Several weeks ago, I had an opportunity to sit down with a young man from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). As you know, this second Annual Dominican Month of Peace is focusing on the DRC which is struggling with war, violence, displacement, and, recently, Ebola. Theo is a husband and father to two baby girls. I first met him when he came to the Dominican Learning Center to see about getting ESL classes for a group of men and women from the DRC who were worshipping at a local Catholic church. The primary language in the DRC is French and they wanted to learn English.
Theo explained to me that the nation has experienced political insecurity for many decades. The current president, Joseph Kabila, agreed to step down as president at the end of 2016 but then reneged. This has resulted in much violence as protestors demand the elections. Last December, the Roman Catholic bishops, supported by a coalition of civil groups, called for peaceful demonstrations after Sunday Mass. The government refused permits for the demonstrations yet more than 160 churches in many parts of the country participated in the call. Police responded with teargas, rubber bullets, and, in some cases, live ammunition. Parishioners of St. Dominic’s Parish in Kinshasa (capital city), run by the Dominican friars, were fired upon in the church grounds and even inside the church. One friar was shot in the face with a rubber bullet. Elections are now planned for the end of this month.
The DNC is a country of great natural wealth that is the cause of much of the current conflict. In the eastern portion, the resources are being fought over by both internal and external forces. Corporations are encouraging this discontent because they are able to get the minerals more cheaply. This is also resulting in environmental disasters such as poaching, water pollution, deforestation, and mining. The Government had to shut down the Virunga National Park, Africa’s oldest national park, when two British tourists were kidnapped and six park rangers were killed in April.
Now, in the northern part of the country, there is an outbreak of Ebola. More than 419 cases have been reported and 240 have died. Treatment is complicated by violence against the aid workers who are trying to bury those infected. Burial customs are in conflict with the need to isolate those who have died because they are still contagious. Recently, the World Health Organization announced some success with some experimental treatments it is using to stem this deadly disease.
The DRC has the largest displaced population in Africa with more than 4.49 million internally displaced persons, including 2.7 million children. Chronic instability and conflict are the primary causes of this displacement but poverty, inequality, and environmental degradation which lead to natural hazards such as floods also contribute to the displacement. Local ethnic divisions are used and abused by armed groups and the military, coupled with corruption and the illegal exploitation of mineral resources, mean the violence continues. There is also competition for other natural resources, such as fishing grounds and arable land causing local insurgencies and conflict. Theo told me of one village where the villagers were forced to flee to the forest to survive.
So you can see how much violence has touched the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Let us keep them in our prayers and hope that with a fair and peaceful election and sufficient care, some peace may again come to this land.