DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO REFLECTION: First impressions

CPTnet
10 December 2008
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO REFLECTION: First impressions

by Cliff Kindy

When CPTers left for the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) this month, the headlines reflected dismal peacemaking prospects.  Five million Congolese have died since 1996 because of ongoing wars.  A quarter million people displaced themselves this fall because of fighting between rebel forces and Congolese troops.  The Lord's Resistance Army from Uganda crossed into the DRC to kidnap students for soldiers and female companions.  United Nations and other relief agencies have not delivered food because of the fighting.  Angola, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, and Uganda reportedly sent or were ready to send troops into the Congo because of the unrest.  Human rights monitors are reporting crisis situations.

Fourteen years ago, Hutus killed 800,000 Rwandan Tutsis and other Hutus in three months.  The Congo carries the brunt of that unrest today because a former Congolese Tutsi general started his militia to protect Tutsis in the Congo whom Hutu genocidal militia units were killing in DRC refugee camps.

The time CPTers spent in Kigali, capital of Rwanda, and on the bus to the border was brief, but CPTers were surprised by their initial impressions.  They heard reports of peace and reconciliation committees that were working to bring back those guilty of terrible crimes and peacefully incorporate them into home communities.  People were visibly friendly.  Roadways were clean (plastic bags are illegal in Rwanda!)  New crops are rising from the fertile earth.  

Can there be hope in the Congo?  Goma, regional capital and site where CPT has set up a three-month project has been under assault.  Congolese troops retreating before the rebel General Nkunda, raped and pillaged as they moved through Goma about a month ago.  Yet as CPTers walked the streets on their second day, everything seemed calm.  Schools were in session.  Streets were full of pedestrians, motorbikes, buses, cars, trucks and countless vehicles of international NGOs: Doctors without Borders, Oxfam, International Red Cross, Save the Children, etc.

Yes, internally displaced persons (IDP) camps dot this whole district above Lake Kivu.  But life in the city feels almost tranquil.  Local NGOs, like Groupe Martin Luther King, which invited CPT to place a team in the Congo, are rebuilding the lives of the many rape victims, conducting nonviolence trainings, and monitoring human rights abuses.  They are also trying to expose the multinationals extracting minerals from this rich land because the mining has been the primary source of the violence in the DRC.  Here live a powerful and creative people who are ready to shape their future.