Archive for May, 2011

News to Know

This week’s must-read news stories

Le Roy Discusses U.N. Peacekeeping Operations
May 24, 2011 NPR, Michelle Norris and Robert Siegel

The head of the world’s largest UN Peacekeeping mission, MONUC in Congo, talked with NPR this week about helicopters, training an army for civilian protection and why he wants more female police officers. Listen Here…

Do We Have the Congo Rape Crisis All Wrong?
May 24, 2011 THE ATLANTIC, Laura Seay

The new rape stats in Congo—co-authored by Amber Peterman—sparked critical debate around the world on the need for such studies. The discussion continues this week in The Atlantic with Laura Seay arguing that in light of the new study, a more comprehensive and coordinated approach to solving Congo’s crisis is necessary. Full Story Here…

DR Congo Says Mineral Exports Hit by Tracing Rules
May 21, 2011 REUTERS, Jonny Hogg

New traceability standards in Congo, agreed to most notably by Apple and Hewlett-Packard, are beginning to work. The good news: armed groups are leaving mines in the east. The bad: exports have nearly ground to a halt. Full Story Here…

Gynecologist, Dr. Denis Mukwege, Wins This Year’s King Baudouin International Development Prize
May 25, 2011 ALL AFRICA

Few Congo heroes come larger than Dr. Denis Mukwege, the founder of the highly regarded Panzi hospital. He was recognized this week for his work in restoring the health and dignity of victims of sexual violence; his dedication serves as an important reminder of the power one person can have when you choose to simply show up. Full Story Here…


Redefining Activism

For me, “activist” is a loaded word. It carries the weight of a stereotype: loud, opinionated, in-your-face kind of people who shout in front of buildings, hold big signs, and occasionally pull off stunts like living in a tree or standing in front of a bulldozer. People love them, hate them, criticism them. I’ve always admired such nerve, but never identified with the approach. Donate to causes, vote on the issues, sure. But activist? No, not me.

Then I found myself in my sister’s kitchen on the first night of Special Envoy Now trying to summon the courage to speak. Lisa had asked me to ask my family to post photos, and I said I would, yet despite a deep pain for the brutal rapes Congolese women endure, I really didn’t want to. It wasn’t a big protest, but still, I was a behind-the-scenes girl, doing my part in quiet, non-public ways (in this case, writing web text for ATS and helping garner publicity for the new rape stats). There are actors and stagehands, I reasoned, and both make the world go round. This is valid, but it was also an excuse. The truth was that I was scared to put myself out there, even to my family. What if they said no? What if they judged me?

I wasn’t the only nervous sister. Suzanna Blahna hesitated when a co-worker asked her about her new Facebook profile photo, which included the sign “Great Lakes Special Envoy Now.” Should she talk about this at work? Would her colleague respond negatively?

Our fears were understandable; taking a position is a risk. It opens you up to rejection and criticism. It makes you vulnerable. But there is power in action, so that night in my sister’s kitchen—as my mom chopped vegetables, my nephew did homework, and my younger sister walked her one-year-old daughter around in circles—I wrote out envoy signs, took a deep breath, and launched into a monologue on rape stats, billion dollars in aid, asking the president to help, and then the kicker: does anyone want to participate?

“Sure,” my sister replied.

“A billion dollars?” my 16-year-old nephew said with indignation and got out of his chair.

We took photos on the stairs and the dad of the one-year-old joined us too.

At the office, Suzanna told her co-worker that more than 400,000 rapes occurred in one year. Her colleague said, wow, but when asked to post a photo, opted out. Her efforts weren’t in vain; one more person now knows about Congo.

Lisa has talked of her own fears and nerves and moments of feeling silly running down the halls of Congress not fully sure of what she was doing, yet finding that each and every time she and others have shown up for Congo, it matters. Yes, exactly. Another person knows about Congo. A few more voices have whispered “special envoy” in President Obama’s ear. And I have realized that activism isn’t just big signs and media-grabbing stunts (important and effective though they may be). It’s also a few women simply finding the courage to speak.

