FEATURE: The Not-So Democratic Republic of the Congo

Damiano Raveenthiran | VP Social Media Promotions

Civilizations have often been able to come to mutual understandings in order to fulfill each other’s common interests and avoid killing members of their communities. In the west, we have been experiencing peace and prosperity as well as the protection of our basic human rights. However, some parts of the world aren’t as lucky as we are.

For people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, democracy remains an unfulfilled dream. The Congolese have had to endure a ruthless civil war for years. This war led to the rape of women and girls, and the use of children as decoys and soldiers. Although the war ended in 2003, these struggles still continue today.

Historically, it is an old practice, children are known to be blank minds that can be easily trained to not be afraid and kill people without any hesitation. This makes them perfect soldiers for civil wars such as the one in the Congo. Children that aren’t fit to fight are used to do anything else from stand on landmines to  acts as plain human shields.

One of the organizations that portray the struggle in the Congo is a website called Falling Whistles. The story they present is important to hear.

A story about children in the Congo forced to the battlefield, not only to fight but also to go in before the soldiers do and blow whistles at the sight of an enemy. The enemy then proceeds to shoot first and ask questions later. These children, who are often younger than 15 years old, become human shields, and are used in a war that they do not understand. Falling Whistles gives the public a chance to help victims of this slaughter. By purchasing a whistle, 100% of the proceeds are used to rehabilitate the surviving children of the conflict. You can visit the site at http://www.fallingwhistles.com

It was this site that originally got me interested in a question regarding the Democratic Republic of the Congo. To tell the truth, I had two questions. One, was I the only one who thought it was ironic that a country that hasn’t had a fair election in more than 60 years was called the Democratic Republic of the Congo? and two, why was the country in such a rudimentary state, despite its rich resources? I went on ahead and typed “political instability in Congo” into a search engine to see what would pop up. The story was interesting and was one that definitely needed some attention.

The Congo gave birth to someone exceptional. In 1960, a young man by the name of Patrice Lumumba . Lumba dreamed of a Congo free of conflict, after 80 years of colonial rule and fighting over the lands riches. Thanks to his heart and will, Lumumba asked for free and fair election and eventually was able to create an independent and democratic land. Following his example, seventeen African nations gained their independence that same year. Lumumba advocated his cause and gained lots of interest among the people of the time. However, with this great dream  also came a great threat to one’s life. Six months after his inauguration as president of Congo, Lumumba was killed and the country was thrown back into a war for resources.

Ever since, privately owned military groups known as militias have been fighting each other and the government troops for their rights to resources. Adding to this, the unfortunate use of children is common practice in these conflicts. The trend doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon.It is estimated that over 5.4 million people have died as a result of the Congo war. However this number itself is debated by news agencies. The tragedy of the Congo is unmeasurable.

Aljazeera English issued a 2007 report called Children of Conflict,which described what the Democratic Republic of the Congo looked like from the eyes of an outsider.  “A  place where murder and anarchy lurk close to the surface”, it said.

In other words, this Sub-Saharan African country is in a dire state. According to the previously mentioned Aljazeera report, “the country barely has any sort of public infrastructure”, a clear sign that the country’s government either isn’t able to or just won’t do much for the over 71 million Congolese people caught in the hell that this war has been.

The victims are often innocent civilians and people who have no other choice but to resort to violence in order to protect themselves. A  United States report stated that the people of the Congo aren’t even able to look towards their own government to protect them.“In 2009, there were reports of more than 1,100 women and girls raped each month in the east alone; many more go unreported. Members of illegal armed groups, the FARDC, and the police were responsible for 81% of all reported cases of sexual violence in conflict zones”. This savage internal war has torn the country apart, rendering things such as rapes, kidnapping, killings and child soldiers an everyday reality.  The entire report can be read at this site: http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/2823.htm

Despite the statistics, there is hope. This year, for the first time in generations, the people of the Congo will have an election on November 27th, 2011.  Ensuring that this election is free and fair will be crucial towards peace for the people of this conflict-torn region of the world. For now that is the only possible working solution that the people of Congo can hope upon in order to  stop to the violence in this country. The Congo needs change and it needs help . To think that we don’t owe the Congolese that is ridiculous.

Although this is an important step, it is clear that the Congo needs more efforts to restore peace. I don’t know anyone from the Congo,however when it comes to human rights we should all connect on precisely that ground, the human ground. Often this question is raised: should I somehow help these people even though I don’t know them and it won’t affect me?

I guess that’s a question that all of us ask at least once in our lives. However what people  like the Congolese need aren’t philosophical debates and questions. They need answers and often these answers start with you, the student, the teacher or just simply the person that you are. Spreading the word about this conflict and getting people to support the country and help should be everyone’s responsibility. We shouldn’t allow an entire country to be swept under the rug. Social change doesn’t start with a movement or a petition in this case. It starts with a person and that person can be anyone. There are many ways to make a change. You just have to stand up and speak up however you can.

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3 thoughts on “FEATURE: The Not-So Democratic Republic of the Congo

  1. Great post, Damiano! You raise some serious questions here so thank you for that.

    I never heard of the Falling Whistles before but am now sincerely interested in their work and story.

    Keep these Rights Media pieces coming!

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