I spent the last month in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), much of my time in Goma. There, I was privileged to be part of the first public testimonies where women survivors of rape and sexual torture came forward in front hundreds to bravely break the silence on the terrible atrocities done to their bodies and souls during the twelve-year conflict that has embroiled the DRC. The conflict, a virtual proxy war fought between the Congolese government, former Hutu Genocidaires from Rwanda, and ethnic Tutsis is the largest the world has seen since WWII. I heard stories that ranged from young women being raped by fifty men in one day to women being forced to eat dead babies. These women represented hundreds of thousands of survivors of similar crimes. These public testimonies, and other surrounding activities, are part of a fragile but burgeoning grassroots peace movement in the DRC--a movement that exists to stop the violence and restore individual and national autonomy.
The weeks I spent in Goma reflected the insane duality that is the Congo. I met activists, doctors, nurses, NGO workers, leaders, filled with determination and hope, working non-stop, to save lives, heal trauma and provide the most basic resources. At the same time, despair lingered around the borders as rebel leader Laurent Nkunda's troops pillaged, killed, and raped, 16 kilometers away.
Now that I have returned to the US, and there is full scale war with Nkunda's troops threatening to take Goma, I receive emails and calls by the minute from people on the ground who have been rendered speechless and thrown into despair. Where is the world? they ask me. Why is no one coming to defend us? I wonder: What stops the world from intervening on behalf of the people of the Congo?
12 years later, 5.4 million are dead, over 300,000 raped. What about this conflict doesn't move the world to action? Is it that the Congolese people no longer exist in our imagination, since they were decimated by the colonialism and brutality of King Leopold of Belgium? Is it that the vast resources of the Congo--coltan for our cell phones, for example--are all that the West is paying attention to? Is it simply racism--that unless white people are involved in the conflict the world does not intervene? Or, is it because so much of this war is being waged on the bodies, genitals and reproductive organs of women and that the world still does not give a damn about women?
Right now, in America, we are living in the center of a potential paradigm shift. A definite, burgeoning movement. A time of Hope. With the upcoming elections, we could redefine America's standing in the world by enacting foreign policy that is based on the universal understanding that we are all interconnected. That the rape of an eight-year-old-girl in Congo is akin to the rape of an eight-year-old girl in Chicago or Phoenix. We use the words and slogans "Never again" and "Not on our watch", but right now thousands are being displaced, raped, murdered in Eastern DRC.
"The Responsibility to Protect" requires that we, as the international community, particularly America, intervene where governments cannot protect their own people, demand that more UN peacekeeping troops are deployed and seriously focused on the mission of protection. Where the world sees to it that leaders are brought to the negotiating table to find solutions to the conflict so that the people of Congo are no longer pawns in this economic and ethnic battle. Where the world delivers plentiful resources to Congolese women and girls, who have survived the unthinkable.
The Congo is the heart of Africa and Africa is the heart of the world. Right now Eastern Congo is about to spin out of control and tumble into full-scale war. Let the DRC be the place where the paradigm actually shifts. Where we usher in a time of Hope. We have to do more than we have ever done before. The time to act is now.