Translated From French & Published April 7, 2008

Dear brothers and sisters,
It is in the name of all the people of goodwill living in the Africa’s Great Lakes Region, of all my Congolese brothers and sisters, of all the episcopate of the ACEAC in general, of all the ecclesiastical Province of Bukavu and of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in particular, and in my name that I stand on this platform to address this majestic assembly.
On this conference’s agenda are several topics for reflection and each one of them is of great importance, namely: the study of violence against girls and women in DRC, the issue of child soldiers as direct and indirect victims of wars, exploitation of natural resources, good governance, etc. It is difficult to address in depth all these topics and talk about our current situation at the same time given the limited time.
I will limit myself to a few points, knowing that other speakers will supplement my words, because the Congolese situation is complex. My presentation will address six small points, namely the nature of armed conflict in DRC, the study of violence against women, the problem of child soldiers, natural resource exploitation, the harmful consequences of the wars back home, our hopes and our challenges, and a final conclusion.

  1. Nature of Armed Conflicts in DR Congo

Franz Pennon said that Africa has the shape of a revolver whose trigger would be theCongo. This war from which the Congolese people have been suffering for more than a decade proves his analogy – that some have described the Congo crisis as the Africa’s First World War.
Some say that it is a civil war, whereas others speak about an ethnic war. That is not true because the Congolese people are peaceful, never in conflict. For proof, we are more than 400 tribes and share a border with nine countries. We would be in internal and external perpetual confrontations if we were quarrelsome. The war inCongo is rather a war of aggression, an exported and imposed war, a proxy war whose victims are the Congo and its neighbors.
We are one of the largest and richest countries in Africa: a geological splendor, a terrestrial paradise. Congo also abounds in valorous human resources. Their sympathy and their capacity allows them to render great services everywhere in the world. It is probably all of this which attracts envy and jealousy, spurring the crisis that we are undergoing today.
We thank all those who have come to our assistance, wiped away our tears, reassured us and alerted decision makers of the national and international organizations as well as official governments during the war and post-war period. Thank you to all the participants in this session and you all, members of this organization, for giving us the opportunity to express the suffering of our people today here in Washington.

  1. The Study of Violence Against Women

Back home, a woman, mother of all the living, is a sacred creature. Agent of life, a woman is owed much respect in the African society. She is a pillar of the family and our society. To attack her honor is to attack the family and society. To attack the woman, it is to attack life.
It is with good knowledge that enemies of the Congolese people planned their attacks against women by applying this abominable strategy of rape to dehumanize our people through our mothers and our sisters. They know that by dishonoring a woman, back home, they humiliate her husband, her children, her family and the society in which she is a mother. By violating all taboos without being punished, they also desecrated our cultural, morals and spiritual values.
These wretched acts shout revenge.
In addition to being killed with unconventional weapons, firearms and other blunt tools, many women have died from these terrible practices. Others survived, but with physical and psychological wounds requiring therapy. Society rejects them after they escape from their kidnapers; they are abandoned and sometimes excluded.
Worse is that statistics available in our medical centers show that certain victims of these odious acts are suffering from this virus, the pandemic of the century, HIV/AIDS, for which the human genius has not yet found a cure. Not surprising, when it is known that many of these attackers are HIV positive.
What to say about those who conceived, have children resulting from these rapes, children who also should be supported? I cannot continue talking about such a shameful situation. Today, the women constitute hope in Africa and in the world, especially back home where men do not have employment. In fact, this handicaps our progress and destroys our society.

  1. Child Soldiers Issue

Today, many Congolese adults are unemployed and where there is work, they are underpaid or not paid at all. This is the case of state employees. You can imagine what kind of maneuver is needed to meet daily needs.
Because they are not cared for and because their parents lack employment, children do not hesitate to answer to recruitment calls in the armed groups. Others, the more violent ones, are recruited after having lost their parents in the war. They join these groups to avenge their parent’s deaths.
When the culture of weapons entered our nation, it was a great opportunity for some to get what they want by force, including access to power. This is the reason many rebel groups chose Congo as their residence. Not only do children become cheap labor, but also without conscience, they become an easy tool to kill and destroy heartlessly.
The Demobilization and Reintegration Program put in place after the war tended to stop halfway and these children, having led an anarchistic life style in the bush, become armed bandits back home. This exacerbates criminality and burgling in our cities and villages.

