Congo Working Group

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Download the Report of the Seminar organized by the Congolese Mennonite Women Theologians

Faithful Listening to the Congo

According to our “Purpose of Relationship” with the ATMCO, one of our Medium Term Objectives is “To research, conscientize and advocate on behalf of Congolese people around injustice issues.”

The Portuguese in the 16th century were the first Europeans to make contact with these people. Before their arrival, the DRC was made up of many ethnic groups, loosely organized into kingdoms. The Europeans brought the slave trade as well as Christianity. Decisions made in the late 19th century in Europe in 1885 were even more problematic: Africa was divided into various parts by the colonial powers—the French, British, Germans (for a very short period) and Portuguese. The whole of what is now the DRC—the third largest country in Africa—was given as the personal property to King Leopold of Belgium. Almost 10 million Africans are said to have died during his brutal reign. He forced them to harvest wild rubber trees that were discovered at that time The world’s first human rights advocates were created in response, resulting in King Leopold’ removal and the Belgian government taking control. However, the exploitation and suffering continued, although on a reduced scale.

speakerIndependence came in 1960. The first president, Patrice Lumumba was assassinated. Joseph Mobutu replaced him in 1965 and managed to stay in power for over 30 years—another most corrupt leader. Much of the wealth of the country ended up in his and his cronies’ Swiss bank accounts. While the world and the Congolese celebrated his demise, the years since 1997, unfortunately, have been ones of turmoil—claiming more than 4 million lives in combat, civilian violence, disease, starvation and displacement.

The DRC is known to have great mineral wealth – gold, copper, diamonds, and a large portion of the world’s coltan, an essential ingredient in electronics. This wealth has held the interest of many international players, but many have come and gone – including Canadian companies. Mama Swana told us when she and Mama Kadi were visiting us almost one year-ago, that the people in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), “are like farmers sitting on large sacks of peanuts that we cannot eat.”

How do we speak on behalf of our brothers and sisters who suffer exploitation? To whom do we speak? Our sisters in the ATMCO are particularly concerned that the war in the country be brought to an end. Although Kinshasa, where most of these sisters live, is far to the west of the fighting, traumatized people arrive in the capital and become their neighbours.

speakerAdvocating for the people of the Congo is a long-term investment. It involves becoming more aware. It also involves discerning the changes for which we should advocate. How can we communicate with our sisters about the issues that most concern them? How are we as Canadian Mennonites implicated in their suffering? Even when we know how we might benefit, the most effective ways to work for justice are not always clear. Yet we must not hide our faces and we must try to do something.

Over the next few weeks of Sunday school we hope to gain a deeper understanding of the DRC’s political and church history and economic situation. We will focus on the experiences of women who have suffered extreme violence in the war. We will hear from Project Ploughshares about the way the regional conflicts are intertwined and how arms flow. We hope to learn how to advocate effectively as individuals and a community – to speak truth to power.

Currently, we as Canadians are facing our own election. This may provide us an opportunity to bring up questions to our representatives about how they see international trade and aid and what their values are in terms of just economic relationships.

It is not clear to me how we should speak up and to whom, on the myriad challenges that the DRC faces. More importantly, it is not clear how we can support our sisters in their work of speaking truth to power when it is so risky. It may seem to some a weak suggestion, but I also believe that diligent and committed prayer over the long-term is key. Mama Kadi and Mama Swana were touched to be among our small group of pray-ers at Lorraine and John Peters over a year ago. Through discussion, exposure and prayer we will trust that God will show us the next step to take as we seek to act upon what we have learned.

Mary Lou Klassen