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*My Trip to Congo
By Nehanda Nzingha Sankofara (Nana)
(Nehanda Nzingha Sankofara is President of Mothers for Africa the Nana Sekyiaabea Foundation )
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), close to 8 million have died since 1997 due to a deadly conflict, four thousand people die a day, and there is over 2 million rape survivors. No one is exempt from being raped which includes women, girls, babies, seniors, men and boys. These rapes are horrendous, they insert machetes inside of the women, staff’s, rocks and stones, shoot them with guns and the latest development is pouring fuel into women’s vagina’s and setting them on fire and putting out the fire just short of them dying to make them suffer, they disembowel pregnant women and hold women for months as sex slaves. They also have made family members drink the blood of the dead. Many people know about the murders and rapes, but they do not know or understand the complexity of the plight of the Congo or how to help the victims of these crimes.
These defenseless people are not armed and are left homeless, brutalized, or murdered. Rebels armed from Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi are causing the pain and suffering in the Congo, also U.N. Soldiers, Congolese military and police are raping.
The United Nations (U.N.) says the Congo is the deadliest conflict in the world since World War II. They say rape is a tool of war, but whose war is it? The death toll has already surpassed Nazi Germany’s holocaust, but according to Human Rights Watch it cannot be considered genocide, because the victims include different ethnic groups and in order to be classified as genocide there has to be one ethnic group targeted.
I am the president of a non profit 501 (c) 3 called Mothers for Africa the Nana Sekyiaabea Foundation. When I found out about these atrocities I could not sleep and it gave me nightmares. I decided I should travel to east Congo for a fact finding mission to see how we could help. It is not recommended to fly to the Congo, it is the first place that I have traveled were I needed a letter of invitation to obtain my visa. The Congolese people have suffered too long from the horrors of tyrant colonizer King Leopold in 1885, who at the end of his reign half of the people were murdered in 10 years to a legacy of dictators. I planned my trip with the help of Congolese people; some of these Congolese people cannot travel home for fear that they will be murdered because they are outspoken about the conflict. One in particular has had family members murdered because of his outspokenness. ( Continues below..... )
Photo Above: Nehanda Sankofara (Left), Sarah Jubril, four-time Nigeria presidential aspirant (Right)
My trip to the Congo started off in Kigali Rwanda. Upon my arrival to Kigali I felt assured when I saw the smiling faces of two men that carried a sign with my name. We caught a taxi to my hotel. During the drive they asked about Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. I was happy to hear that they knew something about African- Americans.
That morning I was met by my new friend Pasqual and started our journey to the Congo. After an hour on the bus I was glad I decided on taking the bus vs. the taxi. The scenery was absolutely beautiful and the people were friendly.
The first part of trip started off in North Goma. On my first day I visited a hospital that performs fistula surgeries (reconstructive surgeries). The rapes are so horrific that many women need reconstructive surgery. The hospital also performs many cleft lip surgeries. The doctors advised that this is caused due to malnutrition. I was amazed of the doctor’s performance with such a lack of equipment and medical supplies. Mothers for Africa donated medical supplies to the hospital and they were very happy to receive them. On this trip I interviewed hundreds of rape survivors. The first thing I noticed was the smell of urine. Many of the women after the rape cannot return to their villages because they are deemed tainted and because of the urine smell, some of them can no longer control their bladder. These women wait for months before being able to receive the surgeries due to lack of funding. The surgeries range in prices starting at $250.00 and up.
I also met with a youth group. They were fortunate because they were receiving an education through the couple I was staying with. They were also learning English; the primary languages are Swahili and French. Before I left for the Congo I read in a newspaper that 80% of the Congolese people were illiterate, because public school is not free, but I was quickly told by these youths that it was actually 90%. They came together to talk to me about their feelings of their country. They were very intelligent. The first young man told me about the multinational corporations in the U.S. that are contributing to the conflict in the Congo. It was a very powerful dialog. Since I left these youth keep me posted on recent murders and rapes which includes photos. The latest report included information about one of the youths I met. His father filed a complaint against a Congolese military soldier and shortly after masked men with guns, gained entry into his home, killed his father and assaulted the family. I have been told that these incidents are increasing due to the elections.
Multinational companies purchase illegal minerals such as copper, diamonds, gold, cobalt and coltan from the rebels and they know these rebels are causing the death and rape of many people. For instance coltan, it is a heat resistance ore that is widely used in every cellular phone, laptop computers, video games, jet engines, rockets, cutting tools, camera lenses, x-ray film, ink jet printers, hearing aids and many other electronic devises. The Congo holds 80% of the world’s reserve of coltan. The coltan is mined by rebels in neighboring countries, (Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi) and sold to foreign corporations (which include companies in the U.S.).
The second part of my trip to North Goma to Bukavu
In Bukavu I stayed in a Catholic Monastery. I was met by a Congolese Catholic priest. Who would join Pasqual and me on the second part of my journey? He took me to an orphanage to meet children from the conflict. The most memorable part of the second half of the trip was a group of rape survivors I interviewed. This group was different. They were all old women. One hundred and forty women walked for miles to tell their tearful stories; all of them had been raped, a couple advised they wished they were dead. ( Continues below..... )
Photo Above: DRC Elderly Rape Survivors pose for photo
Everywhere I went I was asked the same question. What took me so long to come? Where were the African Americans and why haven’t they tried to help us? I told them that many of us do not know that this is going on because of the media is not reporting the entire story about the Congo. I told them that I will go on a campaign with others to tell their stories. I told them how African Americans have a long history of helping the African Diaspora in their time of need. I talked about our role in helping during apartied in South Africa and how African America men traveled to Ethiopia to fight on the side of the Ethiopians during the Second Italo Abyssinian War of 1935. I told them about the adorable little Batwa (Pigmy) man “Ota Benga” who was taken from his Congo in 1904 caged in the New York City Bronx Zoo in 1906 with other prime mates. He was teased and mocked by spectators and he would yell back “I am not an animal”! When African Americans discovered his story they were outraged and demanded his release. I further advised them that we are a people who has fought and stood for justice for people everywhere because of our history of injustice. As I would end my speech and walk away it was always followed by emotional hugs and kisses, the biding of a safe journey and prays that their message would be delivered.