Michelle Hamilton

News to Know

This weeks must-read news stories

77 Human Rights Groups Sign Letter Calling for U.S. Envoy to Africa’s Great Lakes
May 17, 2011 ENOUGH PROJECT

ATS’s Lisa Shannon, along with Enough and policy expert Jason Stearns, spearheaded a letter to the U.S. State Department calling for a Great Lakes Special Envoy and other key policy solutions. The letter was signed by 55 Congolese and 22 U.S. and international NGOs and delivered just before last week’s Virtual March on Washington.

In the wake of the jaw-dropping statistics from the new study of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Enough Project and 76 other NGOs have written to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to urge much greater engagement with the crisis in Congo, beginning with the appointment of a special envoy for the Great Lakes region. Full Story Here…

Academic Spat Erupts Over Rape in Democratic Republic of Congo
May 20, 2011 THE STAR, Debra Black

Last week’s release of  new rape statistics for Congo produced a great deal of attention and discussion worldwide. The Star details some of the challenges to the study and the authors’ responses.

A recent study on the number of women being raped in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has triggered an academic spat between its authors and two researchers from the Nordic Africa Institute. Full Story Here…

Congo Military Withdraws from Mine
May 18, 2011 ASSOCIATED PRESS, Carley  Petesch

Report on the implications of the Congolese military’s recent withdrawal from the country’s largest tin-ore mine in North Kivu.

A rights group says there are now opportunities for conflict-free mining in recently demilitarized mines in volatile eastern Congo, where trade has fueled conflict. Full Story Here…

Is the Focus on Conflict Minerals Justified?
May 16, 2011 CONGO-SIASA, Jason Stearns

A Thousand Sisters’ policy adviser and Congo expert Jason Stearns presents a strong case on why conflict minerals are only part of the solution. Hint: correcting one area isn’t going to solve a complicated, multi-faceted conflict.

My article in Foreign Policy received several helpful comments from friends who objected to the emphasis on conflict minerals by some advocacy groups in the United States and elsewhere. There is a growing number of people – including friends and colleageus from Laura Seay (of Texas in Africa fame), Nicholas Garrett (of Resource Consulting Services), Mvemba Dizolele and Friends of the Congo – who are skeptical of this approach. Full Story Here…


 

 

Special Envoy: Why We Need One NOW!

You’ve read the recent news stories: 400,000 women a year; 1,152 women raped a day, a rate that’s 26 times higher than previous U.N. estimate. The numbers are hard to digest, but they send a critical message: Special Envoy Now! Appointing an envoy to Africa’s Great Lakes region is the first key step in bringing stability to the region. Join the week-long march—Special Envoy Now!—and read on to learn more about the crucial role envoys can play in conflict resolution.

What is a special envoy?
An envoy is a government representative who is sent to carry out a specific mission (rather than an ambassador who maintains full-time diplomatic relations). An envoy helps the President tackle complicated issues needing high level attention, such as nuclear nonproliferation, climate change, and conflict resolution. Organizations also use envoys; Bill Clinton, for example, is the U.N.’s Special Envoy to Haiti.

How would a special envoy help Congo?
Currently, there is no coherent U.S. policy on Congo, despite the fact that the United States spends about a billion dollars a year on U.N. peacekeeping and development, humanitarian, and security assistance in Congo. A special envoy to the Great Lakes Region would be tasked with developing and implementing a comprehensive strategy for the entire region, including countries such as Uganda and Rwanda, who have been deeply involved with the conflict. An envoy would also ensure that aid is conditional and includes robust support for demobilization and reintegration programs for armed groups in Congo.

The Congolese Government has continually failed to protect its own citizens from mass atrocity; many former warlords are found within the government, judicial system, police, and military. This has led to a breakdown of the rule of law and created a culture of impunity. An envoy would help intensify efforts to protect civilians and support efforts to hold perpetrators accountable. How? By assisting the Congolese Government in creating security and judicial reform programs with clear, measurable milestones.

