67.5 million individuals. 250+ ethnic groups. 700+ local languages and dialects… 400,000+ refugees fleeing, 2 million+ displaced people. 48 women raped per hour. 30,000 child soldiers. The site of conflict mineral mining, an industry led mostly by armed groups that makes $140-$225 million a year in exchange for the exploitation of human beings.
Straddling the equator, these demographics belong to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), situated in the middle of Africa. The DRC has faced years of brutality, cruelty, and civil war between 1996 and 2003. These consecutive civil wars have claimed an “estimated five million lives, making it the world’s deadliest conflict since World War II” (United to End Genocide, DRC).
If you’ve heard this before, keep reading anyway. If this is new to you, I’m glad you’re here!
Unfortunately, the DRC is just one of many countries familiar to civil war, corruption, and child soldiering. Here’s some background information to help paint the picture a little better:
the Rwandan genocide between the Hutus and Tutsis finally came to a close in 1994 when the Hutu perpetrators fled to the eastern part of the Congo where they created the Forces Democratique de Liberation du Rwanda (FDLR). Their presence prompted an invasion from neighboring countries Rwanda and Uganda, eventually leading to the overthrow of the at-the-time dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. Heading the rebellion was Laurant Désiré Kabila, who declared himself President May of 1997. Previously allies, Kabila declared war on Rwanda and Uganda in 1998 which saw major devastation, having been nicknamed “Africa’s World War” until its end in 2002.
Various peace agreements have been settled and attempted to be implemented, however ongoing conflict continues to disturb the many countries involved. A common misconception is that combatants are the ones who get caught in the crossfire of war, but in reality it is the civilians who suffer the most. In the DRC, Orientale, and North and South Kivu (all in more of the northeast region) primarily are experiencing many harsh side effects. The violence culminates itself into mass killings or genocide, rape as a weapon of war, torture, child soldiering, the list goes on.
Does this poster look familiar to you?
Most likely, if you had access to social media in 2012. Invisible Children is an organization created in 2004 to increase awareness of what’s happening in the DRC. They launched a campaign against Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) who is notorious for kidnapping, abusing, and torturing children he recruited for his rebel army. **Side note** CHECK OUT THEIR WEBSITE http://invisiblechildren.com/. Invisible Children is incredible, not only because they wanted to raise awareness about the issues, but because they became activists! They have built partnerships, become involved in policy, and truly opened eyes to the horrors behind child soldiering specifically. The LRA is responsible for mass killings of Congolese inhabitants and displacing hundreds of thousands of civilians.
Amidst Kony’s reign of terror, the DRC has experienced corrupt and violent political elections, the launch of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF – a rebel group/terrorist organization in opposition to the Ugandan government based in Uganda and the DRC) and the formation of the March 23 (M23) rebel movement. M23 is a rebel group in conflict with Kinshasa (the capital city in wide support of one of the Presidential candidates Etienne Tshisekedi who rejected Kabila’s re-election, declaring himself the rightful President). M23’s conflict was instigated when Kinshasa in 2009 agreed to integrate the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP), comprised mostly of ethnic Tutsi rebels, and other armed groups into the national army which later was not upheld. The ongoing conflict between M23 and the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC – the DRC official military) has allowed opportunities for FDLR and Mayi-Mayi militias (any kind of community-based militia groups) to launch new campaign attacks, targeting civilians.
On a hopeful note, the government and the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) have been working together for some time to counteract the various rebel groups at large. MONUSCO is an international peace-keeping force comprised of 19,000+ personnel, making it a priority to protect civilians. In addition to this, they encourage militias to participate in Disarmament, Demobilization, Repatriation, Reintegration and Resettlement (DDRRR) programs and have held many summits/conferences to disarm the rebel groups. The government was able to successfully defeat M23 in November of 2013 and continues to work with MONUSCO in developing strategy to combat the groups still reigning.
Phew. That was a lot of back story.
But it was essential for this next part! A campaign that is dear to my heart in its efforts to establish peace and raise awareness of child soldering is the Falling Whistles campaign. **you know this was coming, CHECK OUT THE WEBSITE!** http://www.fallingwhistles.com/. Here’s a quick 2 minute video on their website that gives you a great introduction into what this campaign is all about. https://vimeo.com/7351545
There’s a beautiful story behind Falling Whistles’ creation which I would love for you to check out on their page. Some of you who know me, know that I carry a whistle around my neck pretty much 24/7. It’s a replicated whistle that’s given to children when they are recruited as child soldiers in the Congo’s national army. The creator found that their weapon could be our voice. It serves as a symbol of protest and promotion of global peace.
[[semi-tangent that is very applicable]]
Sierra-Leone, like the DRC, is involved with conflict minerals (diamonds especially). I watched a movie recently called Blood Diamond (starring Leonardo DiCaprio) that visually aids the conflict that is going on both with the mining and child soldiering. I would HIGHLY recommend it. Here’s the trailer for your convenience (it’ll give you chills): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yknIZsvQjG4
In addition to conflict minerals, I read a autobiography a few years back called A Long Way Home, that chronicles Ishmael Beah (a child soldier)’s story and survival in Sierra-Leone’s civil war (1991-2002). I would highly recommend checking this one out too.
As you can see, there are countries that are experiencing similarly horrific things within their borders. I don’t know about you, but I get ANGRY when I think of the atrocities that children specifically are faced with. In a place where there is so much destruction and brutality, when I discovered Falling Whistle’s campaign, I discovered a part of me that was driven by a desire to start discussion about this topic. I’d love for you to join me.
Whatever it means to you… [be a whistleblower for peace].
– Ashleigh Stratton