Congo Coalition Holds Successful Congress in Belgium

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The first major project of Congo Global Action (CGA)took place from March 20 -22 in Brussels. CGA members in Brussels organized the conference entitled – Congo: After the elections, next steps? The International Rescue Committee (IRC) was the main host, with support from several student clubs. Together, they organized the successful conference at the Catholic University of Louvain la Neuve.   More than 100 people attended the three-evening conference.  The majority of the attendees were university students and first and second generation Congolese immigrants to Europe.

The first day was organized around two of the three pillars of CGA: saving lives and ending economic exploitation in the DRC. The film “Congo – A country under siege” was screened.   Mr. Murhabazi, Director from the Congolese NGO, BVES, « Bureau pour le Volontariat au service de l’Enfance et de la Santé », headquartered in Bukavu,   gave a detailed presentation of  the current humanitarian situation in Eastern Congo and highlighted the work of the national NGOs.  Several of the university students in attendance expressed great interest in volunteering and/or interning with national NGOs throughout the DRC.

Anouk Franck of NIZA ((Nederlandse Instituut voor Zuidelijk Africa) gave a thorough overview of the transparency initiative for extractive industries.  NIZA works with the Fatal Transactions Coalition and outlined the mutual responsibilities that the government; private industry and civil society all have in improving   methods and practices when it comes to exploiting the wealth of natural resources throughout the DRC.

Philippe Cornélis of Greenpeace Belgium spoke about the social, environmental and ecological risks that come with the methods used in extracting natural resources in the DRC. He particularly focused on the forestry sector and the importance of the government in implementing a solid environmental policy to protect, preserve and regenerate forests.

The second day focused on the third pillar of CGA:  keeping people safe from harm. Mr. Ladislas de Coster, Program Manager for Lawyers without Borders, outlined the challenges currently facing the DRC as they rebuild the judicial sectors and attempt to assure access to justice. He emphasized that the rule of law and political will at all levels of government are the most critical sectors for the DRC’s recovery.

Mr. Jean-Claude Willamme, professor at the Catholic University of Louvain la Neuve, discussed the lack of political process for peace and reconciliation.  In addition, there is a gross absence of any formal funding and comprehensive plan for security sector reform for the country.  To compliment his discussion, Mr. Xavier Zeebroeck, researcher at GRIP (a think tank specializing in peace and security issues), gave a historical review of the UN’s role (MONUC) in the DRC since 2002. He demonstrated the way in which MONUC’s responsibilities and tasks were increased as they demonstrated success.  This expansion of their mandate then won them the support of the Congolese people.

The political and economic environment discussions were presented by Mr. Pierre-Antoine Braud (Institut d’Etudes de Sécurité) and Bob Kabamba (Université de Liège).

The last evening was dedicated to a vibrant discussion of development assistance to the DRC.  This debate was led by Mr. Vincke, from the Belgium AID Office and Mr. Rosa, a member of the cabinet of the European Commissioner for Development. Many of the Congolese in the audience expressed the need for the Congolese to take charge of their own destiny and not depend any further on international assistance.

At the end of the conference, many of the students remained in order to discuss how they could get involved and remain active in regards to the DRC. The International Catholic Student Movement facilitated the discussion about how to move forward with more activities such as: film events so that people can learn about the DRC, expert panels, and internships in the DRC with local NGOs to assist in the humanitarian situation. They also decided that the Student Club “Cafrikap” would be the focal point for Congo Global Action activities at the University.

The Congo Global Action coalition is planning a second conference in Washington DC from November 11 to 13, 2007.  A third conference in Africa is in the planning stages for 2008.    AFJN is one of the founding members of this coalition, and Rocco Puopolo serves on its executive committee.

by Hervé de Bailleux

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