The world is rife with massive armed conflicts. Some of them we know about because they make our national news headlines. Others are perpetually ongoing where they disappear onto the back-pages of newspapers and are relegated to two-minute world news pieces on NPR or the BBC.
Most of us don’t know the complex history of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) or why it provided a picture-perfect backdrop for the infighting in the country that is going on now and has displaced hundreds of thousands of Congolese. What is important is that we recognize and understand that the Democratic Republic of Congo is in flux, with a rebel army, the M23, staking its claim to the mineral-rich eastern side of the country, particularly Goma (the capital of the north Kivu province) where diamonds, gold and coltan (an iron ore used in cellphones and electronic devices) are in vast supply and, as can be expected, are severely contested and fought over with blood. M23 fought and overtook Goma last week. Countless people were killed, injured, or maimed, and women and girls are being consistently raped in order to weaken the resolve of the men.
In a speech in the State Department’s Treaty Room with the African Union’s Chairperson Dlamini-Zuma yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said,
The humanitarian impact of this conflict in the eastern part of the country is devastating. More than 285,000 people have been forced to flee their homes since this rebellion began back in April. They are in critical need of assistance. Health workers in Goma have been killed and abducted. Members of civil society, human rights activists, judicial authorities throughout the Democratic Republic of Congo have received death threats. The United States strongly condemns these tactics of fear and intimidation. And those who abuse human rights must be held accountable.
Ben Affleck, through his work with his organization Eastern Congo Initiative, was on This Week last Sunday to talk more about the atrocities that are ongoing in the region.
“One of the things we’re hearing from our people there is that the schools that we fund, people are hiding out in,” Affleck said. “The hospitals are completely overwhelmed. They’re offering free care for war victims. A shell just hit a camp and paralyzed a 5-year-old boy from the neck down. So you’re hearing all kinds of…brutal, terrible stuff.”
The international community has called for M23’s immediate withdrawal from Goma and news today out of the DRC reports that the M23 have said they will leave Goma for Sake, a town 10 kilometers south. According to recent tweets from those covering the region, however, there have been no signs of withdrawal. And in an act seemingly going against the international community, the Congolese army’s head of land forces Lieutenant-General Francois Olenga Tete said nothing can stop the M23 save war.
— simone schlindwein (@schlindweinsim) November 29, 2012
With a war potentially mounting a world away, what can we do to help? Visit easterncongo.org/give to give to Eastern Congo Initiative-approved NGOs, especially HEAL Africa which provides medical care to civilians wounded during conflict.