Friends of the Congo NGO co-founder speaks on peace efforts in DRC

Graphic by Carrie Clowers ’18

Graphic by Carrie Clowers ’18

BY MAYA HOFFMAN ’20

On Wednesday, April 11, Maurice Carney gave a lecture titled, “Conflict in the DR Congo: What Hinders Peace?” which addressed the relatively unrecognized conflict currently happening in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The departments of politics and  international relations, as well as the McCulloch Center for Global Initiatives, sponsored Carney, the co-founder and current executive director of Friends of the Congo. The nonprofit organization was formed in 2004 “to work together to bring about peaceful and lasting change in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” according  to the organization's website. 

During the talk, Carney said the organization seeks to educate “the global community” and “mobilize world leaders and ordinary people to support the people of Congo.” Their long-term vision is “a peaceful and prosperous Congo wherein Congolese are able to fulfill their enormous human and natural potential.”

Carney called the Congo “literally and figuratively the heart of Africa,” as it is situated on the equator in central Africa. The country, which is known for its rich resources, has an estimated $24 trillion worth of precious and strategic minerals within its boundaries, including coltan, cobalt, copper, gold and diamond. It also is rich in timber and fresh water. However, despite this, wealth is rarely passed onto the people of the Congo. According to the BBC, the country lacks adequate railroads, roads and the infrastructure of health and public education. Its wealth of resources has attracted “rapacious adventurers, unscrupulous corporations, vicious warlords and corrupt governments” instead of being used to help the condition of the people. 

Since 1996, roughly 6 million Congolese people have lost their lives due to the conflict happening under the Kabila regime, making it the deadliest conflict since World War II, according to Carney.

The conflict, which began after the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, was incited when approximately 2 million Hutu, many of whom were militant men responsible for the genocide, fled to the Congo to escape legal prosecution, according to the BCC. The Congolese people, whose demographic consists of a large ethnically Tutsi population were then persecuted by the Hutu with the help of the government. Eventually, the Tutsi forces were able to oust the Hutu from power, and appoint Laurent Kabila as the president, but he was unable to rid the country of the Hutu militia. According to the BBC, Kabila called on support from Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola. However, over the course of five years, all six countries have been accused of “using the cover of the war to loot the country's riches.”

Because the mainstream media has given almost no attention to the conflict, Friends of the Congo’s mission is to raise “consciousness about the challenges of the Congo and support Congolese institutions as they strive to bring about peaceful and lasting change,” as stated in the organization’s website. 

Carney also discussed the U.N.’s peacekeeping missions during the conflict, which were loosely enforced until extreme diplomatic pressure forced the U.S. to send economic and military aid. Carney stated that although the U.N. still has a presence in the Congo, they lack the ability to hold those responsible for crimes in the Congo accountable. 

Currently, the Congo is in the midst of an election delay due to fraud. According to Rueters, Kabila refused to step down after his second term, even though he is constitutionally barred from holding office for a third term. The election was initially scheduled for Nov. 26, 2016 and has since been pushed back until recently, went the government announced voters could go to the polls on Dec. 26, 2018. There is vast systematic corporate exploitation, and the Kabila regime “rules by fear and force,” according to Carney. Opposition leader Moise Katumbi expressed frustration with the new date, which he views as a continuation of the exploitation. “The predatory regime wants to prolong the instability and misery of the people. We do not accept this fantasy calendar,” Katumbi recently tweeted.

The Catholic Church has also backed the opposition party, expressing concern for the country’s democratic values. After Kabila refused to step down in 2016, the Church facilitated the St. Sylvester agreement, which allowed Kabila to manage the country until elections could be held again before Dec. 31, 2017, according to LaCroix, the Independent Catholic daily newspaper. The Church organized a large demonstration on the day the election had to be held in order to keep the pact demanding action. Over 160 churches and other activists marched in Kinshasa, the capital of the Congo, and were met with police brutality, including the use of teargas in parts of the city, according to the Guardian. The government also shut down internet and SMS service countrywide the day before, as well as the day of the anti-Kabila protests.

Despite the magnitude of the conflict, Carney made it clear that the Congo has a lot of potential. The recent growth in the cocoa and coffee sectors, for example, are promising signs for the national income. In March, the Center for Strategic and International Studies stated, “If the DRC can learn from mistakes made by other producing nations, it has the potential to build a thriving cash crop sector that not only benefits the national economy but improves the lives of some of its most vulnerable citizens.”

Chimene Minshew ’20, whose mother is from the DRC and still has family living there, appreciated Carney’s view of the challenges and strengths of the country. “The part I appreciated most was probably the perspective and context Mr. Carney gave to the information he presented,” she said. “He was able to detail injustices without falling into that ‘African suffering narrative’ that we see too often, and he closed the presentation on an optimistic note, reiterating that the DRC is still a place of extreme potential despite current circumstances.” Though there are roughly 13 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in the Congo, the country has the “agricultural capacity to feed the entire continent, enormous renewable energy potential... and human potential,” said Carney. 

Carney shared the hashtags “#CongoOfFriends” and “#Telema” (“rise up” in Congolese) in order to spread awareness of the conflict in the Congo.

Mount Holyoke News

Mount Holyoke News , Blanchard Campus Center, 50 College Street, South Hadley, MA, 01075