Sunday, June 28, 2009

Dreaming of Peace

I woke up this morning dreaming of Peace-- Peace for the world, especially Peace for the beleaguered people of Democratic Republic of Congo.

When will it end? Twelve years of brutal war fought ostensibly as a tribal war between Hutus and Tutsis, but in reality a bloodbath of innocent civilians perpetrated by diverse military groups, backed by larger interests, competing for Congo's enormous mineral wealth.

The Congolese people have a long, tragic history of being exploited by more "civilized" nations. For three centuries, Portuguese slave traders decimated tribes along the Congo River. Later King Leopold of the Belgiums (1885-1908) killed half the population of Congo, an estimated 10 million men, women and children, in greedy pursuit of ivory and rubber for his personal wealth.

Then there was Mobutu Sese Soko, the biggest thief in African history, installed in power by western countries during the Cold War, who stole over 5 billion and left the country bankrupt, the infrastructure built during Belgian rule in shambles from neglect.

Now, huge international mining companies and corporate giants of the electronics industry are reaping the benefits of Congo's wealth, and, once again, the Congolese people are paying the price -- almost 6 million dead at last count.

Equally horrifying is the rape epidemic that curses this country. Hundreds of thousands of women and girls have been viciously tortured and raped, their lives ruined -- and who comes forward to stop these atrocities?

Rape is the weapon of war used by these armed groups-- first they rape the women, then they move in and rape the earth. Rape is cheap, and a man with a gun can do anything.

Now things are heating up again in eastern DRC, and peace seems even further away. UN forces and the Congolese National Army are initiating a joint offensive named KIMIA II to rid the eastern provinces of the FDRL. Perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide, the FDRL have lived in the mountains of North and South Kivu, pillaging, burning villages, raping women, and killing innocent people since they were given asylum by Mobuto in the mid-1990s.

All involved agree the FDRL should be rooted out and their reign of terror stopped. However, 68 relief agencies have voiced grave concern that this military operation "will lead to more atrocities against Congolese civilians". Since the beginning of 2009, over 800,000 Congolese have been displaced through war. Already overwhelmed, relief agencies managing IDP camps are bracing for the next influx.

For more information on KIMIA II and other solutions:


And so I pray for the Congolese men, women and children who will be displaced once again, destitute because their homes have been burned, everything they own stolen, hiding in the bush without food or shelter. I pray for their safe journey and their survival.

When I ask Congolese women survivors of sexual violence (SGBV) what they want, invariably they say Peace. They don't want charity; they just want to go home, back to the village where they grew up and their children played, back to the fields and the life they knew before the war began.

The challenges these women face are enormous, their losses so great by any standard, it amazes me that they continue to function at all. Some don't and choose suicide, and others are profoundly depressed. But the majority of raped, displaced women struggle on, each day finding a way to feed their children, or not . . .

And so I dream of Peace and pray for the Congolese people. They could use your prayers, too.

With love and gratitude,