The issue of security in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (D.R.C) seems to be a tough puzzle to solve. Violence has resumed since late August 2007 and many people are dying, women are being raped, and children are forcefully enrolled in rebel groups. The Congolese government seems to have exhausted all its options and the international community has been inadequate in tackling the issue. Yet, apathy from these actors is merely one reason the war in DRC continues. Those interested in peace are delving deeper into the root causes of the crisis, asking questions that have yet to be formally addressed by governments or international institutions.
Many Congolese voices have been ignored or marginalized, despite their ability to comprehend the situation beyond that of Western analysts. Listening to the people of DRC is an important step to solving the insecurity puzzle in the region. This is why, on November 18, 2007 at TrinityWashington University in Washington DC, Africa Faith and Justice Network (AFJN), the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur and the Missionaries of Africa invited different Congolese voices to reflect on the issue of security. The panel provided them an opportunity to speak and to listen to each other on various aspects of the crisis.
1. Mr. Ntama Bahati Jacques, policy analyst at AFJN. He provided an overview of the security situation in eastern DRC with a focus on foreign rebel groups operating on the Congolese territory and the ongoing violence between the Congolese army and the Congolese pro-Rwanda rebel group of Laurent Nkundabatware.
2. Ms. Nita Evele, Coalition of Pluralists and Congolese Patriots (COPPAC) and vice chair of Congo Global Action. She spoke primarily about insecurity in the urban areas. Ms. Evele also underlined that she is concerned about the DRC being governed by people who have partaken in the killing of Congolese.
3. Sr. Izabelle Izika, Sister of Notre Dame de Namur, United Nations Office. She spoke about the effects of insecurity on women and children with a particular note on the how the rape pandemic in DRC is a weapon to destroy not only women but also the future of the Congo.
4. Mr. Ben Mwangachuchu, President of Congo Peace initiative in the Kivus outlined some possible solutions to the war .
After the panel, Fr. Bill Dyer, a Missionary of Africa, led a series of questions which encouraged the panel to begin a dialogue that would highlight their differing perspectives on the issues. Then, Fr. Rocco Puopolo, AFJN’s executive director, asked the audience to participate by naming themes that stood out to them during the panel discussion. Participants suggested issues such as internal displacement, refugees, the role of the diaspora, illegal arms trade, international interference, food security, resources/land, education, good governance/lack of wise eldership, security, misinformation as a war tactic, lack of cohesion, “quick-fix” solutions, women and youth, dehumanization of “the other”, loss of respect for elders, and breakdown of self awareness. Among these, the audience chose arms trade, misinformation, governance, resources, and external influence and then broke out in small groups for discussion on these themes.
The results were exceptional. Even though they differed in opinion, people were able to dialogue and find a common ground that allowed each person to take part in finding a solution to the conflict in Eastern DRC. When the larger group came back together, we realized that security and peace is possible if every one of these voices is represented and heard. There is hope for security in the DRC because Congolese can and are able to talk and listen to each other. On November 18th, the diaspora was able to overcome their differences for the sake of the common good – we can hope that their countrymen will do the same.