BY: KATHERINE GAN, SENIOR CONTRIBUTOR
To many, Africa is seen as a country, not a continent. The individual countries- Nigeria, Ethiopia, Sudan- have been disregarded, characterized as “embedded with corruption” and simply a “lost cause.” This political apathy has allowed citizens in the United States to cast humanitarian crises in Africa as out of sight and therefore out of mind. No longer should the emergency in the Democratic Republic of Congo remain a headline in the 24 hours news cycle, a story that draws fives minutes of attention and nothing more. It is imperative that the world finally listens.
In 2014, a charity highlighted the silent suffering occurring in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Militias and fighters failed to differentiate between combatants and civilians, resulting in massive abuse and the massacre of innocents. In addition, as people fled their homes, they left behind basic necessities like medication and shelter. This resulted in the building of camps to aid internally displaced peoples. But, these understaffed, underfunded camps rarely receive food and neglect healthcare services. Unfortunately, without additional funding, many camps will be forced out of operation, leaving thousands of families homeless, with no place to go. These drastic conditions are especially dangerous as yellow fever, a lethal disease, is spreading throughout the country. Without vital medicines and vaccines from camps and medical centers, the Congolese people are unable to prevent its transmission. Preventable illnesses become deadly, and it’s no fault but our own. Recognizing the hotspots for strife around the world are not limited to the Middle East or Latin America is crucial to paying attention to one of the world’s most imminent crises.
Entangled within the violent conflict in Congo is an internal political disaster. President Joseph Kabila, who is nearing the end of his second term, has attempted to delay elections to hold onto power beyond his constitutionally limited mandate. In these past few months, as Kabila’s perverse motives were revealed, Congolese protestors took to the streets to publicly denounce his actions. However, in response, police officers hosed down protesters with water cannons, fired tear gas, and then used live ammunition, killing civilians. The brutal response by the Congolese government falls in line with the nation’s history, as the country has never experienced a peaceful political transition since its independence 56 years ago. In fact, another major political upheaval may be on the horizon, as Kabila announced yesterday that he would delay elections and polls until December 2018, or two years after he was supposed to step down from the presidency. This situation and clear abuse of power should serve as a reminder that thousands if not millions are fighting for justice, peace, and liberty, a courageous battle that should no longer be overlooked and ignored.
To argue that the conflict in the Congo has been minimized by the media is not to say that the United States has not acted in light of indignation. In fact, the U.S. recently ordered sanctions against two senior officials that operate under Kabila, in an attempt to warn Kabila of the consequences of betraying his country’s constitution and his promise to his constituency. In addition, in the past year, the U.S. accepted more Congolese refugees than Syrian ones, by 16,370 to 12,587. Perhaps it is not the government and bureaucracy that need to pay attention but rather the people of the United States. The ordinary Americans who fail to realize that conflicts live beyond their newspaper stories-that Congolese people are forced to choose between equally horrendous conditions: languishing in overcrowded camps, retreating to the dense jungles and risking attack from militias, or returning to their hometowns only to be persecuted. The basic human right to safety is one that is far too often taken for granted, one that needs to be restored to citizens in the Congo. To be silent in the face of oppression enables the atrocities to continue. It is time to act, or at the very least, pay attention.