In the Nests of Injustice
By Lenzo Bin Lenzo
I was born and raised in The Democratic Republic of the Congo in the Central part of Africa . Most parents count it as a privilege and a luxury to send their children to school. Often times they find themselves at the crossroads of the high cost of tuition and the skyrocketing price of school uniforms.
Since the rate of unemployment was up to 50% in the city of Kinshasa , where I grew up, only those children whose parents could afford to pay the tuition were able to finish high school. My parents were determined to send me and my nine other siblings to school because this is how parents can secure their retirements. There are no such things as 401 K or social security benefits. For most of my time spent in school, I walked four, five or six miles one way, rain or shine. The temperature in the city of Kinshasa varies between 86 and 92°F during the school year which runs from September to July 2 nd . School officials rely on their instincts to tell the forecast. Thus, if they thought that it was going to rain, they had to let the children go home. Going home in the rain was not and still isn't fun at all. Brooks and uncovered storm-drains over flood; making it a liability for children to be dragged away by the flow of these furious waters which end their course in the mighty Congo River .
Here in America , parents are concerned about other children bringing in fire-arms to schools. Because of that, tax-payers have to pay for police officers to keep schools safer. In my native Congo however, parents are concerned about the safety of their children caused by the enraged Mother Nature. These types of incidents could have been prevented should the local authorities decided to serve the weak that made them richer.
Empty stomachs were and still are one of the hurdles school children's have yet to overcome. Grade school students as young as 9 years-old leave home with a morsel of dry-bread and peanuts if they are lucky; and walk several miles to school sometimes bear feet. Between the time they get to school in the morning and the time they depart from here, that piece of dry bread is usually their only meal of the day.
Corruption in the DRC is a tough lion to tackle. The education field in The DRC is so underpaid that school teachers and university professors rely on students to “survive”. They get anything they can from them: cash, personal effects (shoes, watches, jewelries). For girls the deal is even easier: teachers will trade sex with grades. Despite all of this, there is nothing in the national jurisdiction to stop this sexual abuse on school girls.
Those kids who can't afford bribes end up on the streets playing pokers and most of the times; they become a threat to society by forming networks of gangs. Girls on the other hand are subjected to this puzzling dichotomy: either they keep on going to school and being sexually exploited, or give up school and wonder on the streets. There, they sell their bodies for bread and reap all types of sexually transmitted diseases, which in turn, they spread back on the streets.
Is there any system out there that will tame sexual abuse in the DRC and make these cruelties an everlasting justice? Is there any force that's going to untie the grip of shame on the Congolese women and bring their perpetrators before the supreme court of the international community; whose judgment prevails on the weak and the strong? Would there be a time when the bell of freedom ever ring in the ears of those women and children whose heads have been bent by the nests of injustice? Isn't true that all men are created equal, and that the sunbeam of justice should shine upon all beings: men, women, gays and straights, Jews and Gentiles alike? Who made the law of creation illegal for the Congolese women and children and made them slaves of humiliation and corruption?
I graduated from high school at age 21, instead of 18. I wanted to go to College to become a lawyer/politician. I always wanted to bail my people out of the dark dungeon of shame and unfairness. The only way to do so I thought; was to get a higher education. For couples of years, I could not enroll in College because my parents couldn't afford it. I found a small job at the local bakery until I was able to save enough cash to enter College. My attempt to get enrolled in the University of Zaire (now university of Congo ), in Kinshasa became a nightmare as I was urged to spend my savings in bribing the official who was supposed to lead me in that procession of enlightenment.
The emptiness that filled my noble soul projected me back in the prison of misery and nothingness as I started to reminisce those dark moments when a drunk driver killed a 1 st grade boy in my class and he got away with it. Just like that! I still can scent to this day, after so many years, the smell of blood that filtered out from his crushed body. My nights became sleepless as I remember this gorgeous girl who passed after attempting to abort our History's teacher pregnancy. Seven, out of ten women who gets an abortion in the DRC end up dying. This practice is usually done by male nurses who have no formal training at all. Among the tools they use to perform this ritual include the tip of a hanger, which is usually introduced inside the woman's uterus to poke the fetus. I became inconsolable to think of those girls who had sex with not only one teacher, but two, three, or four of them. That was the price they had to pay in order to get promoted to a higher grade. What's the essence of getting to a higher grade anyway if at the end you cannot get a job? Even if you get one, the specter of being sexually harassed at the work place looms at the horizons .
I was drawn into my tears when I thought of my friends who by the time I finished High School, were in public places selling bread. Those boys and girls I thought, could have been soaring in the open skies of freedom and happiness like eagles, instead; it is pathetic that they were forced to turn themselves into grasshoppers to suck the mud of life.
Why is it that Congolese people accustom to paddle to the high sea of life with such sufferings? : from the spears of colonialism in the late 1950's to the iron-hand of the CIA's protégé Mobutu in the 1960's to the dangerous venom of the Rwandan invasion in the 1990's. What crime have they committed to deserve this fate? Perhaps their only sin is the fact that they slumber in huts standing amidst gold and diamond's caves, which they have no recollection of, and which they never benefited from.
Is there any power hanging at the doorsteps of this world at all; any authority that is going to shun injustice and give the abused women and children of the Congo a chance to dream without fear? Are gold, diamonds, and all the riches the DRC engulfs worthier than the lives of 5 millions Congolese who perished amid the tyranny of Paul Kagamé and the gluttony of the American multi-nationals?
