Since I was a kid I have been fascinated with the Democratic Republic of Congo. I grew up knowing it as Zaire, the country with deep jungles, turbid rivers, gorillas, mokele-mbembe, and a certain dictator with a distinctive leopard-print toque. When I began my quest as an agent for change in college, the DRC was on the top of my list as a destination. Sometimes dreams come true, and in a matter of days I will start my Peace Fellowship in Uvira in Eastern Congo.
On the eve of my departure, some general thoughts and impressions:
One very important principle to my work in international development is gender equality. I believe that empowering women is crucial to community development, both economically and civically. Violence has greatly affected the women of the DRC, and I hope my work with Arche d’Alliance will help the voices of Congolese women reach international ears. Eve Ensler recently wrote about ending the cycle of violence against women in the Congo:
Studying about the exploitation of minerals in the DRC has led me to question my consumption habits. Much of the military conflict in the Eastern Congo stems from struggles over mineral resources such as gold, tin, and coltan, which is used to make cell phones. We here in the developed world wear gold jewelry, eat out of tin-lined cans, and babble into our cell phones. How many dead or violated bodies did it take to bring these things to us from the heart of Africa? Most of us do not care to know. On television, we see people in Central Africa killing each other and patronizingly assume that it is all due to some backwards tribal animosity; however, we often fail to question Western demand for resources in Central Africa that may support instability and violence.
I will be traveling to the DRC with a set of expectations that I expect to be heavily modified by the time I leave. As I have experienced while working in other parts of the world, the whole story often isn’t available if you confine yourself to your home. The best way to be informed about a country and its situation is to visit, see with your own eyes, and talk to the people. I will be very pleased to share these experiences with you and hopefully people back in the developed world will learn along with me as I attempt to give a clear and accurate picture of what is going on in Eastern Congo. I am looking forward to working with the people of Congo, Ned Meerdink, Advocacy Project, and Arche d’Alliance.
P.S. Here is a little taste of Congolese culture with a nautical theme:
Posted By Walter James
Posted May 10th, 2009