  1. Natural Resources Exploitation

According to many reports, controlling access to strategic minerals is the main cause of the war in the Congo. The United Nations, Human Rights Watch, International Rescue Committee, International Crisis Group, and the Lutundula Report, have all documented the fact that the war is used to cover the plundering of resources. These resources are considered so vital that some seek to sustain the conflict, thereby facilitating the abuse of man by man in Democratic Republic of Congo. What should contribute to our wellbeing becomes a source of misfortune. What a paradox!

  1. Harmful Consequences of the War

The memorandum of the Congolese Episcopate to the participants in the Conference on Peace, Safety and Development in North and the South-Kivu, held in Goma from January 6-24, 2008, shows with concern that, if nothing is done, armed confrontations will continue to prevail in DR Congo in spite of the embargo on weapons. Like in the “myth of Sizyphus,” it seems that the Congolese are condemned to a cycle of eternal suffering where progress is only possible through war and its consequences:

  • Massive displacements of people. Today, there are more than one million internally displaced persons or refugees in the neighboring countries.
  • Rape continues on a large scale, contributing to a worsening HIV/AIDS pandemic.
  • Slaughters intensify as well as plundering and destruction of the environment which is needed by the whole African continent.
  • Enrollment of children in armed groups continues to compromise the future of the life-giving power of the nation.
  • Poverty is worsening, creating more violence.
  • Hatred takes root and revenge takes precedence over justice and forgiveness.

This situation does not relate only to DRC. It touches all the Great Lakes Region, even all of Africa. It generates a terrorism kneaded with xenophobia in the case of despaired Africans, who seek to find the invisible craftsmen of their misfortunes.

  1. Our hopes and our challenges

It will soon be two years since our country has democratically elected a head of State and government. From now on, back home and in other democratic states, may the way of the ballot box be the only means of accessing power. We ask you to help us make it clear to the international Community that it is necessary to discourage warlordship and instill good governance in young democracies.
Consequently, it is important:

  • That justice, at all the levels, condemns those who use force to access to power so that we can avoid having our countries governed by torturers and men with bloody hands;
  • To again cooperate within the framework of the Economic Community of the Great Lakes Nations(ECGLN) and to reinforce it by making it an excellent core of unity in Central Africa instead of arming the children of the same family against each other;
  • That we develop this region using its human and natural resources, reserves, mines, rivers, forests, wildlife, mountains and volcanoes sustainably and with respect;
  • Not to put upon future generations the responsibility of reconciling people who fought against each other;
  • To create an Institute for Peace in this region, preferably in Bukavu because of the strength of its academic institutions and its geographical location in the center of the conflict areas. It will comfort those who carried out the practice of non-violence as well as those whose human and material inheritance was destroyed. It will open people to the spirit of mutual forgiveness, reconciliation and peaceful cohabitation.

There is a lot of work to be done in DR Congo and there is place for everyone. True friends of the Congolese people are those who care about their prosperity and teach them how to work to rebuild their country. Divisions and armed conflicts from inside and/or outside create more evil than good. Weapons only generate tears. It would be best to act differently, by way of dialogue, human rights and co-operation for everyone’s interest. It goes without saying that the Congolese have, like all human beings, the right to life; and in order to live, they need peace.
Allow me to entrust this message to you: We want peace to live with dignity, the peace of the Nations, the respect of any man and the dignity of all men, created in the image and the resemblance of God, the respect of laws, the rights and the freedom of all. We want the prosperity of all the people and their mutual enrichment. We await this in Africa’s Great Lakes Region in general and in the Democratic Republic of Congo in particular. These countries should not be excluded in the concert of nations.

  1. Conclusion

Dear brothers and sisters,
I know that you already know many things about the Congo. You must also know that as someone speaking from the experience on the ground, I have not expressed all that can be said on these topics. He who drinks at the source, drinks pure water. I am delighted to end this presentation knowing that several people will leave this place with a new understanding and a new approach to what is at stake regarding Congolese as well as Africa’s problems: challenges of peace, safety and development. With all its potential, Congo can be a country of hope for Africa and the world. It would be suicidal for humanity not to protect such a valuable part of this world.
Once again, I submit to you the dreams of all our people. Be reassured that their hearts are turned towards you, the world’s great power, and their eyes are directed on you, trustful that in good faith, you can continue our mission. Speak about our situation to those who have the power to lift the weight of our burdens, making happy the people of Africa who are struggling to walk the steps toward development in this third millennium.
May God bless the work of our hands, keep us from any evil, inspire us to do what is good and right, give us courage to achieve it with joy and love here and everywhere where men and women need peace.
I thank you and wish you successful work.
Washington, on March 31, 2008
Archbishop of Bukavu