On June 11th, the Africa Europe Faith and Justice Network (AEFJN) circulated a letter warning for a possible new war in Eastern DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo = Congo Kinshasa). The first paragraph runs as follows:
Attached to this message, you will find a letter written by the Archbishop of Bukavu (DR Congo), describing the alarming situation in which the people of the Eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo live in. Some cruel atrocities have been perpetrated that affect mostly the civilians of this region. It seems that very soon, in this Sub Region some atrocious killings are happening again, very sad repetition of the massacres affecting the people of Kivu that took place during the recent years.
François-Xavier Maroy’s message can be read on the AEFJN’s website (FX M is the archbishop of Bukavu). It horrifies one that hostilities may start over again in a region where in a series of brutal wars between 4,000,000 and 5,000,000 people are said to have died. It saddens one that the the democratisation process and the elections may turn out not to be powerful enough to stop the violence and the bad governance that leads to so much suffering in DRC.
I am a member of a group that is concerned with human rights abuses in Eastern DRC and in the African Great Lakes Region. The group itself is connected to the Jesuit Brussels office of OCIPE and to the K.U.Leuven Faculty of Theology’s Centre for Liberation Theologies. Lately, we have been focussing on (1) the causes of the human rights abuses in Eastern DRC, and (2) capacity building for an international qualified peace advocacy network.
(1) A key factor in the violence in Eastern DRC is the presence of lootable natural resources in the region and the fact that belonging to militia groups in the region is an advantageous economic option for the poor people. Moreover, the complexity of the situation in the region is such, that I am not sure whether the lack of good governance is a consequence of the wars or, rather, the result of the lack of will of politicians who profit from loot that is facilitated by bad governance. The economic-military-political complex (both nationally and internationally) gains by maintaining violence that allows for loot. Moreover, the loot of natural resources here is lucrative as these resources are in high demand by the long term unsustainable and greedy life styles of the rich of this world. Therefore, it is so difficult to tackle the legal issues involved (such as litigation against looting transnational corporations and corrupt politicians or military; development of a legal corpus in the UN, AU or EU). Some documents have been produced by the United Nations, by the Congolese authorities (e.g. the Lutundula Report), or by independent NGO’s (see for example the Fatal Transactions initiative, or the Oxford UK based Rights & Accountability in Development – RAID, on the website of which are also available several of the UN documents as well as other material) – but there is still a lot of hard work to be done. I think that, in many rich countries, we should learn to connect our craving for goodies that require lootable natural resources participates in the causes for wars and violence such as in the Eastern DRC.
(2) A Jesuit colleague of mine, member of JRS (Jesuit Refugee Service) and a specialist in conflict and peace research, Elías López, has developed ideas for the creation of international peace advocacy networks (RPAN = Relational Peace Advocacy Network) used in OCIPE to connect qualified advocacy work in Brussels (EU headquarters), in Washington (social justice department of the US Jesuit Conference), and in Africa (the Centre d’Etudes pour l’Action Sociale – CEPAS – in Kinshasa; the Hekima Institute of Peace Studies and International Relations and the Hakimani Centre in Nairobi). The challenge is how to allow to emerge a joint action out of the diversity that arises when one faces a challenge together. This is an issue of common discernment and of relational constructionism, in which the joint action and the building up of a community are tackled together, in a full mutual and collaborative approach, that overcomes (neo-)colonial and patriarchal affects. The challenges in Eastern DRC concern us all, they constitute a common project and not merely some local African troubled issue for which others will lobby in the centres of power.
As a a Christian theologian, I feel very much connected to these issues and challenges: they touch the core of the so-called “preferential option for the poor” amidst the injustices of our world and at the service of dignified and sustainable life together for us all. What happens in Eastern DRC is not only about some Congolese suffering the abuses of war and violence; it involves all of us, in various interconnected ways, both with regard to the causes and to future answers. Those who suffer the human rights abuses remind us of the fact that there is something rotten in the kingdom of our lives and that we should commit to what is our real being and our future, God’s Kingdom. The models of thought used by theologians – such as the preferential option for the poor, the holistic perspective on creation inspired by the social justice and life in common of the Kingdom, the importance given to the attempts to build ecclesial communities (inspired by God’s dream and promise of the Kingdom, as well as by the very concreteness of Jesus of Nazaret’s life), the deep trinitarian structure of our reality and of our encounters with others, the need for forgiveness and reconciliation, etc. – may be helpful in structuring our political visions and actions.