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Congo Week raises awareness

by Keith Barber

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Kambale Musavuli’s cell phone serves as a constant reminder of the current strife in his home country. Musavuli, a NC A&T University engineering student and a native of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), tapped on the outer case of his Motorola RAZR as he spoke of the situation in the Congo while sitting in a coffee shop in downtown Greensboro last week. Musavuli, who emigrated to the US 10 years ago, holds up the phone to explain why most Americans have never heard of the civil war that has taken the lives of nearly 6 million people. Musavuli’s cell phone — like most mobile phones — contains a metallic ore called coltan. The greed for coltan lies at the heart of the unrest in Congo, he said. “Virtually every electronic device has to have coltan and eighty percent of the world’s reserve of coltan is in the Congo. That’s why the fight doesn’t move. That’s why they stay in eastern Congo,” Musavuli said. “They” are the warring factions that have battled for control of the central African country and its valuable coltan deposits for the past 12 years. “Close to half of the deaths are children aged five years and younger,” said Musavuli. “Every month, 45,000 people die in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The equivalent of a Darfur happens in the Congo every five and a half months, yet mainstream media does not cover the Congo properly.” That’s why Musavuli is heading up local efforts to raise awareness of the plight of the Congolese people during Congo Week, which is sponsored by Friends of the Congo and Students Worldwide, and runs from Oct. 19- 25. The week’s events will culminate in two screenings of Lisa Jackson’s documentary, The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo, a film depicting sexual violence against women in the Congo. The film, which received a Special Jury Prize at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, will be shown Thursday at 7 p.m. in Room 225 of the Curry Building on the UNCG campus. The public is welcome at no charge. A&T will host a screening of the film on Friday. Musavuli met Jackson earlier this year during a cell phone boycott in March and the two began corresponding via e-mail. At Musavuli’s behest, Jackson agreed to participate in the screenings at A&T and UNCG, joining 125 other colleges and universities from around the globe participating in Breaking the Silence — Congo Week. Musavuli said the atrocities depicted in Jackson’s film document a story that has gone largely unnoticed in the Western world. In 1996, the first war in the DRC began when rebel factions of Congo Tutsis and Rwanda Tutsis united to overthrow the Congolese government headed by dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. “They came in the name of democracy,” said Musavuli. The fighting continued until earlier this year, when a cease-fire was signed, but erupted again two months ago. “As the fighting continues, the rebels are extracting minerals — that’s how they buy their weapons and ammunition. When they signed the peace deal earlier this year, I thought, “Okay, they ran out of money. I don’t see that as ethnic strife. I see it as power: who controls the minerals,” Musavuli said. Money lies at the heart of why the American public is uninformed about the atrocities taking place in Congo, said Musavuli. Politically, the strife in the Congo appears to be a hot potato. US Secretary of Energy Sam Bodman was formerly the CEO of Cabot Corporation, which has been connected to the mining of coltan in the Congo and was accused by a United Nations Panel of Experts of supporting atrocities in the region. The reason most Americans haven’t heard about the situation in the Congo is simple — US companies are investing in Rwanda, and Rwanda is exploiting Congo’s citizens, said Musavuli. On Aug. 28, fighting resumed between the Congolese army and the forces of a renegade general, Laurent Nkunda’s National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP), as well as other armed groups, breaking a fragile ceasefire that had been in place since the Goma peace agreement was signed on Jan. 23. An estimated 100,000 civilians were forced to flee their homes during violence that erupted in eastern Congo last month. Many of the victims had been displaced by earlier waves of fighting, according to Human Rights Watch. “That would be like half the population of Greensboro fleeing to another city because of fighting,” said Musavuli. Two weeks ago, Tutsi rebel forces took control of a military base in eastern Congo, and threatened to take over the country. DRC president Joseph Kabila pleaded with the Congolese citizens to take up arms. Musavuli said he and his mother, Masika, tried to contact their relatives in their home country since the latest violence began, but with no success. “How can a president ask the people to take up arms? That means the government can’t protect the people,” Musavuli said. Currently, a force of 62,000 United Nations peacekeepers is stationed in the DRC, the largest peacekeeping mission in the history of the UN, but people are still dying. Musavuli said if the next US president could sit down with president of Rwanda, Uganda and Congo and the Hutu and Tutsi rebels, a solution could be reached to a cataclysmic war that equates to a 9-11 every three days. Kambale said his study of engineering has taught him there is no problem without a solution. What’s missing in the Congo is the proper algorithm to end the conflict, he said. Future negotiations between the US president and the leaders in the region could lead to the setting of a timetable for the rebels to leave Congo, ensure a democratic republic in Congo, and guarantee there is no retaliation against the Congolese people. “It has to be a team effort. We have to bring all those people to the table — twelve years it’s been happening. We have sixty-five million people. It doesn’t take math to know the population is going to be gone,” Musavuli said. Musavuli and his family are members of a growing community in the Triad. Musavuli estimates there are 300-400 Congolese refugees living in Guilford County alone. “The community is very broad,” he said. “In Raleigh, we have a thousand Congolese. We are all so interconnected — we hold cultural festivities, we meet at weddings and birthday parties. Usually we discuss what we can do here to help back home and we remember the good days.”

To comment on this story, e-mail Keith T. Barber at keith@yesweekly.com.

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