Now that the windows of my heart are removed and I hear whispering in my ears the hymn of love and passion, I pledge to devote my time working to restore the pride of the Congolese women by creating a nonprofit organization called African Dignity, Int'l. Not only that we are striding to reinstate human dignity in that part of the world, but most of all we want to become the eyes of these poor women who walk blindly amid the beam of the sun, the feet of those innocents children who climb the hills of mercy to find love, the ears that refuse to echo the sweet melody of the nightingale at eventide, and the dew that cries beneath the foot heels of arid mountains.
Mr. Lenzo Bin Lenzo
February 2, 2010
© Congo Vision
Peace Strategy in the DRC Letter
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), peace and prosperity remain elusive for the Congolese people. 2009 brought continued conflict in the Eastern part of the country with rebel groups (notably the CNDP, FDLR, and the Mai Mai) continuing to wage war for access to resources and wealth with civilians as their primary targets, even as some rebels have been integrated into the national army (FARDC). In the North Eastern Orientale Province the Ugandan Rebel Group the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) has been taking over territory and murdering civilians, burning homes, and abducting children, as they are pursued by the Ugandan and the Congolese Army. In the Western Province of Equateur violence broke out over access to land and fishing rights resulting in 100,000 people fleeing their homes, the vast majority of these refugees are women and children. Meanwhile in other areas in the country, such as the Katanga Province, mineral exploitation takes another form as U.S. and multi national corporations mine for copper and other minerals, and clear cut the rainforest as they log with no just compensation to the local populations. Over the last decade the death toll is estimated at 5.4 million, making the ongoing instability in the DRC the world's deadliest conflict since World War II. There are an estimated 2 million internally displaced people in the DRC, and 300,000 Congolese refugees in neighboring countries.
Based on the ongoing violence against the civilian population, resource exploitation, and environmental degradation, we the following organizations support and urge the U.S government to include the following recommendations in their DRC 2010 policy objectives:
Implementation of the public law 109-456, Democratic Republic of the Congo relief, security and Democracy promotion Act of 2006
Then Senator Barack Obama sponsored the bill S2125, Democratic Republic of the Congo relief, security and Democracy promotion Act of 2006 and was sign into law in December 2006. This law addresses topic such as bilateral assistance, DRC government accountability to the people, assistance withholding for neighboring nations if they continue to destabilize the DRC, multilateral actions to deal with DRC's urgent needs, and humanitarian assistance through international humanitarian organization. The question at hand is what has happened to this law? We ask Congress not only to fully fund this project, but also call for a hearing on the status of the implementation of this law.
Violence Against Women: End the Impunity
Efforts by the DRC government and MONUC have been ineffective at stopping violence against women, and at arresting and prosecuting those who are guilty of the crimes against women. Particularly in the Eastern Kivu Provinces , and the Northeastern Orientale Province , women are being raped as a tool of war in alarming numbers. The Congolese government has failed to protect women, and bring to justice perpetrators of rape and other crimes. We ask that the U.S, through UN requests and enforces it's the United Nations' peacekeeping forces (MONUC) mandate and procedures in DRC to better protect women and children.
Comprehensive Security Sector Reform
The national army FARDC has been implicated in human rights abuses and is involved in the illegal export of minerals. Not only are the military and police forces operating in a situation with many challenges, they are chronically under-resourced, lacking proper training, supplies, and funding. As a result of the integrating the former rebel groups forces without identification, the FARDC is heavily infiltrated by members of the Rwandan, Burundian and Ugandan national armies, according to the November 2009 UN report, and all of them working on the account of their respective governments. In addition, we have citizens of these nations who were recruited in the ranks of the rebel groups and have been incorporated in the FARDC. Many of the former rebel groups have been promoted as part of the deal for peace despite the charges for human rights and war crimes against them. We ask that the U.S uses its diplomatic channels to ensure all foreigners are identified and demobilized from the AFRDC, that Bosco Ntaganda and others are arrested, and that the army and the police receive training about human right codes and all other things concerning the duties of a national army.
Inclusive Peace Negotiations
Peace can be achieved through inclusive peace negotiations that bring all parties together; the government, women's right advocate groups, the opposition, civil society, Congolese neighboring nations. Through diplomaticy and sanctions, the US should hold Rwanda , Burundi , Uganda and any other nation that directly or indirectly destabilizes peace, stability and Congolese effort to regulate and control its natural resources. Rwandan government must guaranty a voluntarily and safe return of refugees specifically open political space to members of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) once they return.
Democracy Benchmarks for 2011 Elections
To continue the progress made in 2006, with the first national elections since 1960, the DRC will need support and resources for the 2011 national elections. We ask the US to support the democratic process - voter education, civil society empowerment, and fair and uniformly applied candidacy laws- and the respect of the constitution in Congo by making sure presidential elections are held in 2011. A delay in this process or any manipulation of the constitution to avoid presidential elections in 2011 should be addressed with all diplomatic tools possible in favor of the Congolese people. The US should clearly signal to the Congolese government that they do not support and do not intend to work with such a dictatorial government.
Independent Auditing Mechanism for Conflict Minerals Supply Chains
The DRC government currently lacks the capacity to monitor the mining and exportation of its minerals. Numerous rebel groups and the Congolese national army continue to illegally trade, and export minerals. Armed groups use the revenue to finance their activities. Myriad electronic, military, and medical products are made with components of legally and illegally minerals mined in the DRC. Regional auditing mechanisms are needed to monitor where minerals are mined and what companies purchase them in order to ensure that conflict minerals do not end up in the products end consumers purchase.
Congo Global Action
Africa Faith and Justice Network
Catholic Relief Services