The envoy would also have the opportunity to work with the Congolese Government to implement free, fair, and credible elections this November.

The State Department has made it clear that it does not want an envoy in the region because it feels ambassadors can do the job. This isn’t the right solution; learn why here. More can and should be done.

Members of both parties in the House and Senate have written to President Obama asking for an envoy, demonstrating that an appointment has bi-partisan support. A Thousand Sisters, along with a coalition of 77 other organizations, sent a letter to Secretary Clinton last week recommending policy for Congo and emphasizing that an envoy would be invaluable in implementing these recommendations. Now, it’s your turn to ask Obama for an envoy. Join the march! Special Envoy Now! A Virtual March on Congo

 

News to Know

This week’s must-read news stories

SPECIAL EDITION: Last week, the American Journal of Public Health released a study that found that incidents of rape in Congo are a mind-numbing 26 times higher than previous U.N. estimates. A Thousand Sisters teamed with the study’s three authors – including fellow sister Amber Peterman – to get the word out about this important new study. And out it went! The New York Times, Associated Press, Reuters, ABC News, The Daily Beast, PRI’s The World, CBC (Canadian radio with NPR affiliates), BBC and Australian news agency, among others, all ran stories. A small sampling below.

New Study Sets Estimates for Rape Much Higher
May 11, 2011 NEW YORK TIMES, Jeffery Gettleman

A new study in The American Journal of Public Health, expected to be published Thursday online, estimates that nearly two million women have been raped in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with women victimized at a rate of nearly one every minute.  Full Story Here…

48 women raped every hour in Congo, study finds
May 11, 2011 ASSOCIATED PRESS, Rukmini Callimachi

The African nation of Congo has been called the worst place on earth to be a woman. A new study released Wednesday shows that it’s even worse than previously thought: 1,152 women are raped every day, a rate equal to 48 per hour. Full story here…

Congo Rape Crisis: Study Reveals Shocking New Numbers
May 11, 2011 THE DAILY BEAST, Danielle Shapiro

Sometimes the attacks happen on their way to and from the market or their cassava fields. Sometimes they happen deep into the night, when the women are shaken from sleep with violence. Sometimes their attacker is a soldier, a rebel, a neighbor; sometimes it’s their husband. The rapes are so common, they’ve become a sickening part of everyday life in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo. Full Story Here…

Nearly Every Minute a Women is Raped in the Congo
May 11, 2011 ABC NEWS, Carrie Halperin and Mandana Mofidi

By the time you finish reading this article five women in the Congo will have been raped. In what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calls “the worst example of man’s inhumanity towards women,” a study reveals a violent war against women happening within the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Full Story Here…

Rape Skyrocketing in Congo
May 11, 2011 PRI’S THE WORLD, Marco Werman

A Thousand Sister’s founder, Lisa Shannon, is interviewed by The World’s Marco Werman.

A new study in the American Journal of Public Health shows rates of rapes in the Democratic Republic of Congo are skyrocketing. Lisa Shannon, Congo activist and author of “A Thousand Sisters” tells anchor Marco Werman that the study points to the need for Washington to leverage its aid to Congo with an eye toward accountability and protecting women. Listen Here…

Other Stories…

Senators Join Effort to Urge Obama to Appoint Special Envoy
May 12, 2011 ENOUGH PROJECT, Talia Samuelson

Enough Project’s Talia Samuelson reports the efforts by16 U.S. senators to pressure President Obama to appoint a special representative to Africa’s Great Lakes Region.

Sixteen U.S. senators sent a letter to President Obama this week urging him to appoint a special representative, to “make an important statement that [violence in eastern Congo and ongoing LRA atrocities] are a high priority for your Administration.” Full Story Here…

Rediscovering Congo
May 12, 2011 FOREIGN POLICY, Jason Stearns

Congo expert and A Thousand Sisters policy adviser Jason Stearns details the renewed energy of Congo advocacy efforts, its effectiveness and the challenges of real world reform in a place as complicated as Congo.

