Mass Violence and Atrocities | Selected Article
Hope in Darkness
Shedding Light on Atrocity Violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
The story of war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) began over 20 years ago. Since then, millions of lives have been lost and others have fallen prey to the country’s inability to protect its most vulnerable people. Most of the mayhem has taken place in the eastern region, home to beautiful landscapes, waterfalls, and many other natural resources.
It is also home to precious minerals, including those sometimes referred to as the three t’s: tin, tantalum, and tungsten. These three minerals are used in gadgets that the Western world uses on a daily basis. Cell phones, computers, cars, airplane engines, and many other electronics cannot operate without these minerals.
Sadly, the Congo’s natural resources, especially these minerals, have proven to be more of a curse than a blessing. They have brought about violence and turmoil between the Congolese government, surrounding countries like Rwanda and Uganda, and various militia groups that are attempting to enter the Congo and sell the minerals abroad. Most of these entities want control of this region because they believe that through such control they will ensure financial and political gain for themselves.
The Victims of War
To date, over eight million people have died in this region, and half of those have been children younger than ten. These children are not dying primarily from bullets but from sickness and malnutrition in refugee camps as a result of the wars. Women are also main victims of the wars. Many nongovernmental organizations in the area have reported that an average of about 48 women get raped every hour in the DRC. The government has done little to help them, and the international community is limited in what it can do.
The Congolese government has proven its inability to maintain peace in that part of the country. The United Nations was given the mandate to protect people in that region and has installed there the largest UN force in the history of the world, but it still has not been able to stop the atrocities. The violence will stop only when we shed light on the issues and push companies that are buying minerals from that region to become more responsible for the products they manufacture and sell. When their customers become socially conscious of what is happening in the DRC and stop buying from these multinational corporations that perpetuate the violence, the violence will stop.
Compelled to Action
Personally, I have been affected by these atrocities. In the early 2000s, I received a call from home telling me that the wife and four children of one of my uncles had been barricaded in a house and burned alive because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
About five years ago, two of my closest friends and I joined to create an organization dedicated to increasing awareness of and real-life solutions for those affected by war and the mass atrocities taking place in the DRC. The result was a 501(c)3 registered nonprofit called Congolese Genocide Awareness. Since its inception, the group has not only raised awareness but also thousands of dollars and relief for victims of war, civil unrest, and rape.
Last year, I was selected to be a Carl Wilkens Fellow through the nonprofit organization i-ACT. The mission of the fellowship is to build political will to end genocide and mass atrocities. Each fellow develops a project for this movement. My vision is to create a conflict-resolution curriculum for the eastern DRC that can be taught from primary school all the way to university level, as well as to teach adults who are no longer in school. Many people in this region do not have a traditional academic education. In order to address this need, I envision developing a curriculum through the use of images for illiterate people.
Teaching Conflict Resolution and Prevention
One of the objectives of this project is to teach people how to live together in a community and deal with conflict peacefully. Many of the people in the eastern DRC do not know how to resolve conflict. They lack the skills needed to dialog, compromise, and find common solutions.
So how do we create something that can be used to teach people who cannot read or write? We can, for example, act out a play so they can understand how to defuse conflict without resorting to fighting. We can also organize community cooperatives. Providing those cooperatives and plays that can be shared with each other on the weekends and teaching people how to create peace are tools to prevent violence.
We have already developed the curricular materials and are translating them into French and some local languages, such as Swahili. We are planning to meet with the minister of education from the DRC in the United States to see if we can cooperate in the education sector not only in the eastern part of the Congo but in the rest of the country as well. We are building a coalition with other groups that have worked in the area, and we are trying to understand how we can use this information to help people without formal education.
Stronger Than a Bomb
The main challenge is funding. We must have funding to be able to create a product that will be replicated in different areas. The second challenge is security. There has been a semblance of peace for about the past year and a half in the Congo, but that peace is very fragile. How do we engage the local government to focus more on security? Also, how do we bring people together and make them understand this is something they are responsible for? We have to teach people to be part of the solution instead of waiting for the government to provide one. We want to teach them that it doesn’t depend on the government; it depends on them. If they come together in strength, it will result in positive change. Building the people’s consciousness will be one of the more challenging things we must do.
The biggest weapons unleashed against our people are not guns but the division among them and the lack of education. A united people is stronger than a bomb, and education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world.
Anthony Kasongo was born in the Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He lived in both the Kivu region and Kinshasa, the capital of the Congo. After coming to the United States, Kasongo earned a degree in information technology and eventually worked for a private energy company as the director of information technology. He is the executive director of Congolese Genocide Awareness and lives in Massachusetts.
Kasongo is one of 12 Carl Wilkens Fellows named in 2014. The fellowship program, a project of the California-based nonprofit organization i-ACT, aims to give a diverse set of individuals with varying degrees of experience the tools and resources to build sustained political will to end genocide and mass atrocities. With the belief that the citizens of the United States have the power and the responsibility to prevent genocide, the goal of the fellowship is to grow a nationwide network of leaders who will shape US policy so that it is effective in preventing and ending genocide.
This article was written for the Stanley Center and we encourage others to share its important message, with attribution.