While attending a press briefing organized by ActionAid International Kenya, I was very moved as I watched a Congolese woman, Jeanie Bandu break down in tears while sharing the experiences of women and children as the crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo continues to escalate.
I could see, hear, and connect with her voice even though she spoke Swahili, which is unknown to me as a Nigerian. The fighting resumed about 8 months ago. The rush for diamonds, oil, and other natural resources is said to be the historical and significant driver of conflict in the DRC.
Questions kept popping into my head as I watched the three Congolese women that ActionAid brought from the DRC. There came to amplify women’s voices so they can be heart by the Head of States, so they can solve the conflict. As I wrote, they are getting ready for a meeting, 10 minutes from the time the press briefing in downtown Nairobi.
I wonder why natural resources that are meant to be a blessing have become a curse. I thought natural resources are supposed to aid and bring development to the communities and countries where they are found. I cannot understand why instead, they create wars, conflicts and pain. Why is the discovery of this newfound wealth in the Congo such a pain?
The women told that terrible things are going on in the DRC. With the capture of Goma, the M23 rebels impose taxes at roadblocks among other crimes. Most people are unable to access their crops and therefore food prices are increasing and getting out of control. The UN has estimated that there are approximately 140,000 internally displaced people living in and around Goma. The Women are scared to go outside to farm their land or even fetch firewood or water. The constant rounds of fighting and displacement means that they are unable to provide food, shelter, and security for themselves and their families. ActionAid is working with approximately 17,000 in need of food, shelter and assistance rebuilding their livelihoods but this is only like a drop is the ocean.
After the press conference, the Heads of Governments in East African gathered to discuss solutions to the conflict. I am told a regional force has been constituted and an ultimatum has been given to the M23 rebels to retreat 20 Kilometres out of Goma. The course of the rebels is unclear, but the victims remain the same.
On either side of the crisis, the M23, or the government forces (FARDC), the primary concern is immediate protection for the women of DRC against sexual and physical attack from both sides of the conflict. The UN and the East African governments must also ensure that its peacekeeping force does the job it was mandated to do: protects the innocent, and restore peace. Meeting people’s basic need for food, water, and shelter at this point cannot be negotiated,
As earlier stated, ActionAid brought these women to Nairobi to demand that women are given the opportunity to contribute to the peace building process as women bring a different perspective to peace discussions. Their role in ending the conflict and restoring peace in their communities is fundamental and crucial
I sincerely hoped that the Congolese women with their cry for sustainable peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo will be heard but no, the East African Leaders choose to be silent in the face of all these. John Abuya from ActionAid says:
ActionAid is deeply concerned by the silence from East African Heads of State on the crisis in Democratic Republic of Congo East African leaders, who have the power to turn this conflict around, must face up to their responsibilities and take the necessary steps to restore peace in DRC