These are strange, exhilarating times to be working on the Democratic Republic of the Congo. For the first time since full-fledged war broke out in the central African country in 1996, the American public seems to be waking up to the brutality of the conflict there. Over the past year, there has been a flurry of activity inside and outside the Beltway — in congressional hearings, Oprah shows, and Broadway theater. The country’s ongoing rape epidemic is finally getting front-page treatment. Congress passed a bill specifically on the Congo, and lawmakers and corporate boards in California, Pittsburgh, and universities around the country may soon follow suit. Full Story Here…

ATS: Letter to Secretary Clinton From Coalition of 77 Organizations

What can the US do to combat the rape pandemic in Congo? 77 Organizations agree…read below.
Letter to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton From Coalition of 77 Organizations
MAY 12, 2011

Dear Secretary Clinton:

We, the undersigned organizations, write to urge you and the United States government to take steps to bolster and better coordinate US diplomacy and assistance in the Democratic Republic of Congo to help avert a further deterioration of the situation there. In particular, we urge you to appoint a new US Special Envoy tasked with developing and implementing a comprehensive strategy for the African Great Lakes region. This is especially important given that Congo’s challenges have considerable regional significance and that effective coordination among international partners, the Congolese government, and neighboring countries is strongly needed.

We have welcomed your calls for concerted action on behalf of victims of conflict in Congo, but believe that the Great Lakes region requires dedicated US engagement beyond the standard diplomatic representation.

A US Special Envoy to the region, reporting directly to you, would be invaluable to help address a number of key cross-border concerns, including the significant military, economic, and political role of Rwanda in eastern Congo; the presence of members of Burundian armed opposition groups in Congo’s South Kivu province; the deployment of Ugandan army troops to pursue the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army in northern Congo; and the continuing humanitarian and political challenges posed by tens of thousands of refugees and internally displaced persons who have fled across the Great Lakes countries.

Any official tasked with developing and carrying out a Great Lakes strategy should have the mandate to coordinate initiatives across the US government, with sufficient and experienced staff. Understanding that a Special Envoy for the Great Lakes will undoubtedly face numerous competing priorities, we urge the United States government to focus its efforts on the following areas:

1. Insist on Free, Fair, and Credible Elections

Free, fair, and credible presidential and parliamentary elections – currently slated for November 2011 – will be crucial for stability in Congo. Yet we have already received reports of voter registration irregularities and of government security forces targeting opposition members, journalists, and civil society activists, effectively stifling free speech and assembly from Kinshasa to the Kivus. The US government, in coordination with other foreign partners, should speak out without delay to denounce impediments to peaceful demonstrations or restrictions on the right to freedom of expression in the pre-election period, as well as any apparent election irregularities.

We urge the US government to lead international efforts to provide financial and practical support for Congolese and international civil society election observers and to enable such observers to be deployed well in advance of the elections and to remain as long as necessary afterwards. In addition, the United States should work to ensure that the United Nations mission in Congo, MONUSCO, fulfills its mandate to assist with logistics, monitoring, and other electoral issues, including a program to train police to prevent pre-electoral and electoral violence and safeguard polling stations, similar to efforts made during the 2006 polls.

2. Coordinate and Condition US and Multilateral Financial Assistance to Congolese Government

As part of a revitalized strategy led by the Special Envoy and in concert with other foreign partners, the US government should make it clear to the Congolese government, both publicly and privately, that the US government will condition political support and direct, non-humanitarian assistance to the Congolese government on its progress toward meeting specific targets and outcomes established and agreed in advance. These should include measures related to security sector reform, respect for human rights, good governance, and effective service provision. US support for assistance from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to the Congolese government should also be coordinated with other donor countries, and similarly conditioned.

