“Blows and blackmails. My family and I were threatened and looted many times. They also offered me 33 thousand dollars to shut up because they thought that I was the one organizing all the strikes. When we went on strike we were beaten by the authorities, put in prison, but those same police officers did not understand that we were fighting also for their rights. Many times, during my lessons I saw children collapsing for hunger, including also the children of soldiers and policemen badly paid by the Government. The right of children to go to school is fundamental in Congo“.
Forced to flee
Pierre Kabeza, graduate in biology, was a teacher in his country but the government forces wanted him out of the country precisely because he wanted to teach students the meaning of freedom. He was forced to flee six years ago from Bukavu in the Great Lakes region without being able to take with him his wife and his daughters. Today he lives in the north of Italy and he has the status of refugee. For the politicians, he was not supposed to found the teachers’ union in order to protect their right to a salary and especially the right of children to go to school.
And after many years the situation has not changed on the contrary, violence unheard on people are still being perpetrated, frequent rape on women, with a rate of aids that has reached 20% in the population of the eastern provinces. “I talk to my family often and they tell me that in certain areas there are still people being dragged out from the churches by the army”. Explains this teacher who has still grit to denounce the injustices in his land. “Women and young girls raped before everyone’s eyes. Then separated by force from their people and from their villages, because their children will be grown and trained to become soldiers”.
The voice of the Church
The Vatican never ceased to seek the path of dialog to arrive to political elections as soon as possible. The first of February in Brazzaville was signed the Framework Agreement which guarantee the Church the opportunity to carry out its mission in Congo with the presence of different religious orders committed for the spiritual and material well-being of the population and in particular for street children. Nevertheless, there have been attacks against ecclesiastical structures in Kinshasa, in Kasai and also in Lubumbashi. In the month of March also two experts sent by the United Nations to investigate the mass graves were killed. One of them was beheaded. Pope Francis had denounced in the Angelus in mid-February the use of child soldiers in Congo and again on 2 April has made an urgent appeal for peace. “We receive again news about the bloody armed conflicts in the region of Kasai of the Democratic Republic of Congo… I urge everyone to pray for peace, so that the hearts of the architects of these crimes do not remain slaves of hatred and violence, because always, hatred and violence destroy“.
But if the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo was already precipitated in December when President Kabila, at the end of his mandate, did not leave the power, blocking the elections, today the political deadlock seems still more evident from when Bruno Tshibala, who is an exponent of one part of the opposition, was appointed Prime Minister. At the end of April, the Congolese Bishops have denounced the situation since the appointment without the consent of all the parties involved is “a distortion of the Agreement of St. Sylvester and explains the persistence of the crisis”. Now it seems impossible to have presidential, legislative and provincial elections within December 2017, as per the agreement.
The responsibilities of the West
According to Professor Kabeza the problem is that for the western economies it is convenient to leave the Congo in this political paralysis. “The real problem of the Congo is the Coltan that is used for the manufacture of electronic components that are located in televisions, in computers, in smartphones. It is for this reason that even the western media never talk about it. What happens in our country remains hidden, nobody can say the truth”. Many natural resources in the Democratic Republic are of vital importance for our economies, especially the Coltan (a mixture of two minerals that are very rare in the pure state and of which the Congo holds 60 % of the world’s resources) used in automotive, aerospace, high-tech and electronic systems. The main importers? The United States, Europe, China.
Then there is Cobalt, a chemical element that is not found in the natural state but only as mineral (Congo produces half the total world production) and with which it is possible to derive the lithium for the batteries of cell phones, laptops and electric cars. The recent report by Amnesty “This is what we die for” retraces the route of the Cobalt extract in Congo and sold by Congo Dongfang Mining, through a Chinese tycoon of the mining sector. Out of 16 companies which use it, two rejected the evidence of obtaining supplies of cobalt from the Congo, six have promised investigations, the others “fail to say where and in which working conditions raw materials are acquired”.
Children main victims of the conflict
In the Congo two children out of five are malnourished that means two million. Thousands are invisible since only 25% are registered in the civil registry. The ongoing armed conflicts between the different political factions have caused more than 1 million displaced persons from the beginning of 2017 and in some regions also schools and health centers have been destroyed. According to the observations of the Norwegian Council for refugees, the NRC “The crisis of the Democratic Republic of Congo, largely forgotten, has exceeded all other crisis in terms of the number of people forced to flee”. The fighting and violence continue in particular in the central province of Kasai and more than half of the displaced persons flee instead from North and South Kivu.
But the Congolese children are the first victims. “There are children who do not know who are their parents anymore, because they are orphans – explains the teacher – or because they were born by mothers who were victims of sexual abuses. Other children, simply because they were born with physical defects or for the street life that are forced to live, are considered sorcerers and called ‘snakes‘, and they suffer from anemia, sleepwalking or nocturnal enuresis due to malnutrition.” According to the popular beliefs that are constantly increasingly, even due to the multiplication of religious sects through the television and radio owned by many of them, these are signs of witchcraft. They are then accused of being bearers of the evil eye because in contact with the spirits of evil. Some of them are even burned alive. The majority of them ends up on the streets, after having suffered physical torture and being forced to abandon the village to survive. A large part of street children is from Eastern Kasai. Their condition is inhumane. To get to Kinshasa and Lubumbashi they travel also 1000 km walking, hidden in trucks, in train, in boats. Many of them die during the journey for accidents or violence. Others remain mutilated or are kidnapped and destined to the trafficking of children. Many are used in mines of coltan, they wash the mined stones by hand and carry them in the jungle walking even for two days. Children miners earn maximum 1 – 2 dollars per day, more often an egg and a few beans.
Lastly there are the chil soldiers, the “Kadogo” in the local dialects. More than 60,000 only in the Congo of which more than 35 per cent are girls, in great majority concentrated among the approximately 400 armed groups of the regions of the Kivu and Great Lakes. “Without being able to ensure education and a worthy life for all these children, the phenomenon can still get worse” Kabeza complaints. For the military in fact, they are excellent soldiers because they obey easily, they shoot, they kill, they steal without asking too many questions. Even the European media should denounce this ocean of slaves without identity, children 6 – 7 years old in the mines, girls 11 years old raped in brothels and trained to war, mothers abandoned with 10 children who die already at the age of thirty. “Until our resources will be needed in the industries in China, America and Europe also the western media will continue to leave our land and its injustices in silence”.