“I have nothing but my legs, and I can use them”. John Mpaliza – a young computer engineer, Italian citizen residing in Reggio Calabria but of Congolese origin – with these words summarizes what he calls “his mission”. “I can say that I live by providence, hospitality, support. I left my house, I gave my car away, but I am very rich, even if I don’t have much money left in my pocket”.
In some ways, it looks like the story of Saint Francis, brought up to the Third Millennium. Since 2010, every summer John leaves everything he has got and starts a march which aims to raise awareness about the silent and ignored drama that the Congolese people has been living since 1996, especially because of the exploitation of coltan, a mineral whose sale and mining have plunged the Democratic Republic of Congo into a bloody war – an economic warfare that in the silence of the international institutions has caused more than 6 million deaths, and which seems to have little to do with an ethnic war organized by the high-tech multinationals.
John was born in Bukavu (Congo), 46 years ago. He grew up in a typical African family with many brothers and sisters. Then he moved to Kinshasa, where he studied by the Jesuits achieving the Scientific A Level in 1989, and then enrolled at the engineering university. Under the dictatorship of Mobutu, for political reasons he left his country when he was 21. He spent a year in Algeria, then left for Europe, and finally settled in Parma (Italy) where he resumed his studies, graduating in Computer Engineering. For 12 years he worked as a computer technician, until 2014, when he decided to resign in order to live fully his vocation of “ambassador of peace”.
In fact, in 2009, after his return to Kinshasa, where the UN mission was not sufficient to make the war end, John was shocked and decided that he could no longer just ignore the situation. Since then, he has been living to raise awareness. Thus, the idea of the march was born: traveling by foot in order to reach the greatest number of people. The last of his marches – which took him also to Santiago, Rome, and Brussels – was the one from Reggio Emilia to Reggio Calabria, started on July 20th, 2014. He arrived also at Strasbourg, where he was received by a delegation of parliamentarians, but unfortunately this event had no decisive consequences: Europe continues to observe the Congolese scenario in tacit approval. But he does not surrender. His march is a slap to the multinationals that, with their power, try to silence any kind of opposition.
The confrontation with the dramatic reality of his country was so strong that to reach his goals he does no longer care about physical, moral and psychological suffering – walking means also pain. But suffering from intense heat or extreme cold, being exhausted and without money do not stop him. Nothing could. Often he finds himself crying. But thinking about the people waiting for his message of peace, is the motivation that makes him walk “like crazy” dozens of kilometers a day. He must explain that the world is not doomed to war, famine and injustice. “I am pretty sure that if we look for peace, we can build a world characterized by a greater social justice”. Often, he stays in the schools or in the places where he was welcomed, and with his guitar he gives his strong and open message, wishing to make the young feeling “guilty” in a right way. He shows them what is hidden behind the mobile phones – exactly the coltan, the radioactive mineral used to better manage the electricity in electronic devices. He suggests young people a responsible use of their mobile, based on the three “Rs”: reusing, repairing, recycling.
“The Good Lord was too generous to my land – Mpaliza says – we have too many riches, this is our misfortune. These are what multinationals are looking for, and when they cannot find them, they make war. Coltan is sold for its weight in gold – $ 600 per kilo in Europe, while the multinationals buy it for a few cents per kilo. “80% of this gold is located in Congo.”
“It has been shown that some multinationals spend part of their income to fund rebel groups, essentially to steal this mineral.”
When he went back to his country in 2009, he found this situation: his father was dead, his sister was missing and his mother “wishing” to be dead rather than suffering the terrible atrocities suffered by women during conflicts. His struggle for peace is the fruit of a real experience of death and suffering that has deeply touched him, so as to change his life deeply: “I found an infernal situation, despite the presence of the UN peacekeepers “. In 1991, the civil society mobilized, but Mobutu gave the order to open fire, killing thousands of students in three universities of the country. John survived and managed to get away.
He graduated in Italy, where he settled in Emilia, but after the journey to his land something changed inside him, something by which he is “tormented”. “I tried to write about the Congolese situation in several newspapers, but no one listened to me”. Thus, he decided to stand up for his land. “I found myself at a crossroad. I had to change, I could not stand it anymore. As an African proverb says, ‘ The dog has four legs, but it does not take two roads at a time”.
Freely taken by an article in “Sempre”
Translation provided by Maria Rosaria Mastropaolo