3. Intensify Efforts to Protect Civilians, Particularly in Eastern and Northern Congo

A new study published this month in the American Journal of Public Health estimates that over 400,000 women and girls were victims of sexual violence in Congo during a 12-month period in 2006 and 2007 – a yearly statistic far higher than previously estimated. Today, more than 1.7 million people remain displaced as a result of insecurity in eastern Congo. Despite a March 2009 peace accord involving 23 parties to the conflict in the country’s east, military operations continue between the Congolese army and foreign and Congolese armed groups; all sides, including the regular army and recently integrated rebel forces, are responsible for frequent and grave human rights abuses. The largely Rwandan Hutu rebel group the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) remains responsible for many abuses against the civilian population in the east, as are a number of other armed groups.

More robust US diplomatic engagement with Congolese authorities and neighboring governments, as well as intensified support for effective demobilization and reintegration programs of Congolese and foreign armed groups, are needed to help build a lasting peace and protect civilians at risk of attack in Congo’s eastern provinces.

In northern Congo, the Ugandan rebel group the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) continues its horrific abuses against civilians. We urge you to use the United States’ diplomatic influence to insist on a greater and more effective international peacekeeping presence in LRA-affected areas and to support the deployment of specialized units capable of arresting the LRA’s top leaders wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court.

More broadly, we urge the United States to use its influence at the United Nations Security Council to insist on proactive UN mission engagement to protect Congolese civilians, including increased peacekeeper patrols, more interpreters, additional helicopters and essential military resources, a more assertive and flexible interpretation of the rules of engagement consistent with international law, regular human rights investigations followed by public reporting, and greater efforts to support arrests and judicial proceedings against high-profile human rights violators.

4. Increase Support for Justice and Security Sector Reform

Violence in Congo over the last 15 years is partly the result of entrenched impunity and a dearth of effective efforts to reform and improve the conduct of the Congolese security forces. The US government should lead in the creation of a common donor policy focused on obtaining agreements with all Congolese security and judicial institutions for a government-led reform program. This policy should require clear, measurable benchmarks related to accountability, transparency, independence, and effective administration of these institutions. The UN mission should only justifiably contemplate withdrawal when the Congolese state is able to fulfill its most basic functions, including establishing a fair and effective judicial system and protecting civilians through competent and adequately paid police and military personnel.

The Congolese government has routinely promoted army officers with a well-documented record of serious human rights abuses. These include Col. Innocent Zimurinda, who was put on the UN sanctions list just before being promoted last December, and Bosco Ntaganda, the former warlord turned army general who is sought on an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court and continues to commit abuses.

The US government should exert leadership in pressing the Congolese government to arrest and bring to justice alleged perpetrators of human rights abuses. In particular, we urge the US to work with the Congolese government to develop a strategy for Ntaganda’s arrest and, in view of Rwanda’s support for Ntaganda and the close relationship between the US and Rwandan governments, to also engage with the Rwandan government on this issue. The United States should strongly support the creation of vetting mechanisms to remove soldiers and police officers with records of serious human rights abuses and screen new recruits. The United States should also closely monitor Congolese army units for alleged abuses, and apply the Leahy law to suspend assistance to units involved in serious abuses.

We greatly value the important efforts that US War Crimes Ambassador Stephen Rapp has made to support the establishment of a specialized mixed court, with Congolese and international personnel, to try war crimes committed in Congo since 1990. We urge the US government to continue working closely with Congolese authorities, civil society, and other donor countries to ensure the court’s independence, credibility, and effectiveness.

5. Encourage Demilitarization of Congolese Mining Sector and Vigorously Enforce Dodd-Frank Provisions on Congo’s Conflict Minerals

Building on the State Department’s strategy for conflict minerals submitted to Congress, the US government should invest in mineral traceability and supply chain due diligence to shift the commercial incentives in the region away from conflict and toward peaceful development. The United States should also support Congolese efforts to prosecute illegal military involvement in mining. The US government should develop an implementation plan that includes independent monitoring and enforceable penalties for Congolese and foreign government officials and corporations that circumvent regulations. Oversight should be performed by multiple stakeholders, including civil society representatives.

The United States has a critical role to play in supporting a true and lasting peace in the region and moving Congo from a culture of impunity to one of accountability. We hope you will help lead in these efforts by appointing a Special Envoy to the Great Lakes, tasked with focusing on the priorities outlined above.

