A long-term conflict in Eastern Congo has torn apart villages, taken many lives and inflicted massive psychological damage on communities. One of the main causes of the conflict is the exploitation of minerals which belong to the Congolese people. The president of the Congolese bishops’ conference, Bishop Nicholas Djomo of Tshumbe, recently went to the United Nations with Caritas’s permanent representative to the UN, Joseph Donnelly, to highlight the plight of his country. Here he explains about his country’s difficulties.
Why did you go to the UN?
That’s a long story! During 15 plus years of war and conflict, we have been working at the grassroots doing peacebuilding education and teaching national civil rights among many other things. I came to the UN to speak to Security Council Member States to thank them for their efforts in DRC, but to urgently remind them of the diverse effects of so many years of violence which sustains instability for all but we need even more support and serious engagement from all sectors in the international community.
We have lost approximately six million people in these years and we are very concerned for all of our country. We do not want to report on yet another million people dead. We want to act responsibly together now. We need to act locally, nationally, regionally. All must be accountable.
How is the UN helping DRC?
We bishops thank the UN for the “Intervention Brigade” which was created last month as a critically important initiative to help defeat armed groups in the Kivu region. It is an imperative work, but it will be complicated by many factors and on-ground realities. Its mandate is for an initial period of one year. The Bishops believe that the brigade must be stronger and better equipped than the armed groups, who use guerilla tactics in a very mountainous region.
How important is the Church in resolving this conflict?
We live in and with our communities and as the Church we can provide facts from the ground. We are prepared to develop greater dialogues with the government and all to end this grave instability. The profound and horrible impact of conflict minerals has been extraordinarily devastating to women. It cannot continue. It must stop. We must revisit the Kimberly Process.
The Catholic Church in DRC is very involved in helping local communities throughout our country. Forty percent of schools and 45 percent of health care in our country is supported by the Catholic Church.
What are the Church’s concerns?
We are extremely concerned about the more than two million internally displaced persons. They need to return to their villages, but they need economic and development support. We need to see the economy growing…but we need peace to make these significant quality of life changes.
What are the challenges to the Church?
The biggest challenges to the DRC Catholic Church is evangelisation and the long search for peace. People are exhausted. People are displaced. Fifteen plus years is a long hard journey. These cycles of violence and instability simply continue to go round and round.
What is the role of the international community in resolving the crisis in Eastern Congo?
The international community has to deal with one of the main causes of the instability and violence in the Kivu region: the illicit exploitation of natural resources which belong to the Congolese. The USA has taken effective action with the Dodd-Frank law section 1502. Other countries (like Canada and Great Britain) could do the same. International regulations on the exploitation of these resources could end the violence. The CENCO (Congo bishops’ conference, a collection of 45 bishops) urges the U.S. to call for an international conference on this matter in order to raise the profile of the issue and spur greater action.
Meanwhile, if peace returns thanks to the UN Brigade, the international community will have to support the Congo’s efforts to help the 2 million internally displaced people return home by ensuring humanitarian and economic assistance.
What has Caritas’s role been in the conflict in your country?
Caritas has been a profound partner assisting us at every level with courage and compassion as well as their capacity to make differences in the lives of people and communities. Numerous Caritas member organisations and partners from around the world help us help our sisters and brothers, young and old. It is through Caritas that the Church fulfils its evangelical mission. We live, work and pray every day with deep thanks to all of Caritas who are with us in communion and solidarity in helping communities who are worn down by violence and uncertainty.