Why the Congo is important to all of us
Photo of DFID Minister Alan Duncan speaking at the launch of ‘I Dream of Congo: Narratives from the Great Lakes’
I think about the Democratic Republic of Congo every day. I think of the women’s faces, despair and hope etched across them in equal measure. I can still hear the sweet ululations of their song echoing in my ears.
I remember the rust-coloured dust that hardens into ruby jewels in your nostrils, and when I close my eyes, I dream of crumbling marble palaces lost deep in the jungle and the creeping green that has reclaimed highways.
Congo is a strange dichotomy of nightmares and dreams. While there is immense beauty and potential in eastern DRC – the majestic landscape, the vast natural resources of gold, copper, coltan, tin, tantalum and tungsten, and the humour and warmth of the people, there is a much darker side to the region, where people cope with poverty, displacement, sexual violence and rebel attacks on a daily basis.
Congo Connect is a non-profit organisation that aims to raise awareness of human rights abuses in eastern DRC. In February this year, we organised an exhibition called ‘I Dream of Congo: Narratives from The Great Lakes’, which brought together international artists and women from eastern Congo to create a story of their hopes and dreams for the future.
John Le Carré, Ron Haviv, William Boyd, Marcus Bleasdale, Eve Ensler and Lynsey Addario, along with women from eastern DRC (who were sent disposable cameras and notebooks) were among those who generously contributed writing and photographs responding to the phrase ‘I Dream of Congo’.
The exhibition was born out of a desire to bring Congolese women’s voices and optimistic and hopeful stories of incredible bravery to a wider audience in a more permanent way.
You may ask, what does this have to do with you - a person in the UK so far away from the DRC and seemingly so unconnected? How are the Congolese tied to you and to your future? The answer is that we all use electrical products such as phones and laptops which contain conflict minerals such as coltan that comes from the DRC. You are connected to the Congolese through your mobile, whether you like it or not.
One hundred years ago the British public started a letter writing campaign to their parliamentarians, protesting against the human rights abuses that King Leopold of Belgium’s regime was perpetrating and this directly led to the international community getting involved and stopping these abuses from continuing.
There is no reason why we cannot do this again. We have a collective responsibility to do this. And it is imperative that we do something to stop this situation, which has been going on for nearly two decades. Enough is enough.
There are a variety of actions you can take to help: spread the word to your friends and family; go and see ‘A Season in the Congo’ at the Young Vic; write to your local MP with your concerns; support our partner organisations who do great work in the Congo; and finally, get in contact with Congo Connect if you’d like to help.
Never underestimate the power you have as a voter, as a citizen and as a consumer.
By Nicola York, co-founder of Congo Connect