Sincerely,

American and International Organizations:
A Thousand Sisters; ActionAid International – DRC; Africa Faith and Justice Network (AFJN); Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI); Enough Project; Falling Whistles; Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect; Global Witness; Human Rights Watch; ICCO; Invisible Children; Jewish World Watch; MDF Afrique Centrale, Training and Consultancy (MDF-AC); Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA); Resolve; Responsible Sourcing Network; V-Day; War Child Canada/USA; War Child Holland; War Child UK; Women of Africa – RDC

Congolese Organizations:
Action de Promotion et d’Assistance pour l’Amélioration du Niveau de Vie des Populations (APANIVIP); Action des Chrétiens Activistes des Droits de l’Homme à Shabunda (ACADHOSHA); Action des Chrétiens pour l’Abolition de la Torture au Nord-Kivu (ACAT/NK); Action Globale pour la promotion Sociale et la paix (AGPSP); Action Humanitaire pour le Développement Intégral (AHDI); Action Pour Enfants Oubliés (APEO); Action pour la Promotion et la Défense des Droits des Personnes Défavorisées (APRODEPED); Action Sociale pour la Paix et le Développement (ASPD); Actions pour la Promotion Socio-Économique des Ménages (APROSEM); Appui aux Femmes Démunies et Enfants Marginalisés (AFEDEM); Association Africaine de Défense des Droits de l’Homme (ASADHO); Association des Femmes Ménagères pour le Développement (AFEMED); Association des Femmes Paysannes du Nord-Kivu (AFEPANOKI); Association des Jeunes Engagés pour le Développement et la Santé (AJDS); Association Groupe Féminin Nyamulisa; Bénévolat pour l’Enfance au Congo (Benenfance Congo); Blessed Aid; Campagne Pour la Paix (CPP); Centre d’Etudes et de Formation Populaire pour les Droits de l’Homme (CEFOP/DH); Centre de Recherche sur l’Environnement, la Démocratie et les Droits de l’Homme (CREDDHO); Centre d’Observation des Droits de l’Homme et d’Assistance Sociale (CODHAS); Centre pour la Justice et la Réconciliation (CJR); Coalition Congolaise pour la Justice Transitionnelle (CCJT); Collectif des Organisations Solidaires du Congo-Kinshasa (COJESKI); Défense et Assistance aux Femmes et Enfants Vulnérables en Afrique (DAFEVA); Encadrement des Femmes Indigènes et des Ménages Vulnérables (EFIM); Équipe de Soutien au Développement Intégral Humanitaire et de la Biodiversité (ESDIHB); Fondation Points de Vues des Jeunes Africains pour le Développement (FPJAD); Groupe d’Associations de Défense des Droits de l’Homme et de la Paix (GADHOP); Groupe Justice et Libération (GJL); Groupe Lotus; Heal Africa; Initiation Femme Debout pour la Justice (IFDJ); Initiative Congolaise pour la Justice et la Paix (ICJP); Justice Plus; Ligue des Jeunes des Grands Lacs (LJGL); Ligue pour la Défense et la Vulgarisation des Droits de l’Homme (LDVDH); Maniema Libertés (MALI); Observatoire Congolais des Droits Humains (OCDH); Observatoire Congolais des Prisons (OCP); Organisation pour la Défense des Droits de l’Enfant (ODDE – DRC); Pax Christi – Goma; Pax Christi – Kikwit; Programme d’Appui à la Lutte Contre la Misère (PAMI); Promotion et Appui aux Initiatives Féminines (PAIF); Réseau Provincial des Organisations Non Gouvernementales de Droits de l’Homme au Congo (REPRODHOC); Solidarité des Volontaires pour l’Humanité (SVH); Solidarité Féminine pour la Paix et le Développement Intégral (SOFEPADI); Solidarité pour la Promotion Sociale et Paix (SOPROP); Synergie des Femmes pour les Victimes des Violences Sexuelles (SFVS); Synergie pour l’Assistance Judiciaire aux Victimes de Violations des Droits Humains au Nord-Kivu (SAJ); Union d’Action pour les Initiatives de Développement (UAID); Union de Familles pour la Recherche de la Paix (UFAREP); Union Paysanne pour le Développement Rural Intégré (UPADERI); Union pour l’Émancipation de la Femme Autochtone (UEFA); Unité des Volontaires pour le Développement Social (UVDS)