I asked the same question to each group how could we help. Below are the top responses:
A. Help bring peace to the area
B. Get rid of the rebels
C. Stop the multinationals corporations dealings with the rebels
D. Get rid of the U.N Soldiers
E. Get rid of the NGO’s
Africans have been complaining about the U.N. raping for decades. I remember Kofi Anan attempting to address this problem. When I returned to the States a friend showed me a video of a 18 year old Haitian man who was protesting the U.N. presence in Haiti, U.N. Officers from Paraguay, kidnapped and rapped him. One of the officers filmed it on his cell phone. It was very hard to watch.
I travel to Haiti for our non profit to assist Haitians. I have the exact same complaints about the NGO’s and the U.N. They complain about never receiving the money after the earthquake and not getting the help they need. It is my opinion that because of the many complaints in both countries there should be an investigative probe into the U.N. and the NGO’s.
Californian recently passed the first State Bill on Congo Conflict Minerals. California became the very first U.S. State in the Nation to take action on the purchase of conflict minerals from Congo. President Barack Obama has authorized 100 U.S. soldiers to go to Central Africa to provide support against the rebels. During President Obama term as Senator he wrote into law the most comprehensive public law to support the Congo Titled I-Bilateral Action on Addressing Urgent Needs in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; however the key elements of this law have not been implemented.
How Can You Help?
Write your congress representative and the President and tell them you want more assistance from the U.S. in the Congo. The U.N. group of experts, in their report S/2008/773 of December 12, 2008 conformed that the Rwandan Government is actively supporting the National Congress for the Defense of the people (CNDP), both CNDP and the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR). A rebel group comprised mainly of former genocidaires from Rwanda has committed human rights violations, war crimes, and crimes against humanity including rape on a massive scale, extrajudicial executions, ethnic cleansing, looting, and the recruitment of child soldiers. U.N. and Human Rights Watch reports detail some of these crimes and recent statement by the U.N. and human Rights Watch reports in detail some of these crimes. Congratulate State law makers for passing the new California Bill on Conflict Minerals and make sure that the law is enforced. Keep pressure on the other States until they do the same, request law makers to start an investigative probe into the U.N. forces and the NGO’s in the Congo and in Haiti. ( Continues below..... )
Photo Above: DRC Rape Victims rejoice in sense of hope with Sankofara's visit
Push our government to put pressure on the Congolese government. The Congolese President Joseph Kabila rose to Presidency on January 26, 2001 after the assassination of his father and Congolese President Laurent-Desire Kabila. He was 29 when he became president, making him the youngest in the world to become president of a country. The Congo has their election on November 28, 2011; please write your congress and the President to urge a fair election. Educate yourself about the Congo and make it a point to read everything you can about the region, which includes Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.
The UN has reported on the foreign multinational companies who purchase conflict minerals from the rebels, write letters to these companies and demand they stop purchasing conflict minerals. Please see U.N. list below of multi-national corporations:
A. AVX Corporation
B. Cabot Corporation
C. OM Group
D. Vishay Intertechnology
E. Trinitech International
F. Eagle Wings Resource International
G. Kemet Electronics
Also, you can volunteer with Mothers for Africa the Nana Sekyiaabea Foundation and help with our efforts in the Congo. You can sponsor a child to go to school for as little as $24.00 a month and you can also donate money to contribute to micro loans for rape survivors. Mothers for Africa have teamed up with the Congolese Community for a peaceful march to bring awareness about the conflict. This march will take place on Sunday October 30, 2011, 9am–12 pm in front of the Westwood Federal building 11000 Wilshire Blvd. Westwood CA, 90024. Next summer Mothers for Africa is planning an international march for the Congo. You can contact us at www.MothersforAfrica.org or call us at 626-710-4304.
I will never forget the faces of pain I saw on beautiful faces. It was like going home and being with family. I fell in love with the people. Even though they are considered the poorest people in the world, you would never have known by their spirit. They are very proud and through everything maintained their faith in God and the fact that an end of their sorrow was coming soon. I went there expecting the worse. I was never more wrong about anything; instead I found the characters in people I value the most, trust, integrity and honesty. I gained an incredible amount of respect for the people, they gave me a lesson in life that I shall never forget. I realized just like anywhere that a handful of thugs are wreaking havoc on millions of people but without any criminal consequences. I have traveled to many places in the African Diaspora and have been treated very well. I dispelled the myth that African people do not like African Americans and I will tell you it is just that a myth! I have made long lasting friendships in my travels. We are the same people who share a common history of struggle and injustice. I was told by someone that my efforts were futile and that the conflict has been happening too long to see real change. My response was that African Americans were enslaved a lot longer than Congolese people have been suffering from King Leopold to the current crises. If we are other people would have thought like that and gave up it is very possible I would not be writing this article.
Article written by Nehanda Nzingha Sankofara (Nana)
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