We know there are some thoughts we mentioned briefly throughout our time on the ground in the Congo - on regional actors, peacekeeping, Rwanda, etc. We promised you more detailed posts on these subjects and now that we’re back with more time on our hands, we’re excited to start posting more in depth pieces for you. Keep checking back!
We are in Kentucky beginning to process our notes...We just posted some pictures and wanted to start by giving you our overall thoughts and impressions on what impacted us most.
The women of Congo are made of steel.
As the days and weeks progressed we met woman after woman after woman who had been raped, humiliated, rejected, and shunned yet somehow would wake up every morning and take care of their families, homes, and communities. We met women who have been threatened, imprisoned, and intimidated yet continue to speak out and stand up for what they believe in. They are the every day heroines and the voices for the voiceless. The eastern regions of the Congo have endured war, natural disasters, epidemics, and unimaginable atrocities. But the spirit and resiliency of the Congolese women remains a force that keeps the country alive.
The level of inadequacy in the actions taken by the international community.
Although there are programs in place and funds are still pouring into the region, they seem to have little impact on the situation as a whole. Some of this is of course due to the root causes of the conflict that have yet to be addressed, (resources, impunity etc) but part of it is also that the international community seems to be doing more harm than good. NGOs have created an artificial economy where prices of hotels ($150 per night) and food ($15 for a medium sized pizza) at the “best” restaurants are the same as in New York City. Keep in mind that this is in a country where the income average is $120 per year. Western companies (this includes NGOs) continue to profit from the chaos in the Kivus. There is also a complete unwillingness by the international community (including the UN) to take military action against the rebels. In fact, UN peacekeepers will issue warnings and stop cars that are en route to areas because of rebel activity, yet do nothing to stop the violence that they’re engaged in. While issuing warnings does save lives taking action against them could and would save so many more. We don’t mean to imply that there is no role for NGOs and the international community; we actually believe the international community has a strong role to play. It just became clear to us on the ground that much of what is being done is misguided and inadequate. It’s like putting a band-aid on a gaping bullet wound. We also don’t mean to take a realist stance by calling for true military intervention; we see it as simply being realistic. We have to eliminate the rebel problem and ameliorate the security situation before we can see real progress.
Experiencing firsthand how the lack of infrastructure continues to perpetuate both the negative security situation and the cycle of poverty.
The lack of adequate and in most cases basic infrastructure has crippled any attempts at development, peace, and security in the DRC. It didn’t take long to realize the positive impact that improving infrastructure would have on the situation. As we traveled the “poor” roads (if you could even call them roads) we commented more than once that if somebody wanted to do one thing to make a difference, it would be to build roads. There are no working roads that connect the major cities of the Congo (Bukavu, Goma, Kisangani, Kinshasa etc.). Because of this, commerce, information, policing, and many other positive necessities are impossible to navigate. Improving roads alone would link villages, connect people, and help control resource monopolies. Rebels continue to control most mines located in isolated areas accessible only by small planes. Roads are only part of the infrastructure problem. Reliable electricity grids and clean water sources would achieve similar positive impacts. Living in a country where potholes are the biggest problem, the DRC made us realize the significant role that infrastructure plays in allowing us to maximize everything our country has to offer. The DRC is just as vast and naturally rich as the country we live in, but without adequate infrastructure and investment it will never reach its full potential.
What can you do to help?
Many of you have asked us what you can do to help. While we saw what was (in our opinion) some problems with what was happening on the ground, we also met countless people and organizations that are truly making a difference. Especially a few local initiatives that gave us tremendous hope for the country’s future. We will be following up in the next couple of weeks to give you specific ways you can assist their efforts. Stay tuned to hear about their powerful work.