 

Lisa Shannon interview on PRI’s The World – 4/11/2001

Lisa Shannon, author and founder of A Thousand Sisters, will be interviewed today on National Public Radio’s PRI’s The World to discuss a new report released today in the American Journal of Public Medicine finding that 1100 Congolese women were raped every day.

Check your local NPR station for air time in your area.
In Oregon, that is 91.5 FM, at 3 pm.

News to Know

3 of the week’s must-read news stories

Congo miners suffer as traceability rule bite

May 5, 2011 REUTERS, Jonny Hogg
Congo-based reporter offers insight in the challenges of conflict mineral certification.

Katanga has few of the security problems that plague Congo’s troubled east, where the mineral trade is an important source of cash for armed groups that continue to roam despite the official end to years of fighting that killed some 5 million people. Last year the U.N. said the majority of mines in North and South Kivu were controlled by armed groups. Full Story Here…

 

European trials for Congolese accused

May 4, 2011 GLOBAL POST, Tristan McConnell
A new law in Germany allows authorities to put two former FDLR commanders on trial for crimes against humanity committed in Congo.

Two senior members of a Congolese rebel group whose leaders are accused of perpetrating the 1994 genocide in Rwanda went on trial today in Germany accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity.  Full Story Here…

 

Key political risks to watch in Congo

May 3, 2011 REUTERS, Jonny Hogg
An analysis of key factors influencing DRC in the run up to important national elections in November.

Democratic Republic of Congo is seeking political stability, battling economic woes and rebel insurgencies, as it gears up for elections this year. The polls for the presidency and parliament, due in late 2011, will be the second since the official end to the 1998-2003 war, which drew in six foreign armies and resulted in the deaths of 5 million people.  Full Story Here…


The Audacity of “Changing the World”

By Lisa Shannon

I have a confession. As often as my story is framed as “one person makes a difference,” the phrase always makes me cringe…at least a little. Primarily because mine has been the story of so many people showing up for Congo, whether through a $10 donation, attending a house party, posting on Facebook, writing a letter to our government, putting in 30 hours of volunteer work every week, on top of job and family, or even launching their own non-profits.

Second, I have grown to consider the question “Can one person make a difference?” well, silly. Uh…the entire history of humanity is nothing but the cause and effect of personal actions! Welcome to planet Earth, baby! By virtue of breathing, we change the world. With every choice to love or dismiss others, to be kind or mean, we change the world. With every choice to consume, and what to consume, we change the world.

The question is, can you play your small yet catalytic role? What I have witnessed, at every turn, is a resounding yes. By showing up in small ways, you have an impact – on the lives women directly aided, in pressure on our government, the impression on your friends, family, and especially on the children around you who watch you act, and watch it matter. There is no question that by virtue of showing up in small ways for people on the other side of the planet – women we’ve never met – we change the world. Often, we cannot begin to imagine the real-life reverberations of these acts; we will certainly never be able to measure them.

Many policy experts cringe at what they term “oversimplified” messaging. In my nine years in advertising, and 15 years in storytelling, I have frankly never seen this line work: “It’s a totally complicated problem, well, ‘situation’ that’s kinda bad but kinda better, well, mostly bad, you’ll never be able to make a dent in your lifetime, I mean, you don’t matter and you won’t matter, but please, spend all your free time and money trying. Thanks!”  Though experts often hide behind this kind of hedging, in my experience, it’s often oversimplified in its own way, ignoring hard facts about world history, social movements like those to “abolish slavery” and “ban apartheid”, and the impact regular people can and do have every day, to the point it becomes an issue of intellectual integrity in its own right. But hey, if someone knows how to mobilize the masses on that line, game on.

