Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The solution for peace in Eastern Congo

Today I am answering Question 2. Mama Rena asked...

"Okay, I have a challenging question for you...what is the solution for peace in Eastern Congo?

Most of the current solutions have been proposed by people in Washington, New York, Brussels, Kinshasa, Kigali, etc., and nothing seems to be working well. But the people of Goma are not observing the situation from far away, they are living in the midst of it. What are their solutions? What insight do they have into what the international community should (and should not) do? I am interested to find out their perspective on the situation."

If you ask people in the streets of Goma how to achieve peace in Eastern Congo, by far the most common answer will be "Ni kuomba mungu tu" (It is to pray to God/ask of God. Only."

This answer represents the strong religious faith of many people here, but it equally represents the lack of faith in anything else. When people say "ni kuomba mungu tu", they often seem to be implying that it would in fact take the hand of God, it would take a miracle, to achieve peace in Congo.

I posed the question "what is the solution for peace in Eastern Congo" and here are some answers I received.

This was a secondary school student...

"Oh that is a hard question. I will have to think about that and get back to you later...I won't say that it is to pray to God. God created us, but he created everyone. And there are people all around the world who pray to God. I mean in Israel there are people praying to God and in Palestine there are people praying to God. But God created all of us. He gave us legs and arms and hands and brains. And the answer must come from inside our heads. After all, this problem was created inside our own heads...God didn't create it...

But what should we do? Well, I'll have to get back to you on that."

A young woman...

The solution must come from our government. After all the government has made deals with other rebel groups and welcomed rebels into the army and paid them. Why can't they just do this with all the rebels? I mean if they would just put everyone in the army and pay them, then everyone would be satisfied. Congo is a rich country, how is it that we can't pay our own soldiers?

What is happening in villages is awful. They suffer terribly. The problem is that our government has no connection to the people in the villages. The people in the villages are being attacked on all sides, but the people in Kinshasa don't care.

A man

They must integrate the troops. We can't continue to have all these different armed groups.

And now for the less politically-correct answers...

"Congo needs someone to put their foot down. Congo needs a blood thirsty dictator."...this is a sentiment that often gets voiced in these discussions. Fond memories of Mobutu often follow. People talk about how at least Mobutu paid his soldiers and how he kept control of the country. People talk about The first president Kabila (father of the current president) and how he paid soldiers and shot criminals, especially those who were soldiers, in public gatherings at the stadiums.

Another common answer is to talk about Rwanda's role in the whole conflict. Opinions vary on this subject, but a common solution seems to be to simply to send the problem back to Rwanda. People like to believe that the whole conflict in Eastern Congo is in fact not really a Congolese problem at all.

I have gotten to the end of this blog and I am still searching for that pearl of wisdom, some neat little way I can wrap this up, some perfect solution from the people who deserve to be heard. I desperately want them to have a solution. But they don't really seem to have that much to say on the topic these days. I think the people in the streets of Goma, and even more so in the villages outside Goma, stopped believing that their voice will be heard a long time ago.

One woman said this...
"I remember another mzungu who asked me a question like this before. Why do white people like to ask these questions? All of that is politics and what can I know about it?"

The silence is loud. Powerless people do not generally propose solutions.

But perhaps this is precisely why Mama Rena's question is so important. The war in Eastern Congo is complex, yet the people who are suffering in the midst of it are generally poor villagers. I am not sure how it will end. But I am pretty sure that it will continue as long as those suffering believe that their voice does not matter.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Dawn, for your investigative reporting! I find it interesting that no one mentioned any of the common western responses, for example the need for more MONUC troops on the ground, or that Americans need to boycott the cell phone manufacturers.

And perhaps they have the best answer of all - pray, because this is too big for anyone but God.

shona congo said...

Exactly right Rena.

I cut a section out of my blog entry because it started to be too many different ideas at once, but the cut section went like this.

"Perhaps the silence is as important as the words. I asked people what the solution to peace in Eastern Congo was. They didn't mention the international community. They didn't mention the UN. They didn't mention conflict minerals."

The conflict in Congo has received a fair amount of media attention lately because of targeted publicity campaigns. Some of these campaigns have pointed at conflict minerals and the use of cell phones as the culprit. other campaigns have focused on the use of Child soldiers and the use of rape as a weapon of war. Still others have drawn heavily on tribal issues and the images of the genocide in Rwanda. While all of these play a part in the conflict in Congo, when advocacy campaigns try to simplify the issues by focusing on one aspect of the war, they may succeed in getting people's attention, but they also set up the false expectation that by addressing one aspect of the war, we will achieve peace. Certainly there are some campaigns out there that would lead you to believe that if we just boycott cell phones, the war in Congo will be over. I wish it were that simple!