds, and that the state has the legitimate role of bringing to justice those who perpetrate terrible crimes,” writes Jim Wallis in a July 2011 Sojourners’ column, “The Things That Make For Peace.”

But Denise’s work does not focus just on the punishment of those who commit rape but on the restoration of the survivors.

Community Builder and Footballer: Amani Matabaro

Amani Matabaro
Amani Matabaro

“Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it toward others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world.” –  Etty Hillesum, Dutch diarist who died at Auschwitz

The social fabric that wove together Amani’s moral values and passion for peace is the target of rebel groups that destabilize and destroy communities. Amani grew up playing football and attending school and church in an area that has been chronically unstable for the past 16 years.

Despite the threat, Amani learned within his local structures the power of community in overcoming insecurity—the hub for gaining moral and intellectual values “to make every effort to come together and live as a community.”

Congo is still suffering from the overspill of the Rwandan genocide, the aftermath of which took the lives of both of Amani’s parents. Rebel groups roam the Kivu provinces of eastern Congo and seek to unravel the very social fabric of Amani’s community.

Taking heart from the moral lessons he gained from playing football with his school and through his education, Amani decided to overcome the insecurity caused but he rebels by bringing people together by providing a peace market—a community nucleus for women, children, and men to gather in a safe, empowered, and peaceful environment to care for one another.

Conflict Minerals Report Card

See the chart at http://www.flickr.com/photos/enoughproject/7781955164/sizes/m/i
Enough Project rankings of corporations' conflict mineral use.

As conflict, rape, and other human rights abuses continue in eastern Congo, armed groups are still funding themselves with conflict minerals — gold, tin, tantalum, and tungsten — which are often used in the manufacture of cell phones, computers, and other electronics. Now advocacy group The Enough Project has issued a new report card about how well different corporations are doing at cleaning up their supply chain to avoid contributing to violence.

Some companies, such as Intel and HP, are doing much better than others — get an ethical clue, Nintendo! — but everyone has some room for improvement.

See the rankings here or take in the chart-at-a-glance here.

 

Faith Amid the Rising Conflict in Eastern Congo

Photo by Fidel Bafilemba of Enough Project.
Spokesperson for M23, Bishop Jean Marie Runiga, gives press conference. Bunagana, DR Congo. Fidel Bafilemba of Enough Project.

Faith, for many in eastern Congo, is a source of hope in an environment where optimism is often in short supply. Many Congolese consider faith communities to be among the few trusted institutions in a society (and a government) rife with corruption.

As the situation in eastern Congo has markedly worsened in recent weeks, the church and faith communities have been at the center of efforts to end violence and create space for peace.  

Violence has rapidly escalated in eastern Congo since a new rebel movement known as M23 emerged in April. M23 is composed of several hundred Congolese soldiers, loyal to the former Rwandan backed rebel movement — the CNDP — who were subsumed into the Congolese army in 2009 as part of an opaque peace agreement between the rebels and the governments of Congo and Rwanda.

Congo: Will There Ever Be Peace?

In this week's edition of The Economist, an examination of the continuing tensions between government forces and rebel groups:

"Last month [DRC President] Mr Kabila, who was widely criticised for stuffing ballots in last year’s re-election campaign, came out of self-imposed seclusion on his farm on the other side of the country, 1,200km (746 miles) to the west, to say he had had enough of the general’s antics. Or so it seemed. Three weeks later, Mr Ntaganda is now welcoming a steady stream of defections from the regular army, though numbers are hard to come by. More recently his men have clashed with regular forces and have grabbed some old hunting grounds."

 
Learn more here

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