A British Baptist organization and students around the world are promoting efforts this week to raise awareness of the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo where more than five million people have died since 1996.The idea for Breaking the Silence Congo Week was conceived by Kambale Musavuli, a Congolese who in 1998 was granted asylum in the United States and is now pursuing a civil engineering degree.
“I have appreciated the privilege of living in a peaceful community and pursuing a college degree at North Carolina A&T State University,” Musavuli said in an article recently published on theroot.com. “But I will never forget that my people are not free ”or the responsibility that comes with the privilege of living in the most powerful country in the world.”
Maurice Carney, executive director of Friends of the Congo which is helping to organize Congo Week, said much of the conflict stems from the scramble by rebel groups and others to secure the Congo’s mineral wealth and other natural resources. Many of those minerals are used in consumer technology, such as cell phones, he said.
In addition to the millions who have died in the deadliest conflict since World War II, hundreds of thousands of women have been raped, according to Breaking the Silence.
BMS World Mission, formerly known as the British Missionary Society, highlighted Congo Week on its Web site and in its podcast.
“I think people in the Congo often feel forgotten,” said Andrew North, BMS World Mission regional secretary for Africa, on the podcast.
North asked Baptists to “prayerfully protest” the conflict and the lack of international attention.
“Pray for Congo, but don’t just pray,” North said. “If you have the opportunity, make any protest or write to Congolese friends to say that we are remembering you. Write a petition. Anything we can do to get the situation in the Congo in our press, on the agenda of our churches [will] enable the Baptists here in Congo to know that we are standing with them.”
Jonathan Langley, media development officer for BMS World Mission, told EthicsDaily.com that the organization has received a “few calls from people, some of them originally Congolese, who have expressed thanks for highlighting what has been so often ignored by mainstream media.”
Laura Seay, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Texas at Austin, is writing her dissertation on the role that churches and other local civil society organizations play in providing social services to the Congolese population in the state’s absence. Seay, a member of First Baptist Church of Austin, said there is a variety of reasons why the conflict in the Congo has not received much attention by the media or international governments.
One factor at play is that the situation in the Congo is geographically and mentally remote for most Americans. Plus, it’s uncomfortable to think about the atrocities.
“No one wants to have a dinner party conversation about seven-year-old girls who’ve been gang raped or about the more than 5 million people who’ve died since the Congo wars began,” Seay told EthicsDaily.com.
“Second, the conflict in the Congo is hard to understand and even harder to resolve,” she said. “It’s not just a war over natural resources or ethnicity and citizenship or access to land, although all of those factors play a part. Understanding a series of local, civil, and international wars in which a large number of armed groups with different objectives fought and continue to fight one another takes considerable time and effort.”
Organizers of Congo Week have posted a variety of educational materials on their Web site, including links to reports, movies and a book list. A liturgy also is available.
Those outside of the Congo can help by contributing to reputable local groups in the Congo such as the Panzi Hospital of Bukavu, a Christian organization serving women and girls who have been raped, Seay said.
Also, the American Baptist Church has a longstanding partnership with Congolese Baptists. American churches could use that connection to establish partnerships with Congolese churches, Seay said.
Finally, Seay said Baptists can pressure U.S. elected officials to commit more toward the peace process and to humanitarian relief. The Raise Hope for Congo program has a petition that urges the president to take action.
Charlotte Tubbs is a freelance writer for EthicsDaily.com.