Why Don’t We Care About the Democratic Republic of the Congo?

Depending on how much you know about African geography, you may or may not know about the Democratic Republic of the Congo (the DRC) – not to be confused with the Republic of the Congo. If the DRC doesn’t sound familiar, maybe it’s because you learned about it as Zaire (under former “president” Mobutu). So, maybe you don’t really know much about this country, but here’s why you should be paying attention. (Trigger Warning for discussion of rape after the jump.)

Because I spent my childhood and adolescence in three different regions of Africa, I feel very strongly about those who live on the continent who are mostly just living their lives and struggling to make ends meet while trying to give their children bigger, brighter, better futures. Really, Africans are just like everyone else on this planet, but they have been consistently ignored by Western media, looked down on by European and American powers, and abused by circular, systemic oppression, which is why I wanted to start sharing news articles about Africa here on P-Mag and why I wrote about my own experiences on the continent.

I guess I should apologize here and now for not presenting my normal summary of news items from around the continent, but the first article I stumbled on for this week stopped me in my tracks and I knew I had to write about the DRC this week. That first article can be found here, and it discusses some of the current political affairs in this Central African country. In case you didn’t know, there has been widespread conflict in country since 1998. This conflict, which formally ended in 2003, is sometimes called the Second Congo War which began shortly after the First Congo War ended. For as long as I can remember, this region of Africa has been in turmoil. In fact, I have to confess that in my own privilege of safety, I began to tune it out or dismiss it because “that’s just the way it is.” (I am so ashamed for ever allowing that sort of apathy in my life.)

To give a scope to this conflict, I turn to this op-ed by Vava Tampa, a Congolese man behind the Save the Congo campaign. The way he puts it:

“The wars in that country have claimed nearly the same number of lives as having a 9/11 every single day for 360 days, the genocide that struck Rwanda in 1994, the ethnic cleansing that overwhelmed Bosnia in the mid-1990s, the genocide that took place in Darfur, the number of people killed in the great tsunami that struck Asia in 2004, and the number of people who died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki – all combined and then doubled.”

“¦And then doubled. That’s over 5.4 million lives gone. Let that sink in, readers.

That is nearly the number of Jews killed during the Holocaust. The death tolls will continue to rise as long as the conflict continues, and yet I don’t foresee the world building memorials or museums in order to remember Congo’s tragedy. Consider the death toll (less than 200) of the recent conflict between Israel and Palestine and how news outlets around the world repeatedly made that conflict their front page headlines. Do you remember the last time the conflict in the DRC made front page headlines anywhere? I don’t.

I am loath to continue this article because it only gets worse from here. If you are sensitive to discussion of sexual assault, proceed with caution.

As we all ought to know by now, rape is frequently used in war. Eastern DRC–where the bulk of the conflict is currently happening–is considered the “rape capital of the world.” [TRIGGER WARNING FOR THE LINK] Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) reports that 84% of the rape cases they treat worldwide occur in the DRC. Reports say that 48 women are raped every hour. Many of these assaults have been a result of gang rape involving up to 10 or 20 men at a time. Women who have been raped often conceive children from their assault (as we know), and those children are often raped as well. Even babies have been raped. There are organized rape camps that make assault systematic.

I don’t know how to wrap up this article. I’m struggling to find even a glimmer of hope in the midst of this despair. I know that there are a lot of people working to end the conflict and to support the victims of these atrocities, but I also know that the problems in the DRC are incredibly complex. I want to encourage you to continue to educate yourselves on the conflict. Don’t let it slip beyond your radar like I did. Remember the women and children of DRC. Please consider watching the film below (from 2011) about Mama Masika (a rape survivor) who is working to help other victims of rape and violence in Eastern Congo.

Below are several websites that offer further information on the conflict as well as providing ways to take action.

http://www.oxfam.org/en/drc

http://www.healafrica.org/

http://www.womenforwomen.org/global-initiatives-helping-women/help-women-congo.php

http://drc.vday.org/take-action

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8 Comments Why Don’t We Care About the Democratic Republic of the Congo?

  1. Avatar of [M] freckle[M] freckle

    Recently I read a fictional story about a white Missionary family going to Zaire and experiencing it ‘turning’ into Congo. It was ..as many stories about African countries that go from paradise-on-earth to hell-on-earth ..brutal.

    I like to think that I do not forget, that even though people find me annoying when I yell “Africans aren’t just black, poor and sick!” that it will stick with the smallest percentage of them. Most people can’t even remember the time when Africa was “just another continent” and mainstream media has no need for remembering that. The entire continent (and I know it’s not very nice of me to only think of it as a continent instead of an endless collection of peoples, but it’s just easier right now) is a very easy subject for a weekly/daily/monthly sob story. Situations like these make me feel bad about being a journalist. Just like no-one should believe that every American is an obese gun-slinger and every Dutch person is high on clogs, we need to end the idea of the charity-case African.

    1. Avatar of SilverwaneSilverwane

      Was it The Poisonwood Bible? That book definitely made an impression on me.

      I get very pissed off that the only real representation of Africans in the US is the “poor starving village child, please help.” You know, right next to all those pictures of abused animals, who are supposed to be completely innocent and not understanding what’s happening to them. The ones in need of a human to guide their lives. It’s sort of like that, just replace human with white person.

  2. Avatar of JuniperJuniper

    The DRC is the reason we give to UNICEF. There was a Guardian article I read some time ago about one incident (of, as you’ve said, many) and after I read it, I just sat there crying. Some research later, we decided to start giving to UNICEF. The mention of a glimmer of hope, however, did make me think of the Panzi Hospital.

    1. Avatar of DormouseDormouse

      I wept as I researched this article. The whole situation is heartbreaking.

      Thank you for mentioning donating to UNICEF as a means to provide assistance to those affected by the conflict.

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