Congo is difficult to understand, hard to explain. I appreciate how organizations like Enough! boil the issue of conflict mineral mining down so succinctly, correctly linking violent mining practices, pernicious use of mass rape, the issues that inhere in a failed state and corrupt governance, armed militias and urgent need for security sector reform, poverty and de-development….and our computers. Enough! gives Americans very simple, concrete actions we can take to de-link our modern conveniences (cell phones, computers, iPods, MP3s, etc.) from the grievous suffering and human rights atrocities committed so routinely in pursuit of the minerals necessary for their manufacture. (For example, an American study just calculated every hour, 48 girls/woman are raped in eastern DRC. The conflict in DRC, you should know by now, is the deadliest since WWII; 5.4 million dead. 900,000 people are presently displaced in North and Sout Kivu. DRC languishes at the bottom of all development indices, as well as corruption evaluators.)
For a look at the mining areas, you have to explore this interactive map. It is amazing. For example, gold does not show up on the ledgers as a mineral mined in eastern Congo. Only two comptoirs in North Kivuo can measure gold yields. Yet the map shows at least 20,000 people work in gold mines. Such mismatches speak to the informal, corrupt, shadowy nature of mineral extraction here. (Gambino, 2011)
Anthony W. Gambino, an Africanist for many years, recently wrote: “Sorting and combining the relations across all these layers, issue by issue, place by place, across the massive Congo, into an intellectual coherent sense of Congolese reality is a humbling, daunting intellectual undertaking…various actors, even those most knowledgeable, regularly miscalculate, further tangling this already near-impenetrable analytical web. (Gambino, 2011).
But such capitulation from a bona fide expert is no invitation to complacency, no excuse for opting out of caring for and about the beleaguered people of a country burdened with the “resource curse.” Suffering, regardless of how long it has been going on, and how complex and seemingly intractable the root causes, must never be tolerated.
My Clinton Global Initiative Lead cohort and I are on a fact-finding, fact-facing mission. I am fortunate in that this is my third trip to eastern DRC. My first, with PSI focused on public health, which naturally included exposure to profound gender violence, which is militarized and related to mining, and appalling conditions for both locals and forcibly displaced persons. My second trip was with Enough! and focused directly on conflict minerals, and their connection to the same social consequences. My CGI group and I seek to enhance the work local and international organizations are doing, expanding how they fill critical gaps in a range of social services (such as health and education) by leveraging and expanding public-private partnerships.
Congo’s history since independence from Belgium shows a swinging of the pendulum from a dictator supported by the west (Mobutu) at one extreme to total non-participation in the government super structure and a complete focus instead on civil society and NGOs (even creating institutions to handle donor money that went around the government). Neither worked (although the latter did make notable improvements in public health, but without building local capacity or creating sustainable systems, Gambino, 2011). A core idea my CGI Lead will be fiddling this week is how to learn from these foreign policy and aid lessons, finding a workable model in the middle that, in the midst of the abject failure of the Congolese state, find levers to push (such as adequately paying police in key strategic areas, so they are motivated to stop being a part of the problem of harassing and extorting those they are meant to protect (Gambino, 2011), supporting and enhancing the work of the many outstanding organizations on the ground who fill critical gaps that government cannot and/or will not fill, building public-private partnerships, all of which can help reform instability and begin to build democratic institutions capable of good governance.
It will be a good week, one of hashing out ideas, expanding concepts, discussing the role of a Canadian mineral extraction company, Banro, in creating a local mining industry that contributes to communities well-being and growth, rather than terrorizing and de-stabilizing them.
As much as I look forward to these intellectual pursuits, and the dynamic energy of my colleagues who are dedicating their lives improving life short-, medium-, and long-term in one of the most cunning and baffling conflict zones on earth, the part to which I most look forward is spending time with affected Congolese. I am reminded, I have a lot of love to give. That, ultimately, is why I am here. However I slice the day—policy papers or holding victims of gang rape—it is about love.
At the Brussels Air lounge this morning as I waited for my flight to Rwanda, where I will be a few days before Bukavu, DRC, I regarded the staff member closely. She was very familiar. She remembered me, too, from my trip to Congo last year, but especially from my return from Congo in 2008. I was incredibly sick, and she had left her post to exit the airport for a pharmacy that had a homeopathic remedy she vowed would help me. She brought it to me just as my plane to the US was leaving, and I had never forgotten her kindness. Christine is her name, and we had a long chat, catching up. I was happy to share with her that the 2008 re-entry phenomenon was the worst, and in 2010, it took me three days, instead of three weeks, to bounce back from my time visiting the worst place on the planet to be a woman.
My flight was easy—long, but easy. Ten hours total from Europe is less toll on a body than having the USA to Europe leg go along with it. I began to wonder if, when I conclude filming “Missing” in Prague in October, I could scoot back to Africa before returning to Tennessee. West Africa. No one pays attention to West Africa, including me. I should visit PSI programs there.
I read Tony Gambino’s extraordinary paper, slept, resumed reading, and only when I opened my window shade a short while before landing did I realize I wasn’t doing the giddy, dreamy “I am going to Africa” thing. I saw the sun setting over a vast swatch of this magnificent continent, and it took my breath away. My first trips rushed to mind, the constant sense of awe I felt. I wondered if it’s become normal for me, if i am conditioned to hop on planes and trot to lands of which as I kid I dreamt. But the plane soon landed, and I stepped into the Rwandan night air, and felt the magic wholesale. The air here has a particular fragrance and feel. The full July moon was luminously elegant and mysterious. The shapes of trees signalled “Africa.” My smile was enormous, my step buoyant. I was buzzing with the delight, honor, and appeal of setting foot on this continent once more.
As I queued for passport control, I remembered that when I left here last summer, President Kagame was actually at the airport, inspecting the facility, down to the toilets. I admired the partition between passport windows—planters of lovely green plants. Rwanda, in some important ways, a country of resilience, hope. From the small (plastic bags are illegal) to the huge (Rwanda is one of the only sub-Saharan countries on pace to meet some of the MDGs), Rwanda is a story of ambitious self-improvement and transparency (we will leave the rigid social controls and allegations of totalitarianism for another conversation). A sign in the airport announced even more recent measures to encourage investment, all steps that help businesses formalize, such access to legal contracts and protections, functioning judicial sysem, credit, etc. Lots of poverty still, yes. Tomorrow, in fact, I’ll be visiting with girls and women trapped in economically forced prostitution. But for now, for tonight, I am going to put on my night gown, slip out the back of the hotel where it is quiet, and admire our oldest grandmother, the moon, shining over the cradle of humanity.
Africa. It has a ring to it, doesn’t it?
These diaries are just that: diaries. They are written quickly at the end of long days, and are often raw, unfinished thoughts as I process the day’s colorful, painful, didactic, enraging, inspiring, moving events.
I proofread, but barely. Facts are usually accurate although I do my final fact checking later, as I prepare my written work for my personal archives, or for publication. Thus, if you catch an inconsistency, or errant number, please don’t use that as an excuse to dismiss the exercise wholesale. I promise I, and my mentors, will catch and vet it later.
I choose to share them in order to carry to you in something close to real time the visceral reality of experiences embedded in poverty, vulnerability, resilience, and hope.
If they are abused in any way, such as taken out of context or reprinted beyond fair use, I will no longer post them. Your respect and consideration is appreciated.
I hope you will read them for what really matters, the human stories they bring to you, and the creative, inexpensive grassroots programmatic solutions that empower and save lives.