Yet, the unbelievably grandiose idea that we are going to try to “end the violence in Congo” is tricky. In this results-oriented world, maybe we start with a basic question: Reviewing history, what happens when we act to “end violence”? What happens when we fail to act? What happens when we act…and fail?

It’s a valid question with a maddening answer: We might fail. We hope violence will end in Congo in our lifetime (because that’s what the hope is), and yet we know it may not. That doesn’t mean the actions we take now don’t matter.  They do. They will help steer Congo and our government in the right direction, today, next year, and 100 years from now. That’s the nature of social change.

How do I know this? Because my activist path has been paved with wildly ambitious (and admittedly naïve) goals and I’ve seen the results.

The year I started Run for Congo Women, I wanted to raise $10,000, enough to sponsor 30 women through Women for Women International. I had never done any fundraising, speaking, organizing, or much running! We raised $28,000 and sponsored 80 women.

When other amazing women like Tracy Ronzio and Robin Potawsky contacted me wanting to do their own run, I decided the logical next goal should be 1 million. Didn’t get there the first year. Or the second. Or the third. Or fourth. Or fifth. But today, our fundraising totals are more than 11 million.

When we learned the tech lobby was working behind closed doors to strip the conflict minerals legislation, a bunch of moms and Facebookers went up against some of the biggest lobbies in our country – jewelry, manufacturing, retail, and the tech industry. We won.

We’ve also reliably fallen short of our goals. At Outcry for Congo, we aimed for 10,000 Facebook posts. We got 2000—but 650,000 post views.

At the run in Congo, Generose could only run a third of a mile. No, she didn’t “finish”…but she did end up in the New York Times, Runners World magazine, and ABC World News Tonight with the message, “If I can run on only one leg, everyone will know they can do something to help.”

Somehow, these wildly ambitious goals seem to come to be, or at least lead to something wildly positive….if we try. If we show up. If we take it as far as we can, like Generose. If we ask questions, then show up better. We may not always reach the goal, but we do consistently have an impact that’s far bigger than we could have imagined.

So, all this got me thinking. If this has worked so far, why not ask for what we really want? And what have our Congolese sisters begged for, every time I’ve asked them what they’d like to say to the U.S. government? End the violence. We need peace.

Okay, it is the most grandiose, wildly ambitious goal imaginable. But what might happen if we try? Not for our egos, as the sideline critics and haters will inevitably assume, but to work for what our sisters in Congo have asked us to?

I don’t know what will happen. But we owe it to our sisters in Congo to try. So we push the U.S. government toward a solid strategy with measurable outcomes. A Congo Plan. Now! Beginning with a Special Envoy.

Accomplishing this means stepping up. It means risking feeling stupid, silly, exposed. Leaving your comfort zone. I promise, people will try to shout you down. They will accuse you of ego and grandiosity. Or they’ll stand over your shoulder, commanding you get on your knees and prostrate at the lotus feet of The Way Things Are. Or maybe they will lean in close and whisper, “Who do you think you are?”

We launched our website Friday, and sure enough, this happened to me over the weekend. It doesn’t matter your profile, it hurts, especially when it comes from people you respect. I remembered the advice given by a fellow Oprah Power List-er, and went to that “F-you, Mother F-ers” place inside. It felt good. It helped for about 10 minutes.

But sometimes, that just isn’t enough. For those moments, remember this: There is nothing new about people reminding us – especially us girls – we’re nobody, and that we’d better climb back under that rock where we belong. The words will come. Be ready for them. But it doesn’t change this hard fact: It is your birthright to affect the world in which you live, just as it is yours to breathe. Wish the nay-sayers well, or better, lean in close, and hum a line Miss Celie’s Blues from movement godmother Alice Walker’s The Color Purple:

Oh, sister, have I got news for you: I’m somethin.

I hope you think that you’re